Being a fisherman and writing a fishing blog has presented some incredibly unique opportunities for me to learn things and meet new people. One of those experiences happened less than 48 hours before I left the great state of TX to the sunny beaches of Florida. What I’m referring to is the once in a lifetime invite to come “hang out” with the guys, most notably Caleb and Victor, at Laguna Custom Rods headquartered out of Katy, TX.
So without any hesitation, I drove the 2 ½ hours east from San Antonio to learn about the rods we often overlook as trout fisherman. During my visit, I not only saw an awesome operation but I got to gain a better appreciation for the process of buying a new rod. After my visit to the Laguna wharehouse I got a chance to sit down with Captain Caleb McCumber, enjoy some Midway BBQ and talk about some of the specifics he looks for in a fishing rod. Below is the outcome…
What is the first thing I should consider if I’m in the market for a new rod specifically for targeting speckled trout (Baitcast or spincast)?
The first questions you should ask yourself is where and how you intend to fish? For instance am I intending to fish Baffin Bay with small paddle tail swimbaits on 1/16th oz jigheads? Or will I be targeting bigger fish with super spooks?
Method of fishing, your location, and whether you are a wade fisherman, shore fisherman, or boat fisherman should play a heavy role in your decision of what rod you should choose. If you use more than one of these methods on a regular basis, you may find that owning multiple rods designed for each application may be best for you.
Do you find that rod actions, that are labeled the same, differ between brands? If so, why?
Absolutely. I’ve read and continue to hear the saying that, “a rod is a rod,” “they are all the same” or “all these custom builders get their blanks from the same place”. In short, that is simply not true.
Now it is true, there are SOME builders that order from the same blank manufacturers, and these are typically your smaller custom rod building operations. That said the majority of your “bigger” custom builders have their own mandrels, which is the device used to build the blank. These mandrels, paired with the manner in which the graphite is applied and the amount of graphite used determines the overall action of the rod. While very few builders build their blanks in house, they are getting a blank that is unique to that builder. You can walk a fishing show and clearly see this if you know what you are looking for. Pick up a Laguna Solo, then go to the other builder’s booths and try to find a matching blank. It just doesn’t happen. The same can be said for other builder’s rods as well.
Other than aesthetics, do you feel that having quality rod components play a large role in catching fish?
One thing I’ve always stressed is that the need for a super sensitive rod depends on the situation. For example, if the bite is on and the fish are aggressive and slamming the baits, the need for a sensitive rod is irrelevant. When this is the case, I typically hear the opinion “I can catch them all day on my unbreakable fiberglass rod using monofilament”. Sure, that’s true, sometimes….
Not to take anything away from the generations before us with a long, heavy, fiberglass rod, and mono. Those guys certainly had to be on their game to pick up finicky fish, and they were, obviously!
But, is there a need to hunt deer with a musket anymore? Not really. You can if that’s what you truly prefer, but today’s technology now gives the angler the advantage. As a result, why not invest in a quality rod with quality components? You’ve already done so with boats, tackle and other equipment.
To further the rationale, there have been MANY true trophy fish that were detected by a slight change in the weight on the line, or that tiny “tick”. Was that grass or a fish? By having a quality rod paired with braided line, you will be able to distinguish the two. Additionally, I see no reason to risk missing the fish you have dedicated so much time and effort to chasing.
On the flipside of trying to catch “the one”, there are the guys that want numbers. There have been times, which I find myself drifting deep summer structure. One example that comes to mind are the reefs of Galveston Bay. We often throw ¼ oz to 3/8 oz jig heads paired with paddle tail soft plastics (Down South Lures or Matrix Shad, typically something with good action. This works great because the method in reference is letting the bait sink, then short hopping, or slowly bouncing them on the lower half of the water column. 9 times out of 10, the bite is going to be a subtle weight change. The reason I believe this happens is because the fish sees a wounded, barely live bait and sees no reason to exert unnecessary energy. So rather than an aggressive strike, the fish will mouth or slurp the bait, giving you a split second before the fish spits it back out. But once again, a sensitive rod paired with braid gives you that edge in detecting those subtle bites independent of presentation, location and time of year.
What do you find is the most overlooked aspect of choosing a new rod?
