Catfish rods are a segment of catfishing gear that I wasted a lot of money on over the years. I’ve wasted more money on catfish rods that weren’t a good “fit” than any other area of catfish gear so I created this guide, the Ultimate Guide To Catfish Rods.
Some of this was due to poor research on my part, some was due to manufacturer defects or deficiencies.
Much of this was due to changes in fishing style and really getting a firm understanding of what a fishing rod can and cannot do, along with how to leverage every single aspect of the fishing rod.
The end goal is to have a set of catfish rods that’s ideal for every catfishing technique and species.
Here’s what I’m looking for when choosing catfish rods:
- Performs under the stress and abuse that it’ll take from trophy blues and flatheads
- Is light enough to “finesse fish” and catch 1–5 pound catfish
- Holds up well and takes repeated long term abuse (I don’t “baby” my catfishing gear)
- Cost effective (as much as I would like to be able to buy $250 fishing rods, I can’t/won’t)
The Ultimate Guide To Catfish Rods covers exactly what you need to know about choosing the right catfish rods. As a professional catfish guide I rely on having the right gear to put fish in the boat and do so as efficiently as possible. Rather than wasting money on buying the wrong gear, you can use my experience as a guide.
The Big Catfish Rod Mistake
Most anglers who begin targeting catfish go out to their local bait and tackle shop and but the first fishing rod they can find that says “catfish” somewhere on the rod. These come from a variety of manufacturers and in a variety of shape sizes and colors.
The vast majority of fishing rods marketed to catfish anglers that you”ll find in big box retail stores are total junk and not well suited for catfish fishing. At least “general” catfish fishing targeting a variety of species and using a variety of techniques. Many are big, heavy and poorly built and lack the essentials needed for success catching cats.
The goal is to help you understand exactly what you need, exactly what you don’t and make an informed decision based on where and how you will be fishing for catfish and what species and size of catfish you will be fishing for.
You’ll learn what you need to know about catfish rods and everything you need to consider before you buy something.
In the end I’ll give you some suggestions for great catfish rods for anglers of all experience levels and for all different types of catfish and techniques.
Before that though let’s take a look at the types of catfish, catfishing techniques and the three types of catfish anglers.
You need to decide which species of catfish you plan to target, the techniques you’ll be using and which type of catfish angler you are before you purchase catfish rods that are a poor choice for your needs.
Quick Jump Navigation Links
This is an in depth resource covering everything you ever needed to know about choosing a catfish rod and the features you need (and don’t).
Because of the length and the amount of information covered these quick jump links will take you to each section of this guide so you can jump straight to the information that interests you.
If you’re just looking for the suggested rods then click here to skip everything else!
Types Of Catfish and Rod Choice
Three Types Of Catfish Anglers
Catfish Rods Vs’ Catfish Poles
E-Glass, Carbon Fiber, Graphite and Other Rod Types
Fishing Rod Length and Why It Matters For Catfish
Two Piece Fishing Rod Myths
Fishing Rod Action and Power
Circle Hooks and Catfish Rods, Why It Matters
Line Guides and Why They Matter
Rod Handles Matter Also
Why Are The Handles So Long On Catfish Rods
Spinning Rods (and Reels) For Catfish
Catfish Rod Selection, What Features Do You Need
Fishing Rods For Channel Catfish
Rods For Blue Catfish
Blue and Flathead Rods Made Simple
Shore Fishing Rods
Custom Catfish Rods
What To Consider When Choosing Your Catfish Rod
The Chad Ferguson Signature Series Catfish Rod
Suggested Catfish Rods For Every Size, Species and Technique
The Great Big List of Catfish Rods
Types Of Catfish and Rod Choice
If you’re not familiar with these different species, their differences, size differences and the techniques commonly used to catch them then make sure you check this out and familiarize yourself.
These different species of catfish are very different in many ways, as are the techniques used to catch them.
For instance if targeting flathead catfish it would be common to bait hooks and then leave fishing rods in rod holders for an extended period of time without moving them. For blue catfish or channel catfish, one might use a similar technique but just as common (and effective) is fishing with the rod in hand and holding the rod for an extended period of time.
There’s three types of catfish anglers.
- Quantity Over Quality: The first group are those that target numbers of catfish and want to catch as many as they can as fast as possible. They might catch a larger catfish now and then on accident but that’s really not their goal. They’re just after the action and staying active while fishing and catching as many fish as they can. Sometimes this is because that’s what they prefer and sometimes it’s because there’s simply not good populations of larger catfish for them to catch in their home waters.These anglers typically target blue catfish or channel catfish.
- Trophy Hunters: Trophy hunters seek quality over quantity. They’re after big catfish only and don’t have any desire or intent to catch smaller catfish. There’s casual anglers that are trophy hunters and this is the typical tournament angler also. They need big beefy gear that’s capable of landing the biggest blues, channels and flatheads that swim and they focus all of their gear on catching big monster catfish.
- The Tweeners: This group of catfish anglers lies somewhere in between the first two groups. They focus on catching smaller catfish and maybe they catch a bigger catfish occasionally also (by accident or on purpose). Then there’s the group that focuses seasonally on different types of catfish or different size catfish. Maybe they focus on channel catfish and catching numbers of fish part of the year with an occasional bigger cat mixed in and then they spend part of the year focused on catching big catfish.
Catfish Rods Vs’ Catfish Poles?
Several years ago I realized that many of the people that contact me through the site and on social media refer to rods as “poles”, either catfish poles or fishing poles.
I’ve always referred to them as “rods” not poles. To me, a “fishing pole” or “catfish pole” means a cane pole. It’s an old school term that refers to antiquated equipment.
I did s little survey on Twitter and Facebook asking which was correct and which term people used, catfish rod or catfish pole and it was almost a 50/50 split among those that responded on which was the correct term.
If you Google “catfish pole” or “fishing pole” you get thousands of search results for a variety of shapes, styles and colors of fishing rods and the vast majority of them use the term “rod”.
Inexperienced fishermen will often say “fishing pole” instead of fishing rod because they haven’t learned the difference. It’s completely innocent and not a bad thing, it simply boils down to what they learned or lack of understanding of the difference.
Here’s the difference in a catfish rod vs’ a catfish pole (or fishing rod vs’ fishing pole).
A “pole” is made from natural elements such as either cane, reed or bamboo, etc and has the line tied directly to the pole (again think cane pole).
