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Ugly Stik Catfish Rod
This rod features stainless steel guides, EVA handles, and sharp design.
Best for Big Fish
B’n’M Poles Silver Cat Elite
The E-glass blank can stand up to big, ornery cats, and the aircraft-grade aluminum double-nut locking reel seat gives you a sturdy reel-to-rod connection.
Best Spinning Rod
Team Catfish Thunder Cat
This rod has long E-Glass blanks, EVA non-slip handles, and stainless steel guides. It comes in at an affordable price and durable enough to last season after season.
Catfish rods are built to handle a list of tough tasks. They are flexible, lobbing casts that ensure large pieces of live or cut bait remain rigged. They are sensitive, detecting the slightest take and deciphering it from the batting action of the current. And they are powerful, solidly setting hooks in deep water and wrestling beasts to your boat or the bank. Finding the ones that bring all of those functions to the table starts with an understanding of their form.
The materials that comprise a blank define its rod’s on-the-water characteristics—from how it flexes to how much of a load it can handle. They’re further shaped by the rod’s length and components, including line guides and the handle. The right mix of those creates the best catfish rods.
Best for Beginners: Bass Pro Shops King Kat
Best Graphite: KastKing Kong
Best Composite: Ugly Stik Catfish Special
Best Carbon Fiber: Whisker Seeker, FMJ-79-1P-HC
How We Made Our Picks
Pursuing large freshwater fish—whether bass, muskies, or catfish—requires anglers and their equipment to be at their best. I’ve spent decades fishing up and down the East Coast. Through that time, I’ve developed a perspective of what constitutes the best fishing equipment. The tackle marketplace is filled with rods capable of multiple assignments. But I focused on rods specifically designed for catching catfish while assembling this list of the best. And I asked four important questions of each.
Durability: What can it withstand? Catfish fishing is a contact sport, even when your line isn’t in the water. The best catfish rods stand up to abuse. They need to keep casting after being dropped on rocks or the deck of the boat.
Power: Can it tame big catfish? Built to bulldoze along the bottom, catfish are powerful fighters. The best rods apply enough pressure to steer them away from line-snapping cover and toward you. Power is borne from the blank and the rod should be medium-heavy or heavy. Power also is found in the handle; a longer one creates more leverage.
Action: The action of a rod describes how a rod flexes over its length and this goes a long way to determine its performance. Heavy weights and large hunks of live or cut bait—important pieces to catching catfish—require lob casts. They increase accuracy, reduce splash down and ensure bait isn’t cast off its hook. So, the best catfish rods sport a fast to moderate action, which bends no more than half of the blank.
Components: Is it easy and efficient to use? At their essence, the best rods are tools that help you catch more and bigger catfish. Handles must provide a firm grip. Line guides need to be durable and contribute to casting distance. Strike indicators, such as colored tips, help you see subtle takes. Hook keepers are also vital. They keep rigs at the ready, so you spend your time keeping up with changing conditions and catfish, not chasing tangles.
Best Overall: Ugly Stik Catfish Rod
Why It Made the Cut
I’ve used Ugly Stik rods for many different species over the year, and they’ve never let me down. Tough, rugged, durable, stands up to abuse and accidents—plus they catch fish.
Legendary graphite-fiberglass construction that lasts
Medium-heavy action is great for battling medium to heavy cats
Available for casting or spinning, in 7- and 8-foot sizes
Super value for the price
If you break it you probably could smash rocks, too
Warranty is great, as is the history of the brand
Not many options for length
The Ugly Stick Catfish Rods are designed to be ultra-reliable and able to take a beating from novice and experienced anglers alike. Like other Ugly Stik rods, the Catfish Rod blanks are made with a blend of graphite and fiberglass. The result is an incredibly tough, durable rod that shines on the Big Muddy or in your back-pasture farm pond. Other great touches include stainless steel guides, EVA handles, and sharp design. Who doesn’t want to be stylish while holding a 38-pound blue cat?
Best for Big Fish: B’n’M Poles Silver Cat Elite
Why It Made the Cut
B’n’M Poles are known for its crappie rods, but the catfish lineup is solid. Angling for medium- and large-sized fish on legendary waters has proven it time and again.
7 ½-foot long, just right for powering big fish
Handles up to 50-pound test line
Stainless steel components
Strong and durable
Lacking diversity in rod options
When you’re anchoring to drop big baits or casually drifting along for a big bite, a powerful rod with backbone and strength is necessary. Tangle with giant blues or flatheads, or channel cats, and you don’t want any hiccups. B’n’M Poles’ Silver Cat Elite gives you that at a very reasonable price point.
