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The best catfish rods: how to catch more of the catfish you want whatever their size

Two anglers catching catfish using a rod and a net
The best catfish rods can reel in the wide variety of different sized catfish (Image credit: Keith Sutton)

Finding the best catfish rods is a test for any angler. Catfish are caught with a wider range of rods than any other fish. From towering surf-casting rods designed for long casts from the shore to the sort of short spinning rods that fit under a car seat, sport fishermen use almost as big a variety of poles as there are shapes and sizes of catfish. But deciding on the best catfish rod for you is actually common sense. You need to think about the size of catfish you expect to catch and then buy the best rod that can measure up to it and reel it in.

If you're targeting eating-size whiskerfish weighing less than 5lb / 2.3kg, a short, light, or ultralight spinning rod paired with a compatible reel will do the job. But a 9-12ft / 2.7-3.7m model made from the most robust materials is needed if you hope to catch a trophy flathead or blue cat weighing 50lb / 22.7kg or more. Most anglers should choose a catfishing rod that is positioned between these two extremes.

We have handpicked the best catfish rods to include a range of materials, lengths, and actions so you always have the best tool for the job in your angling arsenal. Whether it's light-line fishing for small channel catfish or casting pound-plus baits for record-class blues and flatheads, these best catfish rods will subdue even the orneriest catfish, letting you fish without worry. 

Think about your regular catfishing targets and haunts (and don't forget catfish are easiest to catch at night, see our how to go night fishing guide), plus your budget, and compare them to the rod's unique characteristics. You will then pick the best catfish rod for you and one that will be an essential part of your fishing armory. Once you have the right rod of course, you'll need the best catfish bait you can buy. Then learn how to catch catfish in our expert guide and you'll be on your way to impressive catfishing catches you can be proud of. 

The best catfish rods you can buy today

Shakespeare Ugly Stik Catfish Rods catfishing rod

(Image credit: Shakespeare Ugly Stik Catfish Rods)

Shakespeare Ugly Stik Catfish Rods

If you’re rough on rods and poles, Ugly Stiks are made for you

RRP: $40 (US) | Type: casting or spinning | Length: 7’-8’ | Pieces: 1 or 2 | Power: medium to heavy | Line weight: 15-30lb

Excellent value for the price
Virtually indestructible
Seven-year warranty
Need more lengths and power ratings for different catfishing situations

An ugly rod for catching ugly ol’ catfish? Many anglers might think that is appropriate, but Ugly Stiks aren’t ugly anymore like they were when they were patented in 1976. The cosmetics have improved a great deal, evolving into the now recognizable red-and-yellow basket-weave design near the handle and a shiny black and white finish. But the rods are still built to be extraordinarily strong, just like Shakespeare made them decades ago. You can bend one into a complete circle and it won’t break.

We’ve been using Ugly Stik Catfish Rods for more than 20 years and know that the special combination of graphite and fiberglass makes them tough enough to withstand all the banging around they’re likely to receive during a night of catfishing. The clear fiberglass tip delivers strength right where you need it. You no longer have to worry about accidentally snapping the tip in a truck door or beneath your boots.

Each rod also features Ugly Tuff line guides, made from a single piece of stainless steel to eliminate ceramic guide inserts popping out. We’re also fond of the super-durable EVA handles, which provide all-day casting and fish-fighting comfort.

Berkley Shock Rods catfishing rod

(Image credit: Berkley)

Berkley Shock Rods

Featuring a shock-absorbing tip and stainless-steel guides – engineered especially to withstand braided lines

RRP: $42 (US) | Type: casting or spinning | Length: 6’-7’6” | Pieces: 1 or 2 | Power: medium to heavy | Line weight: 8-17lb or 12-25lb

One of few rods made specifically for catfish anglers fishing with braided lines
Superb grip
Clear plastic reel seat can crack
Ill suited for tackling trophy-class catfish

Catfish anglers often use braided lines, which can resist abrasion in the rocky, cover-strewn haunts where big whiskerfish often lurk. Unfortunately, braids can create grooves in some line guides, weakening the rod and leading to lost fish. That’s where Berkley Shock Rods can help.

These carbon-composite spinning and casting rods can be used with other line types but are engineered specifically to withstand today’s modern braided lines. They are especially designed with slower actions and more backbone to help ensure that anglers get the most out of fishing with braids.

