Tackle Test 2004 A panel grades this year's best new rods and reels

We're back, as promised, with our annual field test of the year's newest rods and reels. Tackle makers have worked a double play by incorporating new materials into their products while implementing some long-asked-for design changes. The happy result is gear that will race to the top of your gotta-have list.

The huge number of new products again required that we focus on tackle that works for the most popular freshwater and inshore-saltwater assignments. Within that parameter, we included both general and technique-specific equipment. Many manufacturers have specialty items we just didn't have room to cover; if you want to know more about the 13-foot river salmon/steelhead spinning rods from Rapala and G. Loomis, for example, you'll have to dig into their catalogs.

OUR TESTING PROGRAM

New products that are simply cosmetically updated versions of last year's existing rods or reels are not included in this tackle test. We also eliminated gear that failed to score an overall "good" rating in our test, which was based on a scale of 1-100. A score of 60-69 was deemed fair, 70-79 was good, 80-89 was very good and 90-100 was excellent. We gave every manufacturer that sells rods or reels in the U.S. a chance to participate.

The test team included a panel of OUTDOOR LIFE editors, plus a guest tester, Brooke Hidell, a guide whose livelihood depends on the tackle he uses. From April to October Hidell targets landlocked salmon, lake trout and smallmouth and largemouth bass. He took us out morning and evening so we could give the tackle an in-the-field test. He got us into some big smallies. (Brooke Hidell; 207-415-3787; www.mainelandlocked.com)

Tested products are examined for key features before we put them through the wringer with hundreds of practice casts followed by some real-world fishing. This year we asked the manufacturers for more information on product materials and specific explanations of what species and techniques the rods or reels are intended for. In some cases we felt the product was better for lighter or heavier fishing than the manufacturer recommends, and we tell you so.

Before casting the test reels, we took a hard look at workmanship, including tolerances, ergonomics and access to brake controls. Since one of the factors that determines cast performance is even line spooling, we indicate which reels have this feature. Also, because many bass fishermen like drags that can be ratcheted down for heavy work, we hand-tested each drag; in a few cases, we found reels that would not lock down, and we make note of them here.

Rods were checked first for finish coating, reel-seat fitting and guide wraps. Aesthetics we left to you.

Besides being important for near- and far-casting accuracy, a rod that fits snugly in your hand is vital for repetitive casting. Some rods have larger cork handles than others. Some feel light, and indeed are; in other cases the rod just feels lighter because it has a better balance than similar models. We note all of our impressions in these areas.

Guide types help to determine the cost of a rod. The best guides stand up well to abrasion and are very forgiving to line. Guides found on commercially produced rods from top-of-the-line down include SiC, Alconite, Hardloy (or Hialoy) and Aluminum Oxide. New REC Recoil guides are made from Nickel Titanium; they're totally noncorrosive and have excellent wear resistance. Cheaper guides are often made from steel plated with chrome or gold tone. We list these, but naturally we couldn't test for them.

To maintain consistency, all spinning rods were fitted with Quantum Catalyst 30 PTi reels, which feature advanced ThinLine aluminum bodies. Our bait-casting rods sported Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C4 series classic round-style reels. All the reels were fitted to 6 1/2-foot Shimano Clarus two-piece rods with Fuji graphite-nylon reel seats. We used Stren's MagnaFlex on the casting reels and Stren's Easy Cast on the spinning reels.

INNOVATION: REELS

SPINNING REELS

It's rare today to find a professional bass fisherman who doesn't have a spinning outfit (or a few of them) in his boat. Spinning tackle is mostly reserved for light-lure assignments and ticklish chores like skipping lures under docks. These finesse-fishing techniques require a spinning reel that can stand up to rigorous use. High-quality gears are the first thing to look for, plus shaft and frame-support systems that won't warp under the torque of heavy loads. Quality materials and engineering in those metal reels have allowed downsizing and reduced weight--the svelte ThinLine aluminum bodies of Quantum's PTi series and compact profile of St. Croix's Avid AS2000 are prime examples. Even in the most reasonably priced reel packages, like Shakespeare's Catera 6630, manufacturers are including spare spools of aluminum rather than the graphite-nylon mix extra spools used to be made of.

Larger drag surfaces, originally found only on heavy-duty saltwater models, are now being used on lighter reels. Fin-Nor's MegaLite MLX3000 is a good example.

There are some other changes that you may or may not like. Even-line spooling is a key factor in cast performance. An S-shaped track, as on Daiwa's TDA2500 model, is one way to achieve that. The lack of an anti-reverse lever on a few reels will upset some, but those models are intended for saltwater and freshwater fishing, and the anti-reverse switch has always been a magnet for saltwater corrosion.

BAIT-CASTING REELS

There's an often-heard gripe from manufacturers who put high-quality bearings in bait-casting reels: Some competitors use high numbers of low-quality bearings to produce what's called "good store action." Customers who spin an inexpensive reel and feel silky smooth movement are often hard-pressed to plunk down more money for a high-end bait-caster, especially when the cheaper reel sports an extra bearing or two. Trouble is, when you put some of the low-end reels through heavy use, they don't last even a season. For a more casual angler, or for light-duty fishing, many of the lower-priced bait-casters are just fine, but if you get out there more than a dozen times a year you should ante up for at least a mid-priced reel. The test chart will tell you which is the best deal.

You also need to look for tight tolerances of fitted parts. If you plan on casting light lures with light lines, modern bait-casters are up to the job, especially those with spool shafts that float on good ball bearings and pinion gears that disengage in free spool.

