Fiberglass vs. Graphite vs. Composite Fishing Rods: Which Material Is Best?

Written by Dale Shetler
Updated January 13, 2023

Today, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about different fishing rod materials. We’ll help you decide whether fiberglass, graphite, or composite fishing rods make the most sense for you. 

Fishing has come a long way since our grandparents used bamboo cane rods and centrepin reels to land their catch. Today, there are several different (much more advanced) styles of fishing rods on the market, including casting, spinning, and fly fishing rods. 

The most popular materials today are:

Each of these materials has strengths and weaknesses of its own. Depending on how and what you fish for, you’ll learn that some of these materials are better suited to you than others. 

A Timeline of Fishing Rod Materials 

One of the fascinating things about fishing is how our gear has progressed over the years. Here’s how fishing rods have transformed over the years. 

The Dawn of Fishing 

Wall relief from ancient Egypt depicting pre-historic fishing practices

Fishing is far from modern practice. Ancient civilizations have been fishing for centuries. In civilizations like Egypt, Peru, and Greece, fishing is depicted in the artwork of these societies. The first evidence of fishing with a bamboo rod traces back to Chinese civilizations over 4,000 years ago. 

The ancient Chinese had surprisingly modern tools for fishing, using 6-foot sections of bamboo cane or hazel with horsehair line and a hook. This method remained popular for thousands of years. The first documentation of recreational fishing was in the late 1400s, and those anglers used similar tools to the ancient Chinese. 

Improvements in Materials 

With the bamboo rod proven as a tried-and-true material for fishing, most innovations over the next few hundred years centered around making bamboo rods more fishable. By the 1700s, anglers were fishing with primitive centrepin-style reels, and guides were attached to the rod blanks, which made it easier to catch larger fish and cast greater distances. 

Four-piece Bamboo Fisherman's Rod, vintage engraved illustration. Le Magasin Pittoresque - 1874
Four-piece bamboo rod illustration published in Le Magasin Pittoresque, 1874
Vintage fishing hook collection illustration published in Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1897
Vintage fishing hook collection illustration published in Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 1897

Over the next few centuries, the bamboo rod dominated the market. It wasn’t until after World War II that a new material would threaten bamboo’s position as the leading material for fishing rods. 

After World War II, the fiberglass rod hit the market. These rods were similar to bamboo but offered some distinct advantages. For one, it was much easier to standardize manufacturing processes. When you picked up a fiberglass rod, it looked, felt, and performed identically to the other rods on the shelf, a characteristic that constantly plagued bamboo. 

A fiberglass rod also provided significantly better durability than bamboo, allowing anglers to get more use out of their rods before they needed to be replaced. Still, fiberglass rods of the time were much pricier than bamboo, so bamboo remained a popular choice for anglers who didn’t have the money for an expensive fiberglass model. 

The Introduction of Graphite 

Two women with graphite fishing rods - vintage photo from the 1960s

By the early 1970s, the sporting goods and aerospace industries began working with a new product made from graphite material. This new material features slightly lighter weight while also being stiffer than fiberglass rods, and it wasn’t long before fishing rod companies like Lamiglas and Fenwick took notice. 

These early graphite rods were too stiff for their own good and often would snap under the weight of a large fish. One of Lamiglas’ engineers, Gary Loomis, figured if anyone could help him address the shortcomings of the graphite rod, it would be Boeing. 

Fortunately, Boeing had a campus not far from the Lamiglas office. Loomis began working with Boeing engineers to develop fishing rods that provided all of the benefits of graphite without the rigidity that threatened to make the material obsolete. 

The result of Loomis’ pioneering work is the graphite rods we know and love today: they’re stronger, lighter, extremely sensitive, and more durable than other materials. While graphite material is the most expensive, competitive anglers know its advantages are worth the added expense.

Even still, these new graphite rods had a few shortcomings. Despite Loomis’ pioneering work developing a more flexible graphite rod, the material was still more prone to breakage than fiberglass. If the graphite was nicked or scraped, that area would become a stress point where the rod would likely break if enough pressure was applied. 

