Buying a rod & reel combo translates into two critical things: less stress fiddling with gear and as a result, more time spent out on the water.
In some cases, however, rod and reel combinations aren’t always beneficial. Depending on an angler’s circumstances and preference, they can sometimes be a hindrance more than a help. Working out whether a combination is right for you, as well as understanding which to buy, is what this article is all about.
Who Should Buy a Rod & Reel Combo?
A rod and reel combo will most likely suit a beginner new to the sport more than an advanced angler who knows his way around a tackle shop. Buying a combo will take the time and effort out of matching up a rod and reel separately, and it leaves to the decision of the pairing to the manufacturer, making it easier for beginners to avoid making poor tackle decisions.
It also ensures a beginner has something compatible to work with right away, instead of buying a reel only to find it doesn’t fit a rod’s reel seat (the docking point) or dealing with another compatibility issue.
Another case in which a combo can work well is for a junior or seasoned fisherman who simply wants to keep their gear under one brand. This is important in the case of troubleshooting, where the customer only has to go to one source (the manufacturer or tackle shop) in order to solve problems or make customizations.
Who Shouldn’t Buy a Rod Reel Combo?
A combo probably isn’t going to be the ideal option for a more experienced angler who already has a lot of gear. As the combos are usually specific in matching the reel type with a specific rod, they might find that either component is incompatible with existing tackle that they plan on using.
For those with more money to spend and willing to invest in their sporting equipment, a combo can also be something of a hindrance. Having a go-to baitcasting rod that someone has already had a ton of success with is vastly improved with a new high-end baitcasting reel of their own choice.
Those just released on the market will incorporate the latest technological advancements way before combos get the chance to catch up.
That being said, some combos make sense for an angler with a lot of gear designed for one particular technique. A fisherman who love spinning, for example, and has a heap of spinning rod tackle and lures and just wants an extra rod to play with on the water, can get a lot of extra mileage and convenience out of another spinning rod and reel combo.
The same can be said for a baitcaster too.
Benefits of a Rod & Reel Combo
Rod and reel combos can help save money in most cases. As manufacturers couple these components together, they ensure the buyer stays within their product lines. This means less money spent on marketing to target customer loyalty and familiarity, which in turn cuts the price for the customer.
Things like group packaging also help drive overall costs down too.
For people shopping on a budget, these combos make a lot of sense as they deliver more bang for your buck. A warranty becomes much easier to exercise with a faulty rod and reel from the same place too.
Saving time and stress chasing around independent manufacturers for information on how to redeem a purchase is an important factor in keeping gear maintained and in proper working condition.
Combos also avoid conflict. Baitcasting rods, for example, although compatible with spinning reels (and vice versa), aren’t really recommended to be mixed and matched. Combining them ensures more trickery is required when it comes to casting and handling the rod, which is something beginners will want to shy away from.
The biggest benefit of a combo, however, goes back to time. You simply don’t have to wait around as an eager newcomer for all components to arrive before you start fishing. You don’t have to spend time assembling components and you don’t have to waste time with incompatible parts from countless different manufacturers.
Drawbacks of a Rod & Reel Combo
The biggest thing a rod and reel combo is going to compromise on is customization and choice.
Locking the customer down to one manufacturer for both components, given their individual importance, can also mean restricting an angler to a certain type or technique of fishing.
For an angler with many types of rods who enjoys switching things up often, it is usually easier to buy equipment separately rather than shop for combos. One benefit of this is versatility and the option to experiment, something that many anglers see as one of the more intriguing aspects of the sport.
Buying components separately also helps someone learn more about the sport. Researching materials and the different elements that go into making a rod or reel can help shape an angler’s overall understanding of how technology impacts the sport. This can lead to discovering new tips and tricks that could give both pros and beginners an edge.
One last thing a combo can do is take some of the joy out of discovery. As the manufacturer decides the rod and reel for the shopper, their autonomy of choice goes with it. For some anglers, losing that decision-making independence can be quite a frustrating notion.
For anyone interested in buying the best bass fishing rod and reel combo possible, it’s important to talk about rods and what to look for. Some of the more important aspects to consider depend on how a rod is constructed and what it’s designed for. To get the best deal possible, anglers need to pay attention to the following things.
Baitcasting vs Spinning Rods
The most common choice in deciding on a combo is whether to buy a baitcasting or a spinning rod.
Baitcasting rods differ from spinning rods in their orientation. In baitcasters, their guides, the metal loops the line is thread through from reel to tip, face upwards (spinning guides face down and are generally larger).
Spinning rods also have a “trigger” on the handle (an enlargement) for reel placement.
