A Comprehensive Guide To Fishing Rods & Reels
Fishing rods and reels are two essential pieces of equipment for anyone looking to go fishing. But with so many different types and brands on the market, it can be hard to know where to start for the beginner angler.
Choosing the right rod and reel combo for your situation is essential to having a successful and enjoyable fishing experience. There are many different considerations to make when making your purchase, such as your targeted species, the lures you'll be using, and how much your wallet can handle. This guide will give you the knowledge to select the best fishing rod and reel setup for your needs, so that you can focus on catching those lunker bass without draining the bank.
In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about rods and reels for bass fishing, including the most popular setups used by professional fisherman. We'll dive into the components and materials, and what to look for when making your purchase. By the time you're finished reading, you'll be armed with the knowledge you need to choose the perfect fishing pole setup for any situation, whether your fishing for largemouth, smallmouths, or any other species.
Fishing rods are an essential piece of equipment for any angler. Rods come in various sizes and styles to suit different fishing scenarios. The most important factors to consider when choosing a fishing rod for catching any species of fish are
- Rod Length
- Rod Action
- Rod Power
Seasoned fishermen will tailor their rod towards the size of fish they intend to catch as well as the types of fishing lures and baits they plan to use with it.
The length of a fishing rod affects factors such as casting distance, control, accuracy, and the ability to fight the fish. Some bank anglers may prefer a shorter rod to navigate those tight spaces, while boat anglers may prefer longer rods to help them cast further and aid with setting the hook.
The length of fishing rods can range wildly. There are rods that are just 3 or 4 feet long and there are rods that go all the way up to 14 feet! However, when it comes to bass fishing, the average bass fishing rod length is between 6 and 8 feet.
How to choose the right rod length?
As a beginner, it can be difficult to imagine how the length of a rod will impact your fishing experience, but it's an important consideration when choosing a rod. Before purchasing, here are some considerations to make:
- Where do you plan to cast from?
- Will you be on the casting deck of a bass boat?
- Seated in a kayak?
- Hiking through and casting from the shoreline around ponds and lakes?
- Will you be bank-angling from the shoreline of ponds and lakes?
- Is the bank clear of brush, or is it surrounded by tree limbs and brush you must climb through?
- Can you stand next to the shore, or do you have to stand back and cast over tall grass lines?
- Is thick vegetation extending out into the water where you have to cast?
- Are your trying to transport the rod in your tesla? Or, do you have a truckbed or rack you can use?
Rod power, also known as power value or rod weight, is a measurement used to denote the stiffness or resistance it takes to bend the rod. When you hear someone speak about the backbone of a rod, they're talking about its power. Power ratings also denote how much the rod bends and contribute to the recommended line and lure weights the rod was designed for.
Fishing Rod Power Ratings
|Fishing Rod Power Ratings||Recommended Line Weights||Recommended Lure Weights|
|Ultralight||1-4 lb test||1/64 - 1/16 oz|
|Light||4-8 lb test||1/32 - 1/8 oz|
|Medium Light||6-10 lb test||1/16 - 1/4 oz|
|Medium||8-12 lb test||1/8 - 3/8 oz|
|Medium Heavy||12-25 lb test||1/4 - 3/4 oz|
|Heavy||20-40 lb test||1/2 - 1 1/2 oz|
|Extra Heavy/Ultra-Heavy||25 lb test and above||1 1/2 oz and more|
Most name brand companies categorize their rods as Ultra-Light, Light, Medium-Light, Medium, Medium-Heavy, Heavy, and Extra or Ultra-Heavy. Unfortunately, there is no industry standard for rating rods, so rod bend, line test, and lure weights will vary between each manufacturer's power ratings. Rod power ratings will also vary between a rod's intended application. For example, a medium bass rod and a medium offshore rod won't feel the same.
How to choose the right rod power?
The general consensus seems to be: When fishing open waters, stick with rods that match your line and lure ratings. But go with a heavier rod when trying to yard bass out of the water with an extra few pounds of milfoil attached.
Action describes how fast the rod tip begins to bend. Generally, companies denote action as Slow, Moderate, Moderate-Fast, Fast, and Extra-Fast. Some companies offer rods between these ratings, but these are the most common.
