Fishing Rod Action Explained – Which One Should You Choose?


by Robert Ceran

When buying a fishing pole, a critical aspect you need to consider is its action, which describes its flexibility and bending behavior.

Many novice anglers have problems grasping the concept of action correctly, and often confuse it with power, which are actually quite different from each other.

In this article we’ll explain exactly what rod action is, and how it differs from rod power (also called rod weight).

We’ll also give you a chart of the different action categories, and what they are ideally used for.

What is fishing rod action?

Fishing rod action refers to where a pole bends when pressure is applied to it. 

There are four main categories of rod action:

  • Extra fast action (bending only at the very tip)
  • Fast action (bending in the upper 1/3 of the rod)
  • Moderate action (bending in the upper 1/2 of the rod)
  • Slow action (bending in the lower 1/3 of the rod)

Every pole consists of a blank that has a wider diameter at the rod handle, and then gradually tapers towards the tip.

As a result of this tapering, a fishing pole always bends more at the tip than at the handle when pressure is applied to it, but the exact position where it bends can vary from pole to pole, and this is referred to as its action.

Some types of fishing rods have a very stiff backbone, and thus come with an action that only bends at the very tip.

Others are more flexible along their whole length, and come with an action that bends almost all the way down to the pole handle when under pressure.

Sometimes manufacturers build poles that fall between these main action categories, such as ‘moderate fast action’ poles.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these action categories in more detail.

Extra fast action rods

Extra fast action poles only bend at the very tip, while the rest of the backbone is quite stiff.

As a result, they can be great for setting the hook very fast when a fish bites, since the movement of the pole is instantly translated into tightening of the line.

Anglers also like to refer to poles with this type of action as ‘sensitive,’ because the pole transfers every single vibration from the fishing line to handle, where you can feel it in your hands.

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

Fast action rods

Fast action poles also bend mostly at the tip, but to a slightly greater extent than extra fast action rods.

This still results in a high level of sensitivity, allowing you to feel a fish nudging your bait, it also gives you a little more flexibility that can be very helpful when fighting a big fish. 

The extra flexibility is great for bass fishing, since they tend to do a lot of surges and jumps, which the pole can help to control better if it has more flexibility.

For example, check out our reviews on the best spinning rod for bass.

Moderate action rods

Moderate action poles bend down towards the middle of the rod, and not just the tip. This means they are less sensitive than fast or extra fast poles, but they have additional flex that is great for fighting strong fish.

Whenever a big fish, such as a large tarpon, makes a lunge, or tries to shake off the hook, the flexing of the pole absorbs the force of the movement, which helps to tire out the fish more easily without shaking off the hook.

Also, the extra flex of a moderate blank stores energy during the first part of the cast, which is then released at the end of the cast, and results in achieving greater casting distance.

This is why surf casting rods are usually either moderate or slow models that have lots of flex.

Slow action rods

Slow action poles are even more flexible, and bend almost all the way down to the handle.

Because of this, their sensitivity is very low, but on the other hand they have a lot of flex to absorb the lunges and surges of a big fish, as well as being able to cast much farther than stiffer rods.

These properties make slow poles ideal for casting big lures over large distances, and for tiring our big fish in open water, away from cover.

They are often used for casting extra large crankbaits and swimbaits for bass.

Fishing rod action vs power

This is an area which even experienced anglers often mix up, and you’ll find that many people refer to pole action and power as if they are the same thing, but this is not the case.

The reason for this confusion is because both terms refer to the bending behavior of a fishing pole. However, while action describes where the rod bends under pressure, power describes how much force is needed to make it bend.

Rod power (also referred to as rod weight), is classified on a scale from Ultra Light to Extra Heavy.

Light power poles requiring less weight to be bent, while heavy power poles require more weight to be bent. For more details on this, check out our fishing rod weight guide.

In other words, it’s possible to modulate action and power separately from each other, which means you can have a light fast action rod or a heavy fast action rod.

Both of these rods bend at exactly the same position along the blank, but the heavy model requires more force to be bent than the light one.

Fishing rod action chart

Rod ActionBending behaviorBest used for
Extra FastBends only at its tipJigs, worms, live bait
FastBends in the upper 1/4 to 1/3 of the rodTexas rig, carolina rig, spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, topwater baits, buzzbaits
ModerateBends in the upper 1/2 of the rodCrankbaits, jerkbaits, swimbaits, rattle baits
SlowBends almost down to the handleLarge crankbaits and swimbaits

The table above lists the main rod action categories, as well as some of their main uses. 

Let’s take a look at some of their applications in more detail.

Uses of extra fast action rods

Extra fast action poles are the most sensitive, since the stiffness of the blank lets you feel every little vibration transmitted through the fishing line.

This makes them very useful for lightweight finesse applications, enabling you to feel everything that’s going on with your lure or bait. 

For example, a lot of finesse applications use techniques where you’ll pause the lure, and with this kind of retrieval method, the strike of a fish can often feel very subtle.

An extra fast rod helps you to detect these subtle bites so you can react accordingly to set the hook.

Uses of medium fast action rods

This is the best rod action for bass fishing, since it combines the sensitivity of fast poles with the extra flex of moderate rods.

The sensitivity helps you to feel what’s going on with your lure during retrieval, while the extra flex helps you to cast further, and it also helps to absorb the energy of a big bass fighting at the end of your line.

Best rod action for crankbaits

When fishing with crankbaits, it’s best to use a moderate action rod.

The extra flex of the pole blank helps to cast them further, and when you hook a fish, it absorbs the energy of the runs and jumps of the fish, which helps to keep more fish on the hook.

Best rod action for spinnerbaits

When fishing with spinnerbaits, it’s best to use a fast action rod.

The main reason for this is that you’re using single hooks instead of treble hooks, and you need a lot of force to drive a single hook into the hard mouth of a bass.

And since a fast pole has less flexibility, it’ll help you to set the hook harder.

Final remarks

This concludes our article on fishing rod action. If you’re not exactly sure what action you need for your purposes, we recommend starting with a fast action or moderate fast action pole.

These are easier to handle for beginners, and once you have more experience, you can try one of the other options.