Fishing rod

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A fishing rod, or a fishing pole, is a tool used to catch fish. A "fishing pole" is a simple pole or stick for suspending a line (normally fastened to the tip), with a hooked fishing lure or bait. They are most commonly made of fiberglass, carbon fiber or, classically, bamboo, and are the only fishing levers properly referred to as "poles." In contrast, "fishing rod" refers to a more sophisticated casting tool fitted with line guides and a reel for line stowage. Fishing rods vary in action as well as length, and can be found in sizes between 24 inches and 20 feet.

While fishing reels are made by reel manufacturers and anglers normally cannot have a custom made reel, fishing rods can be custom made. Anglers can build their own rods or ask a rod builder to make a rod according to angler's specifications and tastes. Fishing with a one of a kind, unique, personalized fishing rod greatly enhances the excitement and joy of fishing.

History of fishing rods and rod design

Judging by stone inscriptions, fishing rods go back to ancient Egypt, China, Greece, Rome, and medieval England, where they were called "angles" (hence the term "angling" as a synonym for fishing). Prior to widespread availability of synthetic materials, such as fiberglass and graphite composites, fishing rods were typically made from split Tonkin bamboo, Calcutta reed, or ash wood, as it was necessary that they be made light, tough, and pliable. The butts were frequently made of maple, with bored bottom; this butt outlasted several tops. Handles and grips were generally of cork, wood, or wrapped cane. Guides were made of simple wire loops or, later, loops with ring-shaped agate inserts for better wear. Even today, Tonkin split-bamboo rods are still popular in fly fishing.

Rods for travelers were made with nickel-silver metal joints, or ferrules, that could be inserted into one another forming the rod. Some of them were made to be used as a walking cane until needed for sport. Since the 1980s, with the advent of flexible, yet stiff graphite ferrules, travel rod technology has greatly advanced, and multi-piece travel rods that can be transported in a suitcase or backpack constitute a large share of the market.

Modern rod design

In theory, an ideal rod should gradually taper from butt to tip, be tight in all its joints, and have a smooth, progressive taper, without "dead spots." Modern design and fabrication techniques, along with advanced materials such as graphite and boron composites have allowed rod makers to tailor both the shape and action of fishing rods for greater casting distance, accuracy, and fish-fighting qualities. Today, fishing rods are identified by their weight (meaning the weight of line or lure required to flex a fully-loaded rod) and action (describing the location of the maximum flex along the length of the rod).

Modern fishing rods retain cork as a common material for grips. Cork is light, durable, keeps warm and tends to transmit rod vibrations better than synthetic materials, although EVA foam is also used. Reel seats are often of graphite-reinforced plastic, aluminum, or wood. Guides are available in steel and titanium with a wide variety of high-tech metal alloy inserts replacing the classic agate inserts of earlier rods.

Rod specifications

There are several specifications manufacturers use to delineate rod uses. These include power, action, line weight, lure weight, and number of pieces.


Also known as "power value" or "rod weight." Rods may be classified as Ultra-Light, Light, Medium-Light, Medium, Medium-Heavy, Heavy, Ultra-Heavy, or other similar combinations. Power is often an indicator of what types of fishing, species of fish, or size of fish a particular pole may be best used for. Ultra-light rods are suitable for catching small bait fish and also panfish, or situations where rod responsiveness is critical. Ultra-Heavy rods are used in deep sea fishing, surf fishing, or for heavy fish by weight. While the use of designating a rod's power is widespread, there is no fixed standard. Application of a particular power tag by a manufacturer is subjective. Any fish can be caught with any rod, but catching panfish on a heavy rod offers no sport whatsoever, and successfully landing a large fish on an ultralight rod requires supreme rod handling skills at best, and more frequently ends in broken tackle and a lost fish. Rods are best suited to the type of fishing they are intended for.


"Action" refers to the responsiveness of the rod to bending force (bending curve), and the speed with which the rod returns to its neutral position. An action may be slow, medium, fast, or a combination (for example, medium-fast.) Fast Action rods flex most in the tip section. Slow rods flex more towards the butt of the rod.

