Tackle Test 2020: Best Spinning Rods & Reels

Game & Fish went to Lake Picachos, Mexico, to determine the best new spinning gear.

Tackle Test 2020: Best Spinning Rods & Reels

We tested 22 new spinning rods and reels at Lake Picachos, Mexico, in Tackle Test 2020. (Photo by Scott Bernarde)

It was the last piece of “structure” between our boat, the resort dock and lunch. A nondescript twig, peeking not more than an inch above the waterline. I laid down my big swimbait and the baitcaster it was tied to, opting instead for a light-lined spinning combo.

I flicked an unweighted 4-inch fluke, skipping it several feet past the target, snapping it to attention on a crippled baitfish cadence, and then killing it as it limped adjacent to the stick-up. The bait fluttered down to the brush pile below on a slack line. Moments later my line ticked then leaned slightly to the right. I set the hook.

The rod immediately responded, laboring acutely under the weight of a fat fish. The big female bass countered my punchy hookset with an aggressive dive for deep water. My spinning reel’s drag slipped, paying homage to the fish’s determination. After a few minutes of rough-and-tumble give-and-take, the guide hoisted the pudgy 8-pounder into the boat. It was my second “eight” of the morning on spinning gear.

Tackle Test 2020 Spinning
Click here to read about the baitcasting winners in Tackle Test 2020. (Photo by Scott Bernarde)

Spending long days on Mexico’s Lake Picachos, the Game & Fish Tackle Test team evaluated a wide variety of spinning gear under demanding conditions. From pulling heavy fish out of structure to finessing light bites beneath a blazing sun, we gave the latest spinning tackle a workout. Here, we present an in-depth report on how 22 new spinning rods and reels held up during our sessions on the water (we covered baitcasters in the April issue). Offerings for 2020 show that manufacturers have continued to improve on rod and reel designs, lightening them while making them more ergonomically pleasing. We expect this trend will continue, and our experiences on Lake Picachos prove there is no shortage of reasons to be impressed by this year’s spinning gear.


SPINNING REELS

Editors’ Choice: Abu Garcia Revo MGX

The redesigned Abu Garcia Revo MGX was the unanimous Editors’ Choice selection in the spinning reel category. In the ultralight MGX, superior engineering belies a superior product.


A skeletonized rotor and spool anchor the design. The frame and rotor are carbon, offering torsional rigidity while shaving precious ounces off the skinny build. The delightfully balanced complex spins in perfect concert, leaving anglers free to focus on catching fish—not fussing with an unruly reel.

Tackle Test 2020
Lightweight strength, 10+1 bearings and a slick drag made the smooth-casting Abu Garcia Revo MGX a test-team favorite. (Photo by Scott Bernarde)

Ten stainless bearings plus a line-roller bearing keep things turning silky smooth. A stout alloy gear box promises years of trouble-free service while a thoughtfully designed concave spool lip minimizes friction on the cast.

The spool’s intricate machine work, while easily overlooked, results in effortless casts no matter the bait weight or line composition. During out test the MGX threw morsel-sized baits without worry, making this Abu Garcia spinner a great choice for finessers. The multi-disc drag has a large adjustment knob that can be found easily during tough tussles with big fish, and its payout is as slippery as you’ll find on a freshwater reel.

Tackle Test 2020
Tackle Test 2020 Editors’ Choice: Abu Garcia Revo MGX. (Photo by Scott Bernarde)

Attention to design detail is further demonstrated in the carbon handle and the CNC-machined accents on the MGX. The EVA handle knob is comfortable and sized just right. It’s perfect for fishing contact baits like drop-shots or hair jigs.


  • Bottom Line: The MGX will find favor with those anglers who demand the best of their spinning gear and are willing to ante up for that performance. abugarcia.com

Great Buy: Eagle Claw EC2.5

Since the late 1920s, Eagle Claw has built a strong following with its stellar terminal tackle. For 2020, the Denver-based brand introduces a new line of spinning reels destined to be a big hit with the budget-minded crowd. The EC2.5 is an economically priced spinner that delivers big performance.