The trend toward six-pin centrifugal brakes (anti-backlash systems) has continued, and the ability to fine-tune those systems proved to be even better this year. For example, Shimano's Calais CL100A comes with two spare brake shoes for that purpose.

Brake-shoe access is getting better with simple sideplate locks. The best swing away but are still attached, so there's no risk of dropping them overboard. Most of those sideplate accesses are found only on low-profile reels, which are more comfortable than traditional round-style reels but hold less line.

Top Picks

SPIN-CASTING REELS Eagle Claw Titan TSC200C Final Score: 79.35

OUTDOOR LIFE EDITOR'S CHOICE 2004 OUTDOOR LIFE GREAT BUY 2004

The casting performance of the Eagle Claw edged it into first place a tad ahead of Zebco's 33 Platinum and Pflueger's underspin Microspin U. Then its $14.95 price tag astounded us. Its push-button thumb release is comfortable and the reel height above the rod is just right. Timing for releasing the push button is intuitive. The retrieve is even a hair faster than that of other spin-casting reels we tested.

SPINNING REELS Shimano Symetre SY1500FI Final Score: 88.35

OUTDOOR LIFE EDITOR'S CHOICE 2004 OUTDOOR LIFE GREAT BUY 2004

With a suggested retail price of just $79.99, the newly designed Symetre has many of the features that are typically found only on more expensive Shimano spinning models. The reels have a compact body for all-day comfort, a larger spool with a generous line capacity, line-memory reduction and good line take-up. The S-Arm Cam design scoots loose line back to the line roller during jigging and other slack-line techniques in order to reduce line tangles and pinches. The ball bearings are 10 times more corrosion-resistant than normal high-quality stainless-steel bearings.

BAIT-CASTING REELS St. Croix Avid AC250

OUTDOOR LIFE GREAT BUY 2004

The Avid AC250 was our long-casting champion. At $200, this mid-priced beauty is a compact, round-style reel with some accoutrements that grace higher-end reels, such as premium Japanese stainless ball bearings. Unlike most low-profile bait-casters. the Avid AC250 has a slotted levelwind design that permits easy line threading. The drag can be cranked down to a full stop, and it's smooth. A few of us argued about who would get to take this reel fishing first.

BAIT-CASTING REELS Shimano Calais CL100A Final Score: 91.85

OUTDOOR LIFE EDITOR'S CHOICE 2004

The high-efficiency gearing found on round-style Shimano bait-cast reels has been incorporated into this sleek new low-profile model. The reel was very easy to crank, even under a heavy load. Its high-retrieve ratio reduces fatigue and will increase your fishing efficiency. Casting is effortless; you have to try it to believe it. The reel has spare (lighter) centrifugal brake shoes nestled in a compartment beneath a swing-away aluminum side plate that allows you to fine-tune the anti-backlash system. The titanium-coated levelwind insert reduces friction not only on the cast, but also when you're fighting strong fish. The reel boasts the company's AR anti-rust ball bearings--10 of which are located at key stress points.

INNOVATION: RODS

SPINNING RODS

This year we found yet more technique-specific spinning rods. There are now rods made for everything from small trout and walleyes to tarpon and mega muskies.

In the past, a rod that flexed like a whip was deemed to have good action. Although it's true that rods with flexible upper sections are easier to cast accurately--unless you load them with a heavy lure--they shouldn't be as whippy as a cat-o'-nine-tails. Depending on its intended application, a rod should have a sensitive tip and a stiff butt section to set hooks better.

Crankbait rods usually have a soft action in the midsection and a powerful, stiff butt. A rod with a very light, flexible tip that quickly transitions into a pretty stiff middle and yet stiffer butt is a fast-action rod, good for feeling subtle bites and working various plastics. In other words, a rod's action can be tailored to its application. We tested each according to its designation.

For drop-shotting tiny plastic worms, there's been a trend toward shorter rear handles, reversed reel seats and short fore grips. You'll find these features on Rogue's Drop Shot DS693S and seven of the G. Loomis Bronzeback rods. The combo moves the reel forward, which allows you to hold the rod at its fore grip. With all the weight forward, the rod tip's weight is neutralized; as a result, when you jiggle your lure, you only feel the weight of the bait and rig.

Rod handles are continuing to be tweaked. For example, it was good to see the regionally popular Tennessee handle appear on Lamiglas's Certified Pro XS663TN. The handle is all cork and requires you to attach your reel using stretchable tape (black electrical tape is traditional). And a unique grab-on handle is featured on the Airrus SPS661M spinning and SPC661MH casting rods we tested. It has a removable butt extension; use it for long casts with crankbaits or Carolina rigs, remove it for close-quarters work around structure.

CASTING RODS

Last year we reported on light-action casting rods that are being built to match bait-casting reels made for light lures. That trend has continued in some interesting new areas, but this year there are also a number of new rods on the spectrum's other end. We're talking tackle you could almost use as a vaulting pole. This is a good thing considering the continued onslaught of exotic vegetation in some waters, plus the need to run big baits into deep places.

Series have continued to expand with technique-specific rods. One such stick is All Star's Frog Rod (above), which is made for one type of lure. Cape Fear's ADV189-70C, made with the company's six-sided construction for heavy tackle, is another example.

Longer rods are also becoming more common. The previously mentioned All Star and Cape Fear rods are 7 feet 2 inches and 7 feet, respectively. The Rogue Mag Bass MB4C is part of an entire family of 7-foot 11-inch bass rods.

More rod builders are cashing in on the growing popularity of near-shore and in-shore saltwater fishing. You'll find their wares in both casting and spinning models. In general, these rods are built to cast light plastics, jigs, top-water lures and natural baits.

