An Introductory Guide to Fishing Poles and Rods

By Ken Schultz

Mar 24, 2022

Our guide to fishing poles and rods itemizes the features and benefits of the six major product categories for freshwater and saltwater fishing

A fishing rod, or pole, has multiple jobs: cast, detect a strike or bite, set the hook, and fight/land fish. No single fishing rod provides ¬top perform¬ance for all of these jobs in all types of sportfishing. Many are greatly dissimilar. This is why there are many different types of fishing poles and there is no best type of fishing pole or fishing rod.

While the terms “fishing rod” and “fishing pole” are commonly used interchangeably in the angling world, the following guide to fishing poles and fishing rods is categorical, focusing on types rather than on specific uses. This guide to fishing poles and rods also briefly itemizes some of the key attributes of each category.


  • Guides mount over the axis of the rod and are placed on top of it, with the reel sitting on top of the handle rather than under it - an arrangement especially well suited to fighting and controlling a fish.
  • Guide rings are smaller than on most other tackle because they don’t have to accommodate large spirals of line coming from the reel when casting, the line is fairly close to the rod blank when it leaves the reel, and the line on baitcasting reels isn’t prone to twisting and coiling.
  • Reels mount close to the rod handle in the reel seat, which makes it fairly comfortable to palm the reel and rod. Rod handles are straight or with a pistol-grip design, the latter usually found on shorter models.

Big Game

  • Used with lever drag reels and also called offshore rods, tuna rods, billfish rods, and deep sea rods. There is some overlap in this category with conventional rods used with heavy-duty star drag reels.
  • Both are generally short, stiff, heavy-action products that are more solidly built than other rod types. They can put a lot of pressure on a fish for quicker and easier landing, especially for standup fish fighting.
  • Modern big game rods have long, beefy handles and heavy-duty reel seats that securely accommodate lever drag reels, and a cushioned foregrip large enough for two-handed use when fighting and lifting big fish.
  • Heavy-duty roller guides are used on most big game rods and, like reels, mount atop the rod, since these rods are mainly used for fish fighting (as opposed to casting, retrieving, or detecting strikes)


  • These rods are used with predominantly non-levelwind revolving spool reels and may be called ocean rods, deep sea rods, boat rods, bay rods, pier rods, trolling rods, bottom fishing rods, live bait rods, wire line rods, saltwater rods, downrigger rods, and so forth.
  • All are generally stiff, heavy-action products, with longer models generally used in pier and bridge fishing and downrigger trolling, and shorter models in such boat work as casting, jigging, and bottom fishing.
  • They are generally stout with long, thick, two-handed handles that securely accommodate either level- or free-winding conventional reels, primarily the latter. Virtually all models have a long cushioned foregrip large enough for two-handed use. The butt of many handles has a gimbal for securing it in a gimbaled rod holder or belt.
  • Heavy-duty double-foot rod guides are mounted on top of the rod like the reel. Some feature a full complement of roller guides or tip and butt-end (stripper) roller guides, as there is little casting done with most such rods.


  • Unlike other rod types, a fly rod stores and transfers energy necessary to cast the heavy fly line; its length, taper, and action are specifically designed for this activity, meaning that other types of rods cannot properly cast a fly line and, conversely, a fly rod and fly line cannot properly cast a heavy lure or weighted bait.
  • Reels mount under the axis of a fly rod so the reel sits under the handle instead of on top of it; this is in part because they are both theoretically geared more to casting than to fish fighting. The reel seat is positioned at the very end of the rod handle below the grip.
  • Most fly rod guides are different from those of other rods, with the exception of the lowest guide, called the stripping guide, which is a low-friction round ring model. There may be two or three round guides on some fly rods, and, they gather the outflowing line and funnel it down to run along the rod. The remaining guides of a fly rod are called snake guides; these light wire guides are nearly friction-free, and aid the passage of the thick fly line during casting and retrieval.


  • Spincasting rods are similar to those used in baitcasting, with guides mounted atop the rod and guide rings generally small, since lines come straight out of the nose cone of the spincasting reel.
  • They have straight and pistol-grip handles, with the latter especially popular, and most sport a trigger grip on the underside of the rod.
  • They usually aren't as stiff as baitcasting rods, having generally lighter action for use with light lines and lures, and lengths are shorter than most baitcasting and spinning rods.


  • Spinning rod guides mount under the axis of the rod, and the reel sits under the handle rather than on top of it. This also occurs with flycasting tackle.
  • Guide rings are larger than with other tackle, to accommodate the large spirals of line that come off the spinning reel spool when casting and to minimize the affects of coiled or possibly twisted line rapidly funneling through the guides.
  • Guides extend a greater distance from the rod shaft than do the guides of other types of rods. This helps reduce line slap, which is the tendency of line that is cast from a spinning reel to strike the rod shaft, thereby increasing friction and reducing casting distance.
  • Handles are straight, with fixed or adjustable (ring) reel seats, and both one- and multi-piece models are common. Handle length and overall rod length vary considerably, depending on use.
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar, and his writing has appeared on various websites for more than two decades. His author website is