In another article I recently wrote on types of fishing reels, I discussed the complexity of choosing the right reel. In this article on types of fishing rods, the variations of all the different rods are far more confusing than that of reels!
But don’t worry; I will go through all your options, what each is suited for, and when you should use which one.
By the end of this article, you will know every type of rod available and be able to decide when the right time to use each of them is.
What Are The 13 Main Types Of Fishing Rods?
Here are the main types of rods fishermen use:
Telescopic Fishing Rods
Ice Fishing Rods
Surf Casting Rods
One key thing to get right is using the right fishing rod or pole for the right purpose, which can depend on the species of fish you are targetting, where you are fishing, how you are fishing, your budget, and your skill level.
Spin-cast rods, also known as casting rods, are the most basic and usually the most affordable fishing rods you can find on the market. These fishing rods are made for kids and true beginners who have never cast or perhaps seen a fishing rod in their life.
Spin-cast rods look a bit like spinning rods, except they pair with a spin-cast reel on the top side of the rod with the eyes facing upwards. The push-button casting system makes them so easy to use for novices.
A new angler can use their thumb to press the button on the bottom of the reel to release the line when they want to cast. This method also evades tangles and lets the angler think about their casting technique without worrying about line management too much.
Spin-cast rods tend only to come in smaller sizes and are therefore suited to smaller fish like bass, bluegill, crappie, trout, etc.
When To Use A Spin-Cast Rod
Spin-cast rods are great for smaller species and when kids or beginners are learning how to fish. They are made in smaller sizes to suit the smaller fish and are incredibly simple.
Easy to cast with
Good casting accuracy
Limited fish sizes you can target
Internal tangles are a nightmare
Spinning rods are the most common fishing rods on the planet and one of the most versatile. You can catch every fish on earth, from a small bluegill or roach to a black marlin with a spinning rod.
What makes a spinning rod different from other rods is that it is used with a spinning reel that fits on the underside of the rod. This makes casting your lure or baits incredibly easy, as you can use both hands to create a lot of power, and the line will flow off the reel mid-cast without any management.
Spinning rods come in a huge rangeof sizes from 4lb to 80lb ratings and above, are super simple to use, and are great for beginner anglers and pros alike.
You can use them for bottom fishing with bait, popping, trolling, casting, and retrieving jerk baits, spinners, and more. Their versatility is truly endless!
When To Use A Spinning Rod
You can use a spinning rod in almost every fishing situation; just make sure you match the size and strength of the rod to the size of the species you intend to catch.
Simple to use
Come in a huge range of sizes
You can catch all species with them
It doesn’t tangle much
Great for beginners
Telescopic Fishing Rods
Telescopic fishing rods are essentially spinning rods but built in a telescoping fashion. This means that instead of the rod coming in, say, two, three, or four separate pieces that you have to put together, it comes with one section inside the next.
This makes telescopic rods incredibly portable as they collapse into themselves and thus are super compact when stored. Setting them up is also very easy, as you simply pull out each section one at a time.
Once set up, telescopic rods are essentially spinning rods, but they are usually made in small to medium weights and are, therefore, best for small to medium-sized species.
They are a great rod of choice for backpacking trips, hiking, and traveling, but they can also be quite annoying to fish with. The sections can collapse while you are fishing, and they don’t deliver the same casting performance as a regular spinning rod.
When To Use A Telescopic Rod
The only time to use a telescopic rod is when the need for portability outweighs everything else. Telescopic rods are great to use when hiking or camping, and they are easy to travel with. When packed away, the short length makes storing them in your car easy, just in case you go past somewhere asking for a cast.
Great for trips
Easy to use
Not the best casting performance
Can collapse whilst using
Only for smaller to medium size fish
Baitcasting rods are a mix between a spinning rod and a spin-cast rod. They have the versatility, power, and size range of spinning rods, but the reel and rod eyes sit on the top of the rod, just like on a spin-casting rod.
Pro anglers tend to use baitcasting rods as they are the next step up from a spinning rod. This has nothing to do with the rod; the reel is hard to get your head around, as it requires practice and countless tangles until you master it.
