Field Editor Cory Schmidt—An All-Around Rip-Jigger
After about a decade, it’s still the one walleye rod-and-reel combo that never leaves my Lund. The heart of the combo is a 6-foot 8-inch St. Croix Legend Tournament Walleye (LWS68MXF), medium power, extra-fast action. At $260, it’s not cheap, but spread across 10 or more seasons, it’s a value and a solid investment. Meanwhile, the Stradic FK 2500 ($180) remains a bulletproof machine that keeps on ticking long after others fall apart. There’s something about Shimano’s gears and engineering that makes them the smoothest, toughest customers attached to your reel seat. Most of the top inshore guides I know fish with them—evidence of their resilience.
For pitching and ripping 1/2- to 3/4-ounce jigging minnows, the spool holds a mile of 20-pound-test Sufix 832. I prefer the alternating Camo color for low visibility. The rigidity of a 17-pound-test Sufix or Seaguar fluorocarbon leader prevents hooks from fouling in the line when snapjigging minnows or bladebaits. An Albright special or FG knot attaches the 4- to 6-foot leader to the mainline and flows quietly through the guides.
St. Croix rod blanks are exceptional. For snapjigging minnows, I like a rod that’s fast (rigid) enough in the tip to make baits respond with precision, yet not so stiff that you tear hooks and lose fish due to excess slack line between head shakes. The weight of a jigging minnow prompts some anglers to use mono or straight fluorocarbon, but I like braid’s responsiveness and bite transmission.
When you set the hook or when a big fish surges, the upper third of the blank flexes beautifully but not excessively. The rod “bows” to big fish and their headshakes, minimizing slack line and unbuttoned lures. The length offers the perfect compromise for casting distance, making precision presentations, and long-distance hook-sets. Tied to a #7 Jigging Rap, 1/2-ounce bladebait, or a jig and soft-bodied swimbait, I can catch walleyes with this combo anywhere in North America, all year long.
If the cost of this setup is too high, try as an alternative, for about half the price, a St. Croix Eyecon ECS68MXF, which goes for about $130, with a $70 Shimano Sedona 2500, maybe the best value there is in a spinning reel.
Field Editor Steve Ryan—Big Fish from Shore
To target trophy walleyes, especially from shore, one of my favorite combos is a Pflueger President 35 reel, spooled with 14-pound Sufix Nanobraid, on a 7-foot 6-inch medium-power Okuma Dead Eye Pro rod. It’s a power combo that has the muscle to subdue big walleyes and do double duty for pike, catfish, lake trout, and salmon.
The President maybe the smoothest and most durable and dependable reel for its price (around $50) on the market. Its performance is driven by 10 bearings, 12 pounds of drag, and a sealed drag system. It holds 160 yards of 14-pound Nanobraid. I like the never-fail bail spring that doesn’t flip prematurely when I make forceful casts with big lures. The anti-reverse works in the coldest conditions, and the drag is smooth as can be.
I match a 35-class President with a powerful, yet responsive Okuma Dead Eye model 761MFT rod ($79.99), for a combination that can muscle big walleyes in heavy current, while wading waist-deep water. It also launches 1/2-ounce swimbaits from pierheads of the Great Lakes, and allows me to work hard-vibrating bladebaits.
The Dead Eye has a split grip cork handle with an inlaid cork skeleton reel seat, which is warm and more comfortable in near-freezing conditions. It also has full-size guides, as opposed to the micro-guides so common on the newest rods today, which helps to reduce freeze-ups in bitter conditions. As I mentioned, I load the reel with 14-pound-test Sufix Nanobraid. The tightly woven nano material allows long casts, retains less water, and is as strong or stronger than any other line in its category.
Editor In Chief Doug Stange—A Sweet Medium-Light
I fish a lot of different rod-and-reel combos in the course of a year to shoot In-Fisherman TV. One workhorse option fishes superbly and, besides being reasonably priced ($99.99), has proven to be downright durable to boot.
The Abu Garcia Veritas are one of my all-time favorite spinning rods, distinctively white and as beautiful in hand as it is functional. Most of my light jig and plug pitching (up to 1/2 ounce or so) is with a 7-foot medium-light power rod with a fast action. That means the tip has a lot of snap that transfers quickly into a stiffer midsection and butt. You can cast lighter lures but still handle big fish. The length helps to snap lures out a distance, but if you prefer a shorter rod for tighter quarters, go with a 61/2-footer.
Meanwhile, the Abu Garcia Revo S reels ($129.99) are smooth as can be, affording long casts, smooth retrieves, and a dependable drag. They’re white, too, so they couple nicely with the white Veritas rods to make a good-looking combo.
Four different reel sizes are offered, from the smallest, the 10-class reel, to the largest, the 40-class reel. I couple either a 20-class or 30-class with the medium-light rod. For most applications, the 30-class reel is a bit more versatile, a tiny bit heavier, but with more spool capacity, again to facilitate longer casts.
