June 08, 2022
By Dr. Todd Kuhn
These new baitcasting rods and reels made quite an impression on the Tackle Test 2022 team, which battled Florida largemouth bass at Bienville Outdoors to review the year’s best gear.
Tackle Test 2022 Winners
Editor’s Choice Rod: Kistler Argon
Trey Kistler is a Texas-based rod builder who has a knack for designing and building high-performance, lightweight rods that ooze quality, and the new Argon follows in this tradition.
The radially-wrapped Japanese Toray blank and intermediate modulus produce a rod that is a highly efficient caster. The moderate modulus offers great flexure without rendering the blank so brittle as to be prone to breakage.
The Argon ($200; kistlerrods.com) is rated for 10- to 12-pound-test line; however, we fished our test rod with 30-pound braid and found the Argon more than capable of handling it. We fished a variety of baits, from heavily weighted worms to bladed jigs and 1/4-ounce lipless crankbaits, and the rod performed admirably with all of them.
The Argon’s ability to snap hooksets impressed testers, too. This is a function of the synergy between the lightning-fast tip, blank lay-up geometry and modulus. The minimalist cork grip fits the hand nicely and is sized just right for both one- and two-handed casts.
Generous rod wrap resin and a Texas-style hook keeper both offer insight into the attention to quality and detail. The Argon is hand-built in Magnolia, Texas, and carries a 5-year warranty.
Bottom Line: The Argon is an American-built rod that offers exceptional performance in a perfectly balanced package.
Editor’s Choice Reel: Lew’s BB1 Pro
Lew’s completely reimagined its popular BB1 Pro for 2022. The result: A feature-packed cranker that universally impressed our test team to earn our Editor’s Choice award.
The reel we tested featured a 7.5:1 retrieve ratio—a speed that has become widely accepted as general-purpose for baitcasting reels. Our BB1 Pro ($200; lews.com) was fast enough to burn baits back to the boat, yet powerful enough to grind big crankbaits down to deep ledges.
The matte black BB1 Pro, devoid of any unnecessary frills or contrivances, is a study in the minimalist approach to design engineering. The modest casting controls are straightforward, operating with no appreciable learning curve.
All of the molded and machined surfaces are rounded, offering a delightful ergonomic interface. An extended top palming plate and contoured palming side plates meld into the hand for stress-free fishing.
The dual casting controls (friction and centrifugal braking) work flawlessly, both indexed with audible clicks so you know the amount of tension being dialed in without looking. The spool also clicks as drag pays out or when wound against a too-loose drag. The line guide is mounted noticeably forward on the level-wind gear, thereby smoothing line flow, reducing friction and resulting in demonstrably longer casts.
The reflexed handle is quite long and provides leverage and extra cranking power. The handle paddles have been redesigned, too—a tad thicker than traditional Lew’s paddles and with just the right amount of tack to offer a firm grip whether dry or wet.
Bottom Line: The BB1 Pro offers a no-nonsense design and exceptional performance in a sublime package.
Great Buy Rod: St. Croix Bass X
St. Croix builds some of the best high-end rods in the business and has a solid following of fishermen who demand top stuff. The Bass X line offers anglers a bit of that legendary St. Croix performance at a very reasonable price.
Our 7-foot-1-inch medium-power, fast-action baitcasting rod was loaded with high-end features, including St. Croix’s SCII carbon fiber and proprietary resin system, SeaGuide aluminum oxide guides, a SeaGuide XCMS reel seat and a Kigan hook keeper.
When first handling the Bass X ($120; stcroixrods.com), we quickly appreciated the comfort of this rod, due in part to the perfectly shaped premium cork handle that nestles beautifully in hand. The reel seat hood also adds a level of comfort, as it is ergonomically shaped and allows the user to get a full, secure grasp of the reel while palming.
This is very important when working cadence baits like a jerkbait or topwater. The rod’s trigger and split grip work in perfect concert, offering comfortable one- and two-handed casting.
When fishing the Bass X, we were impressed with both its versatility and sensitivity. Rated for 10- to 17-pound-test line and 1/4- to 5/8-ounce lure weights, the Bass X has a subtle tip capable of flicking small baits easily, and enough mid- and lower-blank stiffness to throw baits at the weightier end of the scale. It handles heavy bladed jigs with ease and was perfectly adept at throwing unweighted worms.
Bottom Line: Bass anglers, rejoice. You can now own and fish a legendary St. Croix rod for a price normally found on inferior offerings.
Great Buy Reel: Abu Garcia Max Pro
Finding a good, rugged baitcasting reel that’s priced right has become more difficult in recent years. Abu Garcia’s new Max Pro impressed the team with both its performance and value.
The white, 7.4-ounce Max Pro ($85; abugarcia.com) is sort of pedestrian at first blush; however, once in hand and out on the water, the Max Pro’s ability shines through.
