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Post Info TOPIC: A bunch of reviews of inexpensive rods and reels.

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A bunch of reviews of inexpensive rods and reels.

Last year I went on a buying/testing binge from Amazon, Sierra Trading Post and Cabelas since they had a lot of products on sale.  I didn't need any of this stuff, but it sure was fun experimenting.  Hopefully, this will help some of you guys if you need to buy new equipment this year.


Redington CPX 10' 5wt with fighting butt.  This was my first attempt at finding a longer 5wt that would work for a float tube, deep wading and lakes with low obstructions behind.  This rod is really heavy and is a 5wt in name only.  The CPX is closer to a 7wt and is too heavy for trout although I did catch a lot of them testing it out.  You can throw a 7wt line a mile, but the rod lacks that crisp light feel that I really look for.  It fishes more like a club.  With that in mind, I used it for steelhead this year and on the 4th cast I hooked and landed a 10lb chromer hen from the Russian River.  I also plan on using it for shad this year.  Even though I got this on sale from Sierra Trading Post for $150, I wouldn't recommend it as a trout rod.

Redington CPX 9’6” 8wt.  I guess I’m a slow learner since after I was disappointed with the Red 5wt I went out and bought this rod from STP on sale for $150 thinking that maybe a heavier one would actually work.  But, the problems are the same: this rod is stiff, thick and heavy without much feel.  It will throw a 10wt shooting head just fine, however, and performed ok for stripers in the Delta.  At this point I am somewhat skeptical about Redington and suspect that they might have issues in their design department.

Cabelas LSi 9'9" 5wt.  Finally the home run in finding a longer rod that is crisp and light with medium fast action and on sale for less than $100.  In fact, it feels almost exactly like a Sage SLT and can cast just as far and accurately.  Paired with a Lamson Velocity reel, you have a fine trout fishing outfit at a great price.  I really like the extra 9" as it makes it easier to keep the line off the water from a float tube.  I haven't tried it on a river yet, but it looks perfect for big water like the Sac or even the Yuba.  At the regular price of around $200 the LSi is still worth it.

Update 08.13.16:  These rods have fished well, but there are flaws in the reel seat of the LSi.  For one thing the single uplocking reel seat nut comes loose fairly easily and I've had to add locktite to the threads to improve the stability.  Also, the entire reel seat has come off both of these rods and I have had to epoxy them back on.  They still work great, but if you're not one who likes to do your own repairs you could be disappointed.

Redington CT Classic 5wt.  (added 10.07.14)  I bought this rod for $80 from Cabelas just to give Redington another chance.  The first time I tried it, I hated the fact that it wouldn't cast a big strike indicator very well or throw a long cast and so marked it as only useful for light rigs.  When I tried it with a foam indicator and small nymph I was a lot happier with it.  If you don't chuck big golfball bobbers or lead weighted streamers or need a 75 ft cast, this rod can be a lot of fun.  The CT Classic 5wt fishes like a 4wt, so if you think along these lines you might like this medium action rod especially since it's selling for $75 bucks right now on Cabelas.

Cortland Pro-cast 4wt. (added 01.27.15)  This cost about $65 from STP and what a deal!  It is a little on the stiff side for a 4 so call it a 4.5wt.  It's light, casts great and has plenty of backbone for distance or chucking an indicator rig.  I think the Pro-cast just blows away anything I've cast in this price range with the exception of the 8wt Cabelas Wind River rod I bought years ago for $40 which was just a lucky find (BTW I tried a 5wt Wind River and it was terrible).  I would get the Pro-cast 9' 4wt as a fantastic general trout or panfish rod having confidence that it can land big fish and still be fun for small ones.

Ross Reels Essence FC 8'6" 3wt (added 08.19.15)  Another great fly rod from STP for less than $60.  It almost seems illegal - a steal.  The FC has a medium-fast taper that allows a relaxed casting motion, but still can throw a lot of line for a 3wt since it has decent backbone.  In fact, although I haven't fished it yet, I am pretty sure I won't have any problems landing fairly large fish up to 16" and would expect to have more fun landing the 12"ers.  The FC is finished off nicely with good components, but has a somewhat small cork grip so if you have big hands, this might not be comfortable.  The rod is still available along with a 4wt and 5wt which are somewhat hidden under the wrong product title on the STP website. 

