Before you ask which rod/what test-curve read this...
by Gary (bb king) Staddon
This misnomer that is 'test-curve'
All too often people get hung-up on what test curve rod they have, or ought to have. There never
seems to be an internet forum that doesn't have a thread from someone seeking advice, or giving
advice, bleeting on about test curves. But what are they?
A test curve is a BIG red-herring, that's what it is.
A rod's measured test curve is a figure given to the amount of weight that, when applied to a rod
will cause that rod to bend into a 90 curve.
Yep, that's it. That's all.
It bears no resemblance to what a rod is really capable of.
At this moment in time plenty of readers will be mumbling something under their breath like
twaddle , or something to that effect. Fine, but read on and learn.
Let's take a hypothetical situation; but answer in your own mind. What rod will be the most
powerful between a 13 match rod and an 11 1.25lb Avon rod?
How many of you plumped for the Avon? Chances are you'll be wrong. If you don't believe me,
and you have access to both, I'll offer you a challenge. Thread up both rods and attach a spring
balance to the end of the line on each in turn. Bend into both with as much gusto as you dare.
You are not looking to determine a test-curve, as that is not 'real-world'. No, real-world is where
you have a decent fish heading for a snag and you bend into into to stop it in it's tracks and that
will require you put a much greater bend into the rod, down to the handle if you can/dare.
See, with an Avon, the action is 'all-through'. So, by the time the rod bent anywhere near to its full
load it is bent down to the handle. This will give you a good 90 bend, which might be reflective of
it's test-curve, i.e. 1.25lb of force. (Note the subtle difference there, more coming).
So how would the match rod have faired?
There is a good chance that the match rod will have a test-curve somewhere around 8 ounces.
So, after a decent strike the rod would have achieved its' test-curve. BUT, as match rods tend to
be more tip-actioned to progressive the bend at the point of test curve will still be within the top
third of the rod. There is still two thirds of the rod with which we can apply a loading to. This is all
IN ADDITION to any test curve. It could be that, by the time we have applied considerable (but
safe) force to either the point where the blank 'locks-up' or we reach the handle, there may be 2lb
or more of pressure exerted on our spring balance.
Are you surprised that the match rod came out on top? For many years my favourite barbel rod
was an old 12' match rod. The top half soon bowled over but the real strength lay in the amount of
force that could be exerted between the mid-point and the handle.
So you can start to see that action has perhaps a bigger part to play than test curve alone. The
two do need to be considered hand in hand. But that is not to say that two progressive actioned
1.75lb rods will be as powerful as each other. Physical construction and tapers will determine
that. Beyond action there are other factors which play a part, such as blank diameter, wall
thickness and material strengths. This is why there are always new rods available on the market
each year. There are just so many permutations to arrive at the end result - a fishing rod.
( I carried out this experiment using a custom built Harrison Avon 11' 1lb 6oz rod and a 12' MAP
CFS float rod. It was not a scientific test, or approach, but I was able to comfortably hold a spring
balance at 2lb 4oz with the avon rod, with a two-handed peak pull of 3lb. The float rod is
reasonably soft and also through action. I was able to comfortably maintain 2lb 12oz on the
spring balance with a 3lb 8o z peak pull. Rather than just pulling the tip around in a shop, if you
were able to load up a reel and run line out to a spring balance to perform the above test you
would have a far better idea of a rods' capabilities.)
Let's look at what we are asking the rod to achieve:
The first function that a rod has to perform is to carry a reel and line guides. We can use a
wooden broom handle to achieve this aim, but we want something that is light enough to hold
comfortably, a reel fitting that is secure and combined with a handle that again is comfortable.
Line guides need to be of a type that are suitable for the type of line being used and which are
able to carry the 'action' of the rod without creating an excessive change of direction at the
line/guide interface. This will cause un-necessary friction which can damage the line through heat
build up and cause scoring to poor quality linings.
Consideration should be given to rod length but is perhaps not as big an issue. Firstly, we will
want it to be long enough to perform casting and striking functions. The longer a rod is the better
it is to pick up line on a lengthy cast. So do you regularly cast big distances? We also need to
consider our preferred swims. Do you fish 'Parrot cage' swims where a 12' rod will be a
hindrance? Do you need length to get past nearside vegetation? A by-product of length is
unfortunately weight. The longer you go, the more weight you add. If you intend to touch-leger or
'roll' baits all day long a light weight rod will be less tiresome.
The next function is to deliver our baited rig to our desired fishing point. Hitting big distances with
big leads will require a rod with plenty of 'backbone' and length. Test-curve is again a misnomer
to casting distance. Look at the thousands of match anglers who regularly cast 5-6oz
swimfeeders across big rivers like the Trent or Severn using quivertip rods. These quiver tips
might be rated between 2-4oz!! Hmmm. Have I got you thinking now? See, the real power lays in
the rod blank as a whole, which we saw earlier, and that means more than any test-curve. If your
preference is for small distances you might find that a short rod is more suitable. If you use
swimfeeders or PVA bags then you will want a rod that is capable of handling this weight.