The construction material and construction method of a rod affects its action. Action, however, is also often a subjective description of a manufacturer; some manufacturers list the power value of the rod as its action. A "medium" action bamboo rod may have a faster action than a "fast" fiberglass rod. Action is also subjectively used by anglers, as an angler might compare a given rod as "faster" or "slower" than a different rod.

Line weight

A rod is usually also classified by the optimal weight of fishing line or in the case of fly rods, fly line the rod should handle. Fishing line weight is described in pounds of tensile force before the line parts. Line weight for a rod is expressed as a range that the rod is designed to support. Fly rod weights are typically expressed as a number from 1 to 12, written as "N"wt (for example, 6wt.) and each weight represents a standard weight in grains for the first 30 feet of the fly line established by the American Fishing Tackle Manufacturing Association. For example, the first 30' of a 6wt fly line should weigh between 152-168 grains, with the optimal weight being 160 grains. In casting and spinning rods, designations such as "8-15 lb. line" are typical.

A rod's action and power may change when line weight is greater or lesser than the rod's specified range. When the line weight used greatly exceeds a rod's specifications a rod may break before the line parts. When the line weight is significantly less than the rod's recommended range the line may part prematurely, as the rod cannot fully flex to accommodate the pull of a given weight fish. In fly rods, exceeding weight ratings may warp the blank or have casting difficulties when rods are improperly loaded.

Lure weight

A rod may also be described by the weight of lure or hook that the rod is designed to support. Lure weight is usually expressed in ounces or grams.

Number of pieces

Rods that are one piece from butt to tip are considered to have the most natural "feel," and are preferred by many, though the difficulty in transporting them safely becomes an increasing problem with increasing rod length. Two-piece rods, joined by a ferrule, are very common, and if well engineered (especially with tubular glass or carbon fiber rods), sacrifice very little in the way of natural feel.

Types of fishing rods

A fiberglass spinning rod and reel circa 1997.

Fishing rods varies in size, type, material, and a type of fishing. The following is a basic conventional classification but there are overlaps among them.

Spinning rods

Spinning rods are made from graphite or fiberglass with a cork or PVC foam handle, and tend to be between 5 and 8.5 feet (1.5-2.6 m) in length. Typically, spinning rods have anywhere from 5-8 large-diameter guides arranged along the underside of the rod to help control the line. The eyes decrease in size from the handle to the tip, with the one nearest the handle usually much larger than the rest to allow less friction as the coiled line comes off the reel, and to gather the very large loops of line that come off the spinning reel's spool. Unlike bait casting and spin casting reels, the spinning reel hangs beneath the rod rather than sitting on top, and is held in place with a sliding or locking reel seat. The fisher's second and third fingers straddle the "leg" of the reel where it is attached to the reel seat on the rod, and the weight of the reel hangs beneath the rod, which makes for a comfortable way to fish for extended periods. This also allows the rod to be held in the fisherman's dominant hand (the handle on all spinning reels is reversible) which greatly increases control and nuance applied to the rod itself. Spinning rods and reels are widely used in fishing for popular North American sport fish including bass, trout, pike, and walleye. Popular targets for spinning in the UK and European continent are pike, perch, eel, and zander. Longer spinning rods with elongated grip handles for two-handing casting are frequently employed for saltwater or steelhead and salmon fishing. Spinning rods are also widely used for trolling and still fishing with live bait.

Bait casting and spin casting rods

Bait casing rods or conventional rods or boat rods are rods designed to hold bait casting or conventional reels. The material, construction, and length are the same as spinning rods except they use smaller diameter guides than spinning rods. The line from the bait casing reel goes straight through the eyes, so these rods do not need large eyes unlike spinning rods.

Spin casting rods are rods designed to hold a spin casting reel, which are normally mounted above the handle. Spin casting rods also have small eyes and a forefinger grip trigger. They are very similar to bait casting rods, to the point where either type of reel may be used on a particular rod. While rods were at one time offered as specific "spin casting" or "bait casting" rods, this has become uncommon, as the rod design is suited to either fishing style, and today they are generally called simply "casting rods," and are usually offered with no distinction as to which style they are best suited for in use.

