I think back to buying my first fishing rod and don’t quite recall my process.
I think at the time, the type of fish I was chasing and my budget would have been the two major limiting factors. And it occurs to me that, while my collection of rods has expanded, those factors are always key considerations when choosing a new fishing rod.
I look at my rod racks now and they somewhat resemble a porcupine. I’ve got a rod to suit every purpose: I’ve got rods missing tips; I’ve got rods which I’d refer to as Frankensteins (or quite literally ugly sticks), and there are rods which probably need a good dust off and they’d be absolutely fine.
If you're just starting out and looking at buying your first fishing rod, the sheer number of available options can be pretty confusing.
But buying a new rod is great fun if you know what you’re after. Even if you are an experienced angler, when you decide to try targeting a different species, to explore a new spot, or to practice a different method, a little bit of research is all that’s required to help you choose the right fishing rod for the job. And a great place to start – for new anglers and veterans alike – is with this buyer’s guide, which explains how to choose a fishing rod based on your target species, fishing environment, and rod features.
Scroll down for our helpful infographics.
Things to consider when choosing a fishing rod
The most important things to consider when choosing your fishing rod are what species you are targeting and how you are going to target them.
You might be focusing your efforts on a particular fish or you may be looking for a multi-purpose rod to target many different species. Asking yourself a few key questions will help you refine your search for the right rod.
Are you a land based angler?
Are you intending to fish from a kayak or boat?
Are you fishing off the beach or rocks?
Are you wading up a mountainous stream or traversing off the beaten track?
Do you like to travel and pack a rod with you?
Do you fish off jetties and piers?
What body of water are you going to be fishing?
Wow, the more you start to think about it the more complicated it seems. But it doesn’t have to feel that way. Buying a rod just requires a better understanding of what you’re fishing for and the environments you plan to spend most of you time exploring.
In fact, this is the easy part.
Then you need to consider what size reel you’re going to match with the rod and the type of fishing line you need; you’ll need to choose whether to fish with bait or lures, refine your rig, choose the exact fishing spot…phew!
We say all this not to overwhelm you, but rather to demonstrate just how much opportunity there is to learn and grow as an angler. And if you do feel overwhelmed, you’re not alone. We’re here to help you on your journey.
To get a great overview of the gear you need to start fishing, we suggest you go back and read our beginner's guide to fishing gear.
Choosing a rod to match your preferred fishing method
We’ve taken care of the ‘where’ and the ‘what’, now we need to think about ‘how’.
How we are targeting a species of fish or fishing a body of water.
Are we using lures, bait, or both?
Are we casting, and if so, where are we fishing?
Fishing rods are typically designed to suit a particular method and are defined by the type of reel or rig that works most effectively with that setup.
Typically rods are put into categories of spinning, baitcasting, surf, telescopic, overhead and fly.
Spinning rods are the most common type of rod and suit a range of applications. A spinning reel is fitted underneath the rod making it a very versatile rod and reel combo suitable for lure casting and bait fishing. Depending on the weight class of the outfit, a spinning rod can be used to target a wide range of small to medium-sized fish species from the shore, and they are well suited to boat and kayak fishing.
Baitcasting rods are an alternative to spinning rods and are quite versatile but recommended for the more experienced angler. Ever heard of a ‘bird’s nest’? Amateurs can very quickly be turned off by a baitcasting rod and reel combo, because without the proper handling, they are prone to tangling on the spool. But for an experienced angler, they offer even greater accuracy when casting and more control when handling a fish.
Surf rods are designed specifically to suit what the name suggests…surf fishing. But they are also ideal for fishing off rocks as well. Surf rods are well tapered and typically made from strong materials. Effectively, these rods are designed to catapult baits or lures long distances into the ocean, hence the extra length. To ease logistics in getting rod from home to the ocean they break down into multiple pieces.
Telescopic rods are designed to suit an angler’s lifestyle where either: a) they are on the road a lot and a telescopic rod fits perfectly in the boot of the car; b) they can’t travel or adventure without taking a fishing rod or, c) don’t have much storage space at home. The technology of telescopic rods has come a long way. Gone are the days of flimsy plastic-feeling rods: now there are some terrific telescopic and travel rods on the market suitable for small to medium-sized fish, typically designed for use with spinning reels.
