Light weight gear is great, but a balanced outfit is better.
They say, “youth is wasted on the young.” Well, I know my youth was not wasted, even in the surf. Sure, I’ve learned lots of things as I’ve aged, and with experience I learned the importance of a balanced rod and reel.
As a younger man, I used an 11-foot S-glass rod and a Penn 706Z and it served me well. It was, among other things, balanced. That means, the combo remained horizontal on an extended index finger in front of the reel. But I got older, and perhaps wiser. If so, my wisdom was aided and abetted by technology that allowed me to change my mind regarding stubbornly held ideas about my tackle. In short, tackle got lighter and generally better. When John Schauer built an 11-foot graphite rod for me it was not only lighter but performed better, too.
Along came Van Staal reels: sealed, powerful, continuous anti-reverse, manual roller, and a wide spool filled with braided line that allowed me to cast “a country mile.” A VS 250 placed on my 11-foot graphite rod was a match made in heaven. Technology marched on and soon a lighter 9-foot graphite rod came to market that could do almost everything the 11-footer did. Matched to a VS 200, the outfit was lighter still, and balanced on the foregrip. There are other light, powerful, and efficient rod and reel combos on the beach, but regardless of the brands, they all have one thing in common; properly matched rod and reel that are balanced.
So what is considered unbalanced? An unbalanced outfit means there is either more weight in front of the grip or more behind it instead of equally distributed. So, a VS 100 on a 9-foot rod will be front-loaded with weight pulling the rod down in front of the angler. Likewise, a VS 250 on a 9-footer will be back-loaded and the rod will tend to rise up. Can you catch fish this way? Of course, you can. But this column isn’t about that. It’s about how unbalanced outfits affect our bodies. I ask, do you have back, neck, shoulder, or elbow problems?
A front-loaded outfit pulls down causing muscles in the neck and upper back to try and compensate by pulling against that force. Therefore, not surprisingly, after a few hours an angler’s back, neck, and shoulders are sore. The rod will rise up when the outfit is back-loaded causing lower back and arms to fatigue as these muscles compensate. Unbalanced outfits cause fatigue and soreness, but also reduce casting accuracy and distance. Simply, the tighter and more fatigued muscles become, the less control you have when you use them, and that affects casting, retrieving, and fighting fish.
A picture is worth a thousand words, so I offer this real-life example to bolster my argument which I hope will shorten the distance between skepticism and understanding. Ten years ago, at a show in Connecticut, I accepted Van Staal reels, packaged them, filled out the warranty paperwork, and sent them back for service. At one point a guy walks up, very irate, and storms over to me. He slams his rod and reel down on the counter and proclaims, “this reel stinks. I can’t cast far, my back aches, I never know exactly where my lure is going, and I’m continuously getting ‘“wind loops.’” I offered sympathy and then explored his outfit with him. He had a 10-foot medium heavy rod, a VS 150, and 50-pound test braid on the reel. Can you figure out why this guy was having difficulty? His VS 150 did not match the rod, the 50-pound braid came off the reel wrong limiting distance and accuracy, and encouraged wind loops. The outfit was so front loaded, no wonder his back ached.
In his case he worried more about shedding weight and not enough about balance, and consequently totally compromised his gear. It’s natural to want to be part of the new ideas about improved light tackle, but remember, light is great, but balance is better.