2021 SPINNING ROD BUYING GUIDE

SPRING 2021

How Baitstick Goes About It

In this fishing rod buying guide Baitstick only recommends spinning rods and fishing gear we’ve actually used. Because it’s simply hard to judge things like the performance of a rod or the feel of a fish on the line unless we’ve gotten real gear in-hand.


When Baitstick looks at recommendations across all products we test, we try to recommend products to you in the same way that we would do to friends and family. So in this fishing rod buying guide we keep it simple and explain exactly why we feel a given way.

The Case for the Spinning Rod

Though it may be hard to believe, some of the oldest fishing rods in the world date back more than 2,000 years. Most likely, rods in stores today may not last that long. Even still, a quality rod is a good investment. And a good spinning rod is more than just another piece of equipment. It can enhance the fishing experience and, barring any unfortunate accidents, it should last for several seasons to come.

 

Buying a new spinning rod does not need to be a complicated process. But given the many options available, it is worth taking the time to know what to look for and to be on the lookout for key differences in spinning rods on the market today. A quality rod does not have to break the bank – in fact many good rods are available for under $100. Still, anglers should keep in mind that a quality rod can last years if cared for properly. And paying a bit more for a higher quality rod isn't a bad idea knowing that it could last for numerous seasons.

Rod Blanks

Buying a rod can be like buying a car.  It’s important to make sure to look at what’s under the hood. Beneath the polished surface of any spinning rod you buy online or in your favorite retail store is the rod blank. Rod blanks are typically made up of graphite, a material that is lightweight, durable, and pliable. It’s also a material that is capable of allowing vibrations to pass from end to end and to give an angler a feel for a fish on the line, providing the sensitivity necessary to present lures properly and to feel strikes. But rods can also be made of other materials, including fiberglass. Though rods can be made of other materials such as fiberglass or even bamboo, graphite blanks have become more commonplace in the modern tackle market. Lightweight, sensitive, and affordable – graphite is hard to beat.

 

With graphite rods, the length of the rod is often made up of carbon fiber strands lined up in a single direction and pressed together with resin material to maximize the strength and bend of the fishing rod (Carbon fiber is a polymer which is a form of graphite). The positioning of the carbon fibers not only helps create the shape of a rod that anglers expect, but it also takes advantage of the properties of the material.

Rod Guides

Beyond thinking about rod blanks, when buying a spinning rod it’s important to look at the other parts of the rod as well, particularly the guides. The size and spacing of guides on a rod provide a basic function of helping channel the power of a cast, as well as help manage the line when bringing in a catch.

 

Though a seemingly simple part of the rod, guides are given a lot of consideration by rod manufacturers. And it's important to evaluate them in an effort to determine the castablilty and durability of the rod for your own fishing needs and style. Look closely at the guides when buying a new rod and know what you are buying. Rod guides come in different sizes, material, design, and color options. 

 

All guides are made up of round metal discs with a hole in the middle for the line to pass through, and they are attached to the rod using small bars called “feet”. Some guides are designed with single or double feet which provide one or more points of attachment to the rod (though lighter in weight, single foot guides tend to bend more readily than double footed guides).

 Rod guides are typically made from either stainless steel or titanium, with titanium considered the more premium material. In either case, the guide also has a ring of separate material attached to the center of the guide hole to help reduce abrasion of the line and to help accelerate the line during a cast. Guide rings can be made from a range of material, including, stainless steel, ceramic, or hard plastic. Silicon carbide (also commonly referred to as SiC) and titanium carbide are considered premium materials for guide ring construction. Without question, rod guides that do not boast some sort of ceramic or synthetic insert don’t perform as well as those that do in terms of casting ease and distance.

The size of the guide rings on a rod also matters. The inside diameter of guide rings is measured in millimeters. Generally, conventional rods have rings in the 6, 8, and 10mm range. Guides are typically attached to the rod in decreasing diameter width of the guide ring hole at the tip of the rod having the narrowest width ring. The progression of the largest to smallest rings enables the energy of a cast to be channeled more effectively all the way to the tip of the rod (where the line is fully loaded and released out with the lure). When spaced and wrapped correctly the correct guide sizes allow the line to function properly without interference from the blank (keeping line straight and not slapping into the rod blank).

    Guides are attached to the rod using thread specifically designed for rod construction and meant to work well with rod building epoxy. The wraps of thread create the base layer that secure each guide to the rod blank. Wraps are often finished with colored threads, inlays, and bands of different sizes, patterns, and colors but these finishes have less structural value and are more decorative. 

     

    The finish of a rod is traditionally high gloss. But rods can also come in matte finishes that provide a different kind of look for an angler on the water. In either case, the finish of the rod has little to do with the actual performance of the rod and is more a matter of personal style preference. Matte finishes are however sometimes more susceptible to scratches and other blemishes from wear and tear.

