Choose the right fishing rod
When I bought my first fishing rod, the type of fish I was chasing and my budget were the two major limiting factors. And, while my collection of rods has expanded, those factors are still key considerations when I choose a new fishing rod.
People have been using fishing rods for thousands of years – going as far back as ancient China and Egypt. Over time, rods have evolved into myriad products that vary in weight, flexibility and the material they are constructed from.
If you're just starting out and looking at buying your first fishing rod, the sheer number of available options can be pretty confusing. Luckily, a little bit of research is all that’s required to help you choose the right fishing rod for the job – and this is a great place to start.
In his buyer’s guide, we explain how to choose a fishing rod based on your target species and fishing environment.
The most important things to consider when choosing your fishing rod are what species you are targeting and how you are going to target them.
You might be focusing your efforts on a particular fish or you may be looking for a multi-purpose rod to target many different species. Asking yourself a few key questions will help you refine your search for the right rod.
- Are you a land based angler?
- Are you intending to fish from a kayak or boat?
- Are you fishing off the beach or rocks?
- Are you wading up a mountain stream or traversing off the beaten track?
- Do you like to travel and pack a rod with you?
- Do you fish off jetties and piers?
- What body of water are you going to be fishing?
This may seem complicated but it doesn’t have to be. Buying a rod just requires a good understanding of what you’re fishing for and the environments you plan to spend most of your time exploring.
For a great overview of all the gear you'll need to start fishing, check out our beginner's guide to fishing gear.
Choose depending on the fishing style
We’ve taken care of the ‘where’ and the ‘what’, now we need to think about ‘how’.
How we are targeting a species of fish or fishing a body of water.
- Are we using lures, bait, or both?
- Are we casting, and if so, where are we fishing?
Fishing rods are typically designed to suit a particular method and are defined by the type of reel or rig that works most effectively with that setup.
Typically, rods are put into categories of spinning, baitcasting, surf, telescopic, overhead and fly.
Spinning rods are the most common type of rod and suit a range of applications. A spinning reel is fitted underneath the rod making it a very versatile rod and reel combo suitable for lure casting and bait fishing. Depending on the weight class of the outfit, a spinning rod can be used to target a wide range of small to medium-sized fish species from the shore, and they are well suited to boat and kayak fishing.
Baitcasting rods are an alternative to spinning rods and are quite versatile but recommended for the more experienced angler. Ever heard of a ‘bird’s nest’? Amateurs can very quickly be turned off by a baitcasting rod and reel combo, because without the proper handling, they are prone to tangling on the spool. But for an experienced angler, they offer even greater accuracy when casting and more control when handling a fish.
Surf rods, as the name suggests, are designed specifically to suit surf fishing (but they are ideal for fishing off rocks as well). The longest of the rod family, surfcasters can be up to 4-5 metres long and are used from the shore to cast extremely long distances past the breaking waves to where the fish like to feed. Surf rods are usually used with big eggbeater reels or ‘Alvey’ style reels to tackle big fish and cope with the added weight when pulling your catch in through the waves. To transport them easily, surfcasters can be broken down into multiple pieces.
Telescopic rods are designed to suit an angler’s lifestyle where either: a) they are on the road a lot and a telescopic rod fits perfectly in the boot of the car; b) they can’t travel or adventure without taking a fishing rod or, c) don’t have much storage space at home. The technology of telescopic rods has come a long way. Gone are the days of flimsy plastic-feeling rods: now there are some terrific telescopic and travel rods on the market suitable for small to medium-sized fish, typically designed for use with spinning reels.
Overhead rods are the classic boat fishing rod. They are engineered to work in perfect unison with an overhead reel, and are usually slightly shorter and more powerful than casting rods. They are for fighting big species of deep sea fish and sportfish. You won’t be doing much casting with an overhead rod and reel combo: just drop your line and wait for the bites to come.
Fly rods are specifically designed for use with a fly reel when fly fishing. Fly fishing is very different to other traditional forms of fishing. It is often likened to hunting where stealth, patience, and a lot of skill is required in casting a fly to mimic what the target species is feeding on. Fly rods are not just geared up for trout fishing in mountain streams and freshwater lakes – there is an abundance of rods, reels, lines, and flies to suit fishing everything from bass to bream, barra and beyond. If you're interested in learning more about fly fishing, we've got some great tips for beginners.
