Is it worth it to buy a more expensive fishing rod?
August 7, 2017 7:51 AM   Subscribe

What's the difference between a $30.00 fishing rod/reel and a more expensive one? Is it worth it?

I do a little bit of bass fishing each summer. I fish off a boat into a Canadian lake, casting artificial worms or other fake critters. I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to fishing but most of the time when I go out I bring in a couple keepers.

The rod/reel I've always used is a basic $30 set. I went into an outdoor store one day and said "I need a cheap rod for bass." and bought the one they showed me. It works well enough but often snags at the reel or at the tip of the rod.

I believe it's worth paying money for good tools. I'm happy to pay for quality if there's a good reason to. But a fishing rod is... a fiberglass stick. What do you actually get when you pay more than $30.00 for a rod/reel combo?

I know no rod is going to make me catch more fish, and honestly catching the fish isn't a problem. But would a better rod result in a better fishing experience? Fewer snags on the rod? Fewer issues with the reel? Or is it all marketing hype? What's the cutoff price point between "worth it" and "not worth it"?
posted by bondcliff to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I recently upgraded to a nicer rod and reel combo and I'm glad I did. Reel quality is far more heterogeneous than rod quality, in my experience. Here are some reasons that I went for an $80 rod/reel combo earlier this summer, and am glad I did:

* Larger bale, which means I can use heavier line if I'm, say, surfcasting, instead of being limited to 2-6lb test.
* I was able to choose between fast, medium, and slow action rods, to find the one that suited my needs best.
* My current outfit is resilient enough for saltwater; as long as I rinse it off after I get home, I don't need to worry as much about salt damage.
* Fewer rod components (just 2 instead of the 3-4 my cheapy rod had) which makes for a stronger assembled rod.

If you only do bass fishing and aren't into other types, then a cheapy rod/reel combo is probably fine. You'll notice above that 2 out of my 4 selling points are about versatility, which only matters if you're fishing different waters for different fish regularly.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:03 AM on August 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is coming somewhat second-hand as my Dad is the fisherman in the family, but I feel like at your price point you'd see the biggest difference from upgrading your reel. I've used a number of reels from super cheap to really quite nice and there are obvious differences in terms of how smoothly they operate. Kind of like bicycle transmissions; they all shift gears, but you'll definitely notice a difference going from a cheap one to a nice one.

If your rod is doing the job for you then I wouldn't worry too much about upgrading it. You can pay as much as you want for a rod, and some definitely use better materials that make them lighter, stronger, smoother, and more durable. Also they'll claim to give you a better cast, better sensitivity, and better fighting ability based on the way they flex—how stiff they are, and how the differences in stiffness change from the base to the tip. But rods are more like wine; the differences are night and day to some, while to others it's not worth spending the extra money as long as you're not buying total garbage.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:10 AM on August 7, 2017

Better rods cast better. Ideally, they have a well defined spine so the casting effort stays in plane with your movement. As you pull back, it bends to load the rod, and as you go forward, the rod spring back in line with it all. So you'll cast farther and more accurately with less effort. This is a great place to spend money. You want one suited for the type of fishing you do. How heavy is your line? How far do you typically need to cast? My favorite rod may not be yours.

Better reels, well, they reel better. More bearings lead to a smoother retrieve. In general, that's not a huge benefit. There are some really nice reels that don't cost that much, so I rarely spend a ton here. Quantum makes some great value 8 or 9 bearing reels.

The other secret: good fresh line tangles less. Most combos come with seriously cheap line that's been on that reel for who knows how long. I really like Spiderwire of Fireline for smooth spooling line that's strong, doesn't stretch too much, and casts well.
posted by advicepig at 8:11 AM on August 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Versatility not an issue. I'm sticking to bass, though there are also lake trout and pike in the lake.

Specific rod and/or reel recommendations are welcome.
posted by bondcliff at 8:13 AM on August 7, 2017

This is a pretty good set of recommendations; I've been happy with Wirecutter recommendations in the past. You mention the rod/reel combo you have snagging, either at the rod tip or near the reel. A better rod will often have better, smoother "guides" for the line, and will snag less.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:37 PM on August 7, 2017

>But would a better rod result in a better fishing experience? Fewer snags on the rod? Fewer issues with the reel? Or is it all marketing hype? What's the cutoff price point between "worth it" and "not worth it"?

