While power refers to how much force it takes to deflect or bend a rod, action describes where that deflection takes place along the rod’s length. A fishing rod is most powerful in its butt section, and that power diminishes incrementally the closer you move towards the tip. Different actions move those transition points. Faster action rods flex mostly near the tip, providing fast access to the rod’s powerful mid and lower sections. Moderate action rods are more forgiving, bending past the tip and into the middle, while slower action rods flex all the way down into the butt section. Fishing rod actions range from slow to extra-fast. Since action is expressed as a function of time, think about a rod’s action as how quickly you can access the rod’s power when you apply force, either to cast, to move the lure in the water, to set the hook, or change a hooked fish’s direction. Another way to visualize rod action is think about the amount of time it takes for a rod to recover – or straighten out – after applying such a force.
Extra-fast action rods deflect near the tip, and then taper very quickly to a stiffer mid and lower section. This design generally delivers maximum sensitivity, great casting accuracy, and the ability to make fast and powerful hook sets. Extra-fast rods can be used in a variety of fishing situations but are most popular with single-hook applications like worming and jigging.
Fast action rods are very popular with anglers because of their versatility. They do many things well, delivering great sensitivity, accuracy, and fast hook sets, while providing additional “forgiveness” that comes from a bit more deflection in the rod’s upper section. Why would an angler want a bit more deflection in this location? There are many reasons, but one example would be jigging for walleyes using braided line in deeper water. Since braided line does not stretch, a bit more deflection in the rod could easily be the difference that keeps a walleye from tearing the hooks free during a powerful head shake.
Moderate action rods bend past the tip and into the rod’s middle section. For this reason, moderate action rods are even more forgiving, which makes them a great choice for presenting moving baits or “reaction” lures like crankbaits – especially those equipped with treble hooks. In addition to providing good casting distance, a moderate action rod does a great job absorbing and softening the often-violent shock a fish imparts on the line and rod when it hits a moving bait. Ultimately, it’s this softer forgiveness – bending into the middle – that keeps the hooks in the fish’s mouth not only on the strike, but also throughout the fight.
This one – moderate-fast action – appears out of order in the rod action hierarchy, but it’s important to understand fast and moderate actions independently before splitting the middle. That’s exactly what a moderate-fast action rod does – splits the middle between fast and moderate. It bends further from the tip than a fast-action rod, but not as deeply into the middle section as a moderate action rod. This is another action that’s very popular with anglers, again, because of its versatility. Moderate-fast action rods deliver better sensitivity and hook-setting capability than a moderate action rod and are great choices for presenting single-hook moving lures like spinnerbaits, swim jigs, swim baits, and bladed jigs, as well as surface wake baits.
Slow action rods bend way down into the butt section. This action was very popular in the past when rods were primarily made from bamboo and fiberglass but are relatively rare in today’s fishing applications due to the use of modern carbon and composite rod-building materials. Slow action rods are good for fighting larger fish on light line and are typically only seen in some specialized ultra-light and fly-fishing applications.