An Expert Guide to Choosing the Best Baitcasting RodPublished on 05/19/2023 · 17 min readChoosing the right fishing rod style can be a tough choice for advanced anglers and beginners alike. Curated Fishing Experts dive into everything you need to know.
Photo by Clint Patterson
A good baitcasting rod is an essential fishing tool, especially for anglers who fish for large species in environments full of dense vegetation. There are many good options out there, so finding a suitable rod can be a challenge, especially for new anglers. In this guide, I am going to break down the information that anglers need to know when finding the perfect casting rod for their conditions.
As a Fishing Expert with Curated, I have the opportunity to help my fellow anglers find setups that will allow them to become better anglers. Think of this article as a “sneak peek” into my processes when working with customers.
What Is a Baitcasting Rod?
You might be asking yourself, what is baitcasting, don’t all rods “cast bait”? Good question! As you just read, baitcasting rods are designed to fit baitcasting reels; these reels are fashioned to mount on the top side of the rod, and the rod’s guides are also aligned on the top side of the blank. Don’t feel bad if you’ve been guilty of using a baitcasting rod upside down, it’s a common beginner mistake, especially for anglers used to using a spinning rod.
This design element causes the line to put pressure down onto the guide, and in turn onto the blank when fighting fish, rather than pulling on the guides like with a spinning reel. The concept is great for fighting large and heavy fish that you might find offshore such as marlin and tuna, but there is more nuance to baitcasting than that!
Baitcasting reels also release line in a much tighter pattern than spinning reels, meaning guides can be smaller, and ultimately casting action is smoother with less drag than their spinning reel relatives. Also, because of the orientation of the reel on top, the angler’s thumb can be used to slow the release of line while casting by applying slight pressure to the spool. These characteristics work together to provide anglers with excellent casting distance and accuracy but also present a steep learning curve for beginners. Anyone who has experienced a “rat’s nest” or “bird’s nest” while casting knows this all too well!
Within the casting rod category, there is a wide array of rod styles designed for all types of fishing; from ultralight freshwater setups to professional bass fishing outfits, heavy-duty offshore trolling rigs, and everything in between.
What to Consider When Purchasing a Casting Rod?
Now that we generally know what baitcasting rods are, and how they are used, the fun starts! So, how do you choose a baitcasting rod? The following paragraphs will outline major attributes to help narrow your search to the perfect rod for your needs.
What Species Will You Be Targeting?
Rod power is another vital characteristic for consideration based on the fish species you plan to pursue. Power ratings on rods are instrumental in determining what size baitcasting reel to pair with your rod setups, and in turn, what weight line to use with your baitcasting setup. Power ranges from ultralight and medium-light rods to heavy-duty rods, and most anglers find using the lightest weight rod that can withstand the strength of your target species to be the most fun!
Anglers who target trout and panfish with an ultra-light rod have long been bound to using a light or ultralight setup. Over the last few years, manufacturers have begun making casting rods and reels that cater to anglers who require lighter tackle. Bait Finesse Systems (BFS) rods were originally designed for bass anglers to perform finesse techniques. BFS will include light and ultralight rods for anglers who pursue small species of fish. These softer rods will allow anglers to present lightweight lures and prevent line breakage when using a low-pound test line. A BFS rod will allow anglers the casting distance and backbone needed for success for smaller lures and smaller fish.
When targeting walleye and smallmouth bass in clear water, using a medium light or medium power casting rod with a moderate-fast action will be perfect for fishing in those conditions. These rods will allow anglers to fish with the lighter fluorocarbon line that is necessary for stealth in these high-visibility environments and the slower, softer tips will help preserve the softer mouths of these species.
When fishing for largemouth bass and other species that prefer environments with dense vegetation, a medium-heavy rod will allow anglers to cast the heavier lures needed in these conditions. When casting weights 1/2oz and up directly into the weeds, a heavy rod will give anglers. Also, since these techniques require heavy braid with very little stretch, anglers need a sturdy rod that can withstand the shock of a heavy hookset. When fishing for species such as largemouth, pickerel, and pike under 5lbs, I will be using a medium heavy or heavy powered rod.
