Tackle Test: Best New Spinning and Baitcasting Rods and Reels for 2013
For a variety of reasons, but due in large part to a limping economy, product innovation in the fishing tackle...
For a variety of reasons, but due in large part to a limping economy, product innovation in the fishing tackle industry has been somewhat stagnant for the past couple of years. For 2013, however, ingenuity has come roaring back as consumers clamor for cutting-edge gear after the multi-year drought.
As has become tradition, OL once again assembled our motley crew of tackle testers in the marshes of southern Louisiana to challenge rogue redfish and feisty largemouths with the latest and greatest rods and reels that will hit shelves this year.
We cast, pitched, plunked, ripped, cranked, and abused our test field, drilling down to identify each new product’s strengths and weaknesses, while ignoring marketing hype. When we’d exhausted both ourselves and the equipment, we sat down and hammered out the results. Here’s what we found.
Rod: 13 Fishing Envy Black
The 7-foot 1-inch Envy Black, from Tampa-based upstart 13 Fishing, combines the control of a sub-7-footer with the power and castability of a rod that measures much longer. The sensitive extra-fast tip allowed us to cast and twitch the lightest jigs with an ease previously experienced only with ultralight rods. Rated for 1⁄8- to 3⁄8-ounce baits and 4- to 10-pound-test line, the Envy easily handled 14-pound braid. Seven recoil guides manage retrieves and even bounced back nicely after a tester accidently stepped on the rod.
The blank’s inner walls have to be quite thin to achieve its 3.9-ounce weight. However, after hours of fighting unruly redfish, the blank proved to be durable.
The reel seat is top-shelf, and the split, grade-A natural cork grip is exceptionally sensitive. Even the lure keeper is well thought out: Its flat profile accommodates your index finger when painting structure with shaky heads or dragging drop shots. The rod’s fit and finish is polished, from the winding checks to the faux carbon reel seat.
Reel: Quantum EXO PTi
The EXO PTi’s skeletonized build suggests the engineering and meticulous machine work you’d expect in a fine watch. And despite its 7.9-ounce weight, the reel is as rugged as chunkier spinners.
However, its performance is what really made the EXO PTi our Editor’s Choice. Ten polymer and stainless bearings facilitate effortless cranks on a tricked-out handle adorned with a comfortable laser-cut EVA knob.
A multi-stacked ceramic disc drag spins the CNC-machined spool, which turns fluidly on two separate sealed bearings that are conjoined and mounted on the main shaft. These wide-shouldered bearings eliminate spool torque during energetic runs from fish (including one 30-pound black drum, which was halted without a hiccup thanks to deft on-the-fly adjustments with the generous forward drag knob). The result is a virtually wobble-free spool.
The titanium bail is easily manipulated, and allowed us to execute quick-flick casts to schooling reds, enticing individual fish out of the larger group.
Rod: Lamiglas Infinity
Taping 7 feet 2 inches, the Infinity is as pure a caster as you’ll find. 3M’s Powerlux silica-based nanoparticle resin anchors the blank design. A crisp, fast tip is perfectly suited for Carolina rigs, which require sensitivity when fished on long lines. The rod’s stiff aft section melds perfectly with the supple upper blank, easily whipping baits to great distances.
Ten double-footed guides, with pressed inserts, promise resistance to abrasive superlines, and their spacing allows the rod to bend with uniform flexure down the length of the blank.
Having grown accustomed to sparse split grips in recent years, users will find the long, counterbalanced handle a great grab when slinging baits with both hands, be it a light soft-plastic or a plump crankbait. The rotund butt cap is great for those accustomed to burying the butt in their midsection during cranking sessions. One tester grew so comfortable with the rod’s performance that he fished it for an hour before remembering to swap it out.
Reel: Abu Garcia Revo Premier
This Swedish-engineered offering is helium-light, weighing less than 6 ounces, thanks to advanced materials like C6 carbon side-plates. In spite of its demure weight, everything about the Revo Premier is substantial.
