Reviews

The Great American Rod Shootout – Part I

Posted on September 15, 2004

This is the first in a series of rod shootouts that I am doing. In them we will take a look at several popular rods and a few not so popular models and break them down for complete analysis.

Like a sinner going to confession, I guess I must take the time now to admit my sins and renounce them. Yes, it is true, at one time in my life I thought that the rods I used were one of the least important pieces of my equipment. I knew that there was no universal rod to handle every task, I just thought that they weren’t all that important. This is what I felt in my head, but I guess my body was on cruise control because I’ve always seemed to constantly upgrade my rods opting for more sensitive, stronger and lighter sticks as time progressed. My thoughts have come full circle on this topic.

I am a jig man – you may know me as a finesse angler, but I’ve always been a jig man. For this reason, my comparison logically starts out with jig rods. Now I surely can’t tell you that my optimum choice of length and action will be best for you. I tend to fish a bit lighter than most anglers. I rarely throw anything over 15lb. test even when flipping 1/2oz. jigs in the nasty stuff. For this reason, I opt for a 7ft. rod in medium action. This rod can be great for spinnerbaits and crankbaits as well. This is generally lighter than the MH action rods many guys rely on. Like I said, I’m a jig man at heart, but the finesse does shine through.

Performance

There are a lot of good rods out there and there are some bad ones as well. I’ve learned much in my 25+ years of fishing starting way back with Shakespere rods and Abu Garcia Conlon’s. This comparison is going to based on rods that I have owned and not loaners. It would be unfair for me to simply pick up a rod for a trip or two and make a judgment on it. The rods we will look at are from Bass Pro Shops, St Croix, Kistler, Loomis and Diawa. Their prices vary greatly. Some are obviously better values than others while some may be expensive, but extremely worth it. Value can’t be translated into cheapest price. I see it as the more bang for your buck theory that wins out here. Competitive pricing with total performance is what I look for in a rod value.

The Players

Bass Pro Shops 7ft. Johnny Morris Flipping Stick [JMX70MT $149.99]

This rod is the king of Bass Pro Shop’s line up. It has HM-85 Graphite with titanium reinforcement. I used this model hard for two complete seasons of tournament fishing. I feel that the high modulus graphite with titanium mixed in produced a super strong and sensitive rod. The 7ft. medium action fishes slightly heavier, but this is a crisp rod. It features good Fuji concept guides and the right amount for its length. Guides + tip equals 10, a 7ft. rod should not have less than that. The materials used for the guides and handles are top of the line. For a mass produced rod, I’d go out on a limb and say the Johnny Morris rod is the cream of the crop. The rod loads up nicely under stress and the transition from working a bait to hook set is very smooth. They have excellent strength and sensitivity as well. The butt of the rod is strong and powerful, the medium action translates into a softer tip that flexes nicely when you set up on a fish.

On the water: I teamed the Johnny up with a sweet little Scorpion 1001 and 14lb. Berkley Vanish. I used a 1/4oz. Micro Munch Grass Jig in Black/Blue/Purple with a solid black Muscle Craw hand poured trailer. The Johnny Morris rod is sensitive and casts well. I had little problem flipping with it and delivering my baits to their targets. I did manage to take several good bass with it on this day to over 3lbs. It is strong, it is sensitive and it out muscles fish with relative ease. I did notice that there was a lot of pressure on my flipping arm elbow when the day ended and my right hand ached from that Power Hump handle.

Kudos: Quality components, true actions, great sensitivity, good price.

Quirks: Johnny Morris rods do have a drawback or two. First, I do not have big hands and the power hump handle design is yesterday’s technology. There is nothing new about this and it likely should be dropped in order to provide a more comfortable alternative. Next, the rod is heavy on the weight side of things. Not the heaviest rod I’ve used, but after flipping for 12 hours, I am fatigued. Lastly, I think the weight balancing system is useless. This only adds to the stress on your elbow after a full day of fishing. In my first season with these rods I developed a nasty case of elbow pain towards the late fall. I took off the weight balancing system and found that there was 4oz. of brass weights inside. I almost did myself in with them.

What it means: I really like the Johnny Morris rod. For $149.99 it is a very good rod with a mid-dollar price tag. I think it could be one of the best if BPS got rid of the Power Hump and cut down on the weight. It already has better hardware than many more expensive rods. If I had to rate the overall performance of the rod, I’d give it a solid 8. As far as value and technology, it is about as good as they come.

