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Best Catfish Rods Reviewed – Tough, Sensitive, and Capable

The heart-pounding excitement of catfishing is easy to understand. A big blue or flathead can rival the size of any fish you can take by line, and these real-life river-monsters will put up the fight of your life!

And an evening spent pulling channel cats from the river, followed by a fish-fry the next day, is something of a right of passage in some areas of the country.

But catfishing is hard on tackle, and from the prospect of an unexpected brute taking your line to stinky baits that stick to anything they touch, anglers know that a good fishing rod for catfish can be hard to find.

If you’re looking for the best catfish rod, we’ve got you covered!

Below, you’ll find reviews of some of best catfish rods on the market, as well as an in-depth buying guide:

For Average Cats

For Trophy Cats

Best Catfish Rods For Average Cats

St. Croix Mojo Cat SpinningBest Premium Catfish Rod

St Croix Mojo Cat Spinning Rods

Amazon 

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Length: 7’
Power/Action: Medium/Fast
Material: S-glass/graphite composite
Guides: Kigan Master Hand 3D guides with aluminum-oxide inserts
Line Weights: 10-25 lbs.
Lure Weights: ½-3 oz.
Handle: cork
Pieces: 1
  • Fantastic composite blank
  • Outstanding guides
  • Loads and casts well
  • Excellent handle
  • Great sensitivity
  • Expensive

If you’re a long-time reader, you know that we’re partial to St. Croix’s rods.

Uncompromising quality and the features that matter: that’s what you get when you buy St. Croix. But be prepared, these rods don’t come cheap!

The Mojo Cat spinning rod is as good a “light” catfish rod as you’ll ever find. Powered by an s-glass/graphite composite blank, it offers lots of backbone. You’ll notice this rod’s muscle about two feet from the tip, and from there back, you’ll find enough iron to show a big cat who’s boss.

While not my choice if I’m chasing trophy blues, line weights of 10 to 25 pounds will allow you to tame some serious brutes if you do your part and set your drag properly.

The Mojo Cat’s sensitivity is excellent as well, and whether you’re pitching live bait on a circle hook or some form of stink on a treble, you’ll know when your fish is on. There’s enough flex in the tip for self-setting, too.

Guide quality is simply outstanding, and Kigan Masters are among the best options available. Expect your line to be protected in a fierce fight.

And the long, continuous cork handle is a thing of beauty. Even the biggest hands will find plenty of space, and you’ll be glad that handle is long when you dig the butt into your stomach for some serious leverage.

Overall, this is a very, very hard rod to beat.

Ugly Stik GX2 Spinning

Ugly Stik GX2 Spinning Rod

Amazon 

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Length: 7’
Power/Action: Medium/Moderate-fast
Material: e-glass/graphite composite
Guides: Ugly Tuff stainless steel
Line Weights: 6-15 lbs.
Lure Weights: ⅛-⅝ oz.
Handle: EVA foam
Pieces: 2
  • Very, very tough
  • Great composite blank
  • Good guides
  • Loads and casts well
  • Excellent handle
  • Great sensitivity
  • Not as refined as the St. Croix

Ugly Stiks are legendary for their toughness, and Shakespeare is one of the few companies still committed to high-quality fiberglass and fiberglass composite rods.

It’s no surprise, then, that the GX2 makes our shortlist. Built around an e-glass/graphite blank, this rod is as tough as overcooked steak. Sporting medium power, it’s got the muscle to tilt the odds in your favor, and a moderate-fast action that lets the rod bend quite a bit.

That’s not a bad thing at all, and you’ll find the real strength of this GX2 at about half the way to the handle. At that point, you’ll hit something that feels more like steel than fiberglass, and that cat will know it’s in for trouble!

The tip is plenty sensitive enough to detect lighter cats, too, and I find it works well with circle hooks.

Ugly Stik’s guides don’t look like much, but I’ve put them to the test on the water and in controlled conditions. They simply work! Expect that polished stainless to cushion your lines well above this price point.

The long EVA foam handles are nothing to write home about, but they are comfortable, provide plenty of grip, and allow some serious leverage if you get a monster on your line.

Ugly Stik Elite Casting – Best Catfish Rod for the Money

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Length: 7’
Power/Action: Medium-heavy/Extra-fast
Material: e-glass/graphite composite
Guides: Ugly Tuff stainless steel
Line Weights: 10-20 lbs.
Lure Weights: ¼-¾ oz.
Handle: cork
Pieces: 1
  • Very, very tough
  • Excellent composite blank
  • Good guides
  • Loads and casts well
  • Excellent handle
  • Great sensitivity
  • Might be able to punch well above its weight
  • Not as refined as the St. Croix

I own this rod, and while I was a doubter before it arrived, you can count me as converted now!

