Best Fishing Rods for Kids – Advice from a Fisherman


If you’re a parent looking to purchase your kid’s first fishing rod and you ask the internet what fishing pole is best for kids, the advice you’ll receive can be pretty mixed. Dedicated fishing websites will tend to give you reliable information, but there are many “one off” articles written by bloggers in other genres that are clearly written by people who know very little about fishing, yet are very eager to sell you something. That bugs me, so I wrote this article to try and help.

OK, but whyshould you trust me? Because I didn’t get a memo from my boss that I had to write this article. Instead, I’m a father of two who has been taking his (now 5-year-old) son out fishing at least 3 or 4 times each week for the past four years . I’ve also taken several other cousins, nephews, my niece, and many friends’ children out over the past decade (to say nothing of starting as a little sprout myself). I’ve spent hundreds of hours fishing with kids and made this website to help you teach your own kids how to fish. That’s why.

What Are My Favorite Fishing Rods for Kids?

I’m going to talk about three specific kids fishing poles that are best for different ages, but if you’re a “cut to the chase” kind of person, I’ll lay it out very clearly:

  • The best fishing rod for toddlers and very small children is the Zebco Dock Demon spinning rod.
  • If you’re looking for the best fishing rod for kids who are just starting to fish, go with the Shakespeare Ugly Stik Elite.
  • The best “high-end” fishing rod for kids who have shown an aptitude for the sport is the St. Croix panfish series.

I’m going to dive a bit more into why I selected these three rods as “the best,” but before I do, let me assure you of a few things:

  • The rods I recommend are all rods that I personally own.
  • These are all rods that my son has used for dozens upon dozens of hours.

In short, this article contains actual “real world” testing. Not flipping some products around in my hand for 20 minutes and condensing other reviews into one. I know that sounds snarky, but I’m truly frustrated at the thought of someone wasting your money and jeopardizing the chance that your kid will have a good experience fishing.

A Brief Word on How I Define “The Best Fishing Rod for Kids”

I go a bit against the grain and recommend that you start your children with a quality spinning rods rather than an “inexpensive” spincast rod. I intend to write an article justifying my position more thoroughly, but in brief, spinning rods and reels:

  • Aren’t that much harder to cast (which doesn’t really matter when your kids are young, since you’ll be doing all the casting anyway);
  • Can be switched from left- to right-hand retrieve as needed (you’re stuck with whatever the spincast reel starts as);
  • Are much more useful for a wide variety of applications, thus, they are more likely to be utilized throughout your child’s life.

I don’t think you’ll get your money’s worth out of one of the “kid’s combos” that have the latest princess or superhero on it. I’d rather make a recommendation for a setup that you could see your child using for many years, and one that you might even use in a pinch.

The Best Fishing Rod for Toddlers: the Zebco Dock Demon

Fishing with my son
This was my son’s first fishing rod. It was perfect for casting indoors, and also would make a good ice fishing rod in a pinch.

My son started fishing with a Zebco Dock Demon spinning rod. At just over 2.5′ long, you’d be hard-pressed to find a rod that would fit a toddler better. It was the perfect size for casting around our house while I was teaching him how to reel in a lure. I appreciate the way it can be used in tight quarters!

This rod is extremely durable and stood up to everything my son did with it. This, of course, was to mostly whack the couch and drag the rod behind him in the dirt. It stood up to several months of aggressive use by a toddler without any issue.

See also  6.5 Creedmoor vs 243 Winchester Review & Comparison

You can find this rod with a combo that comes with a simple reel that is about all that you need for learning purposes. It is not as durable as the rod, but if you’re just teaching your kid to reel with it, this doesn’t matter.

When/if the reel breaks, the rod will accept another standard spinning reel. I’d be surprised to find your kids break it before they outgrow it.

Ugly Stik makes some of the best kids fishing rods. They are renowned for their durability, so even their light models will stand up well to larger fish.
My son fishing with his Zebco Dock Demon.

Why the Zebco Dock Demon Is a Great Fishing Pole for Small Kids:

The Zebco Dock Demon is one of the best fishing poles for small kids for several reasons:

  • It’s a small rod that does well for teaching your kids how to reel in a lure inside;
  • The Zebco Dock Demon is a great fishing rod for a very small child to handle without any fatigue or issues in real fishing conditions;
  • It is a good “toy” rod that allows your child to act like you while you are fishing and waiting to hook something to hand them to reel in;
  • The Zebco Dock Demon makes a plausible ice fishing rod.
  • You could also use it to vertical jigging right over the boat.

