If you see a 4 ft ultralight fishing rod next to a 12 ft surf fishing rod, there’s no doubt they’re designed for very different fishing techniques. Extremes aside, there’s a huge array of different fishing rods out there—special handles and reel seats, stiff rods and flexible rods, and so many lengths!
It can be hard to know what all the rod styles are used for, and even harder to select the one that will be right for the kind of fishing you want to do.
In this article, we’ll break down the major types of fishing rods. We’ll explain what they look like and why they’re designed the way they are.
The goal is to give you an overview of fishing rod types, so you’ll know what’s needed for your current fishing plans. You may also discover types of rods that you’ll need later, as you get into more kinds of fishing.
Let’s get started!
Fishing Rod Types & Fishing Style
If you wanted to hang a picture on the wall, you’d grab a small tack hammer, and give your 20 lb sled the day off. On the other hand, trying to do even the lightest demolition work with a tack hammer would be an exercise in frustration.
Both of those tools are hammers, but they have very different uses.
Fishing rods are a lot like that.
Different kinds of fishing rods exist because they’ve been refined over the years to match perfectly with every known kind of fishing. Ice-fishing rods, surf fishing rods, fly fishing rods, bass fishing rods…the list goes on and on.
Let’s go over the two, high-level characteristics that all fishing rod designs have in common:
- Every rod (except fly rods) will be either a baitcasting rod or a spinning rod.
- Every rod will have the strength and size needed for a specific kind of fishing.
In the rest of this section, we’ll dive into both those topics and explain the role they play in determining a rod’s best application.
Baitcasting and Spinning Rods of All Sizes
One of the main things that separate one rod from another is whether it’s a baitcasting rod or a spinning rod. Both types excel in certain areas, but they are versatile enough to be useful in almost all fishing scenarios.
The primary difference between baitcasting rods and spinning rods is the kind of reel that gets attached. A casting rod takes a baitcasting reel - the ones that look like a small winch affixed to the top of the rod handle. Spinning rods are outfitted with an underslung, open-faced spinning reel that features a revolving bail to wind the line.
The reel seat and guides are different on these kinds of rods, to accommodate the corresponding reel type’s attachment and operation.
Both kinds of rods are available in any length you could ever want, and with any level of strength and flexibility, so rod selection often comes down to the reel type you prefer.
Many will ask themselves, which is better? The answer isn't simple, but it all comes down to your fishing style and what you intend on catching. With heavier lures, casting rods are almost always superior though they aren't as easy to use for beginners.
Rod Strength, Power, and Length
When discussing a rod’s strength and power, the terms that are commonly used are weight and action.
- Weight describes how easily a rod bends.
- Action describes the location in the rod’s length where the bend occurs.
If you’re trying to select a rod and you’re not sure about the right weight, consider how heavy your lures will be. A heavier weight rod is needed if you’re going to cast very heavy bait rigs and lures.
When focusing on a rod’s action, think about the specific lure types and techniques you’ll be using. The common rod actions are slow, moderate, and fast. Fast action rods bend in only the top third of the blank and are great for soft plastics; the bend of a slow action rod (like crankbait rods) begins in the lower third of the blank.
Rod length is a more straight-forward consideration than rod weight and action. Still, it comes down to how you’re fishing. The lures or bait you’re casting, where and how far you want to cast, and the techniques you use will all play a part in any rod length decision.
Super-long rods are used in surf fishing where casting distance is critical. In fresh and saltwater, some anglers use shorter rods when they need to make accurate casts to nearby targets. During the retrieve, longer rods move more line, faster, enabling great sweeping hooksets. A Short rod that is stiff as a broom-stick has its place too; many boat rods are like that, and the power comes in handy when muscling giant fish up from the depths.
For every type of fishing, there’s a range of rod strengths and sizes that will get the job done, and fishermen tend to refine their techniques by zeroing in on the perfect rod characteristics for their favorite fishing style.
Bass fishing is so popular that manufacturers have created technique-specific rods, pinpointing the characteristics needed for certain styles of fishing. Consequently, they’ve created a range of products that serve the needs of, not only bass anglers but people who target almost every other gamefish species.
Bass rods can be casting- or spinning-style. Experienced anglers select a rod weight and action based on the kinds of baits and lures they’ll be casting. You should also consider the hook setting power. When you’re using soft plastics, for example, you need a stiff rod to get a good hook set, whereas, fishing crankbaits or topwater baits call for a more flexible rod.
The average bass rod is between 5 1/2 ft and 7 1/2 ft in length, and, again, the right rod length has a lot to do with how you’re fishing. In general, longer rods allow for longer casts and move more line, which allows for better hooksets. Shorter rods can help with better casting accuracy and are good for ‘trick’ casts like skipping lures under docks.
Most bass fishing rods are made of graphite. Many high-end bass rods include a combination of materials, with layers of graphite and fiberglass that are carefully adjusted to achieve the desired weight and action.
Bass rods are available in such a wide array of sizes and strengths; the category tends to meet the needs of fishermen who are targeting other species. If you’re after walleye, catfish, redfish, lake trout, flounder, or dozens of other fresh and saltwater species, chances are, there’s a “bass rod” that would be ideal for your purposes.
For a detailed look at bass rods and some great rod reviews, refer to our article about the Best Bass Rods.
Ultralight Rods for Trout and Panfish
Ultralight fishing rods are almost always going to be spinning rods. They get paired with ultralight spinning reels—reels that are sized to handle the lightest of fishing line. A light rod weight and a fast action allow anglers to cast and present the smaller lures used in ultralight fishing.
Fishers going after panfish like crappie and bluegill use ultralight rods so they can detect the subtle strikes of those smaller species. Trout fishers love ultralight gear too, but it’s more about the gear’s ability to cast tiny lures using line that’s so light it’s practically invisible.
Surf Rods and Boat Rods
Two of the most unique types of rods are surf rods and boat rods.
Surf rods are usually between 12 and 15 ft and can be casting- or spinning-style. The extra length is used to lob heavy bait rigs out into the surf. These rods typically have a powerful butt section, but a fast tip that helps detect strikes and execute sweeping hooksets.
Boat rods can be spinning or casting rods, but are almost always on the short and stiff side. They’re used primarily for trolling. Whether in fresh or saltwater, the target species when you’re using this kind of rod is big. Giant catfish, lake trout, and stripers in freshwater; tuna and billfish in salt—the fish you handle with a boat rod can pull hard, so the equipment has to be stout.
The Sage Pulse is one of the best fly rods available. Fly rods are highly specialized pieces of equipment. The length and the way the rod bends are even more crucial than with other rod types. That’s because, with fly rods, you don’t cast the fly, you cast the line.
Flies weigh almost nothing, but fly line is intentionally weighted as part of the manufacturing process. Fly rods take advantage of weighted fly line, allowing the backcast to load the rod, setting up the power needed for the forward cast to move everything toward the target.
Fishing Rod Types - A World of Choices
As you can see, there are very good reasons for the amount of specialization that’s occurred in fishing rod manufacturing. There’s a variety of rod styles available, each designed to meet the requirements of a specific kind of fishing.
We hope this article has shed some light on the main fishing rod types and uses. If you’re doing some research before buying a new rod (or reel), be sure to check out more of our articles—they’re full of fishing advice and great gear reviews.