Better than you’d expect for the price, pretty much everything about this rod exceeded my expectations. The blank is Ugly Stik’s e-glass/graphite composite, with a little extra graphite to improve stiffness and sensitivity without compromising strength or toughness. In this sense, I’d say it’s a step-up from the GX2.

I’ve put this rod to the test, and it’s strong, strong, strong! You’ll really start to feel what this rod has to offer about a third of the way back from the tip. Rated for 10- to 20-pound line, this is a great rod for all but the most serious catfish anglers, and even then, it has me wondering…

I’m not saying that this rod is trophy-ready, but I think that with some heavy-weight braid and a strong, well-tied shock leader, even a 50-pound beast would be forced to reckon with this blank.

The Ugly Tuff guides are better than you’d expect. In real-world testing and controlled experiments, I found that they protected my line like a battalion of marines.

The handle is long, and the continuous cork is both attractive and comfortable.

Ugly Stik GX2 Casting

Ugly Stik GX2 Casting Rod, 7', Medium, 2pcs

Amazon 

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Length: 7’
Power/Action: Medium/Moderate-fast
Material: e-glass/graphite composite
Guides: Ugly Tuff stainless steel
Line Weights: 8-20 lbs.
Lure Weights: ¼-⅝ oz.
Handle: EVA foam
Pieces: 1
  • Very, very tough
  • Great composite blank
  • Good guides
  • Loads and casts well
  • Excellent handle
  • Great sensitivity
  • Not as refined as the St. Croix

You might think that the GX2 casting rod is just the spinning version in a different configuration, but you’d be wrong!

Though equal in length to its sibling, it features a slightly heavier blank and is rated for heavier line weights. Almost imperceptible in the hand, I think this rod is slightly stronger than the spinning version, with just a touch more backbone.

Whether that’s true or not, this rod is just as capable as its kin. Expect a rugged, powerful blank backed by a long comfortable handle and efficient guides.

For a low-cost casting rod, this pick’s hard to beat.

Best Catfish Rods For Trophy Cats

Shakespeare Ugly Stik Tiger CastingBest Trophy Catfish Rod for the Money

Shakespeare Ugly Stik Tiger Casting Rod

Amazon 

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Length: 7’
Power/Action: Medium heavy/Moderate
Material: e-glass/graphite composite
Guides: Ugly Tuff stainless steel
Line Weights: 30-60 lbs.
Lure Weights: 1-8 oz.
Handle: EVA foam
Pieces: 1
  • Very, very tough
  • Great composite blank
  • Good guides
  • Loads and casts well
  • Excellent handle
  • Great sensitivity
  • Inexpensive for a such a strong rod
  • Probably not as strong as the Penn

The Ugly Stik Tiger isn’t a rod for catching channel cats, and you’ll be disappointed if you expect this to do all-around catfishing duty. But if you’re looking for an affordable rod to handle big blues and flatheads, you’ve found a cost-effective option.

To say that this rod is built tough is something of an understatement. The medium-heavy blank at its heart is composed of e-glass and graphite, and it’s about as strong as they come. The backbone is significant, as you’d expect, and you’ll hit the real muscle on this rod about 2/3rds from the tip.

When you do, you’ll have confidence in the fight of your life, and you can expect this rod to give you the edge in the fight of your life. No kidding–it’s bomb-proof tough and as muscular as a contestant for Mr. Olympia.

The tip is reasonably sensitive, too, and it works well with circle hooks from a rod holder.

The guides on the Tiger are good, single-piece units made from well-polished stainless steel. Have confidence in them–they’ll hold up and protect your line.

The EVA foam handle is as long as you’d expect, and it’s comfortable in a long battle with big fish.

Is it as strong as the Penn International?

I’d say no, but it’s a fraction of the price!

Penn International VI INTVI305060AR – Best Premium Trophy Catfish Rod

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Length: 6’
Power/Action: Medium/Fast
Material: tubularfiberglass
Guides: 4 + 1 Aftco Wind On Roller Guides
Line Weights: 30-50 lbs.
Lure Weights: N/A
Handle: EVA foam
Pieces: 1
  • Awesomely strong blank
  • Long EVA foam handle
  • Awesome roller guides
  • Expensive

Penn’s International VI is the rod I’d want for chasing trophy cats, that is, when “trophy” means what it should. Expect to pay for this excellent rod, but there’s probably no better choice for catfish in the 100+-pound range.

Built from incredibly strong tubular fiberglass, and featuring five Atfco roller guides, it can handle heavy lines and shock leaders without missing a beat. Backbone, you ask? Like steel, and it starts pretty near the tip. The Penn all but guarantees control with even the biggest fish, and the limiting factor is likely to be your back and arms, not the rod!