When fishing for species that grow to 5lbs and over, I will be using a heavy or extra heavy powered rod. There will also be rods designed for anglers who target these giant-sized fish that will include powers relative to the species. A medium-powered rod that is designed to be used for species such as muskie will have a much sturdier backbone than one that is designed for anglers who focus on bass.
Rod Power by Species:
- Ultralight, Light: Trout, crappie, perch, panfish
- Medium-light, medium: Walleye, smallmouth bass
- Medium-heavy, heavy: Largemouth bass, pickerel, pike
What Techniques Will You Be Using?
Another important factor to consider when purchasing a casting rod is the tactics that you plan to use it for. To explain this, I will talk a bit about rod action. Rod action is essentially a measure of how quickly power is transmitted to the rod blank. While it's also a matter of personal preference, I will share the principles that I use to help anglers find the best baitcasting rod for their conditions.
Bottom Contact Lures
Fast-action rods and extra-fast-action rods transmit power almost instantly, bending only near the top of the rod, and are recommended for bottom contact lures. This fast action allows anglers to make a quick hookset when they feel fish biting down on their lure. When fishing with jigs, Texas rigs, and soft plastic worms, a fast-action rod will give anglers the best chance at success.
When fishing lures like spinners, buzzbaits, and crankbaits, a rod with a more moderate action will allow fish to fully engulf the lure before anglers set the hook. This also provides some necessary cushion because fish tend to aggressively bite reaction baits which can potentially snap your line and cause you to lose fish.
With live bait and other natural baits, a moderate-fast action is ideal. Since fish tend to bite down longer on natural baits, anglers don’t need to hurry up and set the hook before fish spit the lure. A slower action rod will allow anglers to set the hook simply by slightly speeding up their retrieve.
Rod Action by Technique:
- Bottom Contact Lures: Extra fast, fast
- Moving Baits: Moderate-fast, fast
- Natural Baits: Moderate-fast
How Much Should You Spend on a Casting Rod?
Casting rods come at a variety of price points for anglers of all skill levels and budgets. You don’t need to spend a fortune in order to purchase a quality and dependable rod, but in some cases, spending a little bit more money can make a world of difference in the angler’s experience.
For around $100, anglers will be able to find a dependable casting rod that is capable of performing a number of different applications. Finding quality rods for less is possible, but those options will be few and far between. Rods at this point will typically be relatively lightweight and durable and feature quality components, but the overall balance and sensitivity of these rods will be somewhat limited. Especially for fishing moving baits, anglers will have some excellent options for $100.
For dedicated anglers who are putting together technique-specific combos, the $150-200 price point will include plenty of good options. Rods around this price point will be more durable than cheaper rods, while also being much more sensitive and balanced. You will be paying for a rod blank with higher quality graphite that is made with increased attention to detail, reducing overall rod weight and increasing its balance and sensitivity.
For techniques that require an extremely sensitive rod and reel combo, anglers can expect anywhere between $250 and $500. This steep jump in pricing is due to several factors. To reduce weight in these high-end rods, the rod blanks will use graphite rod blanks with high carbon content. While this makes a lightweight rod, it can also mean that the rods are stiffer and more brittle. To make these rods more durable, they will need to use highly specialized epoxies with a more involved curing process. These premium casting rods will take longer to produce which will be reflected in the cost.
Features to Look for in a Baitcasting Rod
The rod blank on a fishing rod spans the length of the rod. All of the components of the rod are mounted on the rod blank which provides the sensitivity, action, and backbone needed for anglers to feel bites, present lures, and set the hook. Blanks can be made from a variety of rod materials which I will describe below.