Reducing unwanted flexure, the graphite chassis is a surprise on a reel that will retail for less than $50, as is the CNC machining throughout. The EC2.5 impressed testers with its ruggedness, withstanding hours of aggressive hooksets on very short lines while working flukes close to cover.

Tackle Test 2020
The Eagle Claw EC2.5 surprised testers with its low price, unyielding performance and lively balance. (Photo by Scott Bernarde)

These jarring sets shock-load the drag, center shaft, anti-reverse, pinion and main gears. All performed without incident—an impressive feat.


The multi-disc drag is micro-indexed, paying out nicely. The EC2.5’s extra-tall drag adjustment knob is an easy grab when hurried by a frenzied battle. We also liked the oversized bail wire, as it was easy on the hands and performed without a hitch.

Tackle Test 2020
Great Buy: Eagle Claw EC2.5. (Photo by Scott Bernarde)

As experienced fishermen know, inexpensive reels rarely balance well. The EC2.5 has a nimble balance, one typically found on much pricier offerings. A nine-plus-one bearing system keeps the reel spinning like a top.

  • Bottom Line: The only complaint we had was the machining on the spool skirt could be a touch tighter, as there was a bit of sharpness there. However, this is inconsequential nit-picking on a reel that performed as well as the EC2.5 while retailing for so little. eagleclaw.com
Tackle Test 2020
Tackle Test 2020 Spinning Reel Scorecard.

See more great spinning reels below

SPINNING RODS

Editors' Choice: Lew's Pro-Ti Speed Stick

Finding a great spinning rod, one with that “just right” feel paired with unparalleled performance, is arguably the holy grail for spinning enthusiasts. The Lew’s Pro-Ti offers anglers as close to the perfect rod for manipulating finesse baits as we’ve found.

The 6-foot-9-inch multi-layered graphite blank utilizes titanium nanotechnology to transfer bait data back to the user with remarkable fidelity. This nearly verbatim transmission of vibration signals is due to the crispness of the blank.

Tackle Test 2020
An incredibly crisp blank, responsive tip and ergonomic grip made the Lew’s Pro-Ti Speed Stick a stand-out. (Photo by Scott Bernarde)

The Winn Dri-Tac grip, one fashioned after the old Tennessee-style grips, is phenomenal—hands down the best in the spinning market. Its unique design completely shrouds the reel foot, letting the angler concentrate on working a finesse bait while minimizing that hand-full-of-reel-seat distraction.

The Pro-Ti blank tapers perfectly to a lively tip that allows bait manipulation with unmatched meticulousness. This ability to direct finesse baits like an artist’s brush leads to more fish in the box when the bite tightens. The stout lower third of the blank hammers hooks home no matter the length of line connecting them to the fish below.

Tackle Test 2020
Editors’ Choice: Lew’s Pro-Ti Speed Stick

We found the rod, rated for 6- to 10-pound-test and lure weights of 1/16- to 3/8-ounce, had a sweet spot falling near the 1/4-ounce point. A premium zirconium guide train rounds out this remarkable stick, offering an icy-slick transfer of line down the blank’s expanse.

  • Bottom Line: The Lew’s Pro-Ti Speed Stick is a must-add rod for avid anglers who enjoy probing the depths with light-lined, micro-finesse baits. lews.com

Great Buy: Shakespeare Ugly Stik Carbon

The Ugly Stik from Shakespeare has been an angling mainstay for decades. It’s affinity for withstanding all but the biggest catastrophes is well-documented. In fact, multiple generations of anglers have fished these rods and enjoyed their rough-and-tumble persona.

Tackle Test 2020
The test team was impressed by not only the Shakespeare Ugly Stik Carbon’s tough build, but also its sensitivity and price.

The new Ugly Stik Carbon is a drastic departure from the old design, however. The new model features a 24-ton-graphite, radially-wrapped, one-piece blank. The blank provides good sensitivity and superior hoop strength without the brittleness found in higher modulus blanks.

Tackle Test 2020
The Carbon’s skeletonized reel seat offers direct access to the rod with the grip hand. (Photo by Scott Bernarde)

Our medium-fast rod was rated for 6- to 12-pound-test; however, we found it fished up to 17-pound monofilament without breaking a sweat. This is due in part to the eight one-piece, single-foot guides that carry oversized Fuji rings. The guides’ large inner diameters accommodate all types of lines, from monofilament and fluorocarbon to braids, without worry, adding to the Carbon’s considerable versatility.

