Determining the best fishing rod length for you is not as complicated as you might think, despite the huge range of rod options.
With some rod application basics and some good advice from articles such as this, you’ll be sure to avoid the traps and get a rod length that will serve you well.
Rod length selection will be determined by the fishing application for which it is intended, be it surf, boat, fly, ice, or whatever.
Your fishing rod has one core purpose, and that’s to give you leverage. Leverage to cast, and the leverage to battle, tire, and land a fish.
Because we target different types and sizes of fish, from a variety of locations, using different techniques, we have a selection of lengths with each better suited to particular applications.
This article is a basic guide to selecting the appropriate rod length. It’s important to note that it’s about length only.
Fishing rods have further properties that require consideration, however, generally speaking, your first decision when buying a rod will be about length.
Let’s check it out.
Does The Length of a Fishing Rod Matter?
Ultimately, there are only a handful of situations where rod length is critical.
Notice I said “critical.” By critical I mean, you really need a particular rod length, or your chances of catching fish are severely diminished.
A lot of fishing styles and locations put little pressure on rod length selection. Here’s an example to illustrate.
You’re fishing from a sandy bank clear of trees and foliage, the target zone is about 50 yards from the bank, and you’re casting fresh squid at stripers 5 to 8 pounds.
In such circumstances, you could use a rod length of 5 to 14 feet. Yes, 14 feet is overkill, but you’ll still catch fish.
Now. Add low-hanging trees, mangroves, or dense foliage to the bank, and your 14-foot rod becomes impossible to cast. You won’t catch fish.
Imagine the same 14-foot rod on a small or medium boat, with a full complement of anglers busy casting poppers at a school of tuna 60 yards from the boat.
Sure, you can cast your 14-footer, but not without getting in everybody else’s space, hitting your buddies. It’s just not on.
Now let’s say you’re fishing the surf, the fish are hanging in a gutter about 100 yards off the beach at which you want to cast large fresh baits.
Now, your 14-foot rod is not only the perfect weapon but more or less, essential.
Refining rod length selection is about getting the best possible rod length for the target and conditions.
Yes, you might get away with an inappropriate rod length, like a 6-footer ice fishing, or a 7-footer on the beach.
But to maximize our chances and fishing performance, we should, where possible, select an appropriate rod length for the conditions.
A lot of anglers fish in various locations and would rather not have an arsenal of different rods to match each application perfectly.
For these circumstances, we select one of the most important rods for the average angler, the general-purpose rod.
The General Purpose Fishing Rod Length
A general-purpose rod has a length that can be fished conveniently just about anywhere. The common general-purpose rod varies between 7 and 9 feet.
Popular with the broadest range of anglers, the GP rod can be deployed from piers, and rock walls, to boats, ocean rocks, the surf, and freshwater lakes and rivers.
This length offers plenty of good casting leverage and plenty of leverage for battling fish of size.
Importantly, they’re long enough to help you avoid trouble like rush-covered banks, or rocky edges, where fish need to be steered around rocky ledges or lifted over bank foliage.
They’re also ideal for casting long, depending on how you’re rigged.
On the other hand, they’re short enough to not cause havoc on a boat and much easier to transport and store than long rods.
Yes, they might not be great on a kayak, or pond boat, but the 7 to 9-foot length is the most versatile there is.
Specialty Fishing Rods
These days, the marketing behind fishing rods would suggest that there are countless “specialty” fishing rods, with many designed for particular species and techniques.
For the most part, it’s just a marketing technique, there are only a few rods that are true “specialty”.
These rods include the game fishing rod, the fly fishing rod, the Ice fishing rod, the centrepin reel rod, and the EGI.
Ice fishing Rod Lengths
Ice fishing rods range from 20″ to 48″. While popular lengths generally sit in the 28″ to 36″ range, the extremely short and long end of the spectrum are still very popular.
The reason ice rods are short is that you’re fishing into a hole in the ice, and you’re not casting, you’re simply dropping the line.
Obviously, you need to be close to the hole, and a short rod length allows for this.
Game Fishing Rod Lengths
Game rods are designed for catching the biggest fish and sharks that exist in the ocean.
Usually trolled with massive lures and baits, the rod must be strong enough to handle fish well in excess of 1000 pounds.
Common game rod lengths are 5 to 6.5 feet. The focus is on profound strength, made possible by keeping rods very short and stout.
