June 03, 2011
By Matt Straw
Having an adequate rod and reel for the task at hand is fine. If you like fast food. When delivery, presentation, hook-set, and fight blend into one perfect, effortless, sensual experience, that's gourmet fishing. These are the walleye rods and reels that can make it happen. Bon appetit.
Many fine rods and reels fit in many categories, but none more than finesse jigging combos. The St. Croix Avid AVS 80MLM2 (coupled with a feather-light Daiwa Steez 2500) is a delight for pitching light jigs on 4-pound line in open areas. In cover, needs turn to added power and faster action without sacrificing touch with light terminal. The G. Loomis WPJR 821 S GLX ($395) is an exquisite tool. Length (6 foot 10 inches) and taper are designed for pitching 1/16- to 3/16-ounce jigs, but it performs beautifully working straight down with jigs up to 5/16-ounce. Be careful or this rod will float off your hand. It has the sensitivity to pick up the most finicky takes. The recoil guides are all but indestructible. The construction of this blank and the temerity of its high-end graphite have been tuned to facilitate long, accurate casts.
Perfect balance arrives via the Shimano Sustain 2500 FE ($249.99). This lightweight marvel screams durability, which more than cuts the cost in half. Aero Wrap II oscillation technology eliminates wobble. The spool lip is coated with titanium to reduce friction and line-cutting nicks, and the engineers went out of their way to make the 2500 FE one of the easiest reels on the market to lube and repair.
The new Micro Honeycomb, Skeet Reese signature series rods from Wright & McGill are light, sensitive, and durable. The name refers to a micro honeycomb resin that reduces overall weight but increases fiber strength. The 6-foot 10-inch WMESRMTJ610S ($99.99) Finesse Tube Jig rod has a fast action with a light touch — critical for a dual-purpose rod like this one. The Skeet Reese Victory Spinning Reel ($99.99) is light and smooth with an oversized handle for a firm grasp in cold weather. Balance is designed right in.
The Bass Pro Shops Walleye Angler Series WA59JS has a sweet taper for jigging vertically in lakes. The length is short (5 foot 9 inches), keeping the jig in the patch of bottom you see on sonar. And it shortens further when you rest the cork under your forearm, extending a finger onto the sensitive blank. The feel is larceny at $69.99. Vertical jigging doesn't require a lot of line. Light is better. The Abu Garcia Soron STX 10 ($129.99) is a tiny titan, tough enough for any walleye, and holds 125 yards of 6-pound test. The balancing point is right under your palm, keeping wrists and elbows happy.
"My vertical jigging game has elevated with the advent of the St. Croix Legend Elite LES70MF," says walleye pro Tommy Skarlis. "It's a feather-light lethal weapon for jigging. If you're at it all day, it's not like wielding a club. I can always find a comfortable grip. It's right for 1/4- to 1-ounce jigs and it stands up to the weight. It's fast, but vertical jigging in rivers is all offense, and all you have to do is lift with superline to drive the hook home."
Coupled with the Abu Garcia Soron STX 40 ($139.95), this is a combo you'll dream about after you buy it. This durable reel is made for rivers, the smooth drag keeping giants attached when they slip into the current, and if you prefer mono it holds 125 yards of 10-pound test. The 11 HPCR ball bearings make for a smooth and delicious day.
The St. Croix Eyecon ECS70MLF is a finesse rigger's dream. It's light enough to protect 4-pound line, but you won't know how until you take it for a boat ride. It's 70-percent backbone, and the tip is fast, making its ability to protect line and keep walleyes unaware of pressure seem almost magical. This 7-footer will have you setting hooks when snowflakes touch it for $110. You could pay a lot more for a lot less.
A Daiwa Steez 2500 ($549) feels so sweet on this blank, it's incomparable. The "Air Metal" Magnesium body and "Air Spool" add up to less than 7 ounces. The reverse-taper spool makes long casting effortless, as it should be when pitching delicate baits.
