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Updated Jun 20, 2023 7:43 AM
Quality baitcasting rods—along with good baitcasting reels—aren’t found by glancing at a tackle shop’s racks, shaking tips, and checking prices. Those reveal little of their quality and characteristics, which are critical to creating the precise presentations that boat more and bigger bass.
Preferred by most bass anglers, baitcasting rods are outfitted with a winch-like reel and designed for heavy lifting. Most easily handle 15-pound test or stronger lines and heavy lures, some weighing several ounces. But look closer, and you’ll find ones engineered to meet specific bass-fishing situations—from flinging small swimbaits to distant smallmouth or going toe-to-fin with big largemouth.
Selecting them starts with defining purpose, then fulfilling it with the perfect mix of length, power and action, and components. That sweet spot is where you find the best baitcasting rods.
How We Picked the Best Baitcasting Rods
Baitcasting rods handle the majority of my bass fishing. Their power, sensitivity and lure-launching abilities are tough to beat, whether I’m chasing largemouth, smallmouth or spots. But while the decision to use one is simple, finding the best has taken years of experience and searching, along with plenty of advice along the way.
My bass fishing experience stretches from the red-clay banks of Georgia reservoirs to the natural lakes and rivers of Ontario, Canada. Those diverse settings have thrown myriad fishing situations my way. Each demands a specific approach. That’s forced me to sift through endless combinations of length, power and action, and components, from all the major manufacturers, to find the best baitcasting rod for each one.
My understanding of how baitcasting rods perform is based on more than personal observations and on-the-water successes. More than 25 years of competitive bass fishing created a proving ground for my gear. It also provided the opportunity to quiz tournament partners, industry professionals and fishing friends about what makes the best baitcasting rods, and maybe more importantly, what doesn’t.
Best Baitcasting Rods: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Shimano SLX
- Length: 7 feet
- Action and Power: Fast action and medium-heavy power
- Components: Custom reel seat, 24-ton graphite blank and titanium-oxide guides
- Blank is lightweight and strong
- Handles range of lure and line weights
- Quality components add performance
- Action feels stiffer than other fast-action rods
- Rear grip is short
This Shimano SLX baitcasting rod, which easily can become a combo thanks to Shimano’s matching line of SLX baitcasting reels, does a lot. It’s rated for 10- to 20-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon line, 20- to 50-pound test braided line and lures from 1/4 to 3/4 ounce. That opens the door to a variety of techniques, from presenting small soft-plastic baits to spooky springtime largemouth to burning big spinnerbaits for angry autumn smallmouth. You’ll use it every fishing trip.
Supporting the SLX’s versatility is a strong and sensitive 24-ton graphite blank and durable titanium-oxide line guides. Its custom reel seat puts your fingers directly on the blank for added sensitivity. It’s durable, too.
The foam-covered split grip, which is just shy of 10 inches, feels short, especially when tucked under your forearm. And its action feels stiffer than other fast-action baitcasting rods, though that’s easily overcome with slightly heavier lures and crisper back casts, both of which further load the blank.
Best Budget: Ugly Stik Elite Casting Rod
- Length: 6 feet, 6 inches
- Action and Power: Fast action and medium-heavy power
- Components: Full cork grip, solid fiberglass tip and stainless-steel guides
- Fast action casts easy
- Medium-heavy power matches to many lures and techniques
- Durability keeps you fishing
- Heavier than similar sized rods
- Split reel seat requires a soft touch
This isn’t your father’s Ugly Stik baitcasting rod. While it retains the durability that has been the brand’s hallmark for generations, it has 35% more graphite than the Ugly Stik GX2 and sports a sleek finish. Its Clear Tip design provides sensitivity and durability, an important consideration for budget-minded anglers and baitcasting beginners. Strong stainless-steel guides withstand the abuse that comes with learning how to operate baitcasting gear, whether that’s accidently back casting into low-hanging branches or being tossed when backlashes push patience past the tipping point.
The rod’s fast action generates long and smooth casts, even from beginners, who tend to force casts with their arm instead of letting the lure do the work. Its medium-heavy power works in concert, handling a wide range of lure types and weights, from 1/4 to 3/4 ounce, and lines from 10- to 20-pound test. That eliminates the need for several baitcasting rods, each for a specific lure or technique. Many anglers aren’t interested in making that investment.
Its full cork grip balances the additional weight that comes with added durability. And while it offers added sensitivity, be mindful of its split reel seat. Overtightening can cause its two pieces to separate.
Best Ultralight: G. Loomis IMX-PRO
- Length: 7 feet, 1 inch
- Action and Power: Extra-fast action and medium power
- Components: Full grip, high-modulus graphite blank and tangle-free line guides
- Easily casts lightweight lures
- Proprietary materials and construction makes it sensitive and lightweight
- Well-suited for long overhand casts and accurate underhand pitches
- Handles narrow range of lures and lines
- Medium power is soft on control
G. Loomis is synonymous with precision, and this IMX-PRO baitcasting rod is on brand. Lightweight and sensitive, it’s a finesse baitcasting rod that perfectly presents small lures, protects light lines, and detects subtle bites from finicky bass on short and long casts. You’ll be hard pressed to find another production rod that’s rated for an 1/8-ounce lure.
