Moderated by banker-always fishing, chickenman, Derek 🐝, Duck_Hunter, Fish Killer, J-2, Jacob, Jons3825, NoconaBrian, Rockie Martin, Toontroller, Uncle Zeek, Weekender
Old 18 offers two warranty options for each rod series:
- Manufacturer’s Defect warranty
- Non-fishing Accident Replacement warranty
The length of each warranty varies by rod series, as follows:
Rod Series Manufacturer’s Defect Non-fishing Accident Replacement
Ambush 1 year 1 year
Tracer 1 year 1 year
Hollow Point 1 year 1 year
Aerius 2 years 2 years
Suppressor 2 years 2 years
Manufacturer’s Defect Warranty
We cover damage that occurs during normal fishing activities, or conditions, for craftsmanship or material defects. Rods that qualify under this warranty will be replaced free of charge. NOTE: We warranty the product, not the shipping.
Non-fishing Accident Replacement Warranty
Accidents happen, and we do not like our customers to be disappointed. We realize that not everyone is ready to invest in another full-price rod, so Old 18 offers a replacement program. This warranty is for rod damages not covered under the manufacturer’s defect warranty due to non-fishing activities or rods evaluated as special circumstances. We only require a one-time payment for a replacement (plus return shipping costs). Here is the cost of replacement for each rod series:
Rod Series One-time Cost Return Shipping
Tracer $65 Your Cost
New Ambush $80 Your Cost
Hollow Point $90 Your Cost
Aerius $140 Your Cost
Suppressor $150 Your Cost
- If we no longer sell the model you are replacing, we will offer you the most comparable current model.
- For those who make an Accident Replacement claim on the older Ambush series (gray blank), Old 18 will give you a credit to be used towards any rod purchased at retail price. The credit cannot be combined with any sales or coupons. The credit amount will be based on your original purchase price:
Your Purchase Price Your Credit
$60 or more $60
Less than $60 Your Original Purchase Price
All warranty claims must meet the following requirements:
- The claimant must be the original owner.
- Proof of purchase is required.
- The customer is required to pay for return shipping costs to our facility.
- We do not cover broken rod guides when shipping is involved. However, a local shop can repair guides for less than the cost of return shipping.
- Upon receiving the rod, we will perform an internal inspection to verify the claim.
We strive to contact the claimant within ten business days after receipt of your rod.
To initiate the claim, please complete the form at https://old18.com/warranty-form/. Please ship the damaged rod to the following address:
Old 18 Outfitters
Attn: Rod Warranty Dept
331 Corporate Woods Dr, Ste D2
Magnolia, TX 77354
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The Best Fishing Rod and Reel
Why you should trust me
I’m a United States Coast Guard–certified master captain, and I have been fishing since I could walk. I grew up working on charter boats in and around Long Island Sound, and reliable fishing gear has been paramount not only to my profession but also to my life. Having fished on a budget in settings as varied and diverse as the spring brooks of the Adirondack Mountains, the brown sludge that is the Hudson River, and the emerald coastal waters of New Zealand, I can say that a careful selection of the most durable all-around tackle has been essential to me.
To supplement my own expertise, I enlisted the help of veteran spinning-reel reviewer Alan Hawk, and also consulted Salt Water Sportsman contributing editor and Discovery Channel television host George Poveromo on what would be the ideal spinning-rod-and-reel setup for a casual fisher.
Who this is for
Like most fishers, I’m not able to carry, store, or afford a different rod and reel for every species of fish or method of fishing. So I picked an affordable, high-quality spinning-rod-and-reel combo that can work in as many fishing conditions and settings as possible—including saltwater and freshwater. This spinning-rod-and-reel setup is approachable enough for a novice to learn on, yet it performs well enough for a seasoned veteran to depend on.
In researching and testing, I prioritized attributes such as durability and build quality—features that anyone, regardless of skill level and intended use, can appreciate—over more specialized features such as multiple-geared reels for using live bait or especially stiff rods that can handle big fish but not smaller ones.
