How to Choose a Spinning Rod: What to Know Before You Buy
When it comes to spinning rods, there are a lot of options! Check out the considerations below to ensure you choose the best spinning rod for you!
Table of Contents
Finding a new spinning rod can be overwhelming, especially for a beginner. With so many options to choose from, it can be hard to narrow them down and find a rod that suits your needs. In this guide, I will break down the most important considerations an angler needs to make when looking to purchase a new spinning rod, including price, targeted species, length, and more.
As an avid angler and Curated Expert, when I’m not out on the water dialing in my gear and catching fish, I’m at home researching new products and helping Curated customers get the perfect gear delivered straight to their door. The advice that follows is the process I use for choosing a new spinning reel—whether it’s to include in a personalized curation for a customer or to add to my personal arsenal.
What Is a Spinning Rod?
A spinning rod is a versatile type of fishing rod designed for finesse techniques that utilize light line and lightweight lures. Paired with a spinning reel, a spinning rod features large line guides on the underside of the rod which reduce friction during the cast, leading to increased distance. While these large guides are great for casting distance, making accurate casts on a spinning rod can be a challenge—especially for beginners.
While spinning rods are versatile, when using lighter baits—like fishing an inline spinner for trout or a drop-shot for bass—a spinning rod allows anglers the best chances for success while out on the water.
Pros and Cons of a Spinning Rod
|Easy to learn on||Limited casting accuracy|
|Excellent casting distance||Not ideal for fishing in dense vegetation|
|Perfect for lightweight applications|
What to Consider When Buying a Spinning Rod
When it comes to purchasing a spinning rod, there are certain key questions that anglers should keep in mind.
What Species Will You Be Targeting?
Selecting a rod that doesn’t have enough power will make it hard to penetrate the lips of larger species. Whereas using a rod that is too stiff will risk damaging the lips of smaller species while ripping the hook out of their mouths.
The power rating of a fishing rod refers to the amount of force needed to cause the rod blank to bend. Power ratings are generally listed on a scale from ultralight to heavy, but there is no clear industry standard, so these ratings are subjective. The following power ratings are those most commonly found on a spinning rod and most suited for targeting certain species.
Ultralight and Light: Trout and Panfish
An ultralight spinning rod has the lowest power rating available. These unique spinning rods are best suited for use with 2–6lb monofilament or fluorocarbon line. Ultralight rods are ideal for fishing in small streams for trout, with micro jigs for crappie, or a rooster tail spinner for various types of panfish in small ponds and rivers. Ultralight rods are capable of handling lures up to around 1/8oz, but individual models will vary.
A rod with a light power rating will be suitable for all of the same species as an ultralight but will have a stiffer backbone and be capable of handling heavier lures. A light-powered rod will typically be rated for up to 8lb line and lures up 1/4oz. When fishing for trout and panfish around a lot of weeds or in heavy currents, upgrading from an ultralight to a light-powered rod will give anglers the appropriate power for those situations.
Medium-Light and Medium: Walleye and Smallmouth Bass
A medium-light spinning rod is versatile and great for multiple species. It’s not too stiff to overpower most trout and panfish, but its sweet spot will be fishing for walleye and smallmouth bass. Usually, a medium-light spinning rod will be rated for line between 6–10lbs and will easily fish lures weighing between ⅛–3/8oz.
Medium-power spinning rods are typically rated for line between 10–12lb test. They are also versatile rods best suited for lures from ¼–1/2oz. A great option for fishing a ned rig, a shaky head jig, or a wacky rig, a medium power rod will potentially overpower trout and panfish but will be a great choice for walleye, smallmouth bass, and largemouth bass around sparse cover.
Medium-Heavy and Heavy: Largemouth Bass and Northern Pike
Largemouth bass thrive in environments with dense vegetation, including flooded bushes, lily pads, and grasses like milfoil and hydrilla. In order to penetrate the lips of bass through thick cover, you will need a rod with a strong backbone. For largemouth bass, northern pike, and other species that live in these environments, a medium-heavy spinning rod will have the power needed to hookset and pull fish out of cover. A medium-heavy rod will typically be rated for 8–17lb line and lures up to 3/4oz.
Just because spinning rods are known for fishing lightweight lures doesn’t mean that they can’t be used in dense cover. A heavy-power rod will allow anglers to cast lures deep into cover and pull them through the slop. A heavy rod will usually be rated for line up to 25lb test and lures up to an ounce. For fishing jigs and weighted Texas rigs around lots of grass, a heavy-power spinning rod will offer anglers plenty of backbone.
There are also series of spinning rods marketed towards anglers who focus on a particular species—especially large game fish like muskie, catfish, and saltwater species like striper and tuna. They are usually be power rated on a scale from medium to extra heavy; however, those ratings will be relative to those species and the heavier baits needed to catch them.
What Techniques Will You Use?
