Best Ultralight Spinning Rods for Every Budget
Ultralight gear fishermen usually fall into two categories. There are the hikers, backpackers, and back country anglers who are trying to reduce pack weight, and then there are the fishermen who like to challenge of landing big fish on ultralight tackle. Either way, the challenge is finding a lightweight, responsive fishing rod which can go head-to-head with whatever fish comes its way.
Brown Trout on Ultralight Gear
What is an Ultralight Fishing Rod?
As mentioned before, the term "ultralight" can mean two things in regards to fishing rods. In some cases, the term "ultralight" is referring to the actual physical weight of the fishing rod itself. More common, is that the term is referring to the action of the rod. A rod with an ultralight action will have a lot of bend, meaning even the smallest fish will be able to put up a big fight.
The truth is, most well built light action rods are constructed out of carbon fiber and don't weigh very much, so regardless of your intent, we're pretty much looking for the same type of rod.
When do you use ultralight gear?
Why are they all Spinning Rods?
If you've been shopping around for an ultralight fishing rod, chances are you've been seeing a lot of spinning rods and not much else. There's a simple reason for this. Spinning reels are much better suited for casting the lightweight types of lures ultralight fishermen use. Whether you're casting lightweight jigs, 1/16th trout spinners, or flies with casting floats, you're going to achieve much better casting range with a spinning reel. These types of lures simply do not have enough mass to accelerate a casting reel spool.
So if you're thinking ultralight tackle, you're going to want a spinning rod and spinning reel.
Ultralight Spinning Rod Contruction
Graphite for Ultralight Spinning Rods
When it comes to material of construction for ultralight gear, carbon fiber/graphite is the way to go. Carbon fiber is super lightweight, and can be manufactured to provide a wide range of actions and powers. Many older ultralight fishing rods were complete "noodles" as we called them back at the shop. Sure they bent easily, but they had no backbone, and made casting and fighting fish a complete drag.
By varying to taper and modulus of newer graphite rods, ultralight gear can not have much faster actions, meaning you'll have a sensitive tip capable of detecting the lightest bite, while maintaining enough backbone to handle that surprise lunker bull trout.
Spinning Rod Eyelet Count
Another thing to check is eyelet count. The more eyelets the rod has, the better casting and fighting performance you'll have. More eyelets means smaller loops of line between eyelets when casting, which reduces eyelet drag. Increased eyelet count also ensures that the load is distributed evenly across the entire length of the rod when fighting fish, rather than just at the top.
Ultralight Spinning Rod Sizes
When you're selecting a rod size, there are a few things you'll want to consider:
Typically, longer rods provide better casting, allow for more flex at the tip end of the rod while still maintaining sufficient backbone, and handle fish better in a fight. On the other end of the argument, longer rods weight more, and can become unwieldy when fishing in close quarters or dense brush.
As a good compromise, I look for rods in the 6 - 7' range. Any shorter and you will start taking a big penalty to casting distance.
If you'll be primarily casting lures with this rod, you'll want to find a rod labeled as either fast action or ultra-fast action. Fast action rods do not bend as much at the base, but are incredibly flexible at the tip. If you'll be doing less casting and more float or bait fishing, I would consider a medium-fast to fast action rod.
Number of Rod Section
If you'll be doing a lot of backpacking, hiking or travelling with this ultralight rod, you may want to consider looking for a four piece rod. Four piece rods break down into a smaller overall length, meaning they are easier to strap to the outside of your backpack, or fit inside travel luggage.
If breaking down into four pieces is not necessary for the fishing you'll be doing, stick to a two piece rod. Two piece rods are less expensive and will provide you with far more options for length, weight, and action.
Choose a fast to ultra-fast action, graphite spinning rod between 6 and 7', with at least one eyelet per foot of rod.
My Top Picks for Ultralight Spinning Rods
I've narrowed down my picks for the current top ultralight spinning rods on the market to three: Best Under $50, Best Value, and Best Overall. These spinning rods weigh next to nothing, cast with precision, and easily handle hefty fish while still letting the little guys horse you around.