The reel, with its 7+1 bearings, is as smooth as any baitcaster at any price. This is due in part to precise CNC machining on the brass main gear and tight build tolerances.
In fact, this reel is exceptionally tight, with no discernible slop in any of its components. This is an incredible feat for a reel priced well under $100. Typically, tolerances this tight fetch much higher prices.
Our 7.1:1 test reel swallowed 28 inches of line per turn, with a braid capacity of 145 yards of 30-pound-test line. Engineers reduced the overall weight with a one-piece graphite frame that was flex-free under load when fighting fish. Graphite side plates further lighten the build.
When first operating the reel, we couldn’t help but notice the co-molded handle knobs, with a hard outer skeletal frame and a soft, pliable interface surface. This design adds rigidity to the soft core while providing structural strength to the knob, resulting in a very comfortable handle meant for hours of fishing.
The drag offers plenty of power for any bass fishing application and performs without any perceivable stuttering or chatter during initial payout—something common in less expensive baitcasting reels.
Bottom Line: The Abu Garcia Max Pro offers outstanding performance at a ridiculously reasonable price.
Read more Tackle Test reviews:
13 Fishing Envy Black
The Envy Black blank has the tightest radial wrap (46-ton Toray fiber) we’ve seen. This compresses the carbon fiber, in turn minimizing resin use, lightening the blank and increasing both strength and sensitivity. The AAAAA-grade Portuguese cork handle transmits bait data flawlessly, while Fuji K-Series guides with zirconia inserts manage the line. A 10-year limited warranty should ease your mind a bit when flipping fatties over the gunwales. ($325; 13fishing.com)
Abu Garcia Fantasista X
The Fantasista X, much like its cohort, the Zenon, is an ultra-high-end casting rod built using a 3M resin—in this case, Powerlux 500. The Fantasista X is an ultralight build, with a long, split-grip handle for two-handed casting. The EVA grip is sized well for one-handed casts should you fish in close quarters, like around docks. The rod balances nicely in hand and is rated for 1/4- to 5/8-ounce baits. ($330; abugarcia.com)
Abu Garcia Zenon
The Zenon was the highest-priced rod in the test, as well as the lightest. It was also arguably the most sensitive. 3M’s proprietary Powerlux 1000 resin system, combined with a carbon handle, enables the rod to flawlessly transmit bait and bite data back to the user. The rod is fairly nondescript in appearance, with a matte finish and sleek, understated graphics. ($430; abugarcia.com)
Denali Lithium Pro
Denali updated its Lithium line with the addition of the Pro. The technique-specific rods weigh an advertised 20 percent less than the original Lithium. Our 7-foot medium-heavy action test sample was built on an IM8 blank with 13, 304 stainless Royal Duraloc semi-micro guides. The contoured split grip with AAA-grade cork handle is nice, making for easy two-handed casts and providing control when plinking in confined spaces. ($220; denalirods.com)
The Maverick series is a technique-specific line built using quality Mitsubishi blank materials. It features SeaGuides and a 10 1/2-inch split, high-density EVA handle. Guides are anchored with Kevlar wraps and generously epoxied. The Maverick is light and balanced particularly well for a rod at its price point. Our 7-foot medium-heavy rod was well-suited for most general applications, but its sweet spot seemed to be worm rigs and jigs. ($100; dobynsrods.com)
G. Loomis GCX
Like its spinning cousin, the GCX baitcaster is a beefy build with high-end components like SeaGuide Hero One guides and a Fuji reel seat. The full-length AAA-grade cork handle and reel seat nut are fantastic. Both offer anglers the ability to carefully monitor baits on the retrieve. The GCX has power to spare, with a stout butt section that enables single-hooked baits to be driven home with ease. ($250; gloomis.com)
Halo Rave III
Produced by American Baitworks, makers of Netbait lures, our Halo Rave III casting rod was a medium-action model designed to handle line weights of 8- to 17-pound test and 1/4- to 3/4-ounce baits. Testers appreciated the rod’s comfort, with its oversized EVA handle, ultralight weight and delightful balance.