The Carbon’s skeletonized reel seat offers direct access to the rod with the grip hand. This, along with the improved blank, increases sensitivity on a rod previously known exclusively for its nearly indestructible nature. The lure keeper has been pushed up the blank, letting fishermen who opt for a far-forward rod grip to get great purchase without interference from the hook hanger.

  • Bottom Line: With its economical pricing, we are confident the new Ugly Stik Carbon will introduce future generations of anglers to a rod that’s now not only exceptionally tough but also sensitive. uglystik.com
Tackle Test 2020
Tackle Test 2020 Spinning Rod Scorecard.

See more great spinning rods below

Tackle Test 2020
The Game & Fish Tackle Test utilized a comprehensive, nine-criteria matrix for evaluating each rod and reel. (Photo by Scott Bernarde)

Tackle Test 2020 Scoring

The Game & Fish Tackle Test utilized a comprehensive, nine-criteria matrix for evaluating each rod and reel.

Controls: How well casting systems, drags, reel seats, etc. operate. Durability: Products that hold up during the test pass; those that do not are eliminated. Applicability: The product’s usefulness for the type of fishing for which it was designed. Ergonomics: The effectiveness of the product’s man-to-machine interface (i.e., comfort). Fishability: How well the product fishes in real-world conditions. Build Materials: Overall quality of construction. Looks: The degree of the product’s appeal to the eye. Innovation: The presence of new features; only the inclusion of dramatically improved features or materials increases the baseline score of 70. Value: Features and performance compared to retail pricing.

Scores were tallied after each day on the water. Once we crunched the numbers (and after some heated debates), we crowned a winner in each category. The Editors’ Choice award went to the rod and reel with the top score across all criteria; the Great Buy award went to those that provided the greatest value while performing admirably on Lake Picachos.

Tackle Test 2020
Todd Kuhn takes a big Lake Picachos bass on spinning gear. (Photo by Scott Bernarde)

The Reasons Why We Spin

Spinning gear offers bass anglers an invaluable tool for managing light lines and lures. It shines when fishing baits that require a level of precision in presentation that cannot be accomplished with less agile baitcasting combos.

Whirling spinning reels and light- to medium-action rods give anglers the ability to fish dainty baits on low-poundage lines. Baitcasting gear, on the other hand, is designed for power fishing and is simply incapable of casting light lures. On the cast, baitcaster spools must be “pulled” and subsequently rotated by the weight of the bait. As such, light finesse baits do not have enough mass to be cast with levelwind combos.

The open, forward-facing reel spools and lighter-actioned rods that characterize spinning gear propel morsel-sized baits via the spring in the rod. Additionally, spinning gear allows anglers to manage baits via their “educated” arm. That is, they work the baits with their dominant hand.

Conversely, baitcasting gear is typically worked using the off-hand—one typically less coordinated than the dominant hand. This makes casting gear better suited for heavy baits and power presentations, like spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and vibrating bladebaits.

Best of the Rest: Spinning Reels

Tackle Test 2020
(Clockwise from upper left) Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Signature Series, Duckett Paradigm SB3000, Duckett Paradigm SRi2500 and Daiwa KAGE LT.

Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Signature Series

Bass Pro offers great store-brand reels at affordable pricing, and the Signature Series spinner is a noteworthy example. The econo-priced reel has a lightweight rotor, a hollow stainless steel bail wire and a forged, double-anodized aluminum spool. This assembly spins up deftly, exhibiting good balance. A stainless steel main shaft and solid brass pinion gear ensure rugged performance, while 10 bearings keep tolerances tight. The solid aluminum frame eliminates flexure under the load of a big fish. basspro.com

Daiwa KAGE LT

At a mere 6.2 ounces, the KAGE LT immediately stands out for its lightness. However, the design, with its lightened bail and rotor, is also ruggedly built. With a retrieve ratio of 6.2:1, the KAGE is a fast spinning reel, making it a great choice for those deep-water assignments where line take-up matters. The drag shines on the KAGE, paying out smoothly with easy adjustment during battle. daiwa.com

Duckett Paradigm SB3000

Duckett has been designing and building great baitcasting reels for years. The Paradigm series is the company’s first foray into the spinning market, and the SB3000 is the entry-level spinning reel in the lineup. It features a carbon frame—one which is lightweight and strong. The team liked the carbon rotor; its inclusion reduces the reel’s overall weight. The CNC-machined, one-piece handle is a thing of beauty, and the slim EVA knob is particularly comfortable. Anglers should find the SB3000 particularly well suited for finessing when paired with an equally agile rod. duckettfishing.com

Duckett Paradigm SRi2500

The SRi2500 is Duckett’s mid-level spinning reel, one that provides top-notch features at an attractive retail price. The SRi2500 uses carbon fiber for its drag, drag knob and rotor. We liked the advanced materials and the forged one-piece frame, which gave the reel a solid feel. A full 10-bearing system keeps the reel turning on track. A one-way clutch shores up the reel on hooksets, and the drag was one of the best in the field. duckettfishing.com

Tackle Test 2020
(Clockwise from upper left) Lew’s Speed Spin SS20HS, Shimano Stradic FL 2500HG, Zebco Roam 30, and Lew’s Custom Pro Speed Spin TLC2000.

Lew’s Speed Spin SS20HS

The SS20HS is an entry-level-priced reel that fishes like one costing considerably more. It has a 6.2:1 gear ratio, which made it particularly fast (HS stands for High Speed). The snappy retrieve speed lets anglers pull baits through dead water quickly and get back on the cast in short order. The multi-disc drag worked flawlessly—a real surprise on a reel priced at $60. Anglers could purchase several Speed Spin reels to complement their spinning arsenals without taxing their bank accounts. lews.com

Lew’s Custom Pro Speed Spin TLC2000

At just under $130, the TLC2000 offers just about every high-end feature a spinning enthusiast could dream up. A whopping 12 stainless steel bearings anchor the build and keep the internal components rotating soundly. The precision-cut main gear further facilitates the reel’s ability to spin-up buttery. Testers appreciated the comfort offered by the Winn grip knob—another example of the close attention to detail this build exhibits. lews.com

Shimano Stradic FL 2500HG

Arguably, Shimano has been the top producer of spinning reels for a very long time. Part of its reputation for manufacturing great spinners was built on the back of the Stradic lineup. The new FL 2500HG carries on in that tradition. Exceptionally tough, cold-forged gears promise unyielding performance under strenuous conditions. With its fantastic drag, the FL 2500HG will appeal to anglers looking for a crossover reel, one that can be fished in both freshwater and light saltwater applications. fish.shimano.com

Zebco Roam 30

The Roam 30 is an entry-level spinner, and its six-bearing build is designed for those looking for a reel that will get moderate usage. However, the Roam has all-metal gears, a machined aluminum spool and a drag system that will land any bass swimming in North America. The Roam retrieves 28 inches of line per turn, and it comes pre-spooled with 8-pound-test line. It also converts to either left- or right-handed retrieve. zebco.com

Best of the Rest: Spinning Rods

Tackle Test 2020
(From top to bottom) Abu Garcia Veracity, Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Platinum Signature, Daiwa KAGE, Denali Attax and Dobyn’s Xtasy.

Abu Garcia Veracity

Featuring 3M’s Powerlux resin, the Veracity possesses increased blank strength yet remains remarkably lightweight. The 7-foot, medium-fast rod we tested allowed us to retain agility even during long sessions on the water. Its exceedingly crisp, 40-ton blank transmitted bait data back to testers with perfect clarity. The split grip with finger grooves was a great grab when bombing long casts. The Veracity is up to the task for performing just about any finesse technique. abugarcia.com

Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Platinum Signature

The Platinum uses a five-layer lay-up that structurally fortifies the blank, eliminating rotational distortion. End result: a very strong rod. A Fuji SiC guide train manages line flawlessly while the Winn grip offers slip-free performance. Our 7-foot-1-inch, medium-heavy, fast test rod had plenty of backbone, enough to throw the biggest jerkbaits with confidence. A great 10-year warranty rounds out this offering. basspro.com

