Gulping in fresh air in the great outdoors. Plenty of room to practice social distancing. An often solitary sport Herbert Hoover once described as a chance to “return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers.” And maybe most notable of all, an opportunity to get the heck away from your house.
Fishing, it turns out, is seeing a rise in popularity in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Besides its mental health benefits (a report from the nonprofit Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation finds “relaxing and unwinding” is the top experience folks associate with the pastime), pop the word “fishing” into Google Trends and you’ll see “fishing poles near me” is up 120%.
Whether your ideal fishing experience means taking a boat out on the water, claiming a perfect perch alongside a lake or pond or seeking out some respite on the river, fishing is booming during the pandemic. Ready to get, er, hooked? Make sure you purchase a fishing license, then heed some advice from three pro anglers on what to look for before buying a rod.
Best fishing rods and poles
Steve Miller, Bass Pro Shops fishing merchant, says the most important thing to consider when purchasing a new rod is the type of fishing you’re planning to do.
“Whether you are fishing for bass, panfish, catfish or saltwater fish, getting a rod that will match the application will make your trip more enjoyable,” he says. “For example, you wouldn’t want to take an ultralight trout fishing pole to the ocean — it just wouldn’t be strong enough.”
Unsure if you’re looking for light, medium or heavy action (fishing speak for how much weight the rod can handle)? Miller says working with a local outfitter or tackle store is a great way to get the right rod for the right fishing situation. But, in general, he suggests a 6-foot-6-inch to 7-foot medium or medium-heavy action casting rod and a 6-foot-6-inch to 7-foot medium action spinning rod as great places to start for many fishing adventures.
Bass Pro Shops Whuppin’ Stick Spinning Rod (starting at $19.99; basspro.com)
MIller says this durable, affordable beginner rod is his favorite. “The strength of the rod is in the way the rod is built with a triple-bonded hybrid blank with both carbon and e-glass for strength and flexibility,” he says. “They also come in a wide range of sizes and actions, from 5-foot-6-inch ultralight to 7-foot heavy, providing a size for almost any fishing style.”
Fuji Aluminum Oxide Casting Guide Set ($7.49; basspro.com)
Freshwater anglers looking to upgrade their rods, according to Miller, should opt for a rod built with a high-quality graphite and the best guides. “Name-brand guides like Fuji will really give an angler a competitive edge over the fish,” he says. “The better the graphite or rod material the more sensitive the rod will be, allowing anglers to better detect subtle bites. A quality guide will give the fishing line a super smooth surface to prevent line fraying or line breakage when fighting a lunker.”
Meanwhile, saltwater rods, Miller adds, will likely be a blend of quality graphite and fiberglass for more durability, as saltwater fish grow bigger and stronger than freshwater species and put more stress on the rod.
Shimano Teramar Southeast Spinning Rod (starting at $119.99; basspro.com)
A saltwater rod that’s lightweight but with superior strength, the Teramar Southeast features Fuji guides, a Fuji reel seat and cork handles with a hook keeper. One reviewer calls this rod “a beast,” while others give it 5 stars for its ability to catch trout, flounder, snook, tarpon, redfish and more.
“Big game salt rods generally have fiberglass construction for ultimate strength when fighting trophy game fish,” Miller says. “In both cases for saltwater, a quality guide on the rod is important to ensure smooth and consistent line flow, especially with the increased popularity of braided fishing lines that put additional pressure or strain on the rod.”
Winn Grip Straight Sleeves ($9.99; basspro.com)
Miller says Winn Grips, slide-on sleeves that stop slippage, continue to be a popular material for rod handles, while guides on rods have continued to get smaller and more streamlined.
“Higher-end rods are getting stronger while still being extremely lightweight, with rod builders using new technology like carbon wrapping, layering and micro resins in their products,” he says. “The quality of rods continues to improve every year at every price point, giving the fisherman more value for their dollar.”
Johnny Morris CarbonLite 2.0 Casting Rod ($119.99; basspro.com)
“For the more experienced angler, my favorite rod, hands down, is the Johnny Morris CarbonLite 2.0 Rod series,” Miller says, noting the high-quality RT4 graphite blank, carbon coil reinforcement, Fuji guides and Winn Grip handle material. “It’s a No. 1-selling rod series at Bass Pro and Cabela’s, and well known for quality at a great value. These rods pair great with a Johnny Morris CarbonLite 2.0 baitcast or spinning reel.”
If gazing at Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It” during quarantine has inspired you to pick up a fly-fishing rod this summer, Tom Rosenbauer, Orvis fly-fishing expert, podcast host and author, agrees beginners should first decide where they will be fishing and what species they want to catch.
“Although you can get one rod that will work for trout and bass, it’s difficult to find a rod that would work for small trout and large saltwater fish,” he says. “Fly lines are rated 1 through 12, with 12 being the heaviest.”
