The Ultimate Guide to Choosing your Next Fishing Rod

It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or your fifth, getting a new fishing rod is always exciting. But search for a rod online and you’re going to get hundreds of products all promising to be the best rod for you. With a range of specs and new rod technology on the market it can get quite confusing very quickly.

Here we cut through the sales talk and break down some of the most important things you need to consider before buying your new rod. In this article we’ll cover rod specs, rods types and their construction to arm you with the information you need to choose the right rod for yourself.

The Application

Before thinking about what type of rod you want to get and its specs, you need to think about your fishing application. What type of fish are you targeting? Where will you be fishing? What lure or rig are you using to catch them? These are important questions which you should use to guide your decision on what the best rod will be.

Fishing Rod Components

Before we go deep on choosing the rod, we need to know the different parts of a rod and some terminology.

Starting from the bottom of the fishing rod, we have the handle. As the name implies, this is where you will be holding the rod.

Moving up the rod you will find the reel seat. This is where your fishing reel will be secured. The feet of the reel slip under the collars which are then tightened to hold it in place.

Next we have the blank. This is simply the shaft portion of the rod.

Attached to the blank there are also guides. These are the circular pieces where your fishing line is threaded through.

Finally, some rods also contain ferrules. These are only for rods which disassemble and are the parts used to combine the separate sections of your rod.

Choosing the Right Rod Specs

After considering how you’re going to be using your rod, you can start looking at what specs are going to be best suited. The length, power and action of your rod are going to have a big impact on how your setup will perform for a given style of fishing.

Length

The length of a rod is measured from the butt of the handle to the tip. What’s considered a “long” or “short” rod will depend on the person and their style of fishing, but 7ft can be considered a rough middle ground.

One of the biggest advantages of long rods is that they give you more range in your cast. The extra length of the blank gives you more leverage so you can flick your rig out further. A longer rod is going to be beneficial if you’re wanting to cover more water and fish deeper. Casting distance is particularly important for surf fishing so you can get your bait clear of the surf. Surf rods usually fall in the range of 9 and 14ft.

Another benefit of longer rods is the extra leverage they provide for setting the hook. When sweeping the rod up after a fish strike, a longer blank will pull more line for a harder hook set. Longer rods can also be a little more forgiving for anglers. When a fish surges or jumps, the extra length will be able to absorb the force better which can help prevent the hook from ripping out the fish’s mouth.

On the other hand, the main advantage of shorter fishing rods is the additional accuracy they provide during casting. So for areas of heavy cover, near docks or fallen trees, a shorter rod will give you that extra control in placing your bait or lure where you want it.

Beyond fishing performance, a smaller rod will be easier to carry and transport. It will be better suited for locations with overhanging trees or fishing on a kayak. Shorter rods are just easier to manage overall.

If you are aiming for a more versatile rod that will give you a good balance between casting distance and accuracy, go for a rod in the middle range. This is around the 7ft mark and is a great place to start for beginners or less experienced anglers.

Power

Power refers to the amount of force that is required to bend the rod and is sometimes also referred to as weight.

A rating is usually given to the rod ranging from light to medium to heavy. There are also extremes on the scale with ultra-light and ultra-heavy, as well as ratings in between such as medium/heavy. Light powered fishing rods require less force to bend compared to heavier powered rods which will bend less under the same weight.

Generally, the most suitable power will depend on your line and lure weight. 

A heavier lure is going to require a heavier power rod. A rod will usually come with a lure weight rating. This tells you the range of lure weights the rod is designed for.

If you go outside this range with a heavier lure, you risk breaking the tip of your rod during casting. On the other hand, too light of a lure is going to be a little more difficult to cast. Ideally you want the rod to bend a little during casting to load up and help flick your lure out further. So for a smaller lure, a lighter road is going to flex more during the cast and help you get it out further.

The line test will also be important, with heavier lines better suited for heavier power rods. Like the lure weight, a suitable line test range will also be specified for the rod.

If you pair too light of a line to a heavy powered rod, you are much more likely to break the line. This can happen particularly when setting the hook or fighting against a surging fish. A lighter powered line will bend more in these high tension situations and essentially act as a shock absorber. This will reduce the chances of your line breaking.

If you go the other way and pair a heavier test line to a lighter powered rod the consequences won’t just be a lost fish. Because your line is stronger than your rod, guess which one will break first? Yep… your rod. I think I’d prefer a broken line.