Fly rods

Fly fishing rods are, thin, flexible fishing rods designed to cast an artificial fly, usually consisting of a hook tied with fur, feathers, foam, or other lightweight material. More modern flies are also tied with synthetic materials. Originally made of yew, green hart, and later split bamboo (Tonkin cane), most modern fly rods are constructed from man-made composite materials, including fiberglass, carbon/graphite, or graphite/boron composites. Split bamboo rods are generally considered the most beautiful, the most "classic," and are also generally the most fragile of the styles, and they require a great deal of care to last well. Instead of a weighted lure, a fly rod uses the weight of the fly line for casting, and lightweight rods are capable of casting the very smallest and lightest fly. Typically, a monofilament segment called a "leader" is tied to the fly line on one end and the fly on the other.

Each rod is sized to the fish being sought, the wind and water conditions and also to a particular weight of line: Larger and heavier line sizes will cast heavier, larger flies. Fly rods come in a wide variety of line sizes, from size #000 to #0 rods for the smallest freshwater trout and pan fish up to and including #16 rods for large saltwater game fish. Fly rods tend to have a single, large-diameter line guide (called a stripping guide), with a number of smaller looped guides (aka snake guides) spaced along the rod to help control the movement of the relatively thick fly line. To prevent interference with casting movements, most fly rods usually have little or no butt section (handle) extending below the fishing reel. However, the spey rod, a fly rod with an elongated rear handle, is often used for fishing either large rivers for salmon and steelhead or saltwater surf casting, using a two-handed casting technique.

Fly rods are, in modern manufacture, almost always built out of carbon graphite. The graphite fibers are laid down in increasingly sophisticated patterns to keep the rod from flattening when stressed (usually referred to as hoop strength). The rod tapers from one end to the other and the degree of taper determines how much of the rod flexes when stressed. The larger amount of the rod that flexes the "slower" the rod. Slower rods are easier to cast, create lighter presentations but create a wider loop on the forward cast that reduces casting distance and is subject to the effects of wind. Furthermore, the process of wrapping graphite fiber sheets to build a rod creates imperfections that result in rod twist during casting. Rod twist is minimized by orienting the rod guides along the side of the rod with the most "give." This is done by flexing the rod and feeling for the point of most give or by using computerized rod testing.

Sea rods

Sea rods are designed for catching large fish from the ocean. They are long (around 4 meters on average), extremely thick, and feature huge and heavy tips, eyes, and handles. The most common type of sea rods are for beach casting. Others are for use with a boat. These are the largest of sea rods. There are also specialized groups of sea rods, including eel rods, shark rods, and marlin rods. These rods are for use with very heavy equipment.

Ultra-light rods

These rods are used to fish for smaller species, they provide more sport with larger fish, or to enable fishing with lighter line and smaller lures. Though the term is commonly used to refer to spinning or spin-cast rods and tackle, fly rods in smaller line weights (size #0-3) have also long been utilized for ultra-light fishing, as well as to protect the thin-diameter, lightweight end section of leader, or tippet, used in this type of angling.

Ultra-light spinning and casting rods are generally shorter (4-5.5 feet is common) lighter, and more limber than normal rods. Tip actions vary from slow to fast, depending upon intended use. These rods usually carry 1 to 6 pound (4.5 to 27 N) test fishing line. Some ultra-light rods are capable of casting lures as light as 1/64th of an ounce-typically small spinners, wet flies, crappie jigs, tubes, or bait such as trout worms. Originally produced to bring more excitement to the sport, ultra-light spin fishing is now widely used for crappie, trout, bass, bluegill, and other types of panfish.

Ice fishing rods

These are typically very short spinning rods, varying between 24 and 36 inches in length, used to fish through holes in the cover ice of frozen lakes, rivers, and ponds.

