The difference between last year’s rod and reel models and this year’s is getting more difficult to distinguish. While there will always be some big advances in tackle from year to year, many upgrades consist of little more than weight reductions, a slight change in materials, and, in many cases, simply some fresh aesthetics or a new style of grip on the handles.
None of this makes tackle testing any easier, but we don’t like anything that’s too easy. To bring you a detailed, in-depth look at how the 2019 offerings from some of the biggest—and a few lesser-known—tackle companies stacked up, we devised a four-part test carried out by a five-man crew of lifelong anglers. Naturally, our tests were designed to determine if the rods and reels functioned to the manufacturers’ specifications, but that was only a small part of the drill.
The more important goal was figuring out how these rods and reels performed in real-world fishing situations in the hands of anglers who don’t go easy on their equipment. To do that, we took 20 new rods and 20 new reels in a wide range of prices from the lake, to the field, to the pond, to the workshop, and finally to the ocean to tangle with fish far bigger than what this bass-caliber gear was meant to handle. If it could beat a heavy striper in our torture test, no largemouth on Earth would stand a chance.
Here are our results, which will help you determine which tackle-makers are most deserving of your hard-earned cash this season.
How We Test
Our testing was a multipart process carried out over the course of a month, with each portion specifically designed to evaluate different aspects of a rod and reel important to anglers. First, we fished all the rods and reels from a boat in a bass lake, then from shore at a bass pond, to gauge how they performed in real fishing situations when paired with the lures that matched their factory ratings. Next, we marked out a field in 25-foot increments to 150 feet to test casting distance. To rate accuracy, each tester made a series of casts using low-hanging limbs and laydowns as obstacles and targets. After the first two rounds of field-testing, all the reels were subjected to a drag test using a 2,900 rpm drill. This was fitted with an improvised bit that secured and held the line when run at full power. The drag strength of each reel was calibrated to half its max with a digital hand scale. Using 30-pound braided line for each spinning reel and 50-pound for each casting reel, the high-intensity test was used to evaluate drag consistency, smoothness, heat, and any play in the spool. Finally, we jumped on a charter boat on the Jersey Shore and spent a day pushing the limits of this largemouth-caliber tackle during an incredible striped bass bite. The average fish measured 24 inches, with bass up to 20 pounds mixed in. Construction, overall feel, and perceived durability were ranked with consideration to performance in all of our tests. The highest-scoring rod and reel in each category won our Editor’s Choice award. The rods and reels that offered the most bang for your buck won the Great Buy award.
The Best New Spinning Reels
1. Editor’s Choice: Team Lew’s Custom Pro Speed Spin
|Excellent||Excellent||Good||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent|
The Team Lew’s Custom Pro Speed Spin performed like a reel far beyond its price point, prompting test team member Joe Cermele to comment, “I can’t believe this reel only costs $130.” Its solid construction and flawless functioning outshined the field in all segments of the test. Twelve total bearings created silky-smooth operation, from knob and handle movement to the oscillation of the C60 carbon skeletal rotor. During on-the-water testing, it didn’t produce a single wind knot, even when testers were casting diminutive finesse plastics and stickbaits in a stiff breeze. The reel’s multidisc drag system subdued numerous stripers in our torture test and responded flawlessly in the drag assessment. It’s also worth noting that the aesthetics were the collective favorite of the team among spinning reels.
2. Great Buy: Quantum Energy
|Very Good||Very Good||Very Good||Excellent||Very Good||Very Good||Good||Very Good||Excellent|
Quantum made a statement in our spinning-reel category with the Energy. The reel excelled in several categories and shocked the panel with its price point. Team member Matt Andreula said that not only was the price unbeatable, but it’s also “an awesome reel for fishermen of any skill level.” It fulfilled all of its responsibilities in boat and shore testing, casting a variety of lures without issue and easily taming largemouth bass. Its drag was smooth and even, both fighting striped bass and surviving the rigorous drag test. The reel had a fluid feel thanks to smoother, stronger PT bearings made to Quantum’s exact specifications. As for aesthetics, testers either loved or hated the black-and-metallic construction with green accents.