Its abilities are supported by tangle-free line guides and a cork handle in full-grip formation. It’s a perfect match to today’s best baitcasting reels, which are compact and better at handling thin lines and tiny lures.
What this IMX-PRO lacks is versatility. Its lure-weight range tops out at 3/8 ounce, limiting its assignments. Its line-weight range — 10- to 14-pound test — seems too much, though a small diameter braided line will maintain its finesse feel. Subduing big bass with its medium power requires patience; it’s barely capable of boat flipping 12-inch keepers.
Best Medium-Heavy: Abu Garcia Vengeance
- Length: 7 feet
- Action and Power: Fast action and medium-heavy power
- Components: Foam split grip, 24-ton graphite blank and titanium-oxide line guides
- Powerful graphite blank
- Exposed blank in reel seat
- Comfortable high-density foam handle
- Weighs more than similar rods
- Action feels slower than labeled
Abu Garcia packed a lot of bang into its Vengeance baitcasting rod, which, compared to other options, costs only few bucks. It’s sensitive and sports a fast action thanks to a blank made with 24-ton graphite. Its stainless-steel line guides are outfitted with tough and slippery titanium-oxide inserts, which add casting distance and stand up to braided lines and big bass.
The Vengeance handles line from 12- to 20-pound test and lures from 3/8- to 1-ounce. That opens the door to a variety of techniques and lures. It tosses weightless worms and heavy jigging spoons equally well.
This rod may feel slower than other fast-action rods, but that extra flex makes it better at fishing crankbaits, topwaters and other lures sporting treble hooks. Even with its split grip, it’s slightly heavier than rods of similar length, power and action.
Best Heavy: Cashion ICON Flipping Rod
- Length: 7 feet, 6 inches
- Action and Power: Fast action and heavy power
- Components: Kevlar grip, micro guides and carbon-fiber blank
- Lightweight and powerful blank
- Soft tip increases accuracy and stealth
- Handles range of lure weights
- Micro guides limit leader use
- Doesn’t telescope for easy storage
Most heavy baitcasting rods fish like a boom and crane. Cashion’s ICON flipping rod doesn’t. It’s built on a lightweight and strong blank made with carbon fiber — a ribbon-like form of graphite. Its fast action retains a bit of give at the tip, making accurate underhand pitches easily and quietly. Many flipping rods lack that important detail.
It excels at placing jigs, Texas rigged soft-plastic lures and punch rigs up to 1 1/2 ounces in thick cover, such as topped-out aquatic vegetation, and extracting the big bass that live there. But this pony can do more tricks, including dragging Carolina rigs and slow rolling big swimbaits or spinnerbaits. And it’ll handle deep-diving crankbaits in a pinch.
If you prefer braided line, forget about using a fluorocarbon or monofilament leader with this rod. Its narrow micro guides won’t permit the leader-to-line knot to pass. If you’re worried about bass seeing your braid, use a black permanent marker to color its first few feet. You’ll need to review your storage options, too. Unlike many 7 1/2-foot or longer rods, this one doesn’t telescope to a shorter length.
What to Consider When Choosing a Baitcasting Rod
Flexibility and cost are only the beginning of what defines the best baitcasting rods for bass. There are other characteristics that you need to consider. Here are the pieces that make baitcasting rods whole.
Baitcasting rods are available in different lengths. Matching length to a lure or technique increases performance.
- 6- to 7-feet long: These rods struggle with casting distance but excel at the downward snaps that breathe life into jerkbaits. They require less casting room and less effort for underhand roll casts, making them perfect for fishing holes with overhead cover.
- 7- to 7-feet, 6-inches long: These rods make long accurate casts. Capable of handling many different lures and techniques, they can sub for longer or shorter rods with minimal loss of performance.
- 7-feet, 6 inches and longer: These rods work best at the extremes — short-line techniques, such as flipping, or launching crankbaits, which dive deeper on long casts. Rods beyond 8 feet can feel unwieldy, and their weight becomes tiring during long days on the water.
Action and Power
Action describes how a baitcasting rod flexes over its length. It dictates the force needed to load the rod during a cast, speed of hooksets, action of lures and how bass are fought. It’s best revealed by placing the rod’s tip on the floor then rolling your wrist to load the blank.
- Fast Action: These rods flex only in the tip. That creates a crisp feel, increasing casting accuracy and power during hooksets. It’s best for single-hooked lures such as jigs and spinnerbaits.
- Moderate Action: Expect these to flex from tip to midsection. That lends itself to a variety of lures and techniques, making it perfect for all-around rods.
- Slow Action: Flex from tip to handle. That deep bend lobs lures great distances, though accuracy is poor. It’s used in crankbait rods, acting as a shock absorber to keep bass hooked on trebles.
Power describes the force that a rod can handle. It determines the range of lure and line weights that can be effectively cast and how hard you can pull against a hooked bass.
