A Beginners Guide to Fishing Rods

shopping for fishing rods

Choosing a fishing rod can be confusing
Image source: Sergey Ryzhov

There are more types and models of rod than you can count these days, so taking your pick can be rather confusing. Where do you start?

Fishing author Dom Garnett has some sound tips and advice to find the right fishing rod for you.

Which fishing rod is right for me?

Although I now own lots of fishing rods (as my other half will tell you), I can still keenly remember the first I ever bought, and looking at the hundreds on display in silent confusion. The question in my head was one that every bewildered new angler must ask at least once in their lifetime: which fishing rod is right for me? With a little friendly advice, I left with a fibreglass float rod that served me very well, landing roach, tench and other species (although it did creak a bit with hooked carp and would actually whistle in the wind when bent double).

fishing rods guide header

The right rod will give you years of enjoyment if you choose carefully and look after your investment.
Image source: Dom Garnett

Many years and pounds spent later, I would love to tell you that there is a rod that will handle everything. But I would be lying. Granted, some “all-rounders” will do a few jobs adequately, but no rod can do every task and you should pick your first (or your next!) with care. After all, they do very different jobs and picking the wrong one can be like taking a paper cup into a bar room brawl or cracking a nut with the proverbial sledgehammer.

My aim in this guide is to make your fishing rod choice clearer and easier. But perhaps the first tip I can give you is not to dive in.  In this digital age of ours, it is easy to simply look and click, but it’s hard to beat speaking to a real person. Whether you speak to the good folks at Fishtec or your local tackle shop, a good tackle expert will be your best friend when it comes to picking a rod that will suit your style and budget best. However, this guide should give you some handy starting points.

Beginners’ rods and basic outfits

We’ve all seen those diddy little rod and reel starter outfits in bargain shops, with thick line and huge floats. They might look like bargains, but most of these are fairly dreadful, so do yourself a favour and head for a reputable tackle shop. The dedicated fishing retailers don’t sell rubbish and will have much more sensible fishing starter outfits and deals on sale.

If you are new to the sport, you won’t want to spend a fortune or get something very specialised. These days I’m often baffled to see young anglers or newcomers jump straight into very particular, expert fishing gear, such as specimen carp rods. My advice would be to learn the basics first, and go for a better all-round setup. This way, you will not only get a better grasp of the basic skills, but have more fun in the process. So where do we start in our search for the ideal beginner’s’ fishing rod?

Basic Coarse Fishing Rods

River fishing float rod

While shorter rods are fine for getting started on most stillwaters, a longer float rod is the tool for river fishing.
Image source: Dom Garnett

Float Rods
A simple float rod (also known as a match rod) is often the coarse angler’s best starting option.  Don’t go any shorter than ten feet and pick a model that will handle reel lines in the 4-6lbs class. This way you can handle all the common species, from roach and bream to the typical carp you’ll find at day ticket fisheries. The TF Gear Nantec 10ft Float Rod is one of Fishtec’s best selling starter models which will handle most of your basic float fishing needs.

Should your main local venues be rivers, however, a longer rod of at least 12 feet will make more sense, allowing you better reach and control in currents. The buyer is spoiled for choice these days, but the Daiwa Harrier range has 12 and 13 foot options.

If you are not sure whether you want to float fish or use legering tactics, several rods offer interchangeable top sections to allow you to switch. Sometimes these are sold as “all round” or “twin tip” rods.  This way you can float fish, or try casting a bomb or method feeder should the need arise. Just to give one example, TF Gear sell a very useable float rod for under £40.


The TFG Allrounder is a good choice if you’re not sure whether to get a float or feeder rod when starting out.
Image source: Fishtec

Another fantastic option for the beginner is a fishing pole. With no reel to tangle, these are easy to use, trouble free and very effective. You won’t be able to cast far, but with a simple model and a few rigs, you’re in business on the local day ticket pool or canal. These days they can be very affordable too, with starter models often available for well under £100. Go for a ready elasticated model if you are unsure about setting up.

Starter Lure Rods
While lure fishing can be quite a specialised branch of fishing, it is easy to get started. A spinning rod of 9-10 feet is also a tool that will cover several bases. You could use such a rod not only for lures, but also float fishing or even a spot of close range legering at a push. Pound for pound, the nine foot 10-40g spinning rod I bought some twenty years ago is probably the best thirty quid I have ever spent in a tackle shop.

Pike rod

Species such as pike demand a rod with some backbone.
Image source: Dom Garnett

These days, however, the tricky part of lure fishing is that different styles and species require quite varied tackle. If you want to target pike or powerful, rock-hugging sea fish, for instance, that cute, near-weightless little wand won’t cut it. At minimum, a rod in the 10-45g class would be required. Fishtec have several to fit the bill here, such as one of those in the middle of the Sonik SK4XTR range: https://www.fishtec.co.uk/buy.cfm/spin-fishing-rods/sonik-sk4xtr-lure-rods/40/no/115017

For dropshotting and LRF fishing however, very different criteria apply. You’ll want something that gives you better control and “feel” with quite tiny lures, not to mention a rod that gives you maximum sport with a half-pound perch or pollack. This is one area of fishing where I would certainly advise not going for bargain basement, because a rod with a degree of finesse and some quality in the tip is a must. Savage Gear LRF rods are just one example of a sensibly priced option that performs well.

Fly Fishing Rods

If you thought that game fishing tackle cost megabucks, the good news is that the range of sensibly priced kit has never been better. For the majority of those starting out on their fly fishing journey, something like a functional, affordable fly rod in the nine-foot long, six or seven weight category would be the most sensible choice. You can happily target trout on both small stillwaters and larger lakes with this sort of outfit. The Shakespeare Sigma range offer perhaps the best value of the lot.