However, if all you need to do is cast a swimfeeder or PVA bag no more than a few metres then
you should find that even a soft rod will be able to manage to 'lob' this. You may loose a degree
of finesse but that may be a trade-off you can live with.
Another area to consider, although this doesn't affect all styles of fishing, is whether or not the rod
tip is going to be used for bite detection. The main significance being if we are going to use a
quivertip or the standard rod top. If we are using a standard rod top is it going to be soft enough
to indicate bites sufficiently. One point to also consider is that as soon as a quiver tip is bent over
and the action of the rod proper is in play you are actually using a shorter rod. For instance, if you
have a 12' rod of which the last two feet are a quivertip, as soon as you have a fish on it is being
played below the 10' point of the rod. With a standard tip the full 12' of rod is in play.
That leaves us with the most important aspect of our rod to consider. Its' fish playing capability. In
short, we use the rod when playing fish for two purposes. One is to exert an amount of pressure
on the fish, through stiffness of the blank and by leverage. Stiffness can be achieved by wall
diameter/carbon strength or by choice of taper. That means we can have a strong powerful blank
that retains a through action, or a finer one but with a steeper taper leading to more power as the
taper progresses. That is not to say that there are just the two types of construction. No, far from
it, it is a minefield of choices out there. The second purpose is to act as a shock absorber. It is
easy to see past this last point. If we use a high stretch monofilament line then we can afford to
loose some absorbency in the rod. On the other hand, pre-stretched monofilament or braided
lines have no stretch so the rod is required to perform greater if we are to avoid pulling out of the
fish. Furthermore, if we regularly fish close in we are playing fish out on a much shorter line,
therefore there is less line to stretch and again we will require more absorbency from the rod.
Similarly, as the fish is going to be played a shorter distance it is going to be quite lively by the
time we have it at the bank. This is where sudden last minute lunges are likely to be quite
powerful as opposed to those from a fish that may have been fought 60 yards to the bank.
Consequently, we will want a rod that has a very safe, soft action to prevent hook pulls or line
breaks right at the net.
So we can see, two rods rated at 1.75lb test curve can have very different characteristics. A
progressive actioned 1.75lb rod will still have more play left beyond its' rating compared to a
through actioned rod of a similar rating. The through actioned rod will be more suited to a smaller
river where its' inherent softness will be advantageous to hard fighting fish at close quarters,
whereas a more progressive action will have more backbone to fish at greater distances. When
choosing a rod though, compromise can be achieved by perhaps looking at a lower test-curve but
progressive actioned rod, as its' initial power may seem soft it will have more 'deep-down' power
than one of a higher yet 'all-through' action.
If you watch anglers as they play fish close to the net you will see better what the rod is doing. A
tip action rod will be fairly straight in the blank with the tip folding over. Even if the rod has more
power further down, the angle of fish - line - rod will prevent the rod from loading. A through
action rod being softer will be more 'hooped' in comparison. At the net the through action rod will
be most advantageous as it will absorb lunges better. On the other hand, if you are fishing
25-30yds or more out, the strength of a progressive rod will allow a greater degree of control due
to its greater backbone.
There are many ways in which you can alter a rod to suit your individual style. Little touches
which can make a difference. The difference in price between a good quality 'off-the-shelf' and a
bespoke hand built rod are not as great as many people would think. The real benefit is in being
able to have the rod crafted to your own taste, be it style of handle, size, quality and spacing of
guides to blank colours.
Personally, I prefer a short handle to a rod. I believe that the 2-4 inches off the butt allows for
manouevering the rod around the body much better and saves the butt catching on my jacket. It
also serves to give me just those few extra inches where I feel it counts, above the handle. Take
this little test. Put a reel on one of your rods and measure how much handle extends beyond your
elbow. The only time extra handle length is of any real benefit is if you really launch into a big cast
with both hands.
Other nice touches that can be added are such things as hook keepers (again, I prefer mine to be
located to the side, so that when I hold the rod across the back of my hand for baiting etc. I don't
have the wire keeper digging in). You can add isotope holders, depth markers and all manner of
simple tweaks to make your life simpler. If you feel that the balance of the rod is 'top-heavy' you
can load the butt with a small amount of lead to counter-balance the outfit.
I hope that you will now see how choosing the right rod for you and how you intend to use it,
require more than choosing one with the stated test-curve that is fashionable at the time. Asking
fellow anglers what they use gives an indication of an option, but how would their styles fit in with
your intended useage? You can't beat giving a rod a good old waggle, but the best place to do it