Final Score: 8

Bass Pro Shops 7ft. Extreme Flipping Stick [ETX70MT $79.99]

Here is BPS’s mid level entry. The HM-54 blank is responsive and fast. Extreme’s come complete with Fuji Concept guides and tips as well as cork handles. As with the Johnny series, the Extreme is a little heavier than its medium rating suggests and the Power Hump handle is not beneficial for all day comfort unless you have giant hands. The rod actions are not as crisp as more expensive brands, but the Extreme is a good rod overall. The rod has excellent backbone and I’ve used them to drive the hook home into some very big bass. For a while they were all I used, but gradually I saw myself changing to lighter, more efficient brands. All in all the Extreme is a good value. The rod is nice to look at for a fairly inexpensive model. I would recommend these rods to a beginner who wants to really attempt to get into flipping. The have a “buy 2 get one free” deal and there are a lot worse rods out there to start off with.

On the water: The Extreme is a good beginners rod. As one polishes his skills, an upgrade will be necessary. The rod simply gets the job done without extra bells and whistles. It isn’t a no frills rod, however. It’s a bit heavy, it has a Power Hump and its actions are not as polished as other rods in the comparison.

Kudos: This is a low priced rod that is more than adequate for newbies to learn on. Good warranty.

Quirks: A heavy weighing rod, a little clunky or boxy feeling actions. That Power Handle has to go.

What it means: This rod is good for novice and intermediate anglers who just want to get a feel for casting and flipping. You could do a lot worse. This is a good beginner rod. Overall this rod should rate a 7.

Final Score: 7

Loomis IMX 7ft. Flipping Stick [MBR844C $260.00]

There is that word again, Loomis. It obviously generates a lot of respect in the angling world. While Loomis rods are considered to be high quality, they carry a price tag to match. Do you get what you pay for though? My Loomis model is actually a rod built by Loomis for Yamamoto. As tested, the IMX is a solid performer. Despite its medium rating, it is on the lighter side of medium action which is perfect for a spinnerbait or crankbait rod, exactly how I employ it. I like its flexibility and its parabolic action. It loads up nicer than almost any rod I’ve ever used and is equally at home with light or heavy spinnerbaits. It has good backbone which helps when you are into a good fish. The problem I have with the Loomis brand is that the company does not list the materials it uses for its rods. I don’t know what type of graphite it is made of, I’m not sure of the guides and top. This kind of bothers me. I would be hard pressed to spend the high dollars without knowing what I am paying for.

On the water: I quickly realized that this is no jigging rod. The power and action of the rod are much slower and lighter than labeled. The rod is comfortable to fish. I liked the way it loads when fishing crank baits and spinnerbaits. Had it been a ML rod, I likely would have different thought about it, but had I shelled out $260.00 and bought it through a catalog house I would have been very disappointed. The rod was matched with a Metanium MX reel and Sea King 20/6 line. I attempted to throw a 3/8oz. Grass Jig and chunk, but I felt as if I was fishing with spaghetti. Like I said, this is not a jig rod, nor can it provide you with the versatility to fish a jig. Some jig rods make decent cranking sticks too. This is a good cranking stick that fails as a jig rod.

Kudos: I like this rod for cranking. It is not a jig rod. It loads as good as any rod I’ve fished and I think this is its strongest attribute.

Quirks: This rod is a good rod even though I have some serious quirks with Loomis and their policies. I do not like the fact that they do not list what type of graphite their blanks are made of. For all I know, this could be a lesser quality graphite than what their competitors use as standard – why the secret? Something must be up. I do not like the fact that on a $260.00 rod, the components they use are average at best. Why not Sic guides, why not a higher quality reel seat? The rod came from the factory with 7 guides and a tip. For a 7ft. rod you need about 9 to 10 guides on the length of the blank to prevent the line from contacting the blank. I stripped the rod down and added my own SiC guides in the appropriate number. I obviously should not have to do this with a rod of this price. I do not like the fact that I am paying for a name. Yes I know G Loomis was at one time the innovator of rods. I remember Lamiglass. As much as I want to like this brand and trust it, I just don’t.

