One of the most frequently asked questions from new trout anglers is which spinning rod they should purchase. However, answering this question is quite challenging because there isn’t much that sets apart entry-level trout spinning rods from the best rods on the market. In fact, cheaper rods are often more durable than their high-end counterparts. I will explain why later.
To add to the complications, trout rods come in various lengths, and even cast weights. Many will think price is a good indicator of quality, but that is not always the case.
Some $30 rods casts and fish just as well as rods that cost nearly $100. At these price points many rods utilize the same blank, with only minor differences in branding, cosmetic design, or slightly upgraded components.
Higher price is not always an indicator of quality.
I recall an instance where Berkeley’s entry-level “trout rod” was not only lighter but also more responsive than their so-called “pro” version, which was twice the price. Despite the “pro” version apparently utilizing higher modular graphite, it did not translate into better performance or sensitivity. In fact, it was rather susceptible to damage and the guides were extremely soft and will bend out of shape. I have no idea how it got to market. It did look fancy.
Less expensive rods typically employ composite blanks with a higher proportion of fiberglass, making them highly resilient especially to impact damage. On the other hand, high modular carbon or graphite blanks, commonly found in expensive rods, tend to be more fragile and easier to break if mishandled or mistreated. For this reason, expensive rods often end up broken in novice hands.
What length trout rod to buy?
I usually trout fish with a rod around 6’6″ in length. I feel that is a good middle ground. Long enough for lakes, but short enough for streams. It is the best compromise.
The length of trout rod to buy primarily depends where you plan on fishing. If you are fishing lakes and big open areas with plenty of room to cast, then go for a 7ft or longer rod. They provide slightly more line control and a slight increase in casting distance.
If you are fishing in tight, overgrown streams or creeks. Where there is not always much room for casting. Then a shorter rod has real benefits. In such waters some people even fish rods under 6ft in length.
For more information on selecting the perfect trout rod length check my guide here.
What are my ratings based on?
My ratings are based on extensive personal experience and knowledge accumulated throughout my over 20 years of serious spin fishing for trout, as well as nearly 40 years of overall fishing experience. The compilation of this list involved months of dedicated research, discussions with fellow anglers, thorough comparisons, and even exceeding my budget by purchasing additional rods to ensure a comprehensive evaluation.
After all of this, I base my recommendations on a wide selection of rods that I have tried. Currently there is close to 30 spinning rods in my personal collection. In other words, I have tried a few.
Having used numerous ultralight spinning rods throughout my fishing journey, I believe I possess the necessary expertise to distinguish between a good rod and an average one.
This hands-on experience and familiarity with a wide range of rods have equipped me with the ability to provide an honest and well-informed opinion on the matter.
What I cover in this guide
Trout spinning rod models undergo frequent changes, making it nearly impossible to test them all and stay up to date with the numerous variations.
I won’t be including ultra-premium or foreign-market rods, simply because my budget does not allow me to test enough to tell them apart. All the rods included in this comparison are priced under $200.
If you are wondering if those ultra-premium rods are worth the money, well they are certainly nice to use but the difference in performance is very minor. More often than not, they are not going to catch more trout, cast further or with noticeably better accuracy than a rod half the price.
My Recommendations on the Best Trout Spinning Rods.
Looking for a spinning reel to go with your new trout rod, I have reviewed my 12 favorite trout reels here.
Best budget trout rod- Shakespeare Micro Spinning Rod
Best affordable spinning rod for trout fishing
- An excellent option for bait and lure fishing
- The best models for trout fishing are the 5’6ft and 7ft versions.
- Medium-fast action
- Good durability (Composite blank)
- With heavy use, stainless steel guides can develop groves when fishing with braid.
If one trout rod represents an unbeatable value, it is the Shakespeare Micro Spinning Rod. I challenge anyone to find a significantly better trout rod for under $80, but it does not cost $80, it usually costs around $20. The value is hard to beat.
The Shakespeare micro comes in four models, but for trout fishing the stars are the 5.6ft and 7ft models. Get the 5.6ft version for stream fishing or wherever casting space is restricted, while the 7ft performs well for longer casts on rivers and lakes.