You should also consider the environment in which you’re fishing. A heavier rod is going to be beneficial in areas of heavy cover. You don’t want to give the fish extra room to move with a flexing rod. A lighter rod will give them more time to retreat to shelter and get you tied up. A stiffer heavier rod will help you horse those fish out of heavy cover quicker.

Action

While the power of a rod refers to how much it bends when a force is applied, the action refers to where this bending occurs. Action is usually rated on a scale from extra fast to slow.

Fast action rods will bend primarily in the top third or less of the blank. For moderate action rods, the bending extends further down to around the halfway mark. And finally, slow action rods will bend from the lower third of the blank.

First thing you’ll want to consider is the castability of your lure. You’re usually going to get a better cast of a light lure using a lighter powered, slower action rod. As we’ve mentioned, it’s going to allow the rod to load up a little better and help launch the lure out further. Using a stiffer fast action rod isn’t going to be able to cast the lure as far.

However, a slower rod isn’t always going to help your cast. Using too slow of an action for a heavier lure is going to overload your rod during the cast giving you less control. For these lures you want a faster action rod to get a bit of backbone behind it.

The action of the rod is important for how strong and fast your hookset is. As a faster action rod bends only at the tip there is going to be less shock absorbance. Faster action means there is a stiffer backbone to generate force for the hook set. As only a small part of the rod bends, this backbone is going to kick in quicker for a faster hookset as well. This also makes faster rods more sensitive.

Slower action rods are the opposite. They provide more shock absorbance as a greater portion of the rod bends. There is less stiff backbone in slower rods meaning your hookset isn’t going to have as much force behind it. The pressure of the hookset will also be slower, as more of the rod has to bend before the rigid part of the blank kicks in.

Whether you want a harder faster hookset, or one that’s slower with less force, will depend on your application. Stronger hooksets are going to be great for harder mouthed species like muskies. Larger hooks also benefit from this as they usually need a little more force to drive it in.

If you’re going for softer mouthed species like salmon, too hard of a hookset can cause it to rip out of the fish’s mouth. Here you’d want a slower action to prevent you overplaying the set.

Slower rods can also be great for lures with treble hooks. These hooks usually have shorter shafts so they are held closer to the lures body. The downside of this is they don’t tend to pierce deeply when the fish strikes. A lighter slower rod is going to help keep the hook pinned when bringing it in.

How you work your lure is another consideration. Something like a topwater is going to benefit from a faster action rod. It’s going to let you work the lure with fast twitches and pop it a little easier. A slower action rod is going to be a little too floppy and make walking the topwater more difficult.

Picking the Right Type of Fishing Rod

You might be getting an idea now about the type of specs you want in your rod. But now you need to look more closely at the type. Two of the more common types you’ll come across are spinning and casting rods. There are also fly fishing rods but we won’t be going over them as they really deserve their own separate article.

The type of rod you select has to be matched to the same type of reel. For example, a spinning rod should always be matched with a spinning reel etc. This means you can’t choose your rod in isolation. You need to consider the specs of the reel, how they work together and what the combination of the two is going to be most suitable for.

Spinning Rods

These types of rods are designed specifically for housing spinning type reels which sit below the rod with a spool that is parallel to the rod axis. Spinning rods feature their guides at the bottom and at a further distance from the blank. They also usually have larger guides that progressively get smaller as you move towards the tip of the rod.

A major attraction of spinnings reels are how easy they are to cast. This mostly has to do with the mechanics of the reel rather than rod which is much simpler compared to casting reels. So if you are a beginner or less experienced fisherman, a spinning rod is probably the best option for you.

Another advantage of spinning rods is that they excel with lighter lines and lures. Very little force or weight is required to pull the line off the spool in spinning reels when casting. So if you are targeting smaller fish like panfish or trout with thinner lines and smaller lures, a spinning rod might be the way to go.

Spinning rods are generally more sensitive compared to casting rods as well. As the guides face down, the line is always in contact with them. So when a fish goes for your bait, that force will transfer from the line, to your guides and ultimately to your rod faster. This makes spinning rods great for live baits or other finesse application.

However, the guide design on spinning rods also makes for less accurate casting. The line is held by the guides relatively far from the rod providing less control. Additionally, the larger guides of the spinning rod gives the line a lot more room to move. This reduces how precise you can place your cast. So if you’re looking to fish in areas of heavy cover or when you need targeted casting, a spinning rod might not be the best choice.

