I am often asked “What is the ‘best’ rod to use?”, for this or that.
‘Best’ is a relative term. There are many different types that will get the job done, so a lot of it comes down to what you prefer using. So all I can do is give you my opinions of what I think is the best type for a given situation.
Catfishing covers a lot of territory, only part of which involves rods. And what would work best for Channel Catfish from the bank, would be close to useless for trophy Blue Catfish or Flatheads from a boat. When selecting a rod, bear in mind that even if you are fishing for Channel Cats in the 1-5 lb. range, there is always the chance that you will hook into a monster Blue or Flathead. I’ll go from smallest and simplest to large to make it easy to understand the entire scope.
At the bottom end of the spectrum, we have Bullheads, usually caught from shore. For these fun little guys, nothing more than a cane pole and a can of worms is needed. I’ve passed many an afternoon pulling in these tasty tidbits. What they lack in size, they make up for by being both easy to catch and delicious. While the world record Bullhead was around 8 lbs., most of them you will catch will be under a pound.
If you want to get more technical, almost any ultralight or light action rod will do. You can even fly-fish for them. I am partial to the Zebco Micro-Spin series, but to get the best of both worlds between cane-pole fishing, and ultralight spinning, try a crappie pole in the 12′ length. I use B & Ms models alot for small to medium fish from shore.
For channel catfish in the 1-15 lb. range, I prefer a 6′ 9″‘ Ugly Stick Medium Action Tiger Lite rod. They are short enough to be easy to handle and cast from a boat, and have a good strong backbone for heaving catfish out of cover if needed. They are also incredibly tough. They are light enough to hold comfortably and have a long handle for leverage. The medium action is sensitive enough to detect the sometimes-shy bite of Channel Cats.
They can be cast gently, and/or flipped, making them a good choice for using dough or prepared baits, so as not to sling the bait off the hook. For shore fishing in still to moderate moving water, I prefer an 8′ Medium Action Ugly Stick Big Water spinning rod. The extra length comes in handy when shore fishing.
For larger Channel Catfish and Blues from a boat, I prefer the Eagle Claw GRX Series. I know, you’re gonna say “But those are Salmon and Steelhead Rods!”. That may be the case, but they are also ideal for larger catfish from a boat. They are tough and durable, have a nice long handle for heaving fish when necesary, and have a good, heavy backbone to make heaving large fish possible.
They also have a faster action than most of the heavier rods designed for catfish, making it easier to detect a hit when not using a bait clicker. The faster action is also easier on live-bait when casting.
For larger catfish in the 20-40 lb. range from shore. in both still and fast water, I prefer a 12′ Heavy Action Ugly Stick Big Water Casting Rod. They are tough enough to handle the biggest freshwater fish under the most demanding conditions. Your muscles will fail before this rod does! It is also my preferred rod for Gar, Sturgeon (where legal) and Medium saltwater species.
For the true behemoths of the catfish world in excess of 40 lbs., my choice hands-down is Cabelas King Cat E-Glass rods in the 9′ length. These are the premium rods for large fish. They have double-footed, double-wrapped and sealed ceramic guides, so they won’t come loose when fighting a large fish.
They have stainless-steel hoods on the reel seats, so your reel stays on the rod no matter what. They have the backbone and durability to handle anything you might hook into, up to small submarines! With the proper reel, line and leader, there is nothing these rods couldn’t handle.