How to Use a Fishing Rod

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Fishing is both a fun and complicated endeavor. There are a variety of rods for both hobbyists and professionals. There are a number of factors that determine the type of rod you should be using including the type of fish, the type of lure, and water conditions. Don't worry—if you're new to using fishing rods, we've got you covered. Check out the tips below to learn how to use a fishing rod for freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, and even ice fishing.


[Edit]Getting Started

  1. Choose your lure.[1] Lures are great for beginners because they are less messy than live bait. They also cover a lot of water and are more efficient when targeting specific types of fish. While lures can get caught on debris and be relatively expensive but should be used depending on the type of fish and water conditions. Choose the type of lure based on these basic principles[2]:
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 1 Version 3.jpg
    • Jigs are the most versatile lures. They require the most skill as you must cast it out and wait until it falls to the bottom of the water before retrieve it to induce a strike with its movement. Feeling the strike can be difficult as jigs may get caught on debris or just feel like their moving along with the current.
    • Spinners are also great for beginners because you simply have to cast and retrieve. They are designed to create a spinning action that can vibrate through murky water and entice a bite.
    • Spoons are designed so that they create a side-to-side wobble upon retrieval that mimics injured prey fish. You can vary the speed of the wobble by slowing down your retrieval.
    • Soft plastic baits are meant to mimic live bait. They will resemble critters like worms, crawfish, or frogs. Depending on the type of plastic bait, simply mimic the movement of the critter that it resembles.
    • Flies are exactly as they sound. They are meant to mimic insect hovering at the surface of the water. They require quite a lot of skill to produce a natural movement that fish will be attracted to.
  2. Add a lure. Tie your line to your reel using an Arbor knot. Tie your lure, hook, or fly using either a Unit knot, Improved clinch knot, or Palomar knot.[3] You may also try a Surgeon’s knot to tie two lines together or a Surgeon’s End Loop to add a pre-made snelled hook.[4]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 2 Version 3.jpg
    • Tie an Arbor knot by using the tag end of your line to wrap around the arbor end of your spool. Then take the standing part with the tag end and tie an overhand knot, much like you would when starting to tie a shoelace. Move a couple inches and tie another overhand knot from the tag end. You want the first knot to slide down to the spool as you pull the standing part of the line to butt the second knot against it. Close the tag end by trimming the line.[5]
    • The Uni knot is the easiest tackle knot. Thread your line through your hook and make sure it is parallel to the standing line as you double back. Lay the tag end over the double line to create a loop. Take the tag end around the double line six time and through the loop. Pull the tag end to ensure the turns are snug. Push the knot down towards the eye to finish.[6]
    • The Improved clinch knot is the most popular knot used to fish. Place the line through your hook and create 5 or more turns as you double back around the standing line. Take the end of the line and thread it back through the first loop behind the eye of the hook and thread it through the large loop you just created. Tighten the coils by pulling on the tag end. Push the knot tight against the eye and snip the tag end closed.[7]
    • The Palomar knot is considered to be the strongest knot. Fold 6 inches of line to create double the thickness and thread the loop end through your hook. Tie an overhand knot loosely keeping the hook at the bottom, letting it hang. Use your thumb and forefinger to hold the knot as you pass the loop over your hook. Move the loop so that it is above the eye of the hook. Simultaneously pull both the tag end and the standing line to tighten the knot onto the eye of your hook. Trip the tag end closed.[8]
  3. Bait a fishing line. Choosing live bait will depend on the type of fish. The size of your hook will also be determined by the size of the fish that you’re to catch.[9] Basically, thread your hook through your bait at 2 points to secure it from falling off or at the thick portion closest to its head. You want to place your hook at the head and through a thick portion of the body. For example, if you are using a worm thread your hook close to the head and tail.
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 3 Version 3.jpg
    • If you are using fish as bait, make sure that the hook goes through the head and jaw because that will be the primary strike point of your fish.
    • Choosing a good bait depends on the type of fish and type of water. For example, if you’re fishing for freshwater fish in rivers, crawfish and worms may be a good choice for bait.
  4. Cast out. Casting can be done depending on the weather conditions and the location. While there are a variety of techniques, it will take practice to get your cast efficient and consistent.[10][11] Choose these methods based on the distance you’re hoping to achieve[12]:
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 4 Version 3.jpg
    • An overhead cast is best used when you want a lot of distance. Hold down the button for the casting reel with your thumb as you bring the rod back. In a single motion propel the rod forward and release your thumb. Push the button again to prevent your line from tangling by slowing down your spool.
    • Pitching should be employed when you are trying to cast close at about the 10 yard range. Let out some slack line by holding your rod up and making the lure move down to meet the reel. Using your non-dominant hand, grab the lure. Use your dominant hand to press the button on your reel. Keep your line taut as you bring the lure back and drop the tip of the rod. In a single swooping motion, raise the tip of the rod to pull the lure from your non-dominant hand. Use your thumb to slow down the line to ensure you don’t go past your short distance.
  5. Reel in your fish. There are a variety of different reels that you can purchase but the 3 basics are the spincaster, baitcaster, and spinning reel.[13]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 5 Version 3.jpg
    • Most people start with the spincaster. It is a push-button reel that is simple enough to let you focus on casting technique.[14]
    • Baitcaster is also a push-button reel but gives you more control as the button locks in place once pushed down. It requires you to use your thumb on the spool to control the speed of the lure. This reel works well when trying to get fish out of thick water.[15]
    • Spinning reels have an open-face and the rod will be parallel to their spools of line. These work well when casting light crankbaits, drop-shot rigs, jerkbaits, and weightless soft plastics.[16]