3. Daiwa Exist LT
Daiwa Exist LT
Reliable reel with impressive construction. Amazon
Daiwa poured a ton of research and technology into the Exist. It has some impressive qualities, including a bulletproof magnesium body weighing only 5.5 ounces, and 22 pounds of drag, which beat the heaviest striper in our torture test with no sign of strain. Daiwa employed its Magseal at six locations to shut out all water, so this reel definitely stood out for its construction and reliability. Testers were less impressed with the shallow spool and low line capacity of the 2500-size reel (which made fighting a 20-pound striper a hoot). Despite the quality, we felt the price was high.
4. Lew’s Custom Speed Spin
Lew’s Custom Speed Spin
This reel has a nice lightweight frame. Amazon
|Very Good||Good||Good||Very Good||Good||Very Good||Good||Excellent||Excellent|
The second Lew’s spinning reel to make our cut was a close contender for Great Buy. The Custom Speed Spin has a solid construction and performs above its price point. The reel had more than respectable casting abilities in both field and water testing, but its drag was less than perfect when pitted against stripers. The dry-land drag test confirmed that although braking power was ample, the spool had a slight wobble. More impressive were the lightweight aluminum frame and C60 carbon skeletal rotor. The drain port makes the reel easy to lubricate.
5. 13 Fishing Prototype X
13 Fishing Prototype X
Versatile and packed full of technology. Amazon
|Very Good||Good||Good||Good||Very Good||Fair||Fair||Excellent||Fair|
The Prototype X is packed full of technology, with an Airfoil Carbon frame, forged-aluminum gearing, and, most notable, 13 Fishing’s Freak drag system. “It looks like a lot of thought went into this reel,” Andreula said. The Prototype X scored well on shore and on the water, casting several types of artificials with ease and manhandling largemouth bass. One notable minus was the bail wire, which is very thin and flat. Although this feature is supposed to deliver the line to the roller more smoothly, the team agreed it felt awkward and not particularly durable.
6. Fitzgerald Stunner
Impressive when battling stripers. Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald has a solid reputation for building high-quality bass rods, but this year, the company threw its hat in the reel ring. The Stunner shined in our drag test. The reel has a sturdy construction, and the beefy 20-pound drag capacity really stood out when battling stripers. In other tests, however, it fell short. Some occasional off-kilter noise during cranking made us question the reel’s long-term reliability. Despite its name, the Stunner is a plain-looking reel, but the stripers we landed with it didn’t seem to mind.
7. Daiwa Eliminator
Terrific casting reel with smooth drag. Daiwa
|Good||Very Good||Good||Fair||Fair||Very Good||Fair||Fair||Excellent|
Panel members were impressed with the Eliminator right out of the box, as the HARDBODYZ aluminum frame is rigid and tough. The smooth drag and excellent casting distance only helped bolster our opinion of the reel being a tank. We did find the reel a bit heavier and bulkier than the rest of the field at 9.3 ounces, but scoring was positive overall, and the extra few ounces make the reel feel like it can take a beating. It was easy to score the Eliminator high for its price value, as everyone felt you’re getting a whole lot of reel for your money.
8. Bass Pro Qualifier 2
The Pro Qualifier 2 had strengths and weaknesses, but we felt that overall it’s a smart buy for your money. The panel agreed the Pro Qualifier 2 would hold up under moderate punishment. Parylak said, “it’s not my favorite, but it’s a great reel for someone who doesn’t fish 100 days a year or pound their gear.” Because the reel survived the pressure of Jersey stripers, we felt it deserved a positive score for reliability despite its price point. Another plus is that the large surface area of the spool assists in long, accurate casts. The drag was not as smooth as we would have liked and the jury was split on aesthetics.
