Buying the Right Fishing Rod: 8 Tips on What to Look For

Using the incorrect fishing rod will lead you to waste bait, miscast, and ultimately miss out on catching fish. The wrong rod will cost you a lot so do your research before investing and know what kind of fishing you want to do. With factors like fishing style, rod length, bend, power, action, purpose, and environment – it can be overwhelming to realize how many factors there are to weigh out. 

What should you look for when buying a fishing rod?   Here are 8 tips on what to look for:

1. Purpose Freshwater
-Sea Fishing
Bank Fishing Ice Fishing
2. Rod Length Most are 8’-9’ Most are 7’-12’ 6-7’ is
Between 2’-3’
3. Material Spinning rods are
the most popular rods,
made of graphic or
Fiberglass will be
the most popular
for its durability
and flexibility
Graphite is
for being more
Fiberglass, or
Composite Blends
4. Weight A lighter rod will be easier to control; A heavier rod will be harder to control.
This is up to fisherman’s preference, body size, and experience coordinated
with the size game you’re going after.
5/6. Action & Power
Which both relate to
the rod’s bend
Medium to Fast
Fast Action
/Medium to
Heavy Power
Slow to Medium
Action, Medium
Medium to Fast
Action, Medium
7. The Handle The most customizable and adaptable part of the rod and solely about what
feels comfortable. Saltwater fishers may use lighter handles, while freshwater
may need heavier handles for optimal control.
8. Baitcasting Vs.
Spinner Rods
A Spinner Rod may be beneficial as a beginner, Baitcasters are preferred by
more experienced fisherman hunting for larger fish breeds using larger bait

As with any outdoor sport, you need to match equipment with purpose. This guide will offer you everything you need to know before spending money on the wrong rod, what to look for as a beginner, regulations you may not be aware of, and terminology that will make you improve rapidly. Selecting the perfect tool will make you a more successful angler.  And success for an angler means dinnertime! 

Now we will dive into the 8 major factors you should consider while shopping for your fishing rod, the first and most important of which will be your purpose. 

#1 Purpose

What is your goal in fishing?  The type of fish, where you will be fishing, and how seriously you plan to treat the sport will make a difference in what you buy.  For example, if you plan to ice fish, you will need a completely different set-up from the fisherman on the Atlantic, just as they will need a completely different setup from someone out on Lake Tahoe. 

Decide where you will spend your predominant amount of time and purchase your rod according to that environment.

Here are some basics rules to get your mind on the right track:

  1. Freshwater Fishing Rods – will be slightly shorter, medium to heavy in action/power, and not as long as a rod you would need on the ocean. 
  2. Ocean Water or Deep-Sea Fishing – you will require the longest rods for larger fish. Most are 7’-12’ but upwards of 15-20-feet if you are an expert fisherman that is comfortable handling that length. 
  3. Bank Fishing – will be the shortest rods because if you are fishing along the banks/rivers where it is lush with trees, rocks, stumps, and shallower water, this is where it is easiest to catch your line on more obstacles. Due to these snags and impediments, you will want a shorter and lighter fishing rod. This will be easier to control, and you can be at close-combat with the fish you are challenging. 
  4. Ice Fishing – will require a very short rod, usually around 2-feet long, and it will be completely different from the three other fishing environments/purposes. 

All of the details on the chart for each of these 4 purposes will be broken down in the upcoming sections. 

#2 Length

Optimal length is up for debate with many fishermen because the length is probably the most crucial to your casting ability.

This is because when you have a longer rod, you have more to control, and it is more difficult to cast. When you have a shorter rod, you have less length to control and aim. Since there is less rod to manipulate, you can direct it where it’s meant to go with greater ease. 

The longer the lever, the more force can be detected. So if the rod is extremely long, you will feel the fish’s movement more easily.

If you really enjoy fighting with a fish, you’ll need a longer rod to savor the fight truly! You will feel the fish’s movement more easily and enjoy the catch that much more.

If you’re fishing with a child, they will need a smaller/shorter fishing rod because they don’t want to feel that much fight. Even if they do, they can’t handle it, so we start kiddos with a short rod for safety. 

