“Over there—12, 12 o’clock, 30 yards!” shouted our guide, Smokin’ Joe Demarco.
In unison, three baits were airborne. And just as quickly, a trio of hooked up bull reds broke from an acre-wide pod of fish and headed off in different directions. It took more than 30 minutes, but each was netted, quickly photographed, and then released. This continued for three days, the big bull redfish of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, challenging the limits of fishermen and their gear, the rods and reels of the 2016 OL Tackle Test. The battles determined which gear was up to the task. Much to our surprise, a number of never-before-seen, value-priced offerings stood toe-to-toe with much higher priced tackle.
Here’s what we discovered after torturing the best new freshwater rods and reels in the salt. Follow the links directly below for rods or reels, or keep reading for more info on the test.
WHAT WE LIKED
Simple innovation marks this year’s test class
13 Fishing Arrowhead Line Guide
Baitcasting ****line guides aren’t sexy. In fact, most are quite mundane. The 13 Fishing Arrowhead line guide is oddly shaped, letting the line lay uniformly on the spool. This translates into fewer backlashes.
Improved Winn Grips
If you’re a golfer, you’re familiar with Winn Grips. Many anglers, however, have yet to try these polymer handle wraps on their fishing rods. Winn continues to improve them, providing better handling, sensitivity, and eye appeal. Even our cork-loving testers liked them.
13 Fishing Palming Plate
Concealing casting controls under the palming plate is nothing new, nor is retaining the door. However, 13 Fishing has improved the design with a spring-loaded post that lets the plate swing up and out of the way of the delicate internals, and allows for unprecedented ease of access.
Death of the Micro
A few short years ago, when the micro guide craze first hit, we predicted that their popularity would be short-lived. Their size makes them difficult to thread and they break easily. Worse yet is their inability to transport line along a blank’s length, allowing the line to rub the rod and weaken. That prediction drew sneers and jeers from bass fishing’s prognosticators and industry insiders, who praised their revolutionary design and declared that micros would change the fishing rod industry forever. Hmm.
Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a rod equipped with those original micro guides. Now, “micros” (more aptly called “macro micros”) aren’t much smaller than traditional guides, sporting much more substantial frames than their predecessors and larger inner diameters.
HOW WE TEST
The invitational Outdoor Life Tackle Test takes place each fall at Cajun Fishing Adventures lodge in Buras, Louisiana. Manufacturers are asked to submit only new (for the coming year) bait casting and spinning rods and reels for consideration. Those unable to provide products by the deadline date are excluded from consideration. The test team—made up of Outdoor Life editors and fishing guides—judges gear in 10 different categories. The average of each tester’s scores in each category, plus a cumulative overall score, is reflected in the test results chart on p. 26.
This season we have added a budget-centric Super Savers category, designed to highlight great-performing gear at low prices.
Rod and reel photograph by Nick Ferrari, testing photographs by Jared Serigné