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Choosing A Catfish Rod

choosing a catfish rod

Choosing a Catfish Rod

Over the years for my personal fishing and as a catfish guide I have used just about every different kind of catfish rod that is on the market, from the super cheap to premium.

I started to touch on this information in my article about punch bait but didn’t get into too much depth on the subject so I wanted to provide some more information on what I think are the best and the worst as well.

As this website continues to develop I will continue to add reviews and other equipment reviews as well and I am providing links to everything on the tackle page, so it serves as a good point of reference on rods, reels and all the other tackle that I have used and been successful with over the years.

As I mentioned in punch bait 101 one of the biggest mistakes I see anglers make is using gear that is too heavy. There are a lot of really sharp looking poles on the shelves at most any tackle store that are marketed towards catfishing. These poles typically are longer than most of the others, have longer handles and are usually much heavier than the others on the shelves.

I firmly believe that just because there are so many different companies that are marketing this extra heavy gear to anglers it has made many of them believe that they need these super heavy (and less sensitive) poles.

I started out using a number of different setups which was mostly bass tackle that I would just use when I was catfishing, or just whatever I could get my hands on. When I made a decision a number of years back to just target catfish exclusively  I started changing my equipment up and doing things a bit differently. Like anything that has to do with fishing as you grow and learn you begin to have different opinions on equipment. Hopefully my time on the water as a guide and experience in using different gear will save you some time, trouble and money when you decide to make your next purchase.

My Approach To A Catfish Rod

As a general rule at any given time a have a dozen rigs on my guide boat and I standardize the equipment, the same reels and rods, the same actions etc. This is done for a number of reasons but first and foremost is that when I am using multiple poles (which at certain times of the year can be as many as ten at once) I want everything to perform the same. If I am drifting for example, I need to be able to tell by the actions which is getting a bite and which is dragging or hung up. If I have multiple different types of poles this becomes much more difficult to tell.

I also like my gear to be “multipurpose where I can use then for any technique and any species. Like I mentioned before at any given time I may have 12 or more catfish rigs ready to fish and If I am taking a client on a winter trophy blue trip one day and the next day my clients want to fish under comorant roosts or want to fish for channel cats with punch bait, I don’t want to have to spend a bunch of time swapping out gear and wasting a bunch of time moving gear around.

I just cannot justify having:

  • 12 setups for trophy catfishing
  • 12 for cormorant fishing
  • 12 for punch bait

Multipurpose gear that is capable of landing a monster blue or flathead but are also capable of use for an ultra light bite are a must when it comes to gear for

What To Consider When Choosing A Catfish Rod

Target Species and Size Of Target Species

The first thing you need to consider when choosing a catfish rod is what your target species is and what you actually intend to do with the rod. If you plan to only fish for monster flatheads or blues and never fish for any smaller fish then that changes the game a bit.  If you are okay with buying multiple different rod and reel combos and are okay with spending the money to buy different gear for different species or techniques then that changes the game some as well . What is best for chasing 100 lb flatheads is not going to be the best for catfishing for 1 lb channel cats (but keep reading).

Space Limitations

If you are on the banks or in a boat or what specific techniques you intend to use  has a great impact in choosing a rod. For instance a longer one is better suited for use from the bank because you can catch much greater distances and cover much more water from the shore. If you are in a boat, and it is a 14 foot jon boat that you usually have two people in then it might not be the best idea to start using 9 foot gear.


Length has great effect and usually much more than most people realize. In general I find that most people use rods that are way to short. Rod length has a major impact in my decision . The longer it is the more control you have over fish when you are landing them (which is especially important when landing big fish), the longer you can cast, and you can cast more accurately at long distances as well.

I have had the pleasure of knowing some excellent anglers throughout my career and one thing rings true to them all, the best catfishermen I know all use rods that are very similar, and they are always longer, in the 8 ft, 9 ft and even 10 ft lengths on occasion.

