The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

Best Fishing Rod of 2020

We fished for weeks with these poles to decipher the best from the rest.
By Kit Smith ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday November 12, 2020
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Ready to haul in the catch of the day? We took an in-depth look at the 2020 market, bought 8 of the best spinning rods, and tested each one for weeks to help you make the right choice when it comes to your next fishing rod. Our experts tested the selected fishing rods in a wide range of environments, from bays to lakes to rivers. We made detailed notes on how each performed in metrics like features, versatility, and portability. Whether you're looking for superior quality or exceptional value, our hands-on evaluations will help you choose the perfect fishing rod.

1

Best Overall Fishing Rod


St. Croix Triumph Travel


Editors' Choice Award

$150.00
at Amazon
See It

Length Tested: 6'6" | Casting Weight: 1/4-5/8 oz
Excellent feel
Great casting
Portable
Slightly difficult to take apart

With the best combination of balance, features, and versatility, the St. Croix Triumph Travel rod took the top spot. Its excellent feel meant we could sense the smallest bites and set the hook with ease. Another advantage? It was one of the best casting rods, casting farther and more accurately than any other rods. It also offered great portability, breaking down into four sections for traveling and fitting neatly into the included travel case. The cork handle was also a nice touch. It felt comfortable in hand and added to the exceptional balance of the rod. And when it comes to quality, this rod had it in spades.

Is there a downside? It was hard to come up with one, but if we had to say, it would be that it's not quite as easy to take apart and put back together as some of the other rods. Of course, this was a pretty minor issue, and if you're looking for the best all-around fishing rod out there, the St. Croix Triumph Travel is for you.

With the best combination of balance/feel  features and versatility  the St. Croix Triumph Travel rod was a clear winner.
With the best combination of balance/feel, features and versatility, the St. Croix Triumph Travel rod was a clear winner.

2

Best Telescoping Rod


Daiwa Megaforce Tele Spin


Editors' Choice Award

$98.00
at Amazon
See It

Length Tested: 6'8" | Casting Weight: 1/4-22/25 oz
Highly portable
Excellent sensitivity
Impressive casting
Lack of features

Sometimes you have to go far to find fish, so it pays to have a rod that travels well. That's precisely where the Daiwa Megaforce Telescopic excelled. Extending from an easily stowable size of 1' 10" to a very versatile size of 6'8", this rod packs away quickly and is ready for action again in seconds. It has great feel for a telescoping rod and helped us sense the lure in the water and detect bites. It was also a great casting rod, consistently casting farther than most other rods—something we appreciated when chasing after fish that jumped nearby.

The only real complaint we have about this rod is its lack of features. While it covered all the basics, it didn't have some of the other rods' unique features, like hook holders. Overall though, if you want a highly portable rod that casts well, look no further than the Daiwa Megaforce Telescopic rod.

The Daiwa Megaforce Telescopic was not only the one of the most portable rods  but it also had remarkable feel and balance for a telescopic one.
The Daiwa Megaforce Telescopic was not only the one of the most portable rods, but it also had remarkable feel and balance for a telescopic one.

3

Best Bang for Your Buck


PLUSINNO Two-Piece Spinning Rod


Best Buy Award

$35.99
(16% off)
at Amazon
See It

Length Tested: 7' | Casting Weight: 3/16-3/4 oz
Great balance
Ergonomic handle
Casting
Not as portable

If you want a rod that can do it all without breaking the bank, check out the PLUSINNO Two-Piece Spinning. While this rod lacks some of the portability found on the first two rods, it makes up for it with balance and features. The ergonomic cork handle was one of our favorites and made all-day fishing a breeze. Speaking of the handle, this rod features an excellent reel seat that kept the reel locked in tightly. It was also a great casting rod, with the line running smoothly through the guides on every cast.

We do have some minor complaints, though. While it held up well during our testing, the lightweight materials may not be as durable as some of the other rods we tested, so you may have to be a little more careful when handling this one. It's also not the model that packs down smallest. But if these issues aren't enough to deter you from saving some cash, we recommend picking up the PLUSINNO Two-Piece Spinning rod at a low price for a great product.

While not as portable as a telescopic rod  the PLUSINNO Two-Piece Spinning offers exceptional sensitivity and versatility at an accessible price.
While not as portable as a telescopic rod, the PLUSINNO Two-Piece Spinning offers exceptional sensitivity and versatility at an accessible price.