9. Okuma Avenger New Generation
Okuma Avenger New Generation
Affordable and accurate casting. Okuma
The Avenger is a mainstay of the Okuma line-up with its consistent performance and affordability, and this year’s revamped model is no exception. It casted accurately in both on-the-water and field testing, and it helped panel members slip baits into brush piles and laydowns effectively. The Avenger put baits in front of stripers a good distance from the boat where other competitors fell short. The 2500 model we tested weighed in at a reasonable 7.8 ounces while still impressing panel with its seemingly solid construction. The Avenger over-performed for its price point by a big margin and should appeal to anglers of all skill levels.
10. Abu Garcia Revo Ike
Abu Garcia Revo Ike
Lightweight from with even line management. Abu Garcia
The Revo Ike may have been Abu’s most touted reel for 2019, but it fell pretty short when it came to wowing the panel. While it had redeeming qualities like tight, even line management and good casting distance, performance in other categories did not reflect the price tag. Although the Ike has a lightweight frame, its durability is questionable, as the cap on the opposing side of the reel handle kept falling off until we eventually couldn’t find it. No one really liked the gaudy purple aesthetics. While it’s a decent reel, the shortcomings of the Ike bottomed-out its value score considering the hefty price.
The Best New Casting Reels
Editor’s Choice: Daiwa Ryoga; Great Buy: Quantum Accurist S3 PT Ralph Smith
1. Editor’s Choice: Daiwa Ryoga
Daiwa has set a new benchmark for round reels with its Ryoga. The steep price reflects the quality engineering and components that were packed into this bad boy. It combines featherlight construction with the strength of a heavy-duty, high-performance reel. Testers unanimously agreed the Ryoga outperformed the field in casting ability in our on-the-water tests with its free-spinning G1 Duralumin spool, which is uninhibited by gear-train friction. The assembly is rock-solid, and a closer inspection revealed no apparent weaknesses in its structure, even under the pressure of big striped bass. The Ryoga is fortified with a machine-cut aluminum frame and side plates, and has no plastic components. Its MagForce Z braking system can be easily fine-tuned to keep backlashes to a minimum.
2. Great Buy: Quantum Accurist S3 PT
|Excellent||Very Good||Good||Good||Very Good||Good||Good||Very Good||Excellent|
We’ve noticed a trend after years of tackle testing—Quantum reels outcast every other, often by far. The Accurist proved to be no different, and 150-plus-foot casts were the norm for each tester. This strength became a huge asset in the torture test when our team members needed to reach feeding stripers under birds that were out of range for other reels. Andreula noted, “I’ve never seen a reel cast this far.” A combination of the PT ACS 3.0 cast control system and Quantum’s own PT bearings is responsible for this performance. With a one-piece aluminum frame, a ceramic drag system, and a three-year PT protection plan, the Quantum Accurist easily claimed the award for Great Buy.You’d be hard-pressed to find a better baitcaster doe that price.
3. Team Lew’s Pro-TI Speed Spool SLP
Team Lew’s Pro-TI Speed Spool SLP
Lightest reel the company has produced. Team Lew
|Excellent||Very Good||Excellent||Good||Excellent||Excellent||Excellent||Excellent||Very Good|
The Pro-TI Speed Spool SLP has upheld Lew’s tradition of engineering some of the best reels around. At 6.3 ounces, this baitcaster is the lightest reel they’ve ever produced, and this was noticeable to the panel when it was compared to other reels. Despite the scaled-down weight, Team Lew’s Pro-TI Speed Spool SLP maintains superb durability with its one-piece aluminum frame and side plate. The reel can be fine-tuned with a six-pin, 27-position centrifugal brake. Easy adjustments led to long, silent casts.
