Anyone who has spent time behind a spinning or casting rig searching for the big bite understands the importance of quality equipment. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a seasoned tournament professional, a good rod and reel can be the difference between a successful day and a tired story about the one that got away. Recent advances in technology and computer-aided designs allow manufacturers to produce rods and reels that outperform those from years past. Every year, Outdoor Life assembles an expert panel of fishing guides, engineers and fin junkies to test and evaluate the newest rod and reel offerings. This year’s panelists, with more than 190 years of fishing expertise among them, assembled in the Mississippi Delta in September to put the newest equipment through its paces. Here’s what we found.
THE TEAM Captain Ryan Lambert is owner and operator of Cajun Fishing Adventures in Buras, Louisiana (cajunfishingadventures.com). Captain Lambert spends over 320 days a year on the water. Captain “Big Dave” Joachim is owner and operator of Red Dot Charters of Buras (504-382-7793; email@example.com), where he fishes more than 300 days a year. Captain Jamie Harris is a resident of Mims, Florida, and guides on the legendary Mosquito Lagoon. Captain Harris is the Chief Mate on NASA’s Freedom Star booster retrieval ship. John Taranto is Outdoor Life’s Gear Editor. While he likes fishing all over North America, he especially enjoys the pike and walleye lakes of northern Ontario. Gerry Bethge is Outdoor Life’s Deputy Editor and has decades of fishing experience in both salt and freshwater. Dr. Todd Kuhn is a regular on the professional bass fishing circuit. He holds a doctoral degree in engineering and has been fishing for more than 40 years.
Where We Tested
Buras, Louisiana, is home to Cajun Fishing Adventures. Located about an hour and a half south of New Orleans, CFA provides anglers with arguably the nation’s best redfish and speckled trout fishing, not to mention the most comfortable accommodations in the area and indulgent meals before and after long days on the water. [ cajunfishingadventures.com ]
4 stars = Excellent
3 stars = Very Good
2 stars = Good
1 star = Fair SPINNING REELS – Shimano Stradic CI4 25000F Overall Score: 3.5 stars The CI4 is a marvel of advanced manufacturing prowess. The chassis and side plate are manufactured using an advanced carbon fiber. At just 7 ounces, the CI4 was noticeably lighter than all other spinning reels tested. Quality-of-construction can be seen throughout, as demonstrated by the spool’s unique beveled upper lip. Our only design-related quibble was with the diminutive anti-reverse switch. Equipped with what the company calls the “Propulsion Line Management System,” the CI4 cast noticeably farther than other spinners and with less effort. Line flows off the spool in small concentric loops, threading more easily through the rod’s stripper guide. The bail is feather light and transitions line onto the line roller smoothly. The short-throw bail reduces user fatigue and makes rapid casts a cinch when you’re chasing schooling fish. Six stainless ball bearings and one roller bearing provide benchmark Shimano smoothness. The unique EVA foam knob cranks 34 inches of line per cycle. With a capacity of 170 yards of 10-pound braid, the CI4 carries an ample payload.[ shimano.com ] Performance: A+
Price/Value: B Price: $200
Abu Garcia Soron SX40 Overall Score: 3.5 stars At first glance, the SX40 is not terribly impressive. Once in hand, however, it’s apparent this reel was designed for no-nonsense performance, while sporting a wallet-friendly price tag. Under the hood, you’ll find 11 corrosion-resistant bearings that have this spinner performing retrieving chores with crisp precision. A solid brass industrial-grade gearbox promises years of dependable service under the most demanding conditions. The body, rotor, body cover and bail arm are constructed of a corrosion-resistant aluminum alloy, and a rugged coating keeps the harshest of elements at bay. The carbon matrix drag stood up when challenged with spool-draining runs, though we wished the drag knob were a little bigger. The primary spool holds 210 yards of 10-pound-test mono, and a spare spool engineered specifically for superlines will find favor with anglers who routinely change between monofilament and braid as the bite dictates. [ abugarcia.com ] Performance: B+
