Today’s rods have come a long way from prehistoric days, where catching fish with bare hands in deep water proved next to impossible. From spinning rods to surf rods, to the telescopic and the trolling, the changes in the different types of fishing rods available, compared to the past, are quite impressive.
Selecting a new rod, thanks to all the differing features, can be pretty challenging. One way to ease this difficulty is to examine each rod type individually. That way you’ll know exactly what to look for when considering your experience level and preferred style of fishing.
Here we look at the eight main types of fishing rods that you’ll find in the current market.
Spinning rods are the primary choice of anglers preferring to spin fish. A technique that involves spinning a lure to mimic the prey of predatory fish, this fishing style is often recommended first to beginners because of its basic set-up and simple method of casting. Rods of this category are mainly recognized by the lack of a trigger attachment at the rod base (a feature found in bait casting rods designed to improve an angler’s grip).
An easier way to distinguish a spinning rod–especially for those more unfamiliar with rod components–is through visualizing a rod’s guides (the metal holes or “eyelets” through which a line is thread from the reel to the tip). In spinners, these always point down to the ground on the underside of the rod. The resulting downward bend allows the line to feed out with as a little resistance as possible.
More varied than some other types of fishing rods (namely surf and ice fishing rods), spinning rods come in many sizes. For the beginner who may be unaware of the nuances between rod lengths–and how the height of a fisherman comes into play when selecting a rod–this range can prove very important. For a short or tall angler, this can make all the difference as they allow them access to fish where other techniques (and their restricted rod lengths) might not.
The biggest advantage that most people see in spinning rods is the role a spinning reel plays in preventing line tangles and improving retrieval speed (time taken to bring the line in from the cast). The main disadvantage is their impingement on technique, which, according to some pros, limits them to light lines and lures (and thus much smaller fish).
Bait Casting Rods
Bait casting rods (or “casting” rods) are also used in spin-fishing and are easily recognized as being the polar opposite of spinning rods. Their guides are on the upside of the rod, causing the rod to bend in a different way, which is something that can often appear “confusing” or “unnatural” to new anglers.
What most separates casting rods from spinning rods, however, is their use in more “serious” fishing due to their ability to better handle heavier lures and line. The casting technique is different too. Unlike spinning rods, casting with baitcasting rods involves holding the rod like a sports racket, with the reel facing upwards, holding the line down with a thumb, and then releasing it as you flip the rod forward.
Due to this added complexity, beginners might find casting rods more challenging initially. Thumbing the line, if not timed correctly, can cause a backlash “birds nest” of tangled line, which is something you don’t have to do with spinning rods. Further practice is the only way to overcome this but is worth doing for achieving both a longer cast (line flows directly off the spool) and increased accuracy.
Casting, line control, and striking (landing a fish) are the three needs that fly rods are most concerned with. Buying one should also involve familiarity with extremely lightweight lines and lures, as well as the technique’s very specific casting technique that has the potential to cause a lot of headaches.
Different to bait casting and spinning rods in the fact they are only compatible with fly reels, fly rods often have a much greater taper (rod flex) too. That’s what allows the small amount of mass (the line) to reach a speed high enough to allow the lure to be cast out into the water.
Fly rods come in a wide range of weight, length, and material options but are typically between 6 and 15 feet long with the longest used for salmon or steelhead fishing with the use of two-hands (necessary to help land the heavier species of fish). Recently the trend has been for fly rods to be shorter and lighter thanks to a popularity shift among fly fishermen from river fishing to that of small streams.
Beginners, if not put off by the more challenging technique, might also note that fly fishing tackle isn’t very well-suited to fishing deep. It’s gear (especially rods and line) is also more expensive than its spin-fishing counterparts but the flys are often cheaper than lures. Selecting this type of rod, therefore, is mostly a preferential choice rather than a practical one.
In some cases, beginners might need something more specific when it comes to getting to grips with the sport of angling. Ultralight rods, famous for being smaller and lighter than most other rod types, offer exactly that and often result in catching more fish too.
Where veterans tend to use this rod type between the 5 to 6 feet range, ultralight rods are also pretty versatile compared to the other types of fishing rods available. Rods go up to 9 feet while the shortest rods go down 4. You’ll also find ultralights in the trolling and fly fishing categories too, specifically because they are so much easier to transport.
Perhaps the biggest feature ultralight rods present, besides their reduced weight, is the fact that they are used very differently to fight fish. Pointed upward rather than downward (as is the case with all other rod types), the goal of landing a fish with this rod is to tire it rather than thrash it out.
