Ralph Smith

When F&S fishing editor Joe Cermele and I tested 53 new fishing rods for last year’s annual test, I remember thinking, We’re never going to do that again. And we didn’t. This year, we tested 57. First, we sorted rods into five categories based on target species: bass, catfish, muskie, panfish or trout, and walleye. Then Cermele and I began the arduous task of testing every last one for casting ability, quality of blank and components, sensitivity, and feel and finish. Next we narrowed the rods down to just five finalists per species group, and finally picked the best overall performer and the best value for each. Here are the results.


best new rods 2017
From left: G. Loomis GLX, St. Croix Bass X, Whisker Seeker Chad Ferguson, Berkley Mud Cat. Ralph Smith

Best of the Test: Bass

(a.) G. Loomis GLX
The star of the G. Loomis lineup for decades, the GLX got a makeover this year. It is built from a new featherweight, incredibly sensitive blank and has SiC guides in Fuji Titanium frames. Loomis also added an innovative new reel seat that both Cermele and I found to be comfortable and sharp-looking. The new GLX excelled in every test category, and just edged out the St. Croix Legend Glass for best bass rod of 2017. Bottom line: If you’re looking for high-end craftsmanship and top-notch components in an American-made rod, the GLX fits the bill. Buy It Now

Best Value: Bass

(b.) St. Croix Bass X
With so many high-end rods demanding super premium prices these days, it’s nice to know you can still get a killer stick for $100—namely, the new St. Croix Bass X. The blank is made of the same premium SCII graphite as the hugely popular St. Croix Premier series. This lightweight rod sports aluminum-oxide guides in black frames and looks sharp with blue-and-silver lettering on the matte black finish. Most important, the Bass X was a standout for casting ability, blank quality, and sensitivity, regardless of price—which made it our clear winner for Best Value. Buy It Now

Best of the Test: Catfish

(c.) Whisker Seeker Chad Ferguson
The new 91⁄2-foot, two-piece heavy casting model in Whisker Seeker’s Chad Ferguson Series is an absolute beast. The rod’s length coupled with the action of its composite blank helped it crush all comers in the casting category. Its sheer power is impressive; it will heave weights up to 12 ounces and has all the backbone needed to manhandle the biggest blues and flatheads. The 12 low-profile, black titanium-oxide guides are durable and aid in casting distance. As good as it is as a casting rod, this one will excel at bottom bouncing and drift fishing, too. whiskerseeker.com

Best Value: Catfish

(d.) Berkley Mud Cat
Any rod at $40 is a steal these days. But a $40 catfish rod that casts like a champ and can truly handle big fish is a real winner—in this case, winner of our Best Value award. Cermele and I agreed that we would use the Mud Cat as our go-to kitty stick in a heartbeat. Even at its very modest price, the Mudcat offers some solid components, including stainless-steel guide frames with aluminum-oxide inserts and a full, rubberized, shrink-wrapped handle. If you’re one of the many catfish anglers who prefer fiberglass for casting big chunks of bait, this rod is for you. Buy It Now

best new fishing rods
From left: Okuma SCT Musky, Okuma EVx B-Series Musky, Fitzgerald Rods Vursa, Lew’s Wally Marshall Speed Shooter, Dobyns Sierra Series, Lew’s Mach Speed Stick. Ralph Smith

Best of the Test: Muskie

(a.) Okuma SCT Musky
Serious muskie anglers have leaned on Okuma rods for years. The new SCT (Spiral Carbon Technology) Musky is the company’s finest creation yet. Its quality is obvious the second you pick the rod up and feel the lightweight blank, which somehow exudes power. A carbon spiral helix runs through the length of the rod for added strength and durability. Sensitivity is superb, especially for a muskie stick, and it loads up and casts beautifully. The SCT Musky was also the best-­looking rod of the bunch. Buy It Now

Best Value: Muskie

(b.) Okuma EVx B-Series Musky
It’s a clean sweep for Okuma in the muskie division. Our test rod put up stiff competition against other models costing twice as much, making this a phenomenal value. All rods in the series are built from responsive 24-ton carbon blanks with ­double-​foot, stainless-steel Sea Guide frames. Okuma’s blank-reinforcing technology increases tip strength and overall lifting power. All in all, considering you can easily drop $300-plus on a dedicated muskie stick, the EVx B-Series rods are a total steal at $120. okumafishing.com

best fishing rods, 2017 fishing rods, best fishing products
Starting Lineup: This year’s best rods for five ­target species. Ralph Smith