The Best of Both Worlds

Manufacturers began to incorporate fiberglass and graphite to counter this issue and make it easier for anglers to land large pelagic species. 

Saltwater manufacturers found that incorporating more fiberglass in the rod tip greatly improved shock absorption, and rod action while also providing the rugged durability necessary to handle a multitude of hooked fish in the most demanding offshore environments.

The rear section of the composite fishing rod features full graphite construction, which helps reduce weight while providing the rigidity, strength, and additional backbone needed for catching larger fish. 

In some scenarios, these new fiberglass and graphite rods proved more effective than single-material rods. They're preferred by many professional anglers who need cutting-edge equipment to put more big fish on the deck.

As a bonus, a composite fishing rod will always be cheaper than a comparable graphite rod.

Most Common Fishing Rod Materials Available Today

While rod technology has improved in leaps and bounds over the last 80 years, older materials never seem to fall out of favor. Each material offers distinct benefits and some negatives, and any material may be a wise choice; it all depends on how and where you’re fishing.

When shopping for rods, anglers can choose from tons of fiberglass, graphite, and composite models. 

Fiberglass Rods 

  • Least expensive rod type 
  • More durable than graphite or composite 
  • Forgives common beginner mistakes
  • Provides excellent casting distance
  • Poor sensitivity compared to graphite or composite 
  • More challenging to land medium-sized fish or larger

Fiberglass fishing rods emerged after World War II, and the fiberglass rod quickly replaced bamboo as the material of choice for manufacturing the fly rod and casting and spinning rods. These rods were a bit more expensive than traditional bamboo rods, but they proved far more durable, and manufacturers could create a much more uniform product than bamboo. 

Fiberglass fishing rod

While glass rods were considered a breakthrough and came at a significantly higher price than bamboo rods, this was short-lived. Today, glass rods are the least expensive fishing rod material.

Fiberglass is also the most forgiving fishing rod material, which makes it an excellent choice for an inexperienced angler. A fiberglass rod will easily stand up to the jerking, ripping, and erratic motion common with an inexperienced angler. 

Fiberglass rods are less rigid and tend to flex across the entire length of the rod blank. This slow action is an excellent feature for casting, as it allows the caster to “load up” their glass rods with far more energy than possible if the rod was more rigid. 

This flexibility also makes it easier to free yourself from hang-ups when bottom-fishing over rocky structures or wrecks. A more flexible rod also provides the most natural presentation when fishing with large baits or when battling fish with thin and delicate mouths that are easy to rip a hook through, such as weakfish. 

But, this flexibility makes it much more difficult to detect bites when a fish is nibbling at your bait. An overly flexible glass rod also makes it challenging to land heavy, powerful fish, such as tuna, shark, or even when bass fishing.

Graphite Rods 

  • Far greater sensitivity compared to glass rods
  • Significantly stronger than fiberglass - it makes it easy to fight larger fish
  • Much lighter than fiberglass 
  • Most expensive fishing rod material
  • Not as durable as fiberglass
  • Faster actions result in reduced casting distance

Emerging in the 1970s, it was immediately apparent that graphite fishing rods would be the industry's future. There were a few kinks to work out, but with the help of talented engineers at Lamiglas and Shakesphere, graphite fishing rods quickly became the industry standard for serious anglers. 

Graphite fishing rod

Graphite fishing rods addressed several shortcomings common with fiberglass or older bamboo fishing rods. The material is six times lighter than fiberglass and is also stronger. It’s also much more rigid than fiberglass, and the reduced flex makes fighting more powerful fish species more effortless. 

Most importantly, the enhanced rigidity makes graphite fishing rods exceptionally sensitive. With a graphite rod, it’s possible to detect even the faintest nibble from a fish over 100 feet below, which makes it much easier to catch fish. 

While a fiberglass fishing rod tends to flex across the entirety of the rod blank in a parabolic curve, graphite rods feature higher rigidity and flex closer to the tip. The faster action is the primary reason it’s easier to detect bites with a graphite rod and it makes it easier for anglers to muscle large and powerful fish to the boat or shore.