[Edit]Using Freshwater Fishing Rods

  1. Choose a rod based on what you’re fishing and the location.[17] Rods vary in width, flexibility, and length. Flexibility is known as action and rods must have enough to absorb the tension of the type of fish that you are catching once it strikes. If you’re fishing at a location with a lot of debris than you must choose a rod able to withstand movement through the debris.[18]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 6 Version 2.jpg
    • Fiberglass fishing rods are best paired with crank baits, jerk baits, reaction baits, and treble hooks.
    • Carbon-fiber fishing rods are great if you are a professional level fisherman as they work best with precision casting.
    • To get more fight out of bigger fish or when casting for smaller ones, use an ultra-light fishing rod for more flex. These rods usually range from 4 - 5.5 feet in length and are paired best with casting lures and flies to catch crappie, trout, bass, bluegill, and other panfish.
  2. Employ spinning rods for still fishing with live bait or for trolling. Choose spinning rods made from graphite or fiberglass with a cork or PVC foam handle. Choose a length between 5 - 8.5 feet when fishing bass, trout, pike and walleye. Longer spinning rods should be used when casting with two hands for fish including steelhead and salmon.[19]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 7 Version 3.jpg
    • The spinning reel hangs under the rod unlike bait casting or spin casting rods.
  3. Work bait-casting and closed-spin casting rods. These rods work best when using fishing reels that are mounted above the handle. Made of graphite or fiberglass with a cork or pvc foam handle, these rods are very similar to spinning rods. They can be anywhere from 5 - 8.5 feet in length. Use longer rods with a longer grip for two-handed casting when fishing steelhead or salmon.
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 8 Version 2.jpg
    • Use larger rods when fishing with larger bait and for larger fish.
  4. Fish with telescopic fishing rods for larger fish. Designed to either shorten or expand, telescopic rods range anywhere from 20 - 30 feet in length but can be collapsed down to as short as 1.5 feet. Choose telescopic rods made out of graphite, fiberglass, or composite material to ensure both durability and flexibility. Each section is designed to fit into another section while keeping the structural integrity of the rod.[20]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 9 Version 2.jpg
    • Telescopic rods are meant for easy transport. Make sure you follow proper maintenance procedures including using tip covers for each section of the rod when transporting. The sections should close easier if they are shorter in length. More sections translate into better weight and stress distribution that can create a farther cast and less breakage when you are involved with a stronger fish.