4

Great for Small Fish


Ugly Stik Elite


Top Pick Award

$49.95
at Amazon
See It

Length Tested: 5' | Casting Weight: 1/32-1/4 oz
Strong
Versatile
Casting
Short handle

If you need a well-built, lightweight fishing rod that's easy to tote to your favorite fishing hole, look no further than the Ugly Stick Elite. Don't let its small size fool you. It's amazingly strong and has impressive fighting power, which was proven on several occasions when we hauled in fish that were seemingly too big for this rod. This rod was also versatile when it came to fishing styles, whether it be dropping a hook with a worm on it or just casting with a lure. It was also one of the best when it came to balancing, sitting comfortably in our hands all day long.

Although the upsides were plentiful, there were a few downsides to consider. This rod is on the small side, so casting distance takes a hit. This is to be expected due to the rod's size, but it's still something to think about if most of your fishing involves casting. It also has a fairly short handle, which made two-handed use a little more difficult. Overall, this rod was a pleasure to use. So, if you need a small rod that can handle the rigors of everyday fishing, you might want to give the Ugly Stick Elite a try.

If it's smaller fish you're after  the Ugly Stik Elite is your best option. Its compact size  exceptional feel  and impressive fighting power combine to give you the upper hand.
If it's smaller fish you're after, the Ugly Stik Elite is your best option. Its compact size, exceptional feel, and impressive fighting power combine to give you the upper hand.

5

Most Versatile


KastKing Blackhawk II Telescopic



$53.99
at Amazon
See It

Length Tested: 7' | Casting Weight: 3/16-5/8 oz
Extremely versatile
Great sensitivity
Portable
Glass tip
Floating guides

When it comes to versatility, KastKing Blackhawk II Telescopic rod is about as multipurpose as you could get. It is equally adept at fishing from the lakeshore as it is from an ocean jetty, which we did on several occasions in the same day. It also provided plenty of sensitivity, so we could really feel what was going on in the water. And being that it's telescopic, it made transporting exceptionally easy. In its travel state, it was a compact 1' 10". This proved especially beneficial when hiking out to a few secret spots.

The only downsides? For one, we had an issue with the glass tip. It broke after a few uses, and we had to order another one. We didn't have any problems with the second rod, so we'll chalk it up to getting a lemon, but it's something to consider. There was also the small issue of the floating guides. They were somewhat difficult to secure when extending. All in all, if you want a fishing rod that will perform in many different environments, the KastKing Blackhawk II Telescopic is the rod for you.

The KastKing Blackhawk II Telescopic impressed us with great fighting power  sensitivity  and versatility. As a bonus  its telescoping nature meant we could transport it with ease.
The KastKing Blackhawk II Telescopic impressed us with great fighting power, sensitivity, and versatility. As a bonus, its telescoping nature meant we could transport it with ease.

6

Good for Casting


Cadence Fishing CR5 Spinning Rod



$56.99
at Amazon
See It

Length Tested: 5'6" | Casting Weight: 1/32-1/8 oz
Accurate casts
Construction
Sensitive
Balance
Versatility

If you spend a lot of time fishing in streams and rivers, the Cadence Fishing CR5 may be the perfect choice for you. It provided accurate casts, so we could consistently hit that hole the fish were hiding in. Its construction was also impressive. And when it came to sensitivity, this rod was one of the best, consistently letting us detect the smallest bites and set the hook with ease.

This rod did have some drawbacks, though. For one, it was almost too light. So, depending on what reel you use, the balance can be thrown off. Another issue was its versatility. It was really only made for fishing streams and rivers, so if you are looking for a rod that can do it all, this isn't it. With all that said, the Cadence Fishing CR5 is excellent at what it's built to do and will do well in those situations.

The well-built  great casting Cadence Fishing CR5 excels in freshwater environments. As a bonus  it has some great features  like a hook holder.
The well-built, great casting Cadence Fishing CR5 excels in freshwater environments. As a bonus, it has some great features, like a hook holder.

7

Good for Backpacking


High Altitude Lightweight Telescopic



$49 List
List Price
See It

Length Tested: 6' | Casting Weight: 1/4-5/8 oz
Portable
Features
Handle
Sensitivity

If your idea of a fun day of fishing means a long hike out to your favorite secret spot, the High Altitude Lightweight Telescopic is just what you need. Not only is it one of the lightest and smallest telescopic rods (just 1'4" in its compact form), but it also has some nice features that you may come to love. The hook keeper was especially useful when transporting it between fishing holes, allowing you to keep the hook or lure on and ready to go, even when collapsing the pole. It also has a very comfortable padded grip, and the included travel case was a nice addition. As a bonus, ten percent of the brand's profits go towards getting more kids out fishing. Very cool.

But in other areas, this rod came up a bit short. It was a lot stiffer than other telescopic rods, which meant it provided less feel. This hindered our ability to detect bites, and when using a lure, it was hard to feel its action in the water. It also wasn't quite as comfortable in hand as some of the other rods. Of course, if you want a great travel rod, you have to make some sacrifices. And while you'll make a few with the High Altitude Lightweight Telescopic, in our opinion, it's still a good choice.

