For many beginning anglers, finding the right fishing rod is one of the most overwhelming tasks. There are different sizes, different types, different sensitivities, and vastly different prices.  Figuring out which rod is the right one for you means understanding rod classifications, your goals, and your budget.

To really understand which rod is the best for you, you need to consider a number of factors.  These include:

  • Your budget
  • The type of fish you plan on targeting the most
  • The main presentation you plan on using for these fish

Once you have an answer for those questions, you can start deciding what specifications are the best fit for your angling goals.  Rods generally breakdown into these specs:

  • Action
  • Power
  • Length
  • Material

When you start to understand these variables you’ll quickly start understanding which rod will work best for you. 


One of the most important variables when choosing a rod setup is  the fish you want to target. 

Most people can’t afford to buy a specific rod for every type of species and presentation.  Therefore, make a note of what you will be fishing for the most.  Is it walleye? Is it panfish? 

Maybe it’s a muskie? 

These species usually require vastly different techniques.  These techniques are benefited by proper equipment. 

If you are new and on a budget, the best thing you can do is determine where most of your time is spent and make decisions based on that.

For example, we spend most of our time jig fishing for walleye and panfish. Therefore, we invest most of our money into lighter weight equipment and use more universal or affordable gear for the bigger species.  Shorter, lightweight rods have generally work better with these presentations, and sensitivity is the most important factor – not casting distance.

This would likely contrast someone who prefers to spend their time casting endlessly for muskie or pike.  Their gear locker would likely be filled with baitcasters and longer, heavier rods.

The reality is, we can’t have a rod for every species and every situation – but we can plan accordingly to get the most out of our budget. 

That’s the purpose of this guide. 

“Making a list of your fishing goals, techniques, and the budget you plan on having before investing in a premium rod.”


After you have decided where you are going to invest your hard earned resources, it’s a good idea to determine what reel you prefer.  This is not a reel guide – however, you should first determine if you want to invest in a baitcaster or a spinning reel. Spinning reels tend to be a favorite of jig techniques, where relentless casting often favors a baitcasting reel.

Pairing Rods with Reels

As its name implies, the baitcasting reel shines for casting.  Of course, it works best with a casting rod (which yes, is different than a spinning rod).  These rods are often longer, have smaller guides that are spaced farther apart, and point up when in use. They also have a pistol grip that gives the angler better leverage for the cast. These are usually preferred for pike, muskie, or for certain bass fishing situations. 

One question a lot of people ask is can you “mix and match”. Yes, you can.  It is entirely possible to put a baitcasting reel on a spinning rod and vise-versa.  Trust me, I’ve done it. 

When I was broke, I bought a budget baitcaster for trolling, pike fishing, and muskie fishing (it’s hard to be the efficiency of a baitcaster for these situations).  I threw it on a 7’7 Ugly Stick spinning rod from when I was a kid. 

I caught a lot of fish with that setup.  It wasn’t preferred, but it did work for my budget. 

Again, this is another obvious one… spinning reels work the best with spinning rods.  These rods have larger guides that are closer together.  They tend to have more guides and point down when mounted with a spinning reel. This makes them better suited for vertical techniques.  

There are also designated trolling rods.  Now, I’m a big advocate for using any longer, heavier rod to troll.

However,  there are designated rods and reel counters meant to take your trolling technique to the next level.  Again, the practicality of this depends upon your budget. 


Next, understand what material the rod is made of and why that’s important. 

Rod material greatly dictates its quality and its price. 

The most sensitive rods are made of graphite (people may even say carbon fibre). The most affordable rods are made of fiberglass. Most rods are made of a combination of both (usually referred to as composite).   

The best thing you can do is understand the benefits of each when making your purchase. 


Graphite is the premium material used for fishing (as previously mentioned, it’s also sometimes referred to as carbon fibre). You will pay for it. Premium brands such as G.Loomis pride themselves in their high quality graphite rods. 

Graphite creates a very sensitive and lightweight rod, perfect for finesse techniques when feeling the smallest tap of a bite is important.  


Fiberglass is generally a less sensitive, more affordable rod.  It works well as an all-purpose solution – and can come in handy in certain situations.  When sensitivity isn’t a big factor, such as trolling, I will often find myself choosing a more affordable fiberglass rod instead of spending money on something more premium.  


The reality is that many rods come in a combination of graphite and fiberglass. This provides the sensitivity found in graphite but the added toughness and affordability found with fiberglass.

Just like with all material, there are different qualities of composite rods.

Therefore, it’s important to do your research and review the brand and it’s manufacturing process before paying a premium price tag.  All brands tend to build a rod a bit differently. 

Fishing rod technology is continuously changing; therefore it’s important to keep an eye on the latest material changes before purchasing a rod. 

Learn about fishing line our complete guide: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Fishing Line


Next we are going to learn the fishing rod “lingo”.  