4. Shimano Aldebaran MGL
Shimano Aldebaran MGL
Impressive casting of light lures. Shimano
|Excellent||Good||Very Good||Very Good||Very Good||Very Good||Excellent||Excellent||Excellent|
The petite Aldebaran stood out for its ability to fling light lures a mile. It displayed this quality over and over again in our largemouth sessions. Shimano added a lightweight Magnumite (MGL) spool to the Aldebaran reel, which reduces overall mass, trimming the Aldebaran to a minuscule 4.8 ounces. Test crew member Matt Parylak said, “This reel is amazingly comfortable and fits perfectly in my palm.” The reel struggled a little in the drag test, but it’s designed for finesse tactics and not meant to take heavy stress.
5. Okuma Helios SX
Okuma Helios SX
Reel with a smooth cast. Okuma
|Very Good||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent||Good||Very Good||Fair||Fair||Excellent|
This year’s Helios model has some fresh features packed with smart technology. Parylak noted the reel’s extreme smoothness on both cast and retrieve during our dry-land casting test, generated by a total of 11 stainless-steel bearings. At 6.3 ounces, this is a light, comfortable reel. It also excelled in line management, lying evenly and firmly across the spool, even when testers used lighter lures. Cermele noted, “This reel has quality performance, and the price is right.”
6. Abu Garcia Revo Rocket
Abu Garcia Revo Rocket
Great casting performance. Abu Garcia
|Excellent||Fair||Very Good||Very Good||Good||Good||Good||Excellent||Very Good|
The Revo Rocket has a lightning-fast 10-to-1 gear ratio and a pick-up of 41 inches per handle turn. Line management remained solid despite that rapid pick-up. The Rocket’s stellar casting performance is produced by its Infini brake system and Infini II spool. Test crew member James Buonanno Jr. said, “This thing bombs tiny lures that would have other reels backlashing,” and gave the Rocket a perfect score for distance. The reel has 18 pounds of drag, but it wasn’t as silky as other top contenders.
7. Lew’s Tournament Pro Speed Spool LFS
Lew’s Tournament Pro Speed Spool LFS
Great all-around reel. Lew’s
|Fair||Excellent||Fair||Excellent||Very Good||Good||Fair||Very Good||Good|
The Tournament Pro Speed Spool LFS gave a solid performance in several categories. Its casting abilities, however, were just average, while mediocre scores in other categories made it rank below other contenders. Two panel members gave it significantly higher scores, but the three who were less impressed weighed down the rating. The reel was actually a favorite of mine, as fit perfectly in my palm and I happened to like the matte black finish and gold accents. Notable qualities were a smooth and balanced drag and clean line management in all on- and off-the-water testing.
8. Lew’s Speed Spool LFS
Lew’s Speed Spool LFS
Easy tunable controls. Lew’s
|Very Good||Good||Fair||Good||Very Good||Fair||Good||Good||Excellent|
A more than respectable display, the Speed Spool LFS was our runner-up for Great Buy. It nailed shots under laydowns and skipped below trees in real-life testing with surprising accuracy. Straightforward, easy tuning of the controls undoubtedly assisted its ability to cast well. It provided the distance we needed to target roving stripers and applied ample breaking power to slow them down. Aesthetics were generally approved, as the clean black design with silver handle and knobs looked sharp on every rod we paired it with. Buonanno said, “this is a total steal for a hundred bucks. I’ll take ten.”
9. 13 Fishing Inception
13 Fishing Inception
This reel manages line well and has a integrated hook keeper. 13 Fishing
13 Fishing updated their popular Inception for 2019 without changing its price. Overall, the reel gave an above-average performance, making it a solid buy for the price point. The reel has been fitted with a hard anodized worm gear that managed line well and the integrated Keep-R hook keeper was a useful innovation. However, the Beetle Wing Rapid Access sideplate was met with mixed reviews. I found it a little annoying, as it jams if the spool tension is too high. The first time I tried to open it I almost broke it. The Inception held its own for casting distance and hitting targets, and its 18 pounds of drag proved its worth against striped bass and the drill test.
