The best rod and reel combo delivers all the performance you need at a price you’ll love. Awesome as a quick way to get you into the action, plenty of anglers opt for a combo to save time and money.
Not sure about which might be right for you?
Table of Contents (clickable)
Maximum drag: 13 lbs.
Gear ratio: 6.2:1 (32” RPT)
Material: carbon composite
Weight: 8.3 oz.
Bearings: 7 + 1
Length: 6’ 6”
Handle: split EVA foam
Guides: stainless steel with SIC inserts
Line weight: N/A
Lure size: N/A
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Cadence’s C4 reels are an outstanding option for the price, and in this combo, one comes paired with a rod that’ll put a smile on your face! We recommend a medium-light rod with the 2000 series, providing a set-up that’s ideal for panfish, trout, and walleye, as well as finesse techniques for bass.
Cadence’s reels typically offer premium performance at an affordable price, and this is no exception. Though not as irresistible as the CS8, the C4 is a solid reel at a budget price. A strong, smooth drag provides 13 pounds of maximum tension, supplying more than enough resistance for largemouth and walleye.
And with a fast gear ratio and a big spool, you get a lightning-fast retrieval rate of 32 inches per crank! That’s simply awesome at this price point, and I wouldn’t hesitate to throw crankbaits for walleye with this rod and reel combo.
The 6-foot, 6-inch graphite blank provides medium-light power, which is plenty of backbone for trout and smallmouth in quick currents, finesse techniques like drop shot rigs for bass, and even strong-fighting walleye. The quality guides will do their part, too, ensuring the odds are in your favor when the pressure’s on.
If you’re looking for a medium-light combo for freshwater, the Cadence CC4 is as good as it gets.
Maximum drag: N/A
Gear ratio: N/A
Capacity: 6/210, 8/170, 10/140
Power/action: medium/moderate fast
Lure size: N/A
Line weight: 6 to 12 lbs.
Handle: split EVA foam
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Daiwa’s reels can be found on any lake, pond, or river you’re fishing, and the D-Shock spinning combo offers an incredibly affordable package that can get any angler fishing in no time.
The 6-foot, 6-inch rod sports a fiberglass blank that’s ideal for throwing and working crankbaits, jerkbaits, and topwater lures. With all the treble hooks involved, stiffness isn’t essential, and the cushion on the hookset afforded by fiberglass is a plus. Not the most sensitive rod, I’d skip the soft plastics and single-hook applications with it.
That said, this is a great rod for larger freshwater species like bass, walleye, and small pike and muskie. Durable and strong, you’ll have plenty of control in a fight.
Daiwa isn’t saying much about this reel, and it’s not sold on its own. Capacity is good, and the drag works well. Smooth for the price, it’s certainly acceptable given just how affordable this combo is!
The D-Shock is a great combo if you’re looking for an ultra-affordable option.
Maximum drag: 12 lbs.
Gear ratio: 5.2:1 (24.4” RPT)
Capacity: 6/310, 8/235
Weight: 9.03 oz.
Bearings: 9 + 1Rod
Power/action: medium/moderate fast
Lure size: ¼ to ⅝ oz.
Line weight: 8 to 14 lbs.
Handle: split EVA foam
Guides: 7 + 1 stainless steel
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KastKing is taking the angling world by storm, and high-quality combined with excellent pricing has made them an ever more popular choice.
The Centron series of reels are well-respected, delivering impressive performance for what you spend. We recommend the combo featuring the excellent Centron 2000.
A 12-pound maximum drag won’t let you down, and it’s plenty smooth and strong, easily delivering appropriate tension for the lines you’ll be throwing. Pretty darn smooth, it picks up 24.4 inches of line with each crank, which while by no means makes it a speed demon, is still pretty good for a reel this size.
The 6-foot, 6-inch rod that KastKing pairs with this reel complements its strengths, and from small muskie to walleye, catfish to bass, it’s a great choice for larger fish or heavier currents. A bit much for panfish, you’ll find plenty of backbone to muscle the big boys when things turn nasty.
