June 08, 2022
The Game & Fish Tackle Test team put these new spinning rods and reels up against Florida largemouth bass at Bienville Outdoors. Here's how each rod and reel performed.
Tackle Test 2022 Winners
Editor’s Choice Spinning Reel: Duckett Paradigm SS3000
The Duckett Paradigm is something of an outlier in this field in that it is designed for saltwater use. However, it more than holds its own against bass, and with components designed to withstand the rigors of the salt, the Paradigm ($149; duckettfishing.com) will be a favorite among bass fishermen who also chase inshore species like redfish and seatrout.
This is a decidedly rugged build, more so than most ultra-lightweight spinning reels. It features a forged aluminum frame that is devoid of any flex.
A cold-forged, CNC-machined aluminum spool with an amazing 420-yard capacity (20-pound test) is standard. With such a generous payload, bass anglers will want to back their SS3000 with cheap monofilament, then top it off with their favorite braid or clear line.
Ten sealed Japanese stainless bearings keep the Duckett turning effortlessly and without any rotor slop. An oversized drag knob is easily manipulated during the heat of the fight—a must-have when battling salty foes. The carbon-fiber drag has a wide range, with a solid low-end for bass and a stout top end for the salt.
The reel’s chassis is sealed to keep the nasties out of the gear complex. A cold-forged, CNC-machined handle and large EVA knob, which is easy to find after the cast, provide excellent cranking power.
Bottom Line: The Paradigm offers high-end performance at a great price and is a highly capable crossover reel.
Editor’s Choice Spinning Rod: G.Loomis GCX
For decades, the G.Loomis name has been synonymous with top-level quality and attention to detail, and the brand’s new GCX rods, handcrafted in Woodland, Wash., continue that trend.
The GCX lineup comprises 23 different casting and spinning models, each intended for a specific technique. Our 7-foot-1-inch extra-fast rod ($250; gloomis.com) was designed for jigs and worms, and features an understated look, with clean lines and a simplicity of design that many anglers will appreciate.
The first thing we noticed when fishing the GCX was its cozy feel. An oversized cork foregrip wraps around the reel seat, offering a large area to grab while either casting or exercising baits. The dense cork adds to the rod’s sensitivity, enabling anglers to discern subtle worm bites. The rearward positioning of the reel seat helps keep the foregrip uncluttered, accommodating any number of handholds.
Rated for 1/8- to 3/8-ounce lures, the jig-and-worm spinner, with its stiff lower section, offers plenty of leverage for solid hooksets. In fact, we fished fat, 7-inch worms with 5/0 hooks and had no issue driving the heavy-gauge hardware home. An 8-guide train managed line duties without any hiccups. Interestingly, the top five guides are positioned rather closely together, allowing the rod’s blank to load efficiently with light baits and transfer energy down the blank to its midsection when applying hooksets.
Bottom Line: The GCX is a finely crafted fishing machine that will provide years of dependable service under the harshest of conditions and use.
Great Buy Spinning Reel: Dobyns Maverick 2000
The Maverick line is Gary Dobyns’ first foray into the reel market. Typically, it takes a new manufacturer several years to get its designs and manufacturing right, but the Maverick ($100; dobynsrods.com) bucks that trend. This little workhorse checks all the boxes right out of the gate.
The 2000-series reel, with its 5.2:1 retrieve, is an ergonomic delight. All the external edges have been rounded, the wide reel stem offers a comfy man-to-machine interface and the EVA handle paddle is sized right and an easy grab.
A beefy bail promises durability against harsh use. Meanwhile, the reel’s internal articulating surfaces turn smoothly on 6+1 bearings. Oddly enough, the Maverick, given its low retail price, was one of the silkiest spinning reels in the test—a testament to the level of thoughtful engineering and quality of manufacture.
The line capacities are laser-etched on the upper spool lip, making them readily available when re-spooling. The graphite reel chassis is perhaps the stiffest we’ve ever tested, and the spool is non-descript but functional. The drag has enough power to stop big bass in a hurry, and the drag knob is large and protrudes above the spool, making it easy to find in the heat of battle.
The Maverick converts from right- to left-handed retrieve and holds 130 yards of 12-pound-test line. It’s available with red, blue or green color accents to coordinate with your favorite spinning rod.
Bottom line: Buy a couple of these before word gets out and Dobyns raises the price by $100.
Great Buy Spinning Rod: Dobyns Maverick
There are five spinning rods in the Maverick series, each designed for a specific technique. Test team members felt our 7-foot medium-fast action rod was best suited for stick-style soft plastics, whether weighted or unweighted, and shaky heads. The Maverick exceled at handling finesse baits down to the rated 3/16 ounce; the wispy tip loaded nicely and motivated lightweight lures without a whimper.