10. Bass Pro Bionic Blade
The Bionic Blade was a middle-of-the-road performer, but in fairness, it’s neither built nor priced to compete with high-end reels. With that in mind, it’s an excellent choice for someone dipping his toes into baitcasting, the weekend warrior, or the angler on a budget. One place the Bionic Blade stood out was with its shocking casting distance. A strong follow-up in target practice allowed the Bionic Blade to walk away with an “excellent” in the castability and distance category. Although other scores were just average across the board, the Bionic Blade’s abilities exceed its cost and make it a true value buy.
The Best New Spinning Rods
1. Dobyn’s Xtasy
Dobyn’s entered the world of ultra-high-end fishing rods with the Xtasy, and from tip to butt, it dons the finest components. It’s a beautifully crafted rod with the performance to match. “This thing is gorgeous, and it casts and loads like a champ,” Andreula commented. On-the-water testing confirmed it had the highest level of castability, accuracy, and sensitivity of the group. The Xtasy utilizes advanced Nano material that is super-light and well-balanced while maintaining enough power to survive our torture test. Dobyn’s spared nothing when fitting the rod with Fuji Titanium Torzite guides, a painted Fuji graphite reel seat, and highest-grade cork. The reliability of the blank is bolstered by a Kevlar wrapping that helps ensure this stick will be with you for many years, which helps justify the price.
2. Academy Sports H20 xpress Ethos HD
|Very Good||Good||Excellent||Very Good||Very Good||Good||Excellent||Good||Excellent|
This rod was a genuine sleeper. Its 40-million modulus IM8 graphite blank with cross-directional fibers was thinner compared to other spinning rods with similar construction. It was lightweight and sensitive, and repeatedly produced smooth, crisp casts. Buonanno said, “I feel like I have total control of this rod.” Despite its price point, the rod had quality components in the way of a split-grip top-grade cork handle, a Fuji reel seat, and Fuji Alconite guides. The blank and guides flawlessly handled braided line while under pressure from the stripers in our torture test. Some of the testers didn’t like the blue blank and split grip, but for so cheap, who cares how it looks? Overall, the Xpress Ethos HD is a solid package that ran away with the Great Buy award.
3. Megabass Orochi XX
Megabass Orochi XX
Spinning rod with a lot of power. Megabass
|Excellent||Excellent||Very Good||Very Good||Excellent||Excellent||Excellent||Very Good||Very Good|
Our team agreed that the Orochi performed exceptionally well for a spinning rod, controlling feisty stripers with ease. On the boat, Cermele said, “This has a lot of power for such a light rod.” Besides being a powerhouse, the Orochi can sling even the smallest lures with pinpoint accuracy. This combination of performance and power is generated by the X47-ASL Metal Fiber Blank, which is incredibly lightweight and responsive. The rod weight and comfort in hand were also highlights. Fibers are woven into a layered, multi-axis wrap that gives the Orochi added torque for top-shelf angler control and fish management.
4. St. Croix Legend Glass
St. Croix Legend Glass
Smooth and sturdy rod. St. Croix
|Excellent||Good||Very Good||Very Good||Excellent||Good||Very Good||Excellent||Excellent|
Last year, St. Croix unveiled a new arsenal of high-performance fiberglass casting rods. Now it’s added a spinning rod featuring the same engineering to the popular Legend Glass line. Utilizing the company’s IPC technology, the linear S-glass blank is constructed without any transition points, making it smooth, strong, and sensitive. The weight of the Legend Glass is a fraction of that of other fiberglass rods. Another huge score for this rod was its castability. The moderate action of the fiberglass loads and launches even the smallest lures to the horizon. It easily out-cast all spinning rods in the test.