My son really enjoyed this product and it worked very well for my family. I would buy it again for my daughter, but I don’t need to, as our original one still works fine. To me, that is a testament to its durability. I would recommend this for your own family. If you’re interested in buying one, Amazon usually has it in stock for a very competitive price.

The Best Fishing Pole for Kids: the Shakespeare Ugly Stik Elite

Best Fishing Rods for Kids - Advice from a Fisherman
The Ugly Stik Elite has quickly become a workhorse for my family.

I like the Shakespeare Ugly Stik Elite so much that I own six of them and often pick one up while I’m fishing with my son. This was his first “real” rod. The objective was for him to use it to catch fish rather than as a learning aide to help with the basic mechanics of reeling as he did with the Dock Doctor.

They are darn near unbreakable and are fairly sensitive fishing poles that detect bites pretty well and are great for kids. They’re definitely not as sensitive as a “high-end” rod but you won’t have trouble knowing that a fish is on the line.

Ugly Stiks are renowned for their durability and can put up with a ton of abuse. They are true workhorse rods that will get your kids through their more rambunctious years and could very well last as long as your kids interest in fishing does. I can attest to this as my son has reeled in fish on some of the first Ugly Stiks that I used 30 years ago!

How Long of a Fishing Pole Does a Child Need?

You can purchase an Ugly Stik Elite in lengths from 4’6″ to 7’6″ which makes it ideal for beginners of all sizes. I have several 4’6″ and 5′ models that I bought for my son between the time he was 2 and 4 years old. I’d recommend a similar size for a kid that small. Once they get a bit older, you can upgrade them to a 6′ or 6’6″ model.

The 4’6″ and 5′ long fishing poless make fighting panfish fun, so literally any fish your kids catch is going to tug and bend the rod for them. A little bit of drama never hurt anyone!

If you’re worried about how the smaller Ugly Stik’s will hold up in case your kid hooks a larger fish, I can personally attest that they can stand up well enough to larger fish such as catfish as seen in the photo below:

Best Fishing Rods for Kids - Advice from a Fisherman

Though you can purchase these rods as a rod/reel combo, these are “main” fishing rods for my family, so I went out and bought specific reels for them. They balance very well with Pflueger President spinning rods in the 6920 size.

See also  Best US States for Hunting Hogs, Plus Laws and Seasons

If this is your child’s first fishing pole, it might be best to get the reel that comes with the combo, but this company is known for its rods more so than its reels. I think you’ll end up wanting to replace the reel if your kids stick with this hobby.

Why the Ugly Stik Elite is My Favorite Fishing Rod for Kids:

In sum, I recommend the Ugly Stik Elite as your main fishing rod for kids for the following reasons:

  • This workhorse is darn near unbreakable, even by kids;
  • It has a good amount of sensitivity for the price and can detect bites from panfish just fine;
  • I can tell you from experience that it holds up very well against larger fish like catfish and freshwater drum;
  • It has a nice finish. I like the cork rod and the subtle graphics. It looks like a true fishing rod, rather than a toy;
  • The balance of price, performance, and durability makes it the most rationale choice for building out your arsenal of children’s fishing rods.

Honorable Mention – The Ugly Stik GX2

Shakespeare manufactures another Ugly Stik that gives the Elite a run for its money for the tile of “Best Fishing Pole for Kids,” the GX2. The GX2 costs slightly less money than the Elite (though be sure to check Amazon for the best price, as the Elite often matches the price of the GX2). The difference between the two is fairly negligible:

  • The GX2 comes with a black EVA foam handle whereas the Elite has a cork handle;
  • The 4’6″ ultralight GX2 only has 5 line guides compared to the Elite’s 6 (note: the GX2 comes in many sizes, I merely picked one for the comparison);

With the two I compared, both were rated for the same size of lure and line, so it’s really going to come down to your preference of handle more than anything else. I prefer cork, so I bought the Elite for my son. My dad purchased several GX2s for himself as he thinks they “look” more like a traditional Ugly Stik.

The Best “High-End” Fishing Rod for Kids: the St. Croix Panfish Series

Best Fishing Rods for Kids - Advice from a Fisherman

Let me just start by saying something loud and clear: do not buy the rod I’m about to describe to you unless your kid definitely loves fishing. If your child is just starting to fish, go buy the Dock Demon or one of the Ugly Stiks I discussed above, and let them start with that.