In addition there are certain techniques that are easier with a longer fishing rod, like doodlesocking, or drift fishing or strolling. For example, if you are drift fishing running your fishing rods off the back of the boat with two fished straight back and two fished out to the sides, using something that is 8’6″ instead of a 6″ rod gives you an additional spread of 5 feet, which could mean the difference between catching fish and not catching fish at times. If you are anchored and covering a large are of water while anchored on structure, being able to cast a greater distance with a long rod may mean you being able to cover twice as much structure that you could fish with a 6 foot rod.

Handle Length

Handle length is a major factor for me. I want something that has a good long bottom handle. This is for a number of reasons but first and foremost is comfort and ease of use. Having a good long handle allows me to place my rods in a rod holder and distance the reels greatly from the rod holder so every time I need to adjust the line (tighten it), turn a bait clicker off or on or anything else I am not fighting with a rod holder.

Handle length also plays a significant factor in technique as well especially if in a situation where you are on a super light bite (like often happens when catfishing with punch bait). There are many instances where holding a rod means the difference between catching and not catching. Having a longer handle gives the me luxury of tucking the rod under my arm so I am not stuck holding it with my hand.

Handle Material

I prefer cork to foam handles any day of the week. I will always choose a cork handle over a foam handle when available. Foam gets slippery very quickly, especially when it starts getting covered with slime and shad scales while fishing. I have heard great debates over whether foam is more durable than cork and my experience has been that foam and cork are just about equal in regards to durability. Both materials hit a point when they begin to age that they just start falling apart.

One thing you can do to help preserve your handles is use XPS Pro Wrap for Handles, but I will go into that more in another article.

Rod Guides

As a general rule rod guides are either those with ceramic insert or what they call ss304 and also aluminum oxide guides which are all metal.  I prefer the ss304 or aluminum oxide guides over the ceramic inserts any day of the week but will use a fishing rod with ceramic inserts for the right price and if it is a really good catfishing rod (like some of the Ugly Stiks).

The problem I have with the ceramic insert line guides is they break and fall out. I have mentioned many times that I am very hard on catfishing gear and I have on occasion knocked the ceramic insert out of a new catfish fishing rod before I ever even got the fishing rod to the lake.

Rod Material

As a general rule catfish rods that I use come in two forms, graphite and e-glass (which is fiberglass). I have used a number. Graphite rods are generally lighter and much more sensitive than e-glass rods, but in getting a lighter weight and more sensitive rod you sacrifice durability. E-glass is hands down much more durable than graphite.

Reel Seats

Over the years I have seen great debate over reels seats (the part the reel actually sets into and clamps down) and honestly I have never paid attention to them so I don’t look at this much. I have never had a problem with reels seats so my opinion has always been just to roll with whatever the rods have.

Lure Weight

Just about every fishing rod out there has the suggested lure weight printed on the fishing rod or available from the manufacturer and I am going to give you the cold hard truth about lure weight. Many people ponder and discuss lure weight over and over again and IT DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING unless you are looking for a rig like a long distance casting rod for catfishing dam tailraces or bank fishing.  I am not going into these specialized applications like fishing dam tailraces because it is just not what falls into my day to day routine of fising from a boat.

You are not usually chunking and winding over and over again like you are when you are bass fishing and I rarely will every use more than a two ounce sinker, BUT I have used two ounce sinkers on fishing rods with a suggested weight  of 1/2 to 3/4 ounces and cannot tell any difference in the gear. Unless you are looking for a distance casting rig or a specialized application just ignore this and move on.

Line Weight

Without going into a bunch of details just like lure weight suggestions the rods have suggested line weights. Just like lure weights, I could care less. My experience is a rod doesn’t fish any different and all I use is twenty pound test monofilament.

My advice is to ignore this suggestion on the rod and and move on (just for catfish).