A fishing “rod” is made out of conventional composite materials such as graphite, fiberglass, carbon fiber or a combination of these materials.
This tutorial is all about catfish rods, not poles. Not that there’s anything wrong with using a cane pole to catch catfish. I’ve done it for years and it’s actually a really fun way to catch channel cats but selecting a cane pole is pretty self explanatory.
Spinning Rods (and Reels) For Catfish
They are balanced different, they have different line guides on them and perform differently overall.
Spinning reels need to be matched with spinning rods and bait cast fishing reels or casting reels are matched with casting rods. For some reason I constantly field questions from people asking if a casting reel can go on a spinning rod.
My response is always the same. You could dig a hole with a hammer but whether you should do that is the question.
As you continue to read and follow along I’ll make a few references to spinning gear but they’ll be centered around why you shouldn’t use it.
If that’s what you have already then by all means use it. If you plan on purchasing something I won’t by any means suggest you go out and buy spinning gear for catfish. Buy a bait cast reel, learn to use it, pair it with a bait cast rod and move on with your fishing. You’ll be much happier in the long run.
There’s nothing wrong with spinning reels but they’re not as well suited for catfishing and the techniques used as bait cast fishing reels are. It’s also much more difficult to find a spinning rod for catfish as fewer companies manufacture catfish specific spinning rods.
E-Glass, Graphite, Carbon Fiber, and Other Catfish Rod Types
Rods come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. They can be made from basic materials like e-glass or advanced materials like graphite or carbon fiber and everything in between.
E-Glass and S-Glass
On the lower end of the spectrum is e-glass. Fishing rods made from e-glass are very popular with catfish anglers because the material is very strong and durable and the rods hold up well. They are strong and powerful but heavier in weight and less sensitive than other styles of fishing rods.
An e-glass fishing rod usually has a strong “backbone” and is going to hold up in a variety of situations. Think “workhorse”, strong, powerful, and durable. These are fishing rods that are going to take some abuse. With a decent quality e-glass fishing rod, you can really put some muscle to a fish and use the rising rod to land it or manhandle it and it’s not going to snap.
E-Glass has long been the “standard” in catfish rods.
S-Glass is similar to e-glass in many ways but is a superior material to e-glass.
S-Glass is stronger has nearly twice the modulus of e-glass making it a much stronger material. In addition to being stronger and more durable, S-glass is much lighter in weight which helps considerably to reduce the overall weight of the fishing rod.
S-Glass has become increasingly popular in recent years as anglers continue to innovate and use new catfishing techniques that require more sensitivity and a lighter rod that can be held for extended periods of time but still require durability.
As you would expect since s-glass is a superior product it’s more expensive than e-glass so fewer manufacturers use it to build catfish rods.
The Chad Ferguson Signature Series Catfish Rod from Whisker Seeker Tackle is built from an S-glass composite material.
Graphite rods are lighter in weight, more sensitive but less durable, and generally less powerful.
You can look on the shelf at your local fishing store and pick up any rod targeting bass fishing and almost every rod in this class is going to be a graphite rod.
The advantage of graphite rods is they are much lighter than e-glass and they are much more sensitive.
This means if you are holding a fishing rod and casting or using techniques where you will have the rod in your hand for long periods of time it’s much more comfortable to hold. The difference in sensitivity between a graphite fishing rod and an e-glass fishing rod is night and day. Graphite allows you to feel much more than e-glass. If you are holding a graphite fishing rod and a catfish is “nibbling” on the bait you’ll feel everything. That’s not to say you won’t feel anything with e-glass but there is a significant difference.
The disadvantage of graphite is that they are much less durable, they break easily and can be damaged easily. If you accidentally hit a graphite fishing rod against something while casting, it may break. If the rod doesn’t break when you hit it against something chances are it will break soon after that.
Graphite rods are also generally less “powerful than an e-glass rod.
What this means for catfish fishing is if you hook into a 50-pound catfish with e-glass you can typically really work the fishing rod and use it to help control the fish and really put pressure on it. I’ve had e-glass rods doubled over in the shape of a horseshoe over the years and not snap. Attempting to do this with a graphite rod is a recipe for disaster.
Carbon Fiber Rods
Carbon fiber fishing rods are the next step above graphite. Carbon fiber offers some of the properties of e-glass and graphite and the best of both worlds but it comes at a price.
These rods are relatively new to the catfish scene and are not something that the vast majority of catfish anglers will need or want to pay for until they get some experience.
Composite rods have been around in the catfish world for years and have generally been expensive with a somewhat cult following. Rods like the St. Croix Classic Cat (no longer in production) built on composite blanks sold for over $200 when they were on the market and have since become so sought after that used rods often sell for as much as $700 each online.
Composite rods combine two materials, usually, graphite and s-glass, which creates a more advanced fishing rod capable of more than traditional catfish rods.
You get the advantage of the lightweight and sensitivity of graphite but the strength of S-glass creating a fishing rod capable of doing more.
Where catfish anglers were once happy hanging a bunch of heavy e-glass fishing rods off the side of the boat and waiting for a big catfish to come along, times are changing and catfishing techniques are being innovated.
Fifteen years ago a savvy cat man wouldn’t have second-guessed those big heavy e-glass rods. Today however hardcore catters are finding that those old school rods are no longer a good fit.
Techniques are changing and while the old “stick em in the rod holder” approach still works and is used many anglers are finding the fishing rod in their hand more and more while fishing and a variety of new techniques are coming into play, especially when targeting trophy class blue catfish.
What’s The Best Material For Catfish Rods?
What’s best when faced with a choice between e-glass, s-glass, carbon fiber, graphite, or composite catfish rods?
The vast majority of rods used for catfish fishing are made from e-glass and for good reason. These rods are affordable, durable and are easy on the pocketbook. They are sensitive enough to feel catfish biting when fishing for smaller catfish and strong enough to horse in and land a larger catfish when you hook one.
Channel Catfish: If you plan on fishing for channel catfish only and targeting numbers of fish a graphite fishing rod will work fine and has some advantages over e-glass with sensitivity. If you live in an area with an abundance of trophy channel catfish, gear similar to that used for blue catfish is a better fit.
Blue and Flathead Catfish: If you’re targeting blue and flathead catfish then e-glass, s-glass or composite is going to be the best choice. You need the durability and additional power to help land larger fish and the durability to hold up in a variety of situations.
