Fishing Rod Action 101: Choosing The Ideal Action 2021 Guide

Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.

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I used to puzzle hard about what rod actions meant and if I needed it to be lighter or if the rod and reel had to match because of it.

But it’s actually quite simple and when you use the right action for the right situation, boy do things get easier. Having a proper rod will make the experience better and increase your chance for a successful catch.

When you’re buying a new fishing pole, something you need to decide on is what action you want it to be.

But what is fishing rod action? How does it affect your fishing? And how do you choose the right fishing rod actions for you and also for kids?

What is fishing rod action?

Man Wearing a Green Jacket Casting a Rod on a Lake
Man Wearing a Green Jacket Casting a Rod on a Lake

Fishing rod action describes how much of the rod bends when pressure is applied to the tip.

A rod can be categorized as:

  • Slow action
  • Medium or moderate action
  • Fast action
  • Extra-fast action
  • And anything in between such as a moderate fast action rod.

The Test Curve

Fishing Rod Power VS Action

The test curve is used to determine the action and power ratings of a rod.

The test is done by attaching weights to the end of a fishing line on a rod blank.

The weights gradually go up until the tip of the rod will bend to a 90-degree angle to the butt section of the rod.

The more weight required to bend the rod tip to 90 degrees the higher the power rating. And where the rod bends along the length of the blank determines its action.

So what does the action of a fishing rod mean?

Man on a Boat Reeling in a Fish
Man Reeling in a Fish

The action of a rod describes where along the rod it will bend;

A fast action rod will bend in the top third of the rod, a moderate action rod will bend in the middle third, and a slow action fishing rod in the bottom third near the butt section.

How rods bend affects everything from sensitivity to your casting distance and how you fight a fish.

Picking the right action fishing rods for your intended fishing style is crucial, just like choosing between a spinning and casting rod. But more on that later…

How do you know what action a fishing rod is?

All spinning rods, casting rods, and fly rods should have a symbol along the shaft denoting the rod’s action.

If it’s not on the rod, then it will be in the info leaflet that comes with it and it should definitely be in the specs if you’re buying it online.

If there is no info about the rod action of, say, the spinning graphite rod you want to buy, there is a way to check it.

Determining Fishing Rod Action

Hold the butt section of the spinning rod or any other rod and shake the rod up and down to flex it and try to feel and see where the flex happens.

If it’s near the top it’s fast action, the middle medium action, and the bottom slow action.

To help you visualize, check out this fishing rod action chart.

What is the power and action of a fishing rod and do they need to match?

The rod power describes the rod’s resistance or stiffness to bending when under pressure…

Rods come in numerous power ratings from ultra-light, light power, medium power, heavy power, plus everything in between, like medium-heavy power.

An ultra-light rod power means the rod will be bendy, a medium power rod will be a little stiff, and a heavy power rod will be super and bend less easily.

Balance

Balancing fishing rod action and power is done by the manufacturer and they are separate decisions for you to make.

You could go for a slow/heavy action/power rod or a fast-medium, for example.

What rod power does equate to is the rod’s casting weight, ie – lure mass and the size line and fish the rod is intended for.

TIP

It’s best to choose your action first and then your power in the power and action decisions.

Casting Weight & Rod Power

Man Wearing a Vest and Beanie Fishing at Dusk
Man Wearing a Vest and Beanie Fishing at Dusk

The stiffer a rod and the more resistance to bending it has, the stronger it is.

Therefore, the more weight it can handle when it comes to the fish you’re going after, the size lures you want to cast, and the breaking strain of the line you want to use.

Lighter rods are for small fish and casting light lures or bait using a light line.

While heavier rods are for big fish and casting heavier lures or bait.

Checking Casting Weight

On the rod blank, you will see markings describing the rod’s casting weights. A 7 weight fly rod will have different marks than a 9 weight fly rod, for example.

This number is in ounces and suggests the minimum and maximum lure weights that will load the blank properly for maximum casting distance. Lure weight affects casting distance but there are other factors that affect casting distance, and you might want to know them. Click here to find out.

Here is a handy reference system to show you how rod power equates to lure weight and line class.

You should use it to match the rod power up with the species of fish you want to catch…

Ultra-Light

Ultra-light fishing rods are made for small baits and lures between 1/64 – 1/16 oz and are usually rated for 1-4lb test for small panfish species like sunfish and crappies.

Light

A light fishing rod is made for lures or baits that weigh 1/32 – 1/8 oz and are rated for 4-8lb test.

They are great for trout and small bass fishing.

Medium Light

Medium-light fishing rods are for lures between 1/16 – 2/8 oz and are rated for 4-10lb line. They are great for bigger bass and larger trout.