The first thing to consider when choosing a fishing rod for a child is the size. If the rod is too big for your kids to handle, they will become frustrated and may lose interest. While target species and fishing environment should still factor into your decision, an all-rounder rod, or rod and reel combo, (such as a light, spinner rod and reel combo) is usually a good choice when buying for kids – after all, it will probably need to be replaced with a larger model as your child grows.
For a quick reference, check out this infographic which breaks down the major rod types, explaining where they are most commonly used, the type of reel they are best suited for and the relationship between rod action and power .
Choosing the right roller
By the time you’re ready to choose your fishing reel, you’ve likely already done your research on what rod you are going to buy to suit your target species or fishing spot.
The price of a reel can vary greatly depending on its features, functionality, styling, and warranty. It's unlikely you’ll want to put an expensive reel on a budget rod so it’s worth sharing your budget between both purchases.
Considerations in choosing roller
If you’ve bought a rod (or you own a rod and are looking at upgrading the reel), you’re a giant leap closer to choosing the right reel.
On most modern rods, just above the grips, you’ll find a series of numbers along with the brand and model name. A rod will often have its length measured in feet (but sometimes centimetres) and beside that you’ll have the recommended line weight range.
If the range is 4-8lb line, the rod manufacturer is suggesting the rod is designed for fish up to 8lb (or roughly 4kg).
Fishing reels also have weight classes which will help you match your reel to your rod – it’s important to balance the two.
A balanced fishing rod will make casting easier and more accurate and reduces user fatigue because the outfit is easier to handle for long periods of time. This is important when regularly casting and retrieving or when fighting that trophy fish.
A balanced outfit can also improve sensitivity in the rod tip, making it easier to detect fish striking the bait or lure.
Spinning reels are often referred to as eggbeaters because of their characteristic whipping action and are probably the most versatile of all reels.
They use a bail guide system that holds the line, wrapping it onto the spool as you retrieve. When the bail is flipped across, the line is released to fall freely off the spool. This makes them excellent for casting as the spool does not spin. All you have to do is pinch the line to keep it tight on the spool and time your release with the highest point of your cast to let the line fly. The bail can then be flicked back, engaging the reel for retrieval.
Spinning reels feature adjustable drag and sometimes a 'free spool' setting that can be used when drift fishing in a current, allowing the fish to run with the bait before engaging the reel and striking. The quality and price of a reel are determined by the material it is made from, the drag system, gear features, and the number of ball bearings (these create a smoother action under pressure).
On most modern spinning reels, a reel is branded with a model name and number. The brand and model is, of course, your personal choice. Below is a simple guide to understanding what the numbers mean on most modern reels.
Modern spinning reels will usually have the numbers presented in thousands (i.e. 2500) but they may be in double figures (i.e. 25) and occasionally in hundreds (i.e. 250). These examples would be all considered the same sized reel.
Spinning reel sizes explained
- 1000 to 3500 (or 10 – 35)class reels are small reels likely to be used for a lightweight 6 – 7ft rod targeting small fish species. Typically the monofilament line weight range for these smaller reels is 2-10lb (1-5kg) or 4-14lb braid.
- 4000 to 5500 (or 40 – 55)class reels are medium sized reels likely for a 6-7ft snapper or barramundi style rod. Typically the monofilament line weight range is 8-14lb (4-7kg) or 8-25lb braid.
- 6000 to 9500 (or 60 – 95)class reels are large spinning reels to suit varied rod sizes including heavy-weight boat roads or surf / rock fishing rods. Typically the monofilament line weight range is 6-15kg+ or 12-30lb braid.
There are much larger spinning reels which are suitable for surf / rock fishing and game / offshore boat fishing classed from 10000 to 30000 with line weight classes suiting 10-30kg monofilament line or 30-80lb braid. These big reels are also good for lure fishing using big poppers for giant trevally and other pelagic sport fish.
Baitcasting reels are designed specifically for baitcasting rods and, while versatile, should be reserved for seasoned anglers. Though notorious for tangles, when mastered these reels offer high levels of accuracy and control.
Baitcasters come in round or low-profile designs.
- Low profile allows the angler to palm the reel during casting and retrieving which is ideal for sports fishing when targeting bass, barramundi and big bream.