You’ll also find plenty of high-quality guides on this rod, a testament to its willingness to fight.
The Centron combo is hard to beat, and if you’re looking for a spinning combo for freshwater, it’s a good place to start.
Maximum drag: N/A
Gear ratio: 5.5:1
Capacity: 4/190, 6/140, 8/110
Bearings: 3 + 1Rod
Material: graphite/fiberglass composite
Lure size: ⅛ to ⅝ oz.
Line weight: 6 to 15 lbs.
Handle: continuous EVA foam
Guides: 5 + 1 Ugly Tuff stainless steel
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Shakespeare’s Ugly Stik has earned a reputation for no-nonsense toughness, but its fiberglass blank just isn’t as sensitive as many anglers would like. That’s why the GX2 includes a graphite core, providing greater stiffness and sensitivity than the Ugly Stiks of old, while still offering unbeatable durability.
The 6-foot GX2 is a great all-around freshwater rod, offering plenty of sensitivity at the tip and enough backbone to muscle big bass and walleye.
I’ve thoroughly tested Shakespeare’s Ugly Tuff guides, and they’re more impressive than you’d think for stainless steel. Sawing at the stripper guide with 6-pound mono did nothing to my line, and that tells me that even the worst fights aren’t going to find the guides falling short.
I find that this rod casts well, too, and it’s rated for great all-around lure weights.
Shakespeare’s not saying much about the reel they pair with this rod. Its line capacity is acceptable, but surely nothing to write home about. It’s also not the slickest reel I’ve used, though the drag works pretty well and is certainly able to provide enough tension to match the lines for which it’s rated.
I wouldn’t say that this reel is particularly fast, but I think it’ll keep up with most bass or walleye that make a run for your boat.
Overall, I’d rate the rod much better than the reel, though it’s an acceptable option at this price point.
Maximum drag: 18 lbs.
Gear ratio: 6.4:1
Bearings: 5 + 1Rod
Lure size: ⅜ to ¾ oz.
Line weight: 10 to 20 lbs.
Guides: 6 + 1 stainless steel
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Abu Garcia’s Jordan Lee Low Profile combo is a step up in price and quality from the Black Max. Featuring a really nice baitcasting reel on a great bass rod, there’s a lot to like about this set-up.
The reel offers a powerful, easy-to-use drag that provides plenty of smooth tension for even the biggest largemouth.
Offering solid brass gears spinning at a ratio of 6.4:1, there’s power to spare as well as confidence-inspiring torque. The word on the water is that this reel is AG’s Silver Max dressed up with different decals, but we can’t be sure. If it is--and we think that’s pretty likely--expect it to swallow about 26 inches of line per crank.
Capacity is fine, and overall build quality and smoothness are excellent. Casting is great, too, and the magnetic brakes on this reel really cut down on backlashing.
This reel is paired with a 7-foot graphite rod that’s light in the hand as well as sensitive. You’ll feel the soft suck as a bass inhales your lure, and you’ll find plenty of backbone for hooksets, too. I like this combo a lot as a soft bait pairing, and I think you will, too.
If you’re looking for a baitcasting combo for bass, the Jordan Lee Low Profile is an exceptional option.
Maximum drag: 18 lbs.
Gear ratio: 6.4:1 (26” RPT)
Weight: 7.3 oz.
Bearings: 4 + 1Rod
Lure size: ⅜ to ¾ oz.
Line weight: 10 to 20 lbs.
Handle: continuous EVA foam
Guides: 6 + 1 stainless steel
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Abu Garcia is a trusted name in baitcasting circles, and the Black Max combo is a fantastic option for bass anglers who are looking for an all-in-one option.
The Black Max reel is a solid baitcaster, sporting a smooth 18-pound drag. Set via the expected star-shaped knob, it’s easy to use and just as easy to adjust on the fly. Its solid brass gears deliver plenty of torque to a 6.4:1 gear ratio. Unfortunately, this is paired with a relatively small spool, and together, they only manage to pick up 26 inches per crank.