The blank, which is the part of the rod that does the work. Is a blend of graphite and fiberglass, the compromise seems just right. There is enough backbone for long casts and setting hooks while providing sufficient sensitivity to detect nibbles and slight bumps. With the right line, I can even feel the lure rub against structure. (Line choice is often more important than rod choice with regards to sensitivity)
The blank bends in a nice even curvature throughout its entire length. This really helps spread the load allowing for an even transfer of momentum and power throughout the cast or when fighting fish.
If I had to describe the action, I will call it medium-fast. If you choose to fish with braid, there will be no noticeable difference in sensitivity between this rod and the more premium ones below, but I personally feel it does best with a monofilament designed for sensitivity such as Stren Megathin.
The Micro Spinning rod comes with stainless steel guides with stainless inserts. Stainless steel might sound like quality, but these are actually cheap guides. Even so, they are generally durable enough to handle even braid and trout fishing is not that demanding on gear. They are fine.
I have read a few reports of stainless tip guides developing groves when fished heavily with braid, but that relates more to hard fighting saltwater sport species. Not trout.
I advise against The 4.6ft and 5ft versions. For lure fishing, casting and retrieving spinners. They are a bit too soft, more a wet noodle than a fishing rod. They are also a bit too short for bobber / float fishing or bottom bouncing. In saying that, they are very forgiving rods for children to use.
To summarize. The Shakespeare Microlight is lightweight, the components are what you find standard on all cheaper rods. It is possible to spend double, or even treble, and not get any more rod for the money. Quite simply, this is a brilliant entry-level trout rod. Just get it in the 5.6ft or 7ft version.
Editor’s choice- Okuma Celilo Ultra-Light Trout Rod
- A better option when fishing braid.
- Good selection of lengths available for trout fishing.
- Lighter than the Shakespeare Micro
- Slightly more expensive, but still great value.
If for some reason, you cannot find the Shakespeare, or it does not come in your desired length. The Okuma Celilo is a good alternative.
So, how does the Celilo differ from the Shakespeare Micro Rod above? It comes in several more lengths, and I feel the rods are ever so slightly lighter but otherwise casting performance and sensitivity is very comparable. I do not believe they use the same blanks, but they are quite similar.
The quality of the components is very similar, but it features better quality guides. This mostly means a slightly lighter rod.
It comes with titanium oxide guides which are found on many rods at this price point and are more durable than the stainless guide found on the Shakespeare Micro. titanium oxide guides are very durable, and I have never heard of them developing groves when fishing with braid.
The Okuma Celio features a corked grip, which is slightly more molded than on the Shakespeare but the quality of the cork is pretty similar. Some anglers might find it more comfortable, but I have no preference.
It has an under-the-blank hook holder which I prefer. The Shakespeare for some unknown reason has its hook holder on top of the blank. It is slightly more expensive, but another ultralight rod that is perfect for trout fishing.
Most durable trout rod- Ugly Stik GX2
Best unbreakable spinning rod for trout fishing
- Extremely durable construction, although there has been reports of lacking quality control with guides out of alignment.
- Short, and fairly heavy for length.
- Excellent choice for anyone rough on gear.
- Great option for a canoe or kayak rod.
- Composite construction with solid tip.
- Medium action (slightly less efficient at casting light lures)
- Due to the short length not well suited when casting from the shore.
- Stainless steel guides might not hold up to fishing with braid.
I own a lot of Ugly Stiks. I am rough with my gear and Ugly Stiks GX2 in particular can survive almost anything. The reason why is the composite blend of graphite and fiberglass, favoring the later making it extremely resistance to both impact damage and the solid clear tip makes them very hard to snap or to point load.
They also come with a rather impressive 7-year warranty, but I doubt many people will ever have to use it.
The downside is a lack of sensitivity, a slow somewhat sluggish action and if recent reports are true there has been a lack of quality control. With many rods making it to market with guides out of alignment.
The best performing length for trout fishing is the 4’8″ model. Due to its toughness, it is the ideal rod to use in the rough and tumble world of small stream fishing. It is also a great choice if you are prone to breaking things, or simply want a nearly indestructible rod to lend out.