5. Daiwa Kage
Perfect weight for all day casting. Daiwa
|Very Good||Good||Very Good||Good||Very Good||Excellent||Excellent||Very Good||Good|
With a matte-black finish and intricate wrapping, the Kage stood out as one of the sharpest rods in the test. And its performance matched its good looks. It had a solid construction; however, it lacked the high-end components of other rods that ranked better. The Fuji Alconite guides are tough enough to last and are braid-friendly, but we expected more high-tech components on a rod that costs this much. The 6-foot 10-inch model we tested fished comfortably and provided ample control. Andreula said, “I can fish this rod all day. It’s the perfect weight.”
6. Lew’s TP1 Black Speed Stick
Lew’s TP1 Black Speed Stick
Great performance for the cost. Lew’s
|Good||Good||Excellent||Very Good||Very Good||Fair||Good||Good||Excellent|
The TP1 Black Speed Stick offers a lot of bang for your buck. The HM50 high-modulus blank is lightweight, responsive, and powerful. The Vibration Transfer Ring seemed to serve its intended purpose because panel members were able to detect the slightest largemouth bites during our day on the water. The components of the rod exceeded the price point, as the American Tackle Company Microwave guide system completely eliminated wind knots in all segments of our testing. A SoftTouch skeletal reel seat and Winn Dri-Trac grips rounded out the impressive qualities of this rod.
7. Denali N3 Series
Denali N3 Series
Lightweight rod with a comfortable grip. Denali
|Good||Good||Very Good||Very Good||Very Good||Good||Excellent||Fair||Fair|
A standout quality of the N3 spinning rod is its polymer handle and reel seat, both of which help to make the rod very light. We all agreed the combination also made for a tight, comfortable grip, which helped us detect the slightest bites fast. The panel was also impressed by the construction of the N3, as the blank was lightweight but still provided the necessary power to muscle big fish in our torture test. The N3 scored slightly better than average in the casting trial during our field test. Overall, it’s a well-made rod, but we weren’t quite sure the technology put into this stick warranted a high price tag.
8. Halo Black Widow
|Good||Fair||Very Good||Very Good||Very Good||Fair||Fair||Good||Good|
Along with its casting rod counterpart, the Halo Black Widow spinning rod also made its way into our Top 10. And once again, panel members were sharply divided in several test categories. Two members felt the 4Finger reel seat—which is designed to reduce overall weight by reducing handle material—gave them better control of the rod and helped leverage stripers to the boat. The other three members didn’t see much advantage to the design, but gave better marks for the Black Widow’s high-modulus blank with SIC inserts. Parylak noted that, “you really only see quality guides like these on much pricier rods.”
9. Shimano SLX
Great choice for spontaneous fishing. Shimano
|Good||Good||Fair||Very Good||Fair||Fair||Fair||Good||Very Good|
The Shimano SLX is a reliable rod that performed well considering its price point. It should be noted that we tested a 2-piece model of the SLX, which tends to inhibit sensitivity and power compared to one-piece sticks. The panel agreed that a lot of 2-piece rods don’t make the grade, but the SLX has both the feel and performance capabilities of a one-piece rod. If you need a bass-caliber stick to keep stashed in the truck for impromptu fishing opportunities, this is a great choice.
10. Ike Signature Finesse Rod
Ike Signature Finesse Rod
Capable rod. Ike
While we deemed the Ike a capable rod, we felt it didn’t compete with several others at or below its price tag. While we all agreed the blank was lightweight, we questioned its ability to hold up in the long-term. Stainless steel guides with Zirconium inserts helped salvage the construction score for the Ike Signature Finesse. In regards to performance, it was consistent in both on- and off-the-water testing, but it left no lasting impression in any particular category.
The Best New Casting Rods
1. Megabass Orochi XX
In the fishing sense, the Orochi XX is a work of art. Every aspect of this rod, from aesthetics to performance, impressed our team. Although the rods in this series are technique-specific, the Whipsnake finesse rod we tested mastered every challenge and tactic we threw at it. Its construction is truly innovative thanks to features such as an X47-ASL Metal Fiber Blank that has a unique combination of power, lightness, and sensitivity. “This rod handles incredibly well. It has a comfy grip and it loads nicely,” Parylak said during our field test. Megabass didn’t skimp on components either, because the Orochi XX is fitted with a train composed of Fuji Stainless SiC guides, so it can handle braid in any pound-test you want to spool up.