In order to effectively present a lure to fish, you will need a rod that is able to enhance the action of your presentation. This is where it becomes important to understand rod action. The action of a fishing rod refers to how far down the rod blank the fishing rod will bend. A rod with a fast action will have a tip that bends easily but quickly becomes more stiff going down the length of a rod. A rod with a more moderate action will have a more gradual bend that extends further down the rod blank.
Bottom Contact Baits
When fishing a jig, ned rig, or texas rig, a fast action rod will allow a fish to get the lure fully in its mouth and enable anglers to get a quick hookset. Using a rod with too slow of an action allows a fish to feel the resistance from the rod and swim off before the angler has the chance to set the hook.
For reaction baits that are fished in the center of the water column, a rod with a moderate-fast action will allow a fish to fully engulf the lure before anglers speed up their retrieve in order to set the hook.
For crankbaits and lures that include treble hooks, a moderate-action rod will help keep aggressive fish pinned as anglers are fighting to land their catch. Treble hooks tend to be smaller and use lighter wire than single hooks. This means that a fish could be more likely to shake free from the lure and swim off. A rod with moderate action will allow the angler to keep pressure on the fish throughout the fight and increase the likelihood of landing it.
When fishing with baits like live worms and shiners, fish will tend to bite down longer than on an artificial lure. Using a rod with a moderate-fast action will allow fish to get the whole bait in their mouth without feeling the resistance from your rod, spitting the bait, and swimming away.
How Much Should a Spinning Rod Cost?
Spinning rods come at a variety of price points for anglers of all skill levels and budgets. Spending a lot of money on a rod is not always necessary. Inexpensive rods will still allow anglers to feel bites and catch big fish, but for dedicated anglers who spend a lot of time out on the water, the ease of use and comfort that comes from using a high-quality rod cannot be ignored.
For around $100, beginners and intermediate-level anglers will be able to find a rod that will grow with them as they invest more time into the sport. That is not to say that it’s impossible to find quality rods under that price point, but a rod that will be durable enough to withstand heavy use and be able to adapt to a variety of techniques will cost an average of $100.
For around $150–200, intermediate and advanced anglers who are putting together technique-specific setups can find find rods that are lighter, more sensitive, and more balanced than rods at the previous price point. These rods also include tip sections that are precisely designed so that anglers can easily maintain control of their lures.
For techniques that require anglers to feel the faintest of bites, a rod with supreme sensitivity and balance will be essential. In order to achieve this, manufacturers need to use a graphite composite material with a high concentration of carbon fiber in the rod blank. These rods require precise attention to detail and high-end components, and that is reflected in their price. For these high-end spinning rods, anglers can expect to spend anywhere between $250–500.
Features to Look Out for When Buying a Spinning Rod
The rod blank extends throughout the entire length of the rod, and all of the other components are mounted onto it. Rod blanks are typically made of graphite, fiberglass, or a hybrid of the two materials. Each of these materials has its own benefits and drawbacks.
Currently, the vast majority of rod blanks are made from a graphite composite. Graphite is much lighter in weight than fiberglass, and ultimately much more sensitive. However, graphite can be expensive and is more brittle than fiberglass.
A graphite composite includes carbon fibers that are lined up and held together with epoxy resin. The epoxy resin protects the carbon fiber as well as allows the rod to flex while under a heavy load. A standard modulus graphite blank has a lower carbon density than a high-modulus graphite blank. Standard modulus blanks are somewhat less sensitive and heavier than a higher-modulus material, but are still more balanced and sensitive than fiberglass.
- Graphite rods are lightweight
- Graphite rod blanks allow angler to feel faint bites
- Cheap graphite can be brittle and crack under pressure
Fiberglass blanks are durable, inexpensive, and have a more moderate action than graphite—but they are also less sensitive. Since the 1970s, fiberglass fishing rods have been largely replaced by graphite rods, but there are still some applications where fiberglass is used.
When targeting catfish, a fiberglass rod is still very much in fashion. Since catfish tend to take the bait and run, it’s not as essential that anglers are able to feel a bite for a quick hookset. Reeling into a fish that has the bait in its mouth will be enough to set the hook. Fiberglass rods are also still being used for fishing with crankbaits and other treble-hooked lures.
- Fiberglass rods are durable and inexpensive
- Excel at fishing crankbaits and lures with treble hooks
- Fiberglass rods are heavy and lack sensitivity
Composite rods are made by combining graphite and fiberglass. These hybrid-material rod blanks maintain some of the weight and sensitivity associated with graphite while adding the durability and moderate action that fiberglass is known for. For moving baits and lures that include treble hooks, a composite rod is an excellent option.
- Composite rods are lightweight and durable
- Versatile for a multitude of applications
- A moderate-action composite rod is not ideal for bottom-contact lures
The length of a spinning rod will impact the casting distance, casting accuracy, and leverage that anglers will have while fighting aggressive fish. For all of these reasons, it is important that anglers understand the role that rod length plays in the overall performance of their setup.
For anglers who fish in small ponds and streams, a short ultralight rod will allow them to make more accurate casts. While longer rods may improve casting distance, when in small bodies of water, it is essential to make accurate casts to help keep lures from getting snagged in trees or on the opposite bank.
