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Gary Dobyns on Rods

Article: June, 2009
 Lake Fork Pro Guide Tom RedingtonGary Dobyns offers a unique perspective on the fishing tackle industry. He’s the West’s all time money winner with over $2 million in bass tournament career earnings, winning 39 bass boats along the way. In addition to being an accomplished tournament angler, Gary has been intimately involved with the tackle industry for decades. He designed his first rod for Abu Garcia in 1989 and since then he’s designed rods for 3 different companies. Gary currently owns his own rod company, Dobyns Rods. While he’s quick to point out that he’s a rod designer and not a rod engineer, his perspective as a tournament angler and rod designer offers great insight for any fisherman trying to select the proper gear. I sat down with Gary in May and asked him a variety of questions about fishing rods. In Part I, he covers the attributes that constitute a great rod and how he built his line of rods to accomplish that. In Part II, Gary gets specific on selecting the proper rods for specific applications.

Tom: I assume building rods comes down to a bit of a tradeoff. When you design a rod, what are the most important attributes that you design? Light weight, balance rod, durability, casting distance, etc?

Gary: I design rods for sensitivity and balance, which are really one and the same. With a balanced rod, you’re not fighting the tip, so it feels light in your hand and more sensitive. As a result, a heavy balanced rod feels lighter in your hand than a light rod that is out of balance. It is harder to balance longer rods, so that’s the challenge. Bigger diameter rods with a faster taper are easier to balance and you can build them with thinner walls. I’m after small diameter rods--I think it is a higher end look--and am using thicker walls. I could build lighter rods if that was all I was after. For example, I’m using a top quality high density cork that weighs 30% more than inferior handles. I chose to build a balanced rod that is very, very sensitive, and it feels very light.

Tom: What design features set the new Dobyns Rods apart from the rest of the marketplace?

Gary: Balance & sensitivity requires high end materials, so I scoured the worldwide marketplace for the top components. I was looking for a more durable better guide, and found Kigan, and I’m the first one to bring them to the US. They have a unique “3D” design with 3 points of contact and then it is still epoxied in place, so it’s a very sure hold. In addition, Kigan has a strong frame and is an ultra durable guide, with zirconium on Champion Extremes and SiC on the Champion line. Zirconium is 30% lighter, so we use it on the Extremes. These are very expensive guides, but they were the best I could find. For handles, I wasn’t happy with Portugal cork. I wanted denser, cleaner cork, so I started looking at a French cork and settled on Korean cork. It is more expensive, actually extremely more expensive than the Portuguese cork, but it is also much better and it doesn’t have the issues with fill like other cork. The rods feature Fuji reel seats because they are the best. We added trim rings to dress up the rods and made them look sharp cosmetically as well, plus Kevlar wrapping on lower butt section of the Extremes. We ended up with what I wanted—not a “pretty” rod, but a very sharp, clean rod. We’re building a really high end fishing rod, including our manufacturing processes. We build every rod on the spine. And we're using a locking wrap on all single foot guides. It’s an extra step and a pain in the neck, but with use over time, the guide won’t ever get loose. It’s typically only done by custom rod builders and we do it on all of ours.

Finally, I paid attention to the little details, like hook keepers. They drove me crazy because they are hard to make work for all applications (i.e. drop shot weights). I used a small loop style keeper on a 45degree angle so as not to catch your line (one of my pet peeves) and on dropshot rods I made a custom keeper to hold the drop shot weights and a small loop for your hooks. I placed in behind the handle to avoid catching your line. Believe it or not, this hook keeper dilemma was one of my toughest problems to solve, both in placement and design. People would think "oh hook keepers are nothing,” but I get fighting mad over them catching my line, so I tried to fix this.

Tom: What’s the difference between the Champion and Champion Extreme rods and for what applications are the Extremes better?

Gary: The Extremes, I call them “feel rods”. I recommend them for baits that you really need to have a good feel, like worms and jigs. They’re made with the best materials, are super light, and made so you can feel every pebble on the bottom. They aren’t made for reaction baits, and I wouldn’t even recommend fishing reaction baits (like spinnerbaits and cranks) on them. They’re just too sensitive. The Champions are very sensitive and you really don’t need a rod better than them. But if you want the best and need to feel everything down there, the Extreme is made for you.

Tom: We’ve seen a lot of experimenting with grips over the past few years, with split grips and no foregrips, etc. What’s your philosophy on grips?