Best of the Test: Panfish or Trout

(c.) Fitzgerald Rods Vursa
Designed for finesse bass fishing, the spinning models of the Vursa series make stellar panfish or trout rods. With a fast tip and moderate taper, our test model cast a 1⁄8-ounce weight beautifully, and was able to transmit even the tiniest signals in our test—a critical asset when targeting smaller species. American Tackle AirWave guides add casting distance and are virtually indestructible. A nicely finished stick, with a comfortable reel seat, the Vursa is well worth its $130 price tag—and then some. fitzgeraldrods.com

Best Value: Panfish or Trout

(d.) Lew’s Wally Marshall Speed Shooter
You are going to either love or hate the Speed Shooter’s blue-and-neon-green finish. Cermele and I thought it looked sharp and scored accordingly. Like the Vursa, the Speed Shooter uses American Tackle AirWave guides, whose spiral shape facilitates line flow and helped the Speed Shooter fire a 1⁄8-ounce weight right beside top-of-the-line rods in this category. For $50, the IM8 graphite blank also had very good sensitivity, making the whole package a killer bargain. lews.com

Best of the Test: Walleye

(e.) Dobyns Sierra Series
This maker has become hugely popu­lar among serious bass anglers, but many of its models make phenomenal walleye rods. Our 6-foot 9-inch, medium-light Sierra test rod is one. The whole series features high-modulus graphite blanks, Fuji Alconite guides, Fuji reel seats, and quality cork handles. Our test rod tallied near perfect scores in several categories, including casting, sensitivity, blank quality, and feel and finish. And given what you can pay for high-end walleye rods, the Dobyns Sierra is reasonably priced. Buy It Now

Best Value: Walleye

(f.) Lew’s Mach Speed Stick
At $80, the Mach Speed Stick is not quite dirt cheap, but its price-to-­performance ratio makes it a standout value. With an incredibly lightweight IM6 graphite blank, the rod excelled in our sensitivity test. Cermele and I both gave perfect scores for feel and finish, too; the Winn Grips are a huge plus, providing for a solid, comfortable hold. The Mach Speed Stick also dons the American Tackle AirWave guides for longer casts, which once again translated into a top score in the casting test. Buy It Now

The Test

Each of the following test categories was worth up to 20 points, for a maximum total score of 100:

CASTING: For each species category, we matched the rods with the same appropriately sized reel and casting weight. Then Cermele and I took numerous throws with every rod, rating each for how well it loaded up and how far it cast.

COMPONENTS: We carefully inspected the handle material, guides and inserts, reel seats, and wraps and gave each rod a cumulative score for the quality of its hardware.

SENSITIVITY: Cermele and I repeatedly cast and dragged weights across grass, concrete, macadam, and mud to test how well subtle signals were transmitted through the rod.

BLANK QUANTITY: We assessed initial blank quality and overall performance.

FEEL AND FINISH: Taking into consideration weight, grip, and ergonomics, we rated the rods for comfort, and we examined the wraps, handle, reel seat, and overall appearance of each model. —M.M.

Top 5 Bass Rods

KEY / U=Ultra • L=Light • M=Medium • H=Heavy • Mod=Moderate • F=Fast • X=Extra

Brand Rating Description Specs Cost
G. Loomis GLX 97.5 American-made perfection—or at least very, very near to it. 6’8″ • Casting • HF • 5/16–3/4 oz. $445 Buy
St. Croix Legend Glass 97 Most amazing glass rod you’ll ever own. Missed the win by half a point. 7’4″ • Casting • MHMod • 3/8–1 oz. $250 Buy
Kistler KLX Feel N Reel 92 Solid overall performance and casts like a dream. 7’2″ • Casting • MHMod • 1/4–1 oz. $250 kistlerrods.com
13 Fishing Muse Black 89.5 A nice stick that scored well in every test category. 7’4″ • Casting • HF • 3/8–11/2 oz. $205 Buy
St. Croix Bass X 86.5 Top-shelf feel and finish. Overall, a great value. 7’1″ • Spinning • MF • 3/16–5/8 oz. $100 Buy

Top 5 Catfish Rods

KEY / U=Ultra • L=Light • M=Medium • H=Heavy • Mod=Moderate • F=Fast • X=Extra

Brand Rating Description Specs Cost
Whisker Seeker Chad Ferguson 95 Versatile and strong, it’ll handle any cat you hook. 9’6″ • Casting • HF • 1–12 oz. $95 whisker​seeker.com
Berkley TEC Cat Hunter 91.5 A stellar performer. Great for all but the biggest cats. 8′ • Spinning • MHF • 1–4 oz. $100 Buy
Berkley Mudcat 83 The third best catfish rod overall costs only $40. 6’6″ • Casting • MMod • 1/2–3 oz. $40 Buy
Berkley Glowstick 81.5 An innovative design with solid performance to back it up. 6’6″ • Casting • MHMod • 1/2–3 oz. $50 berkley-fishing.com
Ugly Stik Bigwater 66 Decent all-around performance. Best suited for channel cats. 6’6″ • Spinning • M • 1/2–3 oz. $60 Buy