A long EVA foam handle, ending in a slick butt, gives you the control you need when you hook a big fish.

Built for massive saltwater fish, if I was angling for record-book cats, this would be the rod I’d bring.

What We Consider When Selecting a Rod for Catfish

Trophy or Not?

To get the most from our recommendations, you need to be honest with yourself.

Are you really hunting trophy cats that weigh 60 pounds or more? Or are most of the fish you catch between 3 and 10 pounds?

Most catfish anglers, myself included, are the latter sort of fishermen, looking for dinner more than a state record. And if that’s you, too, you’ll be a lot happier with the “average cat” rods we recommend.

That’s not to say you can’t catch big kitties with those rods, either, especially the Ugly Stik Elite.

But there are plenty of trophy hunting catfish anglers out there who have big in their blood. For them, frying-sized cats are a nuisance, and they’re only interested in fish that they’d struggle to pick up.

If that’s you, we’ve included a few rods that’ll pique your interest and help you land the blue of a lifetime.

Spinning or Baitcasting?

Choosing a spinning or baitcasting rod begins with an easy question: Are you more comfortable with spinning or baitcasting reels?

Fishing for catfish is unique, and the techniques involved don’t rely on lures or finesse. Casting isn’t quite as critical, either, and large spinning reels get the job done really well.

That’s not to belittle baitcasting (and conventional) reels, however.

But in the world of catfish, capable spinning reels like Penn’s Battle II more than pull their weight.

Check out our buying guide for the best catfish reel and the best fishing line for catfish!

Power and Action

While the average channel cat might weigh in at 3 pounds, a big blue or flathead could run 100 pounds or more, fighting like a beast and threatening to break anything but the stoutest rods.

That’s a fact, and catfishing tackle needs to be tough.

But that doesn’t mean you need a rod that feels like a shovel handle! 

Power describes how much force is required to bend a rod. Effectively a measure of strength, all other things being equal, a more powerful rod can fight heavier, stronger fish, providing you better control in a tough fight.

Action describes where along a rod’s length it will begin to bend under load. Fast action rods are stiff for most of their length, bending near the tip. By contrast, slow action rods begin to give closer to the handle and reel seat, curving over a much greater percentage of their length.

Recommended Power/Action for Catfishing Rods

Whatever species of catfish you’re chasing, you need to be prepared for a tough fight. But you also need to be able to cast a fair distance, have enough tip flex to allow the fish to set a circle hook, and have enough feel to be able to detect a strike.

Two powers dominate our list of recommendations:

Medium Power

Medium-powered rods are a common sight in both salt- and freshwater, as they have the strength and backbone to muscle substantial fish. Indeed, in shorter lengths and tough material like fiberglass, you’ll find anglers using them to troll for tuna, wahoos, sailfish, sharks, and other large species. You’ll also see fishermen running medium-power rods for species like bass, pike, walleye, and–of course–catfish.

The Penn International is a good example of this kind of rod.

In longer lengths they have substantial backbone, allowing you to fight big fish while maintaining excellent sensitivity at the tip and enough flex to self-set a circle hook.

In longer lengths, medium rods are exceptional for running live bait, and they maintain the sensitivity needed to detect strikes from smaller fish

Medium-Heavy Power

Medium-heavy rods have serious power, allowing anglers to muscle massive fish.

When composed of fiberglass, they can be very, very tough, making them a popular choice offshore, as well as for anglers chasing freshwater species like pike, lake trout, steelhead, and trophy cats.

Extra-fast and fast

Extra-fast and fast rods–of whatever power–preserve stiffness through most of the length of the rod. This provides better sensitivity at the tip and improves the performance of circle hooks.

Moderate fast

Moderate fast rods allow a bit more flex than faster options, and this can prevent anglers from snatching a sharp treble-hook clear of a fish’s mouth while still providing plenty of sensitivity at the tip.

Moderate

Moderate rods allow a nearly parabolic arc, bending the rod over most of its length. That often contributes to toughness, while preserving enough strength to muscle big fish.

Guides

Guide quality is essential on most rods, especially as you move up in power. 

Guides have two main purposes: they protect your line from friction, and they distribute force over the length of the blank. In both cases, more is almost always better than fewer, as more points of contact reduce the stress at any one point on both line and rod. (On spinning reels, they also help channel line from the spool, which is why you’ll find a large “stripper guide” nearest the reel on most spinning rods.)

Typically, you want one guide per foot of the rod, plus one, and quality is not a point for compromise.

Guide material

Guides are attached to your rod via feet, and they’re secured with adhesives and some form of wrapping.

Three things are important here:

  • the guides need to be securely attached
  • the guides need to be strong enough to take some abuse
  • the guides need to be corrosion resistant.