2. Denali Kovert Lite
|Very Good||Very Good||Very Good||Excellent||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent|
Denali continues to improve its popular Kovert Lite with upgrades for 2019, many of which helped it hold its own during the rigors of our tests. The team found the Winn Grips to be a huge plus—particulary during the chilly conditions on our striper trip—and thought the black color scheme was sharp. As the name suggests, the Kovert Lite was designed to reduce overall weight, in turn improving comfort and keeping angler fatigue to a minimum. The team thought the Interloc blank offered head-of-its-class castability and accuracy in both land and water tests. An ergonomic reel seat with a seamless connection increases the rod’s sensitivity and provides a solid hold when coupled with the Winn Grip. “I’d use this stick for big fish anytime,” Buonanno said while reefing on schoolie stripers.
3. Daiwa Tatula Elite Signature
Daiwa Tatula Elite Signature
Strong rod with impressive castability. Daiwa
|Excellent||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent|
This year, Daiwa released a series of 27 casting rods to cover every possible bass application. Each rod was an engineering collaboration with a different Elite BASS angler. We tested the Brent Ehrler 7-foot 3-inch medium-heavy model, which was light and sensitive, and had great castability. This powerful rod has a strong backbone that excelled at handling some of the largest stripers in our torture test. Two panel members were not thrilled by the silver blank; the others thought it was one of the better-looking rods in the field. What we did agree on was that despite the above-average price point, you get a lot of rod for your money.
4. Kistler Z Bone
|Excellent||Excellent||Excellent||Very Good||Excellent||Excellent||Very Good||Very Good||Good|
There’s no question that Kistler’s new Z Bone is one of the most advanced fishing rods on the market. Only a handful of manufacturers have dared to create a super-high-end stick, and Kistler is now among them. The first thing that impressed every tester was the weight of the rod. It was light as a feather at 3 ounces. The Z Bone demolished our tests for casting and accuracy in our field evaluation. The top-of-the-line guide train features Fuji Torzite rings in titanium frames that handled braided line flawlessly. The only knock on the Z Bone was price, because it’s still hard to justify spending more than such a high cost for a freshwater rod.
5. Fitzgerald All-Purpose
A rod with solid power and sensitivity. Fitzgerald
|Good||Very Good||Good||Very Good||Excellent||Very Good||Very Good||Excellent||Very Good|
Buying a separate rod for every technique gets expensive fast. So, manufacturers are now designing versatile rods that can cover a wide range of applications. The Fitzgerald All-Purpose achieves that goal; it’s a truly versatile stick that can be fished in both fresh and salt water. The high-modulus blank produces a solid blend of power and sensitivity. The panel agreed that the rod was well-constructed and had a ton of backbone to handle big fish in our torture test, and it can take the punishment of salt water with American Tackle guides in stainless-steel frames.
6. Lew’s Custom Plus
Lew’s Custom Plus
Great casting distance and gives anglers complete control. Lew’
|Very Good||Very Good||Good||Very Good||Excellent||Good||Very Good||Very Good||Very Good|
Lew’s created the Custom Plus SuperGrip Speed Stick to give anglers complete control and to maximize casting distance. The rod is fitted with Winn Dri-Trac, which covers the entire length of the oversize handle. The panel was divided on whether they preferred the design to a traditionally shorter back end. Andreula said, “I like the grip on it. It just feels a little bulky.” Despite the squabbles over the handle, this is a well-constructed rod that has excellent power. It handled stripers with ease. The strength of the rod is backed by a HM50 high-modulus blank with carbon Nano tube construction.