The Silver Cat Elite, like the Ugly Stik and most catfish gear, is built to be ultra-tough. But what this rod gives you is the ability to haul in big fish. First, it’s a one-piece rod. While that may be an issue if you’re light on storage, at 7 1/2 feet long, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. And what that one piece gives you is great durability. The E-glass blank can stand up to big, ornery cats, and the aircraft-grade aluminum double-nut locking reel seat gives you a sturdy reel-to-rod connection. The rod can handle up to 50-pound test line, and it has a non-parabolic mag-moderate action. That mag-moderate action helps this rod stand out. Along with the medium-heavy power, you get a rod with some backbone, as well as a fast-action tip to help you recognize smaller bites quicker and more easily.
Best Spinning Rod: Team Catfish Thunder Cat
Why It Made the Cut
Team Catfish offers high-quality products designed by tournament anglers and veteran guides. If they stand up to the rigors of daily guiding and tournament action, they’ll work anywhere.
Long EVA non-slip handles
Stainless steel guides
Good selection diversity
Saltwater-grade reel seat
Wouldn’t mind seeing 6 ½-foot and 7-foot models
It’s tough to argue against rods designed based on recommendations of guides and tournament anglers. When a guide is on the water for multiple months of the year, in all kinds of weather conditions, they find out quickly what gear works and what doesn’t.
Team Catfish’s product line, including the spinning and casting rods, is built from this intel. Take the reel seat, for example; it’s a saltwater-grade lockup that should hold your spinning reel securely under the toughest stress and pressure from a big blue or flathead. And you’ve got the stainless guides and tip, so you don’t need to worry about your line carving through anything or snapping due to a nick. The rod lengths and actions are super for targeting big cats on big water. Go with the 7-foot 6-inch rod in medium-heavy if you want something for smaller water or medium-sized catfish.
Best Combo: Abu Garcia Catfish Commando
Why It Made the Cut
The Catfish Commando from Abu Garcia has quality components and is affordably priced for anglers seeking a good, all-around fishing combo.
Abu Garcia C6500 baitcasting reel
7-foot medium-heavy rod
EVA foam handles
Great for variety of situations
Full rod handle with EVA foam
Available only in one size and rod power
Abu Garcia has a long history of helping anglers catch more fish and nowhere is that more apparent than in their combo offerings, including the Catfish Commando. Reasonably priced and available at plenty of retailers, this combo gets you catching catfish as soon as possible.
The Catfish Commando is a nice setup with the legendary C6500 series reel, which has Abu’s Carbon Matrix hybrid drag system and two stainless-steel bearings. I have multiple versions of the reel on my catfish rods and have found them to be reliable. Fishing combos often get short shrift from some anglers who might sneer about them being cheap or poorly made. Some are, but this combo is not. The Catfish Commando can handle up to 350 yards of 30-pound braid and 250 yards of 17-pound test mono. Your heavy sinkers and baits will flitter and flutter to entice catfish. This 7-foot medium-heavy one-piece rod is designed to fight medium- to large-sized fish.
Best 10-Foot Rod: B’n’M Poles Silver Cat Magnum 10-Foot
Why It Made the Cut
If you’re anchored and dropping baits for big fish, you need a sensitive yet strong rod. The Silver Cat Magnum checks off both boxes.
Fiberglass and graphite blend
Comfortable handle and foregrip
Wrapped nylon cord grip
Heavy action with more backbone
Can handle 25- 50-pound test
Lacking a medium-heavy action choice
Anglers often associate 10-foot fishing rods with saltwater anglers heaving something into the surf for striped bass, or fly-fishing anglers laying down a streamer for big trout or salmon. But for catfish? Yes, you can, and probably should, use a 10-foot rod for doing battle with big cats.
