When it comes to testing fishing tackle, there’s only one metric that matters, and that’s how well the rods and reels hold up under real-life fishing conditions. That’s why, for the past three years, Outdoor Life’s Fishing Tackle Test Team has convened at Cajun Fishing Adventures in Buras, Louisiana, home to some of the best fishing in the country.

In fishing, there are few guarantees, but at the mouth of the Mississippi River, we know we’ll catch fish–big fish, and lots of them. In the brackish water that courses through the marshes of southern Louisiana lives everything from redfish and largemouths to sea trout and giant black drum, and over four days of fishing, those finned foes put a beating on our test tackle.

Every rod and reel manufacturer represented at the annual International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST) show is invited to submit one new-for-the-coming-year product in four different categories: baitcasting rods and reels and spinning rods and reels. The test rods and reels in each category are mated to identical control reels and rods so that we’re conducting apples-to-apples comparisons within each field. Pure Fishing graciously provides us with our control tackle: For the 2012 test they sent Abu Garcia baitcasting reels, Pflueger spinning reels, and Pflueger rods. We spooled each baitcasting reel with 12-pound-test Berkley Trilene XT monofilament; spinning reels were loaded with 12-pound-test Berkley Nanofil.

Each rod and reel is then fished four hours by each team member, who in turn scores the tackle for things like aesthetics, ergonomics, durability and construction, sensitivity, casting distance and accuracy, drag, line management, fish-fighting performance, and overall value. We then sit around and argue the merits of each rod and reel in order to come up with our overall rankings. What you see here is the culmination of a week of hardcore fishing and tackle evaluation.

See the results of the 2012 Tackle Test here.