Graphite Currently, the most popular material used in rod blank construction is graphite. Graphite rod blanks include carbon fibers that are held together with various epoxies. Graphite is lightweight and relatively stiff, providing anglers good sensitivity for feeling bites from fish and detecting underwater structure. High-modulus graphite is extremely lightweight and sensitive, as it includes a higher density of carbon content. Ultimately, a high-quality graphite blank will allow anglers to catch more fish and reduce fatigue when fishing for extended periods of time
- Graphite blanks are sensitive
- Graphite rods are lightweight
- Graphite rods are versatile
- Poor-quality graphite rod blanks can be brittle
- High-end graphite rod blanks can be expensive
Fiberglass Fiberglass rod blanks are cheaper and more durable than graphite but also heavier and less sensitive. Fiberglass rods still have some applications where they are often used. Fiberglass rod blanks have a slower action than graphite rod. This means that the rod bends fairly evenly throughout the rod. For presentations that require the rod to load up throughout the blank like when fishing for catfish or using lures with treble hooks, a fiberglass rod will offer anglers a slower action that can’t be found in a graphite rod. While the durability of fiberglass can't be overlooked, graphite rods have largely taken over the market.
- Fiberglass is strong and durable
- Fiberglass is affordable to produce
- Fiberglass can be cumbersome
- Fiberglass blanks are very sensitive
Composite Some rod blanks marry of the benefits of each material in order to create rods that are lightweight, durable, and have a slower action. These composite rods blend carbon fiber and fiberglass strands to build a rod blank that is versatile and capable of a wide variety of techniques.
- Composite blanks are more durable than pure graphite
- Composite blanks are more sensitive than pure fiberglass
- Composite rod blanks can be thicker in diameter, making them cumbersome for some anglers to manage
Like all aspects of a fishing rod, the length of the rod has a significant impact on its performance. A rod that is too long for your conditions can make it more challenging for anglers to make accurate casts. Conversely, a rod that is too short will make it harder to make long casts and will cost anglers some leverage over aggressive fish.
Also, in most cases, when using a rod up to 7'6", low-profile baitcasters will be the best option for balancing on the rod. For anglers who are targeting larger game fish and using longer rods, a round baitcaster would be a better fit.
For small species in small ponds and lakes, a rod that is between 5-6ft will allow anglers to make accurate casts to areas where these fish will be congregated and feel faint bites. While it is possible to use a longer rod in these situations, ultra-light and light-powered rods above 6ft can behave like a whip, decreasing casting accuracy, making it harder to feel bites, and costing anglers some control over their underwater presentation. Ultimately, shorter rods are the way to go when fishing for small species.
For freshwater anglers, a rod that is between 6-7ft will be an excellent choice for most applications. When fishing for bass, walleye, and similarly sized specie, these lengths will allow anglers to make accurate casts, control lures, and set the hook while also being easy to transport.
In some situations, a longer baitcasting rod will be needed to make long casts and allow anglers the upper hand over fish. When fishing for catfish, anglers will need to keep their bait on the bottom and make long casts to the deepest areas of a body of water. A casting rod that is between 8-12ft will allow anglers to reach the areas where these bottom-dwellers reside and give them the leverage needed to fight these impressive species of fish.
When float fishing for salmon and steelhead, a rod that is 8-12ft will allow anglers to make long casts and effectively manage line. When fishing with a float, it’s essential that anglers allow their lures to drift naturally along with the current. This requires keeping as much line as possible off the water's surface. A longer rod will allow anglers to keep their line out of the water and allow anglers to keep their presentation in the areas where this fish will be waiting.
- Shorter rods will increase casting accuracy
- Longer rods will increase casting distance and leverage
- Ultralight rods over 6' can become "loose" and hard to control
Also referred to as the handle, the grip section of a casting rod extends from the reel seat to the butt of the rod. There is some variety in the types of grips available. In the following paragraphs, I will explain the merits of each.
Split Grip A split grip is divided into 2 sections, exposing a portion of the blank. This reduces the overall weight of the rod and increases its sensitivity. Split grips are very popular right now, and many anglers prefer the aesthetic created by them. Sometimes the portion of the grip located on the butt section can be large and somewhat hard. This is can potentially dig into the ribs of anglers performing heavy-duty applications while tucking the rod under their arms which can be painful.