What it means: The IMX is a very good and capable reaction bait casting rod. I prefer to throw spinner baits with it. It annoys me that this rod is listed as a heavier action than it truly is. The rod rates a 7.5.

Final Score: 7.5

St. Croix Premiere 7ft. Flipping Stick [PC70MF $85.00]

St. Croix is a fairly popular brand that has really evolved in the last few years. The Premiere series is their middle of the road entry. The action on these rods is solid and dare I say crisp for a low priced rod. They feature good components. I could not get my hands on an Avid or Elite to test and I hear they are much better then the lower priced Premiere. The Premiere features Fuji Concept guides and a graphite reel seat. I noticed right away that there were too few guides on it. This is something I don’t understand. Essentially this rod was built and designed with too few guides and either nobody caught that or it was done on purpose to save money. For that reason, it is hard for me to take this rod seriously.

On the water: I fished with this model rod before. It isn’t a bad rod. On the fateful day of testing I rigged the rod up with a Scorpion 1001 and 17lb. P-Line. I flipped a 1/2oz. jig and on my first hook set I promptly snapped the rod in half. Now I do not think this is common place and, as I said, I had fished with the rod before the test without problems.

Kudos: It features good components and price. Had I not broken the rod, it would have been right in the thick of things for this shootout.

Quirks: Um, I broke it and, um, rather easily at that.

What it means: They have the value, they have the performance of higher priced rods, but they need to…as Emeril says, “kick it up a notch”. Did I mention that I did break the first Premier I ever used setting the hook on a 2lb. fish? I’d like to think that perhaps my rod was defective or something, but that scared me from buying any other St. Croix products. My opinion is that if I had to choose between the Premiere or the Extreme, I’d go with the Extreme. What I do not like about these rods is that they scrimp on important areas like too few rod guides and sloppy glue spots on the tip tops and guides. With a little re-tooling and quality control, I think that the Premier could be one of the most popular and respected rod lines on the market. No rating due to breakage.

Final Score: Inconclusive

Team Diawa 7ft. Flipping Stick [TDA701MRB-G Retractable Butt $189.95]

Here’s a rod from a famous company that is a decent translation. I am not a big fan of a telescoping rod because of the extra weight a ferrule adds, but this rod was not all that bad. I have also set the hook only to have the whole blank spin around on telescopic models. This is no good. I certainly liked the Concept guides. On this rod, there were actually enough guides for its length. I liked the custom feel to the cork grip. It is better than most. I like the innovation of the High Structural Density on the blank. I don’t know what that means, but the rod felt good and was solid for jig duty. The graphics and winds were clean as I would expect for a rod costing this price. The action was true medium, solid and stiff, but not too stiff. Not a bad rod, but its drawback is weight.

On the water: The Diawa fishes heavy. When setting the hook, it does so with authority. I never felt like a fish was getting the best of me. The rod is a good mix of power, backbone and leverage, but it is heavy, perhaps a little to heavy in action to be a medium rod. The rod was sensitive and I had no trouble detecting strikes.

Kudos: Powerful rod, solid action, good sensitivity.

Quirks: Too heavy and I do not care for the retractable telescoping handle. Overall, this is a heavy rod. I have to take this into consideration for fishing many hours at a time like I do. I would look elsewhere before buying another.

What it means: The Diawa is certainly capable at throwing jigs. Its weight is my main concern and would surely tire me out had I chosen to fish with it for 8 to 10 hours. Not a bad rod, but too high priced for what you are getting. Overall the TDA is a 7.5. Value wise, it really is nothing special. I can tell you that you can get a comparable performing rod from this shootout much cheaper.

Final Score 7.5

Kistler Helium LTA 7ft. [$219.99]

While the Kistler Helium is not quite a high dollar rod in cost, it is high end quality to the fullest extreme. Kistler rods are true custom rods, they offer features not found on any other factory rods and likely not on most custom jobs either. The fact is that Kistler family has been behind establishing both All Star and Castaway rods should lend some serious “street cred” to the line up that bears the family name. As I stated before, Kistler rods are truly custom. Their Helium “Lighter Than Air” series is a mix of high modulus graphite and special materials that seriously cut down on weight without sacrificing strength or sensitivity.