Top Picks

SPINNING RODS Fenwick Techna AVS70MM Final Score: 90.75

OUTDOOR LIFE EDITOR'S CHOICE 2004

The totally reengineered Techna AV rods are built stronger on smaller-diameter IM8 graphite blanks. The result is rods that are 10 percent lighter than previous models and have increased sensitivity. One of our testers described the AVS70MM as a rod that "comes alive in your hand." Though meant for precision finesse techniques at close-to-medium range, the 70MM model will cast light crankbaits as well as trick worms, small jigs and spinners to extreme distances.

Eagle Claw Aristocrat AGS661M

OUTDOOR LIFE GREAT BUY 2004

Priced at $49.95, this 6 1/2-foot, one-piece, multipurpose bass rod is a great value. Constructed with IM7 graphite and fitted with titanium-coated Dynaflow guides, the rod was considered a deal even before we picked it up. When we started casting we were even more surprised at its accuracy and versatility. The only defect we found was its reel seat screw, which had a tendency to loosen.

BAIT-CASTING RODS Spider Tarantula TAC 661M

OUTDOOR LIFE GREAT BUY 2004

Though it wasn't the prettiest rod in the bunch--maybe that's why they tagged it "Tarantula"--this rod's $29.95 suggested retail price surprised one and all. The Tarantula's casting accuracy scored right up there with rods that cost a hundred dollars more. This is a 6-foot, one-piece rod that is constructed with high-modulus graphite and a woven graphite butt for improved sensitivity and hoop strength. It is fitted with hard chromium SS304 guides. Though the manufacturer lists this as a 10- to 20-pound rod made for lure sizes from 1/4 to 1 ounce, we found that the Tarantula TAC 661M is more suited to light freshwater applications.

G. Loomis Bronzeback SMR 814C-CB Final Score: 92.25

OUTDOOR LIFE EDITOR'S CHOICE 2004

Loomis spent a year with smallmouth bass experts to come up with bait-casting and spinning models that target every technique used for smallmouth bass. The rods in the series all have quick, responsive tips and a blank-through handle design. The composite cork butt cap on the rod's cork handle has a soft, comfortable feel. The 814C-CB will handle a broad range of crankbaits on various-size lines. It's a 6-foot 9-inch blend of high- and low-modular graphite with a softer midsection to make it easier to cast crankbaits. The rods in this series have Fuji Alconite guides to reduce line wear.

A Haven in Maine

This year's tackle test was held at Migis Lodge on the shore of Maine's sprawling Sebago Lake. The narrow driveway up to the lodge runs through old-growth pines and firs that sweeten the air and evoke a sense of calm and timelessness. Along the way are low walls of perfectly stacked firewood for the cottages and main lodge, where a fire burns in the great stone fireplace year round.

In operation since 1916, Migis began as a rustic fishing camp. Under owner Tim Porta's hand, the cabins have been transformed into luxury accommodations. The main lodge is original, with huge windows and overstuffed couches and chairs in the common room. Sip a cocktail on the flagstone veranda at sunset as a loon cries in the distance and you won't want to leave.

Surrounded by 100 forested acres and with 2,000 feet of shoreline on the lake, Migis feels utterly remote, yet it's just 35 minutes from the Portland airport. Classic water and land sport activities are available. The meals are superb, and the staff could not be more accommodating. Precious few openings occur in July and August, although June, September and October have vacancies. Contact Migis Lodge, P.O. Box 40, South Casco, ME 04077; 207-655-4524; www.migis.com.

SPINNING RODS

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Airrus Spectra AFT SPS661M-AFTX (702-395-2173)

Length/Pieces 6 1/2 ft./1 pc.

Materials Butt: graphite and Spectra; Tip: IM8, IM7 and IM6

Guides Fuji Alconite, Concept system

Line/Lure 4-10 lb./1/8-1/2 oz.

Best For Distance or close/finesse, w/wo extension

Price $149.95

Design G

Casting G

Finish G

Price-Value G

Suitability for Use G

Final Score G

Comments Even without this rod's extension butt in place (it came out too easily), you can still cast it with two hands. The rod will handle crankbaits and light jigs well at medium ranges.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] All Star Titanium Inshore Redfish Special AST RS3-S (281-855-9603)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] High-modulus graphite, High-Flex resin system

[Guides] Titanium carbide w/ Zirconia rings

[Line/Lure] 8-12 lb./1/6-1/2 oz.

[Best For] Spoons, topwaters for inshore fish

[Price] $199.95

[Design] G

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] G

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is a forgiving and extremely accurate rod that will also work well for some freshwater assignments such as spinner, spoon and crankbait fishing.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster BMA66MHS (800-227-7776)

[Length/Pieces] 6 1/2 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] HM-40 reinforced with tougher-than-graphite Zylon

[Guides] Fuji aluminum oxide, Concept system

[Line/Lure] 6-17 lb./1/4-5/8 oz.

[Best For] Medium-heavy general fishing

[Price] $69.99

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] E

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This rod has a somewhat large butt diameter. It is a versatile, far-casting rod that falls into the heavier-action category.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Berkley Series One SOS601M (800-237-5539)

[Length/Pieces] 6 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] IM7; Lock-down ultralight skeleton reel seat

[Guides] SS304, Concept system

[Line/Lure] 4-12 lb./1/8-1/2 oz.

[Best For] General walleye and drop-shotting

[Price] $109.95

[Design] E

[Casting] E

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is a sensitive rod that's astoundingly light and features a unique, comfortable reel seat that locks easily. It could use a couple more guides, but it proved to be an accurate caster.