Breakdown on Length 

Longer Rods are best suited for:

  • Casting within longer distances
  • Fishing with adults or people with taller height
  • Fishing in large/open waters 
  • When your cast requires a two-handed swing
  • If you’re using heavier bait instead of worms
  • If you’re seeking to catch larger fish such as Salmon, Bass, etc.
  • If you’re deep-sea fishing or dealing with less shallow water
  • If you’re comfortable having less control over the line
  • If you are more experienced in fishing
  • If you want to feel more of the fish’s fight! 

Shorter rods are best suited for:

  • Casting within shorter distances
  • Fishing with children or people with shorter height
  • When you are tightly packed with trees, branches, and other threats that may tangle or break your line, you don’t have room for the long rod
  • If you are on a riverbank, creek, canal, off a dock, or along a stream
  • If you are fishing in shallower waters
  • If you’re using petite bait for petite fish
  • If you can cast with one hand and prefer this methodology 
  • If you like to have control while fighting the fish, you need close-combat and do not have a 10-foot rod between you and your catch. That will only get in your way when it’s a smaller fish and may hinder your ability to move fluidly in a less wide-open space.

A good rule of thumb for each is that:

  1. If you are inexperienced – start with a rod about 7-9-feet.
  2. If you are an expert, feel free to go over 10-feet with your rod selection.
  3. If you are freshwater fishing or along the bank, you’ll probably only require a 5-7-foot rod.
  4. If you’re ice-fishing, you’ll probably only require a 2-foot rod. 

If you’re unsure, around 7-feet in length is a sweet spot for any environment of fishing.

#3 Material

The material you select for your fishing rod will, again, greatly depend on your purpose (freshwater, saltwater, bank fishing, or ice). 

There aren’t a ton of options out there for materials, so your main possibilities will be:

  1. Fiberglass – tougher and more durable but also heavier. It can be more difficult to feel the fish biting on a fiberglass fishing rod, especially if the fish are small. The real perk with this type of fishing rod is that they are incredibly durable and resistant to breaking. 
    • Fiberglass will usually be cheaper and more mass-produced than graphite rods. The hang-up many have with the heavier thickness of fiberglass is that you can’t always sense the fish’s movement or tell when they have bit. 
  2. Graphite – If you thoroughly enjoy the fight and combat with the fish, you may want Graphite simply because you will feel more of the fish’s movements. It can be more sensitive and less durable, but also more light-weight. This material is most popularly used for bass fishing and is preferred by anglers  are advanced because they can detect the fish’s fight more easily with a lighter weight rod. Its sensitivity will create a more detectable line. With such a line, you will be better able to sense bites. The better you sense bites, the fewer bait the fish will swim away with!
    • The sacrifice in selecting a graphite rod is that it will most likely break much sooner than the fiberglass, but it is cheaper (to help you soften that blow). Since it is more brittle, you’ll have to be careful if you are planning to take on the big fish because your rod might not be made for that purpose. 

Breakdown on Materials

Some rules of thumb to guide you regarding material are:

  • If you are fishing for big catches – get the stronger fiberglass
  • If you are along freshwater riverbanks and close-combat for smaller fish – get the graphite because it will be more lightweight.
  • If you’re losing too much bait because you can’t feel when the fish are biting – you may need to switch to a graphite rod to sense movement more easily. 
  • If your rods keep breaking from aggressive fish breeds – you may need to convert to a fiberglass rod or decide to catch a different type of fish. 

The last rod type is composite, but this is rarely mentioned because fiberglass and graphite are the main two material variations you will see. 

Composite is essentially a combination of the two, so if you are uncertain which to purchase, perhaps seek out a balance in a composite rod!

Be honest with yourself in where your fishing-level and skill is at. This will aid in your realistic decision making. 

Most of these factors are very rational and straight forward (meaning if it is your first day out, you probably do not need the heaviest 15-foot fiberglass rod. You probably should start smaller). Be sensible, and don’t lie to yourself. 

#4 Weight

This is the easiest section and truly just about what you’re comfortable with. 

No one can tell you the weight that will work best for you, but it will greatly depend on how much you weigh. Think about it this way – you are not going to give a child your heaviest rod.

The rule of thumb or key takeaway on weight is that:

The lighter the rod is, the easier it will be to control.

The heavier the rod is, the more difficult it will be to control.

A heavier rod will also be more durable and is required for larger fish.

