This is the lineup of baitcasting and spinning rods we tested for 2016. You’ll find an Editor’s Choice, a Great Buy, and Super Saver selections for both categories, plus all the charts of the additional reels that we tested. In addition to new flagship rods and reels, this year we requested manufacturers also submit their most cost-conscious gear for consideration in our new “Super Saver” category. Entries were blind tested side-by-side with high-end rods and reels. You can find an overview of the test—including notable features from this year and our testing methodolgy—right here. You can find the 25 reels we tested here.
THE BAITCASTING RODS
Editor’s Choice (1)
Score: 95.6 / $299 / fenwickfishing.com
▶Billed as the highest strength-to-weight-ratio rod in the Fenwick lineup, the World Class performed well across the board and was markedly more responsive than others we tested. Quality components—like a Fuji reel seat, Fuji K stainless-steel frame guides, and a marbled cork grade A split-grip handle—are standard. The latter is best in class, with a comfy palm swell that telegraphs every bait nuance back to the angler. Seven models with actions tailored to bass-specific techniques are available, with a limited lifetime warranty.
Magnesium 2 (2)
Score: 94.1 / $169 / kistlerrods.com
▶ The Kistler Magnesium 2 is a stunning rod whose performance is as good as its looks. Overall, the Mag 2 was one of the lightest assemblies we’ve ever tested, due in part to the raw carbon blank that’s void of paint or clear coat. The funky-textured Winn Grip offers a tactility that’s second to none, with a sticky-when-wet feel. It’s a treat to throttle and amazingly resistant to rough-and-tumble use. The long split grip lets you get on top of far-reaching, two-handed casts. The radial-wrapped blank transmits bottom topography and bait movement flawlessly.
Score: 82 / $49 / shop.zebcobrands.com
▶ The Equalizer by Quantum is a $49 workhorse that is also surprisingly sensitive, due in part to its IM8 graphite blank—considered best in class just a few years ago. Rated for 6- to 14-pound-test line (¹⁄₈- to ¾-ounce lures), our rod effortlessly threw light baits on its medium action while also excelling at heaving heavier ¾-ounce baits, too. Eight aluminum-frame guides with aluminum oxide inserts handle both braid and clear lines. The full-length cork grip is well-designed for working light baits and muscling up big redfish. This bargain is worth a long look.
Score: 92.6 / $99 / lews.com
▶ We were immediately shocked at just how light the TP1 was in hand. Built on a thin-walled IM8 blank, the TP1 made long casting sessions a fatigue-free delight.
Lew’s TP1 Baitcasting Rod by OutdoorLife Testers raved about the attractive yet functional color-matched Winn Grip on the casting handle and butt. And they were pleasantly surprised to find the American Tackle Company’s MicroWave Guide System (nine guides total), which offered smooth casts, on a $99 rod. The handsome, stark white rod is mated to a no-frills skeletonized graphite reel seat for excellent blank-to-bait sensitivity.
Tatula XT (5)
Score: 89.7 / $99 / daiwa.com
▶ The Tatula XT was one of the best-balanced rods in the field, with all of its components working in harmony, translating into great fishability. The radially wrapped blank has a lively tip that’s well adapted for a variety of baits, ranging from crankbaits to light spinnerbaits.
Lashed to giant redfish, the Daiwa’s soft tip proved more than a match, tiring these wide–shouldered fish quickly. We appreciated the finish wrap work on this $99 rod and the attention to detail throughout, as demonstrated by three machined winding checks.
List of tested baitcasting rods: Fenwick World Class, Kistler Magnesium 2, Lew’s TP1, Loomis E6X, TFO GIS, St. Croix Legend Elite, Shimano Zodias, Daiwa Tatula, Abu Garcia Villain 2.0, Dobyns Fury Series, BPS Bionic Blade, Quantum Equalizer.
THE SPINNING RODS
Legend Elite (A)
Score: 95.9 / $399 / stcroixrods.com
▶ High-end rod juggernaut St. Croix has been building top-tier fish sticks for decades. The Elite joins that stable, and as expected, it is extraordinarily sensitive, due primarily to a blank, which features super-high modulus SCVI graphite in the lower section. It is coated with two layers of slow-cure epoxy, offering an eye-popping finish with protection from occasional bumps and bruises. The firm butt steered big fish through the slop, while a delicately tapered tip provided uncompromised feel when monitoring finesse baits.
High-end components—like the Fuji Torzite solid-titanium frame guides with ceramic inserts, a Fuji TVS reel seat, and a super-grade, one-piece cork handle—adorn the Elite. This St. Croix is expensive. However, a 15-year transferable warranty could soothe the heartburn.
Score: 93 / $109 / dobynsrods.com
▶ Gary Dobyns has been making pricey, semi-custom, boutique bass-fishing rods for years. The Fury is Dobyns’ first entry into the mainstream rod market. It is big on value without compromising quality. We pushed the Fury to its limits on a hook-up with a 30-plus-pound redfish. This stick performed admirably, without a moan from angler or rod. This is one tough performer.
Built on a radially wrapped, high-modulus graphite blank, the Fury features stout single-foot guides to manage line along the blank’s length while providing robust flexure capable of tiring the most stubborn fish. Guides are anchored with Kevlar wraps and add to the overall bulletproof-ness of this rod.
The top-grade cork handle functions nicely, telegraphing bait and fish signals back to the operator.
Score: 87.7 / $79 / no8tackle.com
▶ The No. 8 Tackle Co. rod lineup is packed with feature-rich sticks, all at outlet-mall prices. The Blackout might be the most intriguing. The combination 24/30-ton graphite blank has plenty of butt to steer fish clear of potential trouble, while the twitchy tip shines for motivating shaky heads, drop-shots, or other bitty baits.
The tangle-free guides were proven winners, minimizing wind knots under less-than-ideal casting conditions. Their zirconia inserts worked flawlessly, managing our salt-soaked braid under the duress of hard-charging redfish.
The through-blank reel seat allows users direct access to the rod, further enhancing the ability to feel baits and passive nudges. The oversize split grip increases leverage for long casts. A best-in-class open hook keeper makes stowing lures a cinch.
Omen Black (D)
Score: 85.7 / $99 / 13fishing.com
▶ Arguably, Japan makes some of the best—albeit unattainably expensive for the average angler—rod blanks in the world. That’s why it’s surprising that the Omen Black is built on a Japanese 30-ton Toray carbon fiber blank, one that is as sensitive as it is rugged.
The Omen Black fished with the balance and aptitude of a $300 rod. For those with educated hands, the blank’s aptitude quickly becomes apparent as it casts without unwieldy rebound or shudder.
Quality components are standard, including Evolve Titanium Y-Guides with zirconia inserts, which provide uncompromising blank flexure, improving your ability to fully load the rod and gain extra feet of casting distance. A full-size premium cork grip with a rear-mount reel seat keeps threads clear of your rod hand, allowing for better purchase.
Photographs by Nick Ferrari; Video by Jared Serigné