Key features catfish anglers will want to note include high-quality 24-ton multi-modulus carbon composite blank construction; a special shock-absorbing tip engineered to accommodate the lack of stretch when using braided line; stainless-steel line guides with titanium-oxide inserts resistant to line grooving and cracking; and an integrated reel seat with ergonomic handle design and textured rubber for all day comfort and a better grip.

B’n’M Poles Silver Cat Elite catfishing rod

(Image credit: B’n’M Poles Silver Cat Elite)

B’n’M Poles Silver Cat Elite

Monster catfish don’t stand a chance against this strong, almost indestructible rod

RRP: $75 (US) | Type: spinning | Length: 7-1/2’ | Pieces: 1 | Power: medium to heavy | Line weight: 25-50lb

Designed to tame even the biggest, most powerful catfish
Excellent price point for a pole with top-quality components
Available in one length and action only

The folks at B’n’M designed this extraordinary rod for use by anglers who like to anchor and fish, or who often drift suspended baits using multi-pole presentations. The 7.5ft rod has an E-glass composite blank for extreme strength, so you can target cats weighing up to 100lb / 45.4kg and more and remain confident that your rod can take any punishment these enormous fish dish out.

An aircraft-aluminum double-nut locking reel seat maintains its tight reel-to-rod connection even in the heat of battle with a hard-pulling catfish. While the backbone is stiff, B’n’M Poles’ Silver Cat Elite also features a faster tip so the angler can clearly see a bend at the end of the rod when furtive catfish take the bait.

Other prominent features include a hi-vis rod tip that lets you keep an eye on the action when it’s dark outside and a high-quality X-Grip handle that provides a sure way to maintain your grasp under slippery conditions, while also improving the looks of this beautiful pole.

Team Catfish Thunder Cat Casting Rod catfishing rod

(Image credit: Team Catfish Thunder Cat Casting Rod)

Team Catfish Thunder Cat Casting Rod

The name is a bit comical, but not the rod

RRP: $80 (US) | Type: casting | Length: 7’6” | Pieces: 2 | Power: medium | Line weight: 8-25lb

High-quality E-glass blank
Anti-slip EVA foam handle
Durable reel seat
A bit too flexible and wiggly for some catfishing applications

You may remember ThunderCats being a popular kids' cartoon back in the 1980s. The Thunder Cat by Team Catfish has the same name, but there’s nothing comical or cartoonish about this high-quality rod made especially with catfish anglers in mind.

Although it’s constructed with a nearly unbreakable E-glass blank, it exhibits sensitive action with a soft tip that helps you detect Mr. Whiskers when he first nibbles at your bait. We especially like the long EVA Power Foam handle that keeps you from losing your grip when you’re fighting a big flathead or blue, and the tapered end cap that won’t get wedged in a rod holder at an inopportune moment.

The rods are white with black and yellow wraps – a high-visibility color scheme that really helps at night or in low-light conditions. Braced stainless-steel line guides will easily handle pressure from any size catfish, and the graphite reel seat is reinforced with a heavy-duty stainless-steel band to give you confidence the rod will hold up just fine even when you’ve hooked a monster lurking in the depths.

KastKing KatTech Catfish Rods catfishing rod

(Image credit: KastKing KatTech Catfish Rods)

KastKing KatTech Catfish Rods

Graphite combined with linear S-Glass gives KastKing’s lightweight KatTech Catfish Rods incredible strength and lifting power

RRP: $90 (US) | Type: casting or spinning | Length: 7’-9’ | Pieces: 1 or 2 | Power: medium, medium-heavy or heavy | Line weight: 15-30, 20-40 or 30-60lb.

Lightweight for ease of use all day
Variety of models for all techniques
Chartreuse strike tip
One-piece models can be difficult to transport

These powerful graphite/S-glass rods were designed to help tournament anglers land big powerful cats, but they work just as well for casual anglers hoping to catch a few smaller catfish to take home for the dinner table.

Features that impressed us from the moment we handled the rod included a large foregrip and oversized fighting butt for extra leverage when tussling with giant flatheads or blue cats, an easy-to-see chartreuse strike-indicator tip that really shines in low-light conditions and super-hard, super-smooth, low-friction Fuji silicon-carbide line guides that resist grooving when using braided lines.