Despite all the benefits of graphite, the material has a few drawbacks. The main issue with a graphite fishing rod is that since it’s more rigid than other materials, it’s more likely to snap under a load. Experienced anglers are used to taking their gear to the brink of destruction when fighting a large fish, and they usually know when it’s time to back off to preserve their equipment. 

With less experienced anglers, the results aren’t always the same. It’s common for newbies to get stuck on some bottom structure and set the hook as they’ve just landed Moby Dick, only to be met with the sickening sound of their graphite rod fracturing into a dozen pieces. 

Another issue with graphite rods is that it’s much less forgiving to the rigors of everyday life than fiberglass. A small ding or scrape on a graphite rod will become a stress point, making it more likely for the rod to break under completely normal use at that location. 

The final caveat with graphite rods is tied to one of their most significant advantages. The faster action of a graphite fishing rod doesn’t allow you to load as much energy into the rod when you cast, which puts a damper on how far you’re able to cast. For this reason, you commonly see surfcasters opting for a slow or moderate action so they can still bomb long casts. 

Composite Rods

  • Less expensive than graphite 
  • Better casting distance than graphite
  • More durable than graphite
  • Less sensitive than graphite 
  • Less lifting power than graphite

Recognizing that both fiberglass and graphite provide certain advantages and drawbacks, it wasn’t long before manufacturers began combining fiberglass and graphite parts to create a composite mix and a more versatile rod.

Composite fishing rod

Composite rods are made from a combination of at least two materials. All rods will have fiberglass and graphite, but some will add other fibers and even a ceramic additive when manufacturing blanks. 

The addition of fiberglass makes composite rods more durable than graphite rods without sacrificing much sensitivity or power. Of course, you’ll still sacrifice some sensitivity and power, but the difference is much less noticeable than the space between a fiberglass fishing rod and one made entirely from graphite.

Composite rods are also a bit less expensive than graphite because adding fiberglass means rod manufacturers save money on material and can price their offering lower than a rod with all graphite components.

Big game anglers and bottom fishing specialists often feel that graphite is king and are unwilling to switch to a rod with less sensitivity or fish-lifting power. Most other anglers find that composite rods offer the best of both worlds, and they’re happy to make some small sacrifices for an inexpensive rod that checks every box they need. 

Choosing the Best Rod Material For You 

We’ve discussed everything that separates the “big 3” materials, but what does that mean for you and how you fish? The characteristics these different materials possess are such that one will be the best fit for you. 

Fiberglass rods are the best choice in a few scenarios. The forgiving nature of fiberglass makes it an ideal choice for novice anglers. If you’re learning how to fish, a fiberglass rod is more than adequate for you to learn how to fish while also being durable enough to forgive any rookie mistakes you may make that would cause other rods to break.

Fiberglass is also the least expensive material for making rods, which makes it an excellent choice for anglers on a tight budget. Besides, higher-quality fiberglass models still provide many premium features while being much cheaper than a graphite pole.

Many surf anglers also prefer a glass rod, as its rugged build and high energy transfer when casting lends itself well to the demands of surf fishing. 

After fishing with fiberglass rods for a while, most anglers upgrade to composite or graphite rods. This switch isn’t so much an indictment of the quality of fiberglass fishing rods as it is the natural progression of anglers. You’ll always want something lighter, stronger, and more sensitive as you become more accomplished at fishing. 

While most experienced anglers reach for either a graphite or composite rod, choosing between the two is a matter of personal preference. If you demand the highest sensitivity and power for lifting heavy fish, you will want a graphite rod, provided your budget allows it. 

Anglers looking to capture the best aspects of fiberglass and graphite components will often choose a composite rod. Composite is still light and more sensitive than glass while also being more durable and inexpensive. 

Other Important Rod Characteristics

Beyond the material a rod is made from, its characteristics, such as length, power, and action, can significantly affect how it performs and what it’s best for. 