The consequence of these differences makes for a different handling technique for each rod type. Spinning rods require an overhead cast controlled mainly by the reel and the line moving off the spool. Beginners are said to view this casting style as easier than the baitcaster cast, which requires more finger work, timing, and feel.
Spinning rod and reel combos are generally recommended for newcomers because of this.
For more experienced anglers, or for those who want more control with their cast, baitcasting combos certainly have their advantages. Coupling a rod and reel together helps an angler get accustomed to the casting mechanism faster, enabling them to practice out of the water first.
Bass pros also tend to opt for baitcasting rods more than they do spinning, pointing to the fact they handle heavier line and a wider range of lures.
Buyers faced with a first-time rod search might be confused about all the different options concerning the “blank” (the shaft of the rod) length. As a general rule, lengths are directly related to casting distance, with longer rods better at sending line out farther into the water.
Shorter rods certainly have their place, however, as they give greater mobility to the angler who is likely to pick up and move often. They are also generally lighter in weight, making them more convenient to travel with and, depending on the strength and size of the angler, easier to handle too.
Fishing technique plays into rod length also. Fly fishing rods, which involve fishing on the top of the water with weightless line and lures, are usually a lot shorter in length than baitcasting and spinning rods designed for bass, trout, and other fast fighting fish.
Knowing how you’re going to fish, where you want to fish, and what type of fish you plan on fishing for is the best way to determine the length of rod you need when choosing your combo. If you’re likely to graduate from bass to other species soon, you’ll want to think about this carefully.
Rod handle types usually fall into two categories: split grip (multi-piece) and single grip. Although they have their differences, neither should have a huge impact when it comes to selecting a rod and reel combo given the guarantee that one will fit the other.
Knowing the differences without having to worry about compatibility might help narrow down your decision. Split grip handles give more customization generally, allowing you to switch out reels with greater ease than single grips. The fact they are composed of more than one piece, however, makes them trickier to handle and more prone to breaking.
Rod handle materials are more likely to apply to a combo buyer than the type of the handle itself. Cork is considered the most comfortable material, but foam/EVA is usually cheaper. The latter is usually more durable in the long-run as a lot of anglers complain about cork wearing down quickly. Cork is considered more aesthetically pleasing than foam/EVA, however.
Some anglers like to shop separately for tackle components because it gives them more flexibility to hunt down rods made of a particular material. Because combos won’t always match the reel with the rod (or vice versa) in terms of quality and type of material, this makes sense. It is even more important to consider if you live and fish in an area more prone to unique weather conditions.
For the beginner, it’s generally advisable to go with the lightest rod possible to start with. That way, you won’t get fatigued as you would with a heavier rod and can also get accustomed to the greater sensitivity a light option brings in helping them detect bites. Graphite rods, for that matter, although they lack the durability of fiberglass, oftentimes fit that criteria better.
Technique again plays a large role in rod construction. Rods designed for trolling (towing the line from a boat) will usually be made of fiberglass due to the demand for rigidity (better able to handle heavyweight fish). Baitcasting and spinning rods, on the other hand, need to be lighter and more flexible because they are used more for bass fishing techniques (jigging, casting, and spinning).
Combos take this into consideration and are usually built from materials with an individual or group of techniques in mind.
Number of Pieces
Rods usually range from single- to multi-piece in the formation of their shaft. Obviously, the more pieces a rod is comprised of, the more time the angler will spend piecing it up and down at the waterside. While this costs time, it can also save precious space during transport or at home.
Beginners in the market for a combo should not be intimidated if a rod is more than single-piece. The time taken to piece together a rod really is minimal as most are built to slot together (or be pulled out, as is the case of a collapsible) quickly.
The only drawback is, compared to a single-piece, that they do have a higher chance of falling apart or breaking. However, this isn’t too big of a concern as long as the pieces are pushed together hard enough.
But for a beginner who’s not careful and didn’t assemble the pieces tight enough, “whipping” a rod out to full length quickly can be a fast way to break it. Single-piece options avoid that problem.
The best bass fishing rod and reel combo should have several options when it comes to action: the place on the rod shaft where the bend is most pronounced. That’s because every angler has something of a preference on where they prefer the torque on the rod to be, especially in the bass world where it usually varies from “medium” (closer to the rod middle) to “fast” (closer to the rod tip).
Beginners unfamiliar with the concept of action, where the “faster” rod is generally the more sensitive, are advised to go somewhere near the moderate “medium-fast” level. That way they’ll avoid the wrist strain a “slow” action rod could bring while simultaneously avoiding the ultra-sensitivity of an “extra fast.”