SlipBobber — Deadstick Rod
The Bass Pro Shops Walleye Angler Series WA86SB-T (telescoping bobber rod) looks heavy, yet is amazingly light. The length (8½ feet) is right for controlling floats in wind and waves. It keeps baits away from the boat when deadsticking, and slipping it into a rod holder won't bother the EVA handle. The tip section is plenty soft, to keep leeches attached on long casts, and to keep walleyes from dropping the bait when deadsticking. The price ($79.99) is in everybody's ball park. Match it with a Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris JM20H long-cast reel ($79.94) to maximize coverage on long reefs and extended points.
"Some guys use spinning rods, some guys use casting sticks to pitch cranks," says Skarlis. "I use a stiffer casting rod for bigger lures. I need smooth delivery and a faster gear ratio for resistant cranks, and I get both with the Abu Garcia Revo Winch. I like the St. Croix Legend Xtreme XC70 MHF for bigger cranks — a medium-heavy rod with a fast tip. The split-handle makes you grab the bottom of the rod, the right fulcrum point for long casts."
Pitching lighter cranks and suspending baits calls for spinning gear, and I like a rod named for a spot close to walleye anglers' hearts — the Falcon Nestor Falls CS-3-17-MLS-77 ($89.99). Shane Kern, who represents Falcon admits, "It's a smallmouth rod." But the Nestor Falls, rated for 6- to 12-pound line, does it all for walleyes, too. It rifles suspending baits and mid-size cranks out of sight, sets hooks like a dream, and has the backbone for light-duty 3-way rigging with floating minnows, using sinkers up to 2-ounces. The Falcon Volt 2000 reel ($79.99) is silky smooth and fits the Nestor Falls like hockey fits Detroit.
The Fenwick Elite Tech Walleye Series EWT1102M-MF ($159.95) is 11 feet long. Typical response: "Huh?" Most walleye lovers go for something shorter, but big-water pros and guides love this rod. The first guide is a line counter for built-in trolling accuracy. Sticking out perpendicular to the boat on either side, the EWT110 leaves room for two inside rods on the aft corners, providing lateral coverage without using boards. The medium-fast taper creates a quasi-parabolic fish trap. Once a walleye touches the hook, there is no escaping this blank. Eleven feet creates plenty of room to mesh backbone with a tip that gives to the bill of a crank then sets trebles by itself with dynamic tension. The durable Abu Garcia Revo Toro 50 HS is a sweet match. This sleek low-profile reel has the line capacity of a round reel with a 6.4:1 retrieve ratio for ripping spreads back to the boat. It features a powerful 22-pound drag system ($279.95.)
Spinner Rigs, Bait Rigs
The balance of properties required for pulling spinner rigs include a fast tip that can stand up to in-line, sliding, or fixed weights without bowing out in big waves. Extra length is nice to straighten the line, but the power to drive hooksets through that process is essential. Enter the G. Loomis WRR 8501 S GLX — a 7-foot 1-inch Walleye GLX rod designed for pulling bait rigs with bigger blades or sinkers. Fast though it may be, the sensitive tip gives light biters away — a feat difficult to achieve without resorting to a higher modulus graphite blank ($395).
The Shimano Stradic 3000 FI is a crucial match. Its Direct Drive Mechanism connects the drive gear directly to the reel handle, delivering more cranking power for pulling big fish and retrieving big blades. The drag is buttery smooth — critical with rods in holders. At $159.95, Stradics produce more bang for your buck than most reels on the market.
Pinnacle is back in town with a purpose. Every purpose, in fact. The Pinnacle Perfecta DHCS 7011 SPML ($159.99) is a 7-footer you can rig, jig, and crank with in comfort. The tip gives to finicky biters without telegraphing your presence, yet it's fast and resilient enough to pitch small swimbaits and troll deep-diving minnowbaits. The split handle facilitates long casts and lightens the package. It was designed with bass in mind, but from a purely technical point of view, the tasks are nearly identical. The Pinnacle Performa XT PEF 30 reel rotates like a bicycle wheel, and the balance is designed into this exemplary combo. The Performa retails for $99.99.