Fly Rod action

A six or seven weight fly rod is an ideal all-rounder for getting started on stillwaters of all kinds.
Image source: Dom Garnett

A six or seven weight fly rod is an ideal all-rounder for getting started on stillwaters of all kinds.

Should you only have eyes for the river, however, a lighter rod is the answer. A seven or eight foot long weight four weight would be a great shout for small streams, where there isn’t always a lot of space. For bigger rivers and more open venues, a nine or ten foot rod in a four or five weight would be better. Airflo rods such as the Streamtec range fit the bill perfectly while not requiring you to sell a kidney on E-bay to invest in posh tackle.

Sea Fishing Rods

When it comes to tackling up for the sea, the choice of rods is pretty wide for the beginner. My advice would be to see what fishing is available locally to you before you dive in. From personal experience, however, I can vouch for the fact that the easiest and most accessible sea fishing is often from marks such as harbours, piers and breakwaters. These places offer deep water, various species and those all-important bites close in. Once you have a few fish under your belt you may then decide to try beach casting or boat fishing. 

When it comes to fishing rock marks or manmade structures with standard bottom and float rigs, or perhaps a bit of feathering for mackerel, all you need is a rod of 10ft or more that is capable of casting weights in the 2-5oz range. For a real bargain, look no further than Leeda’s current range of sea rods, with the rock and pier model at just £14.99.

Fishing rod terms and jargon explained

Are you still wondering which rod to buy? Or perhaps you’ve been listening to an angling mate and scratched your head at the different terms used to describe the damned things? To finish our quick guide to buying a fishing rod, here are some basic terms and other things to set you off on the right foot:

Butt: The bottom end of the handle, or thick end of the rod, in simple terms.

Handle: Often foam or synthetic material these days. It’s a personal thing as to which you prefer, but many older anglers still go for cork.

Rod tip & tip ring: The thinnest, final few inches of the rod is known as the tip. Sometimes these are brightly coloured, to detect bites when legering for instance. The “tip ring” is the very last rod ring that the line passes through. For the record, it’s also the one that gets worn or broken the most. The good news is that they’re fairly easy to replace.

Keeper ring: A useful feature on many rods, this gives you somewhere to put the hook when you’re not fishing. This can prevent tangles and mishaps.  I would always look for this feature on any lure or fly rod especially, so you can keep your artificial out of harm’s way as you move between swims.

Keeper ring

The Keeper Ring – a handy little feature worth having.
Image source: Dom Garnett

Action: When rod makers talk about the “action” of a rod, they mean how it behaves when casting or bending into a fish. Most rods will fall into two categories.

1. Through action rods have a progressive bend, right the way through. This means they are smooth and forgiving and often the best choice for the beginner.
2. Tip action rods are stiffer in the lower and middle sections and more flexible in the final third or so. This makes them somewhat more sensitive and accurate, but better suited to the more experienced angler.

Casting weight / line rating: Most rods also come with a recommended rating for lines and casting weights. You will get away with a little wriggle room here, but it is always best to have a good overall fit. A very light rod will struggle with heavy weights and larger species, while a beefy rod could easily snap finer lines and wouldn’t give you much fun with smaller fish. There’s a good reason anglers like banging on about “balanced tackle”!

Length and weight: What is the best length for a fishing rod? An angler on a tiny stream and a giant reservoir might give you very different answers! For reasons of sheer practicality, however, very short rods tend to come up, well… short, for want of a better expression. With the exception of light lure and fly fishing, where six to eight foot rods can be just the thing, most “serious” rods tend to be between nine and thirteen feet (3-4.5m). Why? Because these additional feet provide extra reach and control over bankside snags, flows and obstacles, not to mention offering a longer “spring” for casting long distances and picking up more line when you strike into a fish.

The weight of a rod is another quite important characteristic, but this does depend on the style of fishing. A rod left in a rest for most of the day needn’t be feather light, for example, but a lure or fly rod you are likely to have in the hand all day long shouldn’t leave you with arm ache. If in doubt, do try handling for yourself and do match up with a sensible reel for the best balance.

How many sections?

Airflo Journeyman Nantec travel fly rod

The Airflo Journeyman Nantec 7 piece travel fly rod
Image source: Fishtec

Another small but important part in choosing the right rod is to look at the number of pieces or “sections” each comes in. Does this really matter? Well, it’s not life or death, but for practical purposes, rods that come in two or four sections are great for storing “ready to go” (i.e, separated to be stowed away, but still rigged up).  For anyone with longer car boot space, some companies also sell one-piece lure rods that are easy to store and ready to use.

At the other end of the scale, some rods are specifically designed as “travel rods” and come in loads of sections.  For those who need to get rods into travel bags, these are ideal. Many also come in protective tubes that are a godsend against the unfortunate minority of airport staff who seem to treat luggage like they hate it.

In performance terms, multi-section rods are never quite on a par with “normal” rods in fewer parts. That said, they have improved hugely over the past decade or so. The same is true of telescopic rods – although you should expect to pay a little more to get a good one, compared to “normal” models.

Further information

If you’re looking for more specific advice on fishing rods check out our guides on:

How to choose a beachcaster rod
How to choose a fly rod
How to choose a float and feeder rod
How to choose a carp rod
How to choose a fishing pole

For further tips and fishing advice, see our wide range of helpful ‘how to’ fishing posts. You can get advice on everything from picking the right reel to tackling up with a waggler or how to fish on canals.

Dom Garnett is a popular Fishtec blogger, expert fishing author and photographer. Discover more about Dom at: www.dgfishing.co.uk where you’ll find his popular books including Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide and his highly entertaining recent collection of fishing tales Crooked Lines.