Catfish bite at just about anything and taste delicious on the dinner table. Since they put up a fight and live in a variety of habitats, it’s imperative to have the right rod that doesn’t cost a fortune but is still versatile enough to get them out of the water. Read on to get all the details on catfish rods.
Why Catfishing Requires a Quality Rod
For catching large targets like blue catfish, anglers will need a rod with enough backbone to haul them out and the right fast-action tip that can set the hook cleanly. To catch smaller channel catfish, the rod should be sensitive enough to feel them nibbling at the bait.
The best catfish rod and reel setup will be impeccably balanced and be comfortable to hold for long periods. That doesn’t just mean the hands. During a fight with an aggressive catfish, the rod should fit under the arm or in the gut for additional leverage over the fish.
Buying Guide: How to Choose a Quality Catfish Rod
Fishing Style & Environment
There are tons of ways to fish for cats, from trolling to float rigs to jig heads. Catfish are found near the shore in the ocean, at the bottom of lakes, near structure, and in the mouths of rivers.
Fishing the muddy waters, cover, and vegetation that catfish love will be most successful with a baitcasting reel that’s dialed in the land the lure right where you want it. For saltwater catfishing, a round reel or a spinning reel might work better. In both cases, a strong rod is necessary to rip through vegetation and to haul in bigger cats.
Catfish Species & Size
There are three major species of catfish in North America. In size from smallest to largest, they are:
Catfishing rods are built out of graphite, fiberglass, or composite materials. Graphite catfish rods are usually the lightest and the least stiff. Fiberglass rods are heavier, more durable, and stiffer. That also makes them more sensitive.
Composites blend the two for maximum lightness and toughness. Catfishing with circle hooks is best done with a fast action rod that can really set them in the cheek of the target. The best catfish rod for circle hooks should also be flexible enough to handle the weight of the catfish.
Rod Length & Action
Most rods that are tailored to catfishing are longer than standard spinning rods, although many of the least expensive ones are about 7 or 8 feet long. 10 ft catfish rods are great for getting the flex needed if you’re casting into vegetation, cover, or shallows. 12 ft catfish rods are best for surf fishing and casting longer distances in open water.
It’s common for anglers to fixate on fast action rods, but a slower action like a medium or medium-fast will flex lower in the rod to really dig in deep and haul catfish out.
Rod Handling & Power Rating
Fishing rods are built with full grips, pistol grips that look like the butt of a handgun, and split grips that have a space between a foregrip and a rear grip. Good catfish rods have split grips that give anglers ample positions to get good leverage.
The rod should be able to handle lots of weight, which is measured by a power rating. Rods can be Ultralight, light, medium, and heavy powered, with some other ratings in between. A heavy rod may work for huge cats, but a medium should be fine for most others.
Line Weight & Guides
Catfish rods are also rated according to the line they can handle. This is generally a range of weights, like 10 - 40 pounds, for example. Heavier targets call for a more substantial test and a rod that can handle that heavier test.
Line guides keep the line from biting into the rod blank and compromising it. When a catfish is hooked, the weight will bear down on the line guides. Frail guides can snap or bend and lose anglers what would otherwise have been a great catch.
Spinning Reel Seat
When the line is pulled, it also puts weight on the reel. Good catfish rods will have a spinning reel seat that can hold a reel tight enough that it won’t budge even during an attack from a huge cat. There are some rods on the market that have shoddier reel seats that can come loose or be loosened inadvertently by the angler’s misplaced finger, but the catfish rods in this guide all have tough, snug reel seats.
Price & Warranty
Maybe tournament pros can afford to spend two or three hundred dollars on a catfishing rod, but for the rest of us, they must be affordable. Luckily advances in rod material and design technology have allowed many manufacturers to develop heavy duty catfish rods that are every bit as strong and durable as the ones the pros use.
They don't always offer a warranty, but if they do, it's usually a limited warranty that protects against faults from the manufacturing process only. All 6 of the best catfish rods reviewed in this article have good warranties included.
6 Best Catfish Rods Reviewed
Catfish angling is not for everyone. But whether your new or and experienced angler looking for catfish, we have reviewed the top-rated rods on the market in our YouTube video below.
1. Okuma Battle Cat
Our Top Pick!
15 - 60 Lbs.
This line of heavy-duty catfish rods from Okuma is ideal for anglers chasing trophies and those willing to hook on to cats of any size. The blank is a really tough E-Glass that will stand up to the elements and accidents likely to happen on the water.
While the rod is a bit heavy, especially the 10-foot model, that extra weight will be to the angler’s advantage if a sizable cat gets on the line. The line guides are double-welded and work great for keeping weight off the line, and there are 10 of them that cover every pressure point on the rod. Okuma has also blended EVA foam and cork into the rear grip and the foregrip for optimal comfort.
