Tackle Test 2017: The Best Fishing Rods

Top fishing rods

The Outdoor Life Tackle Test team rolled into the Deep South loaded to the gills with a collection of 26 reels and 32 rods, ready to face the largemouths and redfish of Venice, La. Undertaking our most comprehensive rod and reel assessment to date, we made thousands of casts and fought dozens of fish looking for every strength and weakness in our bass gear. Here are the best rods of the test.

 

SPINNING: EDITOR’S CHOICE

FITZGERALD VURSA

Score: 94.3

Buy It Now! Price: $130

Trevor Fitzgerald is a phenomenal professional bass angler­—competing on both the BASS and FLW circuits. What he has learned on the water comes shining through in the design of his namesake rods. This is evident in the new Vursa, a rod built on a high-modulus 30-ton blank.

Fitted with American Tackle Microwave guides and an American Tackle AT reel seat and handle, this rod is incredibly lightweight, even with its painted exterior. We were impressed with the guide train and its lack of flexure. This rigidity transmits vibration better than spongier, spring-style single-foot guides. The result is a rod that lets you feel every nuance of structure and the bait’s action as if you were hardwired to the line. It will put many more keepers in the livewell during cold-front conditions or a timid bite.

A limited lifetime warranty rounds out this stellar offering.

SPINNING: GREAT BUY

DENALI ATTAX

Score: 92.8

Price: $120

With its flashy rod wraps and spirited actions, the Denali brand grabbed our attention a couple of years ago. This year’s Attax was a unanimous Great Buy award winner. This rod just screams, “Fish me!”

The Attax’s IM7 blank has an agile tip, one aptly suited for rattling shaky heads around riprap or dragging drop shots over deep rock piles. Once you’ve got a bite, the midsection and butt provide ample oomph to drive small-diameter wire hooks deep, even on long, spongy clear lines.

The eight single-foot guides accent the blank’s ability to remain flexible, even when fully loaded . The Winn grip is aces, lending all-day comfort and sure handling on the fore grip and the rod butt.

The skeletonized reel seat drew the only negative comments on this incredible spin stick. While adding to the rod’s sensitivity, it causes the blank to flex under acute loading.

 

BAITCASTING: EDITOR’S CHOICE

KISTLER FEEL N REEL

Score: 94.6

Price: $250

This new 7-foot 1-inch, radially wrapped, North Fork Composite Blank Technology–­based rod is simply fantastic. However, when we first unwrapped it, we were underwhelmed by the rod’s lackluster, two-tone appearance. Our opinions changed quickly on the first cast.

The Feel N Reel blank loads effortlessly and transfers that kinetic energy into baits for long casts no matter their weight (rated 1⁄16 to 3⁄8 ounce, 6- to 12-pound-test).

Once on the water, the genius of a two-tone blank became evident. The off-colored white top section allows you to visually monitor the bait’s action and cadence, and the rod’s inclination—vital when trying to duplicate successful presentations on finicky bites. The cork handle provides a near-perfect medium for communicating the bait’s behavior back to the angler. But be prepared for some sticker shock.

 

BAITCASTING: GREAT BUY

DENALI ATTAX

Score: 91.8

Price: $120

Like its sister entry in the spinning-rod category, the Attax baitcasting fishing rod is wholly impressive. The 7-foot Denali is rated for ¼- to 5⁄8-ounce baits and 8- to 14-pound-test line. It features a super-sensitive tip that is pert enough to flick light baits without breaking a sweat, yet lively enough to help anglers crank casts into stiff headwinds with minimal backlash. A Winn grip is a tactile treat and provides all-day comfort for ripping lipless rattlebaits through hydrilla or winding chubby-lipped crankbaits down deep ledges.

On the downside, the reel seat does have exposed forward threads, which tend to become distracting. However, this is a small nitpick on an otherwise flawless rod, which helped gain it the Great Buy award alongside the Fate Black entry from 13 Fishing (below). Our testers could not choose just one.

BAITCASTING: GREAT BUY

13 FISHING FATE BLACK

Score: 91.8

Price: $100

Storming out of the gates a few years ago, 13 Fishing offered a wide variety of rods with great actions and fine features at crazy-cheap prices. The Fate Black continues this trend.

The 7-foot 1-inch medium-fast blank threw a variety of baits (rated ¼ to 5⁄8 ounce) well, but its sweet spot is definitely in the ¼- to ½-ounce range. All testers agreed that the Fate is an exceptional value, as it’s really three rods in one: It’s matched for a variety of baits—from crankbaits to spinnerbaits to weighted worms.

The rod’s versatility is based in the fast tip, which can accommodate lighter baits. The stout butt section, which extends nearly three-quarters of the way up the blank, provides the extra muscle needed for hooksets on heavier baits (½ ounce to 5⁄8 ounce). It’s a versatile rod that can be used for any number of techniques.

MORE SPINNING RODS FROM THE TEST:

13 Fishing Fate Black**
Price: $100
Final Score: 91.0

Lew’s Mach Speed Stix Inshore
Price: *$80
*Final Score:
90.9

13 Fishing Muse Black
*Price: *$185
*Final Score: *90.8

G. Loomis E6X
Price: $190
Final Score: 88.9

Temple Fork Outfitters Professional Series
Price: $100
Final Score: 87.7

Dobyns Sierra Series
Price: $160
Final Score: 85.8

Cabela’s Fish Eagle
Price: $90
Final Score: 85.4

Cabela’s XML Bass
Price: $150
Final Score: 85.2

Temple Forks Outfitters Pacemaker
Price: $190
Final Score: 84.9

Wright & McGill Skeet Reese Tube/Jig
Price: $100
Final Score: 82.8

 

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