GREAT BUY [MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Eagle Claw Aristocrat AGSS 661M (303-321-1481)

[Length/Pieces] 6 1/2 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] IM7 graphite

[Guides] Titanium Dynaflow

[Line/Lure] 8-17 lb./1/4-5/8 oz.

[Best For] Medium-action bass rod

[Price] $49.95

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] E

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This multipurpose rod is a great value, but keep an eye on its reel seat screw because it could loosen.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Falcon Cara CS-5-166MH (918-251-0020)

[Length/Pieces] 6 1/2 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] F44X Falcon graphite, comfort grip reel seat

[Guides] Fuji Hardloy, LowRider Concept

[Line/Lure] 8-14 lb./1/4-5/8 oz.

[Best For] Jigs, cranks, drop-shotting

[Price] $159.99

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] G

[Price-Value] G

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This rod has excellent close-in accuracy. It is a good jig and drop-shot rod; it also casts cranks very well.

EDITOR'S CHOICE [MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Fenwick Techna AVS70MM (877-336-7637)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] IM8 graphite, Aramid veil shield wrap, precision-tension control reel seat

[Guides] Titanium SS304

[Line/Lure] 4-12 lb./1/8-5/8 oz.

[Best For] Medium-action, finesse techniques

[Price] $169.95

[Design] E

[Casting] E

[Finish] E

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] E

[Comments] From its awesome ratcheting positive-lock reel seat to its lovely finish and excellent casting performance, this rod was a winner. A bit more beef in the midsection would please some.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] G. Loomis Bronzeback SMR811S-SP (800-662-8818)

[Length/Pieces] 6ft. 9 in./1 pc.

[Materials] High-modulus graphite blend for sensitivity

[Guides] Fuji Alconite, Concept system

[Line/Lure] 6-10 lb./1/4-5/16 oz.

[Best For] All-around bass, drop-shotting

[Price] $210.00

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] E

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is an elegantly understated rod. Perfect for specific methods like jigging or drop-shotting. It was accurate and lovely to cast.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Lamiglas Certified Pro XS663TN (800-325-9436)

[Length/Pieces] 6 1/2 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] Woven-graphite Tennessee handle to which reel is taped

[Guides] Fuji Alconite

[Line/Lure] 8-20 lb./3/8-3/4 oz.

[Best For] All-around bass techniques

[Price] $170.00

[Design] VG

[Casting] E

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is a great all-around bass rod. Its Tennessee handle (you tape the reel on) eliminates hardware and makes the rod light and comfortable.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Pflueger Trion PTSP4770-1MH (803-754-7000)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] High-modulus graphite

[Guides] Fuji, Concept system

[Line/Lure] 8-15 lb./1/8-5/8 oz.

[Best For] Soft plastics, topwaters, cranks, Carolinas

[Price] $39.99

[Design] G

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This Trion is a value leader that would work well for inshore saltwater and freshwater fishing. Its longer butt makes it easy to cast a long way. Its overall weight seemed a tad heavy.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Quantum Cabo PTS CBIS70ML (800-588-9030)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] 62-million-modulus, high-strain graphite

[Guides] Fuji Alconite

[Line/Lure] 8-14 lb./1/8-5/8 oz.

[Best For] Medium, general inshore salt water

[Price] $169.95

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This Quantum scored near the top of the pack. It would be great both for its intended inshore purpose and for freshwater crankbaiting.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Quarrow Green Country QMS704F (888-568-5026)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] IM8 type (57-million-modulus) graphite

[Guides] Fuji Alconite, Concept system

[Line/Lure] 6-14 lb./1/8-1/2 oz.

[Best For] All-around bass techniques for serious anglers

[Price] $139.95

[Design] VG

[Casting] E

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] Judged a good workhorse, this one cast like a dream both for distance and accuracy at long and short ranges.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Rogue Drop Shot DS693S (877-352-7624)

[Length/Pieces] 6 ft. 9 in./1 pc.

[Materials] Graphite

[Guides] Flexible NiTi, lighter than oxide

[Line/Lure] 6-12 lb./1/4-1/2 oz.

[Best For] Drop-shot rod

[Price] $224.00

[Design] G

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] G

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This rod is balanced for drop-shotting--with the reel behind your hand, its forward weight is neutralized, meaning you feel only the bait. Its Recoil guides are noisy on hard casts.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Shakespeare Ugly Stik Custom Graphite USCISP 1170-1ML (803-754-7000)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] Double-built graphite, sanded blank

[Guides] Fuji, Concept system

[Line/Lure] 6-12 lb./1/8-1/2 oz.

[Best For] Topwaters, soft plastic for freshwater and inshore saltwater fishing

[Price] $69.99

[Design] G

[Casting] VG

[Finish] G

[Price-Value] G

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] G

[Comments] This multipurpose inshore and freshwater rod has decent lifting power and a good overall action. It casts smartly and its wild graphics will catch your eye. It will cast everything from topwaters to cranks.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Spider Tarantula TAS 601M (877-502-6482)

[Length/Pieces] 6 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] High-modulus graphite, woven butt for hoop strength

[Guides] Hard-chromed SS304

[Line/Lure] 4-12 lb./1/8-1/2 oz.

[Best For] Medium-action rod for panfish

[Price] $29.95

[Design] G

[Casting] VG

[Finish] G

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] G

[Final Score] G

[Comments] This rod has a light, not medium, action and is appropriate for small freshwater game fish. It could use more guides.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] St. Croix Tidemaster Series TS70MLM (800-826-7042)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] Graphite with inshore moderate action taper

[Guides] Fuji aluminum oxide

[Line/Lure] 8-14 lb./1/8-1/2 oz.