The Battle Cat is a heavy-powered rod that can handle some pretty heavy test. The medium-fast action is perfect for tossing lighter lures but maintains the tip flexibility required to tolerate hard attacks on the lure and whip to set the hook just right.
For additional portability, all the rods in this series disassemble into two pieces. The construction of the rod and the snug fit on the reel seat make it feel like a single-piece rod when it’s in use, though. For anglers who like to chase cats at night, the fluorescent-wrapped tip on this rod will help see what’s going on and doubles as a safety feature.
2. Ugly Stik Catfish Combo
Best Rod and Reel Combo for Catfish
15 - 30 Lbs.
Graphite and Fiberglass
Shakespeare Fishing Gear has crafted the best rod and reel combo for big catfish with this Ugly Stik. Tailor-made to suit the needs of catfish anglers, it still has the characteristic unbreakable rod composition that has made Ugly Stik a household name for anglers of all types.
The lightness of graphite and the durability of fiberglass combine to give this rod its durability and the strength anglers need to battle big cats. Medium-heavy power and a fast action should provide plenty of fish-stopping strength and allow for an excellent clean hook set.
This combo comes with a spinning reel that does the job, although, for more precise casting, anglers may prefer to put a baitcasting reel on this powerful rod. Despite that, this is still the best catfish rod and reel combo because it can stand up to big targets and works great for medium-sized catfish as well.
It’s also probably the best rod for channel catfish on the market because it’s light enough at the rod tip to keep bait near the bottom of the water but still has enough sensitivity to feel bites on the end of the line. For all the most common catfish fishing, whether you’re using live bait and a sinker or a hooked lure with a slip bobber rig in shallow water, the Ugly Stik Catfish Combo has it covered.
3. Catfish Sumo Chop Stick
Best Action Rod for Catfish
10 - 50 Lbs.
Designed by a new up-and-coming manufacturer in the catfish rod market, this Chop Stick has the fast action all good catfish rods need to set a good hook, and the fiberglass blank will transfer small nibbles from channel cats up to the angler no matter how slight they are.
The EVA foam handle is longer than on most other catfish rods, which gives more space for gripping when fighting a target and also makes it easier to hold under an arm or in the gut for extra leverage. It breaks down into two pieces to make it easier to transport, but sturdy line guides and the medium-heavy power make it strong like a single-piece rod.
The backbone on this rod really comes out when you’ve got a fish on. It’s one of the nicer catfish baitcasting rods for throwing larger pieces of live bait because it can also send light lures out a reasonable distance.
Usually, there's a big risk of tangling with catfish rods because they're built like tanks, but that's not the case with the Chop Stick. It may not cast like 12-ft catfish rods do, but it can still cast well. The high-gloss coating makes it easy to clean off after each use and should keep it in working order for a long time.
4. Abu Garcia Catfish Commando
Top of the Range
15 - 30 Lbs.
3-Year Limited Rod
1-Year Limited Reel
This is the best catfish rod and reel combo for anglers who want to chase those huge targets like blue catfish and need a good-sized round reel to do so. They say it’s only rated for up to 30-pound test, but heavier braided line works just fine on this rod too.
The blank is made up of some kind of composite that’s flexible enough to let the catfish take the lure in but has enough backbone to set the hook and fight the target. The Commando has a fantastic balance, which is one of the most significant advantages of going with a catfish rod and reel combo. The stainless steel guides do a fine job of keeping the line off the blank, and the reel seat locks in the 6500-size round reel really tightly.
The grip is pretty standard EVA foam and could be a little more sophisticated, but it's long enough to get good leverage and comfortable enough to use for long periods, even under the arm. The Commando is one of the better surf rods for catfish and also a fantastic rod for trolling thanks to the huge line capacity of the included reel and the capable line weight rating of the rod.
5. Ugly Stik Catfish
Best Catfish Rod Under $50
15 - 30 Lbs.
Strength is the name of the game with this Ugly Stik Catfish Rod. The combination graphite and fiberglass blank are virtually indestructible, and the line guides are single-piece stainless steel that won't pop out as they tend to on most competing catfish rods at this price point.
Medium-heavy action will wrench even the toughest catfish out of the water with ease. One thing that's really special about Ugly Stiks, in addition to their toughness, is the sensitivity of the rod. Making those difficult hook sets on cats requires the ability to feel what's happening on the hook like this casting rod allows you to do.
The action on this rod is medium-fast, giving a little more bend further down the blank but maintaining the backbone needed to drive the hook in. With the extra flexibility, anglers can handle larger fish, and the fight will be way more fun.