Price/Value: A Price: $100
Bass Pro Shops 5000 Series Pro Qualifier Overall Score: 3 stars Bass Pro Shops has garnered a solid reputation for building quality rods and reels at a competitive price, and the PQ5000 continues in that tradition. Built around an ultra-wide spool design, the 5000 boasts one of the largest line capacities in the test field (255 yards of 10-pound-test mono). Aircraft-grade aluminum dominates the design, providing a solid fishing platform that performed well under the heavy load of large redfish. However, some may find this reel a bit on the heavy side, as it tips the scales at just over 11 ounces. With a 5.1:1 retrieve ratio, the 5000 lays nearly three feet of line onto the spool per handle rotation. This feature is great for anglers who speed crank their baits back to the boat after fishing the “strike zone.” A shallow-grooved titanium-coated line roller worked smoothly, assisting in line management. The ultra-compact gearbox houses a shielded eight-bearing system that provided smooth handle turns. The flared frame throat is comfortable for those who prefer a forward grip. [ basspro.com ] Performance: B
Price/Value: B Price: $80
Fin-Nor Mega-Lite ML5000 Overall Score: 3 stars
Fin-Nor reels are legendary for their unparalleled performance in the most demanding of fishy venues. The ML5000 was the largest spinning reel we tested; as such, it was a bit on the heavy side and suspect for many freshwater duties. However, the panel felt it was the perfect match for flats, marsh, backcountry and bay assignments. The ML5000’s abundant line capacity (225 yards of 12-pound-test mono or 275 yards of 30-pound-test braid), paired with the 5.2:1 gear ratio (hauling 36 inches of line per turn), performed admirably in turning wide-shouldered redfish hell-bent on thick cover. The machined handle and ergonomic grip was solid and slip-free. The replaceable cork drag discs paid line out smoothly while grinding powerful runs to a halt. A magnetic continuous anti-reverse system eliminates any perceived handle or rotor slop. The electrostatically applied multi-layer corrosive coating adds to this reel’s overall appeal and durability. [ finnorfishing.com ] Performance: B+
Price/Value: C+ Price: $190
US Reel Super Caster 230SX Overall Score: 2 stars
The spool, rotor, side plate and frame of the 230SX are constructed of aircraft-grade carbon fiber, which, while keeping the reel’s overall weight rather low (a touch over 8 ounces), noticeably flexed under pressure. The super-wide spool (2.298 inches) promises numerous advantages, including longer casts, low line memory and less line twist. Despite the huge spool, however, the reel is quite compact and manageable. The 230SX is equipped with four stainless ball bearings, plus an additional anti-reverse bearing. A CNC machined reversible handle with an acetal copolymer knob retrieves 28 inches of line per turn. The anti-reverse knob is large and easily negotiated when the action dictates back reeling. The 230SX balances well, given its large rotor, and remains balanced even when the handle is spun at high speed. We appreciated the voluminous line capacity (354 yards of 10-pound-test braid) when monster fish were bent on changing zip codes on extended runs. Two spools, one graphite and one aluminum, are included for those who like a backup. [ usreel.com ] Performance: C
Price/Value: C Price: $120
St. Croix APS68MXF Overall Score: 4 stars The St. Croix APS is part of the new Avid Pearl series–“the most advanced rods ever developed for women who take their tackle as seriously as their fishing,” says the company. Take six burly men and put a pink rod in their hands and you’re gonna raise some eyebrows. Trying to wrest this phenomenal rod out of testers’ hands was a different story. The Avid Pearl is built on a high-modulus SCIII IPC blank, one that has a uniform taper along the length of the blank. A proprietary graphite lay-up technique eliminates transitional points (uneven overlays of carbon fiber) in the blank. As such, rod flexure is uniform, and sensitivity increases as vibration is transferred from tip to handle more efficiently. ALPS zirconium guides with 316 single-foot stainless-steel frames are laser aligned during installation for amazing rod-to-rod consistency. A Fuji SKM split-grip reel seat with attractive abalone barrel is tasked with reel mounting duties. [ stcroixrods.com ] Performance: A+
