It doesn't seem like all that many years ago that bass fishermen saw the first technique-specific rods (other than flipping) appear. That trend has grown steadily and now rods designed for certain types of fishing or lure categories are basically the only designs major rod makers offer. This was certainly true at ICAST this year, and it has been extremely beneficial to the nation's bass fishermen, because the more crowded the market has become, the more manufacturers have been forced to refine and fine-tune their products.
Another trend very visible on the ICAST floor this year was the proliferation of split grip handles. This design features an exposed section of the rod blank between the reel seat and the butt. These weight-saving handles began to appear in 2006, but now most rod makers offer them.
New companies and innovations also were present. The Toronto-based e21 company took the ICAST best rod award with its Carrot Stix — a rod that actually utilizes cellulose fibers from carrots in its design — and Okuma addressed kayak and float tube anglers with excellent rods that actually float, in case you drop one.
Here's a look at what you'll soon see on the shelves at your favorite tackle store:
1. All Star
New here is the ASR Series, a collection of seven casting and three spinning rods, each designed very specifically for a bass fishing technique. Constructed of IM-10 multimodulus graphite and featuring split grip cork handles, these rods deserve a careful look by bass anglers everywhere; if you throw worms, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits or topwaters, you'll find your stick here. The 7-2 fast action jig/frog rod is a real beauty, as is the 6-10 spinning drop shot model. (www.allstarrods.com)
2. American Rodsmiths
Last season's H3 Titanium rods were so successful company bosses Robert Scherer and Bob Brown redesigned and improved them into the new H3 Titanium Ultra Series. Included are seven baitcasters and three medium-fast spinning rods that feature an almost break-proof carbide tip, a better locking fore grip and nickel/titanium recoil guides. For female anglers, well-known pro Judy Wong has designed the Pink Lady Series of four rods (two baitcasting and two spinning) that offer both style and function. These distinctive pink rods are medium actions and are designed for lines testing 8 to 14 pounds. For young anglers, the Rising Stars Series offers a choice of six quality graphite rods (three each casting and spinning) that should encourage them to stay in the sport. (www.americanrodsmiths.com; 713-466-7849)
3. Bass Cat
By anyone's guess, this marks the first time a boat maker also has gone into the rod business. Bass Cat has made the leap successfully, offering 11 models, all made in America. Features include 55 million modulus graphite, Fuji Alconite guides, Portuguese cork handles, and blank-through-reel seats; there are six baitcasters and three spinning sticks designed for different techniques including cranking, jigging, flipping, Carolina rigging, drop shotting and others. There's even a 7-4 extra-heavy stick for days when you feel brave enough to tackle something really big. (www.bass catstore.com; 870-481-5135)
The famous Team Daiwa Series continues to expand this year with two new Light & Tough models designed for jigs, shaky heads and drop shots. The medium action rod is 7-0 and will handle 6- to 14-pound-test lines; the medium-light model is 7-2 and will handle lures ranging from 1/16 to 1/2 ounce, giving you plenty of choices of how to use it. Daiwa also has added three new models to the Steez Bass Rod lineup it introduced last year. They should be popular, too. There's a 7-0 medium-heavy stick designed for Texas rigs, Carolina rigs and pitching; a 7-0 medium-light for shaky heads, split shots and wacky rigs; and an 8-0 flipping/pitching stick. (www.daiwa.com; 562-802-9589)
5. Dam International
For the first time in 130 years, this German manufacturer is making its products available in North America, and there are a number of rods that will fit well into the bass market for anglers just getting started. These include the Quick Tectan Series, featuring 16 baitcasting and spinning models. Of particular note, the QT-C-701MH deserves a look. It's a 7-0 medium-heavy baitcaster that will handle lines testing 12 to 25 pounds and lures up to about 1/2 ounce in weight, making it a pretty good all-around rod. (www.daminter national.com; 909-923-2828)
6. Dobyns Rods
If you've been searching for the ultimate bass rod, chances are good you'll find it here in either the Champion Xtreme or Champion Series. Designed by Gary Dobyns, generally considered the top bass pro in the West, these rods were the author's choice for the best rods at ICAST. Yes, they're technique-specific, but they're so fine-tuned you simply won't find better-balanced rods. There are 12 models in the Xtreme Series, ranging from a light and fast 7-0 spinning rod for drop shots to a 7-6 fast and heavy Carolina rig/light flipping stick. There are 40 models in the Champion Series, covering all actions. (www.dobynsrods.com; 800-325-9438)
7. e21 Fishing
This Toronto-based company made a huge splash at ICAST this year by winning the Best of Show award in the rod category with its Carrot Stix rods, designed by Ken Whiting, formerly of Airrus Rods. These orange colored rods actually contain cellulose fibers extracted from carrots and then processed into a super high strength epoxy —something only scientists could dream up, but it produced an unusually light but strong and sensitive rod. Additionally, e21 has designed the Carrot Stix in a way that eliminates weak or potential break spots, resulting in a rod that loads evenly. The Best of Show model was a 6-9 fast action medium-heavy rod that could become anyone's favorite, especially with its exposed grip and split reel seats. Four casting, three spinning and four fly rod models are offered. Also new here are the Classic Gold and Edge Series designed by 2007 Bassmaster Classic Champion Boyd Duckett. There are seven casting and three spinning sticks in the Classic Gold line, each featuring light single foot guides, a weight port so you can adjust rod balance to your liking, and a split handle grip. The Edge Series includes seven casting, four spinning and two special drop shot rods, all with fast action tips for more precise lure control and sensitivity. (www.e21fishing.com; 416-362-2121)
