Learning how to set up a fishing pole is a little like learning to drive—once you know how to do it, setting up a fishing rod will become second nature. While the process is simple, the variety of rods, reels and line can be confusing. The good news is, you can find a perfect combo for the fishing you do.

There are thousands of different sizes and styles, so the first step is choosing the right rod for the type of fishing you plan to do. Then, match it with the best size and style of reel. Next, fill the reel with the best fishing line for the fish you target and thread the line through the fishing pole. Finally, tie on a lure or rig and you’re in business. Read on for more details on how to set up a fishing pole.

How to Assemble Your Fishing Rod

How to Choose a Fishing Rod

Fishing rods come in lengths from two feet to over 12. Actions range between extra ultra-light to extra ultra-heavy. And there is a fishing rod to handle everything from a diminutive brook trout to an explosive blue marlin. When deciding how to set up a fishing pole, the first step is to consider the fishing you plan to do.


While there are many specialized rods for a specific species or tactic, there are also great options for an all-around fishing rod. When setting up a fishing rod for kayak fishing, choose the best fishing rod possible. Life in a kayak is tough on a fishing rod and reel, to ensure reliable performance, a high-quality rod and reel combo will pay off in the long run.

In general, the fishing rod, reel and line should match the size of the fish you plan to target. A fishing rod’s performance is labeled near the reel. First, the rod is measured with two qualities: strength and action. A heavy rod with a moderate action will be more powerful while a lighter rod with a faster tip is more sensitive. The label often includes recommended line test and lure weight along with the length of the rod. A longer fishing rod will cast farther and a shorter rod provides more lifting power when fighting a fish.

man casts a fishing rod
The fishing rod, reel and line should match the size of the fish you plan to target. | Photo: Courtesy of Wilderness Systems

Most fishing rods are made of fiberglass or graphite. Fiberglass fishing rods are tougher while graphite fishing rods are light and sensitive. Rod eyes also come in many styles and materials, look for the toughest line guides to survive banging around in a small plastic boat.

Then there are spinning rods and baitcasting rods. Spinning rods have the line guides on the underside with the first eye significantly larger than the rod tip eye. Baitcasting rods put the eyes on top and usually have a trigger at the reel seat to improve grip.

Both types of rod can perform any type of fishing. While baitcasters and spinners each have their ideal use, the choice comes down to personal preference. In general, baitcasting rods offer more power and control while spinning rods tend to be more sensitive and easier to work some lures.

All this information makes the choice as clear as a mud puddle. For beginning anglers, a seven-foot, medium-action spinning rod will handle everything from bluegill and largemouth bass to redfish and striped bass.

Parts of a Fishing Rod

From butt to tip, a fishing rod is built to be tough and sensitive. The long, flexible rod must deliver a lure with pinpoint accuracy, twitch the bait just right, set the hook with authority and beat a wild animal into submission.

The butt is the thick end of the fishing rod. Heavy fishing rods feature a gimble that fits securely into a rod holder or a fighting belt. Moving up, the reel handle and foregrip is either foam or cork. Cork is more sensitive, but foam can be tougher and more grippy.

man holds a fishing pole
From butt to tip, a fishing rod is built to be tough and sensitive. | Photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

The reel attaches to the fishing rod at the reel seat. Some reel seats have an open space that exposes the rod blank for extra sensitivity.

The rod blank is the backbone. Fishing rods are made by wrapping fiberglass or graphite fabric around a mandrel then covering with liquid and curing until hard. The thickness and quality of the materials determines the rod’s power and weight.

Rod eyes or guides are often overlooked until they break or crack leaving the rod useless. The eyes are attached to the fishing rod by wrapping their feet in layers of thread. Rods with hard, ceramic inserts are best for braided line. Metal eyes will last longer but cause more friction on the line. As you set up a fishing pole, always check rod guides for wear and damage, a broken or missing eye could put the rod out of service.

How to Set Up a Fishing Reel

How to Choose a Reel

Fishing reels are amazing works of form and function. Built from the most advanced materials with high-tech design, these metal and composite cranking machines are a work of art and performance.


There are many types of reels, but most fall into two categories: spinning reels or baitcasting reels. Each has its advantages and ideal use.

Spinning reels hang below the rod and use a wire bail to guide the line on the spool. A baitcasting reel sits on top the rod and winds the line onto the spool like a winch. The general rule of thumb is spinning reels are for lighter baits where sensitivity is important. Baitcasting reels are favored for casting heavier lures with more accuracy. Spinning reels are a little easier to use, but modern baitcasting reels prevent tangles caused by overrun line allowing you to choose the best reel for the tactic you employ most.