This spinning-rod-and-reel setup is approachable enough for a novice to learn on, yet it performs well enough for a seasoned veteran to depend on.
At the sub-$200 level, our selection for both a rod and a reel represents the most affordable but still reliable pairing we could recommend. You could easily spend $2,000 on a fishing rod if you’d like something ultralightweight or designed for a specific species you’re targeting, but our pick will get the job done almost as well (if not just as well) most of the time. Similarly, you could go cheaper, but then you’d give up reliability.
If you’re more experienced and looking for a specific rod and reel, apart from the size of the fish you’re targeting, you’ll also have to take into account what kind of fishing you’ll be doing: Will you be casting artificial lures (objects designed to look like fish or other prey with a hook attached), or using bait (smaller fish, worms, or other natural prey, either alive or dead)? Most lure fishers will want a stiffer rod composed of graphite (or mostly graphite) so that they can “work” a jig or plug to imitate the movements of prey, while bait fishers might seek out a rod that’s a little looser or more sensitive, so as to detect the slightest strike. Our rod recommendation can do both things decently, but if you know you’ll be doing only one or the other, you should look into a more specialized setup.
How we picked
First off, I had to decide what kind of rod and reel we would focus on, which was an easy choice—if you’re going to own only one fishing rod and reel, a spinning-rod-and-reel setup is the most versatile and the easiest to use.
Compared with a baitcasting or fly-fishing setup, a spinning setup is more comfortable to use and is usually easier to repair; it also requires less finesse to cast. Think of it as the “automatic transmission” version of a fishing rod and reel. If you’re starting from nothing, a spinning outfit offers the highest chance of success. If you’re a beginner, it’s much easier to pick up than either of the other options, and it’s far less likely to become tangled than a baitcasting setup.
Key features of a fishing rod
In my 20-plus years of fishing, I’ve come to learn that when you’re shopping for fishing rods—as for any tool—paying a little attention to a few key features can be telling before you even pick up one. The rod’s material, flexibility, sensitivity, and line-guide construction all make a difference in how well the rod will perform and last.
As mentioned previously, bait-hucking fishers will want something that’s more sensitive and flexible, while lure fishers will want something stiffer (known as “fast action” in fishing jargon). Most rods are made out of fiberglass, graphite, or a mixture of both. The more graphite in a rod, the lighter and stiffer it is, but such rods are also more brittle, so you wouldn’t want to hand one to a 3-year-old. Fiberglass is heavier but more flexible (“slow action”) and nearly impossible to break. For a beginner or an all-around angler, a combination of both materials offers the most versatile package: It gives you enough stiffness to adequately manipulate a lure, while maintaining enough sensitivity for detecting small bites.
The next most important specification you’ll want to consider is the material that makes up the guides—the loops that lead, or guide, the line from the reel to the tip (the skinny end) of the fishing rod. Lower-end fishing rods (and many higher-end ones, too) usually feature guides made of either thin stainless steel or aluminum oxide (ceramic) frames holding cheap ceramic O-ring inserts (rings designed to protect the insides of the guides and prevent line wear) that chip or corrode, and eventually fail.
Additionally, the more pieces that make up the guide, the more pieces with the potential to fall apart. A design with more pieces means more jointing and fastening, which usually requires glue. Since fishing rods are often exposed to sun, salt, sand, dirt, fish parts, and general wear and tear, glue is simply less than ideal (as is plastic); a single piece of relatively rustproof metal is incomparably sturdier.
More expensive (and usually sturdier) guides include inserts made of higher-quality materials such as silicon carbide (SiC) or titanium-framed silicon carbide (TiSiC), which are usually affixed to rods built for performance (longer casting and lighter weight). While these materials are not necessarily stronger than stainless steel or lined aluminum oxide, they are higher-performance materials, and a lot more expensive. You start seeing these only on rods in the $150 range, as opposed to the $40 to $50 range, so they’re beyond the budget of most casual anglers. Also, most anglers won’t even notice the difference—I find that I don’t care one way or the other, and I’ve been fishing my whole life.
