I’m often asked for advice regarding fishing rods. Usually by someone who has recently decided that they like fishing the saltwater, and are ready to invest some money on buying their own gear. I always fall back on the advice given by Brandon Hayward and memorialized in his first book, The Southern California Angler (2008).
In one of the chapters, Brandon describes building the “ultimate quiver.” The backbone of that quiver is 3 setups: a 12-20 lb. rig, a 25/30-lb. setup, and a 40/50-lb. setup. Brandon wrote that if you have these 3 setups, you will have what you need to be successful from ½ day trips to 2-3 day trips. Brandon wrote this book prior to the big bluefin that are typically the focus of those 2-3 day trips now, but you will still cover a lot of bases with these 3 setups. I’ll refer to these setups as the Basic Three.
The cornerstone of the Basic Three is the 25/30-lb. setup. With that one setup you will be in good shape to catch anything from sculpin to school-sized tuna. My go-to setup for this rig is my Fishing Syndicate FSC 800M (20-50), paired with a Shimano Trinidad 16A. The reel is spooled about halfway with 50-lb. braid, then top-shotted with 30-lb. mono. Depending on the application, I tip it as needed with 20 to 35-lb. fluorocarbon.
The FSC 800M comes from Fishing Syndicate’s All Purpose Composite series. It is meant to be flexible for a variety of fishing situations. After having fished it now for more than a year, I can attest to this attribute. I have literally caught everything from sculpin to small bluefin on this rod.
But what about when you have your Basic Three rods and you’re ready to expand your arsenal?
If you have reached the point in your saltwater angling development that you are looking to go beyond the Basic Three, CONGRATULATIONS! You are probably on the positive side of being one of the better anglers on the boat at any given time. You have likely become proficient in the basic skills required to be successful… You can cast. You can pick a good bait. You tie good knots. You know what rigs to setup for different species of fish. Now you are wondering, “How do I take my game up another level?”
Unlike building your arsenal on the Basic Three, or focusing on that middle setup as your first investment, there are no hard and fast rules for expanding. The direction you take will depend on the type of fishing you want to focus on. Something that I’ve done every year since I got serious and set out to be good at saltwater fishing in Southern California is focus on a SPECIFIC type of fishing that we do to improve my game for that particular application. This focus could take the form of a goal, like catching your first yellowtail on surface iron. Or it could just be figuring out a certain kind of fishing that you want to learn how to be more proficient doing. Once you’ve picked a focus, you can deep dive all aspects of that fishery and prioritize your fishing time accordingly.
Naturally, one of the things you’ll want to explore is the optimum rod and reel for that particular application.
One of my self-designated areas of focus for this year is lead-head & squid winter bass fishing.
The rod that I’ve settled in on to use for this application is the new for 2022 Fishing Syndicate FSC-IS 900M (20-40). This rod is currently only available as a custom order, but it’s slated for stock inventory later this year. Most often, I’ve been pairing this rod with a Shimano Trinidad 14A. I like that combination, but I’m still experimenting with other reels. I do really like the rod though for this application. Let’s explore why…
The FSC 800M and the FSC-IS 900M are similar in rod rating (20-50 vs. 20-40), but diverge dramatically in characteristics beyond the rod rating. First of all, the “FSC-IS” designates that the FSC-IS 900M is a “Composite” blend of glass and graphite rod designed to fish the Inshore Species (“IS”), with a thin diameter, designed with the perfect balance of action and power, with faster action and a faster shutoff than its “All-Purpose Composite” counterpart. The composition used on this blank makes it thinner and lighter.
What exactly does “faster action” mean? What it means is that the where the FSC All Purpose blanks have a more even bend over the length of the rod, this FSC-IS blank is going to “shut-off” closer to the tip. Let me explain how this translates into a better match for this application.
First of all, often times these winter bass trips can get a little “crowded” at the rail. Even though there are actually less people on the boats these days, this type of fishing is all about finding the structure. This time of year, the bass hunker down amongst the rocks and reef. The water is colder. The fish are more lethargic. They aren’t going to chase a bait, they’re going to wait until something is right in front of their face before making a move on it. Consequently, when the captain tells you the structure is on the port side, just off the stern…guess where everyone goes? Typically, you don’t have to cast it too far, a little underhand flip will usually do the trick. The fast action of the rod lends itself well to that underhand flip.
Because these fish are hunkered down near structure, it is vitally critical that you win the first couple feet of the battle. On the reel, I fish straight braid, to a short top-shot of heavy fluoro (35 or 40, sometimes even 50). Neither the braid, nor the fluoro has much stretch to it. You fish the drag tight. When that fish bites, you immediately want to set on it. The combination of the lack of stretch in the line, the tight drag, and the fast action of the rod all translate to an immediate reaction at the business end of your line. When you feel that tick of a bite, you as an angler can react immediately. The longer rod length means the set has a greater impact. Hopefully your set results in driving your hook into the roof of their mouth. Because you can come tight quickly, the fish has limited opportunity to get back into the rocks to break you off.
I’m sure as the year progresses, and I have a chance to see what else this rod can do, I’ll find other applications that suit it. For now, I’ll be doing a lot of this style of fishing and the FSC-IS 900M has been a critical component to improving this aspect of my fishing. My last trip out, I caught a limit of 5 legal bass. If you enjoy this kind of fishing too, you may want to look into this rod to level up your game.