Bass fishing is a hobby of mine. Like you, I primarily fish from a small boat in lakes and also in a river delta system, primarily in Northern California.

Better rods not only cast better (which is to say casting further, and with much more accuracy), they also do a much better job of transmitting the feel of the fish you've hooked back to you, the fisherman or fisherwoman. If you are catching typical 1-to-15 pound bass on light or ultralight gear, this affects how well you can feel the fish fight. Most of us that practice catch-and-release fishing want to enjoy the fight as much as possible, since we are releasing the fish after we reel it in. For me, that means using a really high quality, light (4lb-8lb), fast rod. I bought my favorite rod about 20 years ago - a G. Loomis SR842-3. It was pricey, but I have spent hundreds of hours fishing that rod and have no regrets.

NOTE: Bass rods come in two basic styles, casting rods (they have a trigger-like rest for your index finger) and spinning rods (no rest for your index finger). Match the rod style to the reel style you prefer.

I think you start to get into "good" quality bass rods at about the $60-$80 mark, and the "very good" rods start at $120+ and go up considerably from there. YMMV, as they say.

Reels: Bass reels tend to be either casting reels or spinning reels. I prefer spinning reels, but most bass fishermen seem to prefer casting reels.

If you fish with a spinning reel, buy a decent Shimano reel (the $60 Spirex reels are great) and be done with it.

I am not comfortable recommending a casting reel as I do not fish one.

Line: As advicepig said, line makes a huge difference in your casting and fishing experience! I change my lines several times each year, depending on how frequently I am fishing. I have personally found the Suffix brand of fishing lines to be extremely good. For one thing, they wind their lines in a way that minimizes twist on the spool, which means you can wind your own spools with less inherent line twist, which leads to fewer tangles and birds' nests.

Hope this helps!
posted by mosk at 3:52 PM on August 7, 2017

bondcliff - if you can tell me what type of reel you prefer (spinning vs. casting) and a budget, I can give you a few brand- and model-specific recommendations.
posted by mosk at 4:36 PM on August 7, 2017

Thanks, Mosk.

I guess I prefer a spinning reel? That's the kind with the metal ring thingy that you pull back before you cast? Yeah, I like those kind. (I told you I don't know a lot)

Budget doesn't matter so much. It's probably not worth me paying more than one or two hundred for the combo. I don't need top of the line anything, just something that wont' be frustrating, that will last a long time, and let me cast where I want to.
posted by bondcliff at 8:58 AM on August 8, 2017


Let me suggest this particular pairing, which I think would be a killer combo for lake bass:


St. Croix Premier Series spinning rod, Medium/Fast action, 4-8 lb line weight, cork handle, two pieces (for easier traveling), $129:

If a one piece rod will do, the same rod is available in a 1 piece unit (p/n PS66LF), for $10 less.

Pair it with this fishing reel:

Shimano Spirex Spinning reel, 8 pounds/140 yards, rear drag, $61:

Item model SR2500RG (Amazon refers to this size as "8 pounds/140 yards")

I prefer rear drag reels, but the front drag reels are fine, too. It's a personal preference. If you don't use the drag feature, it's something you might enjoy learning about, as it will let you play the fish better. Rear drag just means you can adjust the drag (line tension) on the fly from the rear of the reel, vs. a front adjustment point.


For most lake bass fishing, I like 6 lb test line. It allows you to feel the fish well while still making it sporting, and the line is thin enough that you can break it off if you get tangled.

I like Sufix Elite line, 6 lb/330 yard spool, in clear, low visibility green, or camo:

This line is laid on the spool very evenly at the factory, so when you transfer it to your spool it lays down evenly, making it is less likely to tangle when you cast. Not impossible to tangle, but I found it helped keep things working smoothly.

If you do go with this setup, please send me a note sometime after you use it and let me know what you think :) There are cheaper ways to go, but the setup I am recommending is one I'd be happy to fish myself - hopefully you like it!
posted by mosk at 10:56 AM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

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