The Perfect Marriage: How To Pair Your Rod To Your Reel - The Fisherman

The Perfect Marriage: How To Pair Your Rod To Your Reel

Capt. Dom Petrarca from Coastal Charters Sport Fishing fights a bluefin tuna on a Shimano combo. Having the right rod and reel mix will make all the difference in fighting a fish.

When you’ve found the perfect combo, til’ death do you part.

When attempting to match the optimum rod to your favorite reel, or vice versa, the path to success in achieving a harmonically balanced combo can be very similar to other mechanical operations…read the label first before use.

For decades, the majority of saltwater fishing rods (and reels) that I have examined at my local tackle shop have offered specific critical information detailing what this equipment was meant to do. To ascertain the design parameters of any prospective stick, spin the rod in your hands until you can see the label, which is typically located anywhere from 6 to 12 inches forward of the front grip.

The information here tells the story of this rod’s mission parameters.

Angler Mike Goldberg maxes out a Penn 16VSX outfit on a big thresher exemplifying the power behind this combo.

Reading Labels

According to the folks at St. Croix, “The power of a rod refers to how much pressure it takes to flex the rod. Different rod powers are engineered to efficiently handle a certain range of lure weights and line sizes. To select a rod power that will perform best for you, simply narrow your choices to rods designed to cast or work with the weight of lures and sizes of lines you’ll fish with most often.”  As such, according to St. Croix, rod power is typically designated by the following abbreviations:

UL- Ultra Light

L- Light

ML- Medium Light

M- Medium

MH- Medium Heavy

H- Heavy

XH- Extra Heavy

XXH- Extra, Extra heavy

“The action of a rod is determined by where a rod flexes along the blank,” the folks at St. Croix noted, adding “Faster action rods flex mostly near the tip. Moderate action rods flex more near the middle of the blank. Slower action rods flex down into the butt section.”

Now that we understand how a rod’s power and action might impact your choice, let’s take a closer look at a few examples from my current saltwater equipment arsenal and translate the manufacturer’s label specs regarding its intended purpose.

Fisherman Staffer Jenny Ackerman demonstrates the perfect balance of one of the author’s favorite outfits- a Shimano Stella SW14000 & St Croix Rift 2

St. Croix RIFT Spin Jigging Rod Label


5 feet, 8 inches, Extra-Heavy Power

SCIII Carbon

50 to 100-pound (250-gram max)

150-pound fish

The label describing the operational parameters on this particular St. Croix RIFT rod is fairly clear and needs minimal translation. The top line in parenthesis is the St. Croix model number. Line two details that the rod is fairly short at only 5 feet, 8 inches in length, with extra-heavy power, which is exactly what I was looking for to operate out of the cockpit of my EdgeWater 228CC. This is my go-to stick when jigging near offshore or canyon tuna and it’s relatively lightweight, but extremely strong with extra heavy lifting power.

The SCIII Carbon above is the grade of St. Croix’s proprietary carbon fiber material in the rod (ranges from SC2 to SC5). The fourth line of the rod’s label offers more insight, indicating that it is designed for use with 50- to 100-pound braid, with jigs that weigh up to a max of 250 grams or 8.8 ounces. The last line in the label designates the size of the fish where you will max out its intended capabilities, which in this case is 150 pounds. As we bluewater anglers know all too well, not all 150-pound saltwater fish are created equal and there’s a world of difference in the intensity of the fight between a blue shark, mako, thresher shark, yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna and swordfish of the same weight. Still, it’s nice to know that the St. Croix engineers were thinking of what size fish you could realistically catch with this rod.

I paired this St. Croix RIFT jigging rod with a Shimano Stella SW14000 that is rated to hold over 315 yards of 65-pound PowerPro braided line, weighs a scant 25 ounces and gets whopping 55 pounds of max drag. Putting it to the test, I hooked up and brought to boatside numerous bluefin and yellowfin tuna in the 75- to 110-pound range with this rod last season and never once felt that I was overmatched. The light weight, balance and power of this St. Croix/Shimano Stella 14000 mix and match gives me 100% confidence in my equipment every time I drop a jig or bait into a tuna melee, knowing that if I do my part, that fish should be brought to boatside in short order.

The author battles a big yellowfin on a balanced Shimano Talica 16II-Trevala combo. Having proper balance gives you an advantage when it comes not fatiguing while in battle.

Shimano Trevala Conventional Jigging Rod Label


5 feet, 8 inches

Braided Line WT: 80-200 lb

Jig WT: 120-325 gr

Power: Extra Extra Heavy

Action: Medium Fast

The label on this Shimano Trevala conventional trigger grip jigging rod is crystal clear and doesn’t require the Rosetta Stone to translate. As indicated, its short, 5-foot, 8-inch length is meant to give the angler the leverage advantage in a straight up and down fight with a big tuna, plus it’s easy to use in a cramped cockpit. It works well with casting, jigging and bottom dropping scenarios and in a pinch, can also perform acceptable duty as a light trolling rod with close-in baits in the spread.

