1. SHIMANO CURADO CASTING ROD
$160–$170 • shimano.com
Anglers know the name Curado. For years, it has referred specifically to Shimano’s line of workhorse baitcasting reels and has come to denote high quality at a manageable price. So, when the company developed a line of rods with the same qualities, it only made sense to put the Curado name on them. It’s a high standard to live up to, but these new sticks don’t disappoint.
The blanks on the Curado series are a blend of traditional carbon and Nanoresin—a highmodulus mix that increases responsiveness and power, resulting in lightweight, sensitive rods that store and release more energy for longer and more accurate casts, and that still pack plenty of backbone to muscle big gamefish to the boat. Every model in the line features high-end Fuji products from tip to butt, including tangle-free guides and a rubberized softtouch reel seat. The cork grip is comfortable and ergonomic— perfect for all-day casting. The Curado line of casting rods has 23 different models that cover a wide range of fishing techniques, from a 6-foot-10-inch medium/fast rod for smaller presentations to a beastly 8-foot extra-heavy/fast model for throwing huge baits and muscling lunker fish.
2. 13 FISHING CONCEPT Z CASTING REEL $200 • 13fishing.com
The Concept Z is not the first reel without traditional ball bearings, but it is the first to deliver best-in-class performance. The cornerstone of the reel is the Concept Zero Bearing (CZB), perfected by 13 Fishing after years of R&D. The CZB selflubricates and never needs service, it doesn’t wear or rust, and its performance only improves with time and use. Translated into fishing terms, the Concept Z will throw the smallest lures significantly farther than other low-profile baitcasters.
Both the cast and the retrieve are incredibly smooth and quiet right out of the box. The Concept Z is also armed with 13 Fishing’s Bulldog drag system, which packs more than 22 pounds of stopping power. The reel’s performance and power are tucked neatly into a lightweight and rigid 6.4-ounce package that can be used in fresh water or salt. Soft, comfortable EVA handle grips, and a six-point centrifugal brake that can be changed on the fly add to the reel’s utility. The Z is available in three righthanded models with gear ratios of 6.6:1, 7.3:1, and 8.1:1, and one left-handed model with a gear ratio of 7.3:1. A beefed-up Concept Z for larger freshwater and inshore species is currently in the works.
3. ST. CROIX LEGEND X SPINNING ROD $400–$410 • stcroixrods.com
St. Croix left us little choice but to give them a Best of the Best award for the Legend X, which the company stuffed with every one of its state-of-the-art technologies and finished with ultrahigh-end components. For starters, the rods are built with 100 percent corrosion-resistant titanium Fuji tangle-free guides with Torzite rings, which are smoother and harder than all other guide ceramics. The blank features super-high-modulus SCVI graphite in its lower section, which increases power while reducing weight, and high- modulus/high-strain SCV graphite with a carbon-matte scrim on the upper section, which adds both durability and sensitivity. The Legend X is tooled with St. Croix’s Integrated Poly Curve (IPC) technology, which eliminates transition points along the length of the rod. The blank also incorporates St. Croix’s Advanced Reinforcing Technology (ART), which reduces deformation under load and maximizes power. A titanium Kigan hook keeper, Fuji TVS blank-touch reel seat, and super-grade cork round out this paragon of spinning rods, handcrafted in Park Falls, Wisconsin. There are five spinning models, ranging from a 6-foot-10-inch medium/light to a 7-foot medium/heavy.
4. SHIMANO EXSENCE SPINNING REEL $540–$550 • fish.shimano.com
The Exsence has been called the “Batmobile” because of its sleek matte-black finish and modern curves. But looks alone don’t make this reel worth more than $500. What commands that price are the reel’s guts and engineering, which make it one of the smoothest, most dependable spinning reels I’ve ever fished. It’s been my A reel since April, coming along on everything from river smallmouth hunts to American shad quests and trophy chain pickerel missions. I know that if I took it out for more feisty players like stripers or steelhead, it would handle them too. The magnesium Hagane body is incredibly lightweight yet strong, while Shimano’s X-Protect technology provides a water-repellent coating on internal parts that’s not as thick as grease, allowing Shimano to use much lighter gears and rotors to reduce overall weight. There is more state-ofthe-art technology in this reel than I can mention here, but it’s all aimed at creating a reel with tolerances that will never loosen up, making it feel fresh out of the box season after season. If you’re one of those anglers who prefers to be married to your gear rather than have to replace it every few years, the Exsence is worth the investment.