The Best New Fishing Rods and Reels of 2018
We put the hottest new rods and reels through their paces to help you decide which spinning and baitcasting gear belongs in your arsenal
The Outdoor Life tackle test team, made up of four diehard anglers, put 46 new rods and 35 new reels through the wringer. We evaluated the gear on every level, from pure aesthetics to overall performance. When the dust settled, we crunched the numbers and ranked our contestants accordingly. There were a bunch of strong contenders, but these are our top picks and those we thought were killer buys.
How We Test
Our test panel included myself, Outdoor Life fishing editor Joe Cermele, and lifelong anglers Matt Andreula and Charlie Rothery—who both target everything from giant crappies to muskies to bass and beyond. The team analyzed every element of more than six dozen rods and reels. We set up a casting course in an open field to measure distance and accuracy. Every team member took five casts on each rod and reel to measure distance, and then the scores were averaged. Rods were also tested for accuracy by having each tester fire at multiple 3-foot targets at varying distances five more times.
Reel drags were tested for smoothness and strength. The line from each test reel—mounted on a slave rod—was tied to the trailer hitch of a 4×4. Each panel member held the rod (as the truck accelerated to 25 miles per hour) to gauge drag performance. Line management for all reels was noted and evaluated during distance and accuracy testing. The rods and reels with the highest overall marks were given our Editor’s Choice awards. Tackle that fared best on value scores were given the Great Buy awards.
The Winners: Reels
Editor’s Choice—Spinning: Shimano Exsence
We know, the price of this reel might be a turnoff, but the Exsence was the clear winner for its superlative scores in all categories. The test team immediately nicknamed it the “Batmobile” for its space-age design. But obviously looks aren’t everything.
The Exsence’s performance was nearly flawless. It casts a mile, has a silky retrieve and drag, and lays line perfectly. The Exsence also boasts a major-league stat sheet, with 20 pounds of drag, 12 total bearings, and 35 inches per turn. This all comes in a 7.5-ounce package for a 3000-size reel. It features Shimano’s X-Protect, which prevents corrosion, making the reel salt-friendly.
Great Buy—Spinning: Quantum PT Vapor
At $140, the PT Vapor isn’t dirt-cheap, but the amount of reel you get for your money is tremendous. We loved the Vapor’s overall look, with a crisp silver body and classy cork knob. Its 10 bearings translate into an overall fluid performance with an effortless cast and retrieve. The nickel-titanium bail feels like it can take a beating, and a carbon-fiber rotor adds to its strength.
In other perks, it also has a massive 20 pounds of stopping power and cranks in a substantial 35IPT. At 8.5 ounces, it’s not the lightest spinning reel we tested, but the specs and score sheets say you are essentially getting a high-end reel at a midlevel price.
Editor’s Choice—Casting: 13 Fishing Concept Z
This isn’t the first reel without ball bearings, but it’s the first that lives up to the hype. We bomb-cast the Concept Z over and over and almost hit 50 yards. It outpaced all the other baitcasters in the test. It gets its mojo from 13 Fishing’s Concept Zero bearings. They were designed to be silent and noncorrosive, and to never need lubrication.
The Concept Z also has a solid overall design. It’s a light reel at 6.4 ounces, but the team agreed it felt durable. The 8.1:1 model we tested has plenty of pickup at 32IPT for a reel of this size, making it a stellar match for your favorite cranking, flipping, or spinnerbait rod.
Great Buy—Casting: Abu Garcia Revo X
The Revo X is a sleek, jet-black reel that performs as well as it looks. It’s built like a tank and out-cast many pricier models. Although a little light on the line pickup (6.6:1), the Revo X earned its stripes in several other categories.
The test team was originally skeptical of how 18 pounds of drag would perform on a reel at this price, but its smooth, steady pull changed our minds. The MagTrax brake system was easy to adjust, and backlashes were nonexistent. We could see the Revo X in the hands of someone just warming up to baitcasters or a seasoned angler looking to set up his boat with multiple outfits at a reasonable price.
|Shimano Exsence||Excellent||Excellent||Very Good||Good||Very Good||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent||Good|
|Quantum PT Vapor||Very Good||Good||Good||Good||Good||Good||Fair||Fair||Excellent|
|13 Fishing Concept Z||Excellent||Excellent||Very Good||Good||Very Good||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent||Good|
|Abu Garcia Revo X||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent||Fair||Fair||Very Good||Very Good||Fair||Excellent|
The Winners: Rods
Editor’s Coice—Casting: Shimano Curado
With an appealing design, tip-to-butt Fuji components, and a high-modulus carbon blank, the Curado performed like a much pricier rod. For an Editor’s Choice, it’s a steal. The team found the lightweight blank and quality cork handle to be incredibly ergonomic, assisting in long, precision casts. It consistently hit eight of 10 accuracy targets, the best performance overall. The team also felt it fit our hands the best. The rubberized Fuji reel seat is soft and easy to grip when palming the reel, giving complete control during the retrieve.
The 6-foot, medium/fast (8- to 15-pound-test, ¼- to ½-ounce lures) model we tested could cover a number of applications. It’s primed for burning spinnerbaits in open water and hauling bucketmouths out of thick vegetation, but it could just as easily grind a deep-diving crankbait over riprap. If versatility is important to you, this is your rod.