Most bass rod and reel combos, especially baitcasting and spinning options, fit within this range.
Rod power refers to the degree of bend in a rod rather than the location at which it bends. Measured from “light” to “heavy,” power is also analogous to “strength.” A beginner should understand that the heavier the power is, the less bend the angler will experience.
Bass angling usually calls for light to medium power rods given the strength of the fish and the speed at which they usually take the bait. Rods light on this scale will generally deliver a longer cast due to increased flex, while medium rods give the fish the opportunity to take a lure further into its mouth, thus increasing the chance of successfully hooking it.
Heavy power rods are usually the domain of game fish anglers that need a strong rod to handle heavier species like catfish and marlin.
A rod’s guides, as previously mentioned, are usually a characteristic determinant of a rod’s type. Bass fishing rods should have guides distributed along a rod’s length and dampen the friction of the line running off a reel, along the rod, and into the water. When fishing for hard fighting bass, it’s also important that the guides are strong and durable and can’t be broken easily.
Buying a rod and reel combo should involve ensuring guides are high quality and metallic in material. Beginners are generally advised to go with aluminum or titanium guides as they provide the best environment for heat and friction reduction. This also helps improve the smoothness of the cast.
Reels are just as important as rods when it comes to catching bass. As your point of contact between the hook, lure, and hopefully a fish, a reel should be strong, easy to use, and comfortable for your hands. They should also be customizable too.
Here are the main things to look for when selecting the best bass fishing rod and reel combo.
Baitcasting vs Spinning Reels
Spinning reels differ from baitcasting reels in their use of a fixed “spool” (the part that holds the line). These reels are controlled using the bail arm (a metal switch) that is pulled up when casting out (allowing the line to run off the spool) and pulled down when the line is in the water (allowing the line to be retrieved using the reel handle). They tend to be used with lighter line and lures.
Baitcasting reels are often preferred by the more “serious” bass angler due to the advantages they bring in control.
Unlike spinning reels, anglers don’t use their finger to release the line during a cast. Instead, they adjust the spool speed using dials on the reel itself. For beginners, this can prove a little difficult and takes more time to truly master but does allow for more accurate casts once the casting technique has been perfected.
Buying a combo eliminates the worry of matching a rod with the wrong reel and instead comes down to preference. Beginners, given the easier casting technique, might find spinning rod and reel combos best to start with over baitcasters. There are plenty of other experienced bass anglers who have a lot of success with them too.
Ball bearings play an important role in supporting the gears in reels, contributing to their smoothness and stability. As a general rule, the more bearings a reel has, the better it performs (although quality should be the top consideration). They are also a key feature of spinning reels and therefore a likely consideration for a bass angling beginner.
The best bass fishing rod and reel combo should have a reel with at least four ball bearings to ensure that it offers problem-free retrieval. Stainless steel bearings are also preferred over bushing (plain bearings) because they tend to offer greater control and durability.
Baitcasting reels also work in the same way, using bearings to reduce rotational friction and help the reel handle move without complications.
Understanding reel-gear ratios isn’t overly complicated. Basically, it refers to every single turn of the reel handle and how many times the spool turns in relation. A ratio of 6:1, for example, says that a single turn on the handle leads to six rotations of the spool.
Lower number ratios will obviously move slower than higher gear-reel ratios. In bass fishing, there is a role for each ratio; it’s not the case of the faster the better. Low number ratios like 5:1:1 or 5:4:1 are recommended for crankbait (metal “plug” lures resembling smaller fish) and swimbait (paddle-tailed lures) lures. Higher gear ratios (7:1:1 to 8:1:1) go well with jerkbaits (vertical moving baits) and topwaters (lures that move on the surface).
Buying a combo means playing close attention to the gear ratio of the reel, specifically if you have a preferred lure in mind.
A reel’s drag system refers to the friction plates inside of the mechanism that adjust accordingly when a fish takes your lure and runs with it. Calibrating your drag settings means that line is likely to be fed out from the spool when a fish fights. This helps you avoid the problem of your line breaking under high tension.
The best combos should ship a reel that gives the angler the opportunity to set the drag easily, both before a cast and during a possible fight. This means providing an adjustment button that enables you to turn the drag system according to how easily the line can be pulled out using your hand.
Setting drag on spinning and baitcasting reels is a little different. Baitcasting reels have a mechanism that is adjusted next to the reel and not with a button on the reel spool itself. Make sure any combo you buy has detailed instructions on how to adjust drag settings and has a system that’s not overly complicated to use.
