Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gear Review: 5 Great Ultra-Light Rods Under $50

I love ultra-light fishing.  The challenge and accomplishment of throwing tiny tackle at big fish, often in tight's like fly fishing for the lazy.   But since ultralight rods are.....ultralight....they tend to get snapped, pulled apart, and stepped on with great frequency, so it seems like I am always on the lookout for a new one. And God Bless Field and Stream, but I don't need to read another article entitled, "5 Great Ultralight Combos Under $1,200."  So on that note, I give you: 5 Great Ultralight Rods Under $50:

Bass Pro Shops Microlite Spinning Rod ($49 $35):  Easily the strongest rod of the bunch, this rod has accuracy trouble with lures below 1/8 ounce, but does just great with anything up to about 3/8", believe it or not.  This is the stiffest and least sensitive of the rods on this list, and probably not a great choice for the panfish or small trout enthusiast, although I've caught many of both on my Microlite.   This rod inspires confidence when you know you have a bigger fish on the line.
Best length: 5'6" or 6'0".
Recommended species:  largemouth, smallmouth, steelhead
Recommended fishing style: boat, wading, tight structure, open water.  Not a great shore chucker caster.

Bass Pro Shops Crappie Maxx Sig. Series Spinning Rod ($45):
Just so I'm honest about my bias, this is my favorite ultralight rod of all time.  Originally manufactured by BPS as the "Wally Marshall Crappie Special," Wally and BPS parted ways in 2010. Due to customer demand for the rod, however, BPS continues to manufacture it, in the same exact metallic forest green paint scheme, as the "Crappie Maxx."  The sensitivity and strength are a near perfect balance, which I don't believe you'll otherwise see in an ultralight rod below $90 in price (and that rod is a St. Croix).  This rod casts very well, and has the sensitivity to get the job done with skittish or small fish.  I advise you to buy two.

Best length: 5'0" or 5'6", although the 4'6" is good from a boat.
Recommended species: anything between 8" - 16" long. This rod, like the Pflueger Razor Tip, can be overwhelmed by bigger, stronger game fish.
Recommended fishing style:  shoreline ambush, wading tight spots, close-in work on structure, from a boat. Good long range accuracy, especially when paired with a good ($60+) reel.

Pