May 11, 2021
Modern bass fishing has become a game of strength dominated by power techniques and power gear. Today, the best bass anglers in the business grind through water quickly in search of hungry fish willing to bite.
Whether dredging an oversized crankbait to a ledge 30 feet below, rolling a big-bladed, 1-ounce spinnerbait through thick vegetation, bouncing a swim jig off dock pilings or snapping a jerkbait on a frantic cadence, baitcasting gear is called on for the heavy lifting.
In 2020, the global pandemic crippled the international supply chain and complicated getting new gear designed, manufactured, tested and delivered. In spite of these challenges, fishing tackle manufacturers have somehow managed to provide anglers in 2021 with some of the best new baitcasting gear we've seen in decades, much of it designed for power fishing.
In late December the Game & Fish Tackle Test Team took to the water with the latest and greatest new rods and reels, fishing a diverse lineup of bass venues across Florida (eight in all) under a wide variety of conditions. After days of exhaustive testing, here’s how the field shook out.
Tackle Test 2021: Baitcasting Reels
Editor's Choice: LEW'S HYPERMAG SPEED SPOOL
Lew Childre rocked the bass fishing world in 1973 with the introduction of the first low-profile baitcasting reel. His revolutionary design was built by a little-known Japanese bicycle parts house called Shimano. Today, Lew’s manufactures some of the best low-profile baitcasting reels in the business.
Built on Lew's super-low-profile chassis, the extremely compact HyperMag tucks neatly into the hand. This is especially important for those who palm their reel while snapping jerkbaits or twitching topwaters. By being able to palm the reel, the rod’s fulcrum (balance point) is moved forward, thereby lightening the tip.
The HyperMag is lightweight due in part to a one-piece magnesium frame, which offers a rigid base. An oversized 95 mm reflexed carbon-fiber handle with Winn Dri-Tac knobs provides powerful, comfortable cranking power while further reducing weight.
The HyperMag turns with no perceivable friction due to the quality of the main gear machining and 11 double-shielded stainless bearings. A dual-casting-control system allows users to dial up that just-right tension for throwing almost any lure weight with little fear of backlashing.
The four-pin, externally adjustable, 27-position centrifugal braking system and indexed friction control are marvelous. Attention to detail is evident in the edge work on the reel; there are no sharp or distracting surfaces.
The drag (20-pound max) is as smooth as any we tested, with audible indexing on the star. Attention to improving the user’s experience is demonstrated in the flip-out hook keeper and the nifty line poundage indicator. ($299; lews.com)
- Bottom Line: A fantastic high-end baitcaster designed and built with best-of-the-best components and all the bells and whistles.
Great Buy: ABU GARCIA'S ZATA
Finding a great baitcasting reel isn't as difficult as it once was. Most manufacturers make several that are smooth, dependable and visually appealing—and you'll pay handsomely for these. What can be challenging is finding a smooth and dependable baitcasting reel at a friendly price. That’s where the Zata comes in.
Clad in unassuming olive drab green, the Zata is a low-profile, graphite-frame baitcaster that showcases Abu Garcia's 80-year Swedish pedigree for quality and precision. This reel does everything well, performing without hiccups or unforced errors. It’s rated for 110 yards of 12-pound-test line and has a retrieve ratio of 7.1:1.
What's apparent when first handling the Zata is the intentional lack of frills and silly distractions. This is a simple reel, and its engineers invested in its internal performance, not inconsequential bling. The drivetrain, with its 10 bearings plus a roller bearing, is slippery smooth due in part to solid brass gearing. A convenient lube port makes it easy to keep things turning slickly.
The Zata offers both friction and magnetic casting controls. We loved the indexing on the friction control, which allows for micro adjustments to get the reel perfectly dialed in. The carbon disc drag is outstanding and applies equal pressure across a wide range of settings. ($174; abugarcia.com)
- Bottom Line: The Zata offers anglers a rock-solid baitcasting reel with beefy internal components designed for tough fishing conditions and performance over the long haul.
HOW WE TEST
The Game & Fish Tackle Test utilized a comprehensive scoring system to evaluate each rod and reel across numerous criteria. Scores were tallied after each day on the water. Once all the numbers were crunched (and after some heated debate), winners in each category were crowned. The Editor's Choice award is bestowed upon the product in each category with the best overall score, while the Great Buy goes to the products that represent the greatest value.
The test reels were paired with multiple test rods for an across-the-board evaluation using various rod actions. Reels were fished with both braided line (Berkley x9) and fluorocarbon (Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon).
TACKLE TEST SCORECARD
HOW THEY'RE SCORED
Products are scored from 60 to 100 in 10 categories. Those scores are then averaged for a maximum potential overall score of 100.
- CONTROLS: The efficiency and ease of operation of mechanical features.
- DURABILITY: Products receive a median score of 80 unless they fail during testing.
- APPLICABILITY: The degree to which a product is representative of its intended purpose.
- ERGONOMICS: The efficiency and comfort of the product’s man-to-machine interfaces.
- FISHABILITY: How well the product performs under real-world conditions.
- BUILD MATERIALS: The overall quality of the materials and components used in the product.
- CONSTRUCTION: The overall fit-and-finish and build quality.
- AESTHETICS: The degree to which the product is appealing to the eye.
- INNOVATION: The degree to which the product goes above and beyond the "norm" and offers innovative design and/or mechanical features. Products receive a median score of 80 unless they are outstanding or deficient in this category.
- VALUE: The perceived value of the product with regard to its price.
OTHER REELS TESTED
Here's a quick look at the other baitcast reels reviewed by the Tackle Test team.
13 Fishing Concept C2
The Concept is built from carbon fiber, resulting in a wispy, 5.8-ounce overall weight and excellent corrosion resistance. Our 8.3:1 test model gobbled up line on the retrieve and casted exceptionally smoothly. The Concept is a bit longer than most modern baitcasters, making it a good fit for anglers with big hands. ($230; 13fishing.com)
Academy Sports HD Ethos
This store-brand reel delivers quality at a great price. The Ethos features 10 bearings, a carbon-fiber drag (20 pounds) and dual casting controls. A one-piece aluminum frame and oversized handle with large knobs add comfort to excellent performance. ($79; academy.com)
Bass Pro Shops Extreme EMX
The Extreme line has been a BPS mainstay for years, and this one is as smooth as its predecessors and packed with features. A one-piece frame solidifies the reel while a newly designed internal transfer braking system lets anglers dial up the perfect cast. The seven-bearing Extreme holds 120 yards of 12-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon and 150 yards of 30-pound-test braid. ($119; basspro.com)
Daiwa Tatula Elite 100XS
The Tatula Elite was designed and engineered to make long casts. The A7075 machined-aluminum spool is factory set to reduce rotational friction, and Daiwa’s patented T-Wing line management system assists in attaining maximum casting distances. ($239; daiwa.com)
Daiwa Tatula SV
The SV’s advanced casting system combines an ultra-lightweight spool that interacts with the brake system’s magnetic field on the cast. The improved casting control results in smoother and longer casts, especially in tough conditions like windy days or when skipping baits under docks. The SV is low-profile and very easy to palm. ($199; daiwa.com)
Trevor Fitzgerald is best known for designing and building great rods, but his new VLD10 is a formidable baitcasting reel. It features an all-metal frame and 20 pounds of fish-stopping drag. The no-frills design, with its six-way centrifugal braking system adjusts easily. Eleven ball bearings keep tolerances tight at a very reasonable retail price. ($179; fitzgeraldrods.com)
Lew’s KVD LFS
Lew’s developed the KVD LFS in conjunction with Bass Pro Tour angler Kevin VanDam. Machined solid-brass gears are at the heart of the reel, promising years of trouble-free service. Nine stainless steel double-shielded bearings—including a pinion bearing—keep the KVD LFS turning true. Twenty pounds of drag give you the power to pull any size fish from the slop. A bait keeper and lube port round out this Lew’s offering. ($139; lews.com)
Okuma Serrano SRN100-A
The SRN100-A is an economically priced reel with a 6.5:1 gear ratio. The reel retrieves 26.8 inches per turn and has a maximum drag pressure of 11 pounds. A soft golf-grip material on the handle knobs cushion the crank for all-day comfort. Seven bearings are ample for keeping the reel turning smoothly. The Serrano, at its very reasonable retail price, is great for those entering the baitcasting market. ($89; okumafishing.com)
Penn Squall Low Profile
Penn is known for its outstanding big-game saltwater gear. The Squall is the company’s first foray into the low-profile casting reel market, and while it’s designed for saltwater, it’ll do just fine in freshwater. The Squall is a fantastic choice for those who fish for bass and sometimes take their game to brackish venues. ($179; pennfishing.com)
Quantum Invade INV100S
The Invade’s dual cast controls and 6.1:1 gear ratio, along with its very approachable price tag, make it an excellent choice for baitcasting neophytes. The low retrieve ratio (picking up 26 inches per turn) will accommodate techniques that don’t require too much cranking speed, like creeping soft plastics or grinding crankbaits through the depths. ($40; quantumfishing.com)
Shimano SLX MGL 70
For 2021, Shimano adds the MGL 70 to its popular line of SLX baitcasting reels. The MGL 70 is particularly compact, fitting nicely into the palm and making it a good choice for cadence lures like twitch baits and jerkbaits. The proven SVS Infinity Braking System is a nice feature on a budget-priced reel carrying the prestigious Shimano moniker. ($149; fish.shimano.com)
THE TACKLE TEST TEAM
- Dr. Todd A. Kuhn is Game & Fish’s South region editor. He holds a Ph.D. in environmental engineering and has 18 U.S. patents for outdoor gear. He’s been fishing for more than 50 years.
- Capt. Jamie Harris, a fishing tackle gearhead in the truest sense, has been fishing for more than 40 years and guiding for 20 years. He is considered a master of Florida’s St. John’s River and Mosquito Lagoon.
- Ken Duke is a regular contributor to Game & Fish and is the managing editor of Fishing Tackle Retailer. He has authored several books on bass fishing, and his work has appeared in more than 50 publications.
- Lee Sisson is a living legend in the bass fishing world. Working with Bagley Bait Company in the 1970s and ’80s, he created the first deep-diving crankbaits. Sisson qualified for and fished a season on the Bassmaster Elite Series at the age of 62.