For spinning and casting reels, there is wide variation in size labels between manufactures. One company’s 2500 may hold as much line as another company’s 4000. To match the size of the reel to the size of the reel, look for manufacturer’s recommendations.

To set up a fishing rod, try the reel on the rod to see if it balances well and looks proportionate. Or, look for a rod and reel combo set up by the manufacturer. Many combos will come with line, too. But advanced anglers like to match their favorite reel to their favorite rod, outside of manufacture or brand, to get the performance they need. To set up a fishing pole, use the rod and reel combination that meets the size of lure or weight you will use.

For more information on fishing reels and how to choose the right one, see our article on 5 Types Of Fishing Reels Explained.

Parts of a Reel

A fishing reel consists of four main parts: spool, gears, drag and body. The spool holds line, the handle works the gears to turn the spool and retrieve line and the drag allows line to leave the spool when a fish pulls. The quality of these parts directly affects the performance of the reel. Any reel will bring a fish to the boat. Over time these parts will start to deteriorate and eventually fail. The best reels prolong this process for more happy days on the water.

How to Choose Fishing Line

Fishing line is the Achilles heel of the rod and reel combo. After all the rigging and casting, success comes down to a big fish on the end of a thin fishing line.


There are three main types of fishing line: monofilament, braided line and fluorocarbon. Monofilament is made of a single strand of nylon fiber. Monofilament stretches more than fluorocarbon or braid, making it good for fighting a big fish. It also has memory, keeping its shape even when loose, so it doesn’t tangle as easily.

a fishing rod tip and fishing line in front of green water
After all the rigging and casting, success comes down to a big fish on the end of a thin fishing line. | Photo: Eva Elijas/Pexels

Braided line is made of multiple strands of thinner line weaved together. This process creates a line that is softer, stiffer and thinner. Braided line is favored by many anglers because it casts farther and is more sensitive. Braid also sinks faster and cuts through vegetation. It is more expensive than monofilament, but it lasts longer.

Fluorocarbon is a single strand of a material that is stiffer and tougher than monofilament. Fluoro also has the same light refraction as water, so it appears invisible below the surface. Anglers like fluorocarbon for leader material because it survives abrasion and the fish can’t see it.

Line strength is measured in the pounds it will hold without breaking. A 20-pound-test line will break under 20-pounds of pressure. While all fishing lines are measured with the same test, each type of line has its strengths and weaknesses. Monofilament will stretch before it breaks, making it good for big fish that fight hard. Fluorocarbon is stiffer and harder than mono, allowing it to absorb abrasion before breaking. Braided line is thinner and stronger than monofilament or fluorocarbon. For example, 30-pound test braided line is the same diameter as 10-pound test monofilament. But braided line line does not stretch, so it is less abrasion resistant.

While there are many ways to catch a fish, anglers targeting everything from largemouth bass to striped bass are using braided line with a short, 12-inch, section of fluorocarbon or monofilament leader between the mainline and the hook. This set-up provides the casting distance and sensitivity of braid with the stretch and low visibility of monofilament or fluorocarbon.

Go into greater depth on your options in our Angler’s Guide To Types Of Fishing Line.

How to Put Fishing Line on a Reel

To spool a reel with fishing line, start with the fishing reel on the rod. Thread the line through the top eye of the rod through the first eye. Wrap a piece of electrical tape around the spool arbor before tying on the fishing line. The tape will keep the line from spinning on the spool. Tie the fishing line to the arbor with an arbor knot.

Next, wrap one hand around the rod blank just below the first eye. Pinch the line with a rag or paper towel to apply maximum friction to the line without burning your fingers.

Hold the line spool with a pencil through the center, then stick it between your knees while you crank line onto the reel. The line should leave the spool the same direction it is going on the reel. If the line starts to twist, turn the spool over and continue to crank line onto the reel.

Finally, turn the reel handle with the opposite hand to fill the spool with line. Be sure to keep pressure on the line so it winds tightly on the spool. Fill the spool to an 1/8 of an inch from the lip. Secure the line to the spool with a rubber band or piece of tape until you are ready to fish.

How to Thread a Fishing Rod

Threading fishing line through a rod is easy, but there are a few tips to make it easier.