Plush EVA grips crank the reel nearly friction-free on 10 corrosion-resistant sealed bearings. The wide spool offers plenty of room for meaty thumbs, while the handle’s radically recurved design keeps the horizontal profile narrow. A beefy gearbox drives a 6.4:1 retrieve–ideal for a wide variety of presentations. The worm gear and line guide mesh tightly, lending to the reel’s overall smoothness.
The dual casting control is impressive, as it feathers line out regardless of bait weight. In fact, most users will find the friction control alone sufficient for a majority of casting applications.
The drag performed flawlessly in scenarios in which lesser reels skip, slip, and chatter–even when locked down–and the payout remained smooth across its range.
Rod: Shimano Compre
The redesigned 6-foot 6-inch Compre captured our attention with its 3.8-ounce weight, quality components, and attractive pricing. The IM9 rating of the blank (upgraded from IM8) is nothing earth-shattering; however, the particular blank Shimano selected for the reimagined Compre is oh-so-sensitive. A frills-free, ratcheted Fuji reel seat and a natural cork handle add to the rod’s functionality, and the Fuji New Concept Hardloy guides are quality pieces, too.
Not surprisingly, we found the Compre offered excellent casting control in tight situations. Our soft-tipped medium-light test rod feathered jigs into tight quarters to spooky backwater fish. Rated for 4- to 10-pound-test, the Compre is a delight when throwing downsized baits on skinny line.
The bottom line on this offering is value-packed performance from a rod that just happens to carry the Shimano name–a guarantee of quality and performance that almost any fisherman can afford.
Reel: Lew’s Speed Spin SS300A
This marks just the second year of Lew’s return to the fishing tackle scene, and already the company has established a reputation for no-nonsense performance at reasonable prices. The blue-collar Speed Spin is no exception.
The 10-bearing system is surprisingly smooth in its composite frame. At 10.2 ounces, the reel has a bit of heft; however, it’s built with rugged components and readily accepts abuse. The frame’s rubberized, corrosion-resistant finish offers a pleasant feel. The drag works as advertised, and the bail system is clean and dependable.
During testing, we found that the large spool (sized for superlines) handled the 14-pound braid admirably. A spare spool is included at this cheaper-than-dirt price, allowing an easy transition to a clear line when conditions dictate a change.
The large reel is well suited for heavy freshwater applications. For those who throw worms and Carolina rigs on spinning gear, the SS300A will excel, but we also found it to be a great match for the inshore species we encountered.
Rod: Quantum PT Tour Tactical
At 7 feet long, with a subtle medium action, the 3.8-ounce PT Tour Tactical handles like a dream at a down-to-earth price.
This rod will find favor with crankbaiters seeking a well-mannered casting rod with a soft tip and stiff butt. We appreciated the laser-engraved action on the butt, making for quick identification of the rod among a group of similar-looking rods on the deck.
Two dual-foot guides anchor the line management system, with seven micro guides spaced above them, culminating with a generous tip. We found this varied guide system cast line exceptionally well compared with some other guide combinations.
The under-pinned lure keeper is mounted out of the way, yet perfectly positioned for hanging baits. A Fuji split grip and ECS seat anchor the reel and provide dependable performance. The EVA grip is durable and comfortable, even when throwing crankbaits or jerkbaits across large expanses of water.
Reel: Bass Pro Shops Bionic Plus
Working a second job to afford a new reel isn’t how fishermen want to spend their spare time. Happily, the Bionic Plus combines a number of desirable features at a price that won’t cause the average Joe to roll his eyes in frustration.
The one-piece aluminum chassis is solid, providing a strong foundation. High-end graphite side plates nestle neatly in the hand. The 6.3:1 gear system, with its modest six stainless ball bearings, turns the spool as effortlessly as a $300 ten-bearing system might. A dual drag system comes standard and works flawlessly, the forged spool holds 130 yards of 12-pound-test, and the casting thumb bar was the most comfortable in the test.
A gently recurved handle, with ribbed knobs, provides plenty of power for leveraging fish from the slop. A solid machined brass drive gear is a pleasant surprise on this low-priced entry, and the gearbox meshes well, providing a tight, instant anti-reverse–a must when hammering hooksets.