Do All, Catch-All: If you are not sure what catfish species you are going to target or plan on fishing for all three species of catfish then go with an e-glass, s-glass, or composite fishing rod.
The best choice in a catfish rod is going depend on you, which species of catfish you target, the size of these catfish you typically catch, and the catfishing techniques that you’ll be using.
The angler that only targets 1–3 pound channel catfish and holds the fishing rod all day has a very different set of needs from the flathead or blue cat hunter that only targets monster cats and leaves the poles in a rod holder for an extended period of time.
The Long Rod Advantage For Catfish
The length of a fishing rod has a major role in its performance and use. Rod length impacts everything you do and a difference in length of six inches or a foot is a night and day difference in performance.
Most anglers are used to the freshwater fishing rods they’ll find on the shelf at local stores which are often 6 foot in length or 6 foot 6 inches. This is the average run of the mill fishing rod that most stores carry and anyone that has a stockpile of fishing rods at their house will have these type and style fishing rods.
Dropping a minnow off the side of the shore or a boat and pulling in perch is very different than the techniques an experienced catfish angler will use and the length of the fishing rod impacts these techniques.
Longer fishing rods offer better casting distance and accuracy. The longer the fishing rod the further you are able to cast and the more accurately you are able to cast at long distances. The difference is significant.
The other advantage of a longer fishing rod is control over fish.
If you’re intent is to catch 1–5 lb catfish and you don’t have the interest or opportunity to catch larger catfish then a shorter fishing rod will work fine for you. If there is a possibility you could hook into a larger fish or you want to target larger fish then a longer catfish rod is in order.
Remember that with a shorter length rod you will lose casting distance and accuracy. This may not matter to some, especially in the beginning but long term you’ll find that the distance you can cast impacts your fishing, and the accuracy of your casts will help put more fish on the line. This is especially true when fishing for channel catfish.
Longer rods allow you to control fish better when reeling them in and landing them, the bigger the fish the more critical this is. That’s not to say you can’t land a larger fish with a shorter fishing rod because you certainly can. The difference is how much easier it will be with a longer fishing rod than a shorter one.
When you have fifty-plus pounds of mean, nasty, and very irritated catfish on the end of your fishing line and try to control it you learn some lessons quickly. Pulling these large catfish off the bottom or controlling them and keeping them out of drift socks, anchor ropes, timber and everything else they hang up on is much easier with a long fishing rod.
Even a long limber fishing rod is often better than a shorter fishing rod.
If you are fishing from a boat you often have the ability to get close or at least closer to your target area. This allows you many times to cast shorter distances and eliminates the need for a really long fishing rod. There are still advantages to a longer rod so you’ll want to ultimately use a catfish rod that is at least 7 feet long.
Shore fishing is a different story and there are a variety of approaches to shore fishing. Some anglers finesse fish and walk the banks and target areas right against and near the shore. Others prefer to make long casts and place their baits as far as they can in open water.
What you’ll do will depend on many things including where you’re fishing, when you’re fishing, and what species of catfish you are fishing for. Many shore fishing anglers that target large catfish use long rods and make long casts and do so by using fishing rods up to ten feet in length (or more) often referred to as “surf rods”.
These rods do a great job covering a lot of water by making long casts but they are heavy and lack sensitivity. These long surf rods are a great fishing rod for catching trophy blue or flathead catfish from the shore in open water but are an awful match for catching smaller catfish of any species, targeting channel catfish, or using any techniques that require some precision.
Regardless of whether you’re fishing from the shore or a boat, the goal is to find an “ideal length” fishing rod that gives you a good balance of casting distance, sensitivity, technique, and function. This means using a rod that is way too long or way too short will work against you and actually hurt your ability to catch fish in many situations.
Two-Piece Fishing Rod Myths
When you begin looking at longer fishing rods you’ll find that many (or most) fishing rods seven feet long or more are two-piece fishing rods. I always get a lot of questions and concerns from anglers about two-piece fishing rods.
A two-piece rod means that the rod separates in the middle in two sections with a “joint” so the rod is essentially half its size.
Manufacturers do this for a variety of reasons but saving money on packaging, shipping, and storage and then providing a more durable product is one of the major reasons behind two-piece fishing rods in shorter lengths. When you use rods over 8 feet in length having a rod that is two pieces is a necessity and this is true the longer the fishing rod gets.
If you have a 9 or 10-foot fishing rod it would be impossible to ship or even transport in your car to and from the lake.
Most concerns about “two-piece fishing rods” that I get come from anglers who have made the leap from the “bass” fishing world or some other species of fish. These are often worlds where two-piece fishing rods are looked down on.
I’ve heard it hundreds of times:
“I’d never buy a two-piece fishing rod”
“Two-piece fishing rods are junk”
“Two-piece fishing rods aren’t sensitive enough”
“Two-piece fishing rods come apart”
These statements couldn’t be further from the truth and are only a result of misinformed anglers.
The bottom line is that if you are going to fish for catfish there is a high likelihood that you will end up using a two-piece fishing rod.
Manufacturers have perfected the processes and materials used when building two-piece rods. These are not the rods that your grandfather used that came apart and wouldn’t stay together. They’re well built, they stay together, they’re sensitive and they work for catfish fishing.
Don’t discount a fishing rod because it is a two-piece rod.
I’ve been using them for over twenty years and a good portion of that time as a professional catfish angler and I have never had one single situation where I felt a two-piece fishing rod caused a problem during that time or cost me a fish.
Most catfish rods are longer rods, meaning they’re 7’6” or longer and it’s very difficult to find a fishing rod that size that is a one-piece rod.
Rod Action and Power For Catfish
When I’m in stores I watch people pick up fishing rods. It’s something that makes me chuckle and has for years, I don’t want you to be one of these people.
What happens in tackle stores is people walk up to a fishing rod, take it off the rack and grab the handle. They take the tip of the fishing rod and hold it away from them and proceed to shake the fishing rod and watch the tip to see what happens.
This does absolutely nothing for you when selecting a fishing rod. It tells you nothing at all about the rod either.
There are a couple of critical terms to understand about fishing rods, power, and action.
Fishing Rod Power
Rod power is the strength of the rod.
Rod power ranges from ultra-light to heavy. Different species of catfish call for different techniques and fishing rods.
In most situations, a medium (M) or medium-heavy (MH) action will be best for channel catfish, and for blue and flathead catfish a medium-heavy (MH) action is most often preferred.