That’s a few inches short of where I’d really like it to be, but this is an insane price point for a baitcasting combo--so some sacrifices are in order!
The 7-foot medium-heavy rod this reel comes with is great for working a worm or swim bait, providing plenty of hook-setting stiffness and control in a fight. A very sensitive graphite blank is the heart of this rod, facilitating excellent feel.
Rated for lure weights ideal for these applications, I wouldn’t hesitate to fish this rod for bass.
Power describes how much force is required to bend a rod. Together with its action, a rod’s power tells you a lot about how it will perform.
A rod’s power is determined by the material from which it’s constructed and the amount of that material present in cross-section (taper). It’s also affected by the length of the rod, with shorter lengths of the same material and taper being stiffer than longer lengths.
Ultralight rods are designed to provide the ultimate in sensitivity and excitement, increasing the feel of small fish on your line. Designed primarily for panfish species like sunfish, bluegill, crappie, and perch, they can also be used by experienced anglers to catch large- and small-mouth bass and trout.
Ultralight rods will bend easily under even modest weights, providing very little control should you hook a large fish. This can lead to an intense test of an angler’s skills with anything larger than a panfish.
But don’t get the wrong idea--ultralight rods are still plenty strong!
Ultralight rods are typically matched to tiny spinning reels, lines in the neighborhood of 2 to 8 pounds, and very light lures (typically as light as 1/32 of an ounce).
We recommend ultralight rods for:
Light rods are a step-up in power from ultralight. This makes them an excellent choice for panfish, but also allows them to handle small-mouth and trout--and the currents they’re known to prefer!
Probably a better all-around choice than ultralights for less experienced anglers, they provide more control over struggling fish while still offering the sensitivity to detect nibbling panfish.
Light rods usually work best with line between 4 and 8 pounds and are almost always paired with small spinning reels. Typical lure weights vary, but a range between 1/32 and ¼ ounces is common.
We recommend light rods for:
Medium-light rods are the sweet spot in power, allowing you to fish many different techniques and species well.
From crappie to perch, bluegill to trout, you’ve got the power to wrestle even the biggest of these species with authority, current or no current. And with good technique, experienced anglers can tackle walleye, too.
And as a finesse rod for largemouth applications like weightless senkos and drop shotting, it’s very hard to beat.
Medium-light rods are often paired with light- to medium-sized spinning reels, but you’ll find baitcasting rods with this power rating, too. Typical line weights run from 4 to 10 pounds, with lure weights in the 1/16 to 5/16 ounce neighborhood.
We recommend medium-light rods for:
Medium-powered rods are a common sight in both salt- and fresh-water, as they have the strength and backbone to muscle substantial fish. Indeed, in shorter lengths and tough material like fiberglass, you’ll find anglers using them to troll for tuna, wahoos, sailfish, sharks, and other large species.
Medium rods are great for a variety of applications, from running crankbaits and jerkbaits, to yo-yoing swimbaits off the bottom. Great with live bait, too, there’s not much they can’t do--making them an extremely popular all-around choice.
They also provide the backbone you need to muscle larger, stronger fish like red drum, largemouth, walleye, and striped bass--pretty much any species that maxes out around 20 pounds.
Popular line weights range from 6 to 12 pounds or so, with lures between ¼ and ¾ ounces being common.
We recommend medium rods for:
Medium-heavy rods have serious power, allowing anglers to muscle massive fish and drive single hooks firmly home. Very stiff, they’re often used by largemouth anglers for techniques that demand a firm hookset like worms and other soft plastics.
When composed of fiberglass, they can be very, very tough, making them a popular choice offshore, as well as for anglers chasing freshwater species like pike, lake trout, and steelhead.
And when tapered just right, bass anglers who like crankbaits--and who doesn’t?--find that they provide just enough cushion to keep those treble hooks where they belong.