Price/Value: B+ Price: $180
Lamiglas XL702S Overall Score: 4 stars The Lamiglas catalog offers more than 400 technique-specific rods. The XL702S, a shaky-head/drop-shot rod, is built on an American-made intermediate modulus graphite blank. An Aero Comfort Touch reel seat, with its power hump, was the most comfortable grip in the field (we also appreciated the real-cork grip appointments). Eight Fuji stainless single-foot guides apply a near-perfect parabolic bend along the rod while under load. Rated for 1/16- to ½-ounce lures, and 4- to 10-pound-test, the Lamiglas proved itself capable of flicking nearly microscopic jigs with nimble accuracy and ease. The deep metallic copper finish is both distinctive as well as attractive. Attention to design detail can be seen in the oversized, open-ended lure keeper and the ample epoxy coating on the guide wraps. A limited lifetime warranty is just gravy. [ laminglas.com ] Performance: B+
Price/Value: A+ Price: $100
Abu Garcia Vendetta Overall Score: 2 stars A 30-ton graphite blank anchors the Vendetta, a line of rods the company hopes will appeal to teenage and 20-something anglers, given its edgy cosmetic characteristics. Deep red anodizing adorns the Vendetta along with some nicely applied graphics. Extensive porting on the reel seat, butt and butt cap (laser engraved with the Abu Garcia logo) adds to the visual appeal of the rod. Components include a Fuji soft-touch reel seat (the one on our test sample had sharp edges) with high-density EVA handle and Pacific Bay zirconium coated guides. At 7 feet, with a medium-heavy action, the Vendetta is rated for 8- to 15-pound-test line and 3/16- to ¾-ounce baits. We found the action to be very stiff and more suited for inshore applications than for largemouths. [ abugarcia.com ] Performance: C
Price/Value: C Price: $80
Falcon BuCoo BCS-4-17 Overall Score: 3 stars Falcon has built its reputation with American-made rods, and the BuCoo BCS is billed as a professional-quality rod at an economical price. The company also offers a limited lifetime warranty. The BuCoo is rated for 8- to 17-pound-test and ¼- to ½-ounce lures. On the water the rod performed up to expectations and was aptly docile at less than 4 ounces. This weight reduction is due in part to the Fuji split handle and EVA foam grips. A blunt EVA/synthetic cork butt cap was very comfortable when lodged against testers’ midsections during long stand-offs with powerful redfish. However, the awkwardly positioned lure keeper got in the way of those who favor a forward grip. The sensitivity was as good as the action; just enough tip, morphed with a strong butt. The non-reflective matte finish on the blank is easy on the eyes when the sun pounded us at midday. Seven Fuji guides are spaced along the 7-foot FXB graphite blank. [ falconrods.com ] Performance: B
Price/Value: C+ Price: $109
Okuma C3-S-701M Overall Score: 3.5 stars The C3 Carbon Cone Concept rod incorporates a high-modulus 40-ton compression graphite blank that is rated as a “medium” action. The rod is rated for 8- to 17-pound test and ¼- to 5/8-ounce lures. A lure keeper, however, is painfully absent. The split-grip all-carbon ported handle is unique to the C3. A proprietary finish on the carbon grips reduces the inherent slickness of graphite with a slightly tacky feel. The solid carbon grips ignored our abuse and long hours of continuous use (some of the cork and EVA grips didn’t fare so well). Nine titanium single-foot guide frames with zirconium line guides adorn this rod and were easy on even the most abrasive of superlines. We found that the abundant eye candy (e.g., decorative trim rings) on the C3, while attractive, ultimately led to its 5.7-ounce weight. [ okumafishing.com ] Performance: B+
Price/Value: B Price: $150