Overhead rods are designed for overhead reels and are targeted at lure or bait fishing where the intention is not to cast but to either troll or feed out the line below the boat or kayak. Like the baitcaster reel, the overhead reel sits on top of the rod. Generally, a baitcaster reel has a lower profile and is better balanced for casting. Therefore, an overhead rod is not suited for land based fishing. An overhead rod and reel combo is ideal for trolling whether it be a lightweight set up for trout and salmon or a heavy weight set up for tuna and marlin.
Fly rods are specifically designed for use with a fly reel when fly fishing. Fly fishing is very different to other traditional forms of fishing. It is often likened to hunting where stealth, patience, and a lot of skill is required in casting a fly to mimic what the target species is feeding on. Fly rods are not just geared up for trout fishing in mountain streams and freshwater lakes – there is an abundance of rods, reels, lines, and flies to suit fishing everything from bass to bream, barra and beyond. If you're interested in learning more about fly fishing, we've got some great tips for beginners.
For a quick reference, check out this infographic which breaks down the major rod types, explaining where they are most commonly used, the type of reel they are best suited for and the relationship between rod action and power.
Simply right-click, save, and print this image for future reference.
What features to look for when buying a fishing rod
You’ve researched your target fish: you now know where the fish lives, its life cycle and feeding habits, and you have a good idea of the best fishing method to use. This is a great a start to choosing your rod.
Now you need to consider the length of the rod, action, weight class, and the materials used in its construction.
At the most basic level, a modern fishing rod is a long pole which tapers from the butt to the tip. Fishing line is fed from the reel through the guides / runners and out through the tip guide.
Action describes much a rod flexes along its length and how quickly the rod tip returns to a neutral position when flexed. Rod action is affected by the rod’s taper, length, and the material the blank is made from. A fishing rod's action affects not only the type of fishing it is best suited to, but how it will handle a fish.
Rod taper and length
Taper and length play a big part in the action of a fishing rod and along understanding your target fish and the method you will use to catch them will help determine which rod to choose.
Most rods on the market are progressive tapering from butt to tip to allow for an even rod action.
A long, thin, lightweight rod (7 - 10 foot) will generally be suitable for smaller species. A long rod also helps with casting as the bending of the rod somewhat acts like a catapult to launch the lure or bait. Lightweight rods will typically have a slower action allowing for minute adjustments handling smaller fish species.
A short solid rod (5 - 7 foot) will be more suitable for a heavier line weight class and capable of handling bigger species, but is not ideal for casting. The extra stiffness weight and less dramatic taper make the action quicker, providing good power while fighting strong / heavy fish.
Rods in between may be best suited as multipurpose, offering a good balance between action and power.
The action of a rod can also be influenced by whether the rod is a one-piece, two-piece, telescopic or travel rod made up of multiple pieces.
While it is undeniable that a one-piece rod offers the ultimate performance in fishing rod action, it may not be the most practical rod to suit your lifestyle.
E.g. owning a small hatchback and having a one-piece 7ft rod is not ideal — it likely won’t fit in the car.
A rod’s weight class is generally measured by the maximum line weight recommended and is shown on the rod blank in kilogrammes or pounds.
A 5kg weighted rod suggests that you are targeting fish using up to 5kg rated fishing line. Lure weight is also sometimes marked on the rod blank indicating the maximum casting weight for that rod. Both of these measurements should help you determine what size reel and what line weight to pair with your rod.
The rod grips and guides / runners are also made from a host of different materials and while there are some technical differences and advantages, it may just come down to personal taste and how much you are willing to spend on your first rod. Materials like carbon fibre offer superior performance but might be outside your budget for your first fishing rod.
By understanding your target species and fishing destination, and by learning more about the way that length, taper, and weight class affect a rod’s action and power, you’ll be better equipped to choose the right fishing rod to suit the conditions.
And let’s face it; if the rod doesn’t suit it’s an excuse to buy another!