A Complete Guide to Fishing Rods
Fishing Expert Brayden Sharp breaks down all of the most common fishing rod types, from spinning to telescopic, and explores all of their best uses.
Whether you’re the type to search the internet or walk into your local fishing gear outfitter looking for rods, reels, hooks, and baits, we all have to start somewhere when it comes to fishing equipment. As you search, you’re met with literally thousands of options that are all for a specific type of fish. Where is an angler supposed to start? Do you just grab the first pole off the rack, some line, a couple of lures, and you’re ready to go? If you're lucky, maybe you picked the right setup!
In this article, I will go over the many rods and combos on the market today to help beginning anglers find the perfect rod for the fishing that fits their style and location! As we will cover, there is no one rod that fits all solutions in fishing. You wouldn't use a fly-fishing setup to fish for catfish, after all! I'll summarize each type of fishing rod and discuss its advantages and disadvantages.
Finally, I'll discuss what makes each rod unique: composition, length, action, and power. Different types of fishing rods have characteristics that make them better suited for specific purposes based on these four options. Rods for smaller fish are shorter and have more sensitivity, while bigger, more robust rods have a stronger backbone in order to handle large fish. Two extremes to this rule are sea fishing rods and ultra-light fishing rods, or even cane poles! If you run into any questions or want to buy one of these rods, reach out to a Fishing Expert here on Curated.
Casting rods are rods that can either fit a spincasting reel or the much more popular baitcasting reel. Baitcasting gear is best used for baits over three-eighths ounces. Baitcasting rods are much more sensitive and come in a wide variety of powers and actions to really dial in your rod to specific baits. Check out An Expert Guide to Choosing the Perfect Baitcasting Rod for more!
Baitcasting gear has much more power than spinning setups. There is a time and place where you simply need baitcasting gear. Use baitcasting gear for frog, heavy jigs, or Texas rigs (greater than three-eighths ounces), and bigger swimbaits (five inches and up). Using baitcasters definitely takes some practice to learn; however, when you do, you will open up the possibilities to fish many different baits and improve your chances of getting a solid hookset.
Baitcasters are not the best for lighter baits. On baits less than three-eighths ounces, a spinning rod might be a better choice. Spinning rods throw lighter baits better and more efficiently.
Fly Fishing Rods
Fly rods take advantage of extremely light lures and lines, which can take plenty of practice to master. Fly rods are specifically designed to fit fly fishing reels only and have much greater flexibility than other rods. This increases their ability to whip the fishing line into any desired location with great accuracy. When using a fly fishing rod, you are participating in a very specific type of fishing that involves super light fishing line, line control, and casting. It also requires knowledge on topics such as how to trigger a strike. For more information, check out Choosing a Fly Rod that Works for You.
Fly fishing rods come in many different lengths that allow anglers to target various species based on each rod's strengths. Fishermen can target larger fish, such as steelhead or salmon, and even go down all the way to panfish or micro-fish if desired!
Fly fishing rods require a lot of skill and practice to master. Flies are not as expensive as other types of lures; however, rods and reels are much more expensive than other conventional fishing types, such as spincasting reels. Fly fishing lures and rods are not made for deep-water fishing and should only be used for shallow and top-water fishing.
Ice Fishing Rods
I couldn't write this article without including everyone—so you northern ice fishermen are included too! Ice-fishing rods look very similar to normal spinning rods. These rods are meant for small to medium-sized fish. In ice fishing, you do not have to worry about casting, so you do not need the gear variety that you do in normal spinning setups.
Ice rods are much smaller and a lot less expensive, allowing you to have several rods in several holes to increase the number of fish you can catch on your outing. Because the rods are so small, this allows for a great amount of sensitivity, even for the smallest of baits.
These rods should only be used when ice fishing, as they are extremely small and not made to be cast.
Spinning rods are a popular choice for many anglers, namely beginners, as they are easy to learn and master. Spinning rods excel when imitating prey fish such as minnows or shad. Spinning rods can be designed for many different scenarios, such as deep-sea fishing rods, ice-fishing rods, or surf-fishing rods. Another design difference from a casting rod is that the handle of a spinning rod may be one solid piece of cork, as opposed to a split-grip rod. How to Choose a Spinning Rod explains more.
Spinning rods do not have a trigger to activate the unspooling. Instead, the spool must be opened in order for the line to be cast. The ease with which spinning rods can be cast is another reason why they are such a popular choice among anglers, in addition to their ability to cast lighter lures and baits.
This style of rod and reel will struggle in situations where heavier lines and reel are in use. The rod may also struggle if the reel is used for fish that are larger than the gears are graded for.
Surf rods are used by saltwater fishermen who are fishing in the ocean. You can fish with these from the shore or even take them out onto a sand bar to really reach those bigger fish.
Using a surf rod comes with added quality and durability against the salt’s corrosion. These rods are also longer, starting from nine feet and ending upwards of fifteen feet in length. These rods have a lot more play in the rod, allowing the angler to catch a wide variety of fish and fight even the biggest of fish on a medium-power rod.
Surf rods are definitely not rods that you want to be casting for an entire day. They are much heavier and longer than other rods. You could almost say that these rods are specifically for those who like to fish off banks or piers on the coast.