[Best For] Medium-light inshore rod for popping and live bait

[Price] $100.00

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] E

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is an extremely smooth, easy and accurate casting rod that's slightly lighter in action than its rating. It's better for natural baits, minnowbaits, spinners and small cranks than it is for popping.

CASTING RODS

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Airrus (formerly Sirrus) Spectra AFT SPC661MH-AFTX (702-395-2173)

[Length/Pieces] 6 1/2 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] Butt: graphite and Spectra; Tip: IM8, IM7, IM6

[Guides] Fuji Alconite, Concept system

[Line/Lure] 8-20 lb./1/4-3/4 oz.

[Best For] Med-heavy; extension for 1- or 2-hand casting

[Price] $149.95

[Design] G

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] G

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] A removable butt extension allows close-quarters casting and finesse applications with its extension removed, and long two-handed casts with its extension in place.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] All Star Frog Rod TAS 868 FR (281-855-9603)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft. 2 in./1 pc.

[Materials] Woven, IM10 graphite with High Flex resin system

[Guides] Double-footed Fuji Gold Cermet

[Line/Lure] 12-30 lb./1/2-1 1/2 oz.

[Best For] Snagless lures on vegetation mattes

[Price] $109.95

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This was the best of the beefy big-boy rods in our test. It's a mean stick that's ideal for its intended use. It casts well and is comfortable.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] All Star Titanium Inshore Tops N Tails Rod AST TTS1 (281-855-9603)

[Length/Pieces] 6 ft. 9 in./1 pc.

[Materials] High-modulus graphite, Hi-Flex resin system.

[Guides] Titanium carbide w/ Zirconia inserts

[Line/Lure] 8-15 lb./1/16-1 oz.

[Best For] Spotted sea trout and redfish

[Price] $199.95

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] G

[Price-Value] G

[Suitability for Use] G

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This rod proved to be easy and accurate to cast. It has a tapered, comfortable grip and a slightly softer action than some inshore rods do.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster BMP66MHT (800-227-7776)

[Length/Pieces] 6 1/2 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] HM-64 graphite reinforced with tougher-than-graphite Zylon

[Guides] Fuji Alconite, Concept system

[Line/Lure] 10-20 lb./3/8-1 oz.

[Best For] Medium-heavy general fresh water

[Price] $99.99

[Design] G

[Casting] G

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is a fairly stiff rod with great lifting power and accuracy. It is ideal for many largemouth and northern pike fishing techniques.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Berkley Series One SOC661M (800-237-5539)

[Length/Pieces] 6 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] IM7; Lockdown, ultralight skeleton reel seat

[Guides] SS304; lighter/tougher than SIC

[Line/Lure] 10-20 lb./1/4-5/8 oz.

[Best For] Crankbaits and spinnerbaits

[Price] $119.95

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is a light, responsive and accurate rod. Its reel seat is comfortable for small-to-medium sized hands. It would work especially well with light spinnerbaits.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Cape Fear ADV189-70C (888-886-2064)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] High-modulus graphite

[Guides] Fuji Hardloy

[Line/Lure] 17-40 lb./2-6 oz.

[Best For] Big plugs, spinnerbaits for muskies/pike

[Price] $299.95

[Design] G

[Casting] G

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] Raw power is this rod's signature. Its handle design facilitates long casts and its fast tip gives it accuracy. Use it anywhere you need big lures for big fish.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Eagle Claw Aristocrat AGC701MH (303-321-1481)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] IM7 graphite

[Guides] Titanium-coated Dynaflow

[Line/Lure] 8-17 lb./1/4-1/2 oz.

[Best For] Medium-heavy bass and general fresh water

[Price] $39.95

[Design] G

[Casting] G

[Finish] G

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] G

[Comments] It has more of a medium than a medium-heavy action, but it'll throw a lure far. One tester complained that this rod was too stiff. Overall, this is a multifunction rod at a very good price.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Falcon Cara CC-5-167MH (918-251-0020)

[Length/Pieces] 6 ft. 7 in./1 pc.

[Materials] F45 Falcon graphite w/Fuji ECSM Lite-Bite reel seat

[Guides] Fuji Hardloy Low Rider Concept

[Line/Lure] 12-20 lb./1/4-3/4 oz.

[Best For] Non-weighted soft plastics, topwaters

[Price] $119.99

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] G

[Price-Value] G

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This rod's whippy action will help when you're working non-weighted plastics and topwater lures. It has very good close-in accuracy. It has a very light feel.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Fenwick Techna AVC70MF (877-336-7637)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] IM8 graphite, Aramid veil shield wrap. Precision tension-control reel seat

[Guides] Titanium SS304

[Line/Lure] 8-20 lb./1/4-1 oz.

[Best For] Carolina rigging and crankbaits

[Price] $169.95

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This Fenwick has the rare combination of being able to cast far while retaining its close-range accuracy. It's a attractively finished rod that will excel for small cranks and spinners.

EDITOR'S CHOICE [MANUFACTURER/MODEL] G. Loomis Bronzeback SMR 814C-CB (800-662-8818)

[Length/Pieces] 6 ft. 9 in.

[Materials] Graphite blend with softer mid-section

[Guides] Fuji Alconite, Concept system

[Line/Lure] 10-20 lb./3/8-1 oz.

[Best For] Plastics, cranks and spinnerbaits for bass

[Price] $215.00

[Design] E

[Casting] E

[Finish] E

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] E

[Comments] This Bronzeback proved to have incredible accuracy at close and long range. Plus, it's a beautifully made rod.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Lamiglas Skeet Reese Signature SR705R (800-325-9436)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] Fiberglass crankbait rod with hot yellow cosmetics

[Guides] Fuji Alconite, Concept system

[Line/Lure] 8-20 lb./3/8-1 1/2 oz.