Although it is rated for 80- to 200-pound braid, I am currently using 65-pound PowerPro on this outfit, due to the companion reel’s capacity limitations, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The power on this model is extra, extra heavy, so it was designed to handle big fish. The factory recommended jig weights for this Trevala range from 120 to 325 grams (4.2 to-11.5 ounces) and the action is medium fast, which can be somewhat forgiving when stressing out your equipment with heavy drag settings on large gamefish.

I matched this up with a Shimano Talica 16II, which offers a quick-shift two speed gearbox (5.7:1 and 3.1:1), delivers a respectful 44 pounds of max drag, weighs a svelte 25.6 ounces and holds 500-plus-yards of 65-pound PowerPro with 25 yards of 80-pound mono topshot. This all-Shimano outfit took over a dozen tuna last season, with most being in the 75- to 100-pound range. The only fault that I have with this formidable lightweight tuna slayer is the lack of harness lugs on the Talica 16II. The Talica 20 has them, but not the 16. I try to dance around that shortcoming by employing Aftco Spin Straps, positioned behind the reel and in front of the trigger grip, but these are cumbersome and less than the ideal solution; nothing beats the ergonomics of solid, built-in reel lugs when connecting a kidney harness to the equipment during a long, drawn out fight with a big ocean-going pelagic.

Tsunami’s Maxel combo will beat down the biggest sea bass on deep water wrecks.

Industry Guidelines

To get a spin on how things are done on the west coast, I reached out to Daiwa’s Field Marketing Specialist Chris Martin, who explained how Daiwa approaches rod, reel, line and lure pairings with something that they call ‘system selling’.  “When we find anglers looking to fulfill a particular fishing technique need such as jigging, we generally have one or more reels in our current line that we design a rod to pair with,” said Martin, adding “Along with the rod we further enhance the system by recommending the dealer carry the correct type of braid line and sometimes even a specific jig or jigs from our current offerings or use the system to introduce a new line of jigs.

Martin explained how selling the system approach benefits all parties. “Our dealers are prepared to answer the questions that anglers have for recommendations, the customer receives exactly what they’re looking for and Daiwa potentially gets the confidence of yet another angler,” he said.  Chris continued with a different approach for potential angling customers who are just looking for either one component (rod) or the other (reel). “In terms of general pairings, you will see that every rod and reel we offer has a line weight recommendation. This goes for both reels as well as rods. So we recommend anglers pair reels to rods under those guidelines.”

The specs on the Penn Carnage Spin Jig are clearly visible and show the angler what the rod can handle.

For example, Martin said if the angler is looking to do some speed jigging on spinning tackle, they would pick a reel like the Saltist MQ10000 with a line recommendation of 50- to 65-pound braid. “One type of complementing rod would be a Harrier X model HRX70MHB, which has a line recommendation of 50 to 100-pound braid. This rod and reel would be a great combo,” he added.

I also reached out to Penn’s Senior Product Manager Ben Joyce to see how they match up their rods and reels.  “Our rods and reels all have different consumer price points but we do engineer certain series of rods to be compatible, both in performance and price, with specific families of reels,” said Joyce while adding “Looking at our current spinning lineup, the Pursuit reels are a great performance and price match with our Squadron rods; Fierce spinners with Prevail rods; Battle III reels with Battalion rods; Spinfisher, Slammer IV and Authority reels with Carnage rods.”

On the conventional side, Joyce said the Penn teams take a similar approach of price and performance matching our equipment. “For example, the Rival reels work well with our Squadron rods; Warfare reels with Prevail rods; Squall reels with Battalion rods; and Fathom reels with Carnage rods. For some of the VISX and International reels, the Allied II and Carnage Offshore series of rods are a good match.” He went on to explain how each rod’s decal typically indicates a line and lure size range, along with action type and optimum reel sizes (for spinners).

The balance is perfectly matched on the Slammer and Carnage & Stella and Rift combos.

“If you already have a specific rod in mind, the best way to find a balanced match with a reel is to find one that falls into this stated range parameter,” said Joyce, adding “Within each of the aforementioned combos, there are subtle differences that indicate if a Penn rod would be better suited for either the inshore or offshore arena.”  Ben went on to explain how attributes like the length and thickness of the grips, size and design of the reel seat, plus the types of guides that are featured will help each user determine if this rod and reel combo will work for their style of coastal fishing.

