Casting vs. Trolling Rod: Do You Know the Difference?


In fishing, anglers can use many different rods depending on fishing techniques and location. A casting, or baitcasting rod as it is better known, is different from a trolling rod in a few different ways. Do you know the difference?

A casting rod uses a baitcaster reel and can withstand different combinations of power and action. On the other hand, a trolling rod uses a trolling reel and is usually medium-heavy or heavy power with different types of action depending on the type of fish one wants to catch. 

If you’re interested in learning about the intricacies of the casting and trolling rod and what makes them so different, keep reading. 

What Is a Casting Rod?

A casting rod uses a baitcasting reel. This type of rod might be more difficult to use for beginners, but it can really increase the accuracy of your casting in the hands of an experienced individual.

A baitcaster reel has the following components:

  • Brakes. Setting your brakes properly is imperative to eliminating backlash, or the tendency of the line to tangle. These are located at the side of the baitcasting reel so that you can easily adjust them by turning the dial. The brakes themselves could be magnetic or centrifugal. When using a baitcaster, ensure that the brakes are always set to the maximum. 
  • Spool Tension Knob. This is also known as the cast control knob, and it is necessary to maintain a smooth cast with no backlash. Besides preventing backlash, it also adjusts the line speed coming off of the spool. This knob should be adjusted in different ways for different lures. 
  • Drag control. A starfish-shaped button or knob, this is another important aspect of reducing backlash. It is also vital in catching a fish. A line with a lot of tension and minimum drag will break a lot more easily once a fish starts to struggle a little bit compared to a line with some drag. It lets the reel rotate automatically and releases some lines so it will not break. 
  • Bait Clicker. This is a switch found on the left side of the reel that emits a clicking noise when there is increased line tension. It usually notifies that the fish has taken the lure, but sometimes, it can signify that the lure has been bumped or tangled up in an obstacle. 
  • Line Guide. This lets the line move in and out of the cast freely and ensures that it unspools regularly, with no tangles, and reduces friction and the possibility of line breakage. This is a moving component, and it shifts forward, backward, or side-to-side in conjunction with the reel handle’s rotations. 

For a greater explanation of some of the components of a baitcasting rod, you can watch this educational video: 

A baitcasting reel can also fall into one of the two categories below:

  • Low Profile. A low-profile reel is more popular because it can easily be used for wrist action, more ergonomic, and is typically used for palming. It works best with species like bass or crappie. 
  • Round. A round reel can hold a greater and heavier line and is used to toss larger baits to deal with the larger species such as steelhead, salmon, muskie, and pike. 

What Factors Should You Consider on a Baitcasting Rod?

Besides reel, you should look into a few other factors when buying a baitcasting rod, such as the length of the rod and gear ratio. 

Length 

Different lengths of rods are suited to different types of casting. A shorter rod will let you make more accurate casts, but a longer rod will let you cast over a greater distance. You need to remember that as you gain distance, you sacrifice accuracy. 

Shorter rods are also suited to fishing in heavy cover, while longer rods are better for clear waters. The fish can see you in clear waters, so you need all the leverage that you can get. Longer rods will give you a stronger hookset so that when a fish gets on your line in clear waters, they won’t swim away. This isn’t necessary for heavy cover, where the fish cannot see anything. 

An average rod length is 6.5 to 7 feet. 

Gear Ratio

All baitcasting reels have a gear ratio, and some of the most popular ratios on the market are the following:

  •  5.4:1
  •  6.4:1
  •  7.1:1. 

The first number refers to the number of turns that a spool makes for each turn of the reel handle. For example, a spool will turn 5.4 times to 1 turn of a reel handle. 

Most reels have a 6.4:1 ratio. This is ideal because it lets you work on both fast and slow presentations. However, if you can afford it, try using different gear ratios depending on the type of lure you use. 

For instance, spinnerbait or buzz bait would go best with a 7.1:1 reel. Crankbaits, on the other hand, are usually best used with a 5.4:1 ratio. High gear ratios are best used with small strike zones because they let you get your bait back in the boat so that you can recast quickly. 

How Do You Cast?

Before you start casting, your lure needs to come 8 to 10 inches down from the rod tip. This is because you need to use the momentum of the lure to create the arc that ensures a great cast. When you cast, your thumb needs to lightly rest on the spool and be feathering it the entire way until the lure hits the water. Otherwise, you could face some backlash. 

Here are the two types of casts that you’ll be facing:

  • Overhead cast. The overarm or overhead cast involves a quick whipping motion from the top to create an arc.
  • Side-arm cast. The side-arm cast is a circular motion from one side to another. It typically comes easier to beginners, who usually try to physically move the entire rod instead of a quick snap when trying the overarm cast. 

After casting with your dominant hand, you need to switch the rod over to your non-dominant hand and wait. This is so you can make any adjustments that you need to with your non-dominant hand while cranking with your right hand when you have a hookset on your fish. 

This might seem like an unnecessary, overly complicated extra step that you could do without, but it can be easily mastered over time, and the clunkiness is more than made up for with the increased accuracy offered by a casting rod. 

What Does a Casting Rod Offer?

A casting rod is great for making long casts and working well with heavy lines. It also provides a good amount of power for a strong hookset, caused by the rod’s backbone being located directly on top of the blank. Unlike spinning reels, a baitcasting reel is designed to eliminate the pesky problem of line twisting completely. 

With a casting rod, you’ll be able to fish any way you want, for any type of fish that you want. A baitcasting rod will let you fish anywhere you want, whether it’s off a pier, on a boat ,or kayak. 

A casting rod can be used with any type of lures, be they jigs and crankbaits.

What Is a Trolling Rod?