Shimano Core 50Mg7 Overall Score: 4 stars The Core 50Mg7 is billed as Shimano’s most compact and lightest baitcaster ever. After wrapping our paws around this sweet little package, we have to agree. The 5.5-ounce Core is constructed of magnesium (hence the “Mg” nomenclature), a metal lighter than aluminum. A significant amount of thought went into the design and manufacture of this reel. For instance, the largest component, the gearbox, rests below the reel seat. The unconventional positioning lets the reel crouch low on the rod, which we found particularly ingenious. The paddle-style grips (with stylish red anodized porting) house internal bearings, and the legendary Shimano drive system tracks motor-oil smooth. As diminutive as this reel is, it is surprisingly fast, with a retrieve ratio of 7:1. The Core handled 1/8-ounce baits with ease and can easily be fished down to 4- or 6-pound-test when a bite in gin-clear water demands ultra-light line. A tapered titanium level-wind insert enables the 50Mg7 to accommodate superlines while remaining gentle on pliable monofilaments. All this forward-thinking engineering comes at a considerable cost, though. The boat-payment price tag could be a tough pill to swallow for casual fishermen. [ shimano.com ] Performance: A+
Price/Value: B Price: $370
Quantum Energy PT SS ES150HPT Overall Score: 4 stars The Energy PT SS is built on a 150-size frame, and the “SS” stands for “super speed.” With a retrieve rate of 7.3:1, the reel spools an amazing 34 inches of line per crank and could be outlawed in no-wake zones. An advanced self-adjusting centrifugal braking system impressed the entire team. Once you’ve dialed in your casting setting, the reel applies friction only if it senses it is needed. To select a suitable casting setting, simply turn the knob on the side plate; settings range from zero to stiff enough for extra-large chuggers. The ceramic/carbon fiber disc drag has been borrowed from the company’s decades-proven saltwater reels. The entire reel exudes quality-of-construction as demonstrated in the one-piece aluminum frame, side cover plate and spool (145 yards of 12-pound-test mono). The extra-large (4.226-inch) capless one-piece handle was by far the best in the field. Complimenting this package are nine polymer/stainless ball bearings that are as slick as wet ice. [ quantumfishing.com ] Performance: A
Price/Value: B+ Price: $230
Abu Garcia Orra SX Overall Score: 3 stars The SX is what we consider a “no-frills” reel, one that offers plenty of performance while eliminating any distracting gadgets. It combines rock-solid individual components that are crafted into a very functional fishing tool. The monolithic aluminum frame serves as a solid platform, although the handle and star drag on our test sample had some sharp edges that were an issue over prolonged casting sessions. The real beauty of the SX is its simplicity. A six-pin centrifugal brake handles the anti-backlash duties effortlessly. An oversized brass main gear applies power for a quick 6.4:1 retrieve ratio. Eight ball bearings, plus one roller bearing, make the SX a smooth cranker. The one-piece machined aluminum spool is well balanced and holds a respectable 140 yards of 12-pound mono. A quality anti-corrosion coating makes the SX at home on your favorite lake, river, pond or saltwater haunt. [ abugarcia.com ] Performance: B
Price/Value: B Price: $100
Daiwa Aggrest 100HAS Overall Score: 3 stars The first thing you’ll notice about the Aggrest is its blinding 7.3:1 retrieve (32-inches of line per handle turn). With this kind of speed, you’ll keep your baits in the critical strike zone longer. The Aggrest is low-profile, perfect for palming while working frantic jerkbaits and chatterbaits or walking a dog. We found it maneuverable at 7.6-ounces, and the inwardly swept handle tucks neatly into the reel’s body, lending to a compact unit. Additionally, by having its handle inboard, the Aggrest’s center-of-gravity remains tight, which gives this reel a great overall feel and balance. An audible “click” on the star drag is a welcome feature, allowing you to keep track of real-time adjustments while fighting big fish. [ daiwa.com ] Performance: B
Price/Value: B Price: $180