We frequently use rod holders when fishing from our boat, so we also loved the custom rubber-cork handles on the KastKing KatTech rods. This material makes it very easy to remove the handles from the holders, even when a big catfish is hooked, and creates grips that are slip resistant, extremely durable and very comfortable for all-day fishing.

KastKing uses Fuji reinforced reel seats on both the casting and spinning models so you never have to worry about your reel coming loose even under the toughest conditions with the biggest fish. Casting models also include power triggers that improve leverage and give you more control over hard-fighting cats.

St. Croix Mojo Cat Rods catfishing rod

(Image credit: St. Croix Mojo Cat Rods)

St. Croix Mojo Cat Rods

St. Croix touts these as the “ultimate performance catfish rods”, a fact we’d find hard to dispute

RRP: $150-$200 (US) | Type: casting or spinning | Length: 7’-8’ | Pieces: 1 or 2 | Power: medium, medium-heavy, heavy or extra heavy | Line weight: 10-25, 15-40, 30-40 or 50-100lb

All models have fast action for easier bite detection
Great for bass and saltwater fishing, too
Five-year warranty
Higher price point than most catfish rods

Using the company’s unique SCII graphite technology, St. Croix has built some of the best rods money can buy. For the Mojo Cat series, they blended SCII graphite with S-glass to create a family of first-class catfishing rods.

Each has exceptional strength and lifting power for fighting and landing monster cats, and superb tip flex for easy bite detection. The price sticker made us gasp at first, but when we put Mojo Cats to the test on the water, we realized the extra cost was worth it for extreme-performance catfish rods that excel under some of the most demanding conditions encountered in freshwater fishing.

Every rod component is top of the line, including Kigan Master Hand 3D guides with strong aluminum-oxide rings, premium-grade cork handles and an exclusive Kigan hook-keeper. Longer, heavier models have longer handles for better control when battling big fish, and each rod is backed by a five-year warranty and St. Croix’s Superstar Service.

Gen 3 Warrior Cat Bumping Rod catfishing rod

(Image credit: Gen 3 Warrior Cat Bumping Rod)

Gen 3 Warrior Cat Bumping Rod

Every big-river fisherman who uses bumping to target huge bottom-lurking catfish will want some of these rods specially designed to work with that technique

RRP: $190 (US) | Type: bumping | Length: 7’3”-7’6” | Pieces: 1 | Power: medium-heavy | Line weight: 30-100lb (braid)

Extreme sensitivity lets you know when you bump a log or rock so you can pick up and let your bait down right behind it
One of few technique-specific catfish rods available
Shipped in solid tubes for protection during delivery
A bit pricey for some anglers

Bumping for catfish is a specialized method of back-trolling that’s very productive for catching big catfish in rivers. Warrior Cat designed this super-light (7.3-8oz) rod especially for use with this technique. Any angler - big or small, male or female, young or old - should be able to hold one all day long while bumping down the river and feel every bit of catfish-holding bottom structure along the way.

The Gen 3 blanks are made with unique blends of multi-modulus Japanese Toray carbon fibers, which give these rods a supremely strong backbone while maintaining a sensitivity that’s second to none. This allows the angler to turn those bumping bites into solid hook-ups.

Other special features of the Gen 3 Warrior Cat Bumping Rod include Alps Stainless XN guides with deep-pressed hardened aluminum oxide (ceramic) inserts, a strong braid-proof Nanolite rod tip, a ForeCast exposed-blank graphite reel seat and premium Batson EVA grips.

What to look for when buying the best catfish rods

Now we’ve run through some of the best catfish rods you can buy, you might have some questions about how to make your final choice. The following insights should help you select the right catfish fishing rod for you.

Choose a dedicated catfish fishing pole

No longer do you have to use a walleye, salmon or bass rod when fishing for catfish. Many of today’s new poles are made specifically with catfish anglers in mind and are made catfish-tough with top-quality materials and insightful designs. With these products in your angling arsenal, you can fish worry-free, knowing you have the best tools for subduing even the orneriest catfish.