[Best For] Topwater lures and spinnerbaits

[Price] $210.00

[Design] G

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] G

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This rod has forgiving glass for slower action and sweep sets that will have crankbait specialists grinning. Its yellow finish lets you quickly pick this specialty rod from the locker.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Pflueger Trion PTCA4770-1MH (803-754-7000)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] High-modulus graphite

[Guides] Fuji, Concept system

[Line/Lure] 10-20 lb./1/4-3/4 oz.

[Best For] Med/med-heavy; plastics, topwaters, cranks

[Price] $39.99

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] E

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This rod is an awesome value. It's a casting powerhouse designed for its targeted use, but some might like a tad more tip for topwater lures.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Quantum PTS CBIC70M (800-588-9030)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] 62-million-modulus, high-strain graphite

[Guides] Fuji Alconite

[Line/Lure] 8-17 lb./1/4-3/4 oz.

[Best For] Medium-general inshore rod

[Price] $169.95

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This Quantum was a joy to cast and was super accurate. It could serve as an inshore rod and should do a good job with topwater and soft plastic twitchbaits as well.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Quarrow Green Country QMC665F (888-568-5026)

[Length/Pieces] 6 1/4 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] IM8 type (57-million-modulus) graphite

[Guides] Fuji Alconite, Concept system

[Line/Lure] 8-15 lb./1/4-5/8 oz.

[Best For] General-purpose bass rod

[Price] $139.95

[Design] VG

[Casting] E

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is an accurate, fast-action rod that will shine for plastic jerkbaits, topwater, spinnerbaits and jigs; it is not made for heavy-duty worm fishing.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Rogue Mag Bass 7-11 MB4C (541-830-4141)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft. 11 in./1 pc.

[Materials] Graphite

[Guides] Fuji Alconite, Concept system

[Line/Lure] 10-20 lb./1/4-3/4 oz.

[Best For] Long casting, and deep-retrieve crankbaiting

[Price] $159.00

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This nearly 8-foot rod is beautifully tapered. It will cast the largest lures to the horizon and it will do it accurately. Its butt is beefy but its blank tapers nicely, allowing perfect sweep sets.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Shakespeare Catera CA60661M (803-754-7000)

[Length/Pieces] 6 1/2 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] IM8 graphite

[Guides] Lightweight stainless steel

[Line/Lure] 8-15 lb./1/6-3/8 oz.

[Best For] Medium; plastics, cranks, Carolinas

[Price] $29.99

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] E

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is a lot of rod for the money. You'll find that its action is more medium-light than medium and better for small cranks and soft plastics. It's a tack-driver at close range.

GREAT BUY [MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Spider Tarantula TAC 661M (877-502-6482)

[Length/Pieces] 6 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] High-modulus graphite, woven butt for hoop strength

[Guides] Hard-chromed SS304

[Line/Lure] 10-20 lb./1/4-1 oz.

[Best For] Medium-action, light freshwater rod for panfish

[Price] $29.95

[Design] VG

[Casting] VG

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] E

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is a light rather than a medium rod. It's a beautifully functional rod with startling accuracy at close and long range.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] St. Croix Premier Series PC70MHM (800-826-7042)

[Length/Pieces] 7 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] SCII graphite; moderate action, medium-heavy power

[Guides] Aluminum oxide

[Line/Lure] 10-20 lb./3/8-1 oz.

[Best For] Specifically designed for crankbaits

[Price] $90.00

[Design] E

[Casting] E

[Finish] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Suitability for Use] E

[Final Score] E

[Comments] This rod will give you extreme accuracy at any distance and butter-smooth casting. Besides crankbaits, it would be fine for topwater lures and soft twitchbaits.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Storm ThunderStick ST20TR66M1 (952-933-7060)

[Length/Pieces] 6 1/2 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] E-glass/graphite composite Howald process strength rod

[Guides] Aluminum oxide

[Line/Lure] 8-17 lb./1/4-3/4 oz.

[Best For] Medium, general-purpose

[Price] $19.99

[Design] F

[Casting] F

[Finish] F

[Price-Value] G

[Suitability for Use] G

[Final Score] G

[Comments] This is a noodle-tip rod with a stiff butt that will give you good close-to-medium cast distance and accuracy. It's good for small crankbaits, live bait and soft jerkbaits.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Zebco Rhino RNC601M (800-588-9030)

[Length/Pieces] 6 ft./1 pc.

[Materials] E-glass outer skin, woven graphite inner core

[Guides] D-ring, chrome inserts

[Line/Lure] 8-17 lb./1/4-3/4 oz.

[Best For] Medium-action, general-purpose

[Price] $19.99

[Design] F

[Casting] G

[Finish] F

[Price-Value] G

[Suitability for Use] G

[Final Score] G

[Comments] This is an entry-level rod that'll serve a variety of assignments. Its double trigger handle casts well, but it is uncomfortable when reeling. The butt could use a bit more of an extension.

SPINNING REELS

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Abu Garcia Cardinal C674 (800-237-5539)

Weight 10.4 oz.

Drive 7-bearing system, sealed center drag, 1-pc. aluminum gear box

Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.) 6/240

Gear Ratio 4.9:1

Materials Stainless steel components; Teflon/graphite drag

Best For Inshore salt water/med. fresh water

Price $74.95

Operation G

Drag Adjustment G

Workmanship G

Suitability for Use VG

Price-Value G

Final Score G

Comments This bright blue reel has a bail that is very easy to close. Its center-control drag is very convenient and provides a large drag surface.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Daiwa Team Daiwa TDA2500 (562-802-9589)

[Weight] 10.9 oz.