The rods are built with what Abu Garcia calls 30-ton graphite. The guides are titanium with zirconium inserts. I could go on, but you can check more details online for both the rod lineup and the reels.
I usually spool up with 8-pound Berkley FireLine Ultra 8, a fused no-stretch line, to get the longest and smoothest possible casts, typically adding about 4-feet of 6-, 8-, or 10-pound fluorocarbon at the end for stealth and abrasion resistance. For heavier-duty work, step up to a medium-action 7-foot rod, coupled with either a 30- or 40-class reel and 10-pound FireLine.
Field Editor Matt Straw—Multi-Technique Magic
Many rods are affordable on a tight budget, but it’s the rare gem that performs well compared to high-end sticks from manufacturers like G. Loomis, Elliott Rods, and St. Croix.
Same thing with reels. Walleye guide and educator Tom Neustrom convinced me to try a Daiwa Laguna spinning reel, which retails between $39.99 and $44.99, depending on size. “In my jargon it’s big bang for the buck,” he said. “The Laguna is one of the best reels out there—perfection and smoothness you don’t find in reels priced under $100. Really nice drag.”
I bought a Laguna 2500, filled it with 4-pound Maxima Ultragreen, and used it to hurl light jigs and plastics. I was impressed with the lack of oscillation—no burrs on the gears, no hitch in the get-along, which is critical when fishing the way I often do for early walleyes—slowly swimming plastic worms, grubs, and soft swimbaits near bottom on light jigs with a slow, steady retrieve. Any stickiness or catch, any sluggish point in the revolution of the gears ruins feel, and that means missing bites.
By midsummer I transferred the Laguna to a stick called the Gizmo (AR701S—$109.99) from a new company, Ascension Rods in central Minnesota. Depending on how you like to present a minnow jig, the Gizmo, at 7-feet 1-inch, incorporates the right length, sensitivity, power, and action for snapjigging Shiver Minnows and Jigging Raps with 20-pound braid. It doubles as a good slipbobber stick, and with the help of a smooth-running Dawia Laguna, the Gizmo is effective for swimming mid-weight jigs with midsize soft swimbaits on 10-pound line. I fished cranks with it, too. Few rods in this price range are more versatile than the Gizmo.
Appreciation for the Laguna prompted me to look deeper at Daiwa’s low-end products. The Daiwa Crossfire CFF701MLFS rod ($29.99) coupled with the Crossfire LT Spinning Reel (CFLT2500, also $29.99) has to be, dollar for dollar, the best engineered combo anywhere for the price.
The rod is light and agile. It protects 4-pound line well while delivering long, smooth casts without ripping minnows off the hook. The reel is lighter yet tougher than the older model— cutting 20 percent of the weight from the old Crossfire design. Like the Laguna, it’s far smoother than the price indicates. The drag is silky. This combo is a sensitive, effective match for pitching light plastics or livebait with 4-pound mono and 1/16-ounce jigs.
Finally, I’ve always liked Fenwick rods and many are affordable, like the medium-power HMX70M-FS ($79.99), which has been my go-to stick for presenting bigger soft swimbaits on 1/4- to 1/2-ounce jigs. I match it with a Lew’s Mach II MH2-300 ($79.99), new on the market. It has a 6.2:1 gear ratio, making it one of the faster spinning reels out there. I spool it with 10- to 12-pound mono.
In-Fisherman Contributor Jon Thelen—Keep-It-Simple Trolling Combos
Those of you that watch Lindy’s Fish Ed Television know that I like to troll. Trolling crankbaits produces some of the biggest walleyes of the year, and it’s a great way to put numbers of fish in the boat wherever you fish. One of my favorite trolling scenarios occurs during mid- to late summer when walleyes seek deep basin areas and are feeding heavily. I use leadcore line to get lures right down there with them and cover enough water to put odds in my favor.
A lot of my rod-and-reel combos have stood the test of time. I still use the same Shakespeare line-counter reels that I had when I was competing on the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail a decade ago. That’s durability. That Shakespeare Arsenal series has been replaced in recent years by the ATS series. It’s pretty much the same outfit with a great retail price range ($39.99 to $49.99) that makes it affordable to get into the leadcore game.
For leadcore trolling I use 20-size reels because they hold 10 colors of 18-pound leadcore. For standard longlining with braid or monofilament, I use 15-size reels.
Same with my rods, I’m afraid—old news. I have some old Penn Power Sticks. It’s tough to beat Ugly Stiks, especially the longer rods in their Inshore Series. Nothing expensive, for sure.
I travel with a couple 8- or 9-foot rods with slower actions and medium power that are rated for line testing from 10 to about 25 pounds, and lure weights from 1/2 to 2.5 ounces. Meanwhile, straight over the transom I use shorter rods, in the 6- to 71/2-foot range.
These trolling rods are constructed with composite graphite, so they’re durable. I don’t need the sensitivity that’s required for a jig bite, but I appreciate being able to give the rod a sweeping pull and still feel the lure running right back there. Trolling tackle doesn’t need to be expensive to be functional and last for ages.