This is also a popular power for surf fishing and inshore applications, especially when larger species are the target. From giant rays to big sharks, you’ll have the backbone to turn the fight to your advantage.
Typical line weights run from 10 to 20 or more pounds, and you should expect to cast lures no lighter than ⅜ of an ounce.
We recommend medium-heavy rods for:
Heavy rods are as stiff and strong as they come, and they’re designed for the largest, meanest fish out there, or to provide an instant, powerful hookset on largemouth bass.
Expect backbone like steel, incredible control in a fight, and strength that just won’t quit.
In shorter lengths, heavy rods are a good choice for shark, grouper, tarpon, and other massive saltwater species. They’re also popular for lake trout and trophy pike.
In longer lengths, they’re a common choice for a variety of largemouth applications like flipping and pitching, as well as worm fishing with single hooks. Expect instantaneous hooksets, especially with braided line.
Heavy rods are typically built for line above 12 pounds, though lure size varies with the specific application.
We recommend heavy rods for:
A rod’s action describes where along its length it will begin to bend under load. Fast action rods are stiff for most of their length, bending near the tip. By contrast, slow action rods begin to give closer to the handle and reel seat, curving over a much greater percentage of their length.
Extra-fast and fast rods--of whatever power--preserve stiffness through most of the length of the rod. This provides better sensitivity at the tip, improves hookset, and allows anglers to impart better action to most lures.
Moderate fast rods allow a bit more flex than faster options, offering some cushion for hooksets--often a desirable trait with crankbaits and jerkbaits. This can prevent anglers from snatching a sharp treble-hook clear of a fish’s mouth, and it still provides plenty of sensitivity at the tip.
Moderate rods allow a nearly parabolic arc, bending the rod over most of its length. That often contributes to toughness, while preserving enough strength to muscle big fish. And while not ideal for hooksets for applications like soft baits, for treble-hooked lures and situations where durability is a priority, this can be a good choice.
Slow rods are usually composed of forgiving fiberglass, and they’re designed to bend along almost all of their length. Sometimes chosen for their performance with crankbaits, they offer a cushioned hookset that lets a lure hang in the mouth of a fish for just a second, improving connections.
describing power and action
Guide quality is essential on most rods, especially as you move up in power.
Guides have two main purposes: they protect your line from friction, and they distribute force over the length of the blank. In both cases, more is almost always better than fewer, as more points of contact reduce the stress at any one point on both line and rod. (On spinning reels, they also help channel line from the spool, which is why you’ll find a large “stripper guide” nearest the reel on most spinning rods.)
Typically, you want one guide per foot of the rod, plus one.
There are some notable exceptions to this rule, namely surfcasting rods and fly rods.
When surf casting, more guides can reduce casting distance--perhaps the most important job the rod has. As a result, you’ll find fewer guides on rods designed for surf fishing.
Fly fishing rods typically have pretty rudimentary guides. That’s because fly line isn’t at all like conventional line, and it’s just not subject to the same stresses.
But for most rods, most of the time, guide quality is not a point for compromise.
Guides are attached to your rod via feet, and they’re secured with adhesives and some form of wrapping.
Three things are important here:
A common material for quality guides is stainless steel. It’s strong, it’s rugged, and it resists corrosion.
video demonstrating how fragile line really is and how quality guides can be tested
Modern fishing rods can be made from a variety of materials, including carbon fiber, graphite, and fiberglass. Some feature composite construction, using more than one material in the blank that provides their backbone.
Graphite is a common blank material, providing strength, stiffness, and light weight in a single package. Usually described with the word “modulus,” fishing blanks that have higher modulus numbers are--diameter to diameter--stiffer than those with lower numbers.
Graphite also provides excellent sensitivity, a hallmark of high stiffness.
But graphite’s weakness is brittleness, and when pushed too far, it tends to crack and break.
Fiberglass is older rod technology, but that doesn’t mean it’s not excellent rod tech.
