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Tackle Test 2021: Best New Baitcasting Rods Reviewed

Which rods were the Editor's Choice and Great Buy winners in Game & Fish's annual fishing gear reviews?

Tackle Test 2021: Best New Baitcasting Rods Reviewed

Once on-the-water testing and scoring was complete, the Tackle Test team engaged in spirited debate about the merits of the various rods and reels. (Photo by Brian Carlson)

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.

Here's what the team concluded after taking 19 baitcasting rods through on-the-water testing.

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Our Tackle Test team hit multiple lakes around central Florida in an effort to evaluate several rod-and-reel combinations. (Photo by Brian Carlson)

Tackle Test 2021: Baitcasting Rods

Editor's Choice: DAIWA REBELLION

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The Daiwa Rebellion's blank has a high carbon-to-resin ratio, making it exceptionally lightweight and sensitive. (Photo by Brian Carlson)

What separates the Rebellion from the field is its build, which features a bi-directional cross-weave carbon lay-up. The 45-
degree bias construction does several things. Most notably, it minimizes rotational torque (twisting) during casts and on hooksets. By eliminating unwanted torque, the rod blank is mechanically more efficient, transferring more of its loaded kinetic energy to the bait on casts and to the fish during hooksets.

The Rebellion uses dramatically more carbon fiber than resin. In traditional lay-ups, resin occupies more blank space, thereby dulling vibration and muting the blank's crispness. By reducing resin and increasing carbon fiber, the rod is rendered lighter while increasing its sensitivity.


A carbon-fiber handle and reel seat further enhance the Rebellion's ability to direct bait data back to the user since their composition is the same as that of the rod blank, maximizing vibration transmission by matching material frequencies.


The finish work on the Rebellion (rated for 3/16- to 1-ounce lures and 8- to 16-pound-test line) is second to none. The CNC machining on the aluminum reel seat nut, the winding check and the split grip accoutrements are exceptional, as is the wrap work on the guides.

Three double-footed guides (the stripper and the two above it) provide stiffness to the butt section and establish a strong line-management core, while five single-foot guides plus tip complete the transition team. Large guide diameters are great for monofilaments, fluorocarbons and superlines alike.

The EVA split grip's taper is ergonomically spot-on, fitting the range of our testers' hand sizes without complaint. The butt is slender—just right for getting two hands on top of extra-long casts. ($199; daiwa.com)

  • Bottom Line: You can't help but be impressed with this rod's build quality. The Rebellion will excel at managing a wide range of lures, including spinnerbaits, jigs and vibrating jigs, and worms.

Great Buy: DOBYNS KADEN SERIES

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The Dobyns Kaden is an excellent general-purpose rod with a lively tip and a stiff butt section for winching bass out of cover. (Photo by Brian Carlson)

Gary Dobyns has designed and built incredible fishing rods at affordable prices for years, and the new Kaden Series is the latest example of his design genius. The Kaden KD713C is a 7-foot, 1-inch medium-heavy, fast-action rod rated for 10- to 17-pound-test line and lure weights of 1/4 to 3/4 ounce.




The matte blank is radially wrapped for its entire length, with nine Sea Guide XO guides and a Kevlar-wrapped tip. A 10-inch split grip with AA-grade Portuguese cork and Fuji reel seat anchor the Kaden's aft end.

The Kaden has enough balance for one-handed presentations and a comfortable handle for powering out long, two-handed casts. This agility is due in part to the large-circumference cork grip and the rod’s slight rearward balance, offering the angler a mechanical advantage.

The Kaden's casting ability can be credited to its delightful first 8 inches of tip, which makes flicking casts around tight cover a treat. A stiff butt section offers the backbone needed to convince big fish to surrender from thick cover.


The KD713C is recommended for flukes, jigs, stick worms, spinnerbaits and Texas rigs; however, we found it excelled as a general-purpose rod. The high-modulus blank transmits bait information back to the user with excellent fidelity, making this a great choice for bottom baits (worms, jigs, etc.) where an angler’s touch with the rod is critical. ($169; dobynsrods.com)

  • Bottom Line: The Kaden is a unique mix of sensitivity and ruggedness that promises anglers years of outstanding performance with a wide variety of baits.
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Lee Sisson gives a test rod a once-over after landing a Lake Rochelle largemouth. (Photo by Brian Carlson)

HOW WE TESTED

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. Test rods were equipped with Abu Garcia Revo S (REVO04 S-HS) reels with a 7.3:1 retrieve ratio for an apples-to-apples comparison.