A 10-foot rod, such as the Silver Cat Magnum from B’n’M Poles, gives you more leverage to fight the fish. Thanks to the flexible yet tough heavy action, you can put pressure on the big blue or flathead to get it off the bottom or out of its hidey-hole. Then once you have it on the way to the boat, that leverage of a 10-foot rod helps with control. B’n’M Poles are known for its superb crappie rods, but their catfishing gear is tough as nails. The rod is a 90 percent fiberglass and 10 percent carbon composite blend, making for a tough rod at a reasonable price. Great touches, such as the nylon cord grip, stainless components, and hybrid fiberglass-graphite construction, aren’t just for show, and altogether they amount to a great rod.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Catfish Rod
Before you spend your hard-earned money, it’s important to know your target species. This will help you determine the best catfish rods for your type of fishing. You don’t need a spinning rod and reel designed for surf fishing to tangle with 3-pound pond cats. And if you’re heading to the river for blues or flatheads, a budget-model combo won’t stand up to the task. The right rod can make all the difference.
Longer rods may seem unwieldy but they give you leverage when battling big fish. You may think that a stout, short rod that hardly bends under pressure would cause a big catfish to quickly tap out. But a longer rod may be better for drifting or anchoring over deep spots. The leverage to fight a fish, especially in current, is a plus. It doesn’t tire out the angler as quickly, either. Shorter rods offer more accuracy for casting baits, such as stinkbait, livers, or nightcrawlers, and for situations such as farm ponds or creeks.
Fiberglass is flexible. Graphite is tough. One or the other will work, but if you can find rods made with both materials then you may get the best of both worlds. Fiberglass rods have been used for decades for all species, from freshwater to saltwater to fly fishing. Graphite added another wrinkle in the mix, and once rod-makers began seeing the benefits of both, anglers reaped the rewards. Catmen across the country have been enjoying reeling in flatheads and blues on tough, durable, and limber rods ever since.
Action and Components
Medium-heavy and heavy-action rods typically are best for catfishing. These designations mean it takes more weight (a bigger fish) to bend the rod. They’re sensitive enough to give you a tipoff when you get a bite, yet aren’t too stout to cause a catfish to give up the bait. If they want it, they’ll likely take it and your tell-tale bump of the rod tip means it’s time to get ready for action. For average- and small-sized fish, like channel cats or bullheads in ponds or small lakes, you could get by with medium-action rods. Also, consider all the components in the rod based on your budget considerations. For a few casual, fun outings a less expensive model might work fine. If you want better quality or are getting serious about catfishing, look for stainless steel components, a reel lockup that holds tight, EVA or cork handles, and overall design. Catfish rods may take a beating against big fish and with heavy lead sinkers. You want something that will last.
As with any fishing tackle, you should know what you’re going after before investing in the gear. My catfishing setups are older Abu Garcia C-series reels with Berkley E-Cat telescopic rods made of E-glass. They have quality components, cork handles, feel, and I can use them at the pond for fun fish or on bigger waters. I also have some older Shakespeare Ugly Stik spinning combos that I could take to the beach for saltwater fish or any river or lake for giant catfish. But those are overkill for farm pond fish that fit in a cooler. Know what you’re going after before buying, and it’ll help you narrow the field to get the best rod for catfishing.
How We Made Our Picks
I’ve fished for catfish for more than 40 years in ponds, creeks, lakes, and on the mighty Mississippi and Tennessee rivers with top guides. Some were sponsored by companies; some were just good ol’ boy catmen. I’ve used and tested a plethora of catfish rods in my day and all of the ones recommended in this story will hold up on the water.
Q: What rod is best for catfish?
The best rod for catfish is the one designed for the task at hand, so it depends on what you’re trying to catch. Shorter rods with lighter action may work best for smaller catfish in farm ponds and small water. Longer rods with sturdier components and heavier actions are best for medium- and large-size catfish, such as blues and flatheads.
Q: How much do catfish rods cost?
Quality catfish rods typically cost between $50 and $120, with some possibly costing more, though everything in this list comes in under $120. A good rod-reel combo may cost $120 or more. The Abu Garcia combo here sells for around $150, and considering the convenience of a combo, it’s not a bad deal at all. Inexpensive combos can be found for $40-50 but probably won’t hold up against big fish or have a long lifespan.
Q: What kind of rod do you use for catfish?
The best rod for catfish will have quality components including a good reel seat and locking system, stainless steel guides, and a length between 7 and 10 feet (or more). Combine all these things into a rod with a medium-heavy or heavy action, and it should be fine for most catfishing situations.
Anglers today are seeking consistency, strength, and durability in the best catfish rods. Even with lower price points, having a rod and reel that stands up to weekend action is desirable. When we’re seeking bigger fish, or are jumping into a tournament to go after giants, the best is a necessity. Catfishing creates laughs, memories, and special moments. Make sure your rod, and the rest of your tackle, don’t let you down.
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