The rest, including the grip material and the number of pieces the rod itself breaks down into, is up to you. I will suggest that, if you can accommodate it, a one-piece rod will almost always outperform a two- or three-piece rod. A one-piece rod offers better stiffness and more control—fewer pieces make for fewer problems with durability and performance, although portability suffers.
Key features of a fishing reel
With the rod settled, we looked into reels, which are a lot more complicated since they have so many moving parts. When you’re shopping for a reel, among the first things you need to consider is how much drag you’ll need to handle the type of fish you hope to catch. “Drag” on a spinning reel is provided by a stack of washers, which you can either tighten or loosen against the spool (the part of the reel that holds the line) to build friction to reel in a fish, relieve friction to allow for “play” in the line (so it doesn’t break), or let it swim away in order to let the hook fully set.1
The amount of drag required varies by fishing method and the species targeted—but if you’re not sure, we recommend asking the locals, or going to a bait-and-tackle shop. John Bretza, Okuma’s director of product development, put it into perspective: “Even when we fish North Carolina bluefin [tuna] (which can weigh hundreds of pounds), we use 18 to 22 pounds of drag for the strike and, most of the time, as our full-drag setting as well. That’s still a lot of drag for most...” In other words, you don’t need much drag to cover a wide variety of fish. For the average fisher, the 10- to 25-pound maximum drags on any of our picks will suffice. But to make sure you get what you need, look for the “maximum drag rating” on the spec sheet.
One of the most important features is durability. Cheaper reels come with cheaper drag systems made of felt or lower-quality carbon fiber, which disintegrates quickly. This construction, combined with little or no preventative sealing to keep saltwater and grit from entering the mechanical parts, means that most reels less than $50 just aren’t worth the money.
If you're willing to spend $100 or a bit more, you’ll get all the makings of a reel that’s built to last. That means a semisealed drag—for keeping out water, dirt, and corrosive salt spray—as well as an all-metal body. It will also be repairable should anything go wrong, whereas with cheaper gear, the cost of a repair can often exceed the worth of the reel.
That said, if you plan to do a lot of bait fishing from boats, buy a conventional open-faced reel with a more dependable dual drag system.
How we tested
I tested all of the rods and reels from beaches, rocks, boats, and riverbanks. I fished with lures in rivers for trout and salmon, and I set 1- to 1½-pound live baits from my skiffs, catching ocean fish up to 20 pounds with each rod and reel. I also tested the gear on smaller bottom fish, including summer flounder, sea bass, and porgies (or scup), as well as red drum and spotted seatrout in Charleston, South Carolina. I spent several days fishing freshwater rivers for trout and smaller salmon, and a couple of days fishing private ponds and lakes for largemouth bass. I beat up these rods and reels, from the mouth of the Hudson River in New York to the Cook Strait of New Zealand.
Our spinning-rod pick: Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2
If you’re planning to get only one rod and you don’t want to spend a fortune, it should be a 6½- to 7-foot Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2, available in ultra-light, medium, medium-heavy, and heavy versions. It should be a single-piece model, if you can accommodate it. The size and line rating depend on the species you’re targeting and the type of water you’re fishing (ultra-light, UL, for panfish and small trout; medium, M, for fish weighing 3 to 10 pounds; medium-heavy, MH, for fish in the 10- to 25-pound range; and heavy, H, beyond that). The GX2 is the latest update to a classic line of rods renowned for their versatility and durability for nearly four decades.
The Ugly Stik GX2 was introduced in 2013 as the first major redesign of the Ugly Stik series since its debut in 1976. Compared with the original, it includes more graphite and less fiberglass, giving the rod more of a backbone for working lures and handling heavier fish, while still keeping the soft fiberglass tip that makes it sensitive enough for detecting subtler strikes and smaller catches.
Based on the GX2’s build and the original’s history of durability, the GX2 could very well be the last rod you’ll need to buy. They are seriously tough rods—a fact supported by their industry-leading seven-year warranty (compared with the typical one-year coverage offered on Penn and Shimano rods, and even on Shakespeare’s own, non–Ugly Stik rods). I haven’t found another $40 fishing rod I would trust this much. In fact, if it costs less than $100 and it’s not an Ugly Stik, I’d just as soon use a hand line.
