Fish tape vs. fiberglass fish rods for DIY cable installation??


Active SatelliteGuys Member
Original poster
Oct 26, 2004
Can someone who has experience with both of these cable-running tools give me a good pros vs. cons type of explanation as to the proper, effective use of them?

I have to run some cable, not tons, but enough in places where I'm going to need one or the other, or both. Primarily vertical runs through existing walls. Lucily, I already have access to my crawlspace, so I can run under the floor (which I already have). Now I need to go upstairs.

Thanks for the help!

The fish tape is more flexable and can be moved around. Will probably be only thing to work in a tight place (i.e., no height). Also, a little harder to move around with fiberglass installation.

The fishing pole is good if you have room to get it in the hole and push it, such as in an attic. If you have room to push it in the hole, and the other hole is directly in line with it so that you do not have to move or swing it, it will work. If this is the case and you don't have access to the fish tape, then go this route.

Myself, I prefer a metal rod, so that I can determine if there is any electrical current in the space I'm working. :eek: But not recommended for anyone other than a thrill seeker. :D

EDIT: I wouldn't want to ruin a good Shakespear, but hopefully you have an old one that you can remove the metal guides off of so that it does not catch :) anything or get hung up.
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I have limited experience with both. Here are my 2-cents worth: There is no one best way. Each challenge may require a unique solution and that can be a combination of techniques. Both are great tools to have in your box. Fishtapes are used primarily to pull wiring through established paths, like conduit or raceways. They are almost useless in an unguided "push" scenario like in a wall cavity, but they offer greater length (25-50' or more) and strength vs fiberglass rods. The rods do give you some ability to "push" your way to a target over relatively short distances, but they are pretty much limited to straight lines unless they can follow a gentle radius along some guide like ductwork. They are insulated, so pushing through spaces that may carry live wires is not likely to be a problem with a rod. Another advantage of the rods is the variety of interchangeable tips available. In wall cavities, fishtapes are generally useless unless it's a straight drop with limited obstructions and you can reach in to find the end.

For vertical drops through insulated walls you will generally use the rods. If you have a straight run from one opening to another, this is usually fairly simple and you can join rods for a longer distance. Push the rod(s) through and use it to pull the cable(s) back. If you have to make a "bend" around a corner, or meet in the middle from two ends, you can use the metal tip on one rod to "find" a magnet on a string attached loosely to the other rod and pull that string toward you. Ultimately that string will pull the cable(s). The magnet technique helps also when you have a limited opening on both ends and the chance of hitting it is limited, like a drilled hole through a sillplate.

I don't have a lot more to offer. I'm sure others will. Good luck with your installation...!
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If you've only got a few runs, trying to save pennies, and not going to have negotiate very long or complicated sections a unwrapped metal clothes hanger or a tape measure might work.
I don't do DBS installs, but I do work with an electrician on wireless Internet installs. He has fiberglass rods, each about 4' long that will screw together to form much longer rods. They also can take various tips, such as one with a hole for securing a wire. These will bend very well and can be put together in an attic. By using sound, I can help him locate where his rods came down so he can place the cut-in box. If he already cut the hole, I can feel for the rods and guide them out.

But we have also used a very small link-size chain at times, if the wall is free of insulation. It just depends on the circumstances. And it is much, much easier with two people!
SmityWhity said:
I thought he was talking about a real "Fishing Pole"! :)

Thanks for the info bhelms. I looked for such a device (sectional pole) about 25 years ago, but couldn't find one....

Here's just one link of many on the internet, with poles and attachments.
Little pricey for a one-time job.
SW - You can get them at places like Lowes, IIRC, and certainly at an outlet that caters to electricians, but I agree they're too big of an investment for a single need. Maybe one can be lucky enough to have an electrician as a close friend...!

I have used a number of substitutes of course in my time, but never considered an actual fishing pole, but hey - why not? One's imagination is the only limit! A guy I once worked with had a very deep understanding of these matters. He once postulated that "Any fool can do the job with the correct tools. It takes a real craftsman to find a way to do it with the wrong tools...!" :)
I like using the chain/magnet scenario in a vertical/non-insulated wall drop. sometimes I'll use a small piece of messenger wire and work it up through the ceiling, directly above where I want to drill into the top cap.( to make sure I'm lined up on the same side of the stud).Of course that will only work if the only thing you have to get the wire through is sheet rock. If your attic is decked out it will be tougher. So I cut the hole for my box, go upstairs and find my marker, drill the hole, tie the chain to the cable and drop it. This usually doesnt take too long. And the messenger wire is so small you wont even notice the hole. if you do, you can always put a little dab of caulk in it.

So basically you can just take your pick out of all the posts here, they are all good possibilities. Fish rods are decent if they are very thin and flexible. I can almost tie mine in a knot!

There are all kinds of tools for this sort of thing you can spend all kinds of money on. But I agree with bhelms, dont buy it if you dont have to.
For the couple of household projects I have done, aluminum ground wire works pretty well. It is fairly rigid, and yet flexible. I start out with it coiled, and straighten it out as I run it through the walls. I use it like a poor man's fish tape, and once it gets to where I need it, use it to pull the coax. I was dropping a line in my master bedroom (upgrading from rg-59) and the wall had the sink drain line so the coax was hanging up around the drain. The ground wire stayed straight and made it past to the box, then pulled it out with the coax.

I wouldn't try it in an insulated wall, though.
Thanks bhelm - I like browsing Home Depot and Lowes, maybe I'll check them out this weekend and see what they have in case I need one in the future if I end up doing a lot of hobbies.
The Greenlee sectional fiberglass rods that screw together are what I use exclusively. A set of four 3 ft sections cost about $35 at Home Depot or Lowes. I've used them professionally and extensively for 10 years now. I use them like thread and needle to get to the tightest places for wall fishes. The cable is either taped or threaded to the tip. It is important to know construction methods and structures. Your success depends on both knowledge and experience.

Since I always know my entry and exit points, by locating them physically with cheap piano wire "insulation hangers," I never found any need for the so called "glow" rods.
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Oh...just thought of another b*tch of mine about the Greenlee's (thank-you Mike, forgot the name), they are not the most flexible of fishrods. But I have found them to work really well for crossing across finished ceilings as well as crawlspaces that I really don't feel like crawling thru.
I like the stiffness, especially when I can used them to go down from an attic to a basement in outside walls full of insulation. I can also use them, along with stiff long Greenlee drill bits to run wires down inside walls, even those with horizontal firestops.
I second the small chain idea for non insulated walls. Get a 18" flex magnet 5 ft of chain pop a hole in the drywall stick a small maglight in the hole go up into the attic & you will have no problem seeing the light from the attic drop the cable withe the chain a couple feet & grab your flex magnet, I worked for 7 years as a cable tv installer & we used that trick 99% of the time over the fish tape though working for speed we tried to stay away from the insulated walls if possible

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