Fishing Rod Action
Fast action rods will bend mostly in the area around and nearest to the tip.
Medium or moderate action rods bed a little deeper so you have flexibility in the tip and middle of the fishing rod.
The slow action rod will bend throughout most of the blank or everything from the end of the handle to the tip of the rod.
Just remember that faster means less bend in the fishing rod and as you work your way down in action more of the fishing rod will bend or flex.
What’s The Best Action and Power For Catfish?
A fast action rod will have less flex throughout the fishing rod so the faster the action the more power you have in the hook set. A fast-action also helps with casting baits like prepared baits or livers. The fast action helps soften some of the blow and helps keep baits from flying off during casting.
What’s the right action and power for fishing for catfish? It depends on what you are fishing for and how you are fishing.
One option is to go “middle of the road” and make the gear work for all applications through adjustments in your fishing. This means using a “medium or moderate” action fishing rod.
The other option is to get specialized equipment for every situation. Doing this you end up with tons of fishing rods and buying gear suited for every application and technique. Then you add the complication of fishing with multiple rods and needing to change techniques or approaches and not having the correct gear for the correct application.
I’ve always used the approach of finding the right gear that will work for all of my needs, or at least most of my needs.
It’s certainly possible to use the same fishing rods for all three species of catfish and in all applications and this is the route you should take in the beginning.
A long rod with a medium or moderate action can still have plenty of power giving you the ability to finesse fish but still having the capability of landing big trophy class catfish as well, this all comes down to the angler’s ability and understanding of how to properly land a large fish. Finally, not getting in a hurry when landing large catfish is critical when not using a heavy fishing rod.
A moderate fast action rod is a great balance between being able to finesse fish and catch smaller fish, having a catfish rod that works well with circle hooks, and still having the ability to horse in trophy catfish.
Circle Hooks and Your Catfish Rod, It Matters
I prefer to have some movement in the tip of the rod because it provides a wealth of information about what the fish are doing.
For example, if fishing on anchor it’s common, especially in shallower water, for catfish to bite and run at the boat. When a rod is in a fishing rod holder with some slight flex in the tip, I can watch not only for the line to go “slack” but also watch the rod tips for the flex to “give” or the rod to straighten out, indicating there is a bite or activity on the end of the line.
The rod tip is important when fishing with circle hooks also.
A rod with very little flex in the tip will not work well with circle hooks. Circle hooks perform best when the fishing rod has some flex and can bend.
This is commonly referred to as “loading the rod” when a fish bites and the rod flexes and bends at the tip when fishing with circle hooks. Depending on which species of catfish you target, which size catfish you want to catch, and the techniques you will use you may or may not use circle hooks.
Fishing Rod Line Guides (Eyes)
Most quality fishing rods will have at least one line guide per foot of fishing rod.
Cheaper fishing rods will have fewer eyes as a cost-cutting measure. This is important to “eyeball” and inspect. As a general rule the more line guides there are on a fishing rod the better it will perform.
What Do Line Guides On Rods Do?
Line guides serve several purposes with the performance, durability, and sensitivity of a fishing rod.
• Line guides transfer vibrations through the fishing rod during a “nibble” or bite and help you to feel what is taking place. Fewer line guides or less than 1 per foot of fishing rod will be less sensitive.
• Line guides distribute stress throughout the fishing rod when fighting a fish. Rods that don’t have enough guides be more prone to breaking due to stress when landing large catfish.
• Line guides aid with “feeding” the fishing line off of the rod and assist with smooth and accurate casting. More line guides mean smoother, longer, and more accurate casts.
Rod Line Guide Types, Good, Bad and Ugly
The number of line guides is rarely a concern in a quality fishing rod. Cheaper fishing rods will always have fewer line guides. Equally as important is the material the guides are made of as this is another common area of cost-cutting in cheap catfish rods.
Cheaper fishing rods will use line guides with ceramic inserts. These ceramic inserts work fine but through normal wear and tear will often fall out or get knocked out of the rod and require repair or replacement. Damaging these line guides with ceramic inserts is quite easy to do. I’ve had fishing rods over the years that never made it to the lake without the ceramic inserts falling out.
If you can avoid these ceramic line guides you are better off. If you must go with a fishing rod that uses these line guides then be very careful with them.
One trick that many anglers use is when they buy a new fishing rod with ceramic line guides they apply super glue to the ceramic inserts immediately. Adding a thin layer of super glue where the ceramic insert contacts the metal helps to keep the inserts from falling out or being knocked out. This still will not completely fix the issue though and the best option is to avoid rods that use these inserts of possible.
Another concern is using a braided fishing line in combination with ceramic line guides. Long term use of braided fishing line will do damage to the ceramic. This usually occurs in the two-line guides closest to the tip of the fishing rod. The braided fishing line will slowly wear a groove into the ceramic. Eventually, you’ll see a visible cut in the ceramic and every time you apply pressure to the line the braided line will be cut.
In recent years fewer companies are using ceramic inserts in their manufacturing and Ugly Stik has been one of the last fishing rods that use ceramic inserts in their lower end rods. Even Ugly Stik is in the process of phasing these ceramic inserts out in their newer GX2 line of fishing rods.
Better and more technologically advanced materials don’t involve ceramic inserts. These are the line guides you will see on most fishing rods today. There are a variety of materials available that eliminate the ceramic inserts and use a variety of metal materials including stainless steel.
The advantage of these line guides is they don’t have inserts that fall out or will be damaged so you have a more durable fishing rod for long term use. These line guides are also generally very resistant to damage from braided fishing lines.
There are a variety of terms and branding names used by different manufacturers and terms like chromium, hard chromium, ss304, and a variety of others are thrown around depending on who manufactures the fishing rod.
You shouldn’t be concerned with the name of the material because, for the most part, they are going to be relatively the same. The main concern is that they don’t use ceramic inserts and are an all-metal line guide. These offer the best long term performance and durability.
Rod Handles Matter Also
The handles of catfish rods are very different from the handles on fishing rods traditionally used by anglers for other species of fish. Most anglers are used to using fishing rods that are covered in cork and the handles are traditionally very short.
Some catfish rods come with cork handles but EVA foam is more common. The bigger difference than the material the handles are covered in is the length of the handles of the fishing rods. Catfish rods usually have much longer handles than those anglers are used to and there are good reasons for this.
Foam, Cork, or Cord Handles?