What makes the Ugly Stik GX2 so much more durable and versatile than other rods is that it uses both graphite and fiberglass to provide sensitivity and strength without sacrificing too much of either. It features a primarily graphite shaft for stiffness, along with a soft, clear, and flexible fiberglass tip.
That flexible tip means it won’t be ideal for manipulating lures, but we think the added versatility is more valuable to most fishers—especially beginners. While the GX2 isn’t better than a specialist rod in either application, it is a capable performer in both—which can’t be said of the Ugly Stik Tiger or the Penn Squadron.
In addition to having a durable shaft, the GX2 is the only rod in its price category that comes fitted with one-piece stainless steel line guides, which can literally be smashed with a rock and still maintain serviceability. During testing, I accidentally planted my foot directly on the guide of a rod that I’d left in the bottom of my boat—as one does—but it was unscathed. Cheap, flimsy aluminum-oxide guides are the industry standard at this price, so it’s nice to see Shakespeare, the maker of the Ugly Stik, take durability seriously. Apart from higher-end models that cost four or five times the price, I’ve never seen this feature in a spinning rod. This design also represents an upgrade from the old Ugly Stik, which had two-piece pop-out guides that were the only weak spot in an otherwise bulletproof rod.
Just in case anything does go wrong, all you need to submit to take advantage of the Ugly Stik’s class-leading seven-year warranty is photographic evidence of the damage, your receipt, and $10 to cover shipping. That’s far better than the one-year warranty coverage from Shimano and Penn, and even from Shakespeare itself on its non–Ugly Stik models. (St. Croix offers a five-year warranty for its Triumph rod, which we tested as a possible upgrade pick.)
One quick shopping note: Make sure you’re buying the spinning rod, not the casting version of the same rod from the same manufacturer. They’re easy to confuse, and our chosen reel won’t fit the casting version.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The downsides of the Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 are few but worth noting. First, it’s heavier than more high-performance graphite rods (which usually run about 5 ounces for a medium-heavy 6-foot-6 or 7-foot rod), and some people find that tiring. But if you’ve never held a high-end spinning rod before, you won’t notice the difference.
Another problem with the Ugly Stik GX2 is that the guides are not always perfectly placed. This is something you’re likely to find in any mass-produced base-level spinning-rod model; it’s not something children will notice. Guide placement becomes more essential when you’re fighting trophy-sized fish, which is not something the average angler will put their gear through. If you do happen to be fishing big game, you’ll likely have to step up in price range, or find a good deal at a garage sale.
Runner-up rod: Shimano Saguaro
Shimano’s Saguaro series is every bit as versatile as the Ugly Stik GX2, but the guides are nowhere near as durable as Ugly Stik’s Ugly Tuff guides. While I found the rod itself to be more clunky and cumbersome overall—especially when casting lightweight artificial lures—that’s also what made me recognize and appreciate it as a dependable workhorse.
Compared with the similarly priced Ugly Stik models, the Shimano Saguaro is a stiffer graphite composite. While this design can be advantageous for casting plugs, it offers less “play” or give, which can hinder other applications like setting the hook while bottom fishing with bait and a heavy sinker, where some flex is advantageous.
Apart from the Saguaro’s less durable guides, the primarily graphite rod is more brittle, and less likely to survive a spill or a misplaced foot.
If you plan to fish with care (and not with children), the Saguaro can make an excellent rod for medium-weight jigging and topwater fishing, but it is less than ideal for lightweight artificial lures or bait fishing, and nowhere near as sturdy as an Ugly Stik.