Best Bass Fishing Rod & Reel Combo
If you’ve decided that a combo is for you and you’re ready to get out and hunt for bass, then here are some great options to consider.
This spinning rod is perfect for bass fishing in a range of locations. Available as a one- or two-piece, the Pflueger President has length options from 4’8” up to 7’ and action from ultra light to medium. Featuring a 10 ball bearing system of stainless steel and an aircraft-grade aluminum reel handle, the high-quality components of the reel match the graphite rod to make for a superb lightweight option for beginners and intermediate anglers. A 7:1 gear ratio on a medium size reel make it versatile for use with different lures too.
- Smooth drag system offering great feedback during a bass fight while minimizing line breaks
- Solid and durable reel bail that makes casting reliable and effortless
- Portable, lightweight combo well-suited for anglers who like to move around rivers, lakes, or ponds
- Excellent value for a quality rod & reel combo
- Some problems with the rod’s guides falling out of their ceramic holders
- Rod perhaps not to the same standard as reel
- Not robust enough to handle heavy fish (15 lb or more)
This 24-ton two-piece graphite carbon composite promises performance right out the box. Rod features include an ergonomic EVA split handle and stainless steel guides and inserts that are well-suited for not only bass fishing, but also for trout, walleye, flounder, and redfish too.
Available in five different actions and lengths, the accompanying reel has a machined aluminum spool that’s strong yet lightweight and brass pinion, corrosion resistant gear. This rod and reel combo should be a strong contender in the mid-budget price range.
- Great balanced spinning combo with lightweight rod and 6:2 gear ratio reel that’s ideal for bass fishing
- Composite and rubber drag increases the combo’s overall sensitivity allowing the angler to feel every bite and easily set the hook
- Delivers a very accurate cast that rivals even similarly priced baitcasting combos
- Not well-suited to heavier rigs, jig fishing requires something more robust
- EVA foam handle easily outclassed by cork counterparts in terms of comfort
The KastKing Sharky III has six different lengths and actions ranging from 6’6” to 9’0”, medium to heavy, making it a great choice for the more advanced angler looking for quality and control. The 6’6” option, specifically, is a top choice for bass and trout, while the Sharky III 5:2:1 gear ratio reel and 10+1 ball bearing components make it advanced enough for heavier species of fish. This is a higher budget option for the angler considering adding another high-grade piece of equipment to his tackle inventory.
- Aluminum spool and triple-disk carbon drag make controlling the reel and switching the settings very easy
- 2-piece design makes travel and transport easy
- EVA handles built for comfort and added grip for greater casting lengths
- First guide is rather small in diameter and makes the casting mechanism seem a little off for the more advanced angler
- Reported tangle problems with braided line suggest it’s better off with fluorocarbon or monofilament line options
The first proper baitcasting combo on this list, the Shakespeare Ugly Stik is a medium heavy combo that comes as either a one-piece or two-piece depending on your preference. High performing with heavier test line (30lbs and up) and with any range of lure, this is possibly the most versatile of rod and reel combos that someone can pick up. Designed for freshwater fishing and primarily bass and trout, the Ugly Stik Baitcast Combo has also been known to hold its own just as well when saltwater fishing too.
- Great beginners’ baitcasting rod that’s not prone to tangle too easily while learning the different casting styles
- Ultra smooth reel which goes well with crankbait lures specifically targeted at big bass
- Casting not as intuitive for the beginner as it is with spinning combos, making it harder to get started
- Rod lacks a certain amount of stiffness that some bass anglers prefer when required for powerful hook setting with jigs or worms
Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 (for Ice Fishing)
Shakespeare’s Ugly Stik range is hugely popular among anglers of all types, as the company is known for making dependable rods for a number of techniques. The GX2 is a slightly different combo than the others on this list, largely targeted for ice fishing and catching bass during the winter months.
A spinning rod by design, the GX2’s reel is less well equipped than other combos at a size 20 with a single ball bearing. The aluminum spool and EVA handle help cut the rod’s overall weight though, making it a very portable and a solid combo to have on hand outside of summer.
- Designed for harsh winter conditions with durability and strength in mind
- One of the best value-for-money combos available at an entry-level price
- Reputable Ugly Stik brand brings a high reputation and expectation of quality that you don’t get with other combos
- Extremely transportable given its 26 inches in length
- Lacks the backbone for catching heavier bass and lacks the sensitivity of other combos on the market
- Designed for ice fishing so lacks the versatility of options better suited to bass fishing across the year
Buying a rod and reel combo has many benefits, from getting you on the water faster to making the whole buying process more straightforward. Beginners and experts both have some good options when it comes to finding a solid combo well-suited for bass fishing.