Once anglers have mastered baitcasting, their casting distance and accuracy go through the roof, allowing them better access to a larger fishing area.
Therefore, baitcasting rods are best used when casting accuracy and distance are required to succeed. Imagine putting a crankbait into deep cover within inches of mangroves, for example – dedicated smallmouth and largemouth bass fishermen will only use baitcasters.
When To Use A Baitcasting Rod
You should only use a baitcasting rod when you have mastered a spinning rod and are looking for the next step. They can be used for various fishing scenarios, such as lure fishing, saltwater surf fishing, and trolling on a boat. They are suited for use when you need good casting accuracy and need to fish at longer distances.
Great casting distance
Awesome casting accuracy
Hard to dial in
Reel backlashes are common for beginners
Ultra-light rods are usually spinning rods but can technically be any fishing rod. To qualify in this category of fishing rods, the rod has to be super light, hence the name.
Ultra-light rods are literally designed to make catching very small fish species a ton of fun and are made to work with line weights around the 2lb – 5lb mark. Think of catching crappies, bluegill, and trout around one pound in weight, and you have the intended fish size for ultra-light rods.
Some professional anglers also enjoy the challenge of catching big fish like 5lb largemouth bass on ultralight gear, as it takes the skill level up a notch.
Ultra-light rods do not offer much casting distance as everything is too light, but they are incredibly accurate and subtle, making them great for spooky fish.
When To Use Ultra-Light Rods
Ultra-light rods are there to make catching smaller species a lot of fun. They are also great when casting accuracy and subtlety is more important than casting distances.
Make small fish seem big
Loads of fun
Light, small, portable
Easy to use
Make big fish very challenging (also a pro)
Not great for casting distances
Can snap easily
Fly rods are specifically made for fly fishing and have a very different build from all the other rods featured in the article. Fly rods are usually much longer, ranging from 8 to 14 feet, and are built to be used with fly reels and fly lines only.
The fly line is weighted and, when cast with a fly rod, which loads the rod with energy to help a fly angler achieve long casting distances of up to and even over 90 feet.
You can find a fly rod in every size, from a 1 weight, which is designed for small fish, up to 3-5 weights, which are made for trout and similar-sized fish, all the way up to a 14 weight, which is designed to catch saltwater monsters like marlin and bluefin tuna.
When To Use A Fly Rod
Considering that you can catch any species on the planet with a fly rod, you can use them any time you like, but you do have to want to be fly fishing over everything else. Fly fishing is the hardest way to catch a fish, so you have got to be sure about fly fishing if you want to use a fly rod.
Casting is a delight
A great way to catch fish
It is not easy
The wind can make it very challenging
Long distances casts are very hard
A completely new form of fishing to learn
Ice Fishing Rods
Ice fishing rods are pretty much super short spinning rods that are just 1-2 feet in length, and this is to make fishing directly above an ice hole a lot easier. Since you don’t have to do any casting when ice fishing, as you are literally just dropping the lure or bait into the hole, the rod can be very small.
Can you imagine using a normal-length spinning rod around 7-8 feet long and trying to drop your lure or bait through a tiny ice hole right next to you? It would not be easy and would make ice fishing a lot more difficult.
Since ice fishing rods are so small, they are also great for young kids around 4-6 years old to use and learn to cast with.
When To Use Ice Fishing Rods
Obviously, ice fishing rods should be used for ice fishing, but they are also great for young children to use when they first start general fishing since they are so small and easy to handle.
Made short, making dropping bait in an ice hole easier
Strong and handle fish up to 10 lbs
Fun to catch fish with
Great for young kids
Only for ice fishing
Surf Casting Rods
Surf casting rods, also known as surf fishing rods, are designed for sea fishing from beaches, rocks, or piers when you need to get your bait past the breaking waves in the hope of catching a big saltwater fish.
Surf fishing rods are, therefore, super thick and strong enough to handle larger species like sharks and sailfish. They are very long rods, too, so you can cast longer distances and get the bait behind the breaking waves where the best chance of catching fish is.