8. Eagle Claw
Anglers looking for rod/reel combos will find them here, as this famous Denver-based firm offers six series of freshwater rod and open face spinning reel sets that will work for bass. Of particular note are the Black Eagle Series, featuring a six ball bearing reel with a high modulus graphite rod; and the Water Eagle Series, featuring a two ball bearing reel and the famous Eagle Claw yellow rod. (www.eagleclaw.com; 720-941-8700)
New here is the Elite Tech Series of 12 rod groups, each specifically designed for a certain bass fishing technique but many with two or three action/length/power options. For example, there are three different cranking rods ranging from 6-6 to 7-3, three spinnerbait sticks, two drop shot models, etc. In all, there are 20 separate rods, each made of different components to more closely match the requirements of the particular fishing application. The drop shot rod has a split grip handle for increased sensitivity, for instance, while the flipping rod has removable weights in the butt for improved balance. (www.fenwickfishing.com; 877-777-3850)
This year the popular Oklahoma rod maker has given its Cara rods a face-lift and renamed them the Cara T-7 Series. Improvements include newer Fuji reel seats and Alconite guides, better cork handles and an overall lighter weight. There are 20 baitcasting, six spinning and 12 reaction models. The reaction rods, all baitcasters, are designed specifically for use with reaction-type lures and generally have slower actions. Serious anglers should look carefully at one rod in this series: the Amistad Special (CC 7173), a 7-3 heavy action stick designed for deep jigs and also for fishing in thick vegetation; it is one of two Cara T-7 rods with a split grip handle. The other is a 6-10 heavy action pitching/Carolina rig model. (www.falconrods.com; 918-251-0020)
The MossyBack Series of rods now has five separate categories of bass sticks, with more than 80 different models available. These are all designed for specific techniques, with various lengths, power ratings and actions offered, so simply choose your category and pick the rod that best suits your style of fishing. If you're a Senko fisherman, for instance, there are two new selections available, a 7-5 model able to handle lures between 3/16 and 5/8 ounce, and a 7-2 rod for slightly heavier 5/16- to 3/4-ounce baits. For flipping, look at the BCFR894, which is possibly the lightest but strongest flipping rod you've ever seen. (www.gloomis.com; 360-225-6516)
12. Kistler Rods
This year Kistler attacks the swimbait market with a rod that is sure to draw a lot of attention wherever big bass are the target: an 8-0 heavy action stick designed for those plastic trout look-alikes weighing up to 5 ounces. These rods have a long 14-inch Portuguese cork handle and a nice parabolic action for better overall fish control when you do get a monster on, while double-footed guides make sure your string stays in place. (www.kistler rods.com; 281-259-8033)
Among light tackle finesse fishing fans, few anglers garner more respect than Don Iovino, who for decades has shown just how effective small lures and tackle can be in bass fishing. This year he has teamed with Lamiglas to produce the 3+ Series of baitcasting and spinning rods (two each). Each rod is actually designed to handle several light tackle techniques, such as tubes, drop shots, and small jigs and crankbaits. Each rod is 6-2 in length, and both casting and spinning models are available in medium-light and medium-heavy actions. In addition, three new models have been added to the Skeet Reese Series introduced last year, including a 7-4 medium action drop shot special. (www.lamiglas.com; 800-325-9438)
If you're either a kayak fisherman or a float tuber, you'll like Okuma's new Baidarka Series of rods designed for these types of fishing. First of all, they float, even with a reel attached. They have slightly shorter handles because kayak fishermen sit, but they have longer fore grips for when you need extra leverage. Constructed of IM-7 graphite, they're lightweight, feature fast tips, and come in lengths of 7-0 and 7-6. There are seven rods in the series (five baitcasting and two spinning), but bass fishermen will especially like the BK-C-761L and BK-C-761ML trigger stick baitcasters with light and medium-light actions. (www.okuma fishing.com; 909-923-2828)
Utilizing new technology in tubular graphite construction, Pflueger introduces six spinning rods in its new Razor Tip Series. These rods feature a thinner but stronger solid carbon tip that increases sensitivity and permits the use of smaller, lighter lures. Thus, if you're looking to expand your skills in any of the finesse disciplines like drop shotting and even shaky heads, one of these light action sticks may be worth studying. Premium-grade cork handles, graphite reel seats and blank-through-handle construction are standard. Lengths range from 4-6 to 7-0 and actions are light and ultralight. (www.pfluegerfishing.com; 803-754-7000)
16. Powell Rods