The Fenwick Elite Tech EWS63ML-XF ($195.95) is part of their Walleye Jigging Series of technique-specific designs. The extra-fast taper holds its own against jigs up to an ounce fishing vertically, and pitches jig-plastic combos and small swimbaits up to 3/4-ounce with ease, leaving ample action to hook and play fish. The TAC handle design provides positive grip in the cold, and the sensitivity is top drawer. The Abu Garcia Revo Premier PRM30 ($249.95) makes a great double-duty companion for this light rod with enough capacity for thicker mono and a slick drag.
Trolling with Boards
Board rods need to blend two disparate qualities: Solid backbone to stand up to the weight and pull of a board, with a forgiving tip that cushions the shock when playing giant 'eyes with added weight on the line. The Shimano Compre CPCTR710MHB ($119.99) dovetails those properties perfectly. The Shimano Takota 300LC is one of the lightest, toughest, smoothest line-counter reel in a size meant for walleyes, and it's dead-on accurate — well worth the asking price of $179.99.
Bottom Bouncers, Lake And Reservoir
Standing up to weight and current and adjusting quickly to depth change is what it's all about. The G.Loomis WBBR 853C Walleye GLX ($390) and Shimano Chronarch CH 100D7 ($299.99) make it easy. The rod defines the marriage of low weight with high power. It protects 8-pound line, but the rating includes 17-pound test, and every G. Loomis is sensitive enough to feel gnats landing on the blank. The super-durable Shimano reel has a super-fast 7:01 ratio to bring rigs up quick when changing baits or clearing weeds. You'll want to cast with it, too, and this combo is hard to beat for working swimbaits (just force yourself to reel slower).
Heavy River Rigs (3-ways, Cranks)
The St. Croix Tournament Series LEC70MHF ($330) is the rod Tommy Skarlis used to win a Full Throttle tournament in 2010 on the Mississippi River. "The action is impeccable," Skarlis says. "Cranking, 3-way rigging, and bottom bouncing around wing dams, this stick has the right arch all the time, whether you're presenting lures or fighting fish. And who hasn't stepped on a guide during a tournament? The titanium guides just bounce back into shape. The Abu Garcia Revo Winch ($199.99) has proven plenty smooth and durable. But the impressive thing is the weight-to-power ratio. It weighs about 8 ounces but delivers awesome cranking power with its brass gears and 24-pound drag."
Kistler's new Z-Bone concept allows you to go online and design your own rod. You choose handle style, length, taper, action, guides, and materials to build that rod you can't find anywhere. This Kistler Custom Z-Bone LE 4MH 7 footer ($399.95) was designed (by me) for fishing heavier swimbaits along weedlines. Once in my hands, I felt a great all-purpose stick for most of the heavier aspects of walleye fishing — vertical jigging in big rivers, small Dipsy Divers, 3-way rigging, and trolling bigger cranks. But it casts swimbaits like a dream. Each Micro Guide weighs 1/4 ounce less than a conventional guide, leaving all the action to the blank which is super light but mega powerful. Too much power? Design your own with a lighter blank.
The made-in-America Ardent XS1000 reel has the right gear ratio (5.0:1) for slow-rolling swimbaits and heavy jig-plastic combos for walleyes. It's ultra durable, smooth as the fluorocarbon I spool on it, and it's in sync with this particular blank. Retail price: $249.99.
Imagine playing a walleye on a tuna stick. Ugh. With these combos, the properties built into the blank to work lures and set hooks blend into properties perfect for playing big walleyes. The reels are so tough and smooth, you take the performance for granted. Fewer giants escape a perfect combo. Isn't that the bottom line?
Matt Straw is an In-Fisherman Field Editor who has been working on In-Fisherman projects for the past 20 years.