Rod Type 

The most critical characteristic to consider is the type of rod you’re purchasing. Fishing rods come in various configurations, each designed to accommodate a different reel. 

Fly rods are the most different, and they have a short handle with the reel mount close to the bottom of the pole. 

Spinning and casting rods look similar on the surface, but some critical differences exist. Spinning rods have guides running underneath the rod, and the reel mounts underneath. Casting rods are the opposite, with guides and reels mounted to the top side of the pole. 

Spinning rods correspond to spinning reels while casting rods correspond to conventional or baitcasting reels.

Rod Length

How long your rod is affects how the tool performs and how comfortable it is to fish. Shorter rods allow you to cast most accurately and are exceptionally maneuverable. The maneuverability of a short rod is vital when fishing on a crowded boat, or around structures such as dock pilings or rock piles. 

Longer lengths allow for more accurate casting and provide more leverage for lifting heavy fish. 

Some styles, like ice fishing, call for a short rod, while others, like surfcasting, require longer rods. How you’ll fish is most critical when selecting rod length. Beyond that, it’s all about what’s comfortable for you.

Rod Action

Fishing Rod and Action Illustration

Fishing rods are sold based on characteristics known as rod action and power. These determiners indicate what kind of fishing the rod is suitable for. 

The action of a fishing rod indicates where the rod blank will begin to bend when pressure is applied. The faster a rod’s action, the higher along the rod blank it will bend. Meanwhile, a rod with slow action will bend across the length of the rod blanks today.

The material a rod is made from significantly affects its action. Fiberglass tends to bend on a parabolic curve, which would be considered a moderate to slow action, and graphite is stiffer and bends closer to the tip, which is considered fast or extra fast action. 

The most common rod actions are fast and moderate, but many more options exist. 

  • Extra-fast - Bends at top 10-15%
  • Fast - Bends at top 25%
  • Moderate-fast - Bends at top 35%
  • Moderate - Bends at top 40-45%
  • Moderate-slow - Bends at top 55-60%
  • Slow - Bends at top 75%

Rod Power 

Action and Power Fishing Rod Infographic

Power is a critical characteristic when buying a new rod, and it’s an indicator of how much pressure must be applied to cause the rod to flex according to its action rating. The heavier the rod power, the larger the fish you’ll be able to catch with that rod. 

Rod power also indicates the line and lure weights a rod is compatible with. Heavier lures require heavier power rods, while lighter lures need a medium to light power to ensure they load up with energy when casting. Otherwise, it would be near impossible to cast light lures beyond a few feet. 

Meanwhile, sensing bites from most species will be more challenging if you’re using a heavy power rod to target much smaller fish in small streams. Heavy tackle also eliminates much of the sport from landing a fish unless it’s a big one. 

Most freshwater anglers opt for medium power rods, while saltwater anglers favor heavier power models. There are always exceptions to these guidelines, depending on how large the fish you’re targeting is and the style of fishing you’re doing. 

The most common rod powers are medium-light, medium, and medium-heavy, but several more options are available. 

  • Extra-heavy
  • Heavy
  • Medium-heavy
  • Medium
  • Medium-light
  • Light
  • Ultra-light

Final Word

When it comes to composite vs. graphite vs. fiberglass rods, there are compelling reasons to choose each type of material, depending on your experience and the type of fishing you’re doing. 

More experienced anglers choose graphite or composite rods, especially fly and offshore saltwater anglers. These rods deliver the best performance, power, and sensitivity you’ll want if you’re serious about fishing. 

If you’re looking for a rod to use occasionally, if you’re a novice angler learning how to fish, it’s impossible to beat the advantages of a fiberglass rod. If you become more serious about fishing, you’ll quickly realize why serious anglers prefer a graphite or composite rod. 

Written by Dale Shetler
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
Updated January 13, 2023
Dale Shetler is a vetted fishing expert who has been fishing for over 20 years. Apart from working as a sonar technician and commercial fisherman, Shetler has a degree in marine biology from Samford University.
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