I personally believe the most overlooked aspect is the fact that there are high quality rods available for the same price as the rods on the shelf at your local big box sporting goods store. For instance here at Laguna, we have a line of rods (Liquid series) that retail for $159.99, that rival many of the big box stores $250+ rods. We’re not alone either, Waterloo is another company that makes a nice rod in the same price range as well, and absolutely zero impact to quality. So, before anyone goes to Academy or Bass Pro Shops and settles for something commercial off the shelf, because they don’t think they can afford their local custom builder’s prices, I encourage them to explore the market!
Personally, what do you look for in a good trout rod?
Personally, I prefer a Laguna Light Wader II medium action with a fast tip for just about any style of fishing. I will throw 1/16th oz jigs wading with Marcus Canales down at Baffin Rod and Gun, all the way up to super spooks with that same rod. Donnie Macha, a close friend of mine, who I attribute to teaching me to fish a corky, catches trophies consistently year round on a Wader II.
My second “go-to” rod is a Laguna Light Texas Wader I. This is a relatively new rod with a pretty
cool backstory. In short, this rod was dreamed up in the parking lot of Fishing Tackle Unlimited a couple years ago. Chris Williamson, the president and head builder of Laguna, Captain Kevin Cochran, and me were discussing the need for a true corky rod. Kevin and I were discussing how in the winter months the guys with a slightly more moderate (slower) action seemed to be doing better with corky’s. Kevin came to the conclusion that the faster action was giving the bait to much of a sharp twitch, rather than a more subtle wobble that the slower rods were providing. As a result of that guidance, Chris spent the next month or two developing a new prototype that I was lucky enough to test in Baffin estuary. Results were absolutely staggering…Kevin, Chris, and I landed several trout over 27” and up to 32”. Weeks later another trip produced equally as well, with another couple of fish over 27”, a few 29”s and a slob just under 31”. Long story short, the Laguna Light Texas Wader I was born for slower subtle presentations for those winter TX trout.
In the less impacting, but personal preference category, I like a split grip. Many of the TX Rod companies, like Laguna, Sarge and Waterloo have been offering these for years. My rationale for a split grip is to reduce the overall rod weight, which is key for wade fisherman. Even more detailed, I prefer a 7” split grip which is about ½” shorter than the standard, mainly because it keeps the rod butt out of my shirt/waders when working a lure.
Do you use traditional or spiral wrap guides?
I prefer spiral wrap guides. Several years ago, Chris started putting the spiral guides on the then new, Castaway Skeleton rods, and despite the concept being around since the 1940’s, they drew a bunch of blank stares at the store. But here’s why I feel they make the difference…they increase sensitivity. Additionally, it also provides a smoother weight load when fighting a fish, keeping the line off the blank, and sort of cooperating with the natural twist of the line. I also believe that by having spiral wrap guides, it reduces wind knots while fishing braid. That alone is worth the consideration!!!
Is it better to buy a custom or a boxstore rod? Why?
Custom. 100% custom. As mentioned above, many custom builders offer a rod that is the same price as what you will pay a box store for a mass produced product with little quality control and little thought that went into the blank.
Waterloo and Laguna both have a great line of affordable rods, that compare to mid to high end box store rods ($159 or higher). For example, Waterloo has the “Phantoms” and “Salinity” which can be found at many local retailers in TX. And Laguna has the “Liquid” that is quickly becoming one of our top sellers, both on the website and in store fronts. The biggest selling point for us is that the Liquid gives you a quality custom build, with superb sensitivity, strength and durability for the same rod you find in Box Store X that was mass produced in another country.
Lastly, when you buy custom, you are helping your/our neighbors. Whether it is Jimmy at Waterloo, Chris at Laguna, Sarge at Sarge Customs, and the list goes on. Its keeps our money local to our community and who better to build rods for fisherman than those people who wade the same waters we do. For me the choice is clear….
In closing, whether you’re new to trout fishing or looking to become a more polished angler, the act of buying a rod that meets your intent is a daunting task - one, I even struggle with from time to time. But hopefully Capt Caleb’s words/advice above make your next selection that much easier.
I want to publicly thank Laguna for the insight into their operation…I truly appreciate it guys! Oh and Caleb, next time I’m back in TX, lunch is on me bud! :-)
Tight lines and God Bless everyone!