Ross Reels Essence RX 9' 5wt (added 09.09.15)  This might be the best rod I've ever purchased from STP.  The RX used to be Ross's top of the line conventional fly rod until they terminated their rod business.  This is a relatively stiff and very light (2.9 oz on the scale), rod that can throw a WF line a mile without much effort.  Although it is stiff, it has a flexible tip that makes it a little more benign to people like me who don't like a hyperactive casting motion.  As many reviewers have pointed out, it isn't that great a deal for $300 retail, however, for about $110 on sale at STP it will put a big smile on your face.  STP still has these in many sizes, including fighting butt grips so if you're in the market for a premium rod with a lot of backbone, look no further.  Get one.

Sage Response 9'6" 6wt (added 11.18.15)  Got this for around $250 including tax and shipping from STP.  The Response is Sage's entry level fast action rod and it is definitely fast.  I don't see the value in it in the smaller sizes like <= 5wt, however, in this size and length, you can cast a mile with either a floating line or shooting head.  It is relatively light, feels good in the hand and at this price is an excellent deal (retail $395).  This is going to be my new steelhead, shad and Pyramid Lake goto rod.  Just to be clear the Response feels powerful, but manages to avoid the "pool cue" element unlike some other stiff rods.

Ross Essence FW 9' 4wt (added 05.16.16)  Yet another amazing fly rod for the money.  I broke the tip on one of my other 4wts and thought I'd give this a whirl.  Right now STP is selling these for around $60 depending on the discount.  The FW used to be the top of the line for the Ross Essence line until they came out with the Rx line.  The rod is not super lightweight like the Rx nor is it as fast.  It is just a very good 4wt that will not wow-you (except for the price), but does everything well.  The FW is medium-fast, weighs about 3.2 oz, and will throw a fly line as far as you need it to go.

Cabela's MTx 9' 8wt (added 08.13.16)  This is the top of the line Cabela's fly rod and features the latest 3M nano-silica resin.  Nano-silica resin uses microscopic silica particles to penetrate deeper into the rod's graphite fibers which results in a stronger rod that is also lighter since less resin can be used.  While I haven't tested the strength on a large fish yet, the 8wt MTx's weight is similar to a 5wt while the stiffness approaches a 9wt.  It is definitely mucho fast and can sling line further than any rod I've got.  It isn't as pleasant to cast as a normally fast rod, but if you need the distance for say fishing on the flats this is the ticket.  Got it for around $175 (regular price $400), however, they were briefly available for $100 and sold out in less than 1/2 hour.

Cabelas TLr 9' 10wt (added 08.13.16)  Since I'm planning on making a trip to the tropics next year, I have been thinking about heavier rods lately and saw this one on sale for $55 at Cabela's.  Since I was already buying the MTx, I thought I'd throw this one on and send it back if it was a bust.  There have been many good reviews for this rod and the sal****er version which has more corrosion resistant parts.  Just casting in my back yard I am impressed with the low swing weight and liveliness of the 10wt TLr.  It has a faster taper than the type of rod you usually get for this price.  It's as light as a 6wt in the hand and can throw line!  Don't know about durability, but if some of you are getting new rods this year you should try these out.  I imagine the TLr is pretty good in the other sizes too.

Fenwick Aetos 9' 8wt (08.19.16)  If you are considering a new premium rod and don't want to spend $600, look no further than the Aetos.  I'll say this: the Aetos is the best low-priced rod I've ever cast. It is fast, but not too fast, light as can be and looks pretty good too. More importantly, you'll be able to throw line as far and accurately with the Aetos as any Sage, Loomis, Scott or Winston you've got. Most of the other low end rods cast well and are very fishable, however, the Aetos stands taller due to the light swing weight/wonderful balance which rivals the high end sticks. I like this rod as much as anything I've ever fished (regardless of price) with the caveat that I have no idea if it's going to be durable out in the field.  Got it for $100 through which gives you free fast shipping, no tax and a 15% discount.

Here's the shootout review:

Update 09.06.16:  Took this out striper fishing on the Lower Stan and it was a pleasure to fish.  I did notice that casts longer than 80ft were a more work than with the Sage RPL+, however, the Aetos felt better < 80ft than the premium rod.  These are on sale right now at Amazon for around $120.  I assure you:  if you are a good caster, you won't be disappointed in this rod especially for the price.biggrin

Update 10.07.16:  Just got back from a trip to Pyramid where I fished with Otter, MitchM and Mitch's friend Rich.  I mostly used the Aetos rods (2 8wts) and so got a better sense of rod durability.  Most of the fish were from 19" to 25" with a few smaller and a few bigger.  The Aetos was solid even when bent double.  Next test will be in salt water.