Fiberglass rods tend to be heavy, just like fiberglass boats, and inch to inch, foot to foot, they’ll weigh more than the other options. That said, fiberglass blanks can be very flexible and amazingly tough at the same time. They can also be extremely rigid in short, tubular lengths, making them an ideal option for offshore trolling rods.
Where fiberglass doesn’t shine is sensitivity or fast actions (except in very short lengths). It’s just not as stiff as other options.
Carbon fiber is space-age tech, taking everything good about graphite and raising it up a level. Extremely stiff, amazingly strong, and surprisingly light, it’s a great choice for blank material.
Carbon fiber is sensitive to impacts, and a hard whack on a piling or boat can damage your rod.
It’s also extremely expensive, as you’d expect!
Some rod manufacturers combine materials in an effort to wring the best from each of them. One common example is a graphite core--providing stiffness and strength--around which fiberglass is then wrapped--offering flexibility and toughness.
When done well, these composite rods perform very well.
Rod length matters.
Generally speaking, the longer the rod, the further it will cast. And generally speaking, the shorter the rod, the more accurately it will cast.
A good place to start is 6’6” to 7’. That’s the sweet spot of distance and accuracy: any shorter, and you’ll lose range; any longer and accuracy will suffer.
Much about which handle to choose is a personal decision, and what’s comfortable to me may be misery for you. There are two primary handle materials you’ll find on rods: cork and EVA foam.
Cork is a natural material that’s warm to the touch and just soft enough to provide a firm, comfortable grip. Premium-grade cork is attractive, too, and though not as durable as synthetics, it can take a beating.
EVA foam is a synthetic material that provides a soft grip. A bit colder to the touch than cork, it’s generally more inexpensive and durable.
The first thing I look at on any reel is the drag.
First, I assess where it is. The best drag systems are located directly over where they’ll be working, and as a result, the drag knobs are usually located on the end of the spool.
Some spinning reels have dials positioned elsewhere, but these rely on a more complicated mechanism and tend not to work as well or last as long.
Second, I take a hard look at the maximum setting and assess whether or not it slips at that weight. For spinning reels, I’m looking for a maximum setting that matches the size and weight of the species I’m after, and by stringing some strong line on and testing the drag with a weight, I can get a sense of whether the drag can hold.
This is more about assessing the quality of the drag than testing that maximum: I’m never going to set the drag that high!
Finally, I like to spool-up some medium-weight line for that reel, set the drag to roughly a third of that, and then see how smoothly it allows me to take line. What I want to feel is a constant, smooth release--no jerking, catching, or slipping.
A reel’s gear ratio describes the relationship between the crank and the spool: how many turns of the spool does one revolution of the crank create? For instance, a gear ratio of 5.2:1 means that one turn of the crank spins the spool 5.2 times.
This matters for two reasons.
For some lures, a slow, medium, or fast retrieve is ideal, and matching a reel’s gear ratio to its intended use can improve action. For instance, shallow crankbaits and topwater lures tend to work best with a fast reel, defined by a gear ratio higher than 5.2:1.
The second reason you care about gear ratio is that it tells you how quickly it picks up line. And whether you’re jigging deep or casting far to cover water, you’ll appreciate a medium to fast gear ratio.
On any quality reel, the bail should close firmly, the crank should spin freely, and the drag knob should reliably adjust the setting. The anti-reverse system, too, should lock-up quickly to encourage solid hooksets.
Line capacity matters.
On a properly filled spool, you won’t outcast the line on your reel. But over a day’s fishing, you might need to cut line--whether to mitigate abrasion, recover from a really poor cast, or release a deep snag.
Your reel needs to hold enough line to see you through the day without needing to re-spool.
I’ll be reporting line capacity in monofilament weights. Keep in mind that you can switch to braid and either get far more line on the reel or step-up in weight to a 4- or 6-pound mono equivalent diameter.
I’ve done just that when I decided to use my ultralight for big bass!