Great Buy—Casting: One 3 by 13 Fishing Fate Black Gen 2
You’re either going to love the look of this rod or hate it. We loved it, but if that screaming green is an instant turnoff, check the numbers before passing final judgment. The manufacturer has done a superb job of offering high-quality tackle without slapping on a bloated price tag. The Fate Black Gen 2 is a prime example. The test team was impressed by the Japanese 30-ton HTC3 blank this rod was built on for its weight, sensitivity, and ability to load lures. “This thing has the perfect weight out of all the rods,” tester Matt Andreula noted.
And 13 didn’t skimp on components either. We found the Evolve seamless reel seat and quality cork handles to be comfortable in our hands and stylish. The tangle-free guides cast perfectly, and the zirconium inserts are hard enough to take a beating in any freshwater-fishing style.
Editor’s Choice—Spinning: St. Croix Legend X
This rod is a stunner, and you’d have had a hard time prying it out of the hands of the test team. St. Croix has a bit of a reputation for its rod technology, and the Legend X has it all. We tested the 6-foot-10-inch, medium/extra fast (10- to 14-pound-test line, ¼- to ⁵⁄₈-ounce lures) model and found it excelled in every category. The rod’s sensitivity was the best in the test, and it loaded up and sailed ¼-ounce lures.
In addition to a super-high-modulus blank, the Legend X wears premium components. Its Fuji Torzite guides are the hardest, strongest, and lightest on the market. With titanium frames for the guides and a Fuji TVS blank-touch reel seat, the assets on this rod are absolutely top-of-the-line. The Legend X also has a 15-year transferable warranty. “I’d fish that thing all year,” fishing editor Joe Cermele said.
Great Buy—Spinning: Dobyns Colt Series
At $80, the Colt is an insane bargain. The test team found it to be sensitive and balanced while maintaining plenty of backbone, all in an attractive configuration; we thought the orange-and-black color combination was pretty sweet. We realized after the price reveal that it was meant for budget-minded anglers, but we felt the rod was one of the best we tested, and that its performance would easily fool those who prefer top-shelf, high-priced rods.
The blank on the Colt had a great feel, and we were particularly impressed by the arrangement of the split-grip and soft foam handles. The rod’s guides and reel seat are certainly nothing fancy compared to rods that cost a lot more, but for overall design at its price point, the Colt had outstanding value. The test team members were all shocked to learn that it came in under $100.
|Shimano Curado||Excellent||Excellent||Very Good||Good||Very Good||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent||Good|
|One 3 by 13 Fishing Fate Black Gen 2||Excellent||Very Good||Very Good||Fair||Very Good||Very Good||Fair||Fair||Excellent|
|St. Croix Legend X||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent||Excellent||Excellent||Very Good||Good|
|Dobyns Colt Series||Very Good||Very Good||Excellent||Good||Fair||Fair||Good||Fair||Excellent|
Vexan Crappie Spinning Rod VC-72-UL-S / Okuma Epixor EPXT20
Vexan’s crappie rod is a well-made stick with excellent sensitivity. The moderate taper and UL action handle light line and tiny lures beautifully. Paired with the Epixor 20, you have a combo that covers you from palm-size bluegills to dinner-plate crappies to trophy brown trout. (rod: $50; reel: $70)
The medium build and fast action of the Pro Qualifier 2 fishes live bait, cranks, and jigs equally well. The solid construction of Lew’s Mach Crush is the perfect complement. With 11 ball bearings, its retrieve and drag are smooth enough for finesse tactics and runs from heavy ’eyes. (rod: $100; reel: $100)
Whisker Seeker Tackle Bump’n Stick WST-TSBS-76C-H-1P / Daiwa Millionaire Classic UTD300
Bumping is where it’s at, and this is the perfect stick for this proven method. This lightweight rod is comfortable enough to hold all day while drifting. The Millionaire Classic offers all the line capacity and drag you need for big kitties. (rod: $140; reel: $80)
Chaos Tackle Assault Stick S.W.A.T. 9’6″ / Shimano Tranx 400AHG
The longer telescopic S.W.A.T. gives muskie anglers the length they want without a storage hassle. This beefy, versatile stick is rated for 3- to 10-ounce lures, but we found that those limits can be pushed. Matched with the Tranx, you’ll have all the speed and power you need. (rod: $195; reel: $300)
Speed Freak: Quantum Vapor
These days, anglers feel the need for speed. The Quantum Vapor 30 sucks in 35IPT while maintaining a ton of power thanks to a 6.0:1 gear ratio. Its return rate is fast enough for any spinning application, and is achieved without sacrificing pull strength.
X Factor: G. Loomis / Shimano Conquest
In the race for lighter, stronger rods, G. Loomis and Shimano have co-branded a stick. The tech in this rod eliminates any twist in the blank, while increased strength and leverage are focused on enhancing accuracy and distance while maintaining an abundance of power.
Precious Gems: Quantum Tour S3 PT
Quantum upped the bar in overall smoothness by using the same crystals that high-end watchmakers use as spool-tension washers. These washers are very hard, which creates unmatched fluidity of the reel, drastically increasing functionality in casting and retrieval.
Ground Zero: 13 Fishing Concept Z
Finally, with the Concept Z, 13 Fishing has achieved alchemy, giving anglers the first high-performance reel with no ball bearings. The company dumped an immense amount of time into creating the perfect reel that is smooth, durable, noncorrosive, and never requires oiling.