Update 01.05.17:  Purchased the 10' 3wt for fishing for stockers at the local lakes.  The extra 12" is especially useful when there are obstructions behind you as it helps avoid snagging bushes on your backcast.  It also helps when fishing from a float tube.  This rod is more like a 3.5wt as it has a fairly fast taper from a thick base.  Can cast over 60' on flat ground with no wind using 5wt SA GPX line.  This is a wonderfully fun rod that is selling for $115 on Amazon as of today!

Fenwick World Class 9' 4wt (Added 10.28.16).  Something tells me that they have a genius fly rod design crew working over at Fenwick/Pure Fishing as this rod impresses as much as the Fenwick Aetos albeit at a slightly higher price.  For my style of casting the World Class is perfectly tapered with has plenty of backbone, great recovery and fast action without being overly stiff.  This is another rod that uses a variation of 3m's nano silica resin which seems to always result in a lighter and stronger rod with excellent balance.  If you just check Amazon or every once in a while for both the World Class and Aetos, you can find some great deals.  I got this one for $140 on Amazon and have seen the 5wt Aetos as cheap as $91 again on Amazon.  I don't see a lot of value buying this over the Aetos in the lower size range, however, the Aetos only goes up to an 8wt while the World Class is sized up to a 12wt.

Fenwick HMG 9' 8wt (Added 12.12.16).  Another good stick from Fenwick.  I actually did not buy this rod, but rather cast another guy's 8wt who just bought the rod.  It isn't as elegant as the Aetos or the World Class, but casts well and is another bargain for the price.  The HMG is possibly a little faster than the Aetos, but also noticeably heavier with a higher swing weight as well.  I think this sells for about 15% less and I've seen these on for as little as $80.  While I think the Aetos is a more elegant tool, result wise this will get the job done just as well for a less $.



Lamson Velocity v2 and v3.  I bought one in nickel and one in hard alox to see the difference.  I got them from Amazon for about $160 each which is about 1/2 price since this model is being discontinued.  The nickel v2 reel is ultra light since the spool base is fully ported which makes it lighter and also aids in drying your line faster.  The hard alox finish on the v3 is supposed to be more resistant to dings, but doesn't come with the ported spool base.  Overall, these reels are outstanding for the incredibly smooth conical drag system, the very good Lamson barstock machining and lightweight large arbor design that holds a lot of line.  Although I hear they are durable, the reels look delicate so we'll see.  BTW, these reels are still available on sale along with the more expensive LiteSpeed on both Amazon and STP.

Cabelas Wind River 5/6 wt.  For $20 you expect to get a plastic reel, but here you get a large arbor cast aluminum design with a decent disc drag.  Took it out on a lake and lucked into a pod of big fat trout in the 15-18" range.  The drag actually held up fine although obviously not as smooth as the Lamsons.  These are a bit crude in the manufacturing area, but will get the job done.  This would be a good first reel for anyone wanting to try trout fishing.

Okuma Cedros and Helios size 8/9.  I got one of each of these from Amazon for about $160 each, one for a trip to Costa Rica and the other for a backup on a trip to Cape Cod.  These reels feel very durable and well machined, but are on the heavy side.  The enclosed "zero maintenance" drag system held up well in salt water and the drag systems did not fail on bonita, jack crevalle, mackerel or stripers.  Although the Cedros has a non-ported type II anodized body to keep the salt water out while the Helios is fully ported, the spools on these reels are interchangeable.   

Allen Alpha III size 4 (10wt).  This is the coolest looking reel of the bunch with a red and aqua type II anodized finish.  The Chinese barstock machining on this one are very nice and the drag is smooth.  I haven't had a chance to fish it yet, but the problem I foresee is the non-enclosed drag system that can be affected by salt water.  I'm not very diligent on maintaining my equipment so we'll see how this one lasts.  The Alpha II cost me about $110 on sale @ and is the heaviest one of the bunch at around 8.5 oz.

Okuma Sierra 5/6 (added 9.15.14).  Somebody was selling these on eBay for like $20 so I thought I'd buy a couple and try them out.   So far they have been fantastic. The drag is an offset caliper type like the SA reels and works smoothly. Should be fine for trout even the big ones. The overall feel of the molded aluminum design is solid and so should be durable. These are not large arbor, but for trout I view that as irrelevant.  The Okuma company does a good job of supporting their products and will replace or send out any needed part usually at no charge.  If you are on a budget, do not hesitate to get one of these for trout or maybe even steelhead.

