How to Choose a Spinning Rod

Fishing Expert Tanner Druffel runs through everything you need to know to find the right spinning rod for you and your needs.

A fisherman fishing in the ocean waves at sunset

Photo by Clay LeConey

So you’re upgrading your old rod? Maybe you’re just getting into fishing? Finding the right rod and reel combo depends on a variety of factors. Whether you're fishing for salmon, steelhead, catfish, or grouper you'll need the right rod to present your bait and safely land your prized fish. In any scenario, you need to find the next perfect rod for YOU! In this guide we’ll go over everything an angler needs to know to find their next rod, whether they're a first-timer or a tournament pro.

Anatomy of a Rod

This section will contain important terms that you should know before reading this article.

Figure showing the anatomy of a rod, including the tip top, guides, blank, reel, reel seat, and grip/handle

Figure by Tanner Druffel

  • Grip/Handle: The grip is where the hands are placed on the rod. These are normally made of EVA foam, plastic, or cork handle. An EVA handle will be cheaper and hold its shape better, whereas a cork grip is the more classic type of rod style.
  • Reel Seat: The reel attaches to the rod on this piece.
  • Guides: Your line is inserted through the guides. These help deliver the line to the intended target. The guides play a role in the sensitivity of the rod. Guides are normally made from stainless steel or titanium.
  • Blank: This is the backbone of the rod that has all the other components of the rod attached to it. These are typically fiberglass or graphite/carbon fiber.
  • Hook Keeper: This part holds your hook when not in use.
  • Tip Top: The last guide your line goes through at the top of the rod.

Casting Rods vs. Spinning Rods

Closeup on a reel and rod being used for saltwater fishing

Photo by Mathieu Le Roux

There are a few different rods in this world and you might be asking yourself, why would I need one over the other? The two main conventional fishing rods you’ll find on the market today are casting rods and spinning rods. So, what’s the difference? Everyone has their opinion about when and where they like to use a spinning versus a casting rod, but there are instances where it helps to use one over the other.

Typically you will be using a spinning rod with a spinning reel to cast longer distances and toss lightweight lures, but it can also be used to toss heavy lures and baits under the right circumstances. When it comes to species like trout and panfish, a spinning rod will be essential. Spinning rods are good for anyone from beginner to pro.

Casting rods are paired up with casting reels and are typically harder to use, which is why most beginners steer clear of them. Also known as a baitcast reel, a casting reel sits on top of the rod, unlike a spinning reel which is suspended beneath. A baitcaster setup works pretty well for accuracy, control, and heavier lures. It is possible to use a casting setup for finesse techniques, but casting rods and reels that are capable of handling lighter tackle can be pricey and inaccessible to many anglers.

You can tell these two rods apart because a baitcasting rod will normally have a trigger near the reel seat with the line guides facing up, whereas a spinning rod has no trigger and the guides face toward the ground when reeling in a lure. For a deeper explanation of more fishing gear, be sure to check out our other Expert articles!

Fiberglass vs. Graphite vs. Composite

Now that we've gone over the different types of rods, I'm going to go over the materials used to manufacture the rod blank. There are 3 different types of rod materials that are used for making fishing rods. Each material has its own strengths and weaknesses. While a lot of it comes down to angler preference, I am going to outline some of the pros and cons of each.

  • Fiberglass: Fiberglass has long been used in fishing rods. It's durable, it's inexpensive, and it has a good amount of flex to help anglers fight aggressive fish. It is, on the hand, heavy and it's not the most sensitive, meaning anglers might not feel faint bites from smaller fish. Generally speaking, fiberglass rods will feature softer tips and will load more evenly throughout the rod than one made of graphite. Rods made completely of fiberglass are pretty rare as of late. Most rods built around a fiberglass blank will be designed for fishing for trout or for fishing for larger catfish.
  • Graphite: Graphite is the best option for anglers in need of a lightweight rod with high sensitivity. The higher the carbon content, the lighter and more sensitive the rod will be, but it also becomes more brittle. A high-modulus graphite rod blank will need to be made with carbon fibers that are lined up with precision. In order to make the rods strong and durable without adding weight to the rod, special epoxies are needed to keep the rod together. Because of these factors, graphite rods can get really expensive. Graphite rods will tend to have a stiffer tip and a faster action than their fiberglass counterparts.
  • Composite: Composite rods are meant to split the difference between the other varieties. Fiberglass and the carbon fibers used in graphite rods are intertwined to create a rod that is lightweight, sensitive, and durable. The drawback to composite rods is that even though relatively light, composite rod blanks can be thick and cumbersome to use for some anglers.

Understanding the various materials that are used to make fishing rods can help you to be even more informed when determining which type of fishing rod is right for you and your individual conditions.

What Is Rod Action

Graphic showing extra-fast, fast, medium, and slow rod action

Figure by Joe Price

The action of the rod refers to where the bend will occur in the rod and how fast it will return to its original shape after being bent. You have four main actions that you will tend to see in rods:

  • Slow action: bends closer to the rod handle and returns back to its original shape slower than any other action. A slow-action rod bends more evenly throughout the whole rod as if it is shaped like the mouth on a smiley face. These rods are more forgiving and will excel when tossing lighter baits and lures such as spinners. The downside to these rods is that the hook takes longer to set. Slow action rods aren't very versatile or practical, so they won't be seen very often.
  • Moderate action: Some people also call this medium action, and if it leans toward fast action it has a medium-fast action. A medium-action rod is great for getting some distance on your cast while still being able to set the hook well. These are great “do it all” rods. Some applications that you can use these for are crankbaits, spinners, and topwater.
  • Fast action: A fast-action rod is less forgiving, bending in the top third of the rod. I find these rods extremely useful when using jigs. Their stiffness gives a quick reaction in the tip of the rod.
  • Extra fast action: An extra-fast-action rod will bend near the tip top of the rod. A lot of competitive bass anglers use these rods for the faster hook sets and sensitivity. These rods are good for jigging, worms, and other baits that you will need to cast right near you or way out on the water.

