The Best Baitcaster Combos of 2023

Scott Einsmann

Best Overall

Daiwa Tatula CT/Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Carbonlite 2.0 Baitcast Combo



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Best Budget Combo for Bass

Bass Pro Shops Tourney Special



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Best Saltwater Combo

TackleDirect TDSSC701MHT Silver Hook/Shimano TRX300AHG TranX Baitcasting



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Baitcaster combos offer anglers more value than they can get from buying a rod and reel separately. They also simplify the process of matching the right reel with a rod. If you’re in the market for fresh or saltwater combos, here are some of the best baitcaster combos available.

Best Overall: Daiwa Tatula CT/Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Carbonlite 2.0 Baitcast Combo

Best Budget Combo for Bass: Bass Pro Shops Tourney Special

Best Saltwater Combo: TackleDirect TDSSC701MHT Silver Hook/Shimano TRX300AHG TranX Baitcasting

How I Chose the Best Baitcaster Combos

Kevin Hughes

John Demmer III
From bass to inshore saltwater, the best baitcaster combos have you covered.

I’ve been testing the best baitcasting rods, reels, and combos this spring while fishing for bass, redfish, and striped bass. All the combos in this review feature a reel or full combo I’ve personally tested. I’ve also included my picks for rods and reels not sold as combos in case you want to build your own best baitcaster combo. 

Best Baitcaster Combos: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Overall: Daiwa Tatula CT/Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Carbonlite 2.0 Baitcast Combo

Diawa

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Key Features Rod

Powers: Medium light, medium, medium heavy, and heavy

Actions: Moderate, fast, and extra fast

Lengths: 6 feet, 6 inches to 7 feet, 6 inches

Versatile Recommendation: 7-foot, medium heavy, fast

Winn grips

Fuji FaZlite guides

10-year warranty

Key Features Reel

Gear Ratios: 6.3:1, 7.1:1, and 8.1:1

Right or left retrieve 

Magforce-Z cast control

Carbon drag with 13.2 pounds of force

Pros

Comfortable grip

Smooth reel with great ergonomics

Reel can be tuned for bomb casts or to be backlash free

Aluminum frame reel

Cons

Some anglers don’t like split grips 

The Daiwa Tatula CT sells for $150, and the Carbonlite 2.0 rod sells for $130, but you can buy the combo for $250, which saves you $30. That 11 percent savings is a nice bonus to get a great reel paired with a quality rod. 

My Tatula CT has been on one of my frogging setups for several years, which is a hard life for any reel. Through lots of abuse, it’s been a reliable, smooth, and easy-to-cast reel that can bomb a frog and wrestle fish out of thick vegetation. I will finally this send it in for servicing this season so it can get cleaned up and lubed for another three years of frogging

The rod is available from medium-light to heavy power in a wide range of lengths and actions. So whether you need a rod for throwing squarebills or jigs, there’s a combo available for you. If you’re looking for an all-around option, you can’t go wrong with the 7-foot, medium-heavy, fast rod with the 7:1:1 gear ratio reel. 

Best Budget Combo for Bass: Bass Pro Shops Tourney Special

Bass Pro Shops

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Key Features Rod

Powers: Medium or medium heavy

Action: Fast

Lengths: 6 feet, 6 inches or 7 feet 

Versatile Recommendation: 7-foot, medium heavy, fast

Eva handle

Stainless guides

Graphite blank

Key Features Reel

Gear Ratio: 6.6:1

Right or left retrieve 

Five bearings 

Pros 

Affordable

Cons

Slow gear ratio isn’t ideal for moving baits

This affordable rod punches above its price point. Scott Einsmann

For under $100 you get a reel with a braking system that prevents backlashes and a rod that punches above its price point. It’s a heck of a deal for someone looking at getting their first baitcaster or adding to their existing arsenal. 

I’ve been fishing the 6-foot, 6-inch, medium-heavy rod, and I’ve found it to be very accurate and easy to cast. The rod is specced for 3/8 to 1-ounce lures, and while that 1-ounce rating is ambitious, I find it perfect for 1/2-ounce jigs and spinnerbaits. Even though I have many rods that are five times the price of this combo, I still routinely take it out on my kayak because of its accuracy. It has quickly become one of my favorites for casting around docks and tight cover. 