At under 5ft the ultralight model is a short rod. Yes, it comes in longer lengths, but they are all too powerful for typical trout fishing. The short lengths makes it challenging to cast light lures any reasonable distance, so if you primarily fish large rivers or lakes. The GX2 is unlikely the rod for you. The 7ft Shakespeare Micro Spinning Rod is a much better option for such waters.
So, for general trout fishing, I suggest going for the 4’8″ ultralight version, it’s rating for 2-6lb line is ideal for trout. It is also a very nice rod for casting in tight places like small creeks and overgrown streams.
The 5ft light version (4-10lb) is a bit heavy for trout, if it was longer, it might be serviceable, but it feels too much like a spongy broom handle when casting ultralight lures. I do own the 5ft version and use it when fishing live minnows for trophy trout after dark but that is a niche application, where long casts are never required. The trout I target are also often large.
I own several Ugly Stiks GX2 and rate them highly. Yes, they do not have the same responsive sensitivity as graphite, but due to the overall softness, it is still possible to detect nibbles and bumps. They are more sensitive than many people give them credit for, and they are not half bad at casting. It is old technology, but it works and works well.
Best fiberglass trout rod- Eagle Claw Featherlight
Best fiberglass rod for trout fishing
- Fiberglass blank for traditionalists. Fiberglass is generally heavier but more durable than graphite or composite blanks.
- Most anglers are probably better off with a composite or graphite rod.
- Cheap way to try fiberglass without paying for an imported premium glass rod.
It was not a long time ago that most rods were fiberglass. Only the more premium models were graphite. Now graphite or at least composites dominate the market in all price segments. Yet, there remains a real demand for a basic fiberglass pole.
The Eagle Claw Featherlight is a throwback to an older style of rod. A style that many still prefer especially when swinging spoons and spinners. There is just something a little bit special about the inherited softness of a full glass rod.
The Featherlight is available in 6 models, ranging in length from 5’0″ all the way to 9.0″. They are all suitable for trout fishing, although the longer rods are a bit more powerful. The 9.0″ with its gentle slow action is actually very nice for drifting bobbers.
I do not usually comment on rod colors. But the Featherlight certainly makes a statement. It is bright yellow, and really stands out. It might be bright and bold, but I do not believe it scares any more trout than a black or gray rod.
So for anyone wishing to try a fiberglass rod, the Eagle Claw Featherlight might just be the rod you were looking for. There are now premium glass rods, usually imported direct from Japan or China but they can cost several hundred dollars and are really only suitable for the true enthusiasts.
Best telescopic trout rod- KastKing Blackhawk II
Best affordable telescopic rod for trout fishing
- Telescopic rod for when storage space is limited.
- Features a sliding guide which is quite revolutionary for telescopic rods.
- All other rods in this guide offer better on water performance.
This is a telescopic rod. I do not generally like telescopic rods. But they can be very convenient to store and travel with. This is why I decided to include a single telescopic rod on this list. The model which is most suitable for trout fishing is the 6’6″ medium light.
Most telescopic rods excluding some Japanese market models are terrible. I explain why over in my ‘best telescopic rod’ buyers guide but will briefly explain why here. Most telescopic rods have to few, and very badly space guides. The blanks simply do not load evenly.
The Kastking Blackhawk II features a new guide technology that is rarely seen in North America. These are sliding guides. The guides slide up and down the blank allowing them to fit more guides onto the blank. The end result is a telescopic rod with the correct number of guides.
The blank is not as good as found in the Shakespeare or Okuma above but it is still decent, and there is no better telescopic rod for under $200.
Best premium trout rod- St Croix Trout Series Spinning Rod
Best enthusiast spinning rod for trout fishing (Under $200)
- Excellent all round trout rod
- Moderate fast action blank, is lightweight and casts well.
- Thicker coating assists in protecting the graphite core.
- Slightly less sensitive than some competing high end rods, but the extra livability makes up for it.
- Good selection of rod lengths from 4’10 to 7ft.
- Excellent warranty
The St Croix Trout Series spinning rod is quite the leap up in price over the previous rods on this list. The reason why is you need to spend this much money to get a noticeable difference in performance.
This rod has good all round sensitivity and comes with a significantly better warranty than the cheaper rods.
This review is based on fishing the 6ft ultralight version.