When it comes to fishing reaction lures, whether you're fishing a rooster tail spinner for trout or a beetle spin for crappie, a rod with a slower action tip will be the most effective. This will allow fish to fully engulf the lure so when anglers set the hook, they don't end up pulling the lure from the fish's mouth. Rods with a slower action are also ideal when fishing for species with softer mouths like walleye, as it allows fish to be released back to the water unharmed. Rods with a slower action tip tend to be better for casting distance, but worse for casting accuracy.

Techniques that require using treble hooks will also be best suited for a moderate action rod. From heavy swimbaits down to micro jerkbaits, a rod with moderate action will keep fish pinned while being retrieved towards the bank or the boat, wherever you might be fishing. A 2oz swimbait might require a heavy power rod with a moderate action, while a micro jerkbait would be better served by a light power rod with a moderate action tip.

For heavier baits and when fishing around heavy cover, a rod with a faster action will make it easy to drive thick single hooks through the weeds and penetrate the lips of fish. When bass fishing in heavy cover, a rod with a fast action will allow anglers to get fish quickly out of the cover before they are able to swim back into the weeds. Faster action rods tend to have better sensitivity and those with a more moderate action, but that isn't a hard and fast rule.

What Is Rod Power?

A diagram breaking down rod power that ranges from heavy to ultralight.

Action and power of the rod are often confused. While the action of the rod refers to how far down the blank the rod will bend, the power of the rod is the force that it takes to bend the rod, or in other words, the strength of the rod. Rod power will vary from ultra light to ultra heavy.

Ultralight rods are great for targeting smaller bait fish such as bluegill. These are the rods that people like to use for finesse fishing. A light power rod will be able to cast light lures a good distance and allow anglers to offer delicate presentations to nearby fish. When using rods designed for finesse techniques, it is important to downsize your fishing line. Using too high a pound test line on an ultra-light setup could end up breaking the rod.

Heavy power rods are meant for much bigger fish or when fishing in certain conditions like deep under a field of lily pads. When fishing larger bodies of water for larger-sized fish like pike and muskie, it would only make sense to use a heavier rod. What exactly makes a heavy power rod considered heavy is subjective, so when purchasing a rod please to sure to match your rod to the application you're planning to use it for.

Rod Length

The length of the rod plays an important role in what type of fishing you will be doing. The breakdown of the rod goes hand in hand with the length. You should ask yourself where you will be fishing. What does your fishing situation look like? Will you spend most of your time in a boat or wading? With rods having such a wide variety of lengths, it can sometimes be overwhelming. The following should answer your basic questions on what length of rod you will need:

Freshwater

  • Beginner: 7ft
  • Travel/ Hiking: Telescoping
  • Lake/ Pond: 6ft to 7ft
  • Small River: 5ft to 6ft
  • Medium River: 7ft to 8ft
  • Big River: 8ft to 10ft

Saltwater

  • Offshore: 7ft to 8ft
  • Inshore: 6.5ft to 8ft
  • Surf: 9ft to 14ft
  • Deep Sea: 7ft

To break it down, if you are trying to launch your casts, you will want a longer rod for leverage. Longer rods are also beneficial for surf fishing and big rivers. You will want a shorter rod for species such as bass and trout, where you are fighting the fish constantly. Another advantage to the shorter rod is the control. So, if you are just starting out, a shorter rod will be the way to go! Don’t forget to think about where you will be using this rod and if you will travel with it a lot. If you are a big fan of hiking into alpine lakes, you may want a telescoping rod. Maybe your rod never leaves your boat, in this case a single-piece rod would work great!

How to Match your Rod to a Reel

So now you have everything you need to know to get a rod, but how do you size your reel to your rod? One way to do this is to match the line test rating on your rod to a reel. For example, if the rod says 2-10lb, you will want to match it to a reel in the same category. Another way to do this is to match the power of your rod to the rating of the reel:

  • 1000 to 3500 (10 to 35): ultra-light to light-power rod
  • 4000 to 5500 (40 to 55): medium-power rod
  • 6000 to 9500 (60 to 95): medium-heavy to heavy-power rod
  • 10000 and up: ultra-heavy power rod

A group of people fishing from the beach

Photo by Mathieu Le Roux

Value

Although there are plenty of questions to ask before buying your next spinning rod, the final question always comes down to how much should I spend on a rod? I am not the one to answer that, but if you are just getting into the sport of fishing, there is absolutely no problem going to your local fishing store and spending $25 on a basic combo to get started. If you plan to use it for a while, know that you normally get what you pay for with a rod. Spending a little extra money on quality to get one of the best rods may just be worth it if you want a setup that you can always count on when landing your next PB (personal best). Always ask what the warranty on a rod is, and if the manufacturer has been in the game for a while.

Either way, just get out there to fish and have fun! And if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to me or one of my fellow Fishing Experts here at Curated.

Like this article?
Share it with your network

Written By
Tanner Druffel
Tanner Druffel
Fly Fishing Expert
Hi, my name is Tanner, and I'm from Walla Walla, WA! I love to fly fish, and growing up in Southeastern Washington, I starting fising for bass and small trout. If I'm not on the river you'll find me tying flies in my garage. When I graduated high school, I had to make the hard decision of which coll...
View profile

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Read Next

New and Noteworthy