TACKLE TEST SCORECARD

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Tackle Test 2021 baitcast rods

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 RODS TESTED

Abu Garcia Veritas PLX

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Abu Garcia Veritas PLX

The Veritas, with its distinctive bright white paint job, is delightfully lightweight, with a great reel seat and handle. The 3M Powerlux 100 blank is particularly sensitive for an econo-priced rod. A high-modulus blank matched with advanced resin blends lend to the rod’s performance. The medium-heavy action will manage baits up to a full ounce without hiccups. ($99; abugarcia.com)

Academy H2O XPRESS Tac-40

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Academy H2O XPRESS Tac-40

This top-of-the-line store brand baitcasting rod is particularly lightweight, with an all-carbon, monocoque split-grip handle. Rated as having a fast action and medium-heavy power, the 7-foot-1 rod will appeal to anglers who like fishing stick worms on casting gear. ($129; academy.com)

Denali Ryker Series

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Denali Ryker Series

The Ryker from Denali is a value-priced, fast-action casting rod sure to find favor with many. An IM6 graphite blank anchors the build, with 9 Duraloc Guides and an EVA spilt grip. The reel seat is dramatically scalloped for maximum exposure to the blank. The rod has a handsome two-tone paint job and is rated for 15- to 25-pound test line. ($59; denalirods.com)

Favorite Absolute

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Favorite Absolute

The Absolute offers cost-conscious fishermen a fantastic power-fishing rod at a great price and is equipped with features found on more expensive rods. The medium-heavy action will manage baits from 1/4 to 3/4 ounce without a whimper, while looking good in a candy red finish. ($79; favoriteusa.com)

Favorite Defender

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Favorite Defender

Another priced-right offering from Favorite, the Defender offers a lightweight platform with a great grip and action. The medium-heavy rod, with its "In God We Trust" flag motif, fishes baits up to 1 ounce, with its sweet-spot falling between 3/8 and 1/2 ounce. ($99; favoriteusa.com)

Fenwick Eagle

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Fenwick Eagle

Fenwick has been building quality rods for decades, and the Eagle series continues that tradition at a very reasonable price. The attractive package features a full-length cork handle for long, two-handed casts. A blank-through handle lets anglers monitor their baits with superior sensitivity. ($69; purefishing.com)

Googan Squad Gold Series Go-To

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Googan Squad Gold Series Go-To

The Googan Gold features a high-quality 30/40 graphite blank and guides with ceramic inserts for excellent sensitivity. The blank is also quite responsive and great for powerful hooksets. A racy handle with premium cork inlays makes one-handed casts a breeze. ($149; googansquad.com)

Googan Squad Green Series Go-To

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Googan Squad Green Series Go-To

The Googan Green is a general-purpose casting rod that is at home with spinnerbaits, vibrating jigs, hard baits and any number of soft plastics (rated for 3/8- to 3/4-ounce lures and 12- to 17-pound-test mono or fluoro). The medium-heavy, fast-action rod casts nicely and is quite comfortable. ($99; googansquad.com)

HALO KS Elite II

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HALO KS Elite II

The KS Elite II, at 6-foot-10, is a capable casting rod. Testers felt it was perfectly suited for stick worms, small jigs, tubes, twitch baits and small- to medium-sized crankbaits (it's rated for 1/16- to 1/2-ounce lures). The AAA-grade cork handle fits just right for one-handed casts. ($169; americanbaitworks.com)

HALO XD III Pro

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HALO XD III Pro

The XD III Pro features a larger-diameter blank, yet is surprisingly lightweight. The butt section offers plenty of backbone for power baits (rated for 1/4 to 3/4 ounce), like big Texas-rigged worms, jigs with trailers, spinnerbaits and vibrating jigs, while remaining quite sensitive. ($99; americanbaitworks.com)

Impulse Gen 2

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Impulse Gen 2

Impulse rods are made in America and feature high-quality Toray graphite blanks. The Gen 2 has a skeletonized handle, which maximizes angler contact with the blank. Its Sea Guides (316 SS frames and zirconium rings) make it a treat to cast and fish. ($239; impulserods.com)

Jenko DCVR High Roller

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Jenko DCVR High Roller

The Jenko High Roller was one of the test’s most pleasant surprises. The red blank with blue wrappings may not appeal to everyone, but this is a fantastic rod that’s balanced perfectly and a lot of fun to fish. It has a great grip and quality components throughout. ($199; jenkofishing.com)

Kistler Graphite

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Kistler Graphite

Trey Kistler is known for producing pricey, high-performance bass rods. His Kistler Graphite rod is a departure from the “pricey” part of this business model. The Graphite has stainless Kigan semi-conventional guides, a 24-ton graphite blank that is extremely light, a Fuji carbon reel seat, an EVA split grip and exceptional feel. ($150; kistlerrods.com)

Megabass Destroyer The Dark Sleeper

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Megabass Destroyer The Dark Sleeper

The Dark Sleeper is designed to cater to the most demanding bass fishermen for whom price is a non-factor. The blank is ridiculously sensitive and the machine work on the reel seat is pure artistry. With its near-perfect balance, this rod is simply delightful to fish. ($475; megabass.com)

St. Croix Legend Xtreme Series

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St. Croix Legend Xtreme Series

While some may balk at the price, the Xtreme will flat out help you catch more fish with its unrivaled mechanical efficiency. There is no shake or shimmy whatsoever in the rod blank following the cast, demonstrating near-perfect mechanical transfer of loaded blank energy to the cast lure. This lightweight caster has a solid handle, which transfers vibration verbatim to the user. The Legend Xtreme series is hand-built in the U.S.A. and carries a 15-year transferable warranty. ($630; stcroixrods.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.

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