[Drive] 8 corrosion-resistant sealed bearings, S-track levelwind

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 10/140

[Gear Ratio] 4.8:1

[Materials] Die-cast alum. body/cover; hollow stainless bail tube

[Best For] Med. fresh water/inshore salt water

[Price] $139.95

[Operation] E

[Drag Adjustment] VG

[Workmanship] VG

[Suitability for Use] E

[Price-Value] G

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is a solid piece of equipment. Its bail locks open securely and closes with authority and precision. Its even-line spool was evident. Two testers didn't like the drag.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Eagle Claw Domain DN30 (303-321-1481)

[Weight] 11.0 oz.

[Drive] 10 bearings, 1 roller bearing

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 10/150

[Gear Ratio] 4.6:1

[Materials] Composite body, large anti-twist line roller

[Best For] Inshore salt water, general fresh water

[Price] $49.95

[Operation] G

[Drag Adjustment] G

[Workmanship] G

[Suitability for Use] G

[Price-Value] G

[Final Score] G

[Comments] This reel's low-retrieve ratio is good for hard-digging crankbaits and strong fish. An aluminum frame would be preferred for steady saltwater duty.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Fin-Nor MegaLite MLX3000 (888-886-2064)

[Weight] 12.6 oz.

[Drive] 7 bearings with "perfect" line lay cam system

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 10/150

[Gear Ratio] 5.2:1

[Materials] Graphite frame, alum. sideplates, spool, handle.

[Best For] Inshore salt water, heavy fresh water

[Price] $99.95

[Operation] VG

[Drag Adjustment] G

[Workmanship] VG

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] The MLX3000 has a tank-tough drag system for large fish, though it's not as silky smooth as it should be. It has an exceptionally smooth retrieve and it casts a mile.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Quantum Energy E20PTi (800-588-9030)

[Weight] 9.2 oz.

[Drive] 10 PT bearings, alloy gears

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 6/140

[Gear Ratio] 5.17:1

[Materials] 1-pc. alum. titanium-plate frame, titanium bail

[Best For] Medium-light to heavy fresh water

[Price] $129.95

[Operation] VG

[Drag Adjustment] VG

[Workmanship] VG

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is a high-end reel that is really worth the price. Its bendable titanium bail closes with precision. Its smooth holographic finish is a wild touch.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Rapala RAP SX6I-20 (952-933-7060)

[Weight] 10.0 oz.

[Drive] 6 stainless-steel ball bearings, 1 roller bearing

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 8/80

[Gear Ratio] 5.2:1

[Materials] Alum. body, titanium-coated line roller, spool lip and bail

[Best For] Medium-light fresh water

[Price] $49.99

[Operation] VG

[Drag Adjustment] G

[Workmanship] G

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This reel casts smoothly and is very comfortable. Its line roller could be improved a bit. A little muscle is required to lock its bail open. Its drag is smooth but won't crank down to a full stop.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Shakespeare Catera 6630 (803-754-7000)

[Weight] 8.0 oz.

[Drive] 5 ball bearings, 1-roller bearing

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 6/115

[Gear Ratio] 5.2:1

[Materials] Graphite frame, titanium-plated line roller, bail click.

[Best For] Light fresh water, multiple species

[Price] $29.99

[Operation] VG

[Drag Adjustment] G

[Workmanship] VG

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is a compact reel with good drag adjustment. Our model had a click sound while retrieving that could be annoying. For light fishing it should fit the bill.

EDITOR'S CHOICE GREAT BUY [MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Shimano Symetre SY1500FI (949-951-5003)

[Weight] 9.5 oz.

[Drive] 4 special anti-rust bearings, 1 roller bearing, "floating" shaft

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 8/90

[Gear Ratio] 6.0:1

[Materials] Alum. frame, graphite sideplates and rotor

[Best For] Medium-light all-around fishing

[Price] $79.99

[Operation] E

[Drag Adjustment] VG

[Workmanship] VG

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is a terrific Symetre upgrade at no extra cost. The reel should stand years of use. It has a comfortable, no-slip handle. Its line spooling is excellent.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] St. Croix Avid Series AS2000 (800-826-7042)

[Weight] 9.5 oz.

[Drive] 4 premium Japanese ball bearings, 1 roller bearing

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 8/110

[Gear Ratio] 4.7:1

[Materials] Alum. body/sideplates, high-performance wet drag

[Best For] Light to med-light walleye and bass

[Price] $110.00

[Operation] VG

[Drag Adjustment] VG

[Workmanship] VG

[Suitability for Use] E

[Price-Value] G

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This reel is a compact beauty. It is just right for smallmouth bass and walleyes. It has a great line roller and its bail closes well, whether you do it manually or by cranking.

SPIN-CAST REELS

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Abu Garcia Abumatic 576 (800-237-5539)

[Weight] 10.7 oz.

[Drive] 5-bearing drive, instant anti-reverse

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 8/110

[Gear Ratio] 4.1:1

[Materials] Alum. frame and cover, Stamina wide surface drag

[Best For] Panfish to catfish

[Price] $44.95

[Operation] G

[Drag Adjustment] F

[Workmanship] G

[Suitability for Use] G

[Price-Value] G

[Final Score] G

[Comments] There's a better drag on this reel than on most spin-cast reels. Its free-spool thumb button was a bit hard to depress. We found that it reeled very smoothly.

EDITOR'S CHOICE GREAT BUY [MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Eagle Claw Titan TSC200C (303-321-1481)

[Weight] 10.5 oz.