Most freshwater bass fishing rods are Fast to Extra Fast. The faster the action, the sooner the rod will begin to bend.
Slow Action Rods
Slow action rods tend to bend into the lower third of the rod's blank. These rods were more common in the past, when blanks were made from bamboo and fiberglass, but are not commonly seen in bass fishing today with the use of modern carbon and composite rod materials.
Medium Action Rods
Moderate or medium action rods typically bend in the top half of the blank and aid a bit more with casting distance. In bass fishing, medium-action rods are often used for lures with treble hooks, such as crankbaits. The slower action helps prevent you from pulling the lure out of the fish's mouth on hook sets.
Fast Action Rods
Fast action rods typically bend in the top third or less of the blank and provide more sensitivity. A fast-action rod's backbone kicks in fast for hook sets too. Fast action bass fishing rods are commonly used for their sensitivity in a variety of applications.
There are three main materials used in bass fishing rods:
Each material has its own set of pros and cons, and each is good for different types of fishing. Below is a quick rundown of the three materials.
Fiberglass rods are a good choice for fishing beginners due to their flexibility, which makes them less likely to snap than graphite rods. They're also generally more affordable.
Fiberglass rods typically have slow to medium action, meaning they bend deeply into the butt of the rod. This parabolic bend makes them ideal crankbait rods, as the slower action aids in the prevention of tearing the lure out of the fishes mouth too soon.
However, the decreased sensitivity of fiberglass can make it more difficult to detect delicate bites. In these situations, many anglers opt for graphite rods instead.
Graphite rods are the lightest, most sensitive and most powerful rods available, making them a great choice for experienced anglers. However, they are also the most expensive and can be more delicate than fiberglass or composite rods, making them a bit more prone to breaking.
Graphite rods are available in different degrees of stiffness, which is referred to as the modulus. The term modulus in relation to graphite fishing rods refers to the degree of stiffness or resistance to bending of the material. In other words, the higher the modulus, the stiffer the material is. So a rod with IM8 graphite is lighter in weight than a rod of IM6 graphite (less material), yet both rods will have the same amount of stiffness.
The sensitivity of graphite rods allows anglers to detect strikes easier and the stiffness of the rod helps produce quick, powerful hook sets. With less flex in the material, graphite rods are rated as fast or extra-fast action. That means that the majority of the flex is in the tip, and they go from flexed to stiff almost instantly.
The upside of this fast action is super sensitivity — anglers can feel the most subtle bites. The downside is that these rods are slightly more prone to snap than fiberglass rods, and too much sensitivity can have you trying to set the hook at the slightest bump for an inexperienced angler.
Composite rods are a mix of fiberglass and graphite, putting them between fiberglass and graphite rods in terms of sensitivity and weight.
If you're looking to find a balance between sensitivity and durability, then composite rods are for you.
They're a great compromise between increased sensitivity over fiberglass rods and improved durability over graphite rods.
If you want to upgrade from a fiberglass rod but don't want to spend the extra money for a graphite rod, or are concerned about durability, then a composite material rod is a good compromise.
Which rod material should I choose?
When it comes to choosing the right bass fishing rod, there are two primary things you need to take into account, budget and fishing application.
Budget & Pricing
If you're on a tight budget, fiberglass rods are a good option, as they are usually more affordable than graphite or composite rods. However, if you're willing to spend a little more, graphite or composite rods will offer better sensitivity and power.
There are two polar opposite styles of fishing for bass: power fishing and finesse fishing. Power fishing often involves fishing around heavy cover with heavier tackle, while finesse fishing uses lighter tackle and focuses on smaller, more delicate presentations when the fishing is rough.
Think about the lure you'll be using. Have you ever tried fishing a hollowbody frog on a whippy glass rod? It probably wasn't fun.
A whippy fiberglass rod however can be an excellent crankbait rod, while stiffer graphite rods work better for frogs and jigs.
A glass rod with a parabolic arc gives a bass too much opportunity to spit that frog hook, plus if they're able to dive down into cover, it increases the chance it hangs you up and snaps you off.
On the other hand, setting those tiny treble hooks with a stiff graphite rod can cause you to rip the hook out of the fish's lips. Missing a fish isn't fun for you, and it sure isn't fun for the fish with a gaping hole in it's mouth.