The 6ft length makes it well suited for fishing trout streams and other overgrown areas. But due to the carbon blank it can still cast lures a respectable distance with impressive accuracy. (Note carbon is not actually more accurate than composite blanks. What determines accuracy is rod construction, and the users familiarity with the gear)
St Croix advertises it as a fast action rod, but I feel it is more moderate. A slightly slower action is not a negative. It is preferred when casting ultralight lures that lack the mass to fully load a fast action rod.
The blank offers good sensitivity and feels light in the hand. I will not mention balance because that depends entirely on what reel you plan on using it with.
It feels like St Croix went for a rather thick outer coating, I guess it is epoxy. The thick coating of clear coat is a double edged sword. On the positive, it makes the blank more durable, and better at surviving the knocks and drops of the trout stream. But on the downside, it does make the rod feel a bit stiffer, and less responsive compared with some other rods in this price bracket.
I personally feel a good trout rod needs to be durable enough to survive the occasional drop, fall, and tumble. Yes, there is a slight loss in sensitivity, but not enough to really influence the fishing. It can still flick out ultralight lures just fine.
For extra peace of mind, the Trout Series also comes with 5 years of warranty and from the feedback I have received St Croix does stand behind their products.
Unlike the more expensive St Croix rods, these are not made in the United States but imported from Mexico.
While writing this report, I did read a few reports of quality control issues sneaking through, such as guides slightly out of alignment. If you are unfortunate enough to receive such a dud, I suggest returning it for a replacement.
Frequently ask questions?
Most suitable rod length for various styles of trout fishing
|Best spinning rod length for general trout fishing
|6’6” to 7”
|This is a great general purpose length for general trout fishing and is versatile enough to fish most trout waters.
While it is a touch too long for overgrown creeks, and a bit too short to maximize casting distance it still proves to be an excellent compromise for any trout water.
It is also a fairly convenient length to use when fishing from a boat.
Finally, if you purchase a two piece, both sections are short enough to fit inside the trunk or back seat of most cars. A very easy length to live with.
|Best Spinning rod for lakes, ponds and large rivers
|6’6” to 8ft
|Lakes and ponds often require long casts to get your lures out where the trout are holding.
A longer rod, can result in a longer cast which is why they are the recommended length for lake fishing.
They are also a good option for large rivers.
One exception is if the shoreline is overgrown, then a shorter rod might be required because they are easier to cast in tight spaces.
|Best Spinning rod length for small streams
|Small streams do not require long casts, and often they are so tight and overgrown that a long rod becomes a hindrance.
A spinning rod between 4’6 and 5’5” in length is a short enough to cast in most situations.
They are also easier to carry if you need to push through streamside vegetation.
|Best rod length for trolling
|6’6” to 9″
|This is a very broad range, when trolling multiple lures a longer rod can be useful to increase the spread between lures.
On the other hand, a shorter rod can be more manageable on a tightly confined boat
I personally troll with a 6’6” rod.
|Best rod length for Kayak and Canoe Fishing
|4’6” to 7″
|Kayak paddlers fit into one or two camps. Those who prefer short rods due to their more manageable length, and those who prefer longer rods to allow controlling of fish around the bow.
I fish both rods, and it really comes down to personal preference. I normally grab my 6’6” because I find it is a good average length.
|Best Rod Length for Children
|4’6” to 5’5”
|Children who are new to trout fishing can find longer rods a bit challenging to hold.
So a short rod is not only lighter but more in proportion to their height.
With experience, they can use longer rods.
Some children’s rods are 4ft or shorter, but at that length casting distance does start to suffer so I do not recommend them.
Fiberglass, Graphite, Carbon, or Composite rod?
When buying a rod, chances are it will be made from one of the above materials, or more likely a combination or blend of the above.
I want to keep this explanation beginner friendly, and not get bogged down in finer details that the fish do not care about. I will start, by making this point. Trout do not care what blank material your rod is made out of.
Advantages of a fiberglass spinning rod
Basically, Fiberglass rods are more durable but heavier with a slower action. On the water this translates to a more forgiving rod and slightly shorter cast speeds. They are also slightly less sensitive than graphite, but they do bend more when a fish is on due to the softer material.
