We didn’t winnow the more than 100 Best of the Best entries down to 15 winners by sitting at a desk and reading marketing copy. Instead, our experts took the tackle on the water and fished with it–hard, in all kinds of conditions. What survived the rigors of testing in experienced hands is here–the Best of the Best.

Just when you think baitcasting rods and reels can’t get any better, a manufacturer (or two) manages to come up with something that’s both unusual and extremely functional. This year’s winners, from St. Croix and Abu Garcia, prove that point. –John Merwin

Abu Garcia Revo STX


When the first Abu Revo was introduced a few years ago, it became a home run for the company and won a Field & Stream Best of the Best Award. The Revo line has since developed as a broad series of models at various price points. My favorite, though, is the new Revo STX.

The entire series has been made substantially lighter; the STX weighs in at a comfortable 6.35 ounces and carries 145 yards of 12-pound mono. Most notable is the side-plate-​mounted cast control, based on a combination of centrifugal and magnetic brakes. It dials to an extremely wide adjustment range, perhaps the best I’ve ever seen among baitcast reels.

With 11 bearings, the STX casts very smoothly. The version tested had ultrafast 8:1 gears that brought in an amazing 33 inches of line per turn of the handle. Price: $200 ****

St. Croix LegendXtreme


The first thing you’ll notice about this premium series is the odd-looking handle: A hard, high-density foam is machined into shape and then tightly covered with a synthetic skin that’s very easy on the hands. The combination is much lighter than other synthetic grips I’ve used, and lighter than many cork grips. A thoughtful swell near the reel seat makes casting and holding a Legend-Xtreme unusually comfortable. Sensitivity, meanwhile, is substantially improved by the use of high-tech, high-modulus graphite. These rods feel very light in the hand.

To help potential tangles slide off, St. Croix used a new type of Fuji K-R Concept Tangle Free guides, in which the frame and ring slope slightly forward. The Xtreme also benefits from something the company calls Taper Enhancement Technology. This simply means that as flat sheets of graphite-resin fabric are cut to make a rod blank, the transition areas from lesser to greater stiffness are in a curved pattern. This makes the rod feel extremely smooth in casting with no so-called “hinges.”

There are 12 baitcast models, all one-piece, some rated for lures as light as 1⁄8 ounce; others for as much as 2 ounces. (There are also 17 spinning models, six of which are two-piece.) Price: $380