In recent years, bass fishermen have seen a number of rod-making innovations that improved their favorite fishing sticks, including Fuji's Concept Guide placement system, split grip handles, and better overall graphite/titanium/magnesium technology for increased sensitivity and lighter weight.
The latest innovation — micro guides — is sure to turn heads and become a widespread option, if not an outright design change, once anglers recognize the advantages these smaller guides offer.
Basically, micro guides are considerably smaller than the conventional guides found on today's casting rods. They average about 4mm in diameter (some are even smaller) and all the guides on a rod are usually the same size. By comparison, a conventional rod today uses guides that typically decrease from 12mm to 10mm, 8mm, 7mm, and then 6mm to the tip.
Micro guides are not new. Custom rod builders have been using them for decades. In Japan the small guides have been popular among light tackle bass fishermen wanting increased sensitivity, while in Europe micro guides have been standard on long carp rods for years. Manufacturers include Fuji, Pacific Bay and American Tackle, well-known firms that supply the majority of guides used on today's rods.
Right now, Kistler Custom Fishing Rods (www.kistlerrods.com) and Duckett Fishing, LLT (www.duckettfishing.com) are offering micro guides on their rods, but more are coming, especially with the introduction of Fuji's K-Series guides (including micro guides) at the 2009 ICAST tackle show.
Kistler, which began shipping their rods in mid-November, offers three 7-foot Micro Magnesium Series models in medium, medium-heavy and heavy actions, and internet customers can also design their own Kistler custom rods (the Z-Bone Series) with the new guides.
Duckett's Micro Magic Series includes 19 micro guide models ranging from 6-foot, 1-inch medium action models to 7-foot, 10-inch extra heavy actions. The 2007 Bassmaster Classic winner also has four very technique-specific crankbait rods featuring the small guides.
"The most readily apparent advantage micro guides offer is overall reduced rod weight — up to 1/2-ounce in some instances," explains Trey Kistler, who first experimented with the downsized guides eight years ago. "That means less arm fatigue at the end of a day of hard fishing, especially if you're throwing big crankbaits or heavy jigs.
"A half ounce doesn't sound like much, but after just 32 casts, that's a full pound less your arm has thrown or your wrist has flipped, and at the end of a day, you're talking a lot of pounds."
"The lighter overall rod weight allows me to add strength to the rod itself in other areas," adds Duckett. "Until now, most weight-saving was achieved by making the blank walls thinner, but that has meant more breakage.
"At the same time, the weight savings with micro guides allows me to use more guides on the rod, which increases sensitivity and balance. Sensitivity comes through the rod blank, but it begins with loaded guides. Line never touches your rod. Sensitivity is transferred through the guides to your rod."
Less weight also means rod balance is easier to achieve, and better balance means smoother and longer casts. Nearly everyone's first impression of micro guides is that the small rings will decrease casting distance. Not so, emphasize Duckett and Kistler, both of whom readily admit they, too, were skeptics until they began using micro guides.
"I first used a rod with micro guides two years ago," notes Duckett, "and yes, my first impression was that the rod would not cast well because the first guide would restrict line movement.
"Just the opposite is true. The small guides eliminate vibration because the line can't move up and down or side to side inside the guides. That energy is transferred into straight line, forward motion so you can actually cast further with these guides. Honestly, it will take you less than five casts with any micro guide rod to realize this.
"You notice it best when you're throwing big crankbaits, because the line travels so smoothly. You'll gain casting distance with these guides and get a bait 'clear across the creek now, not lose distance."
Adds Kistler, "Fishermen who have used these guides have told me they have actually been able to loosen their reel braking systems because casting is easier and more controllable. For the first time, we have rods that actually improve reel efficiency."
Other advantages to micro guides are less rod/line tangles in boat lockers because the guides have a much smaller profile, plus the fact the guides work well with any style of casting rod, including flipping, and handle all sizes of monofilament, fluorocarbon, and braid.
Micro guide technology is also applicable to spinning rods, although only from about the mid-point to the tip. Longer casts aren't necessarily a benefit here, but increased smoothness, sensitivity, balance and weight reduction are.
Two reported problems have possibly kept micro guides from becoming a standard in the industry. One trouble spot has been that guide inserts, both alconite and SIC, popped out of the frame; the other has been guides working loose in the rod's thread wrap because the foot itself is much smaller. Both were warranty issues that required providing a new rod to the user.
Duckett believes he has solved both problems by slightly re-designing the guides he uses (they're made by American Tackle Co.). He added a slight groove inside the guide ring to seat the insert more effectively, and added an almost imperceptible notch on the foot to help anchor the wrapping thread. The most critical part, he believes, was keeping the guides balanced and maintaining their overall integrity, which he was able to do.
At Fuji, the K-Series of guides were designed to eliminate the problem of braided lines tangling around the guide itself. Introduced after nearly five years of research and development, they feature a titanium frame with either SIC or alconite inserts.
The K-Series will be available in a 4mm micro guide size (as well as larger sizes) and it is this guide St. Croix will use on the micro guide rods they plan to introduce at ICAST in 2010, according to Jeff Schluter, VP of Marketing for the Wisconsin-based firm.
"I think you're going to see a number of companies introducing rods with micro guides," notes Schluter, "because the guides do offer specific advantages, and the K-Series is going to make micro guides even more attractive. Micro guides are not going to totally take over the industry, but they do seem to be the new buzz word in rod building, and based on our early evaluations, micro guides are going to become an important option for fishermen."
Given Kistler's and Duckett's early market success with their rods, other manufacturers besides St. Croix will certainly re-evaluate micro guides in the weeks ahead, as well. Bass fishermen who try a rod with these guides may well demand it.