Another consideration unique to ultralight rods is that rods longer than six feet can be very “whippy”, meaning that there is a lot of “play” in the tip section of the rod. Thisl makes it harder to feel faint bites and maintain control of your presentation. An ultralight rod between 5’6”–6’ will be perfect for ultralight applications. If casting distance with an ultralight rod is an issue, upgrading to a 7’ rod with light power would be a good alternative.
For a versatile, all-purpose spinning rod, a length of 6’6”–7’ will allow anglers to perform the most popular fishing techniques. It is long enough to get good casting distance without sacrificing accuracy, and it’ll allow anglers to get a good hookset from that same distance—which is hard to do with a shorter rod.
There are, however, instances where a longer rod will be more effective than shorter models. When fishing a float rig in rushing rivers for salmon and steelhead, a rod that is approximately 8’–12’ will allow anglers to keep line up above the water, allowing their lure presentation to drift naturally with the current. When fishing from the bank for catfish or surf fishing in saltwater, a longer rod will allow anglers to make long casts and make easy hooksets, even from a distance.
- Rods 7’ and below offer increased casting accuracy
- Rods between 8’–12’ will help anglers manage line in swift current
- Ultralight rods above 6’ can be flimsy and hard to control
The grips on a spinning rod will allow anglers to maintain a firm grasp of the rod while casting, retrieving lures, and fighting aggressive fish. Grips can be made of a variety of materials, namely cork and EVA foam, and can be split into two sections or span the entire butt of the rod.
A rod with a split grip will leave a section of the rod blank exposed in the center of the butt section. Anglers can grasp one section with each hand to help when making a long cast or fighting a fish. A rod with a split grip will be more lightweight than a comparable rod with a full grip.
Fishing rods with full grips were once the gold standard, but now split grips have largely taken over. In many instances, it’s an issue of personal preference; but for making longer casts and fighting large game fish, a full grip will offer superior leverage and casting distance.
- Split grips decrease weight and increase sensitivity
- Full grips offer superior leverage for heavy-duty applications
- Full grips can add additional weight to a spinning rod
While beauty is in the eyes of the angler, cork grips offer a classic aesthetic. Cork is inexpensive and relatively durable, but it does require some maintenance. While cork naturally repels moisture, using a cork conditioner on your rod grips will help keep it from drying out and deteriorating prematurely.
EVA foam is another great option to use for the grip on a spinning rod. High-density EVA foam is more durable than cork, but it does have the tendency to absorb moisture, which makes EVA foam grips less comfortable than cork. Benefits:
- Cork is inexpensive and comfortable
- EVA foam is durable and requires no maintenance
- Cork grips require maintenance
How to Choose the Right Spinning Rod for You
Now that we’ve gone over the information anglers need in order to make an informed decision on which spinning rod to buy, I’m going to illustrate the process I use when recommending a fishing rod to Curated clients and fellow anglers. The examples below are based on actual customers that I have worked with through Curated.
Joel: Beginner in Pursuit of Trout and Panfish
Joel has been wanting to try his hand at fishing, so he’s looking for a spinning setup to learn on. He wants to start small and target trout and panfish in ponds, rivers, and streams. He is looking for an inexpensive rod that will allow him to perform multiple techniques.
Features Joel should look for:
- Graphite blank to detect subtle bites from small species of fish
- A rod between 5’–6’ for accurate casts on small bodies of water
- An ultralight-powered rod with lightweight lures and line
Rod Examples: Daiwa Presso, Temple Fork Outfitters Trout And Panfish Rod
Ace: Experienced Angler Looking to Upgrade Gear
Ace has been fishing for a few years and is looking to upgrade his gear. When out with his friends, he loves fishing for bass in small ponds, and wants a rod and reel combo to use mainly for fishing a ned rig. Ace is looking for a quality rod that’s lightweight enough to minimize fatigue when fishing for extended periods of time.
Features Ace should look for:
- A rod with fast action for quick hooksets
- A medium-powered rod to set sturdy ned rig hooks
- A quality graphite rod blank for increased sensitivity and reduced fatigue
- A rod around 7’ long for increased casting distance
Rod Examples: Dobyn’s Sierra, St. Croix Mojo Bass
Ryan: Avid Angler Targeting Striper
Ryan really enjoys fishing in the ocean and wants to put together a dedicated setup for surf fishing. As an avid angler, she puts in a lot of time on the water, so she wants a setup that will hold up against heavy use. She’s looking for a rod mainly for fishing topwater plugs.
Features Ryan should look for:
- A rod between 8–12’ for making long casts
- A rod with a moderate-fast action to keep aggressive fish pinned
- A rod with a lightweight graphite blank to prevent fatigue
Rod Examples: TFO Tactical Surf Rod, St. Croix Triumph Surf Spinning Rod
At this point, you should have all the information you need to make a good choice on a new spinning rod. If you enjoyed this article and are looking for more, check out the Expert Journal for more fishing content!