Upgrade rod: Shakespeare Ugly Stik Elite
If the Ugly Stik GX2 is unavailable, or if you know you want something stiffer for doing more lure fishing, the Ugly Stik Elite series is a good bet. These rods are available in the same wide range of sizes as the GX2 (for the most all-around versatility, we’d still recommend a medium to medium-heavy rod in the 6-foot-6 or 7-foot range), but they have a cork grip instead of an EVA foam grip and contain 35 percent more graphite, which makes them a bit stiffer and lighter overall. The added stiffness makes the Elite ideal for manipulating lures and giving them “action” (a fishing term for making lures dance or hobble like wounded prey).
The Elite is usually only about $10 more than the GX2 at any given length, which isn’t a lot of money, so you might be wondering why it isn’t our top pick. First off, as a stiffer rod, the Elite isn’t as well-suited to bait fishing for smaller catches. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing if that’s what you know you want, but it’s worth noting if you’re a first-timer trying to start small. Second, while the GX2 is the direct successor to the classic Ugly Stik, which had four decades of acclaim behind it, the Elite series is a whole new line. While that extra 35 percent of graphite sounds appealing on paper, it’s still too early to tell whether that might decrease the long-term durability. For most anglers, however, the GX2 is the better bet.
Our spinning-reel pick: Daiwa BG SW Spinning Reel
The Daiwa BG SW series is our reel pick because these reels are built tougher than any similarly priced competition. Daiwa’s original BG series has been a crowd favorite since its introduction in the 1980s but has fallen short as an all-around choice only because the roller on the bail (which guides the line from the reel to the guides on the fishing rod) was not built to handle braided line. That changed a few years back—in fact, our teardown revealed that it has more in common with $200-plus reels than with others in its price category. (Consider sizes 1500 to 2000 for small freshwater and inshore saltwater species, 3000 to 5000 for medium freshwater and saltwater species, 5000 to 8000 for surf fishing, and 8000 to 10000 for larger fish, including some pelagic fish like mahi mahi and small tuna.)
Mechanically, the Daiwa BG SW reels stand head and shoulders above competitors within the same price range for a handful of reasons.
The ball bearings in the BG SW, for one thing, are the very same Minebea bearings that are loaded into Shimano’s Stella SW series of reels, which typically run for $800 to $1,400. The anti-reverse clutch (which keeps the reel from spinning backward) consists of individual metal springs, as opposed to the cheap plastic clips usually featured in $100 reels.
The drag or “thrust” disc has a rubber seal mounted to it, and according to expert spinning-reel reviewer Alan Hawk, it’s constructed of the same polymer that makes up the thrust discs of the Penn Slammer III (which usually costs about $300).
And finally, one small but brilliant finishing touch: The spool has a small hole drilled in it to prevent rust and allow trapped water to escape. This detail is further testament to the kind of thought that Daiwa put into the research and design of this humble but trusty little $100 reel.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Daiwa no longer states on its website that the BG SW has a machined aluminum gear, but the company avoids mentioning what material the gear is made of. As Alan Hawk discovered, it’s cast zinc. Nevertheless, although machined aluminum makes for a higher-quality, more durable gear, cast zinc still gets the job done and is the industry standard in reels under $300.
Upgrade reel: Okuma Azores Z-65S
Okuma Azores Z-65S
Holds more line
This slightly larger, more expensive reel is durable and has a high drag for targeting larger fish. Its large spool size makes it great for surf-casting and open-water applications where extra line comes in handy, but it’s too clunky for targeting smaller fish.
The Okuma Azores reels are simple but powerful, with a design and drag comparable to those of the Daiwa BG SW, but they can be slightly more expensive depending on the size you select (we recommend the Z-65S size for all-around use). Next to other reels with similar line ratings, the Azores reel holds a lot of line because it’s a bit bigger. This means it will perform well in the surf or at greater depths (60 feet or more), where excess line is often necessary. It’s also a capable stand-in if the Daiwa is unavailable, but it’s a bit too large to gracefully handle lighter-action artificial lures.
Of all the reels we tested, the Azores had the highest maximum drag rating at 44 pounds (I didn’t quite get it there, but it came in close enough at 40 pounds on the scale). Forty-four pounds of drag (or tension) is about as much drag as any human can handle before being yanked off their feet anyhow. The Azores is equipped with Okuma’s Dual-Force Drag System, which has one set of washers in the top of the spool and another larger, single washer at the bottom. The reasoning is that the two drags work against each other, which theoretically makes sense and might explain the reel’s formidable drag rating.
