How much should you pay for a rod?

Jamie Henderson
Tackle retailer and competition angler Jamie Henderson explains the vexed question on how much you should pay for a rod.
I saw an interesting statistic the other day that said at least one third of the population of Australia go fishing. That makes it the biggest single recreational pursuit in our country. That's a lot of rods and reels at the end of the day. Its because of this that the fishing tackle industry grows and improves all the time, every year new gear, new brands and a myriad of upgrades and improvements come along which can at times have the owners of the tackle stores pulling their hair out wondering what they should stock next.
This doesn't make it any easier for the consumer, what type of gear should they purchase, what fish are they targeting, are they targeting anything at all or just want to dabble on the jety and hope for the best, fly, plastic, bait, spin, surf, game--aaaaagggghhhh.

The big question
One of the biggest questions I get asked by customers though is not what they need but "how much should I spend on a rod and reel?". It's the $64,000 question and in many ways you could say well how long is a piece of string. The simple answer is you can spend as little or as much as you like-. its all up to you.
For a newcomer into the tackle scene the best single piece of advice I can offer is to purchase the best tackle you can afford at the time, work out a budget and look for tackle priced accordingly.
Lets take one of the largest growth areas the tackle industry has seen for many years as an example, soft plastic fishing. If you go back 4 or 5 years there was very little on the market that suited this style of finesse fishing and many of the rods were highly priced, excellent quality but generally priced at a level the average angler could not afford. Now there is more tackle on the market that suits soft plastic fishing than just about any other style and the prices vary quite a lot. It is often said that the more expensive the gear the better it is, when it comes to the quality of the components and construction and maybe the ability of the tackle to perform this is often very true however the most expensive isn't always the best for each customer.

So - how much?
Lets take a look at what you should spend when looking for a rod and reel for soft plastic fishing starting from a basic setup to a mid range product up to a top end model. A good basic soft plastic rod and reel combination, 6'6"-7', should set you back $90-100, this will get you a reel that is smooth in its operation with 2-4 ball bearings and some basic features like dyna balance and infinite anti reverse. The rod will be a reasonable light graphite composite style rod moderate in its speed but with just enough feel to know what's going on with your plastic on the end.

The middle ground
To move to the middle ground you would expect to spend anywhere between $250-400, this is where it gets interesting. Here the rods will be much crisper in their feel, being that there is more graphite component in the rod and less fibreglass which increases cost, as well as being lighter once again due to the higher amount of graphite. They will be faster in their taper and have a quicker response time which means there is more line speed generated and therefore a better ability to cast further and more accurately. The reels will be also much lighter, smaller and more compact, are smoother, have anywhere from 4-8 ball bearings and be more able to lay line, particularly braid, much neater on the spool. This means the line is able to come off the spool easier and with less tangles than a cheaper reel.

Going to the top
Once you get to the top end products you can almost spend any amount, it just comes down to where you draw the line and what value you put on owning expensive tackle. Here other factors must come into the equation, what is the likelihood of the gear being damaged and if so what are the warranty conditions. Tossing a $50 rod around the boat may not hurt too much, a higher fibreglass component provides a certain level of robustness although lacking in feel however throwing a $500 high modulus graphite rod down in a boat can have dire consequences.... can you afford to break a rod of that value. At the top end level you can expect to pay anywhere from $600-1200 for a rod/reel combination, its here you get the Rolls Royce of tackle. Rods are constructed from 100% high modulus graphite, are super light, incredibly crisp and responsive with rapid response times giving superb feel of every little tap and bump from the fish. They are generally designed to cast specific weights with specific line classes so the ability to be consistently accurate with casting is greatly enhanced. The reels at this level are once again lighter, better balanced, have anywhere between 8-12 ball bearings, are incredibly smooth and are generally made from better quality components. Spools are lighter and have various taper shapes to suit braided lines or non braided depending on choice which increases the smoothness and speed of the line leaving the spool. It is all done to aid casting ability and accuracy which in turn increases the likelihood of placing the plastic right where you need it in front of the fish and hopefully be more successful at catching them.

You get what you pay for
The old saying, "You Get What You Pay For" certainly rings some truth and for the most part the more expensive the tackle the higher the level of quality, components, workmanship, finish and performance you get. However the word "quality" can be very subjective, just because a reel is more expensive and better quality than the cheap one doesn't mean if you leave it on the floor of the boat and never clean it that it will last any longer or end up performing any better, decide the type of fishing you want to do, how often, where and choose tackle accordingly and to a price level that suits.
All of the price levels mentioned will result in "quality" tackle that will be reliable and catch fish, and it goes for all styles of angling be it fishing from a jetty, flyfishing for trout, trolling for game fish or just sitting in a dinghy dangling a rod over the side. Flyfishing for example can produce some of the most expensive tackle out there with rods reaching up to $2000 or more however $80 will but you a great little rod to learn to cast with and give years of enjoyment if its looked after.  
Its great to use high quality tackle, it feels better, performs better and generally gives the owner a psychological edge, you may not catch any more fish with it but it makes you feel like you have a better chance. However its no use putting a learner in a formula one car and sending him around the track: high end tackle will only show its true worth when in the hands of a skillful angler--.but don't let that put you off a purchase because its still nice to use.
Expert advice is easy to find
This is where your local Tackle Store plays a major role and will offer much needed advice and assistance in helping you purchase the correct tackle inside your budget, much more so than a chain store where customer service is minimal and no one really knows much about the products anyway. All good tackle stores will stock a wide range of tackle that will suit the styles and types of fishing in their area so always go local, it's the job of the guy behind the counter to sort through all that is on offer and stock tackle that will suit everybody from the beginner right through to the pro angler. Most of the time the guy in the store is passionate about his fishing and does a lot of it too so will draw on that experience to help the customers.
There is a big difference between cheap and value for money, good quality and overpriced so talk to your tackle store and let them help you with what you need.

Jamie Henderson