Surf fishing rods can be used with either a baitcaster reel or a large 6000 size spinning reel. They have longer handles for more leverage when distance casting and can be more than 15 feet long.
When To Use Surf Casting Rods
Surf casting rods should be used when fishing from the beach, rocks, or pier and casting large baits long distances to reach some big fish.
Long casting distances
Strong for big fish
Work well with big baits
Big and heavy
Hard to use
Trolling rods are shorter than most (around 8 feet long is best) and paired with a trolling reel, and they are used only for trolling, which means pulling lures around typically using a boat.
The most common use of trolling rods is pulling lures around the ocean in search of pelagics like tuna, wahoo, mahi mahi, sailfish, and marlin, but you can also use them in big lakes and rivers.
Since you don’t have to cast while trolling, trolling rods are short, stubby, and often among the strongest fishing rods you can buy. They come in a range of weights from 15 lb class for light line fishing to 130 lb class for landing colossal marlin.
When To Use Trolling Rods
When trolling lures in the ocean, large deep lakes, or wide rivers.
Come in a range of sizes
Made for trolling
Not very versatile
Coarse poles are very different from all the rods we have discussed, as these are actual poles that do not use a reel. They are long carbon fiber poles that can be broken down into sections and come with a bungee on the end to which you tie your leader line.
Coarse poles are mainly used on small lakes and canals for catching species like carp, roach, tench, and more. They are very popular in Europe and are exclusively used with a float or bobber.
The reason coarse poles are so effective is the accuracy they provide, as there is no casting involved, and you can literally place your bait in the exact position you want it to be in.
When fishing for coarse species, one usually baits up an area to attract the fish, and with a pole, you can drop your hooked bait right on the spot.
Coarse poles are extremely popular in the UK and the rest of Europe. They can reach up to 16 meters long, and some can cost over $5,000.
When To Use A Coarse Pole
Coarse poles are great for use on small lakes and canals when going after all types of coarse species.
No casting required
Accurate bait drops
Pen rods, being small telescopic rods, have limited use for fishing. Their main benefit is the ability to take them anywhere with you for some impromptu fishing. They are not strong enough for larger fish and cannot hold a standard-sized fishing reel.
Most serious anglers see them as a gimmick or a toy, they can however be a good stepping stone into the world of angling for children fishing for the first time. They are easy to use and very inexpensive.
When To Use A Pen Rod
Pen rods are suited for small fish due to their size and strength. Whilst being extremely portable, they are not very versatile.
Easy to travel with
For small fish only
Travel rods are not an exclusive type of fishing rod but are a subset of some of the other rods on my list. Travel rods have a place in fishing due to their ease of carrying on a plane, bicycle, or motorbike.
You can buy travel rods for fly fishing, spinning, and saltwater use. Most will break down into shorter 2, 3, or 4 pieces and can be carried around in a short rod holdall of around 3 feet, which can even fit inside your backpack for ease of getting around.
Most anglers (even experienced ones) have not heard of bolo rods, let alone used one! These rods are almost exclusively used in Europe fishing on rivers or even in the sea. They are unique due to their long length, often reaching up to 30 feet.
Bolo fishing is almost always done standing up; the purpose of the long rod is to ensure the line is not lying on the water’s surface. This allows the angler to naturally present, keep the bait in a specific spot, and not allow it to drift down the river or the sea current.
It’s a technique that is not easy to accomplish but is a proven tactic when done correctly.
Thanks very much for reading my article. I hope you found it useful and now understand the differences between all fishing rods and poles.
Spinning rods are the most versatile rods that can double up for multiple uses. Unless you plan to specialize in a particular form of fishing, such as fly fishing or surf casting, your first choice should be a spinning rod.
Steve is a seasoned angler whose lifelong passion for fishing has not only shaped his personal life but also laid the foundation for Positive Fishing—a community where he and his team of dedicated fishing enthusiasts share their love for the sport. With an impressive repertoire of skills honed over five decades, Steve has mastered both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Steve holds a special place in his heart for the mighty Carp and the elusive Tench