I’ve fished dozens of rods, from various manufacturers, that carried price tags ranging from $200-plus to $500, $600 or even $700. And for the most part, they’ve all been worth the expense. What you get for the money is technology—advanced materials and manufacturing processes that make the blanks lighter, more sensitive and sometimes even stronger than rods that cost much less.
At the same time I greatly appreciate fishing rods that don’t cost a bundle, yet perform like champs day-in and day-out. My favorite, and one I’ve recommended many times, is Berkley’s Lightning Rod. I bought my first for $35 more than 20 years ago—two of them, actually, because at that time you could get a free Humminbird Silent Sixty flasher through a special mail-in promotion—and I’ve had at least one in my arsenal ever since.
After a couple of decades of telling anglers the Lightning Rod offers big-time “bang-for-the-buck” performance, I’ll be adding three new rods to my recommended list this year—Quantum’s Graphex, Berkley’s E-Motion and Shakespear’s Ugly Stik Elite. To be candid, I’ve yet to fish the Graphex or the E-Motion, but I’ve held enough fishing rods to be able to form an educated opinion on quality and performance.
The new Graphex rods are made of IM6 graphite heat bonded to E-glass fibers. While the blanks weigh more than a high-priced premium rod, they’re certainly light enough to fish all day without wearing out an elbow. The series contains 10 spinning models from ultra-light to medium-heavy, and seven casting rods; medium and medium-heavy. All feature natural cork handles and aluminum oxide guides.
All have a fast taper, and the 7-foot, medium-heavy casting rod I’ve handled flexes just where it should at the third guide from the tip-top. Plus, the rod gives every indication that it’ll transmit tiny vibrations from bottom changes or subtle bites right to my fingertips through the exposed-blank reel seat. The mid- and butt sections are stout, and I have no doubt the rod will easily handle heavy lures and pull fish from the thick stuff.
I’m also impressed with its looks. The matte grey finish is attractive, and the honeycomb graphics are just plain cool. For its price, this is a fabulous rod. Suggested retail: $20 or $25, depending on model.
Shakespeare Ugly Stik Elite
If you’re an Ugly Stik fan, the new Elite series rods are going to surprise you. And if you’re somehow one of the six anglers in the country who’ve never fished a “Stik,” you’ll be amazed.
Indestructibility was the original rod’s claim to fame, but what it offered in durability, it gave up in weight and sensitivity. The new Elite line addresses both shortfalls.
Shakespeare increased graphite content by 35 percent, which substantially reduced the rod’s weight and diameter, and made the action crisper. I’ve fished a 6½-foot, medium power, two-piece spinning rod and definitely noticed that it feels much lighter than the originals I’ve owned. I was also pleased to see the familiar clear tip at the business end. After all, would the rod really be an Ugly Stik without it?
The tip section is still the tiniest bit mushy, but the backbone takes over at the third line guide, and that gave me complete control over the 2- and 3-pound channel catfish I caught with it. The 15 spinning and seven casting rods in the Ugly Stik Elite series are definitely a giant step up from the original version—in everything but price. Suggested retail: $49.95.
The 11 casting and four spinning rods in this series will undoubtedly find their way into the hands of top-level competitive fishermen, but they’re priced at a point that every angler can afford.
Made from a blend of 24 and 30 Ton graphite, the blanks are light, strong and extremely sensitive, and there are a few things I like right off about my 6-foot, 9-inch, medium-fast casting rod.
First, the front and rear of the split-grip handle are more bulbous than what you typically see. Though some anglers will have a different opinion, I’m sure, it feels good in my hand. The blank-through reel seat offers roughly two inches of exposure, making it easy to feel vibrations traveling up the line. Finally, the line guides are small—not quite mircos, but smaller than standard guides to facilitate long, smooth casts.
The lineup includes a blend of general purpose and technique-specific (shaky head, topwater, Carolina etc.) designs that will offer anglers a lot of options. Suggested retail: $79.95