- Heavy Power: These are built to handle heavy lures and lines. It’s commonly seen in flipping, swimbait, worm, and spinnerbait rods.
- Medium Power: These are well-suited to mid-sized lures and lines. It’s most often found in all-purpose rods, which handle a variety of lures and techniques.
- Light Power: This power is ideal for lightweight lures and lines. Use it to cast small swimbaits and finesse jigs. It’ll handle heavyweight bass, as long as you are patient while fighting and landing them.
Power and action act independently, so you’re as likely to find a slow-action rod with a heavy power as a fast-action one with a light power. They’re offered in degrees, too, such as extra-fast action or medium-heavy power. That tunes rods to specific uses.
There is no uniform measurement for power or action. Both vary slightly between builders and within their lineups. So, if the fast-action rod you’re eyeing feels too stiff, switch brands or try a less expensive one.
The backbone of every baitcasting rod is its blank. Three types dominate today’s offerings.
- Fiberglass: This material ushered in the modern baitcasting rod in the 1970s, but it’s relegated to specialty rods today. It’s made in all powers, but action is limited to moderate and slow.
- Graphite: Sensitive, lightweight and strong, it’s the most common material found in today’s baitcasting rods. They are available in a variety of powers but action skews toward fast.
- Composite: A few manufacturers mix graphite and fiberglass, creating more sensitive and lighter weight slow-action rods. They’re designed to fish speedy lures such as bladed jigs.
A blank isn’t a baitcasting rod until components are attached. Each helps determine the rod’s use, comfort and durability. With some, choice boils down to personal preference. Others directly affect performance.
- Handle: Firm cork is sensitive, lightweight and provides a fast hold even when wet or slathered in fish slime. Choose softer foam for all-day comfort.
- Grip: Split ones feature a hand width of grip behind the reel seat followed by a section of exposed blank then a fighting butt. They cut a rod’s overall weight and are popular with bass anglers. Full grips stretch reel seat to butt. They’re comfortable when tucked under your arm, braced against the pull of lure or bass. And their extra weight brings balance, offsetting everything forward of the reel.
- Reel Seat: Exposed and split seats allow a finger or three to rest on the blank, helping you feel the slightest nibble. Full ones surround the blank and are usually used on the most powerful rods.
- Line Guides: Unlike the best spinning rods, few baitcasting rods have single-foot guides. Choose ones made from hard materials, such as titanium oxide, which resists wear from braided lines and chips. Both will cut monofilament or fluorocarbon line.
If you need a reel to pair with your new rod, check out our round up of best baitcasting reels. And if you need some help avoiding backlashes, read our article on casting techniques for baitcaster reels. Spinning gear more your speed? We’ve got you covered with the best spinning rods. And for the latest and greatest, read out round up of the best new fishing rods.
Q: What is a baitcasting rod?
Baitcasting rods are designed to handle heavy lines and lures. Bass anglers prefer them for the majority of their fishing, especially accurate casting techniques for baitcasting reels, such as flipping and pitching. The majority of baitcasting rods for bass range from 6 feet to 8 feet in length. They’re gripped at the reel, which rides on top of the handle.
Q: What is the best length for a baitcasting rod?
The best length for a baitcasting rod is determined by its intended use. Long rods, for example, provide greater casting distance than short ones, which are better at fishing under overhead cover. A good all-around length is 7 feet. It’s the most popular with bass anglers because it incorporates most of the benefits of long and short rods.
Q: What is the most sensitive baitcasting rod?
The most sensitive baitcasting rods have graphite blanks and exposed reel seats, which put your fingers directly on the blank. They have an extra-fast or fast action, quickly loading to ensure the slightest nibble is instantly transmitted to your fingers. You can increase any baitcasting rod’s sensitivity by using no-stretch braided line.
Q: Can you put a spinning reel on a baitcasting rod?
A spinning reel shouldn’t be put on a baitcasting rod, which are designed for a top-mounted reel. That configuration forces you to crank a spinning reel in reverse, and if you flip it to its proper underslung orientation, the reel seat’s trigger, which prevents the rod from leaving your hand during a cast, would poke your palm. Spinning reels also demand line guides larger than those typically found on baitcasting rods because line leaves and returns in large loops. They also struggle with the large-diameter lines commonly used on baitcasting rods.
Q: Are baitcasting rods hard to use?
Generally, baitcasting rods are more difficult to cast than spinning rods. This is due to the type of reel you are casting with. It is easy to get a backlash with a baitcasting reel, but after some practice, they aren’t hard to use.
Best Baitcasting Rods: Final Thoughts
Having the best baitcasting rod for the bass-fishing situation at hand goes a long way toward creating great days on the water. While the Shimano SLX baitcasting rod makes that happen with a wide range of lures, lines and situations, don’t hesitate to search out baitcasting rods designed for specific roles. An understanding of the interplay of length, action and power, and components, along with some on-the-water experience or seasoned advice, will ensure you find the best one, whatever your needs.
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For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.