The perfect travel rod! Telescopic rods are built specifically with ease of transport in mind. Another variation of these are multi-piece rods, which can be separated into different parts. Both of these types of rods are made of multiple pieces that produce one complete rod when assembled to the handle. Telescopic rods in particular will fold into themselves and shrink down into the handle. When extended to full length, a telescopic rod will show little difference in flexibility and durability when compared to rods composed of one solid blank.
The biggest advantage of a telescopic rod is, of course, how easily it can be transported, whether in your car or backpack, making it perfect for hikers or those on the go! Another advantage is that telescopic rods will keep their respective attributes to their design in relation to their solid rod counterparts. You are able to utilize the same lures, line, and tackle as you would on a rod that is not telescopic. So, if you want to get to that farm pond tucked back in the woods that you have to hike one mile to get to, you will have a great lightweight option to put in your pack!
One of the biggest disadvantages regarding a telescopic or multi-piece rod is the lack of variety when it comes to finding a rod with the right action. With multiple components, these poles tend to lack sensitivity as well, making it hard to find the bite on smaller fish if you are using the wrong sized rod. Another drawback is that the multiple pieces that make up the rod itself create more spots where the rod can break, fail, or become stuck. While these rods are considered very durable, proper care for your gear is also recommended in order to keep them in prime condition.
The first rod you ever had as a young fisherman was most likely an ultra-light rod. These rods can be made in multiple sizes but typically tend to be used for smaller fish, such as panfish and trout. These rods have plenty of bend in them, as they are meant to fight the fish with the rod tip up as opposed to down. Ultra-light rods will typically be paired with spinning reels and a spincast reel, as a baitcaster is a bit too strong and casting isn't the goal of an ultra-light rod.
The biggest advantage of an ultra-light rod is your ability to catch and stay connected to the smallest of fish. Panfish have very small and soft mouths that are almost as thin as tissue paper, but the lighter rod will load deeper on the hookset, taking all of that power once you have hooked the fish. Since it is such a light rod, it will stay loaded no matter the size of the fish. Ultra-light rods really excel in their lightweight construction and low cost. The ultra-light is the perfect first-time rod for younger generations of anglers because of its ability to place a spinning reel or a spincast reel. Nearly every ultra-light is also a fast-action rod. Fast-action rods bend at the upper 25%, which I will explain more about in the rod action section below.
One primary disadvantage of an ultra-light rod that stands out immediately is that it will not be suited to fight game fish with the rod tip down. This type of rod, as mentioned before, is suited to fight fish with the rod tip up, which can cause issues with durability, and the rod can be snapped with relative ease if you are not careful. With an ultra-light rod, you lose a lot of power, so you would not want to use an ultra-light rod for bigger fish or with lures bigger than one-sixteenth ounces. In those cases, I would bump up to a medium-light rod.
How to Pick the Right Rod
Within the world of rods, opportunities are just about endless. How do you know what material to use? What about power, action…? Let's dive in.
Graphite Graphite rods are by far the most common rods on the market. The technology in rod blanks is crazy nowadays. Manufacturers are making graphite rods with stronger materials and in smaller diameters to cut down on rod weight and make it more enjoyable to fish. Graphite rods work best for 90% of your fishing. You should especially pick up a graphite rod when power fishing (medium-heavy to a heavy rod).
Glass Glass rods are kind of a hidden gem and are great for those who really want to dial in their gear. Glass rods work best for crankbaits. This is because glass rods load much deeper and allow the fish to fully bite the bait while you retrieve it. Glass rods would not be the best for jig fishing because you want to drive that big hook into the fish. Instead, they shine with crankbaits because they keep the fish pinned when they jump with those smaller treble hooks.
Length on a rod can vary for each person; however, there are length preferences to help drive the hook at the correct angle. Most beginning rods are a standard 6’6”: that is an okay length to do a lot without worrying about hitting any trees from the banks. If you are looking to upgrade your gear, definitely look for rods that are longer than seven feet. Rods that are between 6’10” and 7’2” (depending on your height) work best for skipping baits because when you underhand cast, the tip of the rod will be close to the water without actually touching it.
For moving baits when covering water, going with a rod that is between 7’2” and 7’6” works best for throwing baits the farthest and allowing you to cover the most water. The added length gives you added casting distance as well as the power to get the hook into the fish even on the farthest casts. For slower jigging presentations and bigger swimbaits, longer rods between 7’4” and 8’ are best because these baits have the biggest diameter hooks to drive into the fish. Longer rods, such as these, have the heaviest power so you can really set the hook hard.
The categories of rod power go from ultra-light all the way to XX-heavy. This allows anglers to fish for anything from panfish to 100-pound groupers. The image above shows the bend in the rod when presented with the same weight. The lower the power, the more bend in the rod, which allows the rod to load deeper and have a lighter backbone.
Action is just as important as the power in the rod. Action categories start at slow and go all the way to extra-fast. The action in the rod explains how soon you will hit the backbone of that rod. Moderate-load rods are best for treble hook baits, such as crankbaits, to really bend the rod and not bend those treble hooks out.
Fast action is the standard across the industry — this action works for just about any application. Fast-action rods allow a slight play in the rod to keep baits pinned, but they are also fast enough to drive even the bigger hooks. Extra-fast action is best for those ultra finesse setups where you want the rod to do all of loading and unloading. The extra-fast will allow you to drive the hook because there is very little play and it is almost all backbone.
Be sure to chat with a Fishing Expert here on Curated with any questions or for free personalized recommendations for the perfect rod.