Tackle Test 2015: Budget Rod-and-Reel Pairings

Balance on a Budget
Three perfectly matched—and priced—rod-and-reel pairings.

Photograph by Nathaniel Welch

1. No. 8 Blackout and Daiwa Aird
The Blackout's ($80; no8tackle.com) medium action and fast taper (rated for 10- to 17-pound-test and 1⁄4- to 5⁄8-ounce lures) give it a "just-right" feel that's perfect for crankbaits, jerkbaits, weightless soft plastics, and light blade baits. The AIRD ($80; daiwa.com) syncs with it nicely, providing a utilitarian 6.3:1 retrieve. Dual casting controls, an oversize handle, and a stout drag round out a solid, value-packed reel.

2. St. Croix Triumph X and Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier
Here's a versatile rig for a wide range of techniques, from crawling soft plastics to twitching topwaters to yanking jerkbaits. The 7-foot medium-action Triumph X ($100; stcroixrods.com) carries the aspirational St. Croix moniker at an attainable price. The Pro Qualifier ($80; basspro.com) comes with two spools—great for quickly changing line style or poundage as the situation dictates.

3. Lamiglas Excel II and Okuma Cerros
The quality Excel II ($120; lamiglas.com) features an 11-piece guide train, a comfortable split grip, and a soft action. The Cerros ($120; okumafishing.com) boasts a fast 7.3:1 retrieve and a capable drag. The rod's gentle action, matched with the reel's speedy retrieve, results in a combo that is great for burning lipped or lipless crankbaits when searching for active fish, or for pulling buzzbaits.