      Rod Grips

      Other parts of the rod worth analyzing are the grip and butt. Grips are traditionally made from cork, given that cork is a material that is soft in hand, durable over time, and less prone to breaking down from water exposure and rot. Rods grips are made with many other types of materials as well, including EVA, Hypalon, and hard plastic. While rod grips may seem like something to possibly overlook, it’s an important thing to evaluate. A rod grip is, after all, the most direct and consistent point of contact to an angler’s hands while on the water. Pick not just what you think looks good but also something you could hold all day in different kinds of weather and conditions.

      Reel Seat

      Another part of a rod to consider includes the reel seat system. The locking system consists of an adjustable screw lock near the grip that also covers one end of the reel foot. The other end of the reel foot slides into a clip that is fixed to the rod handle


      By screwing the reel locking mechanism tight, the entire reel foot is held in place and prevents the reel from moving or falling off while fishing. A reel seat is considered “downlocking” when the screw moves toward the butt end of the rod. And a reel seat is considered “uplocking” when the screw tightens the reel seat starting at the butt end and moving up the rod towards the tip.

      Hookkeeper

       One often overlooked and underappreciated part of a fishing rod is the hookkeeper. The hookkeeper gives the angler an easy way to store a rod with a lure or hook still attached to the line. With the lure merely hooking to the small loop of metal or plastic attached near the rod handle, the hookkeeper helps keep the rod, line, and lure organized while traveling in the car, sitting around a camp, or lying ready in a boat. Traditionally, hookkeepers are typically placed on the underside of the rod ahead of the rod handle to keep the hook away from hands and fingers placed on the grip section. However, rods can sometimes have the hookkeeper positioned in between the reel seat and the butt of the rod. Some rod manufacturers are increasingly placing hook-keepers in non-traditional locations such as on top of the rod blank or behind the reel seat, both of which have pros and cons. Anglers using stick jackets or rod carriers may prefer hookkeepers that are located behind the reel so that the attached hook and hookkeeper are not first to slide down the jacket or cover when storing the rod.

      Rod Pieces

       Spinning rods come in different shapes that can have a great impact on the way the rod performs. For example, a single piece rod is ideal for smooth transfer of energy and for greatest sensitivity to fish at the end of the line. A single, uncut rod also has the benefit of added strength since there are no sections or potential points of failure from a misaligned section of rod that was improperly assembled by an angler. A big drawback however to a single piece rod is that it can be hard to transport whether in the car and can provide challenges for storing at home depending on its length.

       

      Rods that are manufactured in two sections and that must be put together before using on the water have the convenience of being easier to transport and store. One small potential disadvantage is the fact that there are two sections and there is a potential point of failure if the rod was put together poorly or there was an unusual load placed on the rod. The separation of the rod in two places also creates a place where the rod can lose potential power and sensitivity of vibration. With two sections, the energy in the rod must pass through a point of separation in the assembled rod, even if microscopic, and leave some anglers with potentially less “feeling” for fish on the line.

      Travel rods are rods that come in three, or even four, pieces and require an angler to assemble the different sections before use. The biggest benefit is that the travel rod breaks down into a small size, particularly well suited to travelling by plane and going almost anywhere. The possible drawback with a three or four piece rod is that the greater number of sections to assemble in theory can reduce the power, strength, and sensitivity of the rod. But this is not always the case, and there are good examples on the market of rods with three or more sections that perform well. Check out Baitstick’s recent test results from taking the St. Croix Avid Trek 3-piece rod out on the water.

      Rod Lengths

      Regardless of the number of sections, the length of the rod is an important thing to consider in buying a rod. Spinning rods are sold in different lengths designed specifically for certain types of fishing and species of fish. In general, the longer the rod the more energy the rod can store and release during casting, allowing an angler to launch a lure great distance. The length of the rod can also often affect control and accuracy of casting unless an angler has the skill or experience to adjust for the performance of the rod. Shorter rods can provide more precision and accuracy in casting but then an angler may also struggle with casting distance depending on their ability and experience.

       

      Most anglers, whether a beginner or a more advanced angler, tend to do well with sticks in the 6'6" and 7' range length. And this is the range that most leading rod manufacturers consider the most popular and typically supply to stores and online merchants.


      If one were to pick one rod, a 7’ rod can help provide good casting distance, precision, and accuracy, while also being a rod capable of fishing a range of species in different locations.

      Line Types

      In selecting a rod, anglers need to think about the type of fishing line being used with the rod and reel combination. For instance should an angler go with braid or mono? And then there is also the question of the different kinds of line, including the weight and thickness of line, which all can affect the way a rod performs. Three common types of line that anglers have to choose from are monofilament, fluorocarbon, and braided line, all of which will perform differently on a rod.

       

      Braided line is made from woven fiber material and compared to a similar sized monofilament line can be more than twice as strong per diameter than mono under tension. Believers in braided line also may argue that the line will stretch less which can improve casting distance and sensitivity. Some anglers will also argue that braided line improves casting distance, arguing that it cuts through the air and passes through water more easily due to smaller relative thickness of line. While these performance points may be debatable, the strength of the line is unquestionably more durable than the other options.


