Fishing rods today are made from a variety of materials like fiberglass and graphite, and every angler will give you their own answer as to which is best. While it ultimately comes down to personal preference whether you choose a fiberglass fishing rod over a composite fishing rod, there are some general pieces of advice we can give to help you make the right choice. Here, we’re comparing four popular fishing rod materials to help you find the right one for your angling needs and sharing what we consider to be the pros and cons of each material.
Fiberglass Fishing Rods
Fiberglass fishing rods appeared in the 1940s, produced as a less expensive, lighter weight, and more durable alternative to traditional bamboo rods. Swiftly gaining popularity, fiberglass rods became standard for dedicated and amateur anglers alike until the 80s. Today, fiberglass fishing rods remain popular among beginners, touted for their ability to withstand tugging, ripping, and other harsh movements typical of inexperienced anglers. Fiberglass rods also tend to be more forgiving for learners, since their mid-slow action gives the user more time to correct.
When to Choose Fiberglass
Select a fiberglass fishing rod when you want something durable, but not so stiff that it will rip through soft-mouth species. The relatively slow action of a fiberglass rod is also useful when tangling with large fish since the additional drag can help to firmly set your hook while protecting your rod from accidentally snapping.
Fiberglass is best suited for small to mid-sized streams, and while some distance can be achieved, we recommend sticking to precision casting with fiberglass. If you plan to fish with an inexperienced angler or are teaching a young fisherman how to fish, try giving them a fiberglass rod. Lightweight but durable enough to withstand plenty of trial and error, anglers at every level can fish all day with a fiberglass rod.
Pros of Fiberglass Rods
- Least expensive
- Flexible for optimum drag
- Low maintenance
Cons of Fiberglass Rods
- Little sensitivity
- Low power
- Reduced accuracy at longer distances
Which Fiberglass Rod Should You Buy?
While fiberglass is considered the least expensive fishing rod material, that doesn’t mean you should choose the cheapest fiberglass rod you can get your hands on. Because of its high flexibility and slow action, choosing a higher quality fiberglass will help you to retain the most sensitivity you can, helping to improve accuracy over longer distances and making it a more pleasurable experience to fish with.
When choosing a fiberglass rod, you certainly should consider your budget. Aim for a rod with a significant amount of reviews that say this rod is sensitive, durable, and has an action that you are looking for.
Graphite Fishing Rods
After hitting the market in the 1960s, graphite fishing rods really hit their stride in the 80s, quickly becoming a favorite of professional anglers looking for high-sensitivity rods. Slightly lighter weight than fiberglass and with faster action and higher power, graphite fishing rods are preferred by more experienced anglers in search of a versatile rod. Because graphite is rigid and unyielding, graphite fishing rods are available in longer lengths than fiberglass, allowing for improved reach and accuracy from a distance.
When to Choose Graphite
Graphite is considered by many to be the superior version of fiberglass, but while graphite can withstand more intense conditions than fiberglass and may be more appropriate for catching larger fish, one can’t replace the other. Graphite is best for experienced anglers who don’t mind the fast action of a graphite rod. Little flexibility means you need to have perfect timing to hook your catch on a graphite rod.
Choose a graphite fishing rod for large-river fly fishing trips or fishing during strong winds, but be careful. Graphite may be strong, but with little flexibility or give, graphite can also be brittle and can snap under the wrong conditions. Get snagged on a rock or at the bottom of a stream, and you could accidentally snap your rod trying to get untangled. Should you snap your rod, you’ll have to shell out a pretty penny to replace it, since graphite is by far the most expensive fishing rod material currently available on the mass market.
Pros of Graphite Rods
- Super sensitive
Cons of Graphite Rods
- Most expensive
Which Graphite Rod Should You Buy?
Graphite rods aren’t cheap, but shelling out a few extra bucks to purchase a high-quality graphite rod might just be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. Fishing with a high-powered, super sensitive graphite rod is a real treat, and once you go graphite, we know you’ll struggle to return to less high-action alternatives. So when you are looking, you’ll want to pay attention to reviews on overall sensitivity and accuracy of casting. You’ll want to read reports of extreme sensitivity, so that you can feel even the lightest fish takes on the other end.
Composite Fishing Rods
Composite fishing rods are rods made from a combination of fiberglass and graphite parts, often with other materials included to improve integrity. Like the combination suggests, composite fishing rods include the best features of both fiberglass and graphite, making them popular among anglers looking to step up their game without over-spending on a graphite rod.
Depending on where the fiberglass and graphite components of a composite rod meet, the rod will have varying degrees of flexibility and power. Some composite rods are built to flex close to the butt like a fiberglass rod, whereas others feature higher rigidity like graphite. Featuring the flexibility of fiberglass with the sensitivity of graphite, composite rods are more versatile than single-material rods, and less expensive, too.
When to Choose Composite
Composite rods are often easier to use than both fiberglass and graphite fishing rods, making them ideal for both beginners and experienced anglers looking for a good middle ground. Composite rods, like fiberglass, are timing forgiving and feature a little drag, helping less experienced anglers to hook a fish even when it is just barely on. Like graphite, composite rods can also be high-powered, making them ideal for windy conditions and larger streams. Less likely to snap than graphite but less bendy than fiberglass, composite fishing rods are a great compromise if you just can’t choose.
Pros of Composite Rods
- Customizable speed/action
Cons of Composite Rods
- Often more expensive than fiberglass rods
- Less accuracy than graphite
Which Composite Rod Should You Buy?
