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Best Rods for Kayak Fishing Reviewed: Paddle Hard - Fish Harder!

Last Updated: February 12th, 2021
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Kayak anglers know that specialized gear is often essential to success. With little room to spare on a ‘yak, traditional tackle boxes and coolers just don’t make the cut, and even ungainly tools like landing nets may crowd out much-needed space.

Is this true for rods, as well? Do kayak anglers need specialized rods?

I’m going to say “no”, with the caveat that rods much over 7’ can start to get unwieldy. 

That still leaves options for both fresh and saltwater anglers, and if you’re unsure about where to start looking for your next kayak fishing rod, we’ve got you covered!

Below, you’ll find a complete buying guide, as well as reviews of some of our favorite rods for kayak fishing.

Quick glance at the best kayak fishing rods:

Spinning Rods For Kayak Fishing

Casting Rods For Kayak Fishing

Fly Rods For Kayak Fishing

Related: Best Kayak Paddle for Fishing, Best Kayak Fishing PFD

Best Kayak Fishing Rods Reviewed

Spinning Rods

St. Croix Mojo Inshore Spinning - Best Spinning Rods for Kayak Fishing

St. Croix Rods Mojo Inshore Spinning Rod

Amazon  | Bass Pro

 

Length: 6’ 6”, 7, 7’6”, 7’ 9”, and 7’ 11”
Power/Action: Light to extra heavy/fast and medium-fast, rod depending
Material: graphite
Line weight: 6 to 80 lbs., depending on the rod
Lure weight: ⅜ to 6 oz., depending on the rod
Guides: 8+1 Fuji
Handle: split cork
Pieces: 1

St. Croix’s rods are legendary, and the Mojo Inshore is as close to perfect as you’ll ever find. Whether you chase specks near rock piles or reds over a moving tide, hunt blues beyond the breakers or flounder in shallow bays, there’s a Mojo Inshore to fit the bill.

And in freshwater, you’ll be just as prepared for everything from pike and muskie to walleye, bass, and panfish. All you need to do is select the right rod for the species you intend to catch.

First off, for kayakers, I’d recommend skipping the 7’11” range of these rods. While excellent, they’re just a tad too long to work with on a ‘yak, in my experience. But I promise you that fishing with the shorter rods won’t be a problem!

For larger species like red drum and striped bass, the 6’ or 7’ medium-heavy Mojo Inshore sports a muscular blank with confidence-inspiring backbone. It’ll turn a red on a run, and it’s the rod I’d want in a tough fight when the odds are not in my favor. The tip is plenty sensitive, and the blank casts like a dream.

The continuous cork handles on these rods are designed with plenty of space for big hands and hard work, and the butts are rounded and contoured for planting in your midsection to maximize torque and control.

Premium Fuji guides keep your line safe even in the worst fights, and with 20-pound mono and an appropriately dialed-in drag, you can tame some big reds, stripers, or specks with this rod.

For smaller saltwater species like blues and flounder, I like the 7’ medium-light rod. You’ll find that it casts really well and offers the sensitivity to read the bottom like a map or detect a hesitant strike while still providing the backbone you need to fight hard-fighting flatfish.

Wearing the same guides as its bigger kin, you can really count on this rod to pamper your line.

And for panfish, croaker, and other small prey, the 7’ light rod is simply a wonder. Great casts and extreme sensitivity are what you can expect. I wouldn’t hesitate to chase trout, crappie, perch, or smallmouth with this rod, and in the hands of experienced anglers, it’s a blast to fight largemouth bass with light tackle!

Plenty of other options are available in the Mojo Inshore lineup, but these are the ones I’d pick.

The only downside of the Mojo Inshore for kayak fishing is that the graphite blanks need some protection. You can’t beat on them like fiberglass composites, and if you’re rough on your tackle, you might want to look elsewhere.

Pros:

  • Premium quality components throughout
  • Extremely sensitive tips
  • Excellent blanks
  • Superb guides
  • Nice long handles
  • Cast well

Cons:

  • Graphite isn’t the most durable material

Shakespeare Ugly Stik Elite - Best Budget Spinning Rods for Kayak Fishing

Ugly Stik Elite Spinning Rod 7' - Medium - 2pc

Amazon  | Bass Pro

Length: 5’, 5’ 6”, 6’, 6’ 6”, 7’, and 7’6”
Power/Action: ultralight to medium-heavy/extra fast to moderate fast
Material: graphite/fiberglass composite
Line weight: from 2 lbs. to 14 lbs., depending on the rod
Lure weight: 1/32 oz. to ⅝ oz., depending on the rod
Guides: typically rod length in feet + 1
Handle: continuous cork
Pieces: 1 or 2, depending on the rod

Shakespeare’s Ugly Stiks have won an enviable reputation for toughness and no-frills performance. I own a few of the Elite models, and though I was initially skeptical given their price, they’ve won me over on the water.