Know the difference between spinning or casting rods for the best catfish poles

Your rod must match the type of reel you use. If you use a spinning reel (the type that’s mounted under the rod with a spool that doesn’t rotate), you need a spinning rod. If you use a casting reel (also called baitcasting or spincasting – they’re mounted on the top of the rod and the spool rotates to retrieve or give line), you need a casting rod.

Casting reels provide more fish-cranking power. Spinning reels are better when fishing light line (anything less than 12lb / 5.4kg test). They allow greater casting distance when using light baits, and they’re also good for landing fish on light line because there is significantly less friction caused by the guides.

Get the right length for the best catfishing results

Rods 7ft / 2.1m or longer offer several advantages over shorter rods when catfishing. Casting distance increases with a longer rod – important if you’re bankfishing or angling in clear water. Long rods give more “reach,” so you can work rigs properly around cover or keep a cat out of your prop. Long rods let you hold more line out of the water, allowing quicker hooksets and better bait control, and permitting more accurate drifts and natural presentation when stream fishing. Long rods also provide more leverage for battling heavyweight cats.

Know the best material for catfish rods

Fiberglass, graphite and combinations of these are the most popular materials for rods. Fiberglass is more durable than graphite but lacks its sensitivity. Graphite is also lighter and stiffer. Fiberglass is heavier and bends more easily with the same amount of pull. Graphite is much more expensive than fiberglass, which is another consideration.

Fiberglass/graphite composites offer the best of both worlds – strength, sensitivity, flexibility and moderate pricing. They are probably the best choice for most catfish fans. Also consider E-glass and S-glass rods. They’re super-tough with extra strength for lifting, pulling and casting heavy rigs.

Why the action for the best catfish rods is important

A rod’s “action” – the flexibility or stiffness it exhibits – can be important. Fast-action styles bend very little; in fact, only the tip section will actually bend. This type is ideal when targeting big, heavy catfish.

Medium-action rods are the most common choice when the angler will be using various applications for a variety of catfish species. These rods bend for about half their length, allowing an angler to fish both for small and large species with good control and hooksetting allowances.

A slow-action rod bends throughout nearly its whole length, providing the most flexible action available. These rods are used almost exclusively for panfish such as bullhead catfish, allowing a better fight for the angler.

The best power rating to look for in a catfish rod

Power ratings are ultra-light, light, medium light, medium, medium heavy and heavy. They measure the amount of pressure needed to bend the rod at its action rating. You can select the right power by the general size of fish you target.

Light power facilitates lighter tackle and smaller baits for panfish such as bullheads and small channel cats. Medium power handles common baits and rigs sized typically for average-sized catfish. Heavy power manages larger baits and rigs for big blues and flatheads.

The best line weight rating for catching catfish

Be sure to buy a rod with a line-weight rating that matches up with your fishing. If you’re going to try to land the trophy of a lifetime, a fish that might weigh 50lb / 22.7kg or more, you’ll want a rod rated for line that will handle that size fish. If you’re after eating-size cats up to a few pounds, you might catch more using lighter, less visible line and could use a rod rated for smaller diameter lines.

Choosing the best rod components for catfish poles

When making your selection, keep these points in mind about rod components for catfish poles too:

  • Long, reinforced fighting butts and blank-through-handle construction provide superior strength and leverage for big-cat battles
  • White and light-colored models are easier to see at night
  • Rods with glow-in-the-dark tips are helpful for detecting night bites
  • EVA foam handles are more durable than cork
  • Poor-quality line guides and rod tips can wear out or break. 
  • One-piece, double-wrapped, double-footed, stainless-steel models usually perform best
  • The best reel seats for catfish, especially heavyweight cats, are reinforced to extra strength

Choosing the best catfish rod can seem like a big task with the range of styles and specifications available, but with the help of this buying guide making the right selection is a straight-forward process. You’ll be pulling on that record catfish or enjoying catfish dinners before you know it!

Keith Sutton

Keith Sutton’s passion for outdoor adventure has taken him to blue-ribbon fishing destinations on four continents, making him a true expert in his field. Along the way, he’s become one of America’s best-known outdoor writers and photographers and earned the nickname “Catfish” because of his passion for chasing those whiskered warriors. He has written 13 books, including Hardcore Catfishing, Fishing Arkansas, The Crappie Fishing Handbook and Out There Fishing, and in 2012, he was enshrined in the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Communicator.