This pole packs down small and light for backpacking  but also served us fine in other angling scenarios.
This pole packs down small and light for backpacking, but also served us fine in other angling scenarios.

8

A Functional Rod but Lower Quality


Sougayilang Telescopic



$26 List
List Price
See It

Length Tested: 5'9" | Casting Weight: 1/4-1/3 oz
Portable
Guides
Too stiff
Poor construction

If you are familiar with telescopic rods, you know there can be some drawbacks. They tend to be stiffer and less sensitive, telescoping components are more prone to breaking, not as balanced, etc. Unfortunately, the Sougayilang Telescopic had all of these negative characteristics, plus several unique issues that we didn't find in any other rods we tested. One of the most apparent was the size of its guides. They were far too small for a rod of this length and hindered casting. We also had an issue with the reel seat, which on several occasions loosened to the point where the reel almost came off. We also noticed the construction of this rod seemed subpar. Nothing broke while testing, but it didn't feel like a rod that would stand the test of time. One of the only advantages this rod had was its extremely compact size. It was only 1'4" in its travel state.

With all its downsides, we feel you're better off buying another rod. And while it worked adequately during our test, its negatives became more apparent the longer we fished with it. Our testers recommend spending your money on a different fishing rod.

While the Sougayilang Telescopic rod did get the job done during our testing  its poor construction and lack of features left us wanting more.
While the Sougayilang Telescopic rod did get the job done during our testing, its poor construction and lack of features left us wanting more.

Why You Should Trust Us


Kit Smith, our lead reviewer, has been fishing for most of his life. He grew up fishing for salmon and halibut in the San Francisco Bay and the nearby Pacific Ocean. He also spent time fishing streams and lakes in Bear Valley, a small mountain town in the Central Sierras, where his family had a cabin. Later, he continued perfecting his angling craft in Colorado, where he attended college.

When it came to testing, June Lake, California, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and California's coast served as prime proving grounds. Our lead tester fished from shorelines and boats to determine how each rod performed in different environments. Dozens of fish were hooked in the process of testing these rods, helping us decipher key performance differences between each product. Each fishing rod was taken out into the field to gain impressions about the features, as well as the versatility and portability. Professional anglers were also consulted, and their feedback taken into consideration. We then put each rod up against the others to figure out where each one ranked in the test. The rankings and recommendations found in this review were informed by our in-depth comparisons and field testing.

We invited friends and angling experts to join us on fishing trips to learn from their experiences with these products  too.
One of dozens of fish caught while field-testing these fishing lines.
Lead tester Kit Smith ready to land another fish while field testing.

Analysis and Test Results


Balance/Feel, Features, Construction, Versatility, and Portability were the five metrics we used during field testing. We lay out each below and highlight some top performers in each area.

Balance and Feel


A rod's balance is a crucial component to consider. It not only helps with casting, but it also makes fishing a whole lot more comfortable. If the balance is off, the weight of the rod will be shifted to the rod tip or handle, and you'll notice it. Feel is also an important metric here. Feel comes down to the sensitivity of the rod. If a rod has great feel, you can sense the smallest bites and the action of a lure in the water. While telescoping rods don't traditionally provide great balance and feel, the Daiwa Megaforce Telescopic was an exception. It was extremely comfortable to fish with and let us sense every little movement in the water.

The St. Croix Triumph Travel is exceptionally well balanced. Add in a high degree of sensitivity and this rod was hard to beat.
The St. Croix Triumph Travel is exceptionally well balanced. Add in a high degree of sensitivity and this rod was hard to beat.

As far as the most well balanced and sensitive rod goes, the St. Croix Triumph Travel and the Ugly Stick Elite were neck and neck. While the St. Croix Triumph Travel takes the cake for the most balanced and sensitive fishing rod, letting you feel everything that was happening underwater, the Ugly Stick was right there with it. It helped us feel the tiniest nibbles and set the hook like a pro.

With great balance and feel  the Ugly Stik Elite made fishing a pleasure  even after hours on the water.
With great balance and feel, the Ugly Stik Elite made fishing a pleasure, even after hours on the water.

Features


This metric is sometimes overlooked when considering a fishing rod. Sure, you can get the job done without all the bells and whistles, but smart features can make the experience even better. What kind of features are we talking about? Things like a cork grip, hook holder, and oversize guides. But having a lot of features doesn't automatically make it a winner here. They have to be features that really work and add to the fishing experience. This category's standout is the PLUSINNO Two-Piece Spinning, with an abundance of useful features. A couple of our favorites? The oversize ceramic guides helped guide the line smoothly for long casts, and the double locking structure on the reel seat that held the reel tightly in place and never loosed up, even after bumpy boat rides.