- Split grips decrease weight and increase sensitivty
- Many anglers prefer the more modern aesthetic
- Split grips can cause discomfort for anglers who like to tuck the rod under the arm
Full Grip A rod with a full grip will leave none of the blank exposed underneath the reel. Typically, rods with a full grip will include a longer butt section. This is especially important for anglers who need to make long casts with heavy lures. This gives anglers more surface area to grasp while trying to gain leverage over heavy lures and big fish.
- Increased leverage
- More surface are for anglers to grasp
- Full grips increase weight, decreasing sensitivity
Cork Along with its classic aesthetics, a cork handle offers the angler some unique benefits. Cork is lightweight, which is especially important when performing techniques that require sensitivity. Cork is also hydrophobic, meaning that it repels water. This helps protect it from becoming waterlogged and becoming uncomfortable for anglers to hold on to. Also, being a natural material, cork is recyclable and biodegradable which reduces its environmental impact. The main drawback that comes with a cork grip is that they aren't incredibly durable and need to be periodically cleaned and sealed. For all-day comfort and sensitivity, a cork grip is the way to go.
- Cork is lightweight which increases the sensitivity of the rod
- Repels water for comfort
- Cork creates a classic aesthetic
- Cork requires routine maintenance
EVA Foam Another popular option for the grip of a casting rod is EVA foam. EVA foam is durable and inexpensive, making it a popular choice for entry level offerings. EVA foam has a bit more cusion than cork, but it absorbs moisture from sweat and the elements, making it less comfortable for many anglers.
- EVA foam is durable
- EVA foam is inexpensive
- EVA handles up moisture, making them uncomfortable for some anglers
How to Find the Right Casting Rod for You
Now that I have gone over the principles needed for anglers to find the right rod for their conditions, I’m going to show you what that looks like in action. The following examples are based on customers that I have worked with as an Expert here at Curated.
Ethan: Beginner Targeting Multiple Freshwater Species
Ethan has tried fishing with a spinning setup, but struggled with making accurate casts. He mainly fishes for smallmouth bass and walleye in rivers and reservoirs with clear water. He wants to start out by using moving baits like spinnerbaits, bladed jigs, and small swimbaits. He doesn’t want to break the bank, but he wants a quality rod that can grow with him as he grows as an angler.
Features Ethan should look for:
- Moderate-fast action for fighting aggressive smallmouth bass
- Soft tip to protect the softer mouths of walleye
- Medium to medium-heavy power for lightweight presentations in clear water
Gloria: Experienced Angler Targeting Bass
Gloria has been fishing with a spinning setup for a few years, and she decided that she wanted to purchase her first baitcasting setup. Gloria fishes lots of small urban ponds and occasionally enjoys fishing in larger bodies of water on her friend’s boat. Since she’s not sure what lures she wants to use, she’s looking for an all-around casting rod that can be used for a variety of bass fishing applications.
Features Gloria should look for:
- A rod around 7ft ft for long, accurate casts
- A fast-action rod for quick hooksets
- A medium-heavy power blank for setting the hook and leverage over aggressive fish
- Graphite rod blank for versatility and reduced weight
Rod examples: Dobyns Rods Kaden, TFO Resolve Bass Casting Rod
Devon: Surf Angler Targeting Striped Bass
Devon has a lot of fishing experience and wanted a rod that he can use while fishing for stripers from the shore. He had been using a 13’ fiberglass rod for the application and since fiberglass is so heavy, it was taking a toll on his wrists and shoulders. Devon wanted to find a quality rod that is lightweight but strong enough to cast heavy weighted lures a long distance where fish are congregated.
Features Devon should look for:
- A graphite rod blank with high carbon density
- A rod between 8-13’ for long casts and leverage over big fish
- A medium-heavy to heavy power rod for strong hooksets from a distance
I know that was a lot to take in, but at this point, you should have a good idea of where to start when finding your next baitcasting rod. If you still have questions about casting rods or any other fishing gear, check out the Expert Journal here on Curated for more Fishing content.