- A round profile reel generally holds much more line which is ideal for target species that take long runs. These can be good reels for trolling.
Baitcasters come with braking systems which can be adjusted with a spool tensioning knob. This allows the angler to tighten or loosen the spool’s rotation to avoid line backlash otherwise known as the dreaded ‘bird’s nest’. Adjusting the spool’s rotation is required when using different weighted lures to make a longer, more accurate cast. Whatever the braking system, learning to thumb a spool during casting allows you to better manage the spool’s rotation to avoid line backlash.
What does fishing reel gear ratio mean?
When buying a baitcaster, it is important to be aware of the gear ratio and suggested line class, as this will help you balance the reel to the rod. A gear ratio is written with two sets of numbers, for example: 7.3:1.
The first set of numbers represent the number of revolutions the spool makes for each turn of the handle. In this example, the spool would revolve 7.3 times to 1 crank of the handle. A higher number indicates quicker retrieval, ideal for lure fishing where the lure requires a fast retrieval action. Line class ( for example: 175 yards. / 14lb.Braid.) is the amount of monofilament or braid line that a spool can fit and the suggested weight class of that line. Our example set of figures 7.3:1 and 175 yards. / 14lb.Braid. would indicate this reel is suited to a medium class baitcasting rod for target species like barramundi.
Overhead reels are designed for overhead rods and are targeted at lure or bait fishing where the intention is not to cast but to either troll or feed out the line below the boat or kayak.
Like the baitcasting reel, the overhead reel sits on top of the rod. Having immediate line contact and spool control can be favourable when dropping or jigging baits and lures directly under a boat or kayak.
Overhead and baitcasting reels are very similar in design. A baitcasting reel is essentially a modernised version of the traditional overhead concept, with a lower profile that maks it better balanced for casting.
Most traditional overhead reels on the market are aimed at ocean fishing and suit game fishing rods. There are some small overhead reels still on the market but the lower profile baitcaster has proven more popular for lighter gear.
Fly reels are designed specifically for fly rods. Traditionally, they are simple in design and construction but modern fly reels are becoming more and more advanced, using disc-type drag systems for improved drag adjustment, consistency and resistance to drag friction.
A fly reel is a single action reel worked by stripping line off the spool with one hand whilst casting the rod with the other hand. The fly reel’s purpose is to simply store line and provide drag when a fish makes a long run. An important feature of the reel is that it is designed to counterbalance the weight of your rod when casting. For a detailed guide, check out our Guide to Selecting a Fly Fishing Reel
Balancing your fly fishing outfit
Fly rod manufacturers give their rods a weight rating which is usually printed above the rod grip. This rating might be written as 5wt or 5 weight which is the suggested size of fly line to be used with the rod. Fly lines are classed in weights, rather than pounds or kilos. Knowing the rating of a rod is a 5wt, for example, allows you to narrow your choice of fly reel to ensure you choose one that accommodates a fly line of the appropriate weight.
A quick guide to the weight rating is:
- 1wt – 3wtfly line is generally used for small fish, ultimately designed for casting in small areas using small flies, like creeks targeting stream trout.
- 4wtfly line is generally used for medium-sized freshwater fish like trout in bigger rivers.
- 5wt – 6wtfly line is used for larger freshwater fish in lake scenarios where you need a longer cast to target species like lake trout and bass.
- 7wt – 8wtfly line is used for larger freshwater species in open water using large flies and casting long distances. They can be used in saltwater also, targeting small-medium species.
- 9wt – 14wtfly line is a heavy line used predominantly for targeting saltwater species with large flies.
- Alvey Reels
- An Australian invention, Alvey reels are very popular among land-based anglers in Australia for their hard-wearing simple design. Alvey reels are unique as they are a fixed spool reel (similar to a larger diameter fly reel in appearance) but to cast they rotate on a hinge to face the spool perpendicular to the direction you are going to cast like a spinning reel, allowing the line to fly directly off the spool.
- Alvey reels are known for being incredibly hard wearing due to their lack of small parts, making them perfect for fishing for big species of powerful fish in harsh conditions.
- What are electric fishing reels?
- Electric reels are designed for overhead rods and are relatively new on the recreational fishing market (they were exclusive to commercial deep-sea operators in the past).