After putting sand and salt through the reel and taking it apart, I was surprised to find that the spool was just as clean inside as the Daiwa BG SW and the Shimano Spheros SW. That bodes well for the long-term durability of the Azores, despite the relative lack of internal grease compared with other models. However, while the bearings are sealed, the gear is not, and I’m left with doubts as to whether the gear can outlast those of the Daiwa BG SW or the slightly more expensive Penn and Shimano reels.
Overall, the Azores is a capable reel, but its larger size and slightly higher price mean that the BG SW is both more versatile and a better value for most people.
Care and maintenance
Regardless of what rod or reel you get, salt is the enemy—even with gear specifically designed for use in the ocean. At the end of the day, be sure to give everything a solid rinse with freshwater and loosen the drags (to relieve straining pressure), whether your rig costs $20 or $2,000. If you take this step, our recommended Ugly Stik GX2 and Daiwa BG SW combo will serve you well for years to come.
When rinsing a reel, first tighten the drag, sealing it so that water doesn’t work into the washers. Lay the reel out horizontally so that any water that gets in has an easy path out, and don’t blast a reel with water to avoid blasting out the grease; just make sure it receives a thorough flow. If you want to be particularly diligent when cleaning your fishing gear (it will pay off in the long run), you can soak a cloth in freshwater (even with a little soap—boat soap works) and wipe everything down. Once finished, loosen the drag; if you leave reel drags tight, they tend to get stuck that way and lose their precision.
Additionally, keeping your reel packed with grease will reduce corrosion and improve longevity. You can find reel grease in almost any outdoor-sporting store, but if you’re not confident in taking your reel apart to apply grease, having it done in-store would be worthwhile.
What about tackle storage?
Although a good rod and reel are crucial for the beginning angler, managing the necessary tackle (hooks, lines, sinkers, floats, and so forth) for your fishing expedition can also make or break your experience. The amount of tackle carried to the boat, watering hole, or river will vary depending on what kind of fishing you’re doing. But to keep things flexible and give yourself room to grow and try out different environments, we think investing in a simple yet multipurpose tackle bag is a good place to start. In comparison with the tackle boxes of old—whose fold-out compartments resembled hardware storage more than outdoors equipment—a well-constructed tackle bag with individual compartments, carabiner loops, and a supportive shoulder strap will lessen the load of hiking to remote spots or bringing necessities with you while wading into a river.
We spoke with senior editor and lifetime angler Grant Clauser about his preferences for tackle storage. And though he agreed that there is likely no single bag that will suit anything from fly-fishing to deep-water trowling, he had a few suggestions for what to look for. His tackle splits its time between a classic (and unfortunately discontinued) L.L.Bean tackle bag (which straps easily to the front of his kayak) and a similarly vintage side-sling number from Piscifun. Costing around $30, the updated version of Clauser’s side-sling model features supportive, padded shoulder and waist straps, as well as enough compartments to easily sort bait from gear, while not overburdening you. The numerous loops and side compartments make it easy to keep essentials like pliers and multi-tools within reach, alongside a convenient water-bottle holder.
As our former runner-up pick, the Penn Battle II reel offers build quality and durability comparable to those of models costing $150 or more. It’s compact enough to handle small fish gracefully, but it has enough drag to land saltwater fish, as well. Unfortunately, we’re noticing consistent stock issues with Penn’s reels, potentially related to the coronavirus pandemic.
I brought my cheapo Shimano FXS rod on several trips to test beside the others. Though I’ve owned and used these rods for nearly two decades, I won’t recommend them. They’re functional, and I’ve managed to land fairly large fish on them, but they’re brittle and unreliable. If you’re paying $13 to $35, you shouldn’t really expect much, but if you need to have a fishing rod and want to spend less than $20, the FXS will do the trick for smaller fish—just take it for what it’s worth and don’t expect it or its guides to last.