[Edit]Using Saltwater Fishing Rods

  1. Consider the length, power and action of your rod. These factors will be based on the type of fish that you want to catch. Short rods provide power for fish that give more fight while longer rods cast further. The power of a rod is how much weight in can lift, from light to extra heavy. Rods can also be chosen based on the weight of the lure or the pound-test line that they are designed to be paired with.
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 10 Version 2.jpg
    • Choose a graphite rod if you want a stiff yet sensitive experience and a fiberglass rod for a tough and powerful one.[21]
    • Reels are classified as high or low speed where the latter is used when needing more power to fight large fish. Some reels allow you to push a button to switch between high and low speed.
  2. Utilize a spinning rod and reel when casting lighter lures and baits. Spinning rod and reels work well with top-water poppers and high-speed plugs. Use your dominant hand to hold the rod as you use your other hand to crank the handle.[22]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 11 Version 2.jpg
    • Make sure you change the handle of your rod depending on which is your dominant hand.
    • Spool the line by laying the rod on the floor and ensure that the line is going onto the reel at the same direction that the line is leaving the spool. Pinch the line and crank the reel handle a dozen times. With a slack line, drop the tip of the rod to check if the line starts to twist and spin. If it does, you have spooled the line in the wrong direction. Flip the spool over and continue in the right direction as you fill the reel.
  3. Employ baitcasting rods and reels. These rods work best when bottom fishing, jigging, long casting, or when using big baits. Use an open-face reel for casing or jigging to let out and retrieve the line quickly. Use a closed face reel when using lighter lures and baits. Make sure to use your thumb to control the speed of the spool and keep it slow.[23]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 12 Version 2.jpg
    • Baitcasting rods easily get tangled because the spool turns faster than the line as it leaves the rod. If the tangle isn’t too bad you may be able to untangle it by pulling more line off the reel. However, most baitcasting reel have either a centrifugal, magnetic, or electronic cast control to keep your line from getting tangled.
  4. Work a saltwater trolling rod for larger fish. Saltwater trolling rods carry a lot of line and their large bodies allow them to take extreme pressure for fighting large fish. These rods are shorter and stronger than casting rods. They may also come with a notched butt for a fighting belt or chair. Rods that are longer with a short butt are meant for use with a fighting belt or chair.[24]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 13 Version 2.jpg
    • Pair the rod with an appropriate line-test where a 20 pound rod and line combo works for sailfish, dolphin and marlin. Use 130 pound rod and line combo for billfish and bluefin tuna.
  5. Use saltwater jigging rods and reels. These rods work best for either hovering over a target or to retrieve your line at high speeds. Use specialized tackle to work your lure at the correct speed, either very quickly or slowly depending on the fish. Use vertical jigging with high-speed rods and metal lures for fast retrieval. In contrast, use rubber jigs to hover over the target or for slow, deliberate retrieval.[25]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 14 Version 2.jpg

[Edit]Using Ice Fishing Rods

  1. Choose the right length. Ice fishing rods are typically shorter than freshwater or saltwater rods. They vary in length from 24 - 36 inches. You will need to choose the size of your rod based on the thickness of the ice and type of fish that you are fishing for.[26]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 15 Version 2.jpg
  2. Decide on the right material. Ice fishing requires a very sensitive rod. Fish are not very active in cold water so you need a rod that is both able to withstand the harsh weather conditions and be flexible and sensitive enough to indicate when you have a bite. Look for graphite or fiberglass rods.[27]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 16 Version 2.jpg
    • The type of fish that you are planning to catch will also determine how sensitive and flexible you want your rod. For example, panfish require a rod that is very light whereas game fish, like Northern pike, need a heavier rod.
  3. Match your line with your rod and spool.[28] Choose a spinning reel or a spring tension spool with a line to match your rod. For example, if you are using a lightweight rod, use a lightweight line. You may also use a fly reel instead of a spinning reel.[29]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 17 Version 2.jpg
    • A fly reel has less line to twist relative to the spinning reel.
  4. Use tip-ups instead of a rod. A tip-up is a device that dangles bait beneath the ice. It lets you know when a bite happens with a flag set above the ice. The device is similar to a rod in that it uses a reel that is submerged under water. A fish takes the bait and turns the reel which releases the flag to signal that you have a strike.[30]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 18 Version 2.jpg
    • Tip-ups are usually made of wood and some are circular to fit over your hole and prevent it from freezing over. Use a heavy line when using a tip-up with braided line for larger fish like walleye.
  5. Use both tip-ups and a spinning rod to increase your chances. Setup two holes at different locations. Make sure the locations are close enough for you to react in case you have two bites but far enough that they give more opportunities for multiple strikes. Use your spinning rod to jig in one hole as your monitor your tip up.[31]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 19 Version 2.jpg
    • Jigging means that use a special device -- a jig -- to produce a jerking up and down motion as it moves through the water. The jerking motion is meant to illicit the strike reflex of certain types of fish.
  6. Settle on the correct bait. Both live and artificial baits will work for ice fishing. For artificial baits you may choose banana jigs, and teardrop jigs. For live bait you may try worms, bee mother larva, maggots, fly larvae, mayfly larvae, or minnows. Slowly jig the bait for whichever bait you choose.[32]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 20 Version 2.jpg

