How to Select Your Next Rod and Reel Combo

Not all rod and reel combos are alike, so be sure the combo you buy is suited for your type of fishing.

Holding fish with rod and reel
Whether you prefer to fish in fresh water or salt, there’s a rod and reel combo specifically designed and paired for the task at hand.Ugly Stick

The great benefit of buying a fishing rod and reel combo is that the work of matching up a rod to a reel is done for you. Most every rod and reel combo consist of a rod and reel made by the same manufacturer, so they don’t just pair well—they’re literally made for each other.

So, the question that remains for the angler is this: Which rod and reel combo is best for me? Of course, that depends on your budget, and the size of the fish that you want to fish for. But there’s more to it than that. Here are three types of rod and reel combos to choose from.

The Saltwater Rod and Reel Combo

PENN Battle II Spinning Fishing Rod and Reel Combo
The Penn Battle II spinning rod and reel combo is designed for use in saltwater and resists corrosion.Penn

Saltwater rods and reels have to be tough for two reasons. First is the fish. Saltwater species tend to be very strong and can grow to large sizes. Combined with the forces of tide and current and wind, they can be very difficult to tame. Second is the environment. Saltwater is harsh and corrosive, and fishing gear has to be made of the proper materials in order to withstand it. (Never mind dropping a rod and reel outfit in saltwater—just using it on a boat or from shore will expose it to salt.) Make sure the combo you get is designed for use in saltwater, with a reel that has anti-corrosive components and a rod that’s robust.

The Freshwater Rod and Reel Combo

Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 Fishing Rod and Spinning Reel Combo
Shakespeare’s Ugly Stik GX2 spinning combo has a smooth-operating reel and a rod with a sensitive tip that will transmit bites.Ugly Stik

Freshwater fishing requires finesse, because the waters themselves are typically clear and/or quiet. Plus, effective lures and baits for freshwater fish are often lightweight. That means you need a rod and reel combo that’s light enough to cast and properly present the lures and baits necessary for freshwater fishing, and detect light bites, but also has the strength to play and bring to net a strong fish. Look for a combo that’s lightweight and sensitive, yet strong.

The Trolling Rod and Reel Combo

PENN Squall Level Wind Reel & Rod Fishing Combo
The Penn Squall Level Wind rod and reel combo features a strong star drag and is ideal for trolling.Penn

Conventional reels (as compared to spinning reels) are strong and good choice for trolling because they need to be able to handle the continual pressure that comes with pulling lures from a moving boat, along with the additional surges of a hooked fish. The small line guides of a conventional rod put that line directly onto the reel, which provides additional strength. If you’re shopping for a troll rod and reel combo, look for one that has a level wind reel so the line won’t build up in one spot on the spool, along with a strong drag system. The rod must be durable enough to stand up to being bent for hours on end.