Two new 7-3 spinning rods here deserve a serious look by bass hunters; if you like shaky heads, jigs, wacky rigs or Senkos — and who doesn't? — these should fit well in your rod locker. There's also a new super lightweight 7-5 glass crankbait stick that really redefines what these rods are all about. Additionally, Powell offers a new frog rod, as well as a redesigned flipping stick. (www.powellco.com; 415-382-9745)
Just when you thought fishing rods simply could not be made any lighter, Quantum introduces its new SuperLite PT Series, featuring 12 baitcasters and six spinning rods that basically are lighter than a feather. Made of 72 million modulus high strain graphite, the rods feature Fuji's new contoured finger-grip reel seats for daylong casting comfort, a split handle and titanium frame guides (lighter) with Nonolite rings (stronger). Don't think these are all just finesse-type light line rods, because they're not. Lengths range from 6-3 to 7-11 for the baitcasters and 6-6 to 7-4 for the spinning rods, and actions vary from medium-light to heavy. Also new this year is the Energy PT Series, made with 54 million modulus graphite, Fuji Hardloy guides and split grip cork handles. These rods are totally redesigned from earlier Energy rods, and you're going to like them: 14 baitcasters and seven spinning models cover every type of bass fishing application. Most have fast tips for greater sensitivity and improved lure control, and overall actions range from medium-light to heavy. (www.quantumfishing.com; 918-836-5581)
Although far better known for its lures, Rapala also offers fishing rods, and new this year is the XLT Series of tough but lightweight baitcasting and spinning rods. There are three casting models, two special crankbait rods and one flipping stick, as well as five spinning models. All feature high modulus graphite construction, Fuji Alconite guides and reel seat, blank-through-handle construction and premium Portuguese cork handles. Of special note are the two 7-0 crankbait rods in medium and medium-heavy actions but with moderately fast tips. If you're into deep cranking, the medium action stick deserves some attention. (www.rapala.com; 800-874-4451)
Youngsters, as well as night fishermen of all ages, will enjoy using Rhino's GlowTip rods, which glow in the dark. More than 20 models are available, as are 12 rod/reel combination options. (www.rhino fishing.com; 918-836-5581)
New this year in the Ugly Stik lineup is the Ladies Rod Series. Two casting and four spinning models are offered. The spinning rods range in length from 5-0 to 7-0, and the casting rods are 5-6 and 6-0 with medium and medium-light actions. Other standard features on the rods include the famous Ugly Stik Clear Tip, blank-through-handle construction and EVA handles. There are two new Ugly Stik Classic rods that are certainly suitable for bass hunters, both medium-heavy models in 6-0 and 7-0 lengths. (www.shakespeare-fishing.com; 803-754-7000)
21. St. Croix
St. Croix's well-known Legend Tournament Bass Series of bass rods has been redesigned this year to feature split grip cork handles. Overall weight is reduced but balance is improved, and that means better hook setting potential. The Legend Tournament Bass Series includes 24 technique-specific rods, 18 baitcasters and six spinning, so chances are you'll find one or more models for your rod box. The baitcasters include an 8-0 heavy action flipping stick as well as an 8-0 extra-heavy swimbait rod for any time you're going after a serious bite. The six spinning rods are real jewels and are designed for split shotting, drop shotting, tubes and other light-line presentations. The Avid Series also has been redesigned to offer more consistent actions and power ratings; the 84 models here are technique-specific and have been St. Croix's best sellers. (www.stcroixrods.com; 715-762-3226)
This year Shimano has introduced the Cumara Series of bass rods, which includes eight baitcasting and seven spinning models. Both the baitcasters and spinning rods are available in 6-8 or 7-2 lengths and have fast or extra fast actions; there is one additional 7-6 spinning rod. All are designed for bottom bumping techniques from drop shotting to Texas rigging. They're constructed of IM-10 graphite and feature a custom split reel seat for direct blank contact, a split grip handle and Fuji SIC guides. While all the tips are fast for improved lure control, power ratings are medium and medium-heavy, which means there's plenty of backbone to play and land big fish. (www.shimano.com; 949-951-5003)
You can forget about missed opportunities with Zebco's new Hawg Seeker combination rod and reel. The patented Bite Alert senses a strike and tells you with a bright flashing light, as well as an audible alarm. Also new is the Advanced Youth System Series of rod and reel combos. Advanced Youth System offers spinning, spincast and trigger-spin reels carefully matched to graphite rods with today's new split grip handles. (www.zebco.com; 918-836-5581)
The Dobyns Rods Extreme Series, consisting of 12 models of baitcasters and spinning rods. Designed by Gary Dobyns, a former Bassmaster winner and considered one of the West's top pros for more than two decades, these rods are not only technique-specific but absolutely some of the best-balanced sticks available today.
The Shimano Cumara Series of IM-10 graphite rods designed primarily for lures you drag, bounce or hop along the bottom. The eight baitcasters and seven spinning rods here are not only light but fine-tuned for these types of presentations, which are becoming more and more popular each year.
The H3 Titanium Ultra Series by American Rodsmiths. The seven baitcasters and three spinning models, all technique-specific, offer some of the best blending of graphite and titanium on the market today, resulting in rods that are strong, sensitive and able to handle most bass fishing conditions.