Shimano's Cumara (*est. $210) receives both a 2008 Best of the Best award for spinning rods from Field and Stream Magazine and a 2008 Best Value award from TackleTour.com. Its thin-walled IM-10 graphite makes it incredibly flexible and light, though the feature that has reviewers really taking notice is the custom-carbon split reel seat and split handle. Reviewers say this design, while decreasing the overall weight of the rod, makes for a comfortable grip that sends crystal-clear signals to users' hands. The Cumara uses an EVA foam handle which, while more durable, tends to be not as sensitive as cork (which some say is an odd choice for a rod in this price range). Both users and reviewers praise Shimano's limited lifetime warranty.
For high-end luxury rods, G. Loomis's Bronzeback (*Est. $250) consistently tops reviewers' lists. Both Outdoor Life and Field and Stream magazines rated it as their top rod of 2006, with Field and Stream saying that the Bronzeback "may be the best rod ever built for light lures." Outdoor Life cites the rod's high level of sensitivity while still maintaining a decent level of power due to the rod's super-high-modulus GLX graphite. Reviewers all mention the rod's extra-sensitive tip, which allows fishermen to feel even the smallest bites. TackleTour.com awarded this rod an Editor's Choice award in 2007. Users posting to Cabelas.com also say that the rod is very versatile and holds up in a variety of fishing environments. The Bronzeback also features a high-grade cork handle and a split-reel seat.
The G. Loomis IMX (*Est. $195 to $295), depending on model) is also rated highly by users. On Cabelas.com, owners say the rod is sensitive and light; some even say it matches the Bronzeback in terms of quality. Some anglers don't like the rod's long cork handles, though, saying the grip feels awkward. Most say that for this price range, the Shimano Cumara (*Est. $210) offers an overall better experience.
One new rod that's drawing attention from many fishing magazines and websites -- though, oddly, few reviews aside from a couple of user comments -- is the E21 Carrot Stix LTX (*est. $150). The Carrot Stix gained notoriety last year after winning "Best in Show" at the 2007 International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST). The fishing rod utilizes a new biofiber derived from carrots (hence the name), that allows for stress to be evenly distributed throughout the rod, reducing the chance of failure but also increasing sensitivity. The rod provides the best attributes of both fiberglass and graphite rods while eliminating the drawbacks of each, making for a light, sensitive, durable rod. Carrot Stix also sports a split-grip "Velvet Touch" handle, which users say gives more sensitivity than cork or foam. One commenter on Cabela's insists the rod is "the new wave in fishing."
None of the fishing rods here come with a reel (although you can often buy them as part of a kit that includes a reel). Like fishing rods, reels come in a wide variety of brands and styles so matching the right rod to the right reel is key. For the most part these combos are for beginner's rods such as the Whuppin' Stick, though Cabelas.com offers combos its editors recommend. It should be noted that these combos almost always include one of Cabela's products. The best and most widely available combo is the Shakespeare Ugly Stik Freshwater Ugly Spin Combo (*Est. $40 with reel). Like the Ugly Stik rod, the Ugly Stik reel finds a balance between lightness and durability. The reel itself is manufactured from lightweight graphite while the spool is made from aluminum.
If you can't find a combo for your fishing rod, experts agree that ideal reels will have a line capacity that matches the fishing rod they will be paired with. Both fishing rods and reels are rated for different line weights, so it's crucial to find a pair that can handle the line you intend to use. Experts also recommend reels with easily adjustable drags -- which refers to how slowly the reel lets out line once a fish is caught -- and reels that offer anti-reverse handles that only spin in one direction. For buyer's guides on selecting reels, please see our "Best Research" section.