There are three basic materials used for rod handles, foam, cork, and “paracord”.
Foam and cork have been used for years with fishing rods and are nothing new to most anglers but cork has always been associated with more quality fishing rods by many anglers who are used to targeting bass, crappie, or other freshwater fish.
Most manufacturers who make “catfish specific” rods generally use foam handles and cork is rarely seen. There are a variety of reasons behind cork being more common and even preferred by catfish anglers.
Cork handles work well but there are a few issues with them that may cause you to stay away from them. One of the biggest complaints about cork is that it gets slick when covered with shad slime, catfish slime, and other elements that you’ll come in contact with when catfish fishing.
Cork is also very porous, much more than foam and it has a tendency to get slime and other elements caked down in these pores. As the handles age and weather the pores become larger and more stuff cakes down inside of these tiny holes.
If you fish with prepared baits (stink baits) for channel catfish this adds another problem with cork and the handles getting saturated with “stink bait”.
I’ve used cork handle fishing rods for years and honestly don’t have any issues with them at all but I’ve learned a few tricks over the years that help keep them in good condition and helps battle all of the issues most catfish anglers complain about with cork handles.
The biggest challenge with cork is durability. Cork weathers and ages poorly and begins to crack and also has a tendency to damage easily. Taking rods in and out of rod holders and day to day use while catfishing will often cause damage but many anglers are willing to sacrifice for the feel and function of cork fishing rod handles.
Composite Cork Handles
Cork composite is a new material that’s surfaced over the past few years. Cork composite is a mixture of rubber and cork providing the look, feel, and performance of cork with added durability, better long-term use, and a no-slip grip.
Cork composite is more durable than foam or traditional cork, cleans better, and lasts longer.
Foam handles are common in catfish rods. The foam is comfortable to hold and relatively durable. You will rarely have issues with the handles being slick when wet or covered with slime.
Foam handles are also relatively durable and don’t weather or break down over time (within reason). They also are relatively easy to clean or wipe off and you can clean shad scales, catfish slime or stink bait off of them within reason.
Paracord or parachute cord has made its way into handles of catfish rods in recent years. These handles come wrapped with cordage that has become popular in recent years. Outside of fishing rod, you find paracord being used on knife handles and a variety of other uses.
The paracord fishing rod handles provide several benefits. It’s incredibly durable, it never gets slick and it actually provides some texture to the handle of the fishing rod.
The downside of paracord handles is there are small grooves throughout the rod handles and they cake up with slime and gunk during use.
Paracord handle fishing rods for channel catfish anglers who use prepared baits are a bad fit. I tried one and it was horrible. The handle of the rod was caked in “stink bait” and smelled horrible. That smell transferred to my hands every time I touched the rod and was almost unbearable.
I’ve dismissed the paracord rod handles as more of a novelty but know others who love them and use them all the time. I’m simply not a fan of the look, feel, or function of these handles.
Which Fishing Rod Handles Are Best For Catfish Rods?
Ultimately it’s a matter of personal preference but cork, composite cork or EVA foam is the most likely choice for most catfishermen.
You may have limited options based on the rod length and other features you prefer. Just spend some time handling and fishing with a variety of handle types and see what your personal preference is.
The long handles commonly associated with a catfish rod are like that for a reason. Short rod handles are common and natural to most anglers because they’re used to casting repeatedly chunking lures or just throwing a fishing line out a few feet and letting it set. Many anglers are also used to a “big fish” in freshwater being a few pounds.
Take bass fishing, for example, a ten-pound fish is a big fish and not something people catch on a regular basis. Fishing for catfish, depending on which species you target, a ten or twenty-pound catfish can be the “norm” and many would consider it to be a small fish.
As a general rule catfish fishing doesn’t involve repeated casting all day. There are some techniques you might use where you might be casting all day or fishing in tight spaces, especially for channel catfish. Outside of this constant casting and working the fishing rod is not a standard technique you’ll use.
Many of the channel catfish techniques you’ll use will involve casting and actively working the rod and what I refer to as “finesse fishing”. For channel catfish with these techniques, a shorter fishing rod with a shorter handle is a great fit and is actually preferred.
For blue catfish and flathead catfish though, especially in the beginning, you won’t be holding a fishing rod for extended periods of time, constantly casting or working the fishing rod so the length of the rod handle (or fishing rod for that matter) is not as important and a longer rod handle is actually preferred.
Long Handles, More Power
If you have never fought and landed a really large fish with a short fishing rod and short handle it’s hard to understand. Once you’ve done it once it opens your eyes to a new world of fishing.
Just as longer fishing rods offer you more leverage and control over large fish longer handles do the same.
A long handle gives you more leverage with larger catfish:
• To hold the fishing rod and control the fish in all situations
• To bring catfish up off the bottom and manage them when reeling them in and landing them.
• You can comfortably keep both hands on the handle and hold the fishing rod when needed.
• You can bury the butt of the rod against your body which helps land and control large fish.
• It keeps the reel out away from your body in a good position with more power.
The bottom line is that if you hook into a decent size catfish you’ll want the additional handle length on your catfish rod to manage and land the fish. With small fish, it won’t matter much but with larger fish, it makes a huge difference.
There is a huge difference in the ease and ability to land a large catfish with a short fishing rod and a long fishing rod. The difference between a 6-foot rod and a 7-foot rod is night and day different, longer rods are easier and more powerful.
Rod handles are no different. When (or if) you land a large catfish on a fishing rod with a short handle you’ll quickly see how problematic it can be and how little control you have.
Once you use a longer handle and a longer rod for catfish you quickly understand the advantage.
There’s no “right or wrong” number when it comes to the length of the handle because every person is different. Someone that is 6’7″ tall (like me) is going to have a different need and perspective than someone that’s 5’ tall.
The bottom line is that you need to understand why the handles are so long on most catfish rods, how the length of the handle impacts your abilities, and make an informed decision when purchasing.
The longer handles on catfish rods also give you the ability to handle the rod in a variety of manners, like tucking the fishing rod under your arm
As covered in the other features of rods, there’s potential for a lot of abuse if you’ll be fishing for big catfish. Even if you’re not fishing for big catfish there’s always the potential for catching a big cat.
Reel seats need to be heavy, durable, and capable of taking abuse if a big catfish latches on to the line. Just make sure that you’re getting a quality reel seat that’s going to last, which most quality gear will have.