Let me start by stating that rod action and power are not the same thing. They are similar, they work together, but they are two different characteristics. They are not interchangeable.

Power is the amount of effort needed to bend the rod; in comparison to action (which is where the rod bends).  

Rod Power Is Important

As mentioned, rod power is how easy (or how hard it is) to bend the rod.  It’s a great correlation to how heavy of a line and bait you should be using. Generally speaking, the bigger the fish, the bigger the lure and therefore the greater the power.  

Rod power is usually categorized as the following:

  • Ultra Light
  • Light
  • Medium
  • Medium Light
  • Medium Heavy
  • Heavy

Rod Action

Next let’s talk about rod action.  Rod action is where (on the rod) that the rod bends.  This “bend” is generally broken down into: 

  • Extra Fast
  • Fast
  • Moderate
  • Slow

Fast action rods bend within the final 1/3 of the rod while slow rods bend within the final 2/3 of the rod. Picking which one is right really comes down to the size of the lure you are throwing – therefore to some degree the size of the fish you are planning on targeting.  (The only time I find this not to be true is when people throw really finesse bait for larger fish – which is sometimes entirely necessary. In this instance, that extra fast and fast action rods will make fighting the fish incredibly difficult). 

Extra fast is the most sensitive.  It allows you to feel the smallest of bites while enabling you to set the hook as quickly as possible (the stiffness of the rod quickly kicks in during the hook set).  When you need sensitivity, you will find extra fast and fast action tend to be the best. This is particularly beneficial when vertical jigging. 

However, the sensitivity on the fast action rod can actually work against you when fighting fish (or pulling heavy baits).  

Moderate and slow rods shine when trolling and/or using larger and heavier baits.  For instance, using a longer, moderate action rod is often preferred when using presentations such as crank-baits where getting farther out from the boat is important. 

Think of moderate action as preferred when sensitivity is not a factor but absorbing the hit and fight of a fish is.  

 When trolling, medium action is often a solid compromise for most fresh water game fish. When jigging, a fast or extra fast action rod is almost always preferred.  



Length is also highly dependent upon personal preference. However, there are a few to things to consider when starting out.

Greater lengths equal greater distances. 


Longer Fishing Rod

  • Longer rods can help you cast farther
  • Longer rods give you more distance trolling
  • Longer rods help distance you from the boat when vertical jigging

Shorter Fishing Rod

  • Shorter rods are just that – more compact
  • Shorter rods work better in tight spaces – whether it’s on the water or in the boat
  • Shorter rods tend to have more forgiving action
  • Shorter rods allow for more control (working a jig)

Knowing these factors, grab a few rods of different lengths and see which ones fit best in your hand. 

Personally, for walleye fishing I run a short rod – 6 feet to be exact.  When casting, I will sport a shorter rod as well (in contrast to many anglers).  The only time I desire a long rod is when I’m trolling. 

The key is to consider what technique you are relying on and then grab a couple rods and test them out.  

You can read more about my walleye setup right here.



There are a large variety of handles to choose from. Some are standard, some are custom.  They have different shapes, lengths, and are made of different material.  Materials include, cork, foam, carbon and so many more. There is also longer grips, shorter grips, grips made for casting.. and so forth.  Thankfully, most of the rods have a handle and grip made specifically for its particular use and balance. Therefore unless you are getting a custom rod made, simply go to the store and test run different handles from different brands. 

Remember, handles are there to help you cast, fight the fish, and balance the rod.  Thus, much of the rod control is determined by the handle you have. 



Perhaps the most difficult thing is simply putting it all together.  So here it is, in the most simplest form as possible:

1. Understand the type of fishing you are going to be doing the most. 

2. Consider your budget:

  • Can you afford more than one type of rod? Therefore able to purchase more specific rods for each species? 
  • Would you need a rod with more versatility? 
  • How important is sensitivity and brand quality? 

3. Look at different manufacturers and their price points. 

Popular manufacturers include:

  • Fenwick
  • St. Croix
  • G. Loomis
  • Shimano
  • Shakespeare
  • Abu Garcia
  • Okuma
  • Berkley
  • And so many more…

4. Start determining which power and action you will be needing based on the species and lures you will be using. 

5. Make sure to go into the store and trial run different manufacturers, lengths, and the overall feel of the rod setup. 

6. Buy and take it for a test run!


Any even quicker guide:

If you are vertical jigging, pitching jigs, etc.. (think panfish, walleye, even bass)… fast to extra fast action is key.  Length will be personal preference, and most power on these rods will be medium light to light. 

Looking for casting for pike and muskie? Try a fast action with a  heavy power to help you fight the fish. Longer will be better in most casting situations. 

Nothing beats real life use.  However, it’s important to understand the terms above so that you can make an informed decision and start off your angling endeavors on the right foot. 

About The Author

Co-founder of Ladies of Angling. Can be found chasing walleye, pike, and the occasional sunfish. Find me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Watch me on YouTube.

Related Posts