These rods are very specialized and there’s no crossover application.
EGI Rod Lengths
EGI rods have exploded in the last 10 years. Designed for targeting squid and cuttlefish, rod lengths vary from 7 to 9 feet, and can be fished from land or sea.
Power and action are the main design differences and are constructed to battle the unique bite and fight of squid, as well as cast squid jigs.
Built for spin reels, they can be used for other applications where very sensitive tips are an advantage.
Fly Fishing Rod Lengths
Fly fishing is particularly specialized and is designed for casting flies and mounting fly reels. Fly fishing is both a saltwater and freshwater sport, ideal for small and large fish.
Rod lengths vary based on location and target and vary from 6 to 10 feet, with 7 to 9 being popular.
Selection depends on desired cast length, line class, and the surrounding geography.
Shorter lengths are required when fishing locations with heavily wooded banks.
There are no crossover applications with fly rods.
Centrepin Rod Lengths
Centrepin rods are particularly specialized, and by and large designed for float fishing.
Centrepin fishing remains a niche few average anglers would be aware of. These rods come in lengths of 10 to 13 feet and even longer.
Length selection usually revolves around the size of the river and reaching the target zone.
The length allows anglers to target a broad range of fish sizes, with the rod length providing sensitivity, yet great shock absorption when fishing light leaders and chasing monsters.
By and large, there are no application crossovers with centrepin rods.
Spinning Rod Lengths
Spinning rods are by far the most popular and also have the greatest length varieties.
Length varies from 4 feet for the kids, up to 14 feet, and even longer in rare or custom circumstances.
Common lengths are 6 to 10 feet, and the length you choose will be determined by the distance you need to cast.
Other factors include the need to avoid hazards at the water’s edge. For example, ocean rock fishing will require anglers to negotiate fish around rocky ledges. Length helps here.
Another example is pier fishing where a longer rod can help you keep the fish out of the pylons.
Fishing from a jetty or bank doesn’t need a big length, a 6-foot rod can cast as far as you need, and you can net at your feet.
Kayaks are perfect for 6 and 7-foot rods, where anything longer is simply too hard to manage and simply unnecessary.
Spinning rods are used to catch everything from brook trout to sharks from the beach to marlin in the blue water.
Shorter lengths are excellent for lightweight close-quarters casting and the longer rods allow for casting big baits profound distances.
Casting Rod Lengths
Casting rods vary from 5’5″ to 9′ and are common around 6’5″ to 8′. These days, casting rods are nearly always used for casting lures of all different types and are great when length and accuracy are a premium.
Casting rods are extremely popular with freshwater anglers but are also used for a multitude of saltwater work from the estuary to the nearshore.
The reel seats are casting reel specific, and won’t take other reel styles.
Length selection, again, will come down to the distance you need to cast. The longer the rod, the longer the cast.
Keep in mind, a well-balanced short rod 6 to 7 feet, can still cast a long way in the right hands.
Boat Rod Lengths
Boat rods have lengths of anything from 6 to 9 feet, and selection will depend on target and technique.
Common sizes are around 7 to 8 feet, with the longer rods to 9 ‘ often used for various fresh and saltwater trolling applications, or for when extra-long casting is required offshore.
Long casting can be necessary when you wish to cast poppers and stick baits a distance from the target school.
Boat rods also include jigging rods which are common around the 5’ mark and vary significantly in power and strength.
Bottom bouncing rods vary in length but are generally on the shorter side, 5.5 to 6.5 feet.
Boat rods will have reel seats that accept spinning reels and larger overhead-style reels. The rod design will usually be specific to either, so you should check first.
There’s a huge amount of crossover with boat rods. Effectively you can use a boat rod anywhere and any rod on a boat.
However, once you get to 9 feet the length becomes too awkward on a busy or small boat.
Rods such as jigging rods are technique and boat specific, but apart from game rods, there aren’t really any rods that are boat-only.
Surf Fishing Rod Length
Surf rods are generally 9 to 15 feet with the common lengths being 10 to 12. Interestingly, we needn’t jump to get a long rod for surf fishing.
I frequently fish the surf with a 7’ rod and 2500 spinning reel.
A lot of surf species are found right at your feet, and depending on the waves and swell, it’s easier to use light gear to target fish close to the beach.