The Elite series is built with a composite blank, combining the best features of fiberglass and graphite. Stronger (and heavier) than pure graphite, an occasional whack against your ‘yak isn’t going to ruin an afternoon’s fishing. And though these rods deliver strength in spades, they’re also plenty sensitive at the tip.

Power and fish-turning backbone are some of the strong suits of this lineup. Let’s put it this way: if I were pushing an inshore rod to its limits in a fight, I’d like an Elite Stik. I’m not the least bit worried that the blank is going to snap, and the backbone is simply incredible. I've put it to the test with dead weight--I don’t recommend you do this at home--and I came away a believer.

The sacrifice necessary for this rugged strength is sensitivity and feel, and the high-modulus graphite blanks on the St. Croix rods are definitely more sensitive than any comparable Stik.

But that said, I’ve put the stainless steel guides Shakespeare uses to the test, and they really do deliver. If your line gives in a fight, it won’t be their fault.

Finally, the long cork handle on these Stiks is nicer than you’d expect at the price point.

For reds, stripers, and other large saltwater species, I’d pick the 7’ medium-heavy rod. I own it, have fished it, and can tell you that it’ll get the job done season after season with no worries. It’ll tame a big fish in a hurry, cast well, and take pretty much any beating you can dish out.

For flounder and other small saltwater species, I recommend the 7’ medium-light. It’s awesome on everything from flatfish to specks, offering plenty of sensitivity and more than enough backbone to ruin their day.

And crappie and other panfish will remember the day you hit the water with the 7’ ultra-light. Easy to cast and superbly sensitive, it’s just an outstanding rod for sac-a-lait

Are these Elite Stiks equal to the much more expensive rods from St. Croix?

No, but if you’re on a tight budget or are tough on your tackle, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Pros:

  • You won’t find more durable rods at any price
  • Sensitive tips
  • Very strong blanks
  • Excellent guides
  • Nice long handles
  • Cast well

Cons:

  • You won’t get the premium feel of a St. Croix

Casting Rods

Dobyns Rods FR 703C - Best All-Around Bass Rod for Kayak Fishing

Dobyns Rods Fury Series FR 703C Medium Heavy Power Fast Action Casting Rod, 7'0', Black/Green

Amazon 

Length: 7’
Power/Action: Medium-Heavy/Fast
Material: Graphite
Line weight: 10 - 17 lb.
Lure size: ¼ - 1 ounce
Guides: 10 + tip/Zero Tangle Kigan with SiC inserts
Handle: Split cork/Hypalon butt
Pieces: 1

Dobyns is a name known to pretty much every bass angler, and their rods are trusted tools that have proven their effectiveness season after season and tournament after tournament.

Bass anglers are accustomed to plenty of deck space, and tournament anglers bring a slew of rods with them, each playing a specialized role to round out a range of techniques. Jigging, pitching, crankbaits, drop shot, worms: there’s a rod that’s just right for each on board.

But on a kayak, that’s just not going to happen. Space is at a premium, and you need to think all-arounder rather than technique specific.

That’s where the Dobyns FR 703C shines.

7’ long, the 703C offers both sensitivity and strength from its graphite blank. In fact, this rod is sufficiently powerful and sensitive at the tip that it’s simply fantastic with worms, jigs, spinnerbaits, chatterbaits, and topwater lures. Plenty of folks throw crankbaits with this rod, too, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it for that application. With plenty of stiffness provided by its high-modulus blank, you’ll get the power you need for good hooksets when fishing senkos, worms, and other soft plastics, too.

Casting is excellent, as you’d expect, and this rod’s small guides really help in this respect.

One thing to note about the awesome 703C is that, though it’s rated for heavy lures and line, it can still throw ¼ ounce jigs! That tells you a lot about tip sensitivity and blank quality, and it helps to explain why we chose this rod as a great all-arounder.

11 Kigan guides with silicone carbide inserts will keep your line cool and fray-free. If this is your first quality rod, you’ll soon realize that you’re getting fewer break-offs in hard fights.