If you're missing bites because you couldn't feel them, then you may consider picking up a graphite rod for increased sensitivity. If switching to a more sensitive rod doesn't cure it, you could also try putting braid on your reel.
However, if you tend to lose fish while fishing them, a slower action can be more forgiving and help keep tension on the line to prevent them from spitting the hook.
Remember, graphite rods offer a sensitive tip that helps you feel every little bite, while fiberglass rods provide flexibility to prevent hook tearouts, and are more forgiving when fighting big fish.
Rod Line Guides
You may have noticed that some rods have different looking rod guides and varying amounts of them. Casting rods have all similarly sized rod guides, while spinning rods have a large guide near the reel and each subsequent guide steps down in size as you move towards the rod tip.
This has to do with the differences in functionality of casting reels and spinning reels.
The line on a spinning reel is wound around a fixed spool, so it needs a large guide near the reel to prevent the line from slapping the rod and knotting up when casting and retrieving. This also helps with casting distance.
A casting reel has a spool that spins freely, allowing the line to be released in a straight line through the guides. Therefore it doesn't require a larger guide to accommodate the spooling of line as with a spinning reel.
Rod guides keep your fishing line moving in the targeted direction of your cast. Without them, who knows where you're lure would end up (likely lost forever in a tree or bush with my luck!)
Are more rod guides better?
To an extent more rod guides are better, yes. Having more rod line guides can offer improved casting distance and a smoother retrieve because the guides prevent the line from touching the rod blank.
More line guides can also offer durability by distributing tension.
How many guide rings should my fishing rod have?
As you move from the handle to tip, the gap between guides becomes smaller. Cheaper rods usually have less guides, resulting in line slap and decreased casting performance. This can make the rod feel clunky to operate.
The exact number of rod guides depends, however, a general rule is to have one guide for each foot of rod, plus one on the rod tip. So a 7ft rod should have about 8 rod guides, one for each foot, plus the rod's tip guide.
For in between rod lengths like a 7'6", round up to the next length, meaning a 7'6" rod should have 9 total guides.
1 Piece vs 2 Piece Rods
There are two main configurations fishing rods come in: one piece and two piece. As the name implies, a one piece rod is one continuous piece of material. A two piece rod is made of two sections that screw or snap together.
Each configuration has its pros and cons. One piece rods are generally more durable and have a higher sensitivity, meaning you can feel a fish biting more easily. They are also usually lighter and easier to handle. However, one piece rods can be more difficult to transport and are not as versatile as two piece rods.
There isn't a significant difference between one piece and two piece fishing rods though, so go with what makes the most sense for you.
If you're looking for ultimate portability, there are also telescoping rods, however, the portability comes with a sacrifice in both quality and sensitivity.
Fishing rods come in many different shapes and sizes, but they can be broadly divided into two main categories: casting rods and spinning rods.
It's important to match spinning reels with spinning rods and casting rods with baitcasting reels.
Casting rods are designed for use with baitcasting reels, which are mounted on the top of the rod. Baitcasting reels are ideal for fishing with heavier lures and baits, and they give you more control over your casts.
Spinning rods, on the other hand, are designed for use with spinning reels, which are mounted underneath the rod. Spinning reels are lighter and easier to use than baitcasting reels, making them a good choice for novice anglers.
Can I use a baitcaster on a spinning rod?
No. A baitcaster is designed to be used on a casting rod and a spinning reel is designed to be used on a spinning rod.
An essential piece of any fishing rod is the handle. The handle is what you hold onto while you are casting, reeling in your line, and fighting the fish. It is important to have a comfortable and sturdy handle that is the right size for your body.
Rod Handle Materials
There are many different materials used for fishing rod handles but cork and EVA foam are probably the two most common. Each one has their pro's and con's.
Cork Rod Handles
Cork rod handles are made from the bark of the cork oak tree. They make a popular choice for fishing rods due to its lightweight and durable characteristics and natural grip feel. Cork handles also have a low damping capacity meaning increased sensitivity to detect those bites.
- Less slippery than EVA foam when wet.
- Warmer to the touch on those cold days.
- Less damping capacity for increased sensitivity.
- Low quality cork is susceptible to cracking or may already contain them.
- Lower longevity than foam.
- More difficult to clean.
- More expensive.
