Fishing Rod and Reel Combos: How to Choose the Best One for You

Published on 05/17/2023 · 17 min readSet yourself up for success this fishing season by ensuring you have the correct fishing rod and reel combination to land some big ones!
Danny Palmquist, Fishing Expert
By Fishing Expert Danny Palmquist

Photo by Kathryn Archibald

Tl;dr: A rod and reel combo is an essential pairing of fishing equipment that allows anglers to manage lines, present lures, and catch fish. Even a brief search on the internet will produce overwhelming options, which can be intimidating, especially for new anglers. In this guide, I aim to explain everything anglers will need to get out on the water and start catching fish.

As a Curated Expert, I spend a lot of time working with customers and helping them find the right gear for the conditions. When I'm not at my desk researching gear and learning new techniques, I like to spend most of my time on the water, fine-tuning my approach to catching more fish. As a lifelong angler, fishing is my passion, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share what I've learned and help others to achieve their goals as anglers.

What Is a Fishing Rod and Reel Combo?

A rod and reel combo is an essential tool that anglers use to catch fish. The rod allows anglers to make long casts, feel bites, and set the hook, while the reel allows anglers to manage the line and retrieve their catch. Anglers must choose from two types of setups: spinning and baitcasting. The rule of thumb is that a spinning combo is best for lightweight presentations, and a baitcasting setup is ideal for fishing heavier lures around dense vegetation.

What to Consider When Buying a Fishing Rod and Reel Combo

Photo by Nubia Navarro

What Types of Waters Will You Fish in?

You can find fish in many different aquatic environments. From small streams to ponds to rushing rivers, there are many species for anglers to catch. Having the right rod and reel for your conditions will be the key to success while on the water.

When fishing in small streams, a spinning combo will allow anglers to present lightweight lures to fish stealthily. The water will be clear in these environments, and fish will be more likely to see your fishing line. Using a lightweight line and small lures will increase the chances of fish biting your bait. A light or ultralight spinning combo will allow anglers to easily create the delicate underwater presentations needed to catch unsuspecting fish.

Fishing in small ponds will also allow anglers exciting opportunities to catch fish. Often found in small local parks, urban ponds typically hold a variety of species of fish for anglers to pursue. Using a spinning combo with a light to medium light power rod will allow anglers to present lightweight lures to trout, panfish, and bass commonly found in these bodies of water.

Larger lakes and rivers will usually hold a wide variety of fish species. With more space to grow, they will tend to be larger than fish found in smaller bodies of water. Because of this, I recommend that anglers planning to fish in these environments use a medium-power spinning combo or a medium-heavy baitcasting combo. A medium to medium heavy-powered rod will have the backbone required to set the hook and fight larger, more aggressive fish.

Which Techniques Will You Use?

The technique or techniques you plan to execute with your combo will be another critical factor to remember when purchasing a new setup. When talking about different fishing techniques, the action of the rod tip will allow anglers to present baits effectively and set the hook.

The action of a fishing rod refers to how far down the rod blank the rod will flex. A fishing rod with a moderate fast action will be the most versatile, but this can vary based on an angler's preference. Below I will describe some popular fishing techniques and the rod actions required for anglers to perform them effectively.

Rod action by technique:

  • Bottom contact lures: Fast
  • Moving baits: Moderate fast, moderate
  • Natural baits: Moderate fast

Bottom Contact: When fishing with lures that sit on the bottom, a sensitive rod with a fast tip will allow anglers to feel faint bites and quickly set the hook before fish can feel the resistance from your line and swim off.

Moving Baits: For lures that go through the center of the water column, like an inline spinner or a bladed jig, using a fishing rod with a moderate-fast tip will allow fish to fully engulf the lure so that anglers can set the hook without pulling the lure from their mouths.

Natural Baits: When fishing with natural baits such as shiners, worms, or corn, fish will often take the bait in their mouths just before swimming away. A rod with a moderate or moderate-fast action will have a soft enough tip so that fish can swim off with the bait in their mouths, and anglers can easily set the hook by speeding up their retrieve.

What Should A Rod And Reel Combo Cost?

The amount of money you can expect to spend on a new combo will depend on a number of factors. It isn’t always necessary to invest a lot of money on a rod and reel combo, but depending on your goals as an angler, increasing your budget can pay off in the long run. I’m going to share what you can expect from rod and reel combos at various price points.

