Skip to main content

Baitcaster Showdown: G&F Great Buy Rod and Reel 2019

Baitcaster Showdown: G&F Great Buy Rod and Reel 2019

Winners from our Baitcaster Showdown reviews were Kistler's Z Bone, Abu Garcia's Revo Rocket, Denali's Fission and Academy's Mettle. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

Game & Fish sent our gear experts into the briny marshes of Louisiana where the crew tested the latest bass gear against the largest and hardest-fighting redfish in North America.

Last week, we revealed what our testers chose for the Game & Fish Editor’s Choice award for best overall baitcasting reel and rod — the Abu Garcia Revo Rocket reel and Kistler Z-Bone rod.

Here's a look at the Great Buy award winners:

G&F Great Buy: Best Value Baitcasting Reel

Academy Mettle HD

Academy Sports + Outdoors Mettle HD

The Mettle is rather mundane looking, however, its real beauty lays in its performance and dirt cheap MSRP.

This Academy store branded reel is packed with features which help more fish out on the water, not impress folks on the dock.

A rigid, one-piece aluminum frame anchors the design, providing that flex-free performance important when fighting big fish or working large profile baits on rapid retrieves.

The 7.1:1 gear ratio (26-inches per turn) falls in the middle of retrieve ratios, providing enough speed to work fast cadence techniques and ample grit for winching on anything that swims in freshwater.

The HD’s outstanding dual cast controls (both friction and 6-pin centrifugal brakes) sets it apart from almost all budget-minded reels.

The 6-pin system is housed internally, behind the palming plate.

These controls, when dialed-in transform the HD into a casting machine.

While testing, we cast the smallest baits into the wind with little to no fuss.

Hits: A workhorse at a ridiculously reasonable retail.

Misses: The Mettle feels a bit big, but at $79.99, who cares?

On Newsstands Now

Our test team comprised of salty veterans of the fishing industry tested dozens of rods and reels to find the best all-around and affordable baitcasting gear for our Baitcaster Showdown package in the March issue of Game & Fish Magazine. There's also great info on spring turkey hunting and spring fishing in your state and region. Available at local retailers.

Click Here: Subscribe to Game & Fish Magazine

G&F Great Buy: Best Value Baitcasting Rod

Denali Fission

Denali Fission

Denali has built a rabid following providing great rods at reasonable pricing over the past few years. Their new Fission will no doubt bolster this well-earned reputation. The 7’2” Fission (medium-heavy) is rated for 3/8- to 1-ounce lures and is populated with large, conventional guides constructed of 304 stainless. This manufacture will ensure corrosion-free service while accommodating the 12- to 17-pound test rating handily.

We found the medium-heavy Fission to be a great power fishing rod, proficient in managing large baits without the blank “lumbering” (that sluggish feel) common on less accomplished power blanks.

A Winn Grip adds to the rods ability to manage bulbous baits, as it provides a secure grip when getting on top of long casts or working fat baits at depths.

The IM7 blank is sensitive with a sufficient tip yet retains its core strength through the butt section for driving large diameter hooks home on long lines.

Hits: Excellent value for a rod well-suited for multiple power techniques.

Misses: The exposed reel seat threads are a distraction (see Sidebar).


After testing baitcasting gear, a few things really ticked us off. You should know them before you buy another stick.

The Game & Fish tackle test utilized a comprehensive 10-criterion matrix to evaluate each rod and reel. Our test team is comprised of salty veterans of the fishing industry, professional guides and editors. Scores were tallied after each day on the water; once we crunched the numbers (and after some heated debates), winners in each gear category were named. The Editor’s Choice award goes to the best all-around gear, and the Great Buy award goes to those products in each category that performed the best and provided the greatest value.


Dr. Todd A. Kuhn gives you a baitcaster tip to make sure you get the best hookset possible and the fish doesn’t break off on the first run.


Each tester threw lures in a variety of weights to get a feel for flexure within each rod's lure rating. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

A fishing rod's flexure, or load on the cast, is directly proportional to lure weight. Mismatch these and the rod will not perform optimally. Surprisingly, there are fishermen who are still puzzled by lure-weight ratings. Don't be that guy.