Best Ultralight Rod Under $50: Ugly Stik Elite
Budget Friendly- Ugly Stik Elite
"Worth every penny and better than the rest!"
For anyone who knew Ugly Stiks from decades back, they may have left a bad taste in your mouth. Ugly Stik started out with a mission to create a nearly unbreakable fishing rod, which they did. Unfortunately, the early models of these rods were practically broom sticks. Built like a tank with the reflexes of a tank. Eventually, that all changed.
The new line of Ugly Stiks have the same unbreakable construction, but you would never guess that from the sensitivity and flexibility of these rods. When I worked at the fishing shop, the old timer fishermen who had got to know the Ugly Stiks of yesteryear were always blown away when we finally convinced them to give the new models a try. And they just keep getting better.
Now, Ugly Stiks are not a true full graphite construction, partially due to keeping the cost down, and partially in maintaining their indestructible construction. As a result, Ugly Stiks take a small performance hit, although its really pretty minor.
Given their toughness, Ugly Stiks are the perfect rod for lending to a friend, strapping to a backpack as you careen down a ravine to a hidden trout stream, or stashing in the trunk of a car for those impromptu river bend turn-outs.
I have a number of these rods I've been using for decades, and they're still going strong.
Best Value Ultralight Spinning Rod: St. Croix Triumph
Best Bang for the Buck- St. Croix Triumph
"Hands down one of the most fun setups I have. I use it with Joe's Flies, small Mepp's Spin Flies, or Pistol Pete's, and it's a great rig. I use it for trout, crappie, or small pan fish. Even caught a catfish on it once and the rod held up great."
St. Croix makes some awesome rods. For ~$100 you won't find a better value for an ultralight spinning rod. Using the same graphite and manufacturing processes as their high-end models, the Triumph series provides a luxury fishing experience at a remarkable affordable price.
Premium cork handles, braided line ready aluminum oxide eyelets, and finely tuned fast action sensitivity make these a dream to fish with.
If weight is on your mind, the 5'6" ultralight model weighs in at an unbelievable 2.4oz. And if you're planning on packing the rod, the Triumph series includes arguably the finest four piece travel rods available anywhere on the market. When it comes to backpacking with a spinning rod, this is as good as it gets.
Round that all out with a very generous 5 year warranty and its a killer deal.
The Winner (Best Ultralight Spinning Rod): G.Loomis Trout & Panfish Series
Best of the Best- G.Loomis Trout and Panfish Series
"Best ultralight rod I've put my hands on bar none. I use it for throwing eggs and trout magnets from my kayak. I kid you not, I could feel the trout inhale one of those trout magnet jigs."
The Gary Loomis Trout and Panfish Series spinning rods win by a landslide. In a Field and Stream review of the "Best of the Best" ultralight rods, one reviewer claimed it was "like fishing with a feather". I have to agree. These rods feel like more of an extension of your arm than an actual fishing rod.
Whether you're pitching micro-jigs, feather-light spoons, or small crank baits, these rods have the casting power to get your gear to the fish. Between the ultra-lightweight construction and industry leading premium graphite blanks, you will never miss even the lightest of strikes.
The rods do come at a price, however the first time you try fishing with one of these rods you'll probably stop using all your other fishing rods. They are an experience you truly have to feel.
Gary Loomis rods also come backed by one of the finest lifetime warranties in the entire fishing industry. This isn't just any old call the company and try to explain what happened and eventually give up and buy a new rod anyway kind of warranty. If your G.Loomis rod breaks due to any fault of the manufacturer, its covered, you'll get a new rod free of charge. Whats more remarkable is their Xpeditor service. If your rod breaks (or even just gets old) for any reason, even if its your fault, car door, dropped pack, dropped half of it in the lake, they will express ship you a brand new rod for just a phone call and ~$75 (you ship them the broken one later). That's a brand new rod, no questions asked, whenever you want, for $75, for as long as you live and they stay in business. Think about it.