A trolling rod is used in a fishing technique called trolling, where you drag a hooked lure or bait through the water from a moving boat. This is to trick fish into thinking that your bait is moving prey. You can troll anywhere you like, as long as the water is deep enough for a boat. 

For inshore fishing, your trolling rod can be any reasonably-sized, stiff rod. However, if you’re trying out for offshore fishing and hope to bag the heavy game fish, you should use heavy and stiff rods in the 6.5 to 7.5 feet range. 

One key feature that distinguishes trolling rods, especially the offshore ones, are the guides on the rod. Guides are circular loops of metal that are affixed to the rod that the line is threaded through. They keep the line away from the rod and provide a smooth surface over which the lines slide, thus minimizing friction and reducing the possibility of the line breaking. These guides are either roller or turbo guides. 

For a trolling rod, you also need the appropriate reel. A trolling reel is very similar to a baitcasting reel, except that it has a few modifications. Unlike a baitcasting reel, it does not have a casting button. Instead, it has a lever oriented on the side of the reel that releases the line when pulled. 

Most trolling reels are also line-counting reels, where you can match your bait depth to the depth of the fish. This can be done with a multi-colored fishing line, where you can gauge the depth of your line by the color of the line on your reel. 

However, this is the simpler version of the line-counting reel – most serious anglers use an electronic counter that shows the exact depth of their line so that they can replicate this depth precisely every time they put their line in the water and catch fish at a faster rate. 

Alternatively, you can also use a two-speed reel, where you can switch to a faster speed to race against fishes that tend to struggle, like tuna. These types of reels also give you more pulling power against bigger species that realize when they’re trapped and take a nosedive to try to break the line and swim away. 

How Do I Know Where to Troll?

Before you start trolling, you need to find a location where it is a sure-fire thing that you will be able to catch some fish. To know where the hotspots for fish are, you can either use sonar to find schooling baitfish, look for the location where birds seem to be swooping into the water regularly, or follow floating weeds lines. 

If you’re trolling in freshwater, you might be able to bag one of the fish below:

  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Bass
  • Walleye
  • Sturgeon

If you’re trolling in saltwater, here are some species that you might come across:

  • Kingfish
  • Wahoo
  • Barracuda
  • Mahi-mahi
  • Tuna
  • Sailfish 

Is There a Difference Between a Casting Rod and a Trolling Rod?

One of the primary differences between a casting rod and a trolling rod is the reel type. A casting rod uses a baitcaster’s reel while a trolling rod uses either a line-counting reel or a multi-speed reel. 

You can try putting a baitcasting reel on a spinning rod, but because the rod has been specifically designed for a spinning reel, you’ll likely face some issues. One problem that you will run into are the guides and eyes, which are affixed in different places and opposite directions, so you’ll have some trouble casting. As a result, it’s best to stick with the traditional reel to rod combination. 

The two types of rods also have different lengths. As a trolling rod is usually used to capture a bigger game, the rod’s length is typically longer than a casting rod. While the length in a casting rod is important because it affects the type of casts that are made, it’s unnecessary in trolling because the boat that the trolling rod is affixed to is constantly moving, resulting in a large area being covered. 

Instead, the length is dependent on the type of species that you are looking to catch. For a big game like blue marlin, rod length can be up to 10 feet. For inshore fishing, which features smaller fish, a shorter length of 6 to 8 feet is used. 

Trolling rods also have a lesser variety of action and power combinations than casting rods. Trolling rods are more likely to come in heavy-duty heavy or medium-heavy power, with different types of action depending on how much the fish struggles and how shock-resistant the rod needs to be.

In casting, a fast-action is used most of the time because it increases sensitivity. This isn’t a factor in trolling because the trolling rod is attached to the ship and alerts anglers to the presence of a fish at the other end with a clicker.

Casting rods also tend to use more sophisticated and elaborate lures like buzz baits to attract fish to the bait because the angler can only move the rod so much in so many directions. However, you can use simpler, brightly-colored lures with trolling rods because the lure’s sheer speed can trick the fish into thinking it is prey. 

When trolling properly, most fishermen fix multiple trolling rods to their boats. The fast speed of the boat makes up for the lack of traditional action unlike in casting. 

Can You Use a Casting Rod to Troll and Vice Versa?

Yes, you can use a casting rod to troll as long as it meets the below basic requirements:

  • Use a trolling reel. Rig it as you would a normal reel, but lighten the drag. You can try using Okuma line counter reels. Don’t buy a clip-on line counter and attach it to your normal casting reel because those cheap line counters are notoriously unreliable. 
  • Use either lead core or mono line. As the lead core is naturally heavy, using it is a great way to reach depths of 30 feet and below quickly. If you don’t feel like buying a new type of line that you’ve never heard of, you should be using mono. It has the stretch needed to bear against the type of big, fighting fish that you’re going to encounter. 
  • Use heavy power. If the baitcasting rod you have isn’t at least heavy or medium-heavy power, don’t bother trying to troll with it.

You might be able to use a trolling rod to cast if you replace the reel with a casting reel, and you fish only for the heavier species. However, in both scenarios, you will need to turn one rod into a poor imitation of the other and waste some of your time and resources. As a result, it is best just to use the respective rod for its function. 

Conclusion

If you’re a beginner angler who doesn’t have a lot of money but has a baitcasting or spinning rod lying around with the different parts needed to troll at home, feel free to go ahead and troll using that. However, professionals generally use a trolling rod to troll for fish because it is better suited for it. 

A casting rod requires you to cast manually over a certain distance, be it a long or short distance, and use appropriate fishing techniques like jigging to mimic the prey’s movement. On the other hand, a trolling rod can drop the lure directly in the water and use the boat’s movement and a brightly colored lure to trick fish into thinking the lure is prey and biting down on it.

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