There are a number of reasons why more guys are switching to 7 foot (and longer) rods. By far, the biggest reason is that longer rods allow you to move a lot more line during your hook set than do shorter rods - especially when fishing in deep water. The amount of line that you can move with a 7 foot (plus) rod during the hook set is significantly greater than with a 6 foot or even a 6 1/2 foot rod. Another reason why guys prefer longer rods is that they allow you to cast lighter lures a lot farther than with shorter rods.
In the good old days, the most popular rod length of choice was 5 1/2 feet. They had hard rubber pistol grip handles on them and were great for sidearm and underhand casting. Back then, the only long rods were the old collapsible 7 1/2 (and later 8 foot) flippin sticks.
As time progressed, it was actually the rod handle length that changed first. Most rod companies did away with pistol grip handles and went to long, straight hyperlon handles (the black foam rubbery stuff). Although very comfortable to hold, hyperlon was quite heavy, especially when it got wet. It also got extremely hot when sitting on the deck during the summer (especially on Lake Mead) and extremely cold and wet (and slippery) during the winter. (There are many a hyperlon handled rods resting on the bottom of lakes all across the country – including a couple of mine). In the mid 80’s, cork handles made their way onto our fishing rods and is still the most popular rod handle material being used today. Cork is extremely light, doesn’t get unbearably hot or cold (or slippery), and can be easily cleaned.
During the Cold War and through the 80’s, the aerospace industry was in full swing. New materials were being developed by scientists for our state-of-the-art fighter jets, ships, weaponry, and the likes. As a result, many of these new materials made their way into everyday life. (Do you remember the Teflon boom? DuPont certainly does). Materials such as graphite and boron made their way from our military aircraft into our fishing rods and soon replaced (to some degree) fiberglass, which had been the primary fishing rod material for many decades (other than bamboo, of course). Graphite is much lighter and more durable than fiberglass and boron is extremely hard and sensitive.
Material developments continued through the “stealth” era and brought with it new “composite” materials. As their name implies, composite materials are “composed” of many different materials to further enhance durability, resistance to the elements, and (of course) are incredibly light. Just as graphite and boron did, composite materials soon made their way into non-military applications and into our fishing rods.
Believe it or not, Southern California had a major impact on fishing rods “going long”. Swimbait pioneers Alan Cole, Chomp Josephite, and Ken Huddleston began designing baits that required some serious hardware to throw. For many years, early swimbait enthusiasts were forced to use saltwater and (later) musky or pike gear to fish their swimbaits. Because swimbait fishing was virtually unheard of other than in Southern California, rod manufacturers paid it very little attention and the thought of developing a specialty rod for such a technique never crossed their minds. Although it took over two decades, you would be hard pressed to find a successful rod company today that does not include a swimbait rod in their line. Look for this trend to continue as more and more national tournaments are won on large swimbaits.
Interesting enough, with the growing popularity of Pro and Co-angler tournaments in the West, many Co-anglers (or Ams, as they are called in some tournament circuits) are digressing back to 5 1/2 and 6 foot rods to allow them to make short tosses with spinnerbaits and crankbaits from the back deck without hitting the outboard or windshield. That being said, those of you fishing from the back deck (or considering doing so) might want to keep an eye out at your neighborhood garage sale for those old 5 1/2 foot and 6 foot pistol grip rods. Chances are you can pick one (or more) up for very little money.
Thanks for your time and always remember: “The shortest distance between two points is a reef!”