If, however, you’re in the market for a “high-end” rod for your little angler, you can’t go wrong with the Panfish Series by St. Croix rods. They are light weight (our 5′ model weighs 2.2 oz), extremely sensitive, and make catching little fish an absolute ball!

My son calls this his “birthday rod” and gets annoyed with me if I use it, but I can’t help myself. If he gets distracted I always have to say something like, “Hey buddy, why not let your old man throw this one out really far for you!”

It just is a dream to fish and I might have to get a few more. It’s a very sensitive rod that allows you feel bites much better than the Ugly Stiks, and therefore catch more fish. It also seems to cast the same drop shot a little further, even though I’ve paired it with the same Pflueger President 6920.

With that said, these benefits come at a cost. It is much more expensive than the Ugly Stiks and I’d imagine it has to be more fragile (Luckily, my son has yet to confirm this). At least I have the peace of mind to know it comes with a solid warranty.

The panfish series is at a great price point where it is expensive but not prohibitively so. This helps give the rod an aura of mystique for your children and will let them take pride in the knowledge that they’ve been trusted with something important without your needing to mortgage the house.

See also  How to Get Paid to Hunt Hogs & 10 Best Companies That Pay
Best Fishing Rods for Kids - Advice from a Fisherman
The St. Croix panfish is a quality rod for any little angler who is in love with the sport of fishing.

Why I love My Son’s St. Croix Panfish Series:

If you’re looking for a great high-end fishing rod for kids, I recommend the St. Croix panfish series for the following reasons:

  • While it is more expensive than the Ugly Stiks, it is not ridiculously so and remains in the realm of “reasonableness” if your children are serious about fishing;
  • It’s a great performing rod that makes fighting smaller fish like panfish a ton of fun;
  • The St. Croix Panfish series is much more sensitive than the Ugly Stiks and will allow you to better detect bites;
  • It’s just a great “special gift” to give your little angler. It’s the first true “valuable” that my son has owned, and it gives him a sense of pride.

Honorable (but Totally Unrealistic) Mentions

When I was searching for my son’s “birthday rod,” I also considered the Avid series in a 5’6 ultralight size. It is a little bit nicer of a rod, but I couldn’t justify the extra expense for a four-year-old.

I own about 20 St. Croix rods of various types and the experience has led me to believe that the Avid line of rods is normally St. Croix’s best bang for your buck, but when it comes to a good rod for kids, even I have to admit that they’re simply overkill.

There are several other options from St. Croix (such as the Legend Elite Panfish) that are significantly more expensive, light, and sensitive. I can’t in good conscious recommend those for a small child. They don’t need that sensitive of a rod and any benefit would be lost on them. With that said, it would make for a very well-received birthday gift.

If you’re in the market for one, have your kids get it for you on Mother’s or Father’s Day to show appreciation for how hard you work to put them on fish!

What to Know Before You Buy a Fishing Rod for Your Kids

Look, I know that I’m advocating starting off with good equipment here. That can be a bit counter-intuitive, especially if you don’t know if the hobby will stick.

The temptation is probably strong to just cave and buy some cheap little spincast combo with the latest princess on it and call it a day, but I honestly think you would be wasting your money and doing your kids a disservice.

Get them the right equipment from the start. Give them an honest chance at doing well enough at this sport to become infatuated with it. Don’t set them up for failure by buying junk destined for a cobwebbed corner of your garage. Get them something they can be proud of and use!

Granted, gear alone does not make an angler. If you need more help teaching your kids how to fish, check out some of my other articles that can help reduce your learning curve and spark your kid’s passion for fishing.

Suggested Reading

If you’re completely new, I’d start with my article on the basic skills you need to take your kids fishing. This article will set you up with all the equipment that you need and teach you how to tie a knot, rig a drop shot, find a good fishing spot, cast the rod, reel in and land a fish.

I hope this article gave you actionable information and cut down the learning curve a bit. As always, if you found this article helpful, please consider sharing it so that it can help others.

I would like to point out that I have a book for sale, Fishing with Kids: A Parent’s Guide that dives into this and several other topics. If you enjoyed this post, please consider purchasing it.


John Paxton

Want to learn how to take your kids out fishing? Do you have a friend who might need a hand? Click the pictures below to purchase my helpful books!

Previous articleCurrent (2024) Antler Prices
Next articleThe Scout Rifle: The One Rifle To Have If You Could Only Have One
Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>