Rods Buying Guide

the basics

When searching for a new fishing rod, there is no shortage of options among the many makes and models available here at Academy.com. This is why it's important to understand the significance of the varying lengths, powers and actions before buying your next rod. If you need a little help deciding, you're in the right place.

How to Choose a Fishing Rod

The answers to two simple questions — Where will you be fishing? and What kind of fish do you want to catch? — will help lead you to the right rod in no time.

Where will you be fishing?

The frame can be made of aluminum, graphite or a combination of both. One-piece aluminum frames are extremely durable and are generally of higher quality. Graphite frames are lightweight and easier to handle.

What types of fish are you looking to catch?

This works to minimize the likelihood of your line spooling out and is operated by pressing a button or a manual switch.

Fishing Techniques and the Rods they require

Different fishing techniques call for different setups, so choose a rod that's well suited to the method you're most likely to practice yourself.

Spinning

Spinning rods are paired with spinning reels. These setups are ideal for use with lighter line and smaller lures, but can also be used with heavier tackle for species like redfish. Spinning setups are the most widely used across all levels of expertise.

Fly

Traditionally, a technique used to catch fish such as trout and salmon that come to the surface in rivers to feed on insects. Similar to spinning, fly fishing involves casting a fly and moving it on or just below the water to mimic the fishes’ favorite food.

Casting

Casting rods feature smaller line guides on the top of the rod and pair with casting reels. These set ups are ideal for use with heavier line and larger lures when fishing for species such as bass. Casting rods, paired with spincast reels, are good for beginners to learn on. Casting rods, paired with baitcast reels, require more practice and skill.

Surf

Surf fishing requires a long, powerful surf rod that is capable of casting long distances, past the surf line where the fish can usually be found, and handling heavier tackle and fish than would be encountered in freshwater fishing. Spotted sea trout, striped bass and even sharks are among surf anglers' favorite targets.

Trolling

Trolling is usually performed by dragging a line behind a boat using a heavy boat rod, with dorado and tuna being some of the preferred saltwater species that can be caught this way.

What to Look for in a Rod

Now that you’ve considered the technique, location and kind of fishing you'll be going after, let’s get into some of the more technical aspects: the components that make up a rod.

Power refers to the rod's strength. Light-action rods are designed for smaller, usually freshwater, fish and light lines, whereas heavier rods are better suited for deep-sea applications or fishing in heavy cover, due to their ability to handle bigger fish and heavier lines and tackle. Most manufacturers use the following terms to designate a rod's power:

  • UL = Ultralight
  • L = Light
  • M = Medium
  • ML = Medium Light
  • MH = Medium Heavy
  • H = Heavy
  • XH = Extra Heavy

Action refers to the rod’s flexibility, and is usually measured in terms related to speed. All rods taper from the handle to the tip, and rods that bend closer to the tip are regarded as being slower than rods that bend in the middle, which are designated as being faster. Faster rods are more sensitive and allow for powerful hook sets (the moment the hook is set in the fish’s mouth) that are popular for bass fishing and single hook set ups. As always, though, there is a tradeoff, and faster rods do not cast lines as far as their slower counterparts or handle lighter lures or baits as effectively. Medium action rods are versatile in that you will still have good hook setting power but will also be able to cast out relatively far, so they’re popular with treble hook set ups like crankbaits. Slow action rods have much more bend and are popular for use with smaller lures, like in-line spinners. Most manufacturers use the following terms to designate a rod’s action:

  • Slow
  • Medium (or moderate)
  • Medium-fast (or moderate-fast)
  • Fast

Length refers to the distance from the end of the handle (the butt) to the tip. The length of the rod is related to the action. So, shorter rods tend to have a slower action and so on. Length is also an important factor when location is considered. Shorter rods are more maneuverable in confined areas, such as overgrown river banks, whereas longer rods are more appropriate for the wide-open spaces of lakes or the ocean.

Blank Material

Modern rod blanks (the part of the rod from the tip to the end of the handle) are typically made of fiberglass, graphite or a composite of the two.

  • Fiberglass is heavier and more durable than graphite, making it a good material for bluewater fishing or applications that require more strength.
  • Graphite (or carbon fiber) rods are sensitive and very flexible. They are rated by their modulus; the higher the modulus, the stronger but more brittle the rod.

Number of Pieces

Depending on the rod type, this could be one or two pieces. While Fly rods, Surf rods and Panfish rods are most often comprised of two or more pieces, the higher-end longer casting/spinning rods usually come as one piece. This makes transporting a long rod more difficult in some instances, but the strength of the rod is not compromised. The tradeoff on the two or more piece rods is that the joints are weaker. Some rods also telescope, which makes them ideal for traveling, but such rods are not as strong as regular rods and require more maintenance after use.

Handles and Grips

Handles are generally made out of cork, which is light, cool to the touch and sensitive, or EVA, which is durable, easy to maintain and less prone to cracking.

  • Casting Rod Handles seat the reel and line above the rod. Some have a trigger grip, which looks similar to the grip on a pistol and allows a secure hold on the rod as the line is launched into the water.
  • Spinning Rod Handles suspend the reel underneath

Guides and Inserts

Guides are placed at intervals along the blank to ensure the line flows freely from the reel without getting tangled. The more guides on the blank, the farther the rod will cast and the more efficient the rod will be in using its power to fight fish.

Line guides for spinning rods are on the bottom of the rod, with larger guides toward the reel and smaller guides towards the tip. Line guides for casting rods are on the top of the rod, start small from the reel and get smaller throughout the length of the rod.

The inner part of the guide is called the insert, and its function is to reduce friction and wear on the line. Look for inserts made of silicon carbide if possible; titanium, alconite and aluminum oxide are also good insert materials and are preferred over stainless steel, which is lightweight but more prone to bending, leading to costly repairs.

Take Into Consideration

Whether you already own a reel or you're considering purchasing one, make sure the rod you choose is well-suited to it. Check out Academy.com's Fishing section for everything else you need on your next trip.