Top 5 Muskie Rods

KEY / U=Ultra • L=Light • M=Medium • H=Heavy • Mod=Moderate • F=Fast • X=Extra

Brand Rating Description Specs Cost
Okuma SCT Musky 97.5 Top-of-the-line muskie stick at a great price. 9’3″ • Casting • XHMF/F • 4–16 oz. $200 Buy
Temple Fork Outfitters Big Fish Rod 97 This brute of a stick just missed the top spot. 9’6″ • Casting • XXXH • Lure Rating n/a $280 Buy
Okuma EVx B-Series Musky 88.5 Absolutely the best muskie stick you’ll find at this price. 8’6″ • Casting • XHMF/F • 4–12 oz. $120 okumafishing.com
13 Fishing Muse Black Swimbait Series 87.5 It casts anything and ­everything, beautifully. 8’6″ • Casting • XXHF• 14–22 oz. $235 13fishing.com
Lew’s Custom Speed Stick Super Duty 4 85 A light stick that handles heavy baits with ease 7’11” • Casting • XHMF • 3–10 oz. $180 Buy

Top 5 Panfish or Trout Rods

KEY / U=Ultra • L=Light • M=Medium • H=Heavy • Mod=Moderate • F=Fast • X=Extra

Brand Rating Description Specs Cost
Fitzgerald Rods Vursa Series 94.5 Superlightweight and incredibly sensitive. 6’9″ • Spinning • MModF • 1/8–5/8 oz. $130 fitzgeraldrods.com
Lew’s Wally Marshall Speed Shooter 85 Awesome stick at any price, even better at this one. 7′ • Spinning • MLF • 1/64–1/4 oz. $50 lews.com
Fenwick HMX Series 83.5 An incredibly sensitive and well-built rod. 5’6″ • Spinning • ULModF • 1/32–1/4 oz. $80 Buy
Berkley C-Series Crappie Pro* 81.5 Great buy, quality stick. 6’6″ • Spinning • LModF • Lure Rating n/a $40 Buy
B’n’M Poles Buck’s Graphite Crappie Series 81.5 An excellent caster with solid sensitivity. 6’6″ • Spinning • M • Lure Rating n/a $55 bnmpoles.com

Top 5 Walleye Rods

KEY / U=Ultra • L=Light • M=Medium • H=Heavy • Mod=Moderate • F=Fast • X=Extra

Brand Rating Description Specs Cost
Dobyns Sierra Series 95 A walleye angler’s dream, at a fair price. 6’9″ • Spinning • MLF • 1/8–1/2 oz. $160 Buy
Fenwick Aetos 91.5 Beautiful feel and finish, plus solid overall performance. 6’3″ • Spinning • MLF • 1/8–1/2 oz. $200 Buy
Lew’s Mach Speed Stick 91.5 A great caster with good sensitivity for jigging. 6’9″ • Spinning • MLF • 1/8–3/8 oz. $80 Buy
Daiwa Cronos Series 82.5 Decent performance in all test categories. 7’3″ • Spinning • MXF • 3/16–1/2 oz. $180 daiwa.com
Abu Garcia Vendetta 78.5 Good stick for the price, but feel and finish is a bit lacking. 6’6″ • Spinning • MF • 1/8–1/2 oz. $80 Buy


Anglers are watching their wallets these days, and manufacturers are responding with quality gear at reasonable prices. Rods like the Okuma EVx B-Series Musky combine quality components and excellent craftsmanship from a trusted name, all without asking anglers to break the bank.

Weight Loss
More and more rods are unimaginably light. Super-high-­modulus graphite certainly brings down weight, but manu­facturers are finding other ways to shave ounces, including smaller guides, innovative reel seats, and split grips. Take the St. Croix Legend Glass. Fiberglass is a heavy rod material, but with the right components and design, the 7-foot 11-inch model is a mere 5.8 ounces.

While not a new trend, the number of technique-specific rods has never been higher. We have drop-shot rods, jerkbait rods, spinnerbait rods, jigging rods, and more. On one hand, this makes it easy for you to pick the right rod for the job. But don’t fall for the idea that you need a different one for every application. A certain drop-shot rod may well fish a Senko to perfection, and vice versa. Many bass rods also make great walleye rods, and most muskie rods are deadly in the hands of any catfish hunter. —M.M.


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