The radially wrapped blank offered plenty of flexure—the kind needed when fishing light lines and light baits. The rod is rated for 8- to 17-pound test-line, and we felt the rod’s sweet spot is in the 10- to 14-pound range.
The budget-priced Maverick ($100; dobynsrods.com) features quality SeaGuide guides that are lashed with Kevlar and finished with a generous coat of resin applied to the wraps.
The satin finish of the rod blank is a smart feature that will be appreciated by finesse fishermen who spend all day staring at their rod tip and line, especially on sunny days.
The abbreviated 11-inch split grip, made of high-density EVA foam, makes this rod fish longer than its 7-foot length. The short handle puts the majority of the working blank out front, which is key for light baits and precise presentations.
An aft-positioned hook keeper is nice for hanging lures and stays out of the way for finesse anglers who like to choke up on the rod blank for extra sensitivity when fishing light baits deep.
Bottom Line: A super rod that fishes finesse baits as well as any spinner out there—but at a very palatable price.
Read more Tackle Test reviews:
13 Fishing Envy Black
The Envy Black is a beautiful spinning rod. Our 6-foot-9-inch spinner was one of the two lightest spinning rods we tested (Abu Garcia’s Zenon being the other). Every component is top-notch, from the 46-ton Japanese Toray graphite blank to the beefy, single-foot Fuji K-Series guides with Alconite inserts. The reel seat is genius, with the fore and aft portions mating seamlessly when the reel is mounted to form a solid grip surface. While the price is substantial, a 10-year limited warranty should help take a bit of the sting out of it. ($325; 13fishing.com)
Abu Garcia Fantasista X
The Fantasista X shares the Fuji reel seat and handle assembly of the higher-priced Zenon spinning rod, but with an EVA foregrip instead of carbon. The guide train is titanium alloy with zirconia inserts. The Fantasista fishes nimbly, with a delightful balance in part due to the lightness of the blank. ($330; abugarcia.com)
Abu Garcia Vendetta
The Vendetta series is Abu Garcia’s economy-performance line. The spinner features a rugged 30-ton multidirectional blank. The 30-ton rating means it will be sensitive without being so brittle that it breaks easily. The Vendetta has a stiff butt section that makes sharp hooksets possible. The Vendetta will find favor with those who like to fish weightless soft plastics (think flukes and wacky worms) and other light baits on spinning gear. ($80; abugarcia.com)
Abu Garcia Zenon
Like it’s casting counterpart, the Zenon spinning rod is built using the 3M Powerlux 1000 resin. Premium carbon blanks and this advanced resin results in a spinning rod that is incredibly lightweight and sensitive. The Zenon is built for the feel, with a grip hump, four large cutouts in the reel seat and a carbon foregrip. Combined, these features offer the angler unprecedented access to the blank for staying in-tune with the lure. ($430; abugarcia.com)
Cashion ICON John Crews
Cashion builds all of its rods in its U.S. factory, including its in-house formulated blanks. This 7-foot-4-inch rod is designed to throw a wide variety of bait weights (weightless to 1/2 ounce). American Tackle Microwave guides manage the line. The blank has plenty of flexure as one might expect, being that it’s designed specifically for drop-shotting with mosquito hooks. A hard, webbing-wrapped handle offers excellent sensitivity and a unique, custom look. ($245; cashionrods.com)
Duckett Jacob Wheeler Pro
This medium-power spinning rod is one half of the Duckett Jacob Wheeler Freshwater Spinning Rod and Reel Combo. The eye-catching spinning rod has eight guides and a general parabolic bend; that is, the blank bends from tip to butt. This translates into a rod that will easily throw most bass baits across a wide range of weights. The rod is built ruggedly, seemingly designed for the bumps and bruises most beginners dish out. ($100 for the combo; academy.com)
Favorite B.Lat Sick Stick
Designed by MLF pro Brian Latimer, the Sick Stick has a 24-ton blank with a unique solid tip. This blank configuration offers dramatic flexure without fear of breakage. The solid tip adds mass to the end of the rod, loading for long casts even when throwing light baits like small hair jigs. A long foregrip offers significant hand-forward purchase. The short rearward split grip lets users work baits with precision with an out-front rod balance. ($130; favoriteusa.com)
The HFX features a high-end Japanese Toray graphite blank. We were impressed with the tough single-foot, stainless steel guides (with zirconia inserts), which work well with either braid or clear lines. The reel seat features a comingled EVA/synthetic cork material formed into a comfortable, full-length split grip. Rated for lure weights of 1/8 to 5/8 ounce, and 6- to 14-pound-test lines, the HFX performed best with baits from 1/8 to 3/8 ounce, which is right in the sweet spot of most spinning applications. ($150; americanbaitworks.com)
Kistler KLX Dropshot
Hand-built in Texas, the KLX features a KC8 100 percent carbon-fiber blank laid up at a 45-degree angle for added strength. Its medium-light power is designed specifically for finesse applications like Ned-rigging, weightless wacky-worming and, as its name implies, drop-shotting. This rod fishes considerably longer than its 7-foot length (due to the taper profile) and is a capable caster even with aerodynamically awkward baits like hair jigs. We liked the full-size guides, which add to the rod’s casting ability. ($300; kistlerrods.com)
Lew’s Signature Series Mark Zona
The 7-foot-2-inch Lew’s Signature Series Mark Zona Tube Crackin’ Special is designed for fishing tubes, though we felt, given its length, the rod would accommodate many more spinning applications. The extra-fast action will throw most any soft plastic. Winn Dri-Tac grip material covers the entire handle, including a reel seat hump, which testers felt was an oddity and a distraction. A noticeably short split grip allows users to work the rod much like a casting rod when finessing baits. ($190; lews.com).
