The 2020 fishing season will be long remembered for all its high and low points. Early on in the pandemic, several jurisdictions closed access areas or even banned fishing. Guides were not allowed to take customers in some states, as well. But once saner heads prevailed, people pining to get out of the house found that the best place to socially distance was on a lake or river. Accesses across the country were sometimes full and most states sold more licenses than they had in decades. Companies couldn’t keep gear like bass rods and other tackle in stock because it was selling so quickly.
After working through details, tournament organizations were able to stage events, with requirements on mask-wearing, distancing, and reduced participation. People traveled less and mostly fished locally. We saw more kids fishing with families or by themselves, as a break from “distance learning” or when schools shut down.
As we continue to muddle through the viral fog, the outlook for 2021 looks promising. We’re hopeful that case numbers soon come down and access to vaccinations starts to prevent further spread of Covid-19. It seems likely that many folks who maybe hadn’t fished for a long time or began their fishing careers during the pandemic will continue the sport and become avid anglers. At the same time, it’s hard to fathom the economic devastation that’s occurred, as many businesses remain closed or limited in capacity, with employees laid off or worse. Record lines at food-shelf locations across the country provide testimony to increased poverty.
At the same time, record-setting online sales last year showed consumers still want to consume, and can quickly scan for bargains. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to discuss a topic that’s not often discussed—the best bass rods for anglers on a budget; more specifically ones costing about $100 or less. We hear bass pros touting high-end tackle—rods and reels retailing for over $300 apiece. Sponsoring companies provide the best gear for their pro staff, and this equipment is indeed wonderful to fish with. But we found many rods that are not only highly effective and a pleasure to fish with, they’re better than what pros had 10 or 12 years ago! Intense competition has caused companies to offer the best possible bass rods at minimal costs to the consumer, a winning combination for those looking for a new one. And who isn’t!
St. Croix has a long history of designing rods for all all freshwater gamefish, as well as nearshore bruisers. This versatility also allows them to build rods that feature the best components available in that price range, including their own proprietary graphite blanks and patented manufacturing processes. While they offer some rods that that stretch the checking account for over $400, the Bass X series offers a fine selection of 10 casting rods and 4 spinning in the $100 range. (St. Croix’s website lists them for $110, but several big retailers offer them $95 to $100.) They’re tuned for many popular techniques, from a 6.5-foot medium-power casting model for spinnerbaits and bladed jigs to the 7-foot 11-inch heavy-power model with moderately fast action for heavy-duty flippin’ or froggin’, plus models from 6 foot 8 inches to 7 foot 1 inches. Blanks are of SCII graphite with two layers of Flex Coat for a durable finish, as well as aluminum-oxide guides, Fuji ECS reel seat, and premium-grade cork handle.
While this name is familiar, this series represents a new and improved version, thanks to the use of Powerlux 100 Micro nano resin that reduces blank weight, this increasing sensitivity, something bass angler especially need to detect light bites. At the same time, this component reportedly boosts strength 15 percent. This new resin fills minute spaces that occur among carbon fibers of the graphite itself. This series also is nicely appointed with a specially designed reel seat, titanium alloy guides with zirconium inserts, and tacky Winn grips for sure fishing. Choose among 48 models, including 8 casting and 3 spinning. They’re built for specific techniques, including crankbaits and spinnerbaits, as well as hefty lures like swimbaits and A-rigs. Models start at $99.95 and some exceed $100 on the Abu Garcia website, though retailers offer some for less.
Made with 30-ton graphite blanks, the Vendetta series offers a range of 11 models from 6 foot 3 inches to 7.5 feet. Blanks feature Intracarbon multi-directional fibers to keep the rod light but tough. Their Micro Click reel seat hood provides a positive locking mechanism or reels, while their Contour Curve handles are built for comfort, from $79.95.
In 1973, using an amazing new material called graphite, which was lighter and stiffer than fiberglass, Fenwick became the first company to introduce a graphite rod, called HMG, for High Modulus Graphite. Graphite was developed under contracts with the government for use in aeronautics. Their newest version of HMG features blanks that are spiral-wrapped with carbon threads to provide strength and precise rod action. Their Fuji guides have deep-pressed stainless-steel frames and alconite inserts that won’t pop out. Reel seats are Sea Guide soft touch for comfort while keeping your reel locked in place, and handles are cork. Twelve models are available in spinning and casting configurations, $99.95.
With design input from the veteran pro and all-time tournament winner, Lew’s added the KVD series to its many lines of rods, most built for bassin’. The lineup of technique-specific rods includes 10 casting models and 7 spinning of IM8 graphite with rear-locking reel seats for security, stainless-steel guides with aluminum oxide inserts, and EVA foam split-grips. There are also 6 models of a composite of graphite and fiberglass, for methods such as cranking and fishing bladed jigs. Each rod is sized and made with actions to cover nearly all techniques from flippin’ and froggin’ to Ned rigs and drop-shots, with lengths from 6 foot 8 inches to 7 foot 10 inches. All models list at $99.99.
Shakespeare is one of the oldest rod companies in the U.S., dating to 1947, when William Shskespesre, Jr. revealed the first fiberglass rod he called the Wonderod, which made bamboo and metal ons obsolete. In more recent times, their claim to fame has been Ugly Sticks, the toughest rods on planet, even if not aesthetically pleasing. Their appeal to anglers is undeniable as this line of rods was long known as the best-selling fishing rod in the world. In 2019, the brand offered a new look, the Ugly Stick Carbon, the lightest rod to bear this name, due to its novel blank. And the new graphite tip makes it the most sensitive as well. Crafted of 100-percent 24-ton graphite. They sport Ugly Tuff stainless-steel guides and rubbery Winn split-grip handles. Choose from 11 spinning and 11 casting models, measuring from 5.5 feet to 7 feet 3 inches, each one retailing for $79.95.
The Triumph series is built on St. Croix’s proprietary SCII carbon blanks, also with 2 layers of Flex Coat slow-cure finish for durability. They feature Sea Guide Atlas Performance Guides, with either Sea Guide ECS or TCS reel seats on casting models and XDPS seats on spinning style. All are finished with premium-grade cork handles. A wide range of spinning actions span from 5 to 7.5 feet, ranging in price from $90 to $120, so top-end models push our $100 price range. Casting models range from 6 to 7 feet, listing at $100 to $110 on their website, with equivalent prices at retailers.
13 Fishing applied their CGE1 blank construction process to this series of specialized baitcasting models, priced in the moderate range. They all feature Evolve stainless-steel reel seats and Evolve stainless-steel guides with alconite inserts and custom hook keepers. It includes 9 casting models from 6 foot 7 inches to 7 foot 11 inches, covering the bassin’ bases for $59.99 to $69.99. There are also 3 crankbait actions ($69.99) and a pair of 8-foot swimbait bass rods for mega-baits, rated up to 14 ounces ($89.99).
In researching this review, we were impressed by the high-end features available in these mid-range bass rods. It seems that rod companies have developed innovative features through new technologies, which have trickled down to lesser-priced models over time, leaving funds for reels, lures, and other gear.