How to Determine Which Rod and Reel to Buy

Which rod and reel combo is best for me?

Fly fishing
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It seems that people are somewhat convinced that there is a perfect rod or perfect reel, and that someone out there knows the brand. The fact is, there are numerous “perfect” rods and reels and believe it or not, the price is not the determining factor.

The Keys

There are several keys to determining just which rod and reel you should use.

  • What fish are you pursuing?
    The size of the fish you pursue needs to determine the relative size of your tackle. You certainly would not fish for two-pound fish with offshore trolling equipment.
  • What kind of water are you fishing?
    Can you make long casts? Is there a limited space for casting? Are you on the beach or pier? The answers to all these questions play a part in your decision.
  • Are you fishing from a party boat, the shore, the beach, or a pier?
    Each of these applications will use a different type of rod and reel.

The Tackle Choices

They are numerous, but they can be broken down into some basic groups.

  • Ultralight Spinning
    This kind of outfit is ideal for small fish in confined areas. Line from two- to six-pound test provides a unique fighting experience and requires some angling skill. Successfully landing a fish on this tackle is something to brag about!
  • Light and Medium Spinning
    These are the staples of the spinning category. Line sizes can range from six to as much as seventeen-pound test, and the bulk of inshore saltwater fish can be caught using this tackle. They are ideal for an inshore boat, a pier, or the shore, but not in the surf.
  • Heavy Spinning
    These are the big boys, and this is the tackle you will use in an offshore trolling scenario. These reels are also used in combination with surf rods for surf fishing. Line sizes are twenty-pound test and above. Lines larger than thirty-pound test are about the largest that can be efficiently used on a spinning outfit.
  • Bait Casting
    These outfits are conventional reels, sometimes equipped with a level wind mechanism. They are used for casting artificial lures and plugs mainly with inshore fishing. Line weights can range from twelve to as large as twenty-pound test. Line weights lighter than twelve-pound test tend to bury themselves in the spool, and are extremely difficult to clear in a backlash situation. Heavier lines are more difficult to cast long distances.
  • Bottom Fishing
    Here we have what most party boats and head boats use as their mainstay. A six and a half foot boat rod with a conventional reel and line from thirty- to eighty-pound test makes this an outfit that can take a beating and haul big fish off the bottom. These outfits are not designed for casting, rather straight drop to the bottom from a boat.
  • Trolling
    Here is where you can get into some serious discussions about price and size. Basically like Bottom fishing tackle – that is a rod and conventional reel - these outfits can sell for well over $1000 each. They are very specialized so don't purchase one without some personal advice from a professional.


  • On all these outfits you need to be cost conscious. A high price is no assurance that you have the best deal.
  • Reels are a slightly different matter. Every reel you pick up and spin at the tackle shop will feel smooth and silky as it turns. The test is how will it perform over time. Cheaper reels – both from a quality and price viewpoint – will work well for a while. But, because they use brass or plastic shims as opposed to bearings, they wear and become sloppy over time. Reels that are expensive are generally built with better quality and will have five or more sets of ball bearings. These reels will perform well for a long period of time.
  • If you fish only occasionally, a cheaper reel may suit you. If you fish a lot, opt for a reel that has at least three or more ball bearings. Some are advertised to have as many as eleven bearings and their price reflects the higher number.

The Bottom Line

  • Determine how much fishing you plan to do.
  • Where are you planning on fishing?
  • What kind and size of fish are you pursuing?
  • Choose the outfit that most matches these questions and your wallet at the same time.