      Since braided line is made from fibers, it does not pass light, so some anglers see it as a negative since fish may get spooked seeing it in the water (generally speaking, a fluorocarbon leader at the end of a braided line can help to reduce this risk). 

       

      From novice to expert, many anglers see standard monofilament, or “mono”, as a first choice. Monofilament line is made from spun plastic and tends to be cheaper and easier line to handle and tie knots with, especially for anglers new to the sport. Monofilament also floats more easily which makes it a good choice for surface level fishing. But mono tends to have lower strength with tension on the line so it can be prone to snapping more easily either due to a fish on the line, especially when fishing with heavier lures.

       

      Fluorocarbon line is a different type of spun plastic line that is both strong and that stretches less than monofilament. It provides more abrasion resistance than monofilament. Fluorocarbon tends to sink in the water faster than monofilament, so it is a better line for soft plastics and lures moving farther below the waterline. The line is also transparent and passes light clearly making it difficult for fish to see the material. Fluorocarbon tends to be more more expensive than mono so it is more of an investment for anglers (often 5-6 more times the cost per yard compared to mono)

      Line and Lure Weights

      All line types come in different weights for different types of fishing conditions and target fish species. And rods are rated for the different line weights being used and should be matched to the line accordingly. For most spinning rods, 8- to 10-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon line is a good choice. For comparison the thickness of 8- to 10-pound test mono line (0.011 – 0.013 inches) is a similar diameter as found with 30-40 pound test braided line.

       

      In addition to line weight, rods are also rated for lure weights. The weight of the lure being used with a rod affects the ability of the rod to transfer the energy of a cast. Too heavy or too light a lure will change the way a rod transfers energy through the cast and during the retrieve which can impact casting distance, accuracy and overall sensitivity. A spinning rod rated for 1-2.5 ounce lures is a good range for freshwater bass fishing.

      Spinning Rod Action and Power

      Two additional important considerations in purchasing a spinning rod are “action” and “power.” Action is a rating given to rods to describe the flex of the rod or the point on the rod blank where the focus of the rod bending occurs. A rod rated for “Fast Action” will typically bend in the top third of the rod closest to the end tip. A “Medium Action” or “Moderate Action” rod typically bends beginning in the upper half of the rod through to the end tip. A “Slow Action” rod will typically start bending in the lowest third of the rod or the section of the rod closest to the handle.

      If the action of a rod refers to where the rod tends to bend then the “power" of a rod refers to what weight makes the rod bend. The power rating reflects the stiffness of a rod and its resistance to flexing or bending.  Ratings will differ somewhat by manufacturer and brand but in general power ratings such as “light” can be good for lures in the 1/16 to 1/4 ounce range and good for hook setting with light-biting species (e.g., walleye, trout, panfish).  A “medium” power rating can be good for lures in the 1/4 to 3/4 ounce range and good for spinnerbaits, jigs, and soft plastics for medium fresh and saltwater fish.  A “heavy” power rating can be good for lures in the 1/2 to 1 ounce range and good for heavier jigs and lures, and deep structure fishing.  It is extremely important to match action and power to the type of fishing you plan to be going after.

      Rod Warranties

      Buying fishing gear is an investment for any angler regardless of the budget.  So it’s important to consider the warranty that comes with the gear purchased online or in a retail store. Retailers have return policies if something goes wrong but there is typically a window of a few weeks or even just a few months at best for things to get returned for replacement or refund. Fishing product manufacturers typically offer warranties of their own as well – although they are all not the same. For this fishing rod buying guide, Baitstick tested the St. Croix Avid Trek and the Shimano Zodias. Both of these spinning rods have retail prices of more than $200. The St. Croix Avid Trek has a 15-year transferable warranty and is US made. The new Shimano Zodias is made in China and has a limited 1-year warranty. Fishing equipment takes a beating and a good warranty could have significant value down the road.

      Pulling It All Together

      In this fishing rod buying guide, we've emphasized that the spinning rod is a piece of equipment that is an important part of any angler’s fishing line up regardless of skill level. But don't just take our word for it, give a rod a try. But in buying a spinning rods consider the following:

      • How does the rod look overall? Anything you can tell about the design of the rod blanks themselves or quality of material?
      • How do the guides look overall?  Quality of the guide attachment to the rod?  Anything unique about the design of guides themselves or quality of the material?
      • How does the rod grip look overall? Anything you can tell about the design of the rod grip or quality of material?  Is it something you want to hold in your hand for a day on the water?
      • How does the reel attachment look overall? Anything you can tell about design or quality of material?
      • How does the spinning rod feel and look in terms of overall quality and durability?

        In the end, price may determine as much as anything when buying a new spinning rod.  And a quality spinning rod can be purchased for less than $100. Regardless, buying a spinning rod of any price point can be an investment that should last if the rod is cared for and properly maintained.  Taking the long term view to a spinning rod purchase can help an angler make the right choice and can go a long way towards making an educated purchase that will last for many years to come.  Tight lines!

        Baitstick supports efforts to build the next generation of anglers nationwide, including the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) and The Outdoor Foundation