We’ve got good news if you’re looking to upgrade your fishing gear: There’s never been a better time to do so. This year’s class of rods and reels offers something for anyone looking to wet a line.
With the economy continuing to limp along, disposable income remains scarce. Faced with the daunting task of selling new gear to cash-strapped consumers, manufacturers have been forced to retool their sales and design strategies. As such, they’re offering upscale, feature-packed products that wring every dime out of a dollar.
As is tradition, the OL test team made its annual fall pilgrimage to the salty marshes of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, last October. There, our assignment was to arm ourselves with the best new bass tackle and go nose-to-nose with the belligerent local redfish, challenging the resolve and pedigree of the new gear.
After four solid days on the water, putting the rods and reels through an exhaustive battery of tests, we got a clear idea of how this tackle will perform for you.
**** - Excellent
*** - Very Good
** - Good
* - Fair
1. Editor's Choice and Great Buy: Mitchell 300 Pro
Introduced in 1948, the Mitchell 300 was the first spinning reel to be offered to recreational anglers. Since then, some 40 million reels from the 300 series have been sold worldwide, and this most recent iteration is arguably the finest one yet.
[See the Mitchell 300 Pro video]
The redesigned Mitchell 300 Pro is constructed of a polymeric material with a pleasant, satiny finish. A cavernous spool boasts huge line-capacity ratings (180 yards of 12-pound-test, 210 yards of 14-pound-test) and turns on 10 very capable ball bearings.
The hungry 5.8:1 gear ratio gobbles up line at 33 inches per turn—a real plus when you're working deep-water targets with drop-shot or shaky-head rigs. At 9.9 ounces, the 300 Pro is a bit chunky; however, the rugged design will withstand punishment.
It’s equally suited to both freshwater and inshore duties. The drag adjusts (up to 14 pounds, according to our testing) via an easily accessible, oversize top knob.
Overall, the 300 Pro is a fantastic reel with a very down-to-earth price tag. It is therefore quite worthy of both our Editor’s Choice and Great Buy awards in the spinning reel category
Final Word: Rugged yet refined; a ton of reel for the money
MSRP: $70; fishmitchell.com
2. ****Editor's Choice** Baitcasting Reel: Abu Garcia Revo Rocket**
With a freakish retrieve ratio of 9.0:1, this cranker is autobahn-fast, inhaling 37 inches of line per crank. But the reel’s impressiveness extends well beyond its ridiculous retrieve.
It’s embellished with a lavish list of standard features, among them all-aluminum construction and several carbon-fiber components that render it a nimble handler. A C6 carbon-fiber palm plate and handle help reduce weight. The handle turns on 11 super-slick ball bearings.
[See the Revo Rocket video]
Both tournament anglers and weekend warriors will appreciate the Rocket’s efficiency. Its blinding retrieve speed gives an angler the ability to reel in his bait quickly after fishing the strike zone, minimizing the downtime spent winching a lure through dead water. Banking several seconds on each cast can translate into minutes or hours saved over the course of a day’s fishing. And more casts equals more boxed fish.
This Revo is adept at fast-laning spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, and crankbaits alike. It’s best for exploring expansive open water or seemingly endless lengths of bank, and will aid you in accruing a limit on even the toughest fishing days.
Final Word: Blazing retrieve will make you a more eficient angler
MSRP: $300; abugarcia.com
3. ****Great Buy Baitcaster:** Daiwa Tatula 100H**
It’s rare that we test equipment we feel a manufacturer has underpriced, but the Tatula 100H is one such reel.
The low-profile, feature-rich baitcaster has dual casting controls for infinite adjustment across a variety of wind conditions, rod actions, and bait weights. A solid aluminum frame and side palming plate are unexpected perks. A slightly wider than average spool is a great fit for large hands, as is the full-size thumb casting bar.
The 7.9-ounce reel turns effortlessly on eight bearings, with a skeletonized handle and chubby paddles handling cranking chores. At 6.3:1, the mid-range retrieve speed is perfect for any number of applications. The T-Wing levelwind system promotes smooth casting and even spooling, especially with superlines. The drag (13.2 pounds max) whips fish in no time, and the extra-large star knob is easy to find in the heat of battle.
We appreciated the lack of gaudy graphics on this blue-collar caster. Multi-colored anodizing and scroll machine work do little more than hook fishermen. At the end of the day, a fishing reel needs to withstand abuse. The Tatula 100H will do that, and at $150 it easily bested the field for our Great Buy award.