Piscifun CNC 6061-T6 machined reel 7/8wt (added 12.10.15).  I put a review on Amazon where I gave this lightweight, anodized aluminum fly reel 4-star rating.  The machining is top-notch with tight tolerances and no obvious mistakes.  They claim the reel is "hard-anodized" but how can you tell?  The drag feels smooth, but the adjustment dial turns too easily.  I fixed this by adding a little blue Loctite to the dial threads and now it works fine.  For the price of $40 this reel will be a great purchase if the drag holds up.  Beware of many of the reviews on Amazon as they have been bribed with discounts.  Update 3.26.16:  Reel has held up, however, the drag has plenty of startup inertia which is somewhat unnerving.  I wouldn't use it with tippets less than 4x.

Cabela's Prestige Plus (added 03.26.16).  Stopped by the Cabelas in Reno on my way to Pyramid Lake and found this reel on sale for $30.  Although there are several very tiny aluminum casting flaws in the reel it looks solid and is light weight due to the spoke design.  The cork disc drag has low startup inertia which makes it usable with light tippets.  I would call this a mid-arbor design rather than large-arbor as stated on the website.  Overall I'm pretty sure this deal is awesome and can't wait to try it out on a 10lb+ Pyramid cutthroat.

Update: 6.7.16: This reel is again selling for $30 at Cabelas.  So far it has been perfect and I've landed a 13lb cut on it and used it for shad with no problems.  Can't tell about long-term. Just bought another one in size #2 for a trip to Almanor.  Drag seems right on and for $30 it's worth a shot.

Update: 12.12.16:  This reel is on sale this week for $20 at Cabelas.  I hope some of you buy at this insane price for a decent quality reel.  Perfect for trout in size #2 and also for stripers, steelhead and shad in the #3 size.

Ross Flyrise #4 (added 05.16.16)  The attraction of this reel is that it has the same drag mechanism of the fully machined Evolution series, but since it is cast aluminum, the price is much lower. The drag is nearly perfect as far as I can tell with low startup inertia and smooth operation.  My Flyrise has a textured black finish that looks durable and the entire reel is pretty light.  The #4 version looks like a 7/8 reel, but I was able to load a lot of backing onto the spool possibly due to a little extra width in the design so it might stretch to a 9wt.  My experience with Ross reels is that they last forever and you get wonderful customer service from the company.  Again STP is the place to get the Flyrise as at one point they were selling them for $36 ea.

Lamson Waterworks Litespeed Series IV (added 08.08.17)  Bought this for a tarpon fishing trip to Islamorada in the Florida keys.  Unfortunately, I whiffed the hook set on 2 tarpon (120lb and 60lb) that should have been stuck, but there's always next year!  The drag on the Litespeed is supposedly stronger than many of the other Lamson reels which is contrary to what you hear from the company and around the internet. In the Trident 2015 reel shootout they compared the Litespeed to the Lamson Speedster and found that the Litespeeed generated about 7lbs of drag vs 2lbs for the Speedster along with large startup drag inertia with the Speedster, but not for the Litespeed. The Litespeed spool is fairly wide which seems to be an issue for some fishermen, but the Florida guide told me that he had no problem with the reel. Got it for around $250 on STP.

TFO NXT LA I (added 08.08.17)  Bought this on an open box deal at Amazon for $43.  This is a lightweight cast aluminum reel with a drag that looks almost identical to a Lamson.  The spool comes off like a Lamson and there is a noticeable resistance when reeling that reminds me of the Lamson Guru.  The drag-like reeling resistence might be a problem with the larger II size, but with this 5wt size, I am not worried about having to reel in 200 yds of backing. The drag feels smooth (like a Lamson) and appears to be sealed. There are a few burrs on the spool that I removed with sandpaper and I think this will perform great for trout. These are selling for $60 at the Sportsman's Warehouse website.

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Just curious if you have fished the Cabelas LSI 9' 9" 5 wt much since your original post?  I am heading to the Big Horn River in Montana this summer.  I am thinking about the Cabelas LSI 9' 9" 5 wt or the 9' 6" 7 wt.  its mostly indicator fishing nymphs or tossing hoppers for rainbows, browns and cuts in the 15" to 20" range.  which of these two rods would you suggest?


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I very much like the Cabelas LSI 9'9" 5wt for trout. It is actually on the stiffer side of a 5wt and so is fairly versatile. I've caught a lot of 15-20" rainbows on this from the Lower Sac to the Lower Yuba and also in stillwater and never felt underpowered. Since it is a longer rod, it throws a more open loop, but can still fire off a 70ft cast. I suggest overloading it with a 7wt line. If you just plan on just fishing rivers with it, you might consider getting the 9' LSI as it will throw a tighter loop.

For trout I basically use this rod (got 2 of them) and the Cortland Pro-cast 4 wt (got 2 of these) all the time and feel well equipped.

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