St. Croix Victory
St. Croix builds as solid a rod as you’ll find, using technologies the company has perfected over decades, and the 7-foot-1-inch Victory is no exception. With its medium-heavy power, 6- to 20-pound-test line rating and 3/8- to 3/4-ounce bait weight range, it will throw heavy baits that overload other spinners. The rod fishes heavy Texas-rigged worms without breaking a sweat, offering bass anglers an alternative to baitcasting gear. A fantastic 15-year transferrable warranty backs up the Victory’s performance. ($190; stcroixrods.com).
Abu Garcia Jordan Lee
The Jordan Lee spinning reel is built ruggedly, with its aluminum frame and beefy handle assembly. The distinctive yellow knob has a nice tack, remaining grabby even when wet. A structurally sound bail promises to take all the abuse anglers can heap on it. An adjustable side-mounted hook hanger is perfect for those who fish finesse baits. The radically tapered spool lip angle allows line to flow nicely on the cast, adding dramatically to casting distance. ($100; purefishing.com)
Duckett Jacob Wheeler JW2500
The Duckett JW2500 spinning reel comes paired with the Jacob Wheeler Pro spinning rod. The red-white-and-blue reel is equipped with a 5.3:1 retrieve ratio and has a 160-yard capacity of 10-pound test braid. The reel presents a bit smaller profile (hence the 2500 in the name), offering fishermen a compact workhorse. We felt the combo would be well-suited for beginners and weekend warriors not looking to invest a lot in their gear. ($100 for the combo; academy.com)
Kistler Series 1
Known for building great rods, Trey Kistler also has a knack for producing excellent reels. His Series 1 spinning reel is a stout build, and its solid, one-piece aluminum frame is as flex-free a spinning frame as you’ll find. The handle is beefy, too, and features an oversized paddle. The machined rotor is substantive, with a solid-brass line roller. The short, wide-diameter spool lets line flow smoothly for extra-long casts. ($150; kistlerrods.com)
Lew’s HyperMag Speed Spin
The first thing we noticed when handling the 11-bearing HyperMag Speed Spin was its extended handle that offers a long lever for quick line take-up. This feature will appeal to those who like throwing jerkbaits on spinning gear. An extra-long Winn knob is an easy grab and soft to the touch. A convex, phenolic disk is mounted to the drag knob, offering a large surface for drag payout. ($180; lews.com)
Penn Pursuit IV
The folks at Penn are known for making great saltwater rods and reels. Their 6.2:1 retrieve ratio Pursuit IV will appeal with anglers looking for a crossover spinner at a ridiculously inexpensive price. The reel has a very large handle that’s great for battling redfish and big bass alike. Salt armoring and five sealed bearings protect against corrosion. The machined spool holds an impressive 240 yards of braid—plenty of line length for wearing down inshore fish. ($60; pennfishing.com)
Pflueger Supreme XT
The XT is quite light (9.6 ounces) and has a pleasing look. Managing the line is a skeletonized, CNC-machined aluminum spool with a magnesium rotor and main frame. A sealed, 10-bearing system keeps the reel turning smoothly as it remains lubricated throughout its service life. The carbon handle, with its over-the-top machining, exhibits this reel’s attention to construction detail. ($170; purefishing.com)
Quantum Smoke X
The Smoke is Quantum’s flagship line of spinning reels. Our test reel (25 series) featured a fast 6:1 retrieve ratio. This makes it a great reel for long-line techniques, like deep drop-shotting, where a quick retrieve of lots of line is required. The titanium bail wire is quite flexible, promising damage-free performance. The Smoke X weighs 8.3 ounces with 8+1 bearings. ($160; quantumfishing.com)
Shimano Ultegra 2500HG
Shimano packs a great number of high-end features into an arguably budget-priced spinner with its Ultegra 2500 HG. The sleek package is assembled on a composite frame. The cold-forged main gear is tough and promises years of service. The spool is machined and shows a level of detail not seen on reels priced under $200. Testers found the drag particularly good, managing payout duties easily. ($150; fish.shimano.com)