I like to use fiberglass rods when I know my rod might be treated roughly. It is a good option to lend to friends and children who are prone to breaking graphite rods. I also use a fiberglass rod whenever I fish from a canoe because it tends to roll a bit in storage when not being used.
Advantages of a graphite / carbon spinning rod
Graphite and carbon are basically different names for the same material. Maybe more technically graphite is the raw material, while carbon is the processed material. When it comes to fishing rods, consider them to be the same.
Graphite is typically lighter and stiffer than fiberglass. This makes the rod more responsive, and more sensitive in picking up even the slightest touch or nibble. Graphite rods also tend to cast further rather than glass.
Downsides are mostly to do with durability, graphite while very strong, is also very brittle even a light chip or crack will cause a graphite rod to snap. They also tend to explode when too much pressure is concentrated on a specific point along the blank.
The most common example of that is point loading which occurs when the rod is lifted too vertically. This forces all the pressure onto the rod tip. This action can easily break even the best made graphite rod.
Advantages of a composite spinning rod
A composite rod is generally a blend of both graphite and fiberglass, and depending on the blend the composite rod shares properties of both graphite and carbon.
Most cheaper graphite rods are indeed composite blanks, they do slightly suffer with regards to stiffness but are much more durable.
What defects to look for when buying a new rod?
Most rods are mass produced item, so it is inevitable that a few defects will make it to the retail self. Expensive rods have fewer defects but they still happen every so often. This is why warranties exists.
When buying a new rod, I always check to see if the rod guides have been installed correctly and not out of alignment. I want to say this applies to all rods, but spiral wrap rods do exist but such a design should never occur on a spinning rod.
All spinning rods should have their guides in a straight line on the underside of the blank. They should not be crooked, leaning to one side or bent at a wrong angle. If the guides are not straight, that is a defect, send it back for a replacement.
The second most common defect is harder to identify visibility. But usually shows up with a bang just after you start fishing. A slight imperfection or chip in the graphite can be enough to cause a rod to break when new. Manufactures do test their rods but defects do sneak through, plus rods can be damaged in transit. I have had a brand new Shimano spinning rod explode on my 5th cast, just below the ferrule. This again is another valid reason for a warranty claim.
Finally, graphite rods are delicate. They must be fished with a degree of care. Nine times out of ten, when a tip breaks it is due to user error. Not a design flaw, nor damage. If you hold a graphite rod too upright any downwards pressure is enough to cause the tip to break. Some manufacturers and retailers do still replace rods that are point loaded, but that is more a sigh of goodwill rather than any obligations on their part. If you keep breaking tips, go purchase a fiberglass rod or Ugly Stick gx2.
How to pair a trout rod with a large spinning reel
I recently received an email from a reader asking for recommendations on using a Shimano Sienna 4000 for trout fishing. She wanted to know what rod to pair it with.
For those who do not know, A Sienna 4000 weighs in at 11.3oz and is designed around fishing 10lb line. That is quite big for a trout reel. Usually, any reel over about 8oz is a bit on the large size, and pairing it with any ultralight rod will create a poorly balanced combo which is more tiring to fish with. Other than buying a smaller reel, there is no easy answer but there are compromises.
It might be tempting to pair the reel with a heavier weight rod, this would result in a balanced combo. But a heavy rod will struggle to cast tiny trout lures. It is not an acceptable option.
The best compromise, at least in my view, is to try and pair it with a long ultralight rod. Something about 9ft in length. This extra length will somewhat balance out the weight of such a large reel. Yes, it will be more tiring to fish with. But at least, it will still cast the tiny lures.
What action is best for trout fishing?
While fast action rods are very popular when trout fishing a medium to medium-fast action is usually best when fishing with spinners. A slight softness in the blank makes them easier to load when casting very lightweight lures.
The problem with fast action rods, is that only the tip section does all the work.
When bait fishing, I like to use a medium action rod, I like to gently cast out my baits with a slow lob rather than a quick fast snap which can cause bait to go flying in all directions.
It is also important to remember that trout mouths are soft, there is no need to set the hook hard. So the faster, more responsive nature of a fast action blank is of little benefit.
I will also note that it is possible to learn to fish with any action of a rod. Just need to adjust your casting and technique accordingly.