The 703C sports a split handle, with high-grade cork to the fore and Hypalon--a synthetic rubber--to the rear. It’s a nice design, well-executed by Dobyns.

If I can only bring one bass rod to the water, this is the one I’m reaching for.

Pros:

  • Awesome, all-around blank
  • Excellent guides
  • Superb handle
  • Very sensitive
  • Great for a variety of lures and techniques

Cons:

  • N/A

Shakespeare Ugly Stik Elite Casting - Best Budget Casting Rods for Kayak Fishing

Ugly Stik USCA662MH Casting Rod , Black , 6'6' - Medium Heavy - 2pc

Amazon  | Bass Pro

Length: 5’, 5’ 6”, 6’, 6’ 6”, 7’, and 7’6”
Power/Action: ultralight to medium-heavy/extra fast to moderate fast
Material: graphite/fiberglass composite
Line weight: from 2 lbs. to 14 lbs., depending on the rod
Lure weight: 1/32 oz. to ⅝ oz., depending on the rod
Guides: typically rod length in feet + 1
Handle: continuous cork
Pieces: 1 or 2, depending on the rod

Shakespeares’s Ugly Stik Elite series is available in casting configurations, and in every other way is identical to the spinning option I discussed above.

For muskie, pike, and other large freshwater species, I recommend the 7’ medium-heavy rod. It’s a real brute, and I own it for European pike, which run quite a bit larger than their American cousins. It’ll do its part, guaranteed, imparting plenty of power to your line and providing surprising backbone once you really engage the blank.

It casts like a dream, too, loading really well with heavier lures.

For smaller species like bass, these Elite Stiks make excellent crankbait rods, but I’d hesitate to fish worms or other finesse techniques with a composite rod like this. You simply won’t have the stiffness to impart an excellent feel.

Pros:

  • You won’t find more durable rods at any price
  • Sensitive tips
  • Very strong blanks
  • Excellent guides
  • Nice long handles
  • Cast well

Cons:

  • Best for real brutes like muskie, pike, and steelhead

Fly Rods

Fenwick AETOS - Best Budget Fly Rods for Kayak Fishing

Fenwick AETOS Fly Fishing Rod, 9 ft., 5 wt

Amazon 

Material: graphite
Length: 6’, 7’, 8’ 6”, 9’, 9’ 6”, 10’, 11’ 1”, 13’, 14’ and 15’
Weight: #3 to #11
Action: fast
Pieces: 4

Fenwick offers the AETOS series of rods in options that run the gamut from short to long, so whether you prefer to sit and cast sidearm or like to stand in your ‘yak for traditional casts, Fenwick’s got you covered.

These rods are real performers, too, and they’re offered at a very reasonable price--a real rarity in the fly rod market! Of course, that means you can’t expect titanium guides and premium materials and finishes, but don’t be concerned: the AETOS series delivers high-end performance.

Every AETOS rod features a fast action graphite blank, a large SiC stripping guide, and a series of aluminum snake-style guides that ease friction and facilitate superb casting. Each of these rods also wears a AAA cork handle, and all but the spey options use an uplock reel seat with a second locking ring to make sure your reel stays put.

The shorter, lighter-weight rods are ideal if you prefer sitting and short casts. The #3 is available in both 6- and 7-foot lengths, and the fast action maximizes casting distance for a rod this short.

The 9-foot #5 would normally be the best all-arounder of the bunch, and for medium-distance casts--say, 25 to 50 feet--this rod is exceptional in the wind.

But realistically, anything longer than that, especially the heavier-weight spey rods like the 13-foot #8/9, are just too much rod to handle on a ‘yak for most anglers. That said, in the hands of a master, it can loft a fly 60, 70, and even 80 feet--a testament to its quality blank at this price point.

No, the AETOS isn’t a performance rival for the much more expensive rods, but then again, you won’t need to take out a second mortgage to buy one!

And for experienced fly anglers, these fast action rods will produce tight loops and wind-bucking casts, and the balance and feel in-hand is excellent.

If you’re new to the sport, however, be warned that these rods will be challenging to master, as loading the blanks won’t be as forgiving as with a medium or slow-action rod. But for long casts and breezy mornings, the AETOS is almost unbeatable.