The hook holder on the PLUSINNO Two-Piece Spinning rod was one of our favorite features. It made traveling from one fishing hole to another a simple task.
The hook holder on the PLUSINNO Two-Piece Spinning rod was one of our favorite features. It made traveling from one fishing hole to another a simple task.

With our favorite handle, the Cadence Fishing CR5 also proved strong in this metric. While some of the rods feature foam handles, this one sports a premium cork handle that fits perfectly in our hand and made all-day fishing comfort a reality. The High Altitude Lightweight Telescopic packed plenty of features, too. We especially liked the hook keeper that lets you store your hook while moving between fishing holes.

If you want to fish all day without any fatigue  the Cadence Fishing CR5's ergonomic cork handle is just what you need.
If you want to fish all day without any fatigue, the Cadence Fishing CR5's ergonomic cork handle is just what you need.

Construction


While this isn't the most exciting metric, it does make a big difference in how well a rod works. Depending on the material, you can get more sensitivity, strength, and fighting power. On top of that, the construction may be what determines if a rod lasts ten days or ten years. There were a few clear winners when it came to this metric. The Daiwa Megaforce Telescopic was clearly built to last among the telescopic poles. Its carbon fiber construction combines strength and sensitivity to pick up little nibbles on our bait.

The PLUSINNO Two-Piece Spinning rod was clearly built to last. It's well constructed guides and handle were both clear indications of this.
The PLUSINNO Two-Piece Spinning rod was clearly built to last. It's well constructed guides and handle were both clear indications of this.

The true king of construction, though, is the St. Croix Triumph Travel. Built with a unique graphite fiber, this rod provided incredible sensitivity and fighting power. Of course, it also comes with a high price tag, so that quality doesn't come cheap.

While this kind of quality comes at a cost  the St. Croix takes the cake when it comes to construction.
While this kind of quality comes at a cost, the St. Croix takes the cake when it comes to construction.

Versatility


Another important metric to consider is versatility. And in this category, not all rods are created equal. Some are specifically made for fishing off the bottom of a lake, while others are made just for casting in saltwater environments. The KastKing Blackhawk II Telescopic is the clear winner here. With its equally great performance in both fresh and saltwater, exceptional casting distance and sensitivity, and impressive fighting power, it can handle everything from small trout to large sea bass.

As the most versatile rod we tested  the KastKing Blackhawk II Telescopic was equally adept in fresh and saltwater environments.
As the most versatile rod we tested, the KastKing Blackhawk II Telescopic was equally adept in fresh and saltwater environments.

In comparison, while it's built with quality in mind, the Ugly Stick Elite is really only made for freshwater fishing. Its fast action and light power design were clear indications of this. With that said, its versatility score took a hit.

The Ugly Stik Elite excelled in its intended environment  but outside of that it wasn't a very versatile rod.
The Ugly Stik Elite excelled in its intended environment, but outside of that it wasn't a very versatile rod.

Portability


If you like to travel with your rod, this is a crucial metric. Of course, it's hard to beat a telescoping rod for portability, but some of the two-piece rods we tested were quite easy to take apart and put back together. The Cadence Fishing CR5 was one of these, and it made transporting a breeze.

This may not be a telescoping rod  but the Cadence Fishing CR5 made transporting easy by breaking down into two short sections.
This may not be a telescoping rod, but the Cadence Fishing CR5 made transporting easy by breaking down into two short sections.

One of the most portable rods we tested was the High Altitude Lightweight Telescopic. It made transporting a simple task and was among the lightest rods we tested. But many of the other telescoping rods were just as portable, including the Daiwa Megaforce Telescopic and the KastKing Blackhawk II Telescopic. If portability is important to you, we suggest trying out one of these rods.

If you want a rod that travels well  a telescoping one is hard to beat. While these rods can all be transported easily  the High Altitude Telescopic (on the top) takes the cake for being the shortest and most portable rod we tested.
If you want a rod that travels well, a telescoping one is hard to beat. While these rods can all be transported easily, the High Altitude Telescopic (on the top) takes the cake for being the shortest and most portable rod we tested.

Conclusion


Selecting the right fishing rod won't guarantee you'll catch more fish, but it can put the odds in your favor. Something important to think about? What style of fishing are you looking to do. Are you planning on spending most of your days dropping a line off a boat, or will you be casting from the shoreline more often? Whatever it is, there's a rod here designed just for you. We hope this article has been helpful in selecting a new rod. So, plan that next fishing trip, get out there, and snag that trophy fish.

Kit Smith