Okuma Serrano Overall Score: 2 stars Dressed to chill in an eye-catching lime green skin, the Serrano is Okuma’s latest foray into the compact, high-performance baitcasting market. The Serrano’s foundation is a die-cast aluminum chassis. An aluminum side plate is standard, one the company claims keeps the internal guts in better alignment than counterpart plastic plates. More important, the side plate was one of the most ergonomically pleasing in the field. The Serrano nestles nicely, and palming this reel is a simple pleasure. The multi-disc drag applies 11 pounds of pressure smoothly with the turn of the inwardly canted star drag. The handle is also canted, lending to the overall compactness of the reel. However, all testers complained about the stiff thumb casting bar. Fishermen with big mitts will appreciate the crisply textured casting control knob. Rounding out this offering is a 6.2:1 retrieve ratio, zirconium line guide insert for tackling tough braid, a capacity for 130 yards of 12-pound mono and an attractive three-year warranty. [ okumafishing.com ] Performance: C
Price/Value: C Price: $170
Quantum Tour KVD TKVDC6106F Overall Score: 3.5 stars Serious anglers know, when the bite turns tough, you’ve got to count on your equipment to put fish in the box. The Tour KVD boasts a 62-million-modulus graphite blank, which, while exceptionally strong, is also very light and sensitive. The rich cherry-red KVD is as functional as it is eye-pleasing. Three twin-foot Pacific Bay Hialoy guides direct the line along the lower rod section, while six single-foot guides handle line management duties through to the tip. All are anti-corrosion-coated and easily accommodate monofilament, fluorocarbon or any of the new superlines. The 6-foot-10-inch KVD utilizes a Fuji ACS reel seat with extra-dense EVA foam grips for weight reduction. At 4.3 ounces, the rod is helium light, translating to hours of fatigue-free casting. Quality of construction can be seen in the foiled graphics and near perfect symmetry of the epoxy on the guides. A lifetime warranty demonstrates Quantum’s confidence in the Tour KVD. [ quantumfishing.com ] Performance: A
Price/Value: B Price: $200
Okuma C3-C-661M Overall Score: 3.5 stars As of late, manufacturers have scrambled to offer tournament-grade rods at a price the average fishermen can afford. However, building such rods requires high-quality components that aren’t cheap. The C3 is Okuma’s attempt to enter this very competitive niche market. The C3 power plant is a sensitive 40-ton graphite blank that we found capable of transmitting even the slightest tick at the business end of a bait. We liked the action of the C3. Its tip is fast enough to cast light lures (¼ to 5/8-ounce) on a mono range of 8- to 17-pound-test. The aft end has plenty of butt to steer the largest bass clear of structure. Three double-foot titanium guide frames with zirconium inserts are wrapped on the first half of the blank. Five single-foot ALPS low-profile guides reside on the upper section. A thru-blank Fuji reel seat and all-carbon split-grips are covered in an exclusive finish that feels tacky to the touch. Like the spinning version of the C3, this rod lacks a lure keeper. [ okumafishing.com ] Performance: B+
Price/Value: B+ Price: $150
Abu Garcia Vengeance VGC70-6 Overall Score: 2.5 stars The Vengeance is Abu’s entry into the econo-performance casting rod market. A 24-ton high-modulus graphite blank base is laced with two double-foot and five single-foot guides. A Soft Touch Sea Guide through-blank reel seat and a large, straight, high-density EVA foam handle are standard equipment, though some sharp edges along the grip were distracting. Built along the old-school bass casting rod design, the Vengeance performs well for such a modest price. The fast-taper 7-foot medium-heavy blank boasts a wide use rating of ¼- to 1-ounce lures and 12- to 20-pound-test lines, making it a good choice for slinging spinnerbaits and wake swimbaits. We found the rods performed best with 14-pound-test throwing ½-ounce baits. The budget-minded angler will appreciate the generously epoxied wraps, subtle tribal inlaid graphics, laser etched butt cap, anodized gold highlights and a snag-proof lure keeper. [ abugarcia.com ] Performance: C
Price/Value: C+ Price: $50
Bass Pro Shops Carbonlite CL70HTXF Overall Score: 3 stars The Carbonlite rod features an incredible 70-million-modulus graphite. The high-strain carbon is laid up on a specially designed mandrel, resulting in a thin-walled yet strong and sensitive blank. A sleek dual-material split-grip handle is ahead of its time. A lightweight EVA base is wrapped with a textured rubber that offers a solid grip even when wet. A split-style reel seat sets an independent floating fore grip/seat apart from the trigger seat. This allows fill exposure of the blank on the bottom of the handle for increased sensitivity. The Carbonlite is rated for 3/8- to 1 ½-ounce lures and 12- to 25-pound-test line, making it well suited for the heaviest of baits. This rod’s heavy action and extra-fast tip easily whipped every fish that had the misfortune of being saddled to it. [ basspro.com ] Performance: C+
