Beginner’s Guide to Fishing Rods

guide to fishing rods

Once upon a time a fishing rod, or “pole,” was just a wooden stick with a piece of line tied to the end of it, and it worked in serving it’s purpose of catching fish. However, as the sport of fishing evolved and new materials invented, fishing rods have become highly specialized to match the type of fishing, and fish, the rod is used for.

Fishing rods are now available in a plethora of styles, lengths, composition and actions, all designed to give the angler an advantage over the fish.

Here is a comprehensive guide to help the angler pick the right fishing rod for the right type of fishing:

Types of Rods

There are three basic types of fishing rods:

Spinning Rods

Spinning rods are designed to be matched with a spinning reel, often referred to as an “open-faced spinning reel.” The reel has a wire finger called a “bail” that flips up to cast and down to rewind the line.

spinning fishing rod diagram

Spinning rods are set up to have the reel sit on the bottom of the rod.

Casting Rods

Casting rods are set up to have a “casting” reel set on the top of the fishing rod. Casting rods will have smaller guides than spinning rods and the letter “C” will typically be part of the rod model number.

casting rod fishing diagram

Casting rods can be used with either a standard casting reel, that resembles a small winch, or a spin-cast reel often referred to as a “closed face” spinning reel.

Fly Fishing Rods

Fly rods are specially designed for casting featherweight imitations of insects.

fly fishing rod

Whereas the weight of the lure or bait casts the line with spinning and casting rods, the weight of the line casts the lure with a fly fishing rod.

All of the above rods come in three basic designs:

  • Single-piece rods are constructed of one continuous length of material.
  • Multi-piece rods are the rod constructed in two or more sections and designed to be taken apart for easier travel and storage.
  • A telescopic fishing rod is constructed so the upper sections of the rod collapse into the bottom section. These rods are great when space is at a premium, such as when traveling into a remote area. For the right price, these rods can be found with some, most, or even all of the options of single or multi-piece rods.

Rod Length

Length is one of the most important considerations in selecting a fishing pole.

Fishing rod length will control the casting distance and, to a lesser extent, rod power and action. Fishing-rod lengths can vary from three to 15 feet and it is important to match the length of the rod to the type of fishing,

Shorter fishing rods are best suited for tight quarters, such as along bushy river banks, and longer rods for wide-open waters. However, longer rods will provide even the fittest angler a solid workout.

flexible 8 foot fishing rod

Mid-range rods are the best choice when fishing from a boat where casting distance isn’t that important. The other side of the coin is that the longer a rod is the harder it is to cast and the shorter the rod the more control it will offer.

A 6-7 foot rod is probably the best all-around choice for beginning anglers or those who only want to own one rod.

Rod Material

The material a fishing rod is made from will have a big impact on how the rod performs. At one time rods were made only from wood and metal. Today anglers have a wide variety of material options with all of them having their own pros and cons.

Fiberglass Rods

Fiberglass has been the most commonly used fishing-rod material since the mid-1950s. It gained immediate acceptance because it is lighter, stronger, and more flexible than wooden fishing rods. Like everything, fiberglass has its good and bad points.

Pros:

  • Great for fishing applications where a medium action is desired.
  • Extremely strong and durable.
  • As it is inexpensive to produce, fiberglass rods are very affordable.

Cons:

  • Not great at detecting light nibbles from gentler feeding fish.
  • Doesn’t provide as much power as other materials.
  • Is heavier than other materials so can be a burden during longer battles with big fish.

Graphic Fishing Rods

Graphite burst into the fishing scene in the 1970s and took the industry by storm as being strong and lighter than fiberglass. However, while graphite has some very attractive properties, it is not the “perfect” fishing rod material it has often been made out as. Here are graphite’s pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Graphite rods are more sensitive to bites than fiberglass.
  • The lighter weight allows for easier casting.

Cons:

  • Can be more brittle, and more prone to breaking, than fiberglass.
  • Graphite rods can be very pricey when compared to the same class of fiberglass rods.

There are also some misconceptions surrounding graphite fishing rods.

Graphite rods will have an “identifying marker” of IM6, IM7 or IM8 and these designate the degree of the stiffness of the graphite material, not the rod itself. This is an important distinction as an IM8 rod will not be stiffer than an IM6 rod.

Both rod materials will have the same stiffness, but by using stiffer graphite the manufacture can use less material in making the rod, and hence the rod will be lighter.

Composite Fishing Rods

Composite is the current darling material of the fishing industry.

A well-made composite rod combines all the best performance qualities of fiberglass and graphite. Here are the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Great all-around performance.
  • Very flexibility.
  • Lightweight.
  • Extremely strong.
  • Highly sensitive.