Casting Rods

These rods are designed for use with casting reels like baitcasters. These reels sit on top of the rod, with the spool perpendicular to the blank axis. In contrast to spinning rods, their guides are positioned on top and held much closer to the blank. The guides are also much smaller in size. Some casting rods also feature a trigger at the bottom to provide better control of the rod.

A key advantage of baitcasting rods is the precision they afford the angler. As the guides are smaller and held closer to the blank, you have much greater control of the cast. Accuracy is also improved from the line coming off the spool straight in baitcasting reels. This is an improvement compared to spinning reels where the line uncoils from the spool. Baitcasting rods are perfect for heavy cover or applications where you need a precise lure presentation.

However, the mechanics of baitcaster reels makes them less suited for lighter line and lure applications. This is because the spool of the reel has to actually rotate to release the line. So it’s going to need more force, more weight and more power to physically spin the line off a baitcaster. This isn’t to say it can’t be done, but requires a bit of extra tuning and skill.

Baitcasters also tend to be more difficult to cast compared to spinning rods and reels. They are prone to what’s called backlash, which is when your spool keeps spinning after your line has landed in the water. This makes an absolute mess of your line making it look like a birds nest! So baitcasting rods and reels are best left for more experienced anglers that are already proficient with a spinning rod.

Other Things to Consider

Rods with the same specs are not all created equal. There are several other factors of the rods design that are going to affect performance, durability and its price!

Material

Fishing rods are typically made using graphite or fibreglass. There are also composite rods which are made using a combination of the two materials.

Fibreglass rods are usually the cheaper option out there. They make for a heavier and more durable build. The properties of fibreglass mean that these types of rods are usually medium or lighter action. Fibreglass is much more flexible so the flex will occur more towards the middle to give a parabolic bend.

Graphite rods are usually a little more expensive. They are much lighter than their fibreglass counterparts but are also more fragile. Graphite is quite a rigid material which makes them better suited for faster action rods. This gives the rod that stiff backbone where the bend only occurs at the tip. This also makes for a more sensitive rod.

Composite rods have also been developed which incorporate both fibreglass and graphite into their build. They use various layers of the two materials in different proportions to try and give you the best of both worlds.

Guides

An often overlooked part of the rod is the line guides. Since they act as the interface between your rod and the line it makes sense to have a closer look.

The easiest thing to look at is the number of guides on the rod. Generally more guides are going to improve how it performs. A high number of guides is going to apply the fighting pressure of the fish more evenly across the length of the blank. The same principle applies to casting, where you want that bit of flex to load up and slick your lure further. More guides is also going to help your line keep straight coming off the spool for better casting distance and accuracy.

The guides are also a source of friction to your line so the material they are made from is also important. The most common material used is aluminium oxide ceramics like Alconite. They are generally less expensive than other guides but are still quite smooth and durable.

If you’re going for something more high end, silicone carbide is the gold standard when it comes to rod guide material. It is the smoothest option out there to reduce friction and improve your cast. Less friction also means less heat is generated during the cast or when the fish goes on a run. Heat is a killer when it comes to line so it’s also going to help improve your lines longevity.

Some newer designs also use titanium guides. They are lightweight and more durable. They will usually bend before they break and their position can just be corrected by the angler. They are also very resistant to corrosion.

Handle

The design of your handle is also going to be something to consider. A lot of this comes down to personal preference, but will be affected by how you like to cast and what’s most comfortable for you.

If you like getting your two hands on the rod for casting, a longer handle will be the way to go. It’s going to give you a bit more purchase for that extra casting distance. If you prefer just using one hand, make sure you get a suitably short handle. These can be great for those short precise casts. Options like split grip or pistol grip handles are also available so you can check them out as well.

Finally you want to consider the material used for the handle. The most common types are either cork or EVA foam. Once again, it comes down to your preference and what is most comfortable for you. Take note of the quality or grade of the material which is also going to affect its durability.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right rod for you isn’t as complicated as it seems when you have a better understanding of what each feature means for your fishing. My advice is to always think about the end goal and work your way backwards. Start with the type of fish you want to catch, where you want to catch it and using what technique. Then you can start thinking about what rod type and specs are going to be best suited for the job.

To finish up I just want to wish you all the best in choosing your next fishing rod and hope I’ve been able to help you out with some things to consider. Happy fishing!