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The top fishing gear manufacturers gathered once again in Orlando, Florida, to showcase their best new products for the upcoming year. Last week, I had the chance to roam the floor at ICAST 2022 and get a sneak peek at some of the best new fishing rods and reels on the market. There were innovative designs and fresh ideas that will have anglers excited all the way through the fall as these products become available to the public. Here’s what stood out to me.

  • Daiwa Exist LT
  • Hardy Fortuna Regent Saltwater Fly Reel
  • Shimano Stella FK
  • PENN Authority
  • Daiwa Free Swimmer
  • St. Croix Legend Tournament Bass 7′ 10″
  • Ugly Stick Carbon Inshore Rod
  • Banshee Fly
  • Shimano Spheros Saltwater Combo
  • Abu Garcia Revo X Combo
  • 13 Fishing Meta Rod Series

Be sure to check out our Instagram highlight reels to see our full coverage of fishing gear from ICAST 2022.

The Best New Reels at ICAST 2022

There were dozens of new reels to check out during ICAST 2022. Media members, including myself, had the opportunity to vote on the best new rods, reels, and gear in the new product showcase. I put in for my favorites, including several that wound up taking home awards—as well as some others that didn’t, but should have. Here are the five reels that got my stamp of approval, and why.

Daiwa Exist LT

First Look: Best New Fishing Rods and Reels from ICAST 2022
Daiwa introduced their new Airdrive design with the Exist LT reel at ICAST 2022. Ryan Chelius

This was one of the first reels I picked up at ICAST 2022 and it stuck in the back of my mind for the entire show because of its extremely lightweight, yet durable construction. Not to mention it just looks and feels like a super-high-end fishing reel. 

With the new Exist LT, Daiwa introduced their new Airdrive design concept which reduces the weight of the rotor, spool, and bail assembly—making it feel as light as a feather. When I held it up in my hand, I thought to myself, something must be missing. And something is—every last ounce of unneeded material and weight. The reel is built from a one-piece magnesium frame with a Magsealed construction for a watertight seal. It has a max drag of 22 lbs and comes in sizes from 2000 to 5000. The Exist LT doesn’t come cheap, but this extremely lightweight reel will hold up to anything that bites your bait, and even if nothing does, other anglers will still be asking about where you got such a slick-looking reel.

Hardy Fortuna Regent Saltwater Fly Reel

First Look: Best New Fishing Rods and Reels from ICAST 2022
The Hardy Fortuna took home first place for best fly reel and fly fishing accessories at ICAST 2022. Ryan Chelius

This was my favorite new gear item of the entire ICAST 2022 show, and a bunch of other outdoor writers must have liked it as much as I did because it won the show’s award for the best new fly reel and overall fly accessory. 

The Fortuna Regent is constructed for big fish, and what’s more exciting than catching a giant tarpon on a fly? The reel is built with a fully sealed carbon-fiber drag system with an ultra large arbor that picks up 14-1/2 inches of line with one rotation. I had the chance to pair it with the Hardy Zane Pro rod at the casting pond to get a feel of how it performs in action. It balanced well with the Zane Pro 9-foot 8-weight and the drag was consistent and smooth. If you’re going after big saltwater fish, the Fortuna Regent is going to be an absolute beast that’ll handle whatever salty trophy you want to catch on the fly. The Hardy Fortuna Regent starts at $750 and comes in two colors. Be sure to check out our Instagram story highlights to see more on this reel.

Shimano Stella FK

First Look: Best New Fishing Rods and Reels from ICAST 2022
The Shimano Stella FK took home the best freshwater reel at ICAST 2022. Ryan Chelius

Shimano debuted their new design technologies in the latest addition to the Stella line at ICAST 2022. The Stella FK’s Infinity Drive technology increases cranking power under heavy weights, and their InfinityXross technology distributes stress across a larger surface in the gears to improve longevity. Durability is the name of the game here. There wasn’t much more to improve aesthetically to the Stella line, so Shimano turned their attention to the lifespan of the reel, which is something I really look for because I’m hard on my fishing gear. I love the look, feel, and weight of the FK. When I heard about the durable construction and put the reel in my hands, I was pretty much sold. The Stella FK also includes Anti Twist Fin technology, which reduces line twists to improve line management. Shimano made a splash with the Stella FK, taking home one of the toughest categories to win—best freshwater reel—but it’s the new design technology that’s the big news for anglers.

PENN Authority

First Look: Best New Fishing Rods and Reels from ICAST 2022
The PENN Authority took home the best saltwater reel award in the new product showcase at ICAST 2022. Ryan Chelius

I grew up fishing the saltwater of the Northeast, and I would have loved to have had a reel like this while casting swimbaits to striped bass. The PENN Authority is as durable as they come. What does this mean for saltwater anglers? First, you don’t have to worry about the extremely corrosive saltwater destroying your reel—the Authority can be submerged to 1-meter for 30 minutes without water intrusion. Second, this reel is built from a solid piece of metal with a stainless-steel gear train and pinion gear. To sum it up—the Authority is made from the best materials out there and is designed for the dedicated and obsessed saltwater angler. It comes in sizes 2500–10500 with a 12+1 bearing system. Due to the incredibly durable design, stainless-steel gears, and Dura-Drag system—this reel is not cheap ($499-$599). But for the saltwater obsessed, it is worth the investment.