If you’re in the market for the best baitcaster combo for the money, this one is hard to beat. 

Read Next: Best Bass Fishing Rods

Best Saltwater Combo: TackleDirect TDSSC701MHT Silver Hook/Shimano TRX300AHG TranX Baitcasting

TackleDirect

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Key Features Rod

Power: Medium heavy

Action: Moderate fast

Length: 7 feet 

Lure Weight Rating: 3 to 6 ounces

Cork handle with fighting butt

Key Features Reel

300 size

Gear Ratio: 7.6:1

Right or left retrieve 

Max Drag: 18 pounds

Mono Capacity (pound/yards): 12/230, 14/180

Braid Capacity (pound/yards): 40/195, 50/190

Pros 

Good for fishing bait and jigs

Plenty of backbone

Powerful and durable reel

Cons

Not ideal for casting light lures 

This combo isn’t for wading a flat and throwing jerkbait for speckled trout. This is a meat stick made for chunking bunker, diamond jigging, bouncing a bucktail, and pulling fish away from bridge pilings. The stout, but sensitive, rod is outfitted with a 300-size Shimano TranX. The power handle on the TranX is ideal for winching powerful fish away from structure or off the bottom. The TranX was a standout performer in this year’s saltwater baitcasting reel test, and I’ve been using a 400 size on my swimbait rod for the last few years. The reel is durable as a tank, with the weight and power of a muscle car. 

Read Next: Best Saltwater Fishing Rods

Great Rods and Reels Not Sold as Combos

Sometimes the best combination is sold separately. We tested a variety of rod and reel combos. Scott Einsmann

While you can save some money going with a packaged combo, choosing a rod and reel separately is the only way to create the ultimate setup for you. Here are some of my favorite combos:

High-End Bass: Megabass FMJ and Daiwa Steez A

Megabass and Daiwa

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The Megabass FMJ is a do-everything jig and worm rod with crisp sensitivity and refined finishing. I’ve used mine to throw swim jigs, chatterbaits, and Texas-rigged plastics from ⅜ to ¾ ounce. The Daiwa Steez SV TW ($550) was an indulgent purchase on my end, but one I haven’t regretted. Fishing that reel is pure luxury, and I just wish I could afford a few more. 

Value Bass: Shimano SLX DC and Shimano SLX A Rod

Shimano

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The SLX DC has Shimano’s micro-computer technology that prevents backlashes and makes a cool sound when you cast it. Paired with one of the SLX rods, you have a combo that will run you $300, and fish circles around combos costing much more. 

Inshore: Daiwa Coastal and Shimano GLF

Daiwa and Shimano

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I’m sure you gasped when you saw a Daiwa and Shimano paired together, but that’s the beauty of building your own combo. You can choose the best reel and the best rod for your needs. The Coastal is the saltwater Tatula, and a solid reel for inshore fishing. The GLF offers a ton of performance for the dollar and, after using it all this year, has become one of my top recommendations for affordable, inshore casting rods.  

BFS: Shimano Curado BFS and Dobyns Sierra Ultra Finesse 

Shimano and Dobyns

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From bug baits to Ned rigs, this setup will toss them all. It’s the combo I grab when I need the insurance of finesse presentations, but don’t want to bring a spinning rod. 

Big Swimbait: Daiwa Tatula 300 and Leviathan Omega

Daiwa and Leviathan

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There are a lot of great big swimbait rods and reels, but if I had to choose one for hard baits, it would be this setup. 

How to Choose a Baitcasting Combo

The power, action, gear ratio, and retrieve are important aspects of the ideal baitcaster combo. Scott Einsmann

I’m going to make the assumption that if you’re in the market for a baitcasting combo you’re relatively new to baitcasters. So here’s a breakdown of the basics in selecting a rod and reel for your needs.  

Rod Power

Rod power refers to overall stiffness, which translates to the lure weights a rod can cast. You’ll see these most commonly as light, medium-light, medium, medium-heavy, and heavy power. The most universal power is medium heavy because it’s great for a wide variety of bass and inshore presentations. But if you’re mostly casting light lures you’ll want a medium or medium light rod. If you’re fishing heavy lures or heavy line, a heavy power rod is ideal.