Daiwa KAGE

The KAGE is devoid of any eye-catching bling and is one of those rods you have to fish to appreciate. A quality blank anchors the build, providing great sensitivity and a robust overall feel. The full-length cork handle offsets the reel weight, adding to this rod’s good balance. Our 7-footer was rated for 1/8- to 3/4-ounce baits, and it fished the range competently. Eight guides managed both clear lines and braids without any hiccups. A 5-year limited warranty will put anglers’ minds at ease. daiwa.com

Denali Attax

At 7 feet long and rated moderate, the Attax was the most eye-catching rod in the test. The radially wrapped butt section has plenty of backbone, which will let anglers get on top of aggressive hooksets. The long, 14 3/4-inch handle is specifically designed for two-handed casts. Rated for 1/8- to 5/8-ounce baits, the Attax can throw heavier offerings than most other similarly sized spinning rods. The Winn synthetic grip adds to user comfort. denalirods.com

Dobyn’s Xtasy

The entire team was impressed by the Xtasy’s hand-laid Japanese Toray blank, which is a masterpiece of rod building and casts light baits like bullets. Its polyacrylonitrile-based carbon-fiber pre-preg has an incredible strength-to-weight ratio and is often used in building aircraft. Kevlar guide and rod wraps bolster that strength. Key to finesse fishing, the AAAA-grade cork handle transmits the softest of bites. While the Xtasy will cost you a king’s ransom, it is well worth the outlay. dobynsrods.com

Tackle Test 2020
(From top to bottom) Duckett Incite, Eagle Claw EC2.5, G. Loomis IMX-Pro, St. Croix Avid-X, and 13 Fishing Omen Black.

Duckett Incite

Boyd Duckett, 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion, has been designing and building quality rods for a number of years. His Incite features proprietary Kigan Artus ring-lock guides with braid-proof inserts. Finished in the distinctive Duckett color scheme of stark white with purple accents, the Incite has a nice balance and featherlight feel. Our test rod, at 7 feet, is great for fishing bigger drop-shot rigs. The EVA handle is rugged and designed for years of trouble-free service. duckettfishing.com

Eagle Claw EC2.5

Eagle Claw is a household name among anglers; almost everyone has fished thecompany’s gear at some point. Those looking for an all-purpose rod, one that will cover the majority of spinning techniques, will find appeal in the 7-foot EC2.5. Rated for 6- to 12-pound-test lines and 1/8- to 1/2-ounce baits, the EC2.5 demonstrated a rather wide bait-weight sweet spot. The extra-long cork handle and reel seat are very comfortable, perfect for all-day casting sessions. At $70, this rod is also a good deal. eagleclaw.com

G. Loomis IMX-Pro

The subdued appearance of the IMX-Pro may not catch anglers’ eyes, but once they cast the rod, the inner beauty of its design will immediately become apparent. A precisely tapered blank facilitates graceful, accurate casts with relatively light baits. With its medium action rating, the IMX-Pro is designed for 6- to 12-pound-test and lure weights of 1/8 to 3/8 ounce. It fishes this range with confidence and comfort. The handle is one of the best in the industry, melding naturally with the hand. gloomis.com

St. Croix Avid-X

Here’s a high-end, rock-solid build designed to endure many seasons. The Avid-X features St. Croix’s proven SCIII graphite blank, cork split-grip handle and Kigan advanced micro guides. Rated for 6- to 12-pound-test line and 3/16- to 5/8-ounce baits, the Avid-X is capable of throwing a wide variety of lure weights. The extra-fast action loads efficiently even with light baits, making it one of the best spinning rods we tested for fishing itty-bitty plastics. stcroixrods.com

13 Fishing Omen Black

Our 7-foot-1-inch test rod had medium-power and fast-action ratings. Those, plus the extra inch in length, make the Omen Black a good choice for twitch-style search baits, as anglers can deliver them on extra-long casts with relative ease. Testers noted the 12-count guide train provides great blank flexure, and they liked the clean reel seat. 13fishing.com

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