Combining this “unnatural” fighting technique with these rods increased fragility, beginners can sometimes overlook these rods for more robust alternatives unlikely to cause trouble in the wind.
That, as well as the time and expense of having to shop for an equally light reel, is another reason this rod type can sometimes be quite limiting. Bait casting and spinning rod owners likely won’t have this problem given their popularity and range.
Made to collapse down to a short length or expand upward, telescopic rods are possibly the most portable rod type on this list and just as easy to travel with as ultralights. With their individual pieces constructed from the same materials as other conventional multi-piece rods, they are often hard to distinguish from casting or spinning rods too, especially when viewed from a short distance.
According to the experts, telescopic rods are good rods because they are quite durable, are very flexible, and offer a consistently long cast. They also provide good fish-fighting capabilities that don’t involve pointing the rod tip down to the water like ultralights.
Tackle-wise, they offer the same capabilities as the main types of rods and can be used with both heavy or light lures and line, depending on their relative strength.
Telescopic rods’ main disadvantages are related to their primary function. Collapsing a rod up and down obviously has its relative risks and should be done carefully. “Whipping” a telescopic rod to full extension is a surefire way of causing parts to get “stuck” in place, making it difficult to collapse and transport.
Another disadvantage, especially for the more technically-minded angler, are the limited ranges of “action” (more on this later) telescopic rods offer. For beginners cramped for home or vehicle storage space, that might be something worth overlooking. The same goes for those looking to fish casually while outdoor camping or hiking.
Trolling is a fishing technique quite different from the others, namely due to its involvement of a moving boat or vessel.
Typically used for deep sea fishing, where more experienced anglers like to go for pelagic fish like kingfish and mackerel, trolling usually requires more heavy-duty and durable tackle compared to the more casual styles of fishing like fly and spin.
Logistically speaking, trolling rods need to be able to handle a wide variety of lures and, depending on the target fish, heavy bait too. As line tackle is moved through the water dependent on the motion of the boat, given the currents and waves of a large lake or ocean, fishing with gear that is too light can be problematic.
In terms of features, trolling rods have several things in common designed to combat this problem of lightweight issues. Most are fast-action, as “whippy” slow-action rods (like those seen in fly and ultralight types) are ill-suited to the technique. They also generally range between 5 and 15 feet in length and have longer handles (made mainly from foam or cork) than most other rod types to ensure a reliable grip.
Beginners interested in the technique might also be interested to know that bait casting rods can be used in trolling too. Able to fulfill the need to cast bait out into both shallow and deep water, casting rods are most commonly used to troll in winter when fish aren’t as “spread out.” Often cheaper than specially designed trolling rods, they can lack certain important features like roller guides (reducing rod friction when bent) and rod cushions (preventing the risk of tearing the hook out).
Similar to spinning or casting rods except for being larger and with longer grip handles, surf rods are one of the most popular types of fishing rod for use at sea.
Commonly used with two-hands, surf rods are longer in length than the poles of other rod types and are usually between 10 and 14 feet. Specifically designed for catching fish congregating before the breaking tide, they also differ from other types in their ability to handle a long cast.
Similar to trolling rods, except for their targeting of heavier saltwater fish like shark and snook, surf rods also need to be durable and powerful in order to handle heavy lures that can sit at the bottom of the water. Especially if making the grade from river or lake fishing that typically targets smaller fish, beginners might have trouble handling these types of rods. Sand spikes (rod holders) are a feature of surf rods that can help, however.
A big advantage surf rods have over trolling rods is that they can be used from the coastline to catch saltwater fish rather than from a boat. Thanks to the added casting capability, that means anglers can also walk up and down the shore too.
Ice Fishing Rods
Ice fishing rods are the smallest rod type on this list and usually range between 2 and 3 feet in length. In terms of shape, they are similar to spinning rods, only uniquely designed to fish through holes on frozen lakes, rivers, or streams, meaning they’re very unlikely to be used outside of the winter months.
Simple in nature, ice fishing rods aren’t particularly feature-rich. Incorporating fewer guides than other rod types, they often have carved wooden handles instead of long foam or cork extensions. They’re also more sensitive too.
Incredibly durable, ice fishing rods have thinner tips than standard poles. This allows anglers to feel the bite of the fish more and is important given the ice’s compromise in visibility. Unlike other rod types, they can also be used without reels. This lowers the overall cost of this angling set up.
One distinct disadvantage of this rod type is that it limits anglers to a very specific technique. To fish on ice, you’re going to have to be much more careful than you would on a flowing river. That means ensuring the ice is thick enough to hold your footing.