Baitcasting reels tend to be pricey, and nothing is more frustrating on the water than an expensive piece of tackle that stops working after a single season.
The reels we’ll recommend have a well-earned reputation for durability, making the most of your money. And while we’re not beholden to any manufacturers--we tell the truth, good or bad, about every product--three names are worth remembering: Daiwa, Shimano, and Lews.
These three manufacturers are producing some of the best reels I’ve ever used, and if you stop and have a chat on the water with your fellow anglers, chances are, you’ll see these reels on their rods.
When you’re fighting a real monster, an awesome drag is your best friend. And from cushioning hooksets when running a crankbait, to assisting your line with a fish that would otherwise break it, you want smooth and strong to be your watchwords.
For instance, when fishing crankbaits, you may want your drag at a modest 3 to 4 pounds. You’re looking for smooth performance--just a touch of give to prevent you from ripping treble hooks free, especially if you’re not using a glass rod.
But if you’re trying to ensure long-distance hooksets, or dragging bass out of heavy cover, you’ll want to increase your drag settings. No slippage is the name of the game in these situations, though opinions are divided about how much drag is enough.
Many anglers advise that the ⅓ rule always applies: set your drag to ⅓ of the breaking strength of your line. That gives you plenty of power to torque big fish while still protecting your line and rod.
But others don’t agree. Essentially, they argue that they bought high-dollar superlines to use them to their capacity, and when fishing heavy cover, they’ll set the drag to the maximum. At that point, they’re relying on the line, knot, and rod as a solid connection, and the idea is to drag bass from the nasty stuff.
Well, both camps have solid reasons for what they’re doing. But generally, you won’t need more than 6 to 10 pounds of drag.
But do you need all the torque your truck can deliver?
A good baitcasting reel has a spool that tries to defy physics. It should spin as freely as mechanically possible, and be paired with slick surfaces for the line to run through, as well. In fact, the proper design of the level wind (the piece that guides the line on and off the spool) is essential to long casts.
Daiwa’s “T-wing” is famous in fishing circles for its smooth function, but other top manufacturers have their own proprietary designs.
But long casts are useless if they end in bird’s nesting backlash. To help prevent this, many higher-end rods feature magnetic braking systems that apply more pressure as the spool slows, keeping the reel from feeding more line than needed.
When designed and executed by the best, these systems help you cast light lures, work in the wind, and launch your crankbaits into the next county.
Gear ratio describes how many revolutions of the spool one crank of the handle generates. For instance, a gear ratio of 7.5:1 indicates that one turn of the handle spins the spool 7.5 times. The higher the ratio, the faster the retrieve. This speed is also represented by the number of inches per turn or retrieve per turn (IPT or RPT), for example, 31”. In this case, that would mean that every turn of the handle picks up 31 inches of line.
Fast isn’t always better than slow, but it does offer a bit more versatility. It’s easier to slow your retrieve than to speed it up, and with a little practice, you can ease your natural cadence to match the needs of slower presentations.
However, speed does matter when you’re fighting a fish that runs straight for you!
It’s critical that you keep your line tight, and a fast reel really helps you do that.
Capacity isn’t something to sneer at, especially if you need to strip and cut line while you’re fishing.
The reels we’ve selected are fairly even on this front, though there are standouts. Of course, a larger spool typically translates into a bigger reel, so there are trade-offs.
The capacities we list, for example, 12/120, are measured in mono diameter equivalents and feet.
Weight and comfort are critical elements of a good reel. Ideally, your reel pretty much disappears on your rod and in your hand, and a few ounces count.
We’ll note weight and discuss comfort in each of our reviews.
Bearing count matters with baitcasting reels, though the standard is just one roller bearing for the spool. The rest are in the innards, making retrieves as slick as icy stairs.
While not an iron-clad rule, more is better.
We hope these reviews have helped you narrow your choices, and we’re confident that any of the combos on our list will serve you well.
Let us know if you have any questions or comments, and as always, we’d love to hear from you!
Please leave a comment below.