We also considered several high-end models to determine if paying a lot more would get you a much better product. I was a big fan of St. Croix’s Triumph spinning rod as an all-around inshore stick—it’s featherlight, well-balanced, and a pleasure to cast all day long. I found that the tip was just sensitive enough to pass for a bait-fishing rod (though I’d still primarily designate it as a lightweight artificial/jigging rod). I’ve left it soaked in salt and sand, and even in a bit of marsh mud for two weeks, and I’ve seen no rust stains or any other signs of degradation.
The only issue I have with the Triumph (as with almost all other rods that aren’t Ugly Stiks) concerns the guides. While generally sturdy, they still don’t come anywhere close to Ugly Stik’s Ugly Tuff guides.
We also tried the Penn Battalion and the Shimano Teramar SE, which are both great rods. I found the Battalion to be somewhat lightweight for its action and recommended line weight, which you could easily solve by ordering the next weight up (for example, if you want a “medium action” rod, order the Battalion in “medium heavy”). I’m also a fan of the Teramar, which is extremely well-balanced—both in weight and in guide placement—but Shimano rods come with only a one-year warranty, and I prefer the high-end cork on the Triumph and Battalion anyway. On the other hand, if you’re going to spend the majority of your time bait fishing, consider the Teramar, which offers a little more play and would be a delightful tool when you’re fishing cut bait for striped bass from a boat in Long Island Sound.
Shimano’s Spheros SW is among the smoothest spinning reels I’ve ever held, out of the box. It has the same three-part pinion/clutch seal (the most important seal in a spinning reel, protecting the very center of the reel, which is virtually irreparable) as Shimano’s $1,000-plus reels. The line lay is impeccably even, and despite being largely plastic, the Spheros is sturdy where it counts. If you’re looking to spend $200 on a reel, the Spheros is it, with the Quantum Cabo PTSE (more on that model below) so close behind that I’d recommend trying both before making a decision based on your own personal preference. (Note that the Cabo PTSE sizes 60 and up are superior to the 40 and 50 sizes, which have inferior anti-reverse clutches.)
We also tested Shimano’s Saragosa, a supposed upgrade, but didn’t find anything particularly advantageous about it over the Spheros SW.
The Shimano Baitrunner performed well, but its lack of durability took it out of the running after we did our teardown test. After just a few weeks of use, it showed some early signs of corrosion. We expected more out of a $160 reel. Ultimately, I’ve had to repair the secondary (freespool) drags on the Baitrunner, which is another reason why I suggest buying a conventional setup if you’re going to fish bait.
Shimano introduced another $100-range line of spinning reels, called the Nasci. I’m thoroughly impressed, especially with the fact that Shimano includes a cold-forged drive gear (usually cast zinc in reels within this price range), though according to spinning-reel guru Alan Hawk, it’s made more cheaply than the higher-end drive gears. The major issues I immediately had with the Nasci were the slightly uneven line lay (line doesn’t seem to collect on the spool as neatly as on other reels) and the tiny crank handle, which is bolted on and cannot be changed. This design might not affect other fishers as much, but I find it to be a nuisance to have to grab something so small when you’re hurrying to set the hook.
The Quantum Cabo PTSE, which I picked up only after reading a rave review by Alan Hawk, was delightful to cast. It’s featherlight, and I paired it with two higher-end rods, which made for the lightest spinning-rod-and-reel combos I’d ever held; as a result, I didn’t grow tired casting into a stiff breeze from a rivermouth jetty for several hours. The 100 and 120 sizes are absolute brutes. My friend Captain Colin Kelly spent the better part of the fall bluefin tuna run off Cape Cod relying on these modestly priced reels, which compete with the $500 to $700 reels that have generally been the only options for catching fish over 200 pounds on spinning gear. Toward the end of the season, a 400-pound bruiser burned up the clicker on the spool, which isn’t a huge deal but worth mentioning. That said, most 100- or 120-size reels are probably outmatched by 400-pound fish.
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