Selecting the Right Fishing Rod
Aside from their visual and practical characteristics, rods also have differences in terms of their construction, power, and action. Understanding what these things mean and how they apply to each rod type can help individual anglers better identify what they need.
Rod lengths matter because they determine the length of the cast. As a general rule, the shorter the rod length, the shorter the cast. That’s why ice fishing rods are significantly shorter than other types, because they are only required to be “dropped” into an ice opening.
Long casts aren’t always as much of an advantage as beginners might expect. Fishing in close range, which is a likely scenario when fishing on a river, in a stream, or off a boat, is much better suited to shorter rod lengths with less bend and greater strength, especially when targeting big fish.
Other rod types which are generally longer, especially surf and troll types, require a longer cast to reach out into saltwater areas that shorter rods just won’t allow.
Beginner anglers are recommended to use rods around 6 to 7 feet in length. That size meets the need of both accuracy and cast distance quite perfectly.
Material should always be an important consideration when buying a rod. Certain ones play a massive factor in durability. Others make more of a contribution to other significant features, namely power and action. Most types are made either from graphite or fiberglass. Some are made as composites of both.
Lighter than fiberglass, graphite rods are generally more rigid (less taper) and thus more breakable. The lack of weight contributes to increased sensitivity too, which depending on preferential fishing technique, can be either an advantage (ice rods) or disadvantage (trolling rods). Beginners are often put off by graphite because of these reasons. They can be a little more expensive too.
Heavier and more flexible than their alternatives, fiberglass rods have greater durability and tend to last longer than graphite or composite alternatives. For a beginner, glass often presents as the better option since they require less maintenance and care. The added strength makes them suitable for a range of fishing species, both large and small.
Composites present a middle-of-the-road option between both materials. The increased sensitivity and flexibility can complement certain styles but it’s probably worth spending some time fishing to work out your preferred technique first.
One final thing to add about rod materials is that it’s also worth paying attention to the materials used outside of the blank (the tubular section). Ring guides, for example, are an important component of most rod types and can also come in varying materials (namely steel or aluminium), each with its own unique characteristics. Handles, like the cork ones usually seen in trolling rods, should also be a consideration, especially if comfort is a factor for you in selecting a rod.
Rod power refers to the amount of force needed to bend a rod. This bend, which you’ll see when a fish is hooked or a weighted lure is attached, is what’s also referred to, as previously mentioned, as “taper.”
The greater the power, the bigger the bend. On ultralights, for example, power is often higher than in other rod types. That’s specifically due to the fact that they are often used in panfish and trout fishing (smaller species) where there is a need to “detect” the bite without feeling it through the rod itself.
Moderate power rods then, as you’ll often see in some bait casting and in most trolling and surf rods, have much less of a bend. That’s what makes them better suited for heavy lures like jerkbaits and crankbaits (which would add to the taper), which are better able to snag larger and greater fighting fish.
Beginners will usually see power referred to as a possibility of three options; light, medium, and heavy (sometimes with ‘ultra’ options too). The most important thing to keep in mind is that it’s the light end of the scale with the biggest taper and the heavy end with the least. Most pros sway toward the heavier end.
What’s also confusing is that “power” and “weight” are fairly synonymous when it comes to rod descriptions. A heavy weight rod might be one salesman’s way of describing power, which is just the same as little “bend.”
One final thing to be aware of when selecting a rod is how big of a role a rod’s action can play in its overall performance.
Action is best understood as the point or area of the rod where the bend is most pronounced, a rod’s action goes hand in hand with its power. Instead of heavy or light descriptions though, action is measured in speed, with fast and slow being at opposite ends of the scale.
Extra fast (closest) and fast action rods bend towards the tip of rod (the end furthest away from the handle). Bending this way ensures the majority of the rod is stiff, especially as it moves toward the handle and helps with catching heavy fish. Bass anglers, for example, tend to like fast action rods for their stability, the argument being that they are better at landing hard fighting fish that take single hooks (worms and jigs).
Slower (parabolic) action rods, on the other hand, bend closest to the butt and offer a lot to anglers who want to “feel a fight” more. Recommended for use for moving baits with treble hooks because of their decreased sensitivity (reducing awkward movements), they are said to be easier for hooking and striking (although not as powerful).
Ultimately – and to come back full circle – it’s the type of rod and lure that really decides both a rod’s action and power.
For a beginner selecting a rod for the first time, individuals should settle on a technique and rod type first before thinking about the nuances of action, power, and length.