Rod tips or the last part of the fishing rod nearest the “business end” on catfish rods are typically bright colored so they stand out against their background and you can see any movement of the tip.
Bright colors like yellow, green, and orange are frequently used and some manufacturers even add glow in the dark tips to the bright colors so the rods will be visible at night.
The importance of this varies among anglers so this is a feature you simply have to evaluate on your own. Color has never been important to me. As long as I can see the end of the fishing rod well, I could care less what color it is.
I’ve also never concerned myself with “glow” fishing rod tips as even the best versions of these don’t work well.
They’re difficult to see at their best performance and don’t glow long at all. A better alternative if you’re concerned about watching rod tips at night is to tape a small chemical light stick to the end of the fishing rod. These small light sticks glow much brighter and for longer periods of time than anything else you’ll find.
You can also use a black light to enable you to see the rod tips in the dark instead of chemical light sticks.
Color and Cosmetics
Color and cosmetics are a matter of personal preference. There’s really nothing that impacts your ability to catch fish other than being able to see the fishing rod and any movement in the rod.
Appearance, color, or any cosmetic features should always come last when choosing catfish rods. Always put the performance features over the cosmetics, otherwise, you’ll be disappointed.
The “Me Too’s” and Bad Information
Before you jump into buying a catfish rod I’ll offer a piece of advice. I’ve seen so many anglers make this mistake over the years and it’s an incredible waste of money.
If you’re not really confident in what you’re doing, what kind of catfish you’ll be catching and how you’ll be fishing for them then you need to limit the number of fishing rods you buy.
I see so many people jump in feet first and buy eight, ten or twelve fishing rods because they’re going to get “really serious about fishing for catfish” and a few months later they hate them. This is often done because of bad or misguided information from others.
Buy a few fishing rods at most and give them a try and then see where it takes you. Chances are you’re techniques and fishing style will change and you’ll end up wanting something completely different than what you started with.
The absolute best approach is to find others you can fish with and use their gear and see how it suits you and then make your buying decisions from there if possible.
Whatever you do just make sure that because someone suggests rod XYZ you don’t run out and buy a dozen of rod XYZ having never used them before.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone suggest that the Ugly Stik Tiger Rod is a good catfish rod.
I’ve used these rods fishing at the coast to land 200+ lb. tarpon, fought massive sharks with them and while they are a good quality fishing rod at an affordable price they’re total overkill for catfishing outside of a rod that’s exclusively used for monster trophy cats and even then they’re overkill.
Catfish Rod Selection – What Features Do You Need?
Now that you know everything there is to know about catfish rods and what makes a good rod let’s get to the straight scoop on choosing a catfish rod.
Since you’re reading this we’re assuming you are looking for a good starting place, you’re just getting started fishing for catfish or just getting serious about it. Fishing rods are like anything else and you can go to all extremes when buying a rod and you can quickly spend a LOT of money.
The best advice I can give you is to get a few rod and reel combos, get them set up and start fishing. Spend some time on the water and start fishing and more importantly catching fish.
Whether you plan to target blues, channels or flatheads get out and start catching fish and getting the “lay of the land” so to speak. Learn which techniques work best for you and what you like and don’t obsess over the gear and having the exact right rod.
I suggest a variety of fishing rods and it’s all gear that I currently use or have used over the years.
Don’t fall into the trap of letting anyone “sell you” based on what they think is best because each and every single person has different techniques and will have different preferences in fishing rods.
Fishing Rods For Channel Catfish
If you’re after numbers you need a fishing rod that’s light and sensitive. Something you can hold for extended periods of time and “finesse fish” using a variety of techniques and catfish rigs.
There are very few water bodies in the United States that consistently produce trophy class channel catfish and in most instances, lighter freshwater fishing gear is more than enough for catching channel cats.
That being said, pound for pound channel catfish fight harder than any other species of catfish so if there are big ones swimming in your home waters, be prepared.
Most anglers tend to lean towards “catfish” rods or fishing rods that say catfish on them somewhere and this is NOT what most people need when it comes to channel catfish, at least those that are targeting 1–10 lb catfish and focused on quantity over quality.
Every single technique I use for channel catfish involves holding the fishing rod because I target quantity over quality when it comes to channel catfish.
If you’re after numbers, hold the rod when fishing for channel catfish you will catch more fish.
I use what I refer to as finesse fishing techniques using a product I called the Secret Catfish Rig to help detect what is an often ultra-light bite of channel catfish. Again, I’m a numbers man when it comes to channel catfish because that’s what’s available in my home waters.
Anglers targeting smaller channel catfish can do a lot with graphite freshwater fishing rods like those used for bass and other light freshwater fishing. Just make sure it’s a decent rod with a good backbone and you’ll be good to go.
If you’re hunting larger channel catfish or think you’ll have a chance at catching larger channels on a frequent basis then you’ll need gear that’s similar to that used for blues and flatheads, so keep reading.
Again, if you think you’ll tangle with some larger fish, skip forward to the blue and flathead selections.
Channel Cat Rod Features
Here’s what to look for in a rod for targeting numbers of channel cats (quantity over quality).
- Medium (M) power – This gives you the ability to “finesse fish” and doesn’t take all of the fight out of the fish but still gives you some backbone to handle fish when needed.
- Moderate To Fast Action
- 7 Foot to 7’6” Long
- Good long handle that is easy to manage and comfortable
- Graphite or sensitive e-glass
Rods For Blue Catfish
Blue Catfish rods can be broken down into three categories, rods for big trophy blue catfish, those for every day one to ten-pound catfish or what I refer to as “box fish” and then the “do all”.
The term “box fish” comes from practicing catch and release or CPR with the catfish over ten pounds so everything less than ten pounds (when people want to keep fish) goes “in the box”.
The trend in recent years has been for anglers to buy bigger, beefier fishing rods for fishing for trophy-class fish. These are rods commonly marketed towards catfish anglers and usually made of e-glass (fiberglass) because of the strength and durability.
These heavier fishing rods are great for landing and catching big catfish and will work for catching the “box fish” as well but they certainly lack in sensitivity and they are very heavy to hold which rules them out for many people using techniques that require holding the fishing rod.
If you are going to target big catfish exclusively then these super heavy rods are okay but if you plan on catching “numbers” of fish also then you might be disappointed. You might also be disappointed with the performance of the rods as many are truly like pulling in a fish with a broomstick.