Surf rods

Surf casting rods resemble over-sized spinning or bait casting rods with long grip handles intended for two-handed casting techniques. Generally between 10 to 14 feet (3-4 m) in length, surf casting rods need to be longer in order for the user cast the lure or bait beyond the breaking surf where fish tend to congregate, and sturdy enough to cast heavy weighted lures or bait needed to hold the bottom in rough water. They are almost always used in shore fishing (sea fishing from the shoreline) from the beach, rocks or other shore feature. Some surfcasters use powerful rods to cast up to six ounces or more of lead weight, artificial lures, and/or bait hundreds of feet.

Trolling rods

Trolling is a fishing method of casting the lure or bait to the side of, or behind, a moving boat, and letting the motion of the boat pull the bait through the water. In theory, for light and medium freshwater gamefishing, any casting or spinning rod (with the possible exception of ultralight rods) can be used for trolling. In the last 30 years, most manufacturers have developed a complete line of generally long, heavily built rods sold as "Trolling Rods," and aimed heavily at ocean anglers and some fresh water fishermen such as Great Lakes salmon and steelhead fishermen.

A rod effective for trolling should have relatively fast action, as a very "whippy" slow action rod is extremely frustrating to troll with, and a fast action (fairly stiff) rod is generally much easier to work with when fishing by this method. Perhaps the extreme in this philosophy was reached during the 1940s and early 1950s, when the now-defunct True Temper corporation—a maker of garden tools—marketed a line of trolling rods of 4.5 to 5 foot length made of tempered steel which was square in cross section. They acted as excellent trolling rods, though the action was much too stiff for sportsmanlike playing of fish once hooked. For most inland lake and stream fishing, a good casting or spinning rod is perfectly adequate for trolling.

Telescopic rods

Telescopic fishing rods are designed to collapse down to a short distance and open to a long rod. 20 or even 30 foot rods can close to as little as a foot and a half. This makes the rods very easy to transport to remote areas or travel on buses, compact cars, or public buses and subways.

Telescopic fishing rods are made from the same materials as conventional one or two piece rods. Graphite and fiberglass or composites of these materials are designed to slip into each other so that they open and close. The eyes are generally but not always a special design to aid in making the end of each section stronger. Various grade eyes available in conventional rods are also available in telescopic fishing rods.

Care for telescopic fishing rods is much the same as other rods. The only difference being that one should not open the telescopic rod in manner that whips a closed rod into the open position rapidly. Whipping or flinging a telescopic fishing rod open may and likely will cause it to be difficult to close. When closing the rods make a slight twisting motion while pushing the sections together. Often the rods come with tip covers to protect the tip and guides.

Surf-telescopic rods are also very popular rods. Carrying around a 12 or 14 foot fishing rod, even in 2 pieces, is cumbersome. The shorter the sections the shorter they close, the more eyes they have, and the better the power curve is in them. More eyes means better weight and stress distribution throughout the parabolic arc. This translates to further casting, stronger fish fighting abilities, and less breaking of the rod.

Rod building

Rod building is the art of constructing a fishing rod to match the performance desires of the individual angler. Many rod builders also adorn their own hand constructed rods with unique decorative thread wrappings and other distinguishing characteristics. Construction of a rod starts with the rod blank. The blank is a graphite or fiberglass pole that forms the core of the rod. Rod blanks are purchased from any one of a number of suppliers. Selection of the appropriate rod blank consists of choosing the weight, length, number of sections and action.

See also

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bates, Joseph D. Fishing; An Encyclopedic Guide to Tackle and Tactics for Fresh and Salt Water. New York: Outdoor Life, 1973. ISBN 9780876901090.
  • Cordes, Ron, and Don Zahner. Fly Fisherman's Complete Guide to Fishing with the Fly Rod. New York: Ziff-Davis Pub. Co, 1978. ISBN 9780871650139.
  • Lewers, Dick. How to Build a Fishing Rod. Sydney: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1980. ISBN 9780589502423.
  • Lewers, Dick. Understanding Fishing Tackle. Sydney: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1972. ISBN 9780589071110.
  • Wessman, Bo. Complete Guide to Fishing: Building Your own Rod. Broomall, PA: Mason Crest Publishers, 2004. ISBN 9781590845509.


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