Actions

A rod’s action is how it bends. A fast action will have a flexible tip section, and be stiffer throughout the rest of the rod. A moderate action has a more parabolic action that bends through the middle of the rod. Typically, a fast action is ideal for bottom contact fishing like worms and jigs because they’re sensitive and can drive powerful hook sets. A moderate action is best for something like a crankbait that needs a forgiving rod that prevents pulling treble hooks out of a fish’s mouth. 

Gear Ratios 

A reel’s gear ratio refers to how many times the spool turns for each turn of the reel handle. A 7.1:1 gear ratio means the spool makes 7.1 rotations for each rotation of the handle. 

The trend in baitcasting reels is toward faster and faster retrieval rates. Where a 6.3:1 used to be an all-around option, it’s now considered slow. The 7.1:1 has taken over as the do-everything ratio, and 8.1:1 is the choice for powerfishing. 

Right or Left Retrieve 

While some anglers will tell you there’s a right or wrong answer to this selection, there’s not. It truly comes down to personal preference. For example, I’m right-handed and cast a baitcaster with my right hand on the reel. As the lure hits the water, I move the rod over to my left hand and crank the handle with my right hand. 

I know that seems like an overly complicated system, but it’s not uncommon. If casting with my right and retrieving with my left felt natural, believe me, I would do it. I would suggest trying to retrieve with your non-dominant hand to start because it is more efficient, but if it doesn’t feel natural, don’t fight your fate. 

Read Next: Best Bass Lures

Tips for Using a Baitcaster 

The biggest fear for new baitcaster owners is the dreaded backlash where your reel becomes a tangled bird’s nest. It sucks the fun right out of fishing. But you can greatly reduce the chances of backlash by following these tips. 

Learn to use your reel’s braking and spool tensioning system. High-end baitcaster have adjustable brake and spool tension, but even budget baitcasters have knobs that allow you to adjust the spool tension for your lure weight. 

If your reel has an adjustable braking system, I’d recommend adjusting it on the conservative side, which will reduce casting distance, but prevent backlashes. A good rule of thumb for a new caster is to tighten the spool tension knob until the lure slowly falls to the ground with an open bail.  

If you’re spooling your reel up with a braided fishing line, be sure to use backing. By adding a few yards of monofilament to the spool before the braid, you’ll give the braid something to bite into and prevent slipping. 

You can use electrical tape to prevent deep, day-ending backlashes. Pull a cast length plus a little more of line out. Then take a few inches of electrical tape and wrap it around your spool. Reel up the line you pulled out. Here’s a video on how to do it if you’re a visual learner. 

FAQs

Q: Is fluorocarbon or monofilament better for a baitcaster? 

Fluoro has come a long way, and modern lines are nimble, low memory, and low stretch. They’re an all-around great option for baitcasting reels. The exception is for topwater fishing where mono is better because it floats. Braid is ideal for fishing in thick vegetation. 

Q: How much should I spend on a baitcaster? 

Baitcasters in the $100 to $200 range offer a lot of performance for the money.

Q: What weight line is best for a baitcaster? 

Twenty-pound fluorocarbon or 65-pound braid are good all-around line weights for 150-size baitcasting reels. 

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Final Thoughts 

Buying one of the best baitcaster combos is a great way to get started and save a few bucks. With practice, they’ll allow you to cast more accurately than a spinning rod, and many anglers prefer baitcasting ergonomics. If you’re on a budget, I can’t recommend the Bass Pro Shops Tourney Special enough. If you’re looking for something that will last a little longer and be more refined, the Daiwa Tatula CT/Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Carbonlite 2.0 Baitcast Combo is my top choice. 

Best Overall: Daiwa Tatula CT/Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Carbonlite 2.0 Baitcast Combo

Best Budget Combo for Bass: Bass Pro Shops Tourney Special

Best Saltwater Combo: TackleDirect TDSSC701MHT Silver Hook/Shimano TRX300AHG TranX Baitcasting

The post The Best Baitcaster Combos of 2023 appeared first on Outdoor Life.

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