The blank is finished with gloss epoxy for a visually appealing package. Ten stout SiC semi-micro guides handle line management duties. The extra-large hook keeper makes stowing lures quick and easy. ($75; americanbaitworks.com)
Lew’s 3XD Cranking Series
The 7-foot-4-inch 3XD is a purpose-built rod designed primarily for crankbait duties. However, our team felt the rod would be well-suited for a variety of other baits. Rated for 8- to 14-pound test, the rod’s action can accommodate heavier lines due to the 11-count, large-diameter SeaGuide X-Frame guide train. The extra 4 inches of length provides anglers additional leverage when fishing search baits on extra-long casts. ($150; lews.com)
The Profishiency Krazy comes wrapped in a kooky color combination best described as a “eclectic pastel camo.” The 7-foot-2-inch medium-heavy casting rod has a stout action best suited for spinnerbaits, medium-size swimbaits, worms and jigs. A relatively short (9 1/4-inch) cork handle keeps the working end of the rod decidedly forward. Cork is somewhat surprising on a rod at this price, though welcomed. The rod is built with a 30-ton blank and Fuji reel seat. ($80; profishiency.com)
The 7-foot-2-inch Curado has a bi-directional radial blank wrap for exceptional strength and structural integrity no matter the direction the rod is flexed. The first four Fuji FazLite guides (stripper and following three) are full-footed, providing extra stiffness in the butt section. The top five guides are single-footed, allowing the relatively stiff action to load nicely for long casts. ($170; fish.shimano.com)
13 Fishing Concept Z2
The engineers at 13 Fishing consistently offer imaginative designs that advance reel technology. The eerily smooth Concept Z2 is immediately recognizable with its distinct fluorescent orange handle paddles. A dorsally mounted lever operates the internal magnetic casting control, making on-the-fly friction adjustments easy. It should be noted that the lever is recessed enough to prevent any unwanted activations while palming the reel. Carbon is used throughout the design to keep the assembly light. ($275; 13fishing.com)
Abu Garcia Jordan Lee
Designed and tested by back-to-back Bassmaster Classic champion Jordan Lee, this reel is packed with features found on higher-priced offerings. Ten stainless steel bearings (plus one roller bearing) and a heavy-duty brass main gear ensure years of trouble-free turning. A large carbon handle (3 1/2 inches) is equipped with very comfortable co-molded paddles for a tight grip no matter the conditions. The carbon disk drag provides a significant 20 pounds of stopping power. ($110; abugarcia.com)
Academy H2O XPRESS Tac-40
The Tac-40 comes with a long list of standard features found on a lot of name-brand reels, but without the related name-brand pricing. Ten sealed stainless bearings, all-aluminum frame and carbon side plates all contribute to this reel’s value. The 7.3:1 gear ratio will work well for anglers who desire to throw a variety of baits on a single reel. The Tac-40 is noticeably light, due in part to the build materials and the carbon handle. ($100; academy.com)
The Maverick has none of the gimmicks and trappings found on reels designed to catch fishermen and not fish. A whopping 11 bearings are included, as are precision-cut gears that result in a smooth-turning, quiet reel. The magnetic casting control is big, allowing for easy adjustment. A large handle and top-shelf knobs round out the design. ($100; dobynsrods.com)
Duckett Jacob Wheeler
The Wheeler has eight onboard Japanese bearings to keep it turning tightly. The drag system, with carbon drag washers, offers a generous 20 pounds of max resistance, which pays out seamlessly. The dual casting controls make dialing up the perfect cast a cinch. We liked the ease of access to the spool from the side plate just in case you need to work on a bad backlash. ($200; duckettfishing.com)
The FX8 has a graphite frame and side plates that keep things light. The reel is armored for use in saltwater, a feature anglers looking for a crossover casting reel will appreciate. A 16-pound max carbon disk drag will stop just about any bass or inshore fish that swims. A deep, machined spool holds 130 yards of 12-pound-test line. The FX8 is particularly compact, making it comfortable to hold during long days on the water. ($130; fitzgeraldrods.com)
Kistler Series 1
The Series 1 is a baitcaster chock-full of amenities. The all-aluminum frame anchors the design and promises flex-free performance. Notable features include an oversized (4 inches) carbon handle for cranking power, an audibly indexed drag (precluding you from reeling against the drag while battling a fish), line size dial, zirconia line guides, a line tie port on the spool for easy reel filling and a solid brass pinion gear for strength. Ten bearings keep the Series 1 slop-free. ($200; kistlerrods.com)
“A creative, new brand that will offer anglers superior quality and performance for a fraction of the cost of its competitors” is the mission statement of startup Profishiency. Our test reel was built like a tank and had an industrial feel. The Krazy is offered in both 6.6:1 and 7.3:1 gear ratios, and the spool holds 135 yards of 12-pound-test monofilament. The cork handle paddles are a nice touch, though the color scheme is one you’ll either love or hate. ($100; profishiency.com)
Quantum Smoke X
Quantum has been building its Smoke lineup for several years now. The X is a line extension that offers anglers a solid, easy-to-operate casting reel. The 8.1:1-geared reel inhales 27 inches of line per turn, making it fast enough to run search baits without the angler breaking a sweat. The carbon-fiber/ceramic drag works perfectly, as does the magnetic casting control. A line memo is built into the handle to remind anglers of the pound test they have spooled up. ($160; quantumfishing.com)
Shimano Curado MGL 150HG
Billed as the “lightest Curado ever,” the 150HG is smooth, like all of its predecessors, due to the attention to manufacturing detail Shimano puts into high-end reels. The tolerances are tight, and the reel is an ergonomic treasure. All of the user interface surfaces have been rounded, and the side plates and extended hood offer a pleasing palming profile that sits comfortably in the hand. ($200; fish.shimano.com)