An Expert Guide to Saltwater Fishing Rods

Fishing expert Joseph Price explains what's what in the world of saltwater fishing rods.

Photo by Benjamin Le Roux
Published on

What makes a good saltwater rod?

There are so many factors that can make or break an angler’s day on the water and what rod they are using might be the biggest! A quick search for rods can leave your head spinning once you see all the different types currently available. Long or short, stout or ultra-light, baitcasting or spinning, graphite or fiberglass, how are you supposed to choose? In this article, I am going to break down the basics of saltwater rod construction so you can make the best decision for your needs.

Materials

So, what are saltwater fishing rods made of anyway? There are two main materials used to make rod blanks: fiberglass and graphite. Fiberglass has been renowned for decades for its incredible durability and flexibility. These rods can really take a beating, be it on a bouncing boat, beach, or truck bed! The drawback to fiberglass has always been weight—it’s the heaviest material used to make rods. Graphite is on the other end of the spectrum; rods made from graphite are more rigid and fragile, super light with great sensitivity, and are often described as having a strong “backbone.”

Newer technology has allowed rod makers to create premium composite blanks from both materials in an attempt to create the best all-around fishing rods with great durability and a superb strength-to-weight ratio. But all the research and development needed for this type of rod has a catch—many composites also come with a premium price tag!

Saltwater rods are also made with corrosion-resistant components, like guides and reel seats, to survive the harsh saltwater environment. These special components are the main difference between freshwater and saltwater rods and are the reason why you probably shouldn’t take your favorite bass rod with you into the salt.

Saltwater fishing rod grips are commonly either EVA foam or cork, depending on the angler’s preference. Cork is usually revered as the nicer option; however, there is much to be said about the resiliency and longevity of foam grips.

Action

Rod action is one of the most talked-about and marketed factors in fishing, but what is it? Simply put, rod action is the amount of bend a rod will produce when under pressure. This factor directly translates into how the rod will cast! A fast-action rod bends only near the tip section or the top third of the rod, while medium-action and slow-action rods will bend in the top half of the rod or all the way down to the butt section near the rod handle. As most anglers know, a large portion of a fishing day is spent casting, so it is a great idea to pay special attention to action when shopping for your next rod.

Fast-action or extra-fast-action rods are great for accurate casts at close range and for pitching heavy lures. Medium- and slow-action rods excel at casting lighter lures, delicately delivering live baits, and making long-distance casts!

Action not only dictates how the rod casts, but also comes into play while working lures, be it topwater, jigging, trolling, or soaking live baits. It is also important during the strike and hook set, all the way through fighting and landing your catch. Rods on the medium-to-slow side provide some cushion for lighter line weights and leaders, helping to prevent break-offs and straightened hooks.

Understanding this aspect of rod action makes it apparent that it is important to match your gear to your rod action. Fast and extra-fast rods require a stronger line and tackle to land fish than their more flexible counterparts and will provide less forgiveness during the fight.

A graphic showing Extra-Fast, Fast, Medium, and Slow rod action, or bend
Graphic by Joseph Price

Rod power

Often confused with rod action, the power of the rod refers to its overall strength. Rod power ranges from ultralight rods used mostly for inshore, shallow-water species like snook and redfish, to heavy rods used offshore or on piers for big fish like marlin or grouper. Power also corresponds to how heavy of a line a rod can handle, and therefore is a great indicator of what size reel to pair the line with! When you need leverage against big game fish like tarpon or sailfish, it’s a great peace of mind to know your rod has the power to handle the fight!

A closeup on a yellow saltwater fishing reel
Photo by Brent Keane

Rod style and length

Two main rod styles dominate the saltwater fishing scene—those made for spinning reels, and those made for baitcasting reels. I won’t dive too far into it in this article, but suffice it to say that spinning rods are easier to learn to use and baitcasting rods take some skill and experience to cast correctly.

Both rod styles come in a dizzying array of lengths, which hugely dictate the rod’s intended use. Shorter rods below seven feet in length are the top choice for heavy fish and offshore fishing where casting distance is limited. Longer rods from seven feet and up are adept for long-range casts; they are preferred by inshore anglers and surf fishing, or anywhere that distance counts!

How do you pick a saltwater rod?

A saltwater fisherman holding up a line with a fish that he caught
Photo by Drew Farwell

The big question! Choosing a saltwater rod doesn’t have to be a headache. Once you understand the different characteristics of rod design, the picture becomes much clearer. Knowing your target species and fishing technique will then narrow your search dramatically:

  • Fishing offshore for large game fish? A shorter, powerful rod is the ticket!
  • Are you an inshore angler in need of making pinpoint casts from a boat? A fast-action, seven-foot rod will do great!
  • Fishing from the beach in heavy surf? Go as long as possible and you won’t regret it when it comes time to swing your line out over the breakers.

There is another variable to consider when shopping for your next fishing rod, and that is portability. Many of the most popular rods with professionals today are full-length, one-piece rods. These fishing rods are super strong and have the most consistent action and power throughout the length of the blank. However, packing them up for a trip on a plane or in a vehicle can be almost impossible! That is where two-piece, three-piece, and even four-piece rods really shine. If you plan on vacationing with your rod at any time, it is good to consider packing at least a two-piece rod and a protective case to keep your gear safe. Nothing ruins a fishing trip faster than broken gear!

Taking what you’ve learned from this article and applying it to your personal needs will get you casting accurately, fishing happily, and catching in no time. Be sure to check out our other articles to dive deeper into the world of fishing gear and remember to have fun out there on the water!

An underwater view of a school of fish
Photo by Jakob Owens
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Written By
I grew up on the flats of West Florida, where I was lucky enough to fall in love with fly fishing and the ocean early on. My thoughts were filled with Reds, Bones, Snook and Tarpon. I would spend nights reading books on patterns and tying Clousers, organizing my tackle and dreaming about the next ca...

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