Our annual tackle test ferrets out the very best new equipment the industry has to offer, but what about a quality, well-paired combo that’s priced right for those on a tight budget? The $130 Falcon BuCoo Micro matched with a $50 Abu Garcia Cardinal STX offers a well-rounded combo that excels at throwing a variety of baits. The BuCoo, with its lightweight blank and super sensitivity, fishes like an ultralight with the power of a heavy-action.
The Cardinal’s no-nonsense design will impress users with its seven sealed ball bearings, which enable the graphite rotor to spin smoothly. The machined spool holds 175 yards of 8-pound-test line, and a 5.1:1 retrieve ratio chews up 29 inches per turn for quick, repetitive casting.
At 5.1 ounces, the $100 13 Fishing Omen Black is suitably heavy for just about any inshore or freshwater species, with its medium-heavy action and fast tip that’s neither too stiff nor too soft. The reel seat is top-notch, with a great split handle that features a combination of grade-A natural cork and EVA foam. Titanium Y-guides with Zirconia inserts will withstand abuse from both mono and superlines.
We paired the Omen Black with an $80 Pflueger Purist 7.1:1 high-speed reel. The eight-bearing Purist presents a good balance of performance and durability for shoppers of budget-priced gear. A simple magnetic cast control makes for straightforward operation and eliminates the fuss of a centrifugal brake system. The drag works great, and the large star knob makes adjusting it a cinch. Our Omen/Purist combo balanced impressively in hand and cast remarkably well.
Test Results at a Glance
**** – Excellent
*** – Very Good
** – Good
* – Fair
|13 Fishing Envy Black||****||$225||A||A+||A-|
|Kistler Carbon Steel||****||$100||A-||A-||A-|
|Falcon Bucoo Micro||****||$130||A-||A-||A-|
|Dobyns Coalition Weapon||****||$200||A-||A-||B|
|St. Croix Legendxtreme||****||$390||A-||A-||B+|
|Lew’s Team Lews||***1/2||$180||B+||B+||B+|
|Cabela’s Fish Eagle 50||***||$90||B-||B-||B|
|Bass Pro Shops Bionic Blade||**1/2||$80||C+||C+||B-|
|13 Fishing Omen Black||****||$100||A-||A||A|
|Dobyns Coalition Weapon||****||$200||A-||A+||B+|
|Quantum PT Tour Tactical||****||$100||B+||A||A|
|Kistler Carbon Steel||****||$110||A-||A-||A-|
|Falcon Cara 17||****||$225||A-||A-||B|
|St. Croix Legendxtreme||****||$390||A-||A-||B-|
|Lew’s Team Lews||****||$190||A-||A-||A-|
|Cabela’s Fish Eagle 50||***1/2||$90||B+||B||B+|
|Wright & McGill Sweet Reese Alabama Rig||***||$100||B||B-||B|
|Abu Garcia Villian||***||$180||B||B-||B|
|Bass Pro Shops Bionic Blade||***||$80||B-||B-||B|
|Quantum EXO PTi||****||$200||A+||A+||A-|
|Lew’s Speed Spin SS300A||****||$60||A||A||A+|
|Okuma Helios HX-25||****||$140||A-||A-||A-|
|Abu Garcia Revo SX 30||****||$160||A-||A-||A-|
|Shimano Saros 2500FA||****||$130||A-||A-||B+|
|Abu Garcia Cardinal STX||***1/2||$50||B+||B+||A|
|Castalia Magic Flight XT 2000||***1/2||$148||B+||A-||B|
|Abu Garcia Revo Premier||****||$300||A+||A+||B|
|Shimano Calcutta 200D||****||$340||A||A||B+|
|Quantum Energy E100SPT||****||$160||A-||A||A-|
|Pinnacle Optimus LTE||****||$160||A-||A-||A|
|Bass Pro Shops Bionic Plus||****||$80||B+||B+||A-|
|Abu Garcia Revo Winch||***1/2||$200||B+||B+||B|
More from the tackle test:
New Fishing Rod and Reel Features
The Renaissance of the Round Reel
Best Bass Fishing Rods for Every Technique
Understanding Gear Ratios on Baitcasting Reels
Downsized Spinning Reels for Light Baits
Best New Fishing Rods Made in the U.S.