Many of the popular models have always been way too heavy for my preferences, I’ve always preferred slightly lighter weight and much more sensitive gear. Finding a balance between the lighter weight plus increased sensitivity and the strong backbone and ability to winch in monster cats when needed is a perfect balance and what I call the “perfect catfish rod”.
Blue and Flathead Catfish Rods Made Simple
Most people I know don’t only fish for big fish so they want something that is capable of “doing it all”.
By “doing it all” I mean they want something that is capable of catching the smaller fish and “finesse” fishing but they also want something that is capable of landing the trophy class fish as well.
It’s not that these heavier “beefier” fishing rods are not capable of landing small fish because they certainly are but take all of the fun out of it in my opinion and also make many of the techniques uncomfortable.
I also find that when fishing for smaller “box fish” I catch significantly less fish when using rods that are too heavy.
The Ugly Stik Tiger Rod is the rod that always comes to mind as I see anglers suggest it often for catfish. I wouldn’t dream of using one of these beefy rods for anything other than targeting trophy class catfish exclusively and even then it would be much heavier than needed.
In the end, you need a balance of strength and sensitivity with a strong backbone in your catfish rods and a good understanding the techniques you’ll be using when fishing.
As techniques have evolved in recent years and catfish anglers continue to innovate their approaches there’s been a big shift in the products being released.
Gone are the days of companies producing big heavy gear that’s heavy and lacks sensitivity as catfish anglers are looking for different gear.
Blue, Flathead, and Big Channel Cat Rod Features
- Medium Heavy (MH) or Heavy (H) power – Good balance between “finesse fish” backbone to handle trophy cats
- 7 Foot to 7’6” Long
- Moderate to fast action (Moderate Fast)
- Softer tip for circle hooks
- Good long handle that is easy to manage and comfortable
- Sensitive e-glass
- Good strong backbone
Shore Fishing For Catfish, Getting The Right Rods
Shore fishing anglers have a different set of needs than anglers fishing from a boat.
There are two types of shore fishing anglers.
- Those that go and sit in one place and make long casts to get to fish in open water.
- Those that are actively moving, working structure, cover, and shorelines and covering water on foot.
There’s no right or wrong way to go about shore fishing for catfish but I’ll tell you the best and most successful shore fishing anglers that target numbers of fish I know are those that are mobile, on the move actively seeking fish.
What you choose will depend on the area you’re fishing, the access you have, and how much effort you’re willing to put in. If you’re going to stay “mobile” and be actively moving around then the same suggested catfish rods for boat anglers apply.
If you plan on staying in one place or have the need to target areas far from shore then the different gear is in order.
Successful shore fishing from one location usually involves making long casts to get baits far from the shore and is done through using longer fishing rods, often as long as twelve-foot. This gear is very similar to that used by anglers surf fishing in saltwater and has long been a “go-to” for shore catfish anglers.
The disadvantage to this gear is it’s usually very heavy and lacks sensitivity making it a poor fit for anything except for trophy catfish.
It always amazes me when I see someone lug half a dozen ten-foot long surf rods that look like they’re four inches around and they start fishing with stink bait. Talk about trying to drill a hole with a hammer.
Super heavy surf rods might be a good fit for trophy hunters fishing from shore but anything beyond that and they’re not a great choice.
In recent years “euro” style fishing rods have made their way into the catfish world and have become readily available due to their popularity among carp anglers.
These “euro” style rods are long and much lighter weight and more limber than traditional shore fishing rods and also much more sensitive. They’re a “go-to” for carp anglers and used for very advanced techniques so they provide a good balance of sensitivity and strength making them a great fit for catfish anglers fishing from shore.
Their popularity among shore catfish anglers has grown in recent years but they still haven’t made it “mainstream” among many shore-bound catters.
Evaluate your options as a shore fisherman and make a decision on what your approach will be and what size fish you’ll target. It could be that you’ll use both approaches, fishing in one location and also being mobile based on seasonal movements of catfish or where you’re fishing so some of each style of gear may be in order.
If you plan on fishing in one location though and making long casts to get baits away from the shore take a look at the “euro” style fishing rods as they might just be a good fit for you providing the length, casting distance, strength, and sensitivity you need to fish for catfish from the shore.
Custom Catfish Rods
Custom catfish rods are also an option if a stock model doesn’t meet your requirements.
Custom catfish rods became people years ago because of the lack of suitable cat models from major fishing tackle retailers. Since anglers couldn’t find suitable mass-manufactured rods they’d build custom rods to get the features they needed.
If you’re unable to find the right action, power, length, and features in a mass-produced model then having a custom rod built is an option.
With the innovations in recent years and the increased variety of catfishing rods available it’s less likely that you’ll have to defer to custom-built fishing rods to find something that meets all your preferences.
The other reason for custom builds is cosmetics as you can pick your own colors, wraps, and other features making each one exactly as you want it. The downside of this approach is it’s a custom build and just like anything else “custom” you pay a premium price for work, components, and work involved to build the rod.
If you’ve got the money to spend and can’t find a mass-produced model that meets your needs then spend some time exploring the world of custom rods. You can hire a local rod builder to make one for you, use some of the popular custom catfish rod builders (listed below).
If you’re willing to invest the time you can buy the components from a company like Mudhole and try building them yourself using instructions like these on choosing the right components and building a custom catfish rod.
If you’d rather have a custom rod built for you then do a google search to explore some options. I often hear about the guys at Drift Brothers Tackle though I’ve never seen or used their products first hand.
What To Consider When Choosing Your Catfish Rod
In the end, the best catfish rod for you is going to depend on many things including:
- What species of catfish you plan to target
- The expected size of the target species
- The techniques you plan to use
- Your budget
The Whisker Seeker Chad Ferguson Signature Series Catfish Rod
In the interest of “full disclosure”, one of the catfishing rods you’ll find in the suggested options is one that I’ve personally designed and endorsed. There are other options presented as well but since one of the models is a rod I’ve personally designed and endorsed additional explanation is in order.
After years of using a mixture of different rods for different techniques, swapping rods during different seasons, and never really finding anything I was 100% pleased with a catfish rod I finally decided to build my own.
I’ll venture to say that there’s not one single rod available that will do everything I want it to do and have the weight, action, and feel I prefer that would allow me to only rely on one fishing rod but I’ve built a catfish rod that’s as close as I could get to “doing it all” in one single rod.