A common material for quality guides is stainless steel. It’s strong, it’s rugged, and it resists corrosion.

Insert material

Many guides feature inserts.

When a guide doesn’t have an insert, it’s typically highly-polished stainless steel covered in a coating to further reduce wear. An example of this is Shakespeare’s Ugly Stik, and having tested this rod first-hand, I can assure you that the guides get the job done and then some.

But many high-end guides like those from Fuji feature a ceramic insert. This reduces friction quite a bit, and it’s fair to say that these are generally superior to polished stainless steel.

The best way to test guide quality is also demonstrated below. Just try sawing the line you use against a large guide. If the line breaks quickly, it’s a sign to give that rod a pass.

Roller Guides

Offshore trolling rods sometimes feature a unique guide style called a roller guide. Designed to accommodate heavy-diameter lines, extreme forces, and searing friction, they provide lots of space for large knots joining main line to leader.

The Aftco Wind On Roller Guides on the Penn International are just one example.

Material

Modern fishing rods can be made from a variety of materials, including carbon fiber, graphite, and fiberglass. Some feature composite construction, using more than one material in the blank that provides their backbone.

Graphite

Graphite is a common blank material, providing strength, stiffness, and light weight in a single package. Usually described with the word “modulus,” fishing blanks that have higher modulus numbers are–diameter to diameter–stiffer than those with lower numbers.

Graphite also provides excellent sensitivity, a hallmark of high stiffness.

But graphite’s weakness is brittleness, and when pushed too far, it tends to crack and break. For trophy-sized cats, I leave the graphite at home, preferring the ultra-toughness of fiberglass.

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is space-age tech, taking everything good about graphite and raising it up a level. Extremely stiff, amazingly strong, and surprisingly light, it’s a great choice for blank material for lighter fish.

Carbon fiber is sensitive to impacts, and a hard whack on a piling or boat can damage your rod. Great for bass and other species you might be chasing, I’d skip it for cats as it just doesn’t deliver what this kind of fishing demands.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is older rod technology, but that doesn’t mean it’s not excellent rod tech.

Fiberglass rods tend to be heavy, just like fiberglass boats, and inch to inch, foot to foot, they’ll weigh more than the other options. That said, fiberglass blanks can be very flexible and amazingly tough at the same time. They can also be extremely rigid in short, tubular lengths, making them an ideal option for trophy hunters.

Two kinds of fiberglass are common: e-glass and s-glass.

  • E-glass is the standard fiberglass you’ll find in most rods, and though it’s been around a long time, it’s incredibly tough and monstrously strong.
  • S-glass is an improvement over e-glass, and the “S” stands for strong. Used where uncompromising strength is critical, in applications like airplane bodies, it takes the toughness of fiberglass to a whole new level.

Composites

Some rod manufacturers combine materials in an effort to wring the best from each of them. One common example is a graphite core–providing stiffness and strength–around which fiberglass is then wrapped–offering flexibility and toughness.

When done well, these composite rods perform very well. In general, I prefer them to pure fiberglass except when absolute strength is critical.

Length

Rod length matters.

Generally speaking, the longer the rod, the further it will cast. And generally speaking, the shorter the rod, the more accurately it will cast.

Shorter fiberglass rods can be tough as nails, but they’re not going to cast as well as a 7 footer.

I like to be able to launch my live bait where it’s going to do the most good, and sometimes that means a fair distance–especially if I’m fishing from shore. Rods under 7 feet just aren’t going to get that done as easily.

Handle

Much about which handle to choose is a personal decision, and what’s comfortable to me may be misery for you. There are two primary handle materials you’ll find on rods: cork and EVA foam.

On any catfish rod, length matters, because you’ll need space for your hands and leverage in a tough fight. Continuous handles are a must, and most people find that split grips just don’t provide enough territory when a 50-, 60-, or 70-pound cat is on the line.

Cork

Cork is a natural material that’s warm to the touch and just soft enough to provide a firm, comfortable grip. Premium-grade cork is attractive, too, and though not as durable as synthetics, it can take a beating.

It’s relatively easy to clean stinky baits off of cork, too, but as any experienced cat angler can attest, some stink is likely.

EVA foam

EVA foam is a synthetic material that provides a soft grip. A bit colder to the touch than cork, it’s generally more inexpensive and durable.

Stinky baits can get down into the pores of this material, so take some care getting it clean.

Final Thoughts

We can’t tell you which rod is best for you, but if you’re honest with yourself about your goals and know how much you’re willing to spend, we can point you in the right direction.

Any of the catfish rods on our list will keep a smile on your face, and you can be confident that you’ve got the tackle to make for a memorable evening.

If this article has helped you make your choice, we’d love to hear from you!

Please leave a comment below.

Don’t forget to check out our top picks for the best bait for catfish

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