- Their modern design, improved functionality and reduced price have made them more appealing to recreational anglers. With more and more anglers chasing big fish offshore, the electric reel allows for more efficient and less exhausting deep sea fishing.
- The ability to automatically drop baits or jigs and retrieve fish over great distances significantly reduces angler fatigue. The rod can be left in the rod holder when retrieving a fish and the reel put on autopilot. At any stage, the angler can take over and use the reel manually as if it was an overhead reel.
- Caring for your fishing reel
- Understanding what reel size is best suited to your fishing rod ensures you have a well-balanced outfit which feels good when holding, casting, retrieving, or fighting a fish.
- To ensure the longevity of your reel, make sure you give it a good clean after every saltwater, brackish water or dirty freshwater fishing trip. The easiest way to clean a reel is to give it a gentle rinse with fresh water. Every now and then it pays to remove the spool and handle and give any moving parts a little oil. A little bit of TLC can go a long way to extending a reel's life.
Artificial baits have come a long way in the last few decades. Many of these lures are so well engineered that fish can’t tell the difference at all. Below are the most common types or artificial that you will come across:
Spinners – these are small-medium sized lures. They some in a variety of different colors and will create a shine when the sunlight reflects off them. Spinners are easy to use- you simply cast and retrieve them slow to make the blade spin. These lures have several different variations but they all produce the same overall effect. They mimic a minnow and the shine and flutter of the blade helps get the fish’s attention. These are great lures to use in shallow waters and will usually produce small to mid-sized fish.
Plastics- there are plastic baits of literally everything out there: minnows, worms, frogs, mice, crayfish and many more. Their purpose is to replicate whatever it is they are moulded after. Some plastics will be dipped in scents to help make them seem more realistic. Plastics are cheap and effective in many scenarios. They can be added to a jig to adjust weight and depth. Fish of all sizes can be landed on plastics.
Spoons- these lures are shaped like spoons hence the name. They come in many different sizes and can be used for small to very large fish. They are usually silver on one side and painted on the other. Different colors work better in different environments and will produce different types of fish so keep that in mind. Spoons are typically not too expensive and heavier spoons work great in deep waters. Simply cast these things out and reel in while jigging at the same time. They will mimic an injured minnow swimming in the water.
Crankbaits and Plugs- these are the holy grail of artificial lures. Crankbaits and plugs represent minnows and fish. They have flat fronts or plastic lips that allow them to dive under the water to achieve your desired depth. The bigger the lip the deeper they go. These lures are awesome because they can float on the surface of the water over rock beds and weeds or you can use one that travels 20+ feet deep. They have a nice wobble to them making them look very lifelike. Some are jointed so that gives them even more of a wobble and replicates an injured fish. They come in small sizes which are good for smaller fish species and large sizes which are for targeting larger species. They literally come in every color and shape imaginable. The only downfall is that these lures are very expensive (around 10$ a piece). Crankbaits and plugs can be casted and retrieved or trolled at low speeds.
Flies- fly fishing is a whole new world of fishing. There are flies for every water type and situation imaginable. They are relatively inexpensive and work great in areas where the fish emerge to the surface. A fly rod setup in necessary to use these lures.
Live baits are great and have been used for centuries. When using live bait fish tend to strike harder and will often come back if they miss. The downfall to live bait is the time/money required to obtain it, the short life of it, and that they are only good for a single use. Below are the most commonly used live baits:
Worms- pretty cheap to get a hold of and work really well for most freshwater species. Both large and small fish will go after worms. You can use a piece of a night crawler or the entire worm depending on what you are targeting. The downfall to worms is that they fall off the hook easily. If the fish nibble or the current is strong be prepared to go through a lot of worms.
Leeches- a good alternative to worms in situations when the water is rough or the fish keep nibbling off the worm. Leeches are more durable than worms but tend to draw less strikes.
Minnows- probably the most commonly used live bait. Minnows are pretty much good for any fish. Minnows range in shape and size and can be purchased or caught using a minnow trap. Minnows are great all year round as well and can be used for ice fishing.
Crickets- not commonly used, but tend to work well for certain species. Bass tend to go crazy for crickets along with several crappie and pan fish species.
Crayfish- tend to work well for bass. Difficult to obtain and hard to hook making their use limited.
Wax worms- great for species will small mouths such as white fish. These typically don’t work well for larger fish and are not routinely used.