However, we’re often casting heavy rigs, long distances into decent surf, and this requires a long rod.
Sometimes a minimum of 12’ is needed to get the baits out where they’re needed, and with the strength to handle the weight
Surf rods 10 feet plus are also perfect for fishing the ocean rocks.
The two are completely interchangeable. It’s not uncommon for long surf rods to be deployed on high piers, but 12’ plus are most commonly reserved for the surf and ocean rocks.
Surf rods are usually spin rods, but you can get surf rods that are set up to handle overhead rods, a system that used to be very common quite some decades ago.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are the Benefits of A Short Fishing Rod?
Short fishing rods are usually easy to manage, cast, store, and transport. They have a wide range of applications land-based and at sea.
For those looking for casting accuracy, the shorter rod offers excellent scope for sharp shooting.
They’re ideal when you’re fishing locations with obstructions such as overhanging trees and foliage.
Short rods are so much easier to manage. Short rods are also a great option for the kids and for those new to fishing.
What Are the Benefits of Longer Fishing Rods?
Longer fishing rods allow you to cast your baits further. It gives you access to target zones you simply can’t reach with shorter rods.
It also gives you access to difficult fishing locations where the water’s edge makes landing fish difficult, such as the ocean rocks, break walls, and high piers.
Long rods are also quite powerful, so they give you access to a larger class of fish, and the leverage to drag them from cover, or tire them quickly.
Importantly, long rods allow you to cast bigger and heavier rigs.
What Is the Best Rod Length for Surf Fishing?
This is often a personal preference, but a good standard go-to is 12’. This allows you to cast a significant distance but isn’t too much of a burden when fishing close to the beach.
When you require maximum distance, there’s no substitute for length, in which case 14’ rods can get you the distance you wouldn’t have believed possible.
However, when the surf is down and the fish are feeding closer to the shore, I’ll use a lightweight 7’ rod.
Long rods, especially composite rods 12’ and longer can get very heavy over a session.
If you don’t need the length, don’t fish it. It’s far more comfortable fishing with a shorter rod than a long one.
Long surf rods are frequently unnecessary for the surf. If you’re targeting whiting, for example, a light, short outfit is all that you require if the surf and wind are down.
It’s fair to say, however, that if you’re looking for a surf rod that can handle everything, you should go for something between 11 and 12′.
What Is the Best Rod Length for Bass Fishing?
Bass anglers use rods 6 to 8’ in length. Longer rods are very useful for flipping and pitching depending on where or what you are fishing from.
If you’re land-based and need to cast an exceptional distance, the long rod is often your best option for getting to the target.
Rods 8’ to 9’ are often ideal when access is challenging.
Most bass anglers will use shorter rods around 6 to 6.5’ if they’re kayaking or skipping under structures such as overhanging trees or jetties.
The 6’5 to 7’5 rods are probably the most common with the average angler, as they cover all applications and the majority of lure styles as well as live and natural baits.
What Is the Best Rod Length for Trout Fishing
Trout rod lengths will be determined by the location and technique you’re using. Common sizes are 6 to 8’, and rarely any longer.
The shorter rod is ideal for smaller creeks and streams where overhanging foliage can impede casting.
There’s a little more scope on wider lakes and rivers, allowing you to fish longer, which is great for distance casting and larger fish.
If you’re looking for the one rod to cover a multitude of trout locations, I’d be inclined to go 6.5 to 7’.
Final Notes on Selecting a Fishing Rod Length
In most circumstances, fishing rod length isn’t as critical as you may have been told.
Fishing rods vary in length from 2’ to 14’, and while the extreme ends are pretty specialized, there’s a huge amount of crossover between the 7’ and 9’ mark.
Get the shortest rod that’ll get the job done.
It mitigates fatigue and just makes things easier. However, don’t sacrifice access and performance. If you need 12’ to get to the strike zone, get a 12’ rod.
However, if you’re fishing tight quarters and accuracy is premium, go as short as you can to reach the target zone with the casting technique required.
It’s great if you have the budget to get a rod you need for every fishing situation. However, this is not an option for everybody.
Most recreational anglers who fish the salt and fresh can get away with two rods. If this is you, I’d look at a light-medium 7’ rod and a general-purpose 9’ rod.
This combination gets me across a phenomenal range of fish and fishing techniques.
If you want to specialize, however, further investment is required if you fish multiple applications.