When deciding what weight of rod is right for you, keep in mind:

  • Your body weight
  • The type of fish you’re catching
  • The bait you’re using (bait’s weight)
  • How much control you have presently (beginner or expert)? 
  • Your overall skill 

#5 Action

Action is not as battle-brimming or ‘action-packed’ as you may imagine. 

The action of the fishing rod is actually defined as the bend in your rod, where it bends, and how much flexibility it gives during a fish-fight. 

The bend will deflect the pressure you’re taking on from the fish and essentially be the ‘backbone’ of your rod. If you want a stronger rod, you need a fast-action rod that will only bend near the tip of the rod (in the lower 1/3rd or half).

If your rod is bending all the way to the handle or base – it is a slower or lower action rod.

The sizes of action are:

  • Ultra-Light
  • Light 
  • Medium Light
  • Medium 
  • Medium-Heavy 
  • Heavy 
  • Extra-Heavy

So keep in mind:

  • If it bends near the handle – it is a slow action
  • If it bends in the middle of the rod – it’s a medium action
  • If it bends in the lower third of the rod near the tip – it’s a fast action 

#6 Power

The rod power is very similar to action but not quite the same. It will be more closely defined as the power the rod has over that action. 

The action is how much flexibility or bend it offers when placed under pressure. The power is how that resistance is flexed and how much ‘backbone’ the rod offers against that pressure, i.e. how hard it is to bend. 

You will see it written on the side of most rods, quantified into the powers of: 

  • Light
  • Medium
  • Heavy

The power and action working in tandem are what will create a fluid moving rod that can handle the fish you are throwing it at. It will guarantee your bait works, isn’t being snatched constantly without you barely feeling a nibble and creating a lure that pulls up to grab the fish’s mouth when you ask it to. 

Having the right rod action and power will aid you in feeling the movement and bites of your desired catch. 

A rod with the wrong action/power for your purpose will result in you missing a lot of fish and reeling in lots of empty hooks with bait that’s been stealthily stolen. 

Shopping Pro Tip: 

If you are fishing for large fish and using larger bait – you will need fast action and heavier power.

If you are fishing for smaller fish and using smaller bait – you will need a slow-medium action and slow-medium power. 

#7 The Handle

This will depend greatly on the length of the rod. If your rod is exceedingly long, you will need a way to obtain more leverage over the rod. A long rod will need a longer handle. A shorter rod will require a shorter handle.

Make sure you do your homework and experiment with each rod. Hold each in your hand, cast them with a practice toss if you can do so in the store, and determine which size of rod/handle suits you.

The size of your handle and rod will depend on:

  • Your height
  • Your muscle-mass
  • How much room you have to cast
  • How many shrubs/trees are around
  • Your comfortability fishing/expertise 
  • What feels comfortable and fluid 

Don’t stress too much about the handle, as this is a low-priority factor in your decision making. 

Longer rods will usually have a two-handed grip handle. Shorter rods will usually have a one-handed grip handle. 

The handle will be about what is comfortable to you, what feels right, and what is easiest to cast. Practice in the store by holding heavier rods, lighter rods, shorter ones and longer ones, and so on.  See how each of the handles feel and what is the most comfortable in a one-handed or two-handed casting swing. 

You can also explore split grips, pistol grip handles, EVA foam or cork handles, and determine which lends itself to the swiftest cast in your personal technique. 

#8 Baitcasting versus Spinner Rods

Lastly, the two main types of fishing rods you will commonly hear about are called Baitcasting or spinning rods.

  • Casting Fishing Rods (click to see on Amazon) – will be excellent for accuracy and precision if you are having trouble with your cast and fighting the wind. Casting rods are literally named for this purpose and will feature a larger trigger to stop the line from flying at the perfect time.
    • If you are deep-sea fishing, you may be better suited to a trolling rod (Amazon link), which is most commonly used for deep-sea.  
    • Baitcasting is a single-handed rod that is “relatively heavy and usually artificial bait, which carries out with it the light and soft line from a free-spool reel.”
    • Baitcasters will be heavier, longer, used commonly for ocean-water and open-sea fishing, and larger fish. They will also have less action/power and have a firmer backbone than most spinning rods due to their proclivity for catching larger fish. 
  • Spinning Fishing Rods (link to Amazon) – these will be your shorter and more beginner-class of fishing rod, better suited to smaller fishing breeds, and more light-weight bait. If you are a newbie, use a spinning rod to learn on a more simplistic rod where you have more control over the length. Yes, the casting may be easier with baitcasters, but the long-length alone will ruin your aim if you are new to the sport.
    • The lead guides will also be slightly larger on a spinning rod and may not have a trigger button at all.  If you are intimidated by a two-handed or heavy rod, start with the spinning rods. 
    • These are recommended for beginners and when you want a lightweight rod. 