One Piece Rods Vs Two Piece Rods

Two piece rods have a bad rap because of bass fishing and the claims that when you have a two piece rod you lose some of the sensitivity of the rod. Catfishing isn’t anything like bass fishing and I have never found that having a two piece fishing rod has had any bearing on my ability to catch fish.

If you haven’t already figured out I like LONG rods for catfishing and it is pretty tough to find a reasonable priced one piece fishing rod when you start getting into lengths over about 7’6″.

If you want longer rods like I use in 8’6″ or longer and you want one piece rods you will probably have to go with a custom built setup.

I never hesitate to buy a two piece over a one piece if it has all the features I am looking for and being a two piece has absolutely no bearing on my decision.

Spinning Vs Casting

It’s hard to talk about spinning rods and spinning reels without just addressing spinning reels and baitcasting reels when talking about whether you should choose a spinning rod or a casting rod when making a decision.  Through the years I have owned a couple of spinning rods but I have never given them much use, although I have tried. Spinning reels have always been very awkard to me and even though I have tried to use spinning rods, and tried to like them I have never been able to give them more than a few uses.

While spinning reels do have some advantages when fishing tight cover there are just not a lot of applications that I have in catfishing where I have to be able to cast repeatedly in tight cover so the benefits don’t outweight the negatives of using a spinning reel. I also keep thinking back to that one time I was doodlesocking and latched on to a monster flathead and it trashed the spinning reel in about 30 seconds and left me holding a broken reel and what could have been the flathead of a lifetime.

The biggest complaint I hear from the few anglers that I have known (and there have been very few) is that they use spinning reels because they cannot cast a baitcaster without backlashing the fishing line. Spinning reels (when spooled properly) are virtually backlash free.

Baitcasting reels are overall (in my opinion) much more durable than spinning reels and this is the exact reason that the vast majority of anglers that are really serious about catfishing all use baitcasting reels.

You don’t see many spinning rods or reels for catfish and it is because they are just nowhere near as popular as baitcasting reels.

For these reason, I am not going to go into detail on spinning reels or spinning rods and the best advice I can give you if you are dead set on using spinning rods and reels is to get your hands on a baitcasting reel, learn how to set it up and learn how to cast it. Just get out in the backyard or somewhere and start casting until you get it down. You will not only learn how to cats with your baitcaster but you will get plenty of experience in picking out backlashes, both of which you need to learn if you are going to get serious about catfishing.

Last but not least is the spincasting reel (like your old Zebco 33 you used as a kid) and all I will say about using spincasting reels and rods is that if you want to get out and catch a couple of catfish they will probably be fine as long as you don’t latch into a trophy, but if you are going to do any serious catfishing you need to learn how to throw a baitcasting reel.

So with all of these considerations, what is the best rod?

Popular Catfish Rod Options

I am going to give you a breakdown on the rods that I use (or have used) and what I can recommend  so you can make your own informed decision on the best for you and will also tell you what I think is the best.

Keep in mind that like I previously stated, my goal when choosing  is to have a good multipurpose rig that is capable of handling all techniques and everything from a monster blue in the Winter to an ultra light channel in the Summer and everything in between.

Just because these rods work for me doesn’t mean that they are the best for you but you can at least take my advice and the information that I am giving you about choosing and make an informed decision when you make your purchases.

As I continue to add pages to this website I will be adding detailed reviews of all these and even some others as well that I have used in the past and I will come back to this page and add additional links from this page so you can find these reviews.

Shakespeare Ugly Stik Catfish Rods

The Shakespeare Ugly Stik Catfish Rod is a timeless classic. This rod has been around for years and has been relatively unchanged during all this time and is a go to rod for many people across the US. The Shakespeare Ugly Stik Catfish Rod is a great setup especially for blue and bigger catfish.

Shakespeare Ugly Stik Catfish Casting Rod is a 7′ fishing rod with an extra long foam handle. It has a handle that is just about the right length but in my opinion could be just a little bit longer. It is white in color and has a glow in the dark tip and glow in the dark eyes as well which might aid with night fishing in no or low light conditions. This Ugly Stik has a catfish logo on it and is clearly labeled as a catfish rod.