To string a fishing pole, start with the line in one hand and the rod in a rod holder. If a rod holder is not available, hold the rod with your opposite hand just above the reel. Instead of opening the bail or releasing the clutch on the reel, loosen the drag to release line. Using the drag keeps pressure on the line so it doesn’t loop or tangle while you are threading line through the guides.

man demonstrates how to set up a fishing pole
Learning how to set up a fishing pole is a little like learning to drive. | Feature photo: Oliver Schlotfeldt/Pexels

Be sure to thread the line through each rod eye. While you are threading the line, inspect the eyes for cracks, chips or other damage. Once the line is through each eye and the top eye pull off enough line to reach the reel again. Tie a loop in the end of the line and attach it to the reel handle to keep the line from tangling.

How to Attach Lures to a Fishing Line

There are many types of lures and many ways to attach them to your fishing line. Some anglers tie a snap to the end of their line to make switching lures fast and easy, but the stealthiest way to tie on a lure is directly to the line. Use a few feet of heavier monofilament or fluorocarbon leader between the lure and the mainline for extra strength. For example, if you are fishing 10-pound test on your reel you should add 12 inches of 20-pound leader with a line-to-line knot, then tie on the lure.


How to Choose a Lure

Smaller, lighter lures will work best tied directly to light fishing line. Heavier fish require heavier line and leader. Topwater anglers prefer fluorocarbon leader because it floats. Deepwater lures work best with braided line that cuts through the water and transmits every vibration from the fish. Monofilament is best for trolling lures because it stretches to absorb the fish’s strike.

Finesse lures favor braided line for its sensitivity and thin diameter, but many anglers are going with fluorocarbon lines which are nearly invisible to the fish. Match the weight and type of fishing line to the lure you plan to use. For the most part, 12-pound, clear monofilament tied directly to the lure will catch 90 percent of fish in the world.

How to Tie a Lure to Your Line

The best knot for fishing is the knot you know best. To tie a lure to your line, anglers have a lot of options. Since they all work, choose the easiest to tie and learn it well. The number one avoidable angler error is a poorly tied knot. When choosing a knot to tie your lure to your line, consider a couple things.

a silhouetted crowd of fishing poles with fishing line extending from them
To tie a lure to your line, anglers have a lot of options. | Photo: Tolga Erbay/Pexels

Monofilament and fluorocarbon are the best for tying knots. Braided line is slippery, so it requires a knot that cinches on itself, like a Palomar or uni-knot. Many anglers add a short leader to their mainline with a line-to-line knot, a uni-to-uni-knot connection works with any type of fishing line. Always use a pair of scissors to cut fishing line. Scissors are safer, quicker, and more accurate than a knife.

For more info on the options to tie your tackle together, see our Angler’s Guide To Fishing Line Knots.

How to Adjust the Drag

The rod is assembled, the line is spooled and threaded through the guides and the lure is on the end of the line. The last thing to do before you go fishing is set the drag on the reel.

Drag pressure allows the line to leave the reel even when the gears are engaged. A series of discs between the reel handle and the gears allows the spool to turn and let out line even when the reel is engaged. You can adjust the amount of pressure on the discs by rotating a dial on the reel. Too little drag will let the fish get away while too much drag will break the line or pull the hook. The perfect balance is setting the drag at one-third the breaking strength of the line.

So, if you are using 15-pound mainline, set the drag at five pounds. Determine the drag pressure by placing the rod in a rod holder and pulling on the end of the line with a hand scale. If you don’t have a hand scale, set the drag tight enough for a fish to pull line when it is making a strong run.

Learning how to set up a fishing pole is a little like learning to drive. | Feature photo: Oliver Schlotfeldt/Pexels



  1. There is a difference between a fishing rod and a fishing pole. A rod starts as a blank, it has a butt grip, reel seat, fore grip, winding check, butt wrap, guides and their windings/wrap. A pole is just that, a pole that you tie line to and wind the line around the tip.

    Not all conventional reels are baitcasters.

    Your drag setting should be 20% of your lines test by using a scale, and pulling at 45° angle to set the drag. 20% may seem low, but as line leaves the spool drag increases. Drag at the bottom of the spool is about 4 times greater than the top of a full spool. You have to figure that knots weaken your line, they can cut themselves. If you set your drag too heavy, you have a real possibility of breaking your line if you don’t back off of the drag when a fish starts dumping line off of your reel. This is assuming that your reel has line matching the rods line rating. Rods are rated with monofilament line and braided line. Set the drag for 20% of the monofilament lines rated test. Braided line is tougher on guides than mono, that is why rods have higher test braid ratings over mono.


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