Fishing Rod Sensitivity

 As I stated previously, when I asked how someone chose a rod, the reply is usually, hold it out in front of them and shake it and if it feels and looks good they buy it. Well we certainly can do better than that! In this part we are going to get a little more serious and technical about our fishing rod selection.

Let’s talk about sensitivity. We talk about rod sensitivity a lot when discussing our favorite rods. It’s an attribute that rod buyers seek, some more than others. Sensitivity always seems to make its way into conversations about technique-specific rods.

What is Sensitivity?

Sensitivity is how well you can feel a bite or the bottom of the body of water you’re fishing in through the rod. With some methods, you will be amazed at how much sensitivity can make a difference. With other methods, it will make very little difference.

Fishing rods are so varied in how they match up to specific fisheries. One rod may work perfectly for a certain technique, while not at all for another – even while chasing the same species. Sensitivity is not always needed, but when it is – it’s essential!

What Makes a Rod Sensitive?

There are a number of factors that come into play when it comes to sensitivity.

Graphite rods are considered the boss of sensitivity as their ability to transmit vibrations to the hand is superior to other materials such as fiberglass; If you base your rod choice just off of the material, be it carbon fiber  or some other material, you are not guaranteed the most sensitive rod. How the rod blank is designed and finished will affect the sensitivity hugely.

Softer fibers require thicker walls than higher modulus would, to lift the same amount of weight. The stiffer the fiber, the less material it requires. The less material used, the easier it is for a frequency to transmit down the blank to your hand.

A painted/coated rod blank may not feel as sensitive as the un-coated version, although you will find some coated rods that are extremely sensitive and some un-coated that are not at all. The amount of epoxy that is coated on the guides, the reel seat you are using, the type of handle and the amount of glue that is used will all affect the sensitivity. It really is a big mixture of factors that contribute to the best overall feel. There is a balance with searching for sensitivity; the rod must remain durable enough for the fishing it is intended for. (Flash Back To Part 1) It also must bend correctly when you’re fighting a fish. As we discussed regarding different fibers, the more material you have on a rod, the less likely it is to be sensitive. The less material you have on the rod, the less likely it is to be durable.

Many of the mass-produced, low-priced rods on the market use basic, inexpensive graphite that isn’t sensitive but may be quite durable. Some use solid fiberglass tips that have almost no sensitivity but will withstand major abuse.

Ultra-sensitive rods may use very light and thin blanks, but you should be careful not to hit them against rocks or branches that may compromise the blank. If a rod is designed properly and taken care of it should hold up well to fishing. Not all graphite rods are the same and in some cases, similar rods will feel completely different. The best test is to fish it.

Choosing Gear for Sensitivity

Fishing line is second only to the rod in gear selection to the sensitivity factor. Braided lines are very sensitive due to the zero-stretch attribute. Mono has a lot of stretch and this isn’t ideal for transmitting feel. Fluorocarbon has a lot less stretch than mono so it can be an excellent leader or mainline option. The weight of the lure you are using will play into how sensitive a rod is. If you are trying to feel the bottom with a 1/8 oz weight on a rod that is rated 4 – 8 oz., you’re going to have a much harder time. If you have too light of a rod with too heavy of a lure, it will reduce sensitivity as the rod will be bent over and much of the vibration absorbed. Matching your rod to the intended lure will give you the best result.

Now that we’ve talked about sensitivity, let’s look at species specific rods.

Bass Rods

In fishing for bass, sensitivity is ultimately important in underwater techniques that require close attention to bottom structures and bites. Let’s take casting Texas-rigged plastics as an example."my personal favorite rig, and my favorite rod to use is the DAIWA TATULA ELITE ALL AROUND ROD #TAEL701MMHFS". As the weight and lure make contact with the bottom, being able to feel that accurately allows us to judge just when to pick up the bait and move it. If your rod is not sensitive you won’t be able to accurately feel and keep your bait near the bottom. Largemouth bass can often pick up the bait and spit it quickly. If your rod reacts immediately to a fish acting on the bait, you are much more likely to successfully set the hook at the right time. With a “dead” tip, you may not know the difference between a bite and your bait pulling on a stick.

Some techniques may not require as much sensitivity but can benefit from it. A “crank-bait” cast for bass is often best suited to rods made out of fiberglass or with composite blanks. Though sensitivity is not as essential as say, fishing with a plastic or jig, having sensitivity carry thought the rod allows you to discover cover when your crank-bait bounces off rocks/limbs. Some fishermen go with a graphite moderate or moderate/fast rod for this purpose.

Salmon & Steelhead Bank Rods

Where sensitivity is most desired in Salmon and Steelhead would be for drift fishing (or “bottom-bouncing.”) With this technique the angler needs to be able to feel when the weight “ticks” the bottom and most importantly when a fish bites. These bites can sometimes be extremely light, so most anglers purchase very sensitive rods to get the most out of their drift techniques.

When fishing with a bobber, it is not as important to have extreme sensitivity, although some guys still benefit from it, especially if the fish are being very lethargic and not pulling the bobber under water. Some Chinook do not pull the bobber underwater but instead just stop it or tilt the float, sometimes the angler can feel that and set the hook based on what they feel through the rod. Float fishermen are not as concerned about sensitivity as drift fishermen though, as it is mostly about the visuals and having a light enough rod to fish all day.

For back-bouncing, hover fishing or similar techniques, sensitivity cannot be understated. Since bottom connection and light bites are involved, you need to be able to immediately react to the bite. Rods still need backbone so it is a delicate balance of power and sensitivity.

Trolling Rods

With techniques like trolling, down-rigger or plug-pulling, sensitivity is not a factor in hooking fish because the rod is in the rod holder when the fish bites. More important is viewing the action of the tip. However, a sensitive tip while trolling can be very helpful when letting down your weight. If you are dropping a heavy weight to the bottom, feeling your weight hit the bottom gives you an instant indication of when to stop spooling line out.

The rod that I prefer for trolling is the Daiwa Wilderness rod. It is a good rod for the price and has great quality. A good rod doesn't need to break the bank. 

Walleye Rods

When jigging for walleye, the bites can be very light and extremely subtle. The walleye rod you use should be a faster action that responds quickly to the bite, but so sensitive that you can feel every movement and change in pressure on the jig. Sensitive walleye jigging rods are extremely sought after.

Saltwater Inshore Rods

Inshore rods can cover a wide range of powers. For the lighter inshore rods, sensitivity is easier to achieve due to the lighter blanks and graphite construction. These are similar to bass rods in their length and sensitivity. Once you get into large inshore species you must be able to operate heavy weights while retaining a tip that translates lighter bites.

Surf Rods

Surf anglers often fish longer, stouter rods to achieve great casting distance into the surf, however, they still require a high degree of sensitivity. When retrieving a plug or a buck-tail jig, feeling exactly how your presentation is reacting and moving is essential to entice more bites. Anglers who do not fish surf rods may be surprised at how much you can feel through the rod, although they are longer and stouter than many other rod types.


Purchasing a rod that fully translates sensitivity to the hand is going to depend on choosing the best rod for your species and technique. If you choose a quality rod wisely based on lure and line rating and designed for your technique, you will get the most out of your gear. Don’t settle for “dead” feeling rods when the technique demands a sensitive feel. You will maximize your bites and hook more fish.

Stay tuned to the Outdoor Family Store for more thought provoking info on choosing the right fishing rod. I will continue this series with more info as time permits. Look for part 3 in the near future. And remember, Fishing is an Outdoor Family thing.

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