Orvis Recon 9-Foot, 5-Weight Fly Rod ($498; orvis.com)
Miller calls this Orvis option “a terrific all-around trout rod at a reasonable price, yet 100% made in the USA.” He also notes that the most popular all-around trout rod is a 9-foot, 5-weight, while a 9-foot, 6-weight is best for both trout and bass as well as most other freshwater fish.
Orvis Helios 3D 9-Foot, 8-Weight ($949; orvis.com)
“For an all-around rod for bigger fish like steelhead, large bass and saltwater fish, a 9-foot, 8-weight is best for all but the largest fish (over 30 pounds),” Rosenbauer adds. “But fly line size is the most important consideration; length of the rod is less important. When in doubt, go with a 9-footer.”
He says the Helios is great for all fish except large tarpon or sailfish. “It’s a fantastic all-around saltwater rod that is deadly accurate and very strong, with precise casting ability.”
Orvis Clearwater 10-Foot, 3-Weight ($198; orvis.com)
More experienced fly fishers should look for a high-performance rod that’s lightweight and, most of all, accurate, according to Rosenbauer. “Accuracy is the holy grail because fly-fishing is often a game of inches as opposed to making a very long cast,” he says.
On the hunt for something a little different? “This is a great rod for the very popular Euro nymphing method,” Rosenbauer says, noting its very sensitive tip that “delivers the flies perfectly and has the sensitivity to detect strikes.”
Sage Foundation Fly Outfit ($550; cabelas.com)
This American-made 9-foot Sage Foundation fly rod comes with a Sage Spectrum C reel, Rio Gold fly line and nylon rod case with a reel pouch.
Bass fishing rods
Fishing rods and poles specifically for bass fishing are all about the flexibility of the pole and its power to withstand the pressure of reeling in a possibly enormous bass fish.
Shakespeare Ugly Stik Elite Spinning Rod ($49.99; cabelas.com)
Ugly Stik is a favorite of bass fishers, and this rod is beloved because of its light weight and strength.
Ugly Stik GX2 Spinning Rod and Reel Combo ($49.99; cabelas.com)
Another favorite for bass fishing, this comes with both a rod and powerful reel.
Kids fishing poles
And of course your kid shouldn’t miss out on the fun either.
Plusinno Kids Fishing Pole Combo Set (starting at $35.99; amazon.com)
Make your next fishing trip a family outing when you outfit your little one with a telescopic fishing rod, spinning reel, line and tackle.
Zebco Dock Demon Spincast Combo ($14.99; dickssportinggoods.com)
Beloved by reviewers, who say it’s helped their kids catch enormous fish, this is one of the most cost-effective options on the market.
Shakespeare Youth Ugly Stik GX2 Spinning Combo ($39.99; dickssportinggoods.com)
Smaller and more lightweight than many other kids options out there, this is great for all types of fishing for young anglers.
Best fishing gear for beginners
When it comes to experienced anglers, Tucker Ladd, owner of Trouts Fly Fishing — an acclaimed fly shop, outfitter and guide service in Denver, Colorado — says the end use/application of the fly rod and targeted species become important factors. “For beginner anglers, the need is to introduce them to the sport with a fly rod that will help them progress in the sport, where more experienced anglers will typically have a specific end use that they are trying to fulfill,” he says.
Just don’t be surprised if you find fishing rod stock to be limited.
“In all honesty, it’s more a matter of what you can find right now, as the popularity of fly-fishing combined with the lack of manufacturing during the initial shutdowns has left our industry lean on certain gear,” Ladd says. “The good news is that everyone is catching up, so our shelves are filling up once again.”
Here are a few more highly rated picks to give you a leg up on your fishing game.
Plusinno Fishing Rod and Reel Combo Kit (starting at $60.99; amazon.com)
This Amazon No. 1 bestseller comes with a rod and reel, plus a carrier bag, fishing line and lures. Strong and study, reviewers note its easy assembly, compactness, smoothness and, most of all, its ability to hook fish.
Zebco 33 Ladies Authentic Spincast Rod and Reel Combo ($29.99; cabelas.com)
This affordable 6-foot, medium action rod comes with a smooth reel that’s reversible for right- or left-handed anglers.
Orvis Safe Passage Hip Pack ($109; orvis.com)
When you’re wading in the water or standing in a river, you need a pack to keep essentials at hand. This loaded pack includes flies, a fly box, nippers, forceps, a tungsten weight, a mesh leader wallet, tippets, leaders and more.
Rapala Original Floating Lure (starting at $7.79; rapala.com)
This bestselling lure, developed in 1936, boasts a wounded minnow balsa profile and is hand-tuned and tank-tested. It attracts both freshwater and saltwater fish, remaining a go-to lure for anglers everywhere.
Plano Guide Series Tackle Box ($44.99; cabelas.com)
Users give this four-layered storage box high marks for its storage room, durability and variety of compartments.
Orvis Nomad Camo Hand Net ($135.95; orvis.com)
Lightweight, durable and UV protected, this net attaches easily to a vest but still has plenty of reach to snag your fish.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.