$50 For beginners, it is possible to find a spinning combo for about $50. These setups usually include a spinning reel sized between 1000 and 2500 and a fishing rod with an ultralight-to-medium power. The rods will allow anglers to catch freshwater species like trout, panfish, and bass. The quality of these setups is not ideal for heavy use, but they allow anglers to get out on the water and learn the basics. Baitcasting combos are hard to find at the $50 price point.

$75-$100 Increasing the budget to $75-100 allows anglers to purchase a more durable spinning setup and begin to consider baitcasting gear.

  • Spinning combos at this price point have similar features to cheaper setups but include superior attention to detail and overall quality. Some inexpensive rod and reel combos come with parts that feel loose and rattle while in use. Higher-quality setups include rods with guides optimized for balance and sensitivity and reels that are lighter in weight and more balanced. This makes it easier to focus on presenting your lures and feeling faint bites while out on the water.
  • For baitcasting setups, anglers can expect to pay roughly $100 for an entry-level option. At this price point, anglers will find setups with rods between six and seven feet long and 100-sized reels with a gear ratio between 6:1:1 and 7:1:1. These setups are good for beginners and intermediate anglers in search of a backup. For $100, a casting combo has inferior sensitivity but will suffice for introducing new anglers to the sport. As far as techniques are concerned, these setups will be best for reaction lures such as spinnerbaits, bladed jigs, and buzzbaits.

$150-$200 For $150 to $200, anglers can find excellent setups that allow them to improve their approach and make the most of their time out on the water. At this price point, the quality of both spinning and casting setups will be similar.

  • Spinning options at this price point are likely to come with lightweight composite rotors that allow anglers to more effectively maintain proper tension between their line and lure and graphite rods that are lighter and more sensitive.
  • Baitcasting setups include reels with more advanced braking systems, allowing anglers to improve their casting distance and minimize backlashes. Options at this price point also expand to higher gear ratios for fishing bottom-contact and topwater lures. These rods are also more balanced and sensitive and include models with micro guides for increased sensitivity and casting accuracy.

$200-$300 Anglers in search of a combo with superior balance and sensitivity can expect to pay between $200-$300. At this price point, setups include rod blanks with a higher carbon density, making them very lightweight and sensitive. Anglers will also be able to find more variety with rod power and action, allowing anglers to purchase combos for technique-specific applications.

  • Spinning reels at this price include upgraded components like lightweight rotors and bail wires, along with spools that are optimized to allow line to flow more freely, increasing casting distance and accuracy.
  • Casting options are optimized to allow anglers to easily feel bites. Often, these baitcasting reels include dual braking systems, allowing anglers to increase casting distance while fishing lightweight lures.

Different Types of Fishing Rod and Reel Combos

Photo by Pixabay

Anglers must choose from two types of combos: spinning and baitcasting. They each have unique strengths and weaknesses, which I will describe below.

Spinning Combo

A spinning combo is a vital tool for anglers to keep in their arsenals. This combo is a versatile way to catch many species of fish. For example, when fishing for trout and panfish or fishing finesse techniques, a spinning combo will allow anglers to cover water effectively and catch fish.

On a spinning combo, the reel is seated underneath the rod, along with the guides. The guides are lined up along the rod up to the tip, allowing the line to flow freely through them during a cast or while lures are retrieved.

A pre-assembled rod and reel combo is designed to balance well together and allow anglers to present a variety of lures like spinners, drop shots, and live bait, such as shiners and mealworms. Usually, the pre-assembled spinning combos that you'll find will feature a rod with an ultra-light to a medium-powered rod blank. However, it's still possible to find setups designed for more heavy-duty applications.

Spinning combos are straightforward, so most beginners will purchase a set to use while learning the sport. Also, spinning combos are usually less expensive than casting combos, which is ideal for someone on a budget. Benefits:

  • Easy for beginners
  • Spinning combos are ideal for finesse fishing applications.
  • Great for making long casts

Be Aware:

  • Spinning combos aren’t ideal for casting accuracy.
  • Lack the power for heavy-duty applications

Baitcasting Combo

A baitcasting combo is a perfect setup for fishing with heavy lures in and around heavy cover. A baitcaster is a type of fishing reel that makes it easy for anglers to make accurate casts while using a heavy-diameter fishing line. When paired with a casting rod, a baitcasting setup will open up many opportunities for anglers to catch bigger fish with heavier lures.