Gary: Any time you lock down the front of the rod you’re going to deaden some sensitivity. With no foregrip, you can get 4 fingers on the blank and get more sensitivity. You probably don’t need it with these rods, but it sure doesn’t hurt anything. I have a foregrip on my swimbait rods because some of the guys grip the foregrip to cast these. I still don’t think you need it, but the guys want it, so I listened and added it. I have some great swimbait guys on Pro Staff, including big bass angler Mike Long, who’s a stud. Why am I going to tell a guy who’s caught 60 bass over 15 lbs that he doesn’t need a foregrip?

Split grips have been around for a long time. Berkley was doing a very short split grip on their Series One in the mid-80s. I did a rod line with Competitive Edge in the early-90s with split grips and it caught on. It’s really just a trend. The split grip is a looks deal, it doesn’t help with anything because it’s behind where you’re holding and it really doesn’t have a function. It’s the way rods are today. It’s a techy look, a pretty look, and it is an accepted rod in today’s market. I make a number of split grips and full handle grips. For reaction baits, I don’t like split grips—I prefer the full handle. For flipping sticks and swimbaits, I personally don’t like a split. I’m starting to build some of those rods with splits because guys like the look and my split grips are outselling my full handles, but I still think there is a need for a full handle. And if you have a really clean cork like I’m using, it’s a gorgeous rod with a full handle anyway. Some guys say that it is easier to grab the knob at the end of split grip to cast, but the downside is that if you’re wearing a jacket or sweatshirt, it easy to get that knob caught in your pockets.

Only my swimbait rods have the EVA foam. It has become the standard for swimbait rods and that is what the swimbait gurus prefer, so my swimbait line has EVA grips. It’s not a sensitivity deal, actually foam is way less sensitive than cork. EVA foam is cheap—good cork handles are outrageously expensive—so a lot of the companies that are after a price point will have foam on the handles. I think cork is sharper looking and more sensitive, so I use it on everything except for the swimbait rods.

Tom: Longer rods become more popular all the time, going from 6 and 6.5 to 7 and 7.5 and now even 8 feet plus. What are the advantages of longer rods?

Gary: In the West you can hardly give away a rod that is under 7’. We keep going longer and longer because you can cast farther, pick up more line on the hook set, lose less fish because they play the fish better, and a lot of times it makes up for mistakes—if you are out of position on a hook set a longer rod moves so much more line that you’ll still often get the fish. The only drawback is that it’s very hard to balance them. With cranks and swimbaits, longer casts cover more water and your bait is in the strike zone longer, so you catch more fish. In deep water, say dragging a jig in 30, 50, or even 70 feet, you’ll get a big bow in your line, especially with the wind blowing, plus you have some stretch in your line with everything except braid. The long rod still allows for good hook sets in these cases. Shorter rods, I just don’t use them. I just got used to making accurate casts with longer rods, even around docks. I personally don’t use a rod under 7’.

Tom: There’s a big difference in rods of the same power, such as M or MH, with an extra fast taper vs. a fast or moderate taper. Please explain what taper/tip speed means and how to select the proper tip speed.

Gary: Most of my rods are pretty fast because I prefer fast rods. A few are extra fast but most are fast, really fast plus. In my line, anything that says fast is a fast plus. With a fast rod, when you put pressure on it, it’ll load up fast, so you’ll feel fish or cover faster and you’ll set the hook faster. The only time I use a mod-fast is on cranks and jerks. I even prefer a fast on spinnerbaits. Some guys prefer mod-fast for spinners, I still prefer fast though. With fast rods, you don’t have to set the hook as hard and you don’t have to move the rod as far to set the hook because it loads quicker, and it’ll overcome stretch in the line. You need the slower action of mod-fast rods so you don’t take treble hook baits away from fish when they bite and they won’t tear them out near the boat. Think of them more like a rubber band—it’ll load slowly.

Tom: What about fiberglass vs graphite?

Gary: There are a lot of different grades of graphite and there are a lot of different kinds of graphite. That’s where you get into your strength and weight of your rods. Graphite is a very, very sensitive material and all my rods have graphite in them. Glass is something that never went away and is getting revived—a lot of guys are going back to glass. I hadn’t made glass except for in a couple rods prior. I didn’t make it my first generation of Dobyns rods because I wasn’t happy with it. I got away from fishing glass rods in the past because I hated the weight, they were as big around as a broomstick, and they didn’t feel or fish well. For my 2nd generation of Dobyns rods, I challenged my engineer. I told him I wanted a small diameter, light glass rod. It was not easy. We went through 10 different prototypes in a 3 week period. But we got it and now I have a lightweight, small diameter glass rod. It is a composite. There is some graphite and glass in the butt section, to keep the diameter down and to keep it lighter, but the entire forward tip section is all glass. I have my small diameters, so it is a cool looking rod. And it weights next to nothing, not 5 lb like a normal glass rod. Actually, since it is so lightweight, it is a fairly sensitive rod. But you don’t need the sensitivity, that’s not what you fish glass for, but it doesn’t hurt anything. As a result, I think it is the best glass rod available today and it is a different glass rod than what anyone else is building in the entire market. Since it came out so well, we’re in the process of expanding our glass line.