Final Word: If anything, this well-appointed workhorse is underpriced
MSRP: $150; daiwa.com
Best Spinning Rods
1. Editor's Choice Spinning Rod: Seeker Bushido
California-based Seeker has been around since 1988, but few fishermen east of the Golden State have ever hear the name. Judging by the quality of their new Bushido line, that's about to change.
Out 7-foot 2-inch test rod was a delight, with an action suited for a number of light-line applications, from jerkbaits and topwaters to drop-shotting and shaky heads. The gentle action and mild taper of the blank allow the rod to load easily, even with morsel-size baits (it's rated for 1/4 to 5/8-ounce lures and 6- to 12-pound-test line), yet the rod is capable of throwing heavy-weight clunkers on the strength of its rigid butt section.
The Bushido is flush with high-end components, like the longitudinal-carbon-fiber blank, which is slim, strong, and light-weight. An American Tackle Company MicroWave Guide System minimizes line slap to increase casting distance and accuracy, especially with braided line. A split premium-grade cork handle, with its comfortable palm swell, will be especially appreciated on marathon fishing days with this best-in-show rod.
Final Word: Delightful rod should usher Seeker to national stage
MSRP: $160; seekerrods.com
2. Great Buy Spinning Rod: Fenwick HMG
In 1973, Fenwick introduced the first graphite rod, called the HMG. Forty years on, the latest version of this venerable model is still turning heads.
[See the Fenwick HMG video]
The first thing you’ll notice on this HMG is its handle, made from a rubber-and-cork composite that remains grippy no matter the weather and does an excellent job of transferring vibration to the user. The handle has been slenderized, making it comfortable to hold while allowing fingers unobstructed access to the butt section of the blank when setting bait cadences and monitoring for fish. An old-school, rear-locking slotted reel seat performs flawlessly. At 7 feet, the medium-heavy action is rated for 3/8- to 1-ounce lures and 10- to 17-pound-test line.
Our test team was amazed by just how well this rod performs. The blank loads effortlessly and fluidly transfers kinetic energy to the lure, no matter its weight. The tip’s action is unmatched, allowing the user to deliver a bait with precision.
Best of all, you can rig up four or five of these Great Buys for the price of just one of a couple other rods in the field.
Final Word: Another winner in the original line of graphite rods
MSRP: $100; fenwickfishing.com
3. Editor's Choice Baitcasting Rod: Cabela’s Tournament ZX
Store brands, like generic labels, are typically associated with a lesser degree of quality than name brands. As such, fishermen in search of a new rod might overlook the rather plain-looking Cabela’s Tournament ZX. And that would be a shame, because this is one heck of a fishing rod. The ZX series includes a number of technique-specific models. Our crankbait rod was constructed on a blank of HM64 graphite—arguably the most sensitive blank material available.
[See the Cabela's Tournament ZX video]
Beyond its extreme sensitivity, the rod’s balance is superb and its action mechanically efficient, loading effortlessly on the back cast and transferring almost all that energy into the cast with little residual vibration.
A Winn split grip nicely accommodates two-handed casting, and is both comfortable and sure in hand. The black Pac Bay guide train transitions line down the length of the rod beautifully, and the stainless-steel construction will stand up to saltwater. No matter the application or the target fish, the Tournament ZX will be a welcome addition to any rod locker.
Final Word: Don't be duped by the store brand. This is a first-rate rod
MSRP: $100; cabelas.com
4. Great Buy Baitcasting Rod: Duckett Ghost
Specialty bass fishing equipment has become de rigueur. There’s pitching, flipping, worming, jigging, cranking, and a plethora of other technique-specific tackle. For the angler who wants one rod to do it all, though, there's the Duckett Ghost.
A multi-modulus blank (stiff material is used in the butt section with less-stiff material in the tip) effectively controls the rod’s flexure along its length, providing a true feel with just about any bait. A legit two-piece reel seat allows great finger access to the blank and makes it easy to monitor the bait’s movement.
Insert-free hybrid microguides of 316 stainless steel (9 plus tip) manage line with aplomb. An EVA split grip works well, and at 10.5 inches, it lets you really get on top of a cast for a few extra feet of distance.
At 7 feet and graded medium-heavy (fast action), our Ghost was adept at throwing a variety of baits and line weights. In fact, though not rated as such, this rod will shine with lines in the 8- to 20-pound-test range and ¼- to 1-ounce baits. That’s a lot of performance from a rod of this price.
Final Word: The ultimate utility player, and a screaming deal to boot
MSRP: $99; duckettfishing.com