The Helium series and most other Kistler rods feature some very unique innovations. First, the rods do not have a fore grip, you know, that useless piece of cork in front of your reel. Without the cork there, anglers are free to place their fingers directly on the blank enhancing sensitivity and strike detection. C’mon fellas, this is innovation 101, why haven’t we as consumers demanded this years ago? Kistler saw that this would only improve fishing and banked on it. Well, I think it paid off. Next, the Helium features a very unique out of the way hook hanger. This is truly another custom facet, a little something extra on an already quality rod. Kistler Heliums have beautiful high quality deep blue ceramic inserts built on what looks to be TiCH guide frames. This helps cut down on weight as well and provides a very durable material that will stand up to the toughest braids or the most delicate mono. I’ll be honest once again, I acquired my first Helium in the winter of 2003. I got it in a trade for some Yamamoto Senkos. I picked the rod up in April of 2004 and never put it down.

On the water: I put a Scorpion 1001 on this rod and alternated between Sea King 20/6 super line and Berkley 14lb. Vanish and threw 3/8oz. and 1/2oz. Micro Munch Grass Jigs with matching Muscle Craw chunks. Sensitivity and strength are not compromised with the decrease in weight of this rod. I managed to take a few solid jig fish on test day with my stressful violent hook set. At no time did any question about this rods performance or durability enter my mind. The relative light weight of this rod makes it a dream to fish all day in comfort with. You simply do not fight the rod with a Kistler rod. The rod’s overall comfort and the fact that it does not fatigue me allows me to put more fish in the boat, stay focused on fishing and not pain. I’m not sure I could have accomplished that with other rods I’ve relied on in the past.

Kudos: No foregrip, custom hook hanger, high quality components, light weight, true action, sharp looks, strength, sensitivity, power.

Quirks: Relative availability of a custom rod is essentially reduced to its originating factory. Kistler does sell them to distributors, but these are built one at a time so you may have to look to find one locally or special order it. Of course, you could buy them off the Kistler web site with no problems.

What it all means: The Kistler Helium LTA is the finest rod I’ve ever used in my lifetime. They are clean, they are crisp, they are top shelf performers. In life, most people are happy to get what they pay for, with this brand, I think you get a ton extra. This rod is likely better than the Loomis GLX and costs much less. It has excellent components and innovations that make it truly custom yet is available at a factory price. I feel that this rod is a tremendous value as well. The only knock is its current limited availability. My opinion is that the Helium rod is the best rod on the market, period! It is a perfect balance of strength, sensitivity, lightness and comfort.

Performance for this rod is a 10. At $219.00, this rod fishes like a $300+ rod should fish.

Final Score: 10 (For the record, this is the only product to ever receive a 10 in any of my shoot-out’s.)

Throughout my time as a writer on the subject of bass fishing, I have obviously come to many conclusions that I base my writing on. I’ve argued points till I was blue in the face. I’ve defended my positions based on facts that I’ve accumulated. A shootout article is in its purest form is entirely the opinion of the tester/writer. What may be good for me, might not be good for you. Hey, I prefer a medium action rod for flipping. I would guess that the vast majority of flipperman would prefer a MH or Heavy action rod.

I had been a user of BPS rods for close to 20 years. They are a good factory produced rod at a fairly low price. With a few tweaks, they could be made even better. They surely outfish rods that cost more than themselves.

With respect to the comparison please keep in mind that I tested the rods for a period of a few days, but in reality was no stranger to fishing any of them regularly. These rods were not just picked out of a hat and thrown into the fire, they had all been rods I owned and used. With this in mind, I have no reservations in saying that the Kistler Helium LTA is without a doubt the finest rod I’ve ever fished with. It lacks nothing and any angler would be well armed to take one into battle at anytime for any situation. I’ve written several comparison articles and no product has ever scored a perfect 10, well, until now that is. I feel so strongly that these rods are superior to any on the current market that I have switched over my whole rod arsenal. I now own 8 Helium Rods and several other Kistler series rods. They are that good.

I’ve never understood why a guy would spend high dollars on any rod. Dropping $220.00 on a Kistler Helium LTA is not painful because you really are getting a high quality rod that, in my opinion, is discounted at this price. The Helium line up and the Kistler company are winners. This is undoubtedly a product you will be hearing a lot about in the near future as it becomes more popular.

Guest Article by Craig DeFronzo

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