EVA Foam Rod Handles
EVA foam is a common material for spinning and baitcasting rods because it is comfortable and has good shock absorption. EVA foam handles are also inexpensive, more durable, and easy to find. Their increased durability makes them a great choice when using rod holders as cork has a tendency to dent or even chip.
- Easy to clean.
- Increased durability.
- Cheaper than cork.
- Less sensitive than cork.
- Cheaper rod handles can separate.
Cork vs Foam Handles: Which should you choose?
When it comes to deciding which material to use, cork is more expensive and comes with some other downsides, but it has superior sensitivity over EVA foam. If you're willing to maintain the rod after each use, and fork out the dough for it, then cork is no doubt an excellent choice.
But if you're on a budget, prefer something more durable, or just don't think the increased sensitivity from cork is worth the added cost, then a foam handle will do the trick.
Rod Handle Lengths: Short vs. Long Handled Fishing Rods
There are pros and cons to using either a short or long handled fishing rod. It really depends on the fisherman's preference as to which one they will use. Some fishermen prefer short handled fishing rods because they are more compact and easier to transport. They are also less likely to get tangled in vegetation when fishing in tight spaces, allowing for accurate casting in close quarters. However, long handled fishing rods offer superior leverage when casting and are better suited for fishing in open water. A longer handle is more common and preferred by most anglers, while a shorter handle is more of a niche scenario.
Types Of Bass Fishing Reels
A fishing reel is a device attached to a fishing rod and features a hand-crank reel handle that, when turned, spins a spool mounted on an axle to retrieve and stow away the fishing line. When the reels clutch is opened, the spool can move freely, allowing you to cast.
The primary reels used in bass fishing today are baitcasters and spinning reels.
Which one is better, a baitcaster or a spinning reel? Most professional bass fishermen use baitcasters, so they must be better, right?
Comparing a spinning reel to a baitcaster is like comparing an apple to an orange. They are both excellent choices and excel in different situations. So the answer is, it depends. A spinning rod is generally easier to use and better for casting light lines and lightweight lures. Baitcasters are superior at casting heavier lures farther with more accuracy and are often associated with power fishing techniques. Though, that doesn't mean you can't finesse fish with one.
The baitcaster is a fishing reel that sits on top of the fishing rod, featuring a button that releases the spool to spin freely, boasting superior castability. Baitcasters feature a tension knob and some type of braking system to help prevent the line from unspooling too quickly and creating a bird's nest. They use a level wind system to evenly distribute your line back onto your spool.
Baitcasters can be intimidating for new bass anglers due to the extra moving components over spinning reels and the skills needed to prevent backlash (the bird's nest part). However, baitcasters aren't that difficult to learn, and backlashes can be prevented by properly tuning your tension and braking systems. They just take a little more practice to master is all.
However intimidating they may seem, baitcasters open up a unique and super fun style of bass fishing that uses awesome lures and techniques to catch bass!
Brakes on a baitcaster adjust how fast your spool will spin at the start of your cast. There are primarily two braking systems on baitcasters: centrifugal and/or magnetic. If you're dealing with backlash at the start of your cast, try adjusting your brakes.
Spool Tensioner Knob
The tensioner knob on a baitcaster adjusts how freely your spool can spin. On the inside of the knob, there is a piece of material that applies pressure against the end of the spool axle to slow it down. If your spool has side-to-side play, or if you're getting backlash at the end of your cast, try adjusting your spool tensioner.
Drag Adjustment Knob
The drag adjustment knob acts as a clutch to prevent your line from reaching the line's test limits. When enough pressure is applied, your drag system kicks in and allows the spool to spin, allowing a fish to peel off the line. As a general rule of thumb, start by setting your drag to about a third of your line's test strength.
Spool Release Button
The spool release button, when pressed, allows the spool to freely spin. When closed (or in the upward position), it works with your drag system to prevent the spool from spinning freely.
A baitcasters gear ratio measures how many times the spool spins for each turn of your handle. So a 6:1 geared baitcaster's spool will spin 6 times for every 1 rotation of the handle. The gear ratio affects the torque available for reeling in bigger fish and the speed at which you can retrieve your line. Higher gear ratios will have less torque and faster retrieval rates and visa versa.