If you want the best of both worlds and are looking for a rod that offers flexibility and strength, composite is the way to go. When looking at composite rods, you should understand that you can find a balance between sensitivity and action that works for you. Experienced anglers will likely want sensitive rods with a fast action, and less experienced anglers may want to look for rods that have a slow to medium action for casting forgiveness.
Bamboo Fishing Rods
The ‘OG’ fishing rod material, bamboo rods have been around for centuries and were at one time the primary tool of professional anglers everywhere. Bamboo is naturally fibrous and bendy, making bamboo rods flexible and sensitive to even the slightest drag. Slightly heavier than fiberglass, bamboo fishing rods have an ‘organic’ feel in the hand, and won’t snap easily under pressure. Though bamboo rods can be used in any number of circumstances, we don’t recommend bamboo for precision casting and suggest you stick to small/medium streams in fairly good weather when using bamboo.
When to Choose Bamboo
If you are looking for a classic fishing experience, you can’t go wrong with a bamboo rod. Bamboo flexes and pulls on its own, making it excellent for dry flies and battling mid-sized fish. Want to really feel what is going on below the surface of the water? Bamboo is the way to go. You’ll feel every tug and vibration when you choose a bamboo fishing rod, which is great for snagging barely-there bites but can make fishing in windy conditions more difficult.
Fishing with a bamboo rod can be a whole lot of fun, but you might want to bring along a fiberglass or graphite rod if you plan to be out on the water all day long. A well-crafted bamboo rod can be quite heavy, and though you might not feel it during the first few hours of fishing, your arms will certainly be tired if you try to fish on a bamboo rod all day long.
Pros of Bamboo Rods
- Super sensitive
Cons of Bamboo Rods
- Not versatile
- Difficult for all-day use
Which Bamboo Rod Should You Buy?
Bamboo might be the OG fishing rod material, but being ‘classic’ doesn’t make bamboo more affordable. While you might be tempted to grab the least expensive bamboo rod you can find, this would likely be a mistake, since low-quality, improperly processed bamboo can be rigid, brittle, and uncomfortable to fish with. If you want the best, most authentic bamboo rod fishing experience you can have, we recommend trying out a premium hand-crafted rod that will give you the kind of precision you have only ever dreamed of.
Considerations When Choosing A Rod
Many of the below considerations apply to all types of fishing rods, baitcasting, spinning, and fly fishing rods.
The ‘action’ of a rod describes how far it will flex under pressure. A fast-action rod is more rigid than a medium-action rod, which in turn is more rigid than a slow-action rod. When casting, rods bend, which stores energy to be released as they swing back to release the line. A stiffer, higher action rod will bend closer to the tip and will release quickly, whereas a softer, slower action rod will flex closer to the hands and take longer to unload.
- Little flexibility
- Powerful casts/fast line speed
- Fast unload (requires good timing)
- Best for experienced individuals
- Moderate flexibility that allows for fluid motion
- Moderate unload with forgiving timing
- Good for beginner and intermediate levels
- Highly flexible
- Slow line speed
- Slow unload for enhanced control
- Good for beginner and intermediate levels
- Best for shorter casts
Rod ‘power’ describes how much pressure is required to flex the rod. Thicker, more rigid fast-action rods tend to also be high-power rods and produce powerful casts. Thinner, more flexible rods are low-power and produce slower, smaller, more controlled casts that are best in streams and small rivers.
If you are fishing the ocean, you’ll need a more powerful rod than freshwater. If you’ll need to cast heavy and large weight, you’ll need a more powerful rod.
You need to know your price range to make a proper decision. If your budget is on the lower end of the market. As discussed, if you are at a lower end price range, you may want to aim for a fiberglass rod or a mid range composite rod. We don’t recommend going for a bamboo rod unless you have a larger budget and really want to go with a classic style rod.
Warranty & Service of Brand
Many brands will offer life-time services, providing free repairs and discounted parts to owners of their high-end rods. If you fish often, having your rod protected under warranty can save you a whole lot of money on repairs, and a whole lot of stress knowing your season won’t be cut short by a broken part.
Whether your price range is low or high, warranties are really important to pay attention to. Go with a brand or product that has quality service, reviews, and when issues do arise, you see reports that the company helped out.
Fly rods are more commonly measured by weight than spinning rods, but quite simply, you need to know what you are going to be fishing for. Check out the chart below for help.
- Weight 1-4: Small trout, panfish; small streams and ponds
- Weight 5: Trout, small bass; medium rivers and lakes
- Weight 6: Bass, small salmon; medium and large rivers
- Weight 7-8: Steelhead, salmon; large rivers, lakes, and saltwater
- Weight 9+: Saltwater; large rivers, large lakes, saltwater
If looks are important to you, you may go for a bamboo rod, or some sleek new modern composite or graphite rod. If important, then simply take a look at what looks best to you.
Balancing With Your Reel
If you already have a reel, you’ll want a rod that matches the weight of that reel. An ultralight rod won’t be great for a large reel. Make sure your rod fits the reel you have or are looking for.
Every human is unique, so having some hands-on time with a rod before you buy can help you to determine whether you like its overall feel. It should fit comfortably in your hands, feel good to maneuver, and be a comfortable length. This is a good time to see how you like the casting, and if the rod has a sensitivity that you desire.
The feel tends to be even more important for fly fisherman.
When selecting a fly rod, it is important to keep your personal level of experience in mind. If you are a beginner, a mid-action, mid-weight rod is your best option, since these afford the most control. Fast-action, high powered rods can be difficult to learn on and are best reserved for experienced anglers.
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about