Cons:

  • The only real drawback to a composite rod is the cost. A well-made composite fishing rod can cost well over three times what a graphite rod would and four to five times as much as a fiberglass rod.

Bamboo Fishing Rods

Bamboo is usually found in higher-end fly rods and is technically classified as grass, not wood. Bamboo has been used for centuries and is still loved by many fly-fishing purists today. Bamboo is more about history and craftsmanship than about functionality.

The pros and cons of a bamboo fly rod are the same; they are heavier and will stand up to years of use if properly taken care of. However, it is important to never lean a bamboo rod up against something while storing it as the fibers have memory and the rod will quickly develop a bend.

Rod Action

Action is one of the primary considerations when selecting a fishing rod. Action is a function of how much of the rod will bend under fishing pressure and is determined by the shape of the rod, the rod material and how much material is used in the rod’s construction.

single fishing rod 7 foot

Rod action also determines how quickly the rod returns to its normal profile after the load, or weight, is removed and this is where the fast, medium and slow designations are established.

Fishing poles are typically categorized as having a “slow,” “medium” or “fast” action, or some combination thereof.

Following are the basic action characteristics:

  • Fast Action Rod: A fast-action rod will bend along just the top third of the shaft. Fast-action rods tend to work best with single hooks and larger jigs and are great for horsing fish from heavy cover. The strength of a fast-action rod makes it highly versatile and can catch anything from panfish to lunker largemouths and king salmon.
  • Medium Action Rod: A medium-action fishing rod, sometimes call moderate action, will bend along the top half of the shaft. Medium-action rods are a compromise between a slow- and fast-action rod. These offer a good hook-setting ability and can cast further than fast-action rods.
  • Slow Action Rod: A slow-action rod will bend from the lower third of the shaft. Slow-action rods allow for a long cast and are a lot of fun when fishing for trout or panfish. Slow-action rods are best used with smaller lures as the slow-action requires a longer time to set the hook.
  • Parabolic Action Rod: A parabolic-action rod means the shaft will bend evenly, or equally, along its entire length. This is typically found on slow- in moderate-action rods.

Fast-action rods typically provide more sensitivity and therefore have greater hook-setting power than medium or slow actions. However, it is important to note that the action type is to some degree dependent on the type of rod the term is applied to. For example, a fast-action salmon rod will bend much more readily than a fast action surf-casting rod.

Rod Power

Power is sometimes used synonymously with action, but this is not technically accurate. Power can be explained as being the opposite of action as power is determined by how much pressure, or force, is required to bend a fishing rod.

The more powerful a rod is the quicker it shuts off, meaning how fast the rod returns to its straight position. Less powerful rods are better for detecting lighter biting fish and vice versa. This is why more powerful, or heavier, rods are better for larger fish.

assorted fishing rods

By extension, heavier lines work best with heavier rods and lighter rods with lighter lines. While there is a bit of leeway in line selection, the line used for any given rod should be close to what the rod manufacture recommends.

Line recommendation is typically written on the rod. Understand that not all rods of a specific power rating is created equal. For example, a heavy rod indented for deep-sea fishing may be designed for a 100-lb weight line and a heavy steelhead rod for a 30-lb line. Rod power will fall into the following categories:

  • Ultra-light.
  • Light.
  • Medium-light.
  • Medium.
  • Medium-heavy.
  • Heavy.
  • Ultra-heavy.

Fishing Rod Guides

Many anglers never give a thought to the fishing rod guides, the little hoops that ‘guide” the line along the pole. However, line guides can make a big difference in casting ability and efficiency. Rod guides are made from metal and the better rods will have a ceramic or plastic insert inside the guide that reduces friction and hence wear, on the line.

fishing rod guides

While some think more guides are always better, this is not necessarily so and governed by the law of diminishing returns. Up to a point, more guides will help with increasing casting efficiency. However, increasing the number of guides will also add to the drag on the line and reduce casting distance. Additionally, the more guides a rod has the more it will cost. A good rule of thumb is a rod should have one guide for every foot of length above the reel. For example, a six-foot rod should have between five and seven guides.

Handles

Fishing rod handles can be constructed from foam, rubber, cork or some combination thereof. Material is more a matter of personal preference than having anything to do with function. The more important thing to focus on is the length of the handle and whether it is comfortable to cast and hold. While there are some variations, rod handles come in two basic designs:

  • Pistol grip is a shorter handle best suited for shorter precision casts.
  • Trigger sticks are longer handles and a better choice for rods used for long casting as it allows the use of both hands for additional leverage.

There typically isn’t any price difference between the two styles of handles.

Conclusion

With so many options, choosing the right fishing pole can seem a little daunting. However, knowing what to look at and what the rod’s intended use will be taken out most of the guesswork.

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