7. Halo Black Widow
|Good||Very Good||Good||Very Good||Very Good||Fair||Very Good||Very Good||Good|
Halo is a relative newcomer to the market, and its Black Widow scored notable marks for the company’s first appearance in our tackle test. The 7’3” medium-heavy we tested loaded ¾-ounce lures perfectly and delivered them with generous distance and near-precision accuracy. The Black Widow is built from a Japanese Toray blank with nano-technology that we found to be lightweight and responsive while maintaining sufficient power to tame Jersey stripers. The rod’s marks for aesthetics were sharply divided, with three team members finding the black and red artwork a little much and two others picking the design as a favorite.
8. 13 Fish Envy Black 2 Crankbait
|Good||Good||Very Good||Very Good||Very Good||Very Good||Good||Good|
Among a handful of new casting and spinning rods 13 Fishing introduced this year, the Envy Black 2 was by far the best crankbait rod we tested. All models in the series have the moderate action you’d expect from a good cranking rod. The blank also had plenty of power to manhandle stripers. Buonanno said, “this thing’s got some serious backbone for a crankbait rod.” The Envy Black 2 has enough sensitivity to feel slight bottom bounces and light hits, and overall construction and quality components were impressive.
9. Bass Pro Shops XPS Bionic Blade
We felt the XPS Bionic Blade‘s castability, construction, and ergonomics outperformed its price point, making it the second runner-up in a close race for Great Buy. The panel agreed the configuration of the handle was well thought out, with a beefed up hump in the middle to provide a firm and very comfortable grip. It was also surprisingly well suited for our striper trip as its tough constructions and Sea Guide guides with titanium oxide rings help it handle the rigors of saltwater fishing.
10. Abu Garcia Ike
Abu Garcia Ike
Well-constructed and affordable. Abu Garcia
The panel agreed the Ike casting rod should have fared much better given its price point, but it had enough positive attributes to sneak into our top ten. This rod had a good showing on the water, hitting laydowns within inches and telegraphing tiny bites and bottom structure efficiently. The construction was only fair as panel members weren’t convinced that it’s a quality blank rod and questioned how well it would hold up over time. Similar to the Ike spinning reel, the loud purple and black color scheme appealed to no one on the panel.
Our picks for the best new species-specific outfits of 2019.
1. Panfish/Trout: St. Croix Legend Elite Panfish/Abu Garcia Elite Max
The Elite Panfish might be pricey, but it’s an amazing perch, bluegill, and trout rod. It’s got a perfectly honed action for panfish and features high-end Torzite guide rings in titanium frames and super-grade cork. Abu Garcia’s Elite Max is the perfect match for the rod. Seven ball bearings provide fluid action, and a smaller spool size is well-suited for lighter lines.
2. Catfish: Team Catfish Thunderstick/Penn Spinfisher VI Live Liner
Team Catfish has added a 12-foot heaver to its popular Thunderstick line. The extended length of the professional-grade rod maxes out casting distance and provides supreme control when fighting fish. For catfishing, a stick like this needs a baitrunner, and Penn’s Spinfisher VI Live Liner offers the spool capacity, durability, and stopping power you’ll need.
3. Muskies: Savage Gear Browser/Shimano Calcutta Conquest
Savage Gear’s Browser is a beefy swimbait stick with a perfect blend of unidirectional fibers and a 24-ton carbon tip section. This blank design enables the Browser to throw the heaviest baits around without sacrificing feel. With an infusion of cutting-edge technologies, the Conquest is the benchmark reel for the performance and durability muskies require.
4. Walleyes: Okuma Dead-Eye Custom/H2O Express Mettle
For its ideal mix of sensitivity and responsiveness, Okuma’s Dead-Eye Classic is our top walleye rod choice. The stick features custom cork and EVA split grips, a helix-wrapped blank, and a specialized guide train to complement a range of walleye techniques. Pair it with an H20 Express Mettle for its durable all-aluminum construction and smooth operation.