Daiwa Free Swimmer

First Look: Best New Fishing Rods and Reels from ICAST 2022
The new Free Swimmer from Daiwa is a quality reel at an affordable price. Ryan Chelius

I am including this new reel from Daiwa because it was one of the best values I found at the entire show. The Free Swimmer uses an Automatic Tournament Drag (ATD) system that reduces initial drag start-up while remaining smooth and consistent once engaged. Like many of Daiwa’s reels, the Free Swimmer uses DigiGear which makes for an excellent combination of a tough drive gear and pinion gears. It has 4 bearings and a max drag of 22 pounds. The new machine-cut handle is 50 percent lighter, which made it one of the most comfortable reels I picked up at the show. It comes in sizes of 8000 or 10000, and you can pick up this excellent reel for $200.

The Best New Rods at ICAST 2022

You’ll need a new rod to pair with your new reel, right? That’s how I tend to justify my excessive fishing rod purchases. Either way, there’s always room for a new rod, and there were plenty on display. Here are the best new rods from ICAST 2022.

St. Croix Legend Tournament Bass 7′ 10″

First Look: Best New Fishing Rods and Reels from ICAST 2022

The best freshwater rod has a different look this year, but it’s more comfortable than it looks. Ryan Chelius

When I first saw the St. Croix Legend Tournament Bass at ICAST, my first thought was, that it looked more like a turkey gun than a fishing rod. But the more I checked out the rod, the more I realized that the crazy grip you see in the photo above is pretty damn comfortable, not to mention useful. And I apparently wasn’t the only one, because the Legend took home the award for the best freshwater rod. This unique design is St. Croix’s exclusive Grasp reel seat which allows anglers to remain comfortable throughout the day and fish longer. The extended handle sits perfectly in your hand, and the butt of the rod slides right under your arm. This rod is going to perform best when throwing big swimbaits or other large lures.

Ugly Stick Carbon Inshore Rod

First Look: Best New Fishing Rods and Reels from ICAST 2022
The new Ugly Stick Carbon Inshore rod won the best saltwater rod category in the new product showcase. Ugly Stick

The first thing you’ll notice about this rod is the color. Yeah, it’s a little flashy, but it won best saltwater rod for a reason—this stick is going to crush it in the back bays. It is made from a 100-percent carbon blank with a one-piece tip that enhances sensitivity. The rod is built with the classic Ugly Stick stainless-steel guides that will allow you to fish any type of line. My favorite part about the rod is the grip, which is made with two different handles. The top foregrip is made of cork for comfort and feel, while the back is made from rubber shrink tube to increase durability. This rod will be available this summer in the salty seafoam color with a good-looking Ugly Stik price tag of $99.95.

Banshee Fly

First Look: Best New Fishing Rods and Reels from ICAST 2022

The new Banshee Fly won the best fly rod in the new product showcase. Ryan Chelius

The Banshee Fly took home the trophy for the best fly rod category. Now, let’s be clear: There are better fly rods on the market, and many of the best fly rod companies do not attend ICAST. But this is a nice rod and a good value, especially for a beginner. It feels great in hand and has a strong backbone while still remaining fast enough to have good sensitivity. The custom grip has rings at the top that indicate the weight of the rod for grab-and-go situations. I don’t think that’s anything revolutionary, but still a neat idea. The Banshee Fly comes in at $399, making this a quality fly rod in the medium-to-low price range.

Shimano Spheros Saltwater Combo

First Look: Best New Fishing Rods and Reels from ICAST 2022
The new Shimano Spheros SW Combo. Ryan Chelius

Rod and reel combos get a bad rap. They too often get overlooked because of their reputation for poor construction and bad quality. Shimano is trying to put that stereotype to bed with this extremely durable combo at an affordable price. With it, anglers get a redesigned Spheros spinning reel and a durable blank that features an EVA handle and large reel seats. This setup will do great for saltwater fish like snook, redfish, striped bass, and any inshore fish. The most impressive part is that Shimano was able to keep the MSRP to $229. Good luck finding a combo at this price that is as durable and proven as the Spheros SW.

Abu Garcia Revo X Combo

First Look: Best New Fishing Rods and Reels from ICAST 2022
The new Revo X combo from Abu Garcia. Abu Garcia

On the freshwater combo side of things, Abu Garcia released the new Revo X Combo to bring anglers a low-profile design at an affordable price. It is available in three casting and two spinning options on a 30-ton graphite blank. It has a carbon 20-pound drag and carbon rear grip to improve sensitivity and an alloy frame. At $199, you get a lot of bang for your buck here.