Pros:

  • Reasonably priced!
  • Excellent fast-action blanks
  • Great distance
  • Wide range of lengths and weights
  • Quality guides

Cons:

  • Probably not the best option for novice fly anglers
  • Subtle presentations are tough with a fast action rod

Douglas Sky G - Best Overall Dry Fly Rod for Kayak Fishing

Douglas Sky Fly Rod |5904 | 9ft 0in | 5WT | 4pc

Amazon 

Material: carbon fiber with graphene G-Tec platelets
Length: 9’
Weight: #5
Action: moderate-fast
Pieces: 4

Perhaps the very best presentation rod in the world, the Douglas Sky G in the #5 weight is simply unbeatable for casting dry flies.

Douglas uses graphene, a wonder material, in the Sky G. The strongest, lightest material in existence, it’s added to the blank matrix and resin to provide unequaled strength and weight reduction. The result is a miraculous feel for this rod, making it a dream to cast.

Quality is job one at the factory--that’s clear. And from an REC titanium Cerecoil striper guide with zirconia inserts to REC titanium recoil guides, everything is top-notch. Expect AAAA floor grade cork, an uplocking skeletonized aluminum reel seat, and attention to every detail and aesthetic choice.

Why do we recommend this rod so highly?

This blank loads beautifully, producing ultra-tight loops. And as you’d expect, at shorter distances--under 50 feet--this rod provides a combination of accuracy and subtle presentation that’s just unbeatable. Designed for dry flies, I wouldn’t expect great things from it at longer ranges--and yet it still casts with the best of them!

75-foot casts are still accurate, and this rod really never seems to run out of power. That’s amazing performance from a #5, and even Douglas’s other Sky rods just can’t run with the G.

It’s that good.

Light in the hand, light in the cast, just the right action: this is a nearly impossible rod to beat for dry fly anglers who fish from a kayak.

Pros:

  • AWESOME blank
  • Exceptionally long casts for a dry fly rod
  • Great presentation
  • Deadly at less than 50 feet
  • Superb quality components throughout

Cons:

  • Probably not the best option for novice fly anglers

What We Consider When Selecting a Rod for Kayak Fishing

Power

Power describes how much force is required to bend a rod. Together with its action, a rod’s power tells you a lot about how it will perform.

A rod’s power is determined by the material from which it’s constructed and the amount of that material present in cross-section (taper). It’s also affected by the length of the rod, with shorter lengths of the same material and taper being stiffer than longer lengths.

Ultralight

Ultralight rods are designed to provide the ultimate in sensitivity and excitement, increasing the feel of small fish on your line. Designed primarily for panfish species like sunfish, bluegill, crappie, and perch, they can also be used by experienced anglers to catch large- and small-mouth bass and trout.

Ultralight rods will bend easily under even modest weights, providing very little control should you hook a large fish. This can lead to an intense test of an angler’s skills with anything larger than a panfish.

But don’t get the wrong idea--ultralight rods are still plenty strong!

Ultralight rods are typically matched to tiny spinning reels, lines in the neighborhood of 2 to 8 pounds, and very light lures (typically as light as 1/32 of an ounce).

We recommend ultralight rods for:

  • Panfish of all kinds
  • Small- and -largemouth bass in the hands of experienced anglers
  • Trout in the hands of experienced anglers

Light

Light rods are a step up in power from ultralight. This makes them an excellent choice for panfish but also allows them to handle small-mouth and trout--and the currents they’re known to prefer!

Probably a better all-around choice than ultralights for less experienced anglers, they provide more control over struggling fish while still offering the sensitivity to detect nibbling panfish.

Light rods usually work best with line between 4 and 8 pounds and are almost always paired with small spinning reels. Typical lure weights vary, but a range between 1/32 and ¼ ounces is common. 

We recommend light rods for:

  • Panfish of all kinds
  • Smallmouth bass and trout

Medium-light

Medium-light rods are the sweet spot in power, allowing you to fish many different techniques and species well.

From crappie to perch, bluegill to trout, you’ve got the power to wrestle even the biggest of these species with authority, current or no current. With good technique, experienced anglers can tackle walleye, too.

And as a finesse rod for largemouth applications like weightless senkos and drop shotting, it’s very hard to beat.

Medium-light rods are often paired with light- to medium-sized spinning reels, but you’ll find baitcasting rods with this power rating, too. Typical line weights run from 4 to 10 pounds, with lure weights in the 1/16 to 5/16 ounce neighborhood.

We recommend medium-light rods for:

  • Panfish of all kinds
  • Smallmouth bass and trout
  • Finesse techniques for largemouth
  • Walleye in the hands of experienced anglers

Medium

Medium-powered rods are a common sight in both salt- and fresh-water, 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.