Medium

Man Casting a Rod While on a Boat
Man Casting a Rod While on a Boat

Medium power rods are for lures between 1/8 – 3/8oz and lines from 6-12 lbs. Another great bass, trout, and pike setup.

Medium-Heavy

Medium-heavy rods are for heavier lures and large fish with a lure rating of 3/16 – 1/2 oz and a line rating of 8 to 14 lb Test.

Medium-heavy rods are great light saltwater rods when you want a challenge to land a bonefish or a snook.

Heavy & Extra Heavy

Heavy and extra heavy rods are for the big stuff like live bait and sharks in the surf or popping for GTs.

They can handle a lure of 1.5 oz and above and have a line rating of 25-130 lbs depending on the rod.

If you ever want to send out a big live bait, you’ll want to do it on one of these rods.

What are the uses and advantages of each type of rod action?

Man Sitting at a Riverbank Holding a Rod
Man Sitting at a Riverbank Holding a Rod

The action ratings of a fishing rod will determine a lot of things from the length an angler can cast to how well an angler can set the hook into a fish’s mouth.

So which fishing rod action rating is the one to choose for when and why?

Slow Action

Slow action rods will bend through the entire blank and the slower action provides the most flexibility available.

A slow action rod is perfect when fishing for small fish like crappie as a slow action rod will give the angler a better fight and a slower hook set to the hook isn’t ripped out of the mouth of the fish.

NOTE

They are also great for live bait as the slower action ensures the bait stays on the hook and the slow tip means you won’t pull it out of the fish’s mouth before it fully engulfs it.

Moderate Action

Moderate action rods are the middle ground and can be used for a wide range of species from trout to bass and bonefish.


A moderate or medium action rod will bend in the top two-thirds of its length which helps you cast further and it has enough power to set the hook into larger fish when they eat your bait.

Medium Fast Action

Medium/moderate fast action rods will bend in the top half of the rod.

This aids your casting distance for a better energy transfer but doesn’t make it so fast that your baits will come flying off the hooks.

Anglers should use medium-fast rods when fishing with baits like minnows or livers for walleye or channel cats.

Medium fast action rods are often used for fishing applications that involve treble hooks, such as crank baits and topwater lures or other reaction baits such as spinner baits because the bite of a treble hook is not as deep as a big single worm hook and they are slow enough not to pull the hook out of the fish mouth before the fish bites it.

While they may lack some sensitivity, moderate rods gain casting range as the bend in the fishing rod helps to catapult lures further.

NOTE

The tip will have enough sensitivity to pick up subtle bites but it’s not too fast to ensure the baits stay on your hooks when you cast.

Fast Action

Fishing Rod
Fishing Rod


Fast action rod will bend only the top third or less of the blank.

The faster rod action equates to good casting distances, more sensitivity in the tip to bites, and more hook setting and fighting fish power. That’s why most steelhead fly rods come built with a fast action fishing rod.

A fast action rod is made exclusively for fishing with single hooks and is the best fishing rod anglers should use when fishing for species like pike, bass, and muskie with worms and for jig fishing.


Most bass rod actions are fast to very fast because this action generally provides better sensitivity and faster power for hooksetting.

By faster power we mean the rod shuts off faster, or the bend ends higher on the blank, which means you don’t have to move the rod as far on the hook set to get into the stiffer part of the blank.

The rod’s action allows anglers to hit fish hard and stop them tangling them up in cover.

Extra Fast Action

Extra fast action rods are the stiffest of all the action ratings are made for sensitivity to bites, a quick powerful hook up, and having enough power in the fight to stop any fish from getting into snags.

For example, if you’re using an ice fishing pole which is extra fast, you will be able to feel instantly if a fish is nibbling on your bait.

TIP

This is the best fishing rod action to use for single hook rigs when going after any species that wants to tangle you up, like bass.

If you’re one of those bass anglers that use frogs as bait, then you’ll need the best frog rod on your arsenal when catching those bass that take cover on weeds and lily pads.

Actioning Away

Thanks for reading my article about fishing rod action. I hope you enjoyed it and now know how to choose a perfect rod and match the rod’s action and rod’s power ratings to the lures and baits you’re using for the species you plan on catching.

Please share the article with all your fishing buddies. You can also send me a pic of you and your hooked fish and I’ll post it on my site. On the flip side, if removing hooks from fish is a frequent problem for you, I have just the guide for you right here.

And don’t forget to check out some of our other articles. There’s a lot to choose from, such as The Greatest 2wt Fly Rods or The Best Saltwater Fly Reels.

Any info you need around fishing, we have covered it in great detail.

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Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.
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