The line guide or level wind on a baitcaster is a component that moves back and forth across a worm drive shaft to evenly distribute your line back onto the spool as you retrieve your lure.
The spool on a baitcaster sits horizontally on the casting rod. This allows the line to come directly off the spool, through the line guide, and out the tip of the rod, giving the baitcaster superior casting distance. The spool's diameter affects how much line you can put on your reel. Thicker lines will take up space faster than thinner lines.
The reel seat on a baitcaster sits inside the reel mount area of a casting rod.
The bearings inside a baitcaster reduce friction between moving parts. While more bearings are generally considered good, not all are created equal. 5 high-quality bearings can be better than 10 poorly made ones.
The spinning reel is likely the most popular type of fishing reel used today due to its simplicity, versatility, and general ease of use. They can be very inexpensive and have a low barrier to entry when compared to a baitcaster.
Many bass anglers tend to prefer spinning reels over baitcasters when fishing light lines and finesse lures. Even most professional bass anglers carry at least one spinning rod and reel combo along with their baitcasting rod setups.
The spinning reel sits beneath the spinning rod and features a fixed spool in line with the rod blank. Turning the handle of the spinning reel will close the bail, if opened, and begin retrieving the line by rotating the bail as the spool moves up and down to evenly distribute the line onto the spool.
A major advantage spinning reels have over baitcasting reels is the fixed spool is much less likely to experience backlash (also known as a bird's nest), allowing you to cast some really lightweight lures. This is because the spool on a spinning reel is fixed, so the spool can't spin faster than the lure, which is what creates backlashes on baitcasters. Although spinning reels can produce some annoying wind knots on occasion.
Pro Tip: Closing your bail manually instead of turning the reel handle can help prevent a lot of wind knots. Wind knots are often caused by the bail turning while having slack in the line; by turning the handle to close the bail it also turns it.
Spinning Reel Components
The drag adjustment on a spinning reel prevents your line from surpassing its breaking threshold. When a fish applies enough pressure, your drag system kicks in, allowing the spool to spin and the fish to peel line, preventing it from breaking. As a general rule of thumb, start by setting your drag to about a third of your line test.
The bail arm on a spinning reel is used to open and close the bail. The bail is the metal wire that surrounds the spool and helps to keep the line in place. Opening the bail allows the line to be released from the spool and cast out.
The line roller on a spinning reel helps prevent the line from tangling as it's retrieved. The line roller is a small wheel on the bail that the line passes over as it is being wound back onto the spool.
The anti-reverse switch on a spinning reel prevents your line from being pulled out of the reel when you are not actively reeling. The anti-reverse switch is usually located on the bottom of the reel and can be turned on and off. When the anti-reverse switch is turned on, the reel will not allow the line to be pulled out with a closed bail. When turned off, the anti-reverse switch allows the handle to be turned backward, allowing the line to unspool.
The reel seat on a spinning reel sits inside the reel mount area on the underside of a spinning rod. The reel seat holds the reel in place and is usually made of metal or plastic.
Buying Your First Fishing Rod and Reel Combo
If you've got this far in the article, congratulations! I know the above sections on rods and reels were a lot to digest (it was a lot to write!), but if you've made it this far, you should have a solid understanding of the different types of rods and reels, their components, and the characteristics of both baitcasters and spinning combos.
Hopefully, you've decided by this point whether you will start with a baitcaster or a spinning rod. If not, that's okay, you can always read more and return to this section later!
Now it's time to set your budget for the rod and reel. As we discussed earlier, bass fishing can be a relatively inexpensive hobby, or it can be a money pit. I know bass fishermen who use a single rod and reel combo and throw only weightless plastic worm lures. I also know other anglers who buy a fancy new lure or rod and reel after every other fishing trip. How much you spend on bass fishing is entirely up to you, but set yourself a budget, so you don't break the bank.
Buying Your First Fishing Reel
So, you're ready to buy your first reel. You've decided to start with a baitcaster or spinning rod and reel combo, and now you want to know what to look for in the reel as a beginner.
The spool size, frame's materials, drag system, gear ratio, and the number of bearings used are all important factors to consider when purchasing any reel.
The size of the reel determines its line capacity, while the drag system determines how much resistance there is to yard a lunker bass out of the weeds. The gearing ratio affects the inches of line retrieve per turn of the handle, and bearings determine how smoothly the reel operates.