Medium rods are great for a variety of applications, from running crankbaits and jerkbaits to yo-yoing swimbaits off the bottom. Great with live bait, too, there’s not much they can’t do--making them an extremely popular all-around choice.

They also provide the backbone you need to muscle larger, stronger fish like red drum, largemouth, walleye, and striped bass--pretty much any species that maxes out around 20 pounds.

Popular line weights range from 6 to 12 pounds or so, with lures between ¼ and ¾ ounces being common.

We recommend medium rods for:

  • Saltwater species like blues and specks
  • Freshwater species like walleye
  • Treble-hooked largemouth bass techniques like crankbaits and jerkbaits

Medium-heavy

Medium-heavy rods have serious power, allowing anglers to muscle massive fish and drive single hooks firmly home. Very stiff, they’re often used by largemouth anglers for techniques that demand a firm hookset like worms and other soft plastics.

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, and steelhead.

And when tapered just right, bass anglers who like crankbaits--and who doesn’t?--find that they provide just enough cushion to keep those treble hooks where they belong.

This is also a popular power for surf fishing and inshore applications, especially when larger species are the target. From giant rays to big sharks, you’ll have the backbone to turn the fight to your advantage.

Typical line weights run from 10 to 20 or more pounds, and you should expect to cast lures no lighter than ⅜ of an ounce.

We recommend medium-heavy rods for:

  • Saltwater species like red drum and striped bass
  • Large freshwater species like pike and lake trout
  • Treble-hooked largemouth bass techniques like crankbaits and jerkbaits

Action

A rod’s action describes where along its 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.

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, improves hookset, and allows anglers to impart better action to most lures.

Moderate fast

Moderate-fast rods allow a bit more flex than faster options, offering some cushion for hooksets--often a desirable trait with crankbaits and jerkbaits. This can prevent anglers from snatching a sharp treble-hook clear of a fish’s mouth, and it still provides 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. And while not ideal for hooksets for applications like soft baits, for treble-hooked lures and situations where durability is a priority, this can be a good choice.

Slow

Slow rods are usually composed of forgiving fiberglass, and they’re designed to bend along almost all of their length. Sometimes chosen for their performance with crankbaits, they offer a cushioned hookset that lets a lure hang in the mouth of a fish for just a second, improving connections.

describing power and action:

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 the line and the 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.

There are some notable exceptions to this rule, namely surfcasting rods and fly rods. 

When surfcasting, more guides can reduce casting distance--perhaps the most important job the rod has. As a result, you’ll find fewer guides on rods designed for surf fishing.

Fly fishing rods typically have pretty rudimentary guides. That’s because fly line isn’t at all like conventional line, and it’s just not subject to the same stresses.

But for most rods, most of the time, guide 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, and
  • 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 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.

 video demonstrating how fragile line really is and how quality guides can be tested:

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 VI 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 lightweight 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.

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 offshore trolling rods.

Where fiberglass doesn’t shine is sensitivity or fast actions (except in very short lengths). It’s just not as stiff as other options.

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.

Carbon fiber is sensitive to impacts, and a hard whack on a piling or boat can damage your rod.

It’s also extremely expensive, as you’d expect!

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 impressively.

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.

A good place to start is 6’6” to 7’. That’s the sweet spot of distance and accuracy: any shorter, and you’ll lose range; any longer and accuracy will suffer.

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.

Cork

Cork is a natural material that’s warm to the touch and is 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.

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.

Points to Consider When Selecting a Fly Rod for Kayak Fishing

Right at the start, you should realize that 13’ fly rods are probably not going to be an option on a 12’ kayak! They can be made to work, but they’re almost always a handful on the water.

Stick to shorter lengths unless you’re a real pro.

Material

In the world of fly fishing, two blank materials dominate: graphite and carbon fiber.

Graphite is strong, stiff, and light, making it an ideal choice for fly rods. And by varying the modulus of the graphite itself, as well as its length and taper, a variety of actions can be created. It’s also robust enough to make excellent ferrules and far more sensitive and flexible at these joints than fiberglass. It’s also fairly priced, helping to keep fly rod costs “reasonable.”

Carbon fiber is even higher-performing, offering unparalleled stiffness, strength, and sensitivity. It’s also superbly light, but it’s incredibly pricey material, helping to explain why high-end fly rods are so expensive.