[Edit]Using Fly Fishing Rods

  1. Create a budget. Fly fishing rods are as good as you pay for so it’s important to know how often you will be using your rod and what skill level you are at before purchasing a fly fishing rod. While high-performance rods can help you, it may be helpful to wait until your casting skills have improved in order to reap the full benefits of an expensive rod.
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 21 Version 2.jpg
  2. Choose a rod based on your experience. Beginners can choose inexpensive rods made of graphite, fiberglass, or bamboo. Price will reflect better materials and high-performance rods are better suited for experienced fisherman or people who plan to fly fish often.[33]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 22 Version 2.jpg
    • High quality rods can make casting easier which is imperative when fly fishing.
    • Fly rods may come in 2, 3, or 4 pieces. Most beginners use a 2 piece while more seasoned fisherman use a 4 piece as it can be broken down and easily carried on airplanes.
  3. Learn proper technique. Cast the line to mimic the movement of live prey. The presentation of your lure will depend on the type of fish with the rod and line working seamlessly to create specific movements.[34]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 23 Version 2.jpg
    • Movements can range from mimicking insects to frogs.
  4. Select the length of the rod based on your location. Use 6 - 8 foot fly rods for fishing in smaller streams with a lot of brush. Move up to 9 foot rods when fishing in big rivers. The longer the rod, the more control you have over your line.[35]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 24 Version 2.jpg
  5. Use a larger line and rod for larger fish. The larger the fly, the heavier it is and the heavier the line you will need in order to deliver it. A larger rod ensures a smooth cast with heavier lures.[36]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 25 Version 2.jpg
    • Beginners should use 1 - 8 weight for trout, 6-10 weight for bass, and 5 weight for panfish.
  6. Ensure that the fly fishing line is designed for your rod. Fly rods are designed to only cast a certain weight of line. For example, only use a 6-weight line with a 6-weight rod. Check the rod information that’s printed above the cork grip to choose the corresponding weighted line.[37]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 26 Version 2.jpg
    • Different manufacturers will place the weight information on different locations on the rod and may have unique codes. Make sure to consult the manufacturer if you cannot find the pertinent information.
  7. Choose the right bait. The bait you choose will depend on the location and type of fish. Find the closest fly shop to the location that you will be fishing at and ask the sales staff what they would recommend.[38]
    Use a Fishing Rod Step 27 Version 2.jpg


  • Each time you change locations, research what bait has been successful for the type of fish you plan on catching.
  • Certain types and sizes of fish are illegal to catch. If you catch one that is out of season or seems to be too small, throw it back. Always check with the local gaming and fisheries authorities.


  • Check whether you need to obtain a license to fish in your area. Certain types of fish may be illegal to catch depending on the time of year or location.
  • When fishing for larger fish make sure to exercise proper precautions. Lack of proper equipment and preparation can lead to serious injury or worse.

[Edit]Related wikiHows


[Edit]Quick Summary

  1. [v161724_b01]. 26 February 2021.
  3. [v161724_b01]. 26 February 2021.
  9. [v161344_b01]. 1 April 2020.
  10. [v161724_b01]. 26 February 2021.
  11. [v161344_b01]. 1 April 2020.
  13. [v161724_b01]. 26 February 2021.
  17. [v161344_b01]. 1 April 2020.
  28. [v161344_b01]. 1 April 2020.
  38. [v161344_b01]. 1 April 2020.