Rods are rated by engineers who are intimately knowledgeable about the blank's performance parameters.

Light-action rods perform best with light lures, while stiffer actions prefer heavier lures. Keep in mind, the lure’s weight is what loads the rod — and it's this loading that propels the lure.

Most of us have tried throwing too light a lure and have found it just won’t cast well. This is because the rod isn’t being loaded, and you’re throwing the lure using the rod as a lever, that is, you're depending on the rod's length. By matching the lure to the rod's rating, you'll be using the rod as it's designed — as a spring. Take advantage of the rod's flexure and rating to cast farther and accurately. — Dr. Todd A. Kuhn

Our reviewers tested rods and reels in a variety of categories. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)


When shopping the big outdoor emporiums, you can’t help but notice great deals on “store-branded” gear, like Academy's H20 Mettle HD. But are they worth your hard-earned dollars?

Retailers that sell store-branded gear battle a stigma: the perception that they are of lesser quality than national brands. So retailers strive to deliver equipment with more features than the national brands — at a reduced price.

Store branded rods often have higher modulus blanks and high-end components. Reels on the other hand, typically have more desirable features, like dual casting controls versus a single casting control.

This year, both Bass Pro Shops and Academy produced excellent examples of store-branded equipment worthy of your money. The Johnny Morris Signature Series rods and reels scored high marks across the board and impressed testers. The Academy Mettle baitcaster, at $59, took home the GreatBuy award — proof of store-brand star power. — Dr. Todd A. Kuhn

hey, we found a robot reel!

Shimano Curado

Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more frustrating than spending precious fishing time picking at a baitcasting backlash while mumbling under your breath.

Shimano’s Curado has been a gold standard in baitcasting reels for decades. This year, the Shimano engineers added their digital control, automatic braking system to help prevent backlashing. A microcomputer monitors spool speed at a whopping 1,000 times per second and uses this information to apply the perfect amount of brake. This braking helps keep casts backlash-free while improving casting distances.

While running the Curado through our gauntlet of tests, we found the braking system a true treat. The Curado, when dialed-in, is as backlash free a reel as you’ll find. Tough casts into stiff headwinds were made possible by the new braking system.

Interestingly, when fishing the new DC, you’ll notice its distinct electronic “whirl” on the cast; one which led us to affectionately nickname the DC the “Robot Reel.”— Capt. Jamie Harris


When choosing a new rod, you typically have three handle materials to choose from: EVA, cork or Winn Grips. Does one offer advantages over the other? Yes.

EVA, or ethylene-vinyl acetate, is a resilient foam that has become a popular material for rod handles. Because EVA is a foam, it has minute, practically invisible air bubbles interspersed in the material. It’s this air that gives it its cushy feel, making for a comfortable all-day grip. The bubbles also absorb shock, which, unfortunately, dampens vibrations and limits sensitivity.

Cork, on the other hand, is dense and an excellent transmitter of vibration, such as strikes and lure action. It's lighter than EVA and maintains residual heat better in colder temps. The downside is, it will crack and deform more easily, plus it's more expensive.

Winn Grips were originally found on golf clubs. They have a unique feel and are the best of the three when wet.— Dr. Todd A. Kuhn

We logged thousands of casts, retrieves and crushed a bunch of hard-fighting game fish to get a feel for each rod and reel. Someone had to do it. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

Meet the team

  • Captain Jamie Harris: Considered a master of Florida’s Mosquito Lagoon and has been fishing for more than 40 years.
  • Captain Joe DiMarco: Spends more than 220 days a year fishing and guiding fishermen to reds, bass and sea trout.
  • Captain Cody Obiol: A fishing guide out of Cajun Fishing Adventures in Buras, Louisiana. He has been at it full-time for more than nine years.
  • Todd Ceisner: Editor of the bass-tournament site, He is considered a major gearhead. He's been fishing for 20 years.
  • Dr. Todd Kuhn: Game & Fish state editor who holds a Ph.D. in environmental engineering. He has been fishing in excess of 50 years.
  • John Geiger: Game & Fish editor in chief and former gear editor for the magazine and web site. He's been fishing for 30 years.


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now