The best rod holder is your hands. After all, this is why we have opposable thumbs. Nothing can beat hands for continual monitoring of fish activity and reaction time. But there are times when you just have to put the rod down.
Perhaps this is due to long periods of inactivity like when covering a great amount of water in a boat like when trolling for walleye, salmon, or tuna. When fishing with friends for mahi-mahi off the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, the captain’s kids would reel in fish with the rod still secured in the boat rod holders. When it was my turn, I lifted the rod out of the holder to fight the fish, and instantly was labeled, “Hollywood.”
Another reason to put a rod in a holder might be that you are fishing in murky water conditions and/or for a species that relies more on scent than sight to find the lure/bait like carp or catfish.
Some states allow more than one pole. Oklahoma, for example, allows seven poles per angler. That’s a lot of poles to hold.
Or maybe you just need to get your hands warm.
Thus, anglers have to find a method to secure rods while awaiting a hit. For shore anglers, it is tough to beat the old forked stick. It is readily available, crafted from fallen branches or that willow branch that you hooked anyway. Some stores even sell plastic glow-in-the-dark versions of the forked stick.
One veteran angler in Michigan, Steve Hanson, frequently fishes for catfish. Part of his gear for a fishing trip is a 5-gallon bucket loaded with several 2-foot sections of PVC pipe and a mallet, which he uses to drive in the pipe along a sandy or muddy bank. For less PVC-friendly shorelines, there are several metal stake forms.
Boat rod holders may be constructed from plastic or stainless steel, secured with clamps and brackets. Tyler Walker of fishing web site, Land is the Limit, uses this nifty PVC set up on a boat when fishing for flathead catfish:
Many years ago, my grandmother gave me a “Fast Draw” belt rod “holster” made out of cowhide. I always remember this nifty item too late, as I struggle to retie a lure while standing in a quiet stream pool, rod tucked under my arm or chin.
A rod holder keeps the line steady, careful not to alert spooky fish of an angler at the other end of the line. It maintains the rod at a high angle for easily detecting bites and lets you adjust tension and drag according to weight, bait, and current.
Unless all hooks are out of the water, you need to be ready for a bite. Lay the rod down for a second to grab a sandwich instead of placing it into the cooler rod holder, and it just may go skiing across the lake…
Or so I hear.