There's also a built-in gimbal that allows this rod to fit better in catfish rod holders or anchor into the soil along a lake or riverbank. The reel seat is relatively standard for Ugly Stik, but it anchors the reel well. The only possible problem with this rod is the length, but it will suit most catfish anglers just fine.
6. Berkley Big Game
Best Budget Catfish Rod
10 - 30 Lbs.
The Berkley Big Game Spinning Rod is a classic fiberglass catfishing rod. It has the strength of monster catfish rods and, although it also has the extra weight that goes with it, this rod has the thickness to handle heavier test for larger cats.
While it is designed for spinning reels, it can hold baitcasting reels just as well. Leaders and braided lines do great on this Berkley rod. It may seem impossible to get a quality catfish spinning rod at this low price, but it is indeed possible, and this rod will wow anglers even if they're used to spending five times as much on a rod.
The fiberglass used in this rod blank is tubular fiberglass similar to the blanks Shakespeare classic fiberglass rods are built with. These kinds of fishing rods are well-known for the sensitivity they provide, which makes them strong options for catching smaller channel catfish.
There are fewer line guides on this rod than you might find on some of the competition, but they are very sturdy and don't break down, bend, or pop out their inserts easily. Pair this rod with the right catfish spinning reel, and you'll be ready to rip catfish out of just about any body of water you like.
Tips for Catfishing Pole Setup
If you’re trying to build the best catfish rod and reel setup possible, you’ll need one of these catfishing rods, a robust reel, and fairly heavy test. There are some rumors about catfish that aren’t true, but one thing that is true is that they love live baits and smelly baits, so the right setup should be capable of casting that kind of bait out into the water. Learning a few key knots is important to rig everything correctly. Practice with some spare fishing line for the best results.
Catfishing Tips and Techniques
Trolling is just one of the ways to hook catfish. Jigs and live baits are also highly successful—catfish love muddy water near runoffs. Channels and blues will most likely be in deep pools where there are rocks. Learning how to cast accurately and rip lures out of dense vegetation will help improve your catfishing immensely.
If you want to catch flatheads, remember that the larger ones typically eat other fish. Try fishing minnows around sunken logs in the daytime. For channel cats, which are often smaller, master finesse techniques like flipping and pitching. Try a slip sinker with a weight attached and make sure your rod is sensitive enough to pick up on nibbles from channel catfish.
Other Essential Gear for Catfishing
Besides the right rod, catfish anglers typically have a few other essentials with them no matter what specific target they have in mind. Among those necessities are the following:
People Also Ask (FAQs)
What line should I use for catfish?
Match it to the target. Heavier test will work for larger flatheads and blues. A fluoro leader on braided line with some swivels and weights is most likely to go where you want it to and bring tantalizing bait up close to the catfish where they can’t resist it.
When is it better to use catfish spinning rods over catfish casting rods?
Spinning rods work better to saltwater environments, so if you like to look for catfish in the shallows near the shore, a spinning model may work better. Baitcasting rods are better for finesse fishing and casting long distances into complex cover and vegetation.
How do I prevent tangling with my catfish rods?
A catfish rod with the right line guides can go a long way, but there are a few other things you can do to prevent tangling with catfish rods. Plastic pieces that cover the hook are widely available. It can also be helpful to spool your line correctly, which would be backwards from the way they come on the factory line spool.
What size rod is the best for catfishing?
12 ft catfish rods are better for casting longer distances and handle fish better when you’re reeling them in. Shore fishing tight against the bank or fishing small rivers will be much more comfortable with a shorter fishing rod. 10 ft catfish rods are a perfect middle ground between the longer rods while still getting the maneuverability of a smaller rod.
What is the best bait for catfish?
It’s often said that catfish will eat anything, but that isn't necessarily true. Larger cats eat vertebrates, and smaller ones will usually respond to worms and creature baits. Live baits with a good fresh scent tend to be more successful across the board.
Do I need to get a license for catfishing?
Fishing licenses don't cost very much, but they aren't always mandatory. Check the website for your state or locality before you start fishing to make sure you aren’t chased down and fined by a game warden. Licenses can be purchased online for a day, a month, or a year in most states.
Where is the best place to buy heavy duty catfish rods and reels?
For the best selection in merchandise and the fairest deal on shipping rates, online stores like Amazon are the best go-to. Fishing brands have their own websites with stores on them, but they aren't always maintained as well as Amazon. In-person comparison at big box stores like Cabelas can be helpful, but unless they're running a sale, their prices will rarely beat online shopping.
Catfishing requires a longer rod that can handle pressure and give anglers the torque they need. That’s exactly what the Okuma Battle Cat catfishing rod has that makes it the best catfish rod. Pair it with the right baitcasting reel, and you'll have the best rod and reel for catfishing in just about any circumstances.