Which is better? It really depends on the rod. But it’s fair to say that carbon fiber is probably taking the lead among high-end rod manufacturers, especially for shorter blanks and dry flies.

You’ve probably heard about alternatives like bamboo and fiberglass. And yes, there are a few rods made from these materials, but their number is vanishingly small. Bamboo rods cost an arm and a leg (even by fly rod standards), require careful maintenance, and generally aren’t very weather-forgiving (they hate the cold).

And fiberglass was the go-to option when bamboo wasn’t available post-WWII, but its performance has simply been eclipsed by graphite and carbon fiber.

Weight

Fly rod weight is measured not by the mass of the rod itself but rather by the line it’s designed to throw.

Common fly line weights run from #2 to #10, with the most popular choices clustering in the range of #3, #4, #5, and #6. Much like spinning or baitcasting tackle, casting with line that doesn’t match the specifications of your rod will result in poor performance.

The most common all-around weight is #5, but as a jack-of-all-trades, it masters none. For tiny dry nymphs, lighter lines offer superior presentation, and the massive flies you’ll throw for steelhead or reds will work a lot better with line in the neighborhood of #8 to #10.

Most beginning fly anglers are best served by a #4 to #6 weight rod.

All other things being equal, heavier-weight rods tend to cast farther than lighter-weight alternatives.

Action

A fly rod’s action means pretty much what it does for any rod: it’s a measure of where on the rod the blank starts to bend under load. 

The trouble with these terms is that they’re relative: relative to the weight of the rod, relative to its length, and relative to one another. The only way to know what a rod feels like in your hand is to try it. Nevertheless, these descriptions can help you get a general sense of a rod’s performance.

Indeed, as experts like Phil Monahan at Orvis explain, while “wholly inadequate as a way to describe how a rod will feel in your hand, the ‘rod-speed’ scale does tell you something about how a rod might perform. The terms ‘fast,’ ‘medium,’ and ‘slow’ refer to how fast the rod bends and recovers.”

Generally speaking, it’s fair to say that:

  • Fast action rods tend to bend nearer the tip. This makes them excellent for casting on windy days, and when mastered, better for long distances--more than 50 to 60 feet. That said, delicate presentations are a bit tougher with a fast action fly rod.
  • Medium action rods begin to flex at about 25 to 30 percent of the length from the tip. This allows them to load and unload more easily during casting, and it improves presentation, but it usually costs some casting distance. At less than 50 feet, though, a medium action rod can offer a deadly combination of accuracy and delicate presentation.
  • Slow action rods begin to flex further down the blank, creating a classic parabolic arc from the blank as a whole. This allows the rod to load and unload very easily, making timing during your cast a critical concern. Presentations are lovely with slow action rods, though casting distance will generally be inferior.

Length

The length of a fly rod matters for many of the same reasons that rod length is generally important. For instance, a given thickness of graphite will bend more the longer you make it, and as a result, a “long” and “short” #5 rod will behave very differently in your hand.

The sweet spot for most fly rods is about 9 feet, though shorter rods are well-suited to fishing tiny streams where casting space is constrained. They also offer deadly accuracy up close, making them ideal finesse options. By contrast, longer rods tend to offer greater casting distance, making them ideal choices for locations where open water is the rule.

And as you’d expect, longer rods tend to provide longer casts; shorter rods tend to offer greater accuracy.

On a ‘yak, a 9’ rod is about as much as I want to consider.

Handle

Almost all fly rods sport a short cork handle. The exceptions are longer spey rods, designed for two-handed casting.

fishing rod handle

The two handles at the bottom are worn by spey rods, allowing two-handed casting for extra distance.

Lighter rods tend to have handles that taper toward the front, while heavier rods tend to use a reverse taper. But increasingly, modern fly anglers have come to appreciate a reverse taper and plenty of handle girth for an easy grip.

Reel Seat

The reel seat is to the rear of the handle on a fly rod, and the reel is locked in place by a ring that’s either screwed toward the blank or toward the butt. Such down- and uplocking designs are equally effective.

Largely a matter of personal preference, as long as the seat holds the reel firmly in place, you’ll probably never notice the difference on the water.

Final Thoughts

I can’t tell you which rod is best for your needs--only you can know that!

But I can guarantee you that you won’t be disappointed with any rod on our list, and if you match your choice to the species you’re after, your budget, and your needs, you’ll be supremely happy with any of these awesome choices.

Tight lines--and as always, we’d love to hear from you!

Please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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