[Drive] 1 ball bearing system, dual drag

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 10/60

[Gear Ratio] 4.0:1

[Materials] Alum. body and cover, 2 titanium pickup pins

[Best For] General fresh water

[Price] $14.95

[Operation] VG

[Drag Adjustment] F

[Workmanship] G

[Suitability for Use] G

[Price-Value] VG

[Final Score] G

[Comments] This is an excellent distance caster and has a slightly faster retrieve ratio than most spin-casters. Its drag is choppy, though. Its soft-touch rubber thumb button is very comfortable.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Johnson Country Mile CM100 (877-508-3474)

[Weight] 7.2 oz.

[Drive] 1 bearing system

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 8/100

[Gear Ratio] 3.6:1

[Materials] 1-pc. frame, stainless cover, 2 pickup pins

[Best For] Entry-level fresh water

[Price] $19.95

[Operation] G

[Drag Adjustment] F

[Workmanship] F

[Suitability for Use] G

[Price-Value] G

[Final Score] G

[Comments] This is a long-casting reel with some construction looseness on its drag control and body. This reel's cranking was a little rough.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Pflueger PFL Microspin U (803-754-7000)

[Weight] 5.8 oz.

[Drive] 4 ball bearings

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 4/70

[Gear Ratio] 4.1:1

[Materials] Graphite frame, stainless steel cone, rear cover

[Best For] Light fresh water

[Price] $24.95

[Operation] VG

[Drag Adjustment] G

[Workmanship] G

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Price-Value] G

[Final Score] G

[Comments] This spin-caster hangs below the rod like a spinning reel. It's very easy to use and a good way to get into light/ultralight fishing if you'd rather not use an open-face reel.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Shakespeare Synergy 15 (803-754-7000)

[Weight] 11.1 oz.

[Drive] Heavy-duty metal gears, dual pickup pins

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 15/80

[Gear Ratio] 3.2:1

[Materials] Graphite frame, stainless steel cone

[Best For] Medium fresh water

[Price] $8.99

[Operation] F

[Drag Adjustment] G

[Workmanship] F

[Suitability for Use] G

[Price-Value] VG

[Final Score] G

[Comments] This is a starter reel that's a good value if you don't need a reel for really heavy-duty fishing. Small hands will have a problem with its grip because it's large and sits high.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Zebco 33 Platinum (800-588-9030)

[Weight] 10.8 oz.

[Drive] 4 stainless-steel ball bearings, brass pinion, zinc drive gear

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 10/110

[Gear Ratio] 3.4:1

[Materials] Die-cast alum. body, 2 ceramic pickup pins

[Best For] Medium-light fresh water

[Price] $24.99

[Operation] G

[Drag Adjustment] G

[Workmanship] G

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Final Score] G

[Comments] This reel has a lower profile than most spin-casters. It was very comfortable. The free spool button on our model was a little loose. Its retrieve was extremely smooth.

BAIT-CASTING REELS

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster BSM1000H (800-227-7776)

[Weight] 9.15 oz.

[Drive] 6-pin centrifugal cast control

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 12/130

[Gear Ratio] 6.3:1

[Materials] 1-pc. alum. frame, machined spool, calibrated drag control

[Best For] Light-to-medium fresh water

[Price] $99.99

[Operation] VG

[Drag Adjustment] VG

[Workmanship] VG

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This reel is good for medium- and light-duty work. It casts very well. Its drag and cast controls are easy to access. There was a bit of backplay in its anti-reverse.

[MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Quantum E860PTXM (800-588-9030)

[Weight] 9.5 oz.

[Drive] 7 ball bearings, 1 roller bearing

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 12/165

[Gear Ratio] 5.8:1

[Materials] 1-pc. die-cast alum. frame, side covers. Forged alum. spool

[Best For] All-around freshwater applications

[Price] $199.95

[Operation] VG

[Drag Adjustment] VG

[Workmanship] VG

[Suitability for Use] VG

[Price-Value] VG

[Final Score] VG

[Comments] This is a smart-looking reel that has an external centrifugal cast control that was a joy to use. Its free-spool thumb release was a bit low for one tester.

EDITOR'S CHOICE [MANUFACTURER/MODEL] Shimano Calais CL100A (949-951-5003)

[Weight] 8.7 oz.

[Drive] 10 anti-rust ball bearings, 1 roller bearing, oversize gears

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 10/110

[Gear Ratio] 5.1:1

[Materials] 1-pc. alum. frame, sideplates. Alum. wiffle spool

[Best For] Fresh water and inshore salt water

[Price] $389.99

[Operation] E

[Drag Adjustment] E

[Workmanship] E

[Suitability for Use] E

[Price-Value] VG

[Final Score] E

[Comments] This reel is so uninhibited you'll overcast if you're not careful. It's loaded with nice touches like precision clicks on its spool control and easy swing-away access to its centrifugal brakes.

GREAT BUY [MANUFACTURER/MODEL] St. Croix Avid AC250 (800-826-7042)

[Weight] 10.6 oz.

[Drive] Solid locking pinion, 3 premium ball bearings, 1 roller bearing

[Line Cap. (lb.-test/yd.)] 16/205

[Gear Ratio] 5.1:1

[Materials] Machined alum. frame. Stainless-steel line guide

[Best For] Bass, pike and inshore salt water

[Price] $200.00

[Operation] E

[Drag Adjustment] E

[Workmanship] E

[Suitability for Use] E

[Price-Value] VG

[Final Score] E

[Comments] This is a beautiful and compact round-style reel that casts a mile. Unlike most low-profile bait-casters it has a slotted levelwind design for easy line threading.

[BOX For complete comments and more gear info, go to www.outdoorlife.com/gear