As you can see, it all starts to relate hand-in-hand regarding what you’ll need. No one can tell you the right rod for your purposes, so you’ll have to do some fierce introspection and consider your long-term goals for the sport.

Generally speaking, the core takeaways on Baitcasters versus Spinning Rods are:

Baitcasters are for – 

  • Bigger fish / heavier baits and lures
  • More experienced fisherman
  • Further casting distance

Spinning rods are for –

  • Smaller fish / lighter baits and lures
  • Newbie fisherman
  • Shorter casting distance

Relating Rod Type with Action and power

It’s all coming full circle now as we consider how the baitcasters and spinning rods relate to your rod’s bendability (action and power). This is an important consideration in selecting the right rod, so stay with me here.

If you’re using a spinner rod – you will require a medium to a heavy powered rod at minimum to get that hook through the fish’s mouth. If the power is too low, you won’t have enough control to yank it up and directly hit the fish as he strikes. 

With spinning rods, in particular, you will need to engage the fish with extra force to make your catch.

If you have a baitcasting rod – you will require a lower action and lighter powered rod because it is able to cast at a further distance. 

It is a tricky balance that may simply take some experimentation on your part. What works for your best friend may not work for you.  That’s why experience will be your greatest teacher in this regard.

One thing to keep aware of is that if you go too light on your action, you can lower your accuracy in casting and catching. 

Consider your bait that you’re using to fish and perhaps google, “what rod action is best suited to ‘plankton’ as my bait?” or something along these lines (pun not intended).

If your bait is heavier you will require a faster action rod. 


  • Big fish – fast action and heavy power
  • Small fish – slower action and lighter power

If you’re uncertain or plan to fish in a variety of locations and want a generally good fishing rod for all purposes – we would recommend a medium-heavy action and medium power. 

Regulations State by State

A fishing license will be required if you are fishing in public bodies of water, which is most likely where you will be trying to catch your fish.  Laws on who needs a fishing license vary from state to state.

Some people are exempt from the license due to their state, their age, or the location they favor fishing. It is usually required of those fishing on public open-bodies of water, for those between ages 18 to 64. 

You can sometimes purchase 1-day, 3-day, 7-day, or annual passes for residents per state or non-residents. Use this link from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to purchase all fishing licenses state-by-state.

You can also use this guide from Lake Record to shop the different prices and options before using the Wildlife’s official service.  

I can’t offer you a punishment state-by-state, but to offer you an example of what happens if you refuse to purchase the license and fish anyways, here is Texas’ Penalty for unlawful fishing and wildlife activity:

“Failure to pay the civil recovery value will result in the department’s refusal to issue a license, tag, or permit. Hunting or fishing after failing or refusing to pay civil restitution is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a $500 – $4,000 fine; punishment in jail (not to exceed one year); or both.”

All states will vary but do not behave irresponsibly. Purchase your license for whatever state you are enjoying and spare yourself the headache of being unlicensed.

Final Thoughts on Fishing Rods 

Choosing the right tool will absolutely result in you catching more fish, point-blank.

Don’t buy the cheapest, don’t choose the most expensive, and don’t aim for a larger or heavier rod than you are ready for.

Moderation is key, and you will grow into more heavy-duty rods over time. Don’t rush your process if you are new to the sport and give yourself time to acclimate to a shorter and more lightweight rod before advancing. If you advance too fast, you won’t know what to do with a larger or faster-actioned rod and you will simply be a mess.

Probably the most important factor in choosing a rod that you can feel the bites and sensitivity occurring through, which means beginners should start with a graphite, medium-actioned, and shorter fishing rod. 

A final word of wisdom is that you don’t have to choose a single rod type and stick to it.

You can purchase all the rod types and experiment with each! One long rod may be used for an oceanic location, while you save shorter rods for shallower location. 

You don’t have to choose.  Buy all you can afford, and then go out, enjoy the water, and catch your dinner!

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