The quality of materials used in a reel can make a big difference in its ability to stand up to the abuse your fishing gear can take on while bass fishing. What kind of abuse are we talking about?
To provide an example, fishing for bass in ponds often means throwing lures around thick scum mats floating on the surface. While retrieving your lure, your line can pick up this scum, causing your reel to get gummed up. However, with proper reel maintenance, you can reduce the wear and tear on your gear. I've also had components in cheap reels fail after only a few months of use. So get the best reel your wallet can afford.
What To Look For When Buying A Fishing Reel
When purchasing a fishing reel, the spool size, materials used, drag system, gear ratios, and number and quality of bearings are all important considerations.
Common Bass Fishing Reel Specs
|Reel Component||Baitcaster||Spinning Reel||Notes|
|Gear Ratio||~6.4:1||~6.4:1||While specific fishing techniques and applications require higher or lower gear ratios. A reel around the 6.4:1 range will allow you to throw and work a variety of slow and fast lure presentations.|
|Bearings||4-5||4-5||Regarding bearings, quality over quantity. You don't usually get quality bearings until you get into the mid to high-end reels. It's also likely you won't notice or care enough for it to matter much as a beginner anyways. So, just go with at least 4 or 5 bearings for now.|
|Max Drag||10-15 lbs||6-10 lbs||Most name brand baitcasting reels will have a max drag rating of around 15 lbs, give or take a few. For a finesse spinning reel, you can go a bit lighter, something around a max drag of 6-10 lbs should suffice. Stick to something close to these +/- a few pounds and you should be totally fine.|
|Spool Size||~150 yards||~150 yards||Anything around 150 yards of 12lb monofilament should suffice for a baitcaster. Most companies tend to measure line capacity using 12lb mono fishing lines, but not always, so double-check with the manufacturer. Keep in mind that the fishing line diameter tends to increase as you go up in test poundage, so if you plan on using 17lb fluorocarbon, or heavy braid, it will fill the spool faster than 12lb mono, resulting in less line on the reel. Same goes for spinning reels, but usually measured with 6-8lb mono instead.|
|Handle Retrieve||Personal Preference||Personal Preference||If you grew up using a spinning reel, the thought of reeling with your right hand might seem outlandish. Many baitcaster models come in both left and right-hand retrieves, though not all models offer both. Make sure you double-check with the manufacturer before purchasing. I prefer using a left-hand retrieve because I grew up trout fishing with spinning reels, and using a right-hand retrieve just didn't feel right to me. But, go with whatever will work best for you!|
What To Look For When Buying A Fishing Rod
When purchasing a fishing rod, consider your use case. Are you planning to throw hollowbody topwater frogs into the backs of scum mats and lilly pads? Or, are you trying to burn a crankbait? Defining your use case before purchasing will help you pick the right rod for the task.
Keep in mind these are just recommendations and not hard and fast rules!
Common Bass Fishing Rod Specs
|Use Case||Rod Type||Power||Action||Length||Lure Weight (oz)||Notes|
|All-Arounder||Casting||Medium-Heavy||Fast||~7'3"||3/8 - 1 oz.||If you can only have one baitcasting rod, something in this range is a great starting point. Get anything around a 7'-7'3" rod length and you should be golden.|
|All-Around (Finesse)||Spinning||Medium||Fast||6'6" - 7'||3/16 - 5/8 oz.||If you're planning to finesse fish with some lighter lures, then you can't go wrong with a solid spinning combo.|
|Dedicated Frog Rod||Casting||Heavy||Fast||7'0 - 7'6"||3/8 - 1 1/2 oz.||When fishing a frog around heavy cover you're gonna want some power to yard those bass outta there quick! A stout rod will also make frog fishing more enjoyable!|
|Dedicated Crankbait Rod||Casting||Medium||Moderate or Moderate-Fast||7' - 7'6"||1/4 - 3/4 oz.||This really depends on the weight of the crankbait your intending to throw. However, a rod with these specs should suffice for most crankbait scenario you'll encounter. Look for rods that are built for heavier lures if you plan on throwing some big boys. A medium-heavy will work well too if you plan to throw a crankbaits on the larger end.|