Being a fiberglass rod the Shakespeare Ugly Stik Catfish Rod is a bit heavier than I like especially when catfishing while holding the rod but it is not so heavy that it is not fishable. The advantage of the fiberglass is that it makes it super tough and durable.

They come with a 5 year warranty (which does not cover abuse or misuse) but even if you damage the rod from misuse Shakespeare will replace the rod for a reduce cost.

Ugly Stik also come with a 60 day money back guarantee so if you buy it and don’t like it you can return it and get a full refund.

I have written a full review of the Ugly Stik Catfish Rod here.

Product Link To Shakespeare Catfish Casting Rods

The Ugly Stik Casting Rod – CAL1100 – Shakespeare Ugly Stik Trigger Rods

The Ugly Stik Casting Rod model CAL1100 is a comes in a number of different lengths and rod actions but the model I am referring to is a 7’6″ ML action Shakespeare Ugly Stik Casting Rod.

The Ugly Stik CAL1100 is black in color and has an eva foam handle, but is a much shorter handle than the Ugly Stik Catfish Rod mentioned earlier. These are fiberglass rods so they are heavier than graphite but they are also MUCH more durable than graphite.

The Ugly Stik CAL1100 Shakespeare Ugly Stik Trigger Rods being a medium light action is far too light for fishing for big blue or flathead catfish and is not a good choice for a multi species but is an excellent choice for using punch bait. It is fairly light weight (though not as light weight as graphite) and is comfortable to hold and has a sensitive tip, perfect for catching channel cats with punch bait using a slip bobber rig or a slip sinker rig.

I have also used this Shakespeare Ugly Stik Trigger Rod for blues and have had tremendous success with it especially when using circle hooks but being that it is a medium light action it gets a little loose if you hook into a bigger fish and can make it difficult to land the fish without really taking your time.

The Shakespeare Ugly Stik Rod comes with a 5 year warranty (which does not cover abuse or misuse) but even if you damage the rod from misuse Shakespeare will replace the rod for a reduce cost.

Again, Ugly Stik also come with a 60 day money back guarantee so if you buy it and don’t like it you can return it and get a full refund.

Link To: Shakespeare Ugly Stik Trigger Rods Model CAL1100

Whuppin Stick Casting Rods

The Cabela’s Whuppin Stick Casting Rods are Cabela’s Version of the Ugly Stik Rod.

Just like Ugly Stik Fishing Rods the Whuppin Stick Casting Rods are a fiberglass rod but Cabela’s has added the feature of having a cork handle.

There are two Whuppin Stik rods you should take a close look at that are very similar to the Ugly Stik rods I have listed above the model numbers are WSCML 70-2, and the WSCMH 90-2

The WSCML 70-2 is a 7 foot medium light action rod like the Shakespear CAL1000 ML rod I mentioned for punch bait fishing and the WSCMH 90-2  is a 9 foot medium heavy action rod. The action and handling of the 9 foot rod reminds me vey much of the Ugly Stik Catfish Rod and is a great option for drifting or catching big catfish but would again be too heavy and not sensitive enough for my preferences for a multi purpose setup.

The Cabela’s Whuppin Stick Casting Rods did have a 10 year warranty but I couldn’t find any information about the warranty on the website so you might want to verify this with Cabela’s. I have also heard some amazing customer service stories about Cabela’s standing behind their Whuppin Stick rods through their customer service center. Cabela’s is very well known for standing behind their Whuppin Stick Rods.

Link To: Whuppin Stick Casting Rods

So What’s The Best Choice?

I have used just about every setup out there that I thought would be suitable for my techniques and decided a number of years ago after some extensive testing that the absolute best choice is salmon and steelhead rods.