Price/Value: B Price: $120
St. Croix LTBC70MHXF Overall Score: 3 stars The construction of the LBTC’s attractive deep-blue blank is a bit different from that of most casting rods. A 62-million-modulus, exotic high-strain graphite is used to complement other graphite fibers that combine to form an extra-thin rod blank. The combination produces an efficient compound that is the marrow of the blank. Several advanced graphite lay-up techniques increase hoop strength and maximize a uniform taper along the length of the blank. Flexure along the blank is uniform, while sensitivity is increased and ovaling (deformation under load) is minimized. Fuji Alconite Concept Guides with chrome frames (curiously not anti-corrosive), a Fuji ECS reel seat with machined-aluminum winding check, a spilt-grip super-grade cork handle and two coats of slow-cure finish outfit the LTBC. Rated as medium-heavy extra-fast action with line and lure ratings of 12- to 17-pound-test and 5/16 to ¾-ounces, respectively. It’s perfectly suited for large swimbaits and punching mats with heavy lead jigs. [ stcroixrods.com ] Performance: B
Price/Value: C Price: $240
2010 REEL INNOVATIONS – Quantum Tour KVD TKVD150PPT Power 5.3 Burner baitcasting reels, with retrieve ratios greater than 7:1, are all the rage these days. However, these reels are at a disadvantage when real cranking power is needed. The Tour KVD, and its 5.3:1 retrieve, is a great choice when the bite calls for a crankbait fished down a deep ledge, or when you need to punch thick-matted hydrilla with flipping baits. [ quantumfishing.com ] Price: $300
2010 REEL INNOVATIONS – Castalia Sharkfin 2000 The oddly shaped spool face on the aptly named Sharkfin offers less frictional resistance while casting than traditional spinning spools. As line leaves the spool, it touches the tips of each “fin.” The patented spool design reduces line twist and wind knots. Additionally, the reduced friction minimizes line degradation. [ castalia.com ] Price: $120
Strike Tech Live Action Spool ST40AA For those not-so-nimble anglers who struggle to create a believable lure presentation, we offer the Live Action Spool. This reel actually works the lure for you. With a simple turn of the drag knob, the spool can be offset at varying degrees so that when the reel is cranked, the dialed-in offset on the spool makes lures walk, wobble or twitch. The degree of induced action is determined by your dial setting. [ striketech.com ] Price: $145
Ryan Lambert, owner and operator of southern Louisiana’s premier fishing and hunting lodge Cajun Fishing Adventures (cajunfishingadventures.com), hosted this year’s tackle torture test.
For three days, our six-man team judged new rods and reels for their overall performance, workmanship and price value.
It’s game on as Outdoor Life Gear Editor John Taranto (foreground) and Cajun Fishing Adventures’ guide Dave Joachim double up on bulls.
Taranto and Joachim with a couple of nice reds that fell to jigs–Joachim’s under a popping cork and Taranto’s fished straight.
Joachim proudly displays another pair of redfish.
Although many visitors to Buras specifically target trout, the specks were a mouth-watering bonus fish during our test.
Spinnerbaits, soft-plastics and even hard-baits proved effective.
Ryan Lambert and Taranto admire another hard-fighter that came to the boat.
Victory sign–fish scales adorn a test rod’s handle.
Taranto ducks the blazing Buras sun and pitches to a boiling bull.
Another bonus fish–Joachim prepares to pitch a flounder into the fish box.
Though it might look deeply hooked, this red was none the worse for wear and went back.
Lambert with a soon-to-be-released trout.
Joachim and Deputy Editor Gerry Bethge heft yet another pair of reds that tested both rods and reels.
Lambert and Taranto with the last two reds of the exhausting test.
Equipped with armfuls of new rods and reels, the Outdoor Life new tackle test team descended on Buras, Louisiana to put the new gear through its paces against some of the toughest fish that swim: bull redfish.