The Whisker Seeker Tackle Chad Ferguson Signature Series Catfish Rod is a great fit if you’re looking for a good general-purpose catfish rod capable of fishing for smaller channels and blues but beefy enough to land the biggest and trophy cats. The Whisker Seeker Tackle Chad Ferguson Signature Series rod will do it all.
If you plan to fish solely for a smaller one to three-pound channel catfish and never intend to catch anything larger then the rod might be heavier than needed for some anglers. For those looking for a good general-purpose catfish rod capable of doing everything they need, this is an excellent fit.
I spent a year designing and developing this rod with Whisker Seeker Tackle and criticizing every single component on it to build the “perfect” rod for every technique, species, and size of whiskered fish. I’ve used the rod for everything from finesse fishing for Channel Catfish with the Secret Catfish Rig to catching shallow water Blue Catfish in the Spring to hoisting in trophy blues and flatheads from deep and shallow water.
I’ve done everything I could do to abuse or break the rod expose any weaknesses and corrected each and every one of them until every single aspect was perfected.
In addition to the features, innovative design, and components it carries an unprecedented “Trophy Tuff” warranty that you won’t find in any other catfish rods.
My Chad Ferguson Signature Series Catfish Rod from Whisker Seeker Tackle is now available in multiple models and two different series the GFX Series (graphite reel seats) and the FMJ Series (aluminum reel seats). They’re available in 7’6″ and 9’6″ lengths in both spinning and casting models with multiple rod actions and powers. You can view the full chart of rod models here.
Suggested Catfish Rods For Every Size, Species and Technique
All of the suggested products are products that I’ve used and tested so I can speak to their quality and performance.
There are additional options listed below in the “great big list of catfish rods”, an all-inclusive list of manufacturers and models of which we have not tested all of them.
Suggested Catfish Rods For Smaller Channel Cats
If you plan to “finesse fish” targeting smaller channel cats and fishing for quantity instead of quality only, most freshwater gear will work fine.
Any 7’0 to 7’6” heavier graphite rod or lighter e-glass rod will work but changes from a number of major rod manufacturers have really narrowed down the options in these rods over the past year.
Here are a few of our favorites for smaller channel cats:
Shakespeare Ugly Stik USCA761ML or Shakespeare Ugly Stik USCA701M Price $40
These are Ugly Stik GX2 model rods in 7’6 ML and 7’ M models. These can be found at most major retailers on online stores for anywhere from $30 to $40 and are an excellent “no-frills” lighter rod.
We loved the CAL1100 Ugly Stik rod but it was phased out with the release of the GX2 series rods and these are the closest match (though not an exact match). Why Ugly Stik would phase out the CAL1100 is beyond me but they did it.
Berkley Lightning Rod LR701MC Price: $30 to $40
Berkley Lightning Rod in 7’ M, this is a graphite rod that’s available through many major retailers for $40.
There’s nothing “special” about any of these rods they’re just quality built rods with the right length, action, and power that have worked well for us. Don’t get too caught up in these models and just head out to your local tackle store and look for a good 7’ to 7’6” graphite, composite, or lighter e-glass rod in your price range. You shouldn’t have any issues at all finding something that meets your needs for $20 to $40.
If you want to go with a graphite rod for smaller channel catfish instead of e-glass you’ll sacrifice some strength and durability but it’s an option and the Berkley Lightning Rods are an affordable option.
Suggested Catfish Rods For Blues, Flatheads, and Channel Catfish
Again, these suggestions are only based on products we have used and tested. You can find additional models and comments below on other products that we’ve not personally tested.
Chad Ferguson Signature Series Rod $69.95
This is the rod I personally designed and developed. The Whisker Seeker Chad Ferguson Signature Series rod
is a 7’6” glass rod with a durable composite cork handle, 10 line guides built on a revolutionary glass blank. It also comes with an unprecedented “Trophy Tuff” warranty. You can get more information on the Chad Ferguson Signature Series Rod from Whisker Seeker Tackle here.
Honorable Mention: Shakespeare Ugly Stik Catfish Rod $40
This Ugly Stik Rod has been around for years and relatively unchanged, and is one we’ll call an “honorable mention”.
It’s a good basic catfish rod at a low price point that is readily accessible as many big box stores carry it. The 7’ model is easy to find and it’s also available in 8’ but much harder to find in that length. It’s capable of doing the job and a good “entry-level” rod but the lower price point comes with some sacrifices.
The tip of the Ugly Stik Catfish Rod is a little stiff for fishing with circle hooks, especially for small and medium-sized cats. The bigger issue is the line guides that are not the greatest. For the price though it’s a good entry-level option that’s readily accessible.
We suggest the 8′ model over the 7′ as the 7′ rod has always been just a little short for our preferences. The 7′ model can often be found on sale for $25 or less and is a good entry-level catfish rod option.
In The End, Just Get Started
There’s obviously a lot of information here on catfish rods and choosing the right rod all boils down to target species, technique, and your personal preference.
Don’t obsess over the right rod, reel, or anything else for that matter, just get on the water and start fishing.
Learning how to pattern and locate catfish is the bigger goal. Once you’re successful in doing that, you can spend your time obsessing over rods, reels, and other tackle.
To get more in-depth information on fishing for catfish and get on the fast track to catching fish, check out the Catfish Edge products like Summer Channel Catfish Techniques, Spring Blue Catfish, and Catching Shad to name a few.
These in-depth guides are designed to help you get out on the water and start catching catfish immediately from my experience of over fifteen years as a professional catfish guide. This I exactly how I locate and catch catfish on my boat with clients.
The Ultimate Guide To Catfish Reels
To get all of the in-depth information you need on catfish reels to go with your chosen rod check out the Ultimate Guide To Catfish Reels.
The Ultimate Guide To Catfish Reels covers all of the details you need to choose the right reel and use it correctly. Everything is covered from reel selection to proper setup and use of all the features like setting drag, spool tension, using bait clickers, casting without backlashes, removing backlashes, and more!
The Great Big List of Catfish Rods
These are all the “other” rods that we get questions about often and some comments on each. Some we’ve used, some we haven’t but general feedback is provided on each where we felt we could provide value.
We’ve only included casting rods as they’re the most popular (and we generally don’t suggest spinning gear for catfish). Many of these manufacturers have similar models available in spinning gear.
We’ll do our best to keep this list updated and accurate. If you see something that needs to be added or changed then send us an email and let us know!
You can open this list on a new page by clicking here.