Tom: Now that you have the lightweight glass rods, do you prefer the slower action of your glass rods or the bit of extra sensitivity of your graphite crankbait rods?

Gary: That’s a good question. I hadn’t thrown a glass rod in over 10 years. I used to have a full arsenal of custom made glass rods, but since then, I’ve gotten into the new mod-fast graphite rod that reacts somewhat similar to glass and I got used to that. Now that we have the new glass rods, I find myself fishing a lot of glass lately and I like glass but I am missing some of the sensitivity—I learned to adjust to that over the past 10 years of not throwing glass. I love our new glass rods but I’m also used to fishing the mod-fast graphite CB rods, so I use both. It just depends on what I’m doing and how much sensitivity I want. It really allows anglers to get exactly what they want for treble hook lures.

Tom: You’re well known as a hard jerkbait expert. What rod do you recommend for jerkbaits?

Gary: I’m throwing a lot of the 704C and 705C rods. I throw a lot of Staysee 90s, a bait I redesigned with Lucky Craft this year, changing it a little bit. It’s my #1 jerkbait. I throw it more than any other jerkbait and the new version 3 is pre-weighted with bigger hooks, the way I always customized it in the past. I use a lot of their other jerkbaits too. I throw the Pointer DD78 when I’m fishing shallower. I also throw a Pointer 128, it is their biggest jerkbait, and that’s when I want a 705. For the Staysee 90, you can throw a 704 or a 705. My son prefers the 704; I’m throwing the 705. Just depends on personal preference, both will throw them really well. I’m often throwing these jerkbaits on 8 or 10 lb test, and I rarely throw it on more than 12 because I think it impairs the action. I love throwing jerkbaits; if it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be a professional fisherman.

Tom: I’ve often found picking a good rod for soft plastic jerkbaits like Magic Shads, Zig Zags, and Senkos difficult. On one hand, you need to throw these relatively lightweight lures a long ways to catch skittish bass in clear shallow water. At the same time, you need a rod with plenty of backbone to drive a big hook through thick plastic at the end of a long cast. What type of rod would you suggest for this application?

Gary: That’s a good question. That falls in to the category of needing a longer rod, where you’re picking up more line and taking the stretch out of the line. A fast action rod will also help with this. It’s going to depend on personal preference. I tend to throw more 4 powers, while a lot of guys prefer the 3 powers. The 733 and DX743 are good, but when I’m throwing bigger baits, like 5 and 6 inch sizes, I’ll bump up to the 4 powers, like the 734 and DX744.

The long rods let you cast it way out there and get through the plastic and penetrate the fish’s mouth. I don’t have a wicked hook set. I have a sweep-load hook set and I really crank hard to keep pressure and bury the hook. I think that anyone who sets the hook with a slack line pop defeats the purpose, unless if you have a super strong hook. If that thing hits bone, the hook springs and you don’t get penetration, so you miss the fish. If you’ll load the rod and do a sweep set, that hook will catch and dig in. Plus, you won’t break off on the hook set because you don’t shock the line. I come back hard but I’ll ease up as the rod loads, and I never drop the rod and do a slack line set.

Tom: What’s the biggest mistake people make when selecting rods?

Gary: The best advice I can give is that I always tell guys to buy the best that they can afford. You’re going to feel more bites and your going to land more fish. As for the mistakes, they often fish the wrong bait on the wrong rod. For example, you don’t want to throw a crankbait on a flipping stick. Can you do it? Yeah, but it’s not going to do it well. Most of the guys don’t have enough of what I call “utility rods”, 3 and 4 power rods that’ll do a lot of things well—like my 733 and 734. You can jig fish with them, and I throw all my topwaters and spinnerbaits on them. You can c-rig with them; you can buzzbait with them. I don’t go to any lake without 4 or 5 of those versatile in the boat with me because if I don’t have the exact rod with me, I can still get by with the utility rods.

Tom: Anything else you’d like to say in closing?

Gary: My first generation of rods was built in China and I’m done with that. I don’t want to build cheap rods; I want to build top end rods. I think my new rods are as good as any rods on the market. I just ask guys to pick them up and give them a try. When they walk into their tackle shop, take a look at them. I promise they won’t be disappointed.

For more information, go to or check out the full lineup in person at Lake Fork Trophy Lures’ store in Emory and on their website,
Good Fishing,

Fishing Tip by  Lake Fork Pro Tom Redington


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