Salmon/steelhead rods can be difficult to get your hands on if you live in an area (like here in Texas) where there is no salmon/steelhead so you have to resort to ordering online.

My affection for using salmon/steelhead rods began with using the Eagle Claw Granger X GRX Series Salmon/Steelhead and I then graduated to Berkley Lightning rods but ran into some issues with what appeared to be a manufacturing defect with a number of them. I still have a hefty arsenal of the Berkley Lighting Rods but have recently started using a different one that I really like. I still need to spend some more time testing these rods before I become a true convert and switch begin switching all of my gear over to them but so far I am impressed.

These are 8’6 Medium Heavy Action Shakespeare Ugly Stik Lite Salmon/Steelhead Trigger.

Link To: Shakespeare Ugly Stik Lite Salmon/Steelhead Trigger Rods

So why do like salmon/steelhead rods for catfishing (regardless of brand).
  • Length – Available in 8’6″ lengths for extra casting distance and ability to control and manage bigger fish
  • Sensitivity – I can use these rods for fishing for any technique and any size fish
  • Long Handles – They all have extra long handles so they work with fishing rod holders great and I can also fish them comfortable when holding them for long periods of time.
  • Lightweight – They are typically light weight so I can hold them when still fishing for long periods of time without fatigue.

At the end of the day when you go shopping for gear you have to determine the application and environment you will be in and make an informed decision on what type of gear will work best for your applications and style.

To get more information on catfish rods and reels download the FREE Catfish Gear 101 eBook. Click here to get started and download the free guide.

You’ll learn everything you need to know about catfish rods and reels from selecting the right gear to setting it up and using it correctly.

You can also check out the catfish rods tutorials for more information.

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About Chad

Chad Ferguson is a professional catfish guide and founder of Learn To Catch Catfish. Click here to subscribe for more exclusive catfish fishing tips by email and then follow on Twitter or Google


  1. Steven Gonzalez says:

    So I took your advice when it comes to rigs…..rods in particular. Now, I am not sure, but I THINK you are using some 5×00 Abu’s with a slip cork rig. I use spinning gear, but this has interested me. I have two 5500 C3 reels and one 5000 reel. All reels do not have bait clickers. I hauled my cookies up to Wally World this morning and I looked at some rods, that I thought would be perfect for these reels…….Berkley Cherrywood rods. These rods are 20 bucks each, but the key point was that they were VERY light. Don’t worry, Sensei, I didn’t shake the tip. Unfortunately, they only had one 7′ rod and the rest were 6’6″ and below. I bought two 6’6″ rods and the 7′. I’m hoping 4 inches won’t be a bad key factor. These rods are light, so holding them with the line in the water will be more tolerable than a heavier rod.
    Thought I would share my info. It may be bad, but I’ll learn from my mistakes, if I made any. Any comments are definitely appreciated. I’ll report after I slay some channels with these rigs (that’s not ego, that’s positive and wishful thinking!!).

  2. Great article Chad. I have fished with european based equipment as I went on a carp angling spree for a couple of years and have adapted those tactics to catfishing (learned a lot of great techniques). And the rod is the one item I wish American companies would look at. My favorites are in the 12 foot range with sensitive tips. It is not about fighting a 45lb. cat every time, however distance and accuracy are critical when spot fishing on the bank.

  3. You can keep your baitcasting gear. I have tried using them, and I flat out don’t like them. All of my reels, from ultralight, to bass, to catfish, are all spinning reels. My saltwater Daiwa spinning reels have never let me down catching blues up to 30lb. They sell for a reasonable $70 at cabela’s. I do agree on the sensitivity part. I seem to do better with my Cabela’s King Kat 10′ MH than I do my Eagle Claw 10′ H, unless it is a very hungry, and big blue. My line is strictly 40lb Berkley Big Game for my serious catfish rigs. My small lake rods have 20lb and just use cheaper Berkley glow stick combos I bought at walmart years ago.

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