As an interesting aside, I have a number of Penn combos in my saltwater inventory, but one of them is a Fathom 25NLD2 (narrow lever drag, two-speed) reel spooled with 400 yards of 50-pound Spider Wire that is mated to a 6-foot, 2-inch Carnage III jigging rod rated for 50- to 130-pound braid and 5- to 8-ounce jigs. Consistent with Ben Joyce’s recommendations (Fathom reels mate well with Carnage rods), I determined that these two components were harmonically balanced and were meant for each other a few years back by trial and error. It’s both ironic and coincidental that we came to exactly the same conclusion, but via different paths.

St. Croix’s Rift rods recommend what size fish to target with them on their labels.

Light & Strong

Rounding out the industry advice on how to best match up rods and reels are some interesting thoughts from Nick Cicero from Bimini Bay Outfitters who distribute both Tsunami and Maxel rods and reels.  “The use of braided line has totally transformed the equipment we use and has introduced a new generation of smaller, lighter and stronger gear,” said Cicero, adding “It’s challenging to match up rods or reels from yesteryear with today’s modern equipment because of the size and weight mismatches.”

“The good news is that the next-gen reels like our Maxel jigging and Salt-X spinning are downsized compared to historical products, but still pack a tremendous punch due to the use of more advanced frames, reel seats, heavy duty gears and drag materials. The same is true with our various families of Tsunami and Maxel coastal fishing rods,” Cicero noted, explaining how advanced composites allow them to make a lighter, stronger, thinner and more durable rod that will match up perfectly with their fishing reels or a variety of competitive models.

“The use of braided line offers many advantages, with line capacity being one of them, but also has one glaring liability…it stresses equipment out and breaks things,” Cicero said, adding “Because of the lack of stretch and typical plus-strength of the multi-carrier braided lines, the pressure that this imparts on a reel’s frame, drag and gear train, or a rod’s blank, reel seat or guides has caused a lot of equipment failure problems.”

This action chart from St. Croix demonstrates the different action rods and what their bends should look like.

Many of the leading reel manufacturers are taking advantage of braid, and the fact that today’s anglers want the lightest, strongest, reels possible, with plenty of line capacity.  For 2024 Accurate put forth their Boss Valiant 500 Narrow Plus designed to give both jig fishermen and live bait fans an extra 150 yards of 50-pound braid in narrower reel, providing ample drag and plenty of line capacity.

Okuma’s Tesoro reel is another great example of utilizing advanced technologies to create both exceptional feel and rock solid durability.  “With the popularity of braided lines taking over the offshore market, we designed a reel that is compact, but offers extreme line capacity,” stated John Bretza, Product Development Manager.  “Its lightweight design, smooth and clean cosmetics, combined with basically the same internal workings as the proven Makaira lever drag reels, the Tesoro will become a staple in the inshore and offshore market, and something we are proud to call Okuma.”

Internationals come in many different sizes but which one will pair best on the Penn International V 50-100 rod.

The Tesoro star drag reels packs its strength and technology into 10 and 12-size reels, both with five total corrosion resistant bearings bathed in TSI oil for the ultimate in free spool. The Carbonite drag system puts out a fish stopping 22 pounds of drag, with both the Tesoro sizes featuring a high speed 6.2:1 gear ratio.

The one problem that I have with the current crop of thinner and lighter rods that match up with the latest generation of power reels is that in many situations, it’s a challenge to make a firm connection of the reel to the rod when you have a downsized composite reel seat with a single locking collar that is a real pain to tighten up.  When purchasing a rod that will get a lot of “quality time” action, I always recommend going down to your local tackle shop, marine store or sporting goods retailer to do the deal. It’s also a great idea to bring down the reel that you might want to match up with that rod, regardless of brand. This will give you some firsthand insights on whether the potential marriage might work.

When checking out what rod might work best with your reel, or vice versa, consider the following Q&A advice:


  • Are the guides and reel seat located on the spine of the rod when it bends and loads up?
  • Are there enough guides to fit the action of the rod and distribute stress evenly across the blank?
  • Do any of the guides or tip have bent frames or missing ceramic inserts?
  • Does the reel seat hardware like the hood and locking collar work smoothly? (two locking collars are always better than one to ensure a snug/tight fit of the reel to the rod)
  • Does the rod balance well with the chosen reel? Put it on and try it out.


  • Does the handle spin the spool smoothly, without any added friction?
  • Does the reel’s crank handle knob spin freely?
  • On conventional reels, does the spool spin freely when disengaged in neutral?
  • On spinners, does the bail operate smoothly, does it over to winding mode when turning the reel handle (if it’s a design feature) and does the line roller bearing spin freely?
  • On two-speed reels, can you switch from high gear to low gear quickly and smoothly?
  • On lever drag reels, can you get heavy drag settings in strike and max and still get smooth free-spool operation?
  • Does the reel balance well on the intended rod?


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