On a baitcasting combo, the reel and guides are mounted on the top of the rod. This means the line will maintain more consistent contact with the rod blank than with a spinning rod, which ultimately means it will be more powerful and sensitive than a spinning setup.

A pre-assembled casting combo will usually be designed as an all-around combo for a wide assortment of lures. It will include a medium-heavy power rod and a casting reel with a gear ratio between 6:1:1 and 7:1:1. The rod will be capable of casting lures around sparse cover, setting the hook, and fighting aggressive fish back to the boat. Most casting combos currently available are designed for use with lures weighted between 3/8oz and 1oz.

Baitcasting combos can be challenging to learn. If the settings on a casting combo aren't quite right, it's easy to create what's known as a bird's nest. A bird's nest occurs when the spool turns faster than your lure, and the line puffs up off the spool and becomes tangled. Because of this, new anglers usually start out using a spinning setup. However, for experienced anglers or beginners who are up for the challenge, a baitcasting setup will open up many opportunities for anglers to catch fish.

Benefits:

  • Perfect for making accurate casts
  • Casting setups are ideal for fishing in heavy cover.
  • Casting combos excel at fishing with heavy lures.

Be Aware:

  • Casting setups are challenging to learn
  • Baitcasters aren’t ideal for finesse applications

Features to Look for When Buying a Fishing Rod and Reel Combo

Line Rating

The power rating on a fishing rod refers to how much force is required for the rod to bend. While there is no industry standard to use when comparing a medium to a medium heavy powered rod, the line rating of a fishing rod will help determine whether the rod will be a good fit for your conditions.

When using a lightweight fishing line, a flexible rod with a soft tip will provide plenty of cushion to keep your line from snapping while fighting a fish. For instance, using a 4lb fluorocarbon line on a rod rated for a 12-17lb line would mean that your line is more likely to snap. Conversely, using a 20lb braided line on an ultralight rod would put too much stress on the rod blank, making it more vulnerable to breakage.

I look at line ratings on a fishing rod as a general guide rather than a hard rule. For example, on a rod rated for an 8-12lb line, I might use a line between 6-15lb.

Gear Ratio

The gear ratio of a fishing reel refers to how quickly the reel can pick up the line. Therefore, the gear ratio is essential to understand the techniques you plan to use with the setup. Generally speaking, the gear ratio of a spinning combo will be slower than a casting combo. Below I will briefly describe some popular fishing techniques and the gear ratios that will allow anglers to fish them effectively.

Bottom Contact: With presentations that sit on the bottom of lakes, ponds, and rivers, a reel with a fast gear ratio will allow anglers to maintain contact with the lure at all times, making it easier to feel bites and set the hook. For anglers using spinning gear, a gear ratio of 5:5:1 to 6:5:1 will be best for bottom contact lures.

For anglers using a baitcasting setup, a gear ratio between 7:1:1 to 8:1:1 will allow them effectively present heavier lures and set the hook in environments with dense vegetation. In these environments, a fast gear ratio will allow anglers to pull fish quickly out of the water before they can swim deeper into cover and increase the risk of snapping your line.

Moving Baits: In some situations, keeping your lure towards the center of the water column is important to catch nearby fish's attention. For example, when using a spinning setup, this might include spinners, underspins, and crankbaits. In these conditions, a gear ratio of 5:1:1 to 5:5:1 will allow anglers to keep their presentation where fish will see it, trigging aggressive reaction strikes from hungry fish.

On a baitcasting setup, a gear ratio between 6:1:1 and 7:1:1 will allow anglers to effectively fish the center of the water column with larger presentations like spinnerbaits, bladed jigs, and large crankbaits.

Topwater: When fishing topwater lures like a buzzbait or a hollow-body frog, anglers must be able to keep their presence on the water's surface and maintain closer contact with the lure. A gear ratio of 7:5:1 to 8:1:1 will enable anglers to cover water more effectively in these situations.

Because of the high gear ratio required for fishing topwater techniques, a baitcasting combo will be the most effective option.

Float Rig: A float rig is a popular way to fish with live bait and artificial lures. A float rig is a brightly colored float that sits on the water's surface with the lure below. When float dips under the water's surface, the angler needs to be able to reel line quickly to set the hook and land the fish. A gear ratio between 5:5:1 and 6:1:1 will allow anglers to be more effective when fishing a float rig.

Rod Blank

The rod blank is the most important part of the fishing rod. It allows anglers to make long casts, present lures, set the hook, and land aggressive fish. Graphite and fiberglass are the main materials used to create a blank fishing rod. From here, I describe the properties that set them apart from each other.

Graphite: Graphite composite is currently the most popular option for building a rod blank. Graphite includes carbon fibers lined up and held together with various epoxies that hold the fibers together and allow the rod blank to bend. In addition, graphite is sought out for being lightweight and sensitive, making it ideal for feeling faint bites while fishing bottom contact techniques.

One of the drawbacks of a graphite rod blank is that quality graphite is expensive. Creating a lightweight rod blank requires a high density of carbon fiber, but a rod with high carbon content can also be stiff and brittle. Carbon fibers must be precisely aligned to create a quality graphite rod blank. In addition, specialized epoxies are required to allow the rod to flex. This can take a lot of time and attention to detail, ultimately reflected in the rod's price. Benefits:

  • Graphite rods are sensitive to feeling faint bites.
  • Graphite rods are lightweight, reducing fatigue.

Be Aware:

  • High-quality graphite rods are expensive

Fiberglass: Fiberglass was once the most prevalent material to use when making fishing rods. On a fiberglass rod blank, fiberglass strands are combined with epoxies that hold them together. Fiberglass rods have a slower action than rods made of graphite. This slower action makes them excel when used for fishing lures with treble hooks or live bait. Since fiberglass rods are usually less expensive than graphite, they are ideal for anglers on a budget.

The main drawback of using a fiberglass rod blank is that they are heavier and less sensitive than a graphite rod. Benefits:

  • Fiberglass rods are inexpensive
  • The slower action of fiberglass is perfect for moving baits

Be Aware:

  • High-quality graphite rods are expensive
  • Fiberglass rods lack sensitivity

How to Choose the Right Fishing Rod and Reel Combo for You

Photo by Mount Polley

Now that I have explained the basics of finding a rod and reel combo, I will share what that looks like in action. Below are some examples based on actual customers and fellow anglers I have worked with here at Curated.

Jaime: New Angler Pursuing Walleye and Smallmouth Bass

As a brand-new angler, Jaime wanted to start fishing for walleye and smallmouth bass. She had access to small rivers with crystal-clear water where she wanted to fish for smallmouth bass and walleye. Because Jaime would be fishing in high visibility conditions, she wanted to use lightweight line and finesse lures like a drop shot or a wacky rig.

Features Jaime should look for:

  • Spinning combo for finesse techniques
  • 2500-size reel for long casts
  • Medium-light action rod for lightweight presentations

Combo examples: Daiwa Crossfire LT Spinning Combo, Lew's Mach Crush Spinning Combo

Aaron: Experienced Angler Pursuing Largemouth Bass

As an experienced angler, Aaron enjoyed fishing for multiple species, including trout, panfish, and largemouth bass. At the time, Aaron had been having a lot of success while targeting largemouth. Still, he needed help getting good hooksets when fishing in weedy environments. He was looking for a versatile baitcasting combo that would allow him to fish heavier lures and set the hook in and around dense vegetation for bass.

Features Aaron should look for:

  • A rod between 7' and 7'3" for accurate casts
  • A medium heavy powered rod for strong hooksets
  • A cast with a gear ratio between 6:1:1 and 7:1:1 for versatility

Combo examples: Favorite Fishing Fire Casting Combo, Dobyn's Maverick Casting Combo

Derek: Serious Angler Pursuing Catfish

Derek enjoyed fishing for many fish species and was looking to put together a dedicated setup for topwater fishing lures for largemouth and smallmouth bass. Since he spent a lot of time out on the water, he was looking for a lightweight casting combo to reduce fatigue and be durable enough to last.

Features Derek should look for:

  • A graphite rod with high carbon content
  • A casting reel with a gear ratio between 7:1:1 and 8:1:1
  • A rod with a medium heavy or heavy action for powerful hooksets

Combo examples: Lew’s Mach 1 Casting Combo, 13 Fishing Fate Origin Chrome Casting Combo

Conclusion

There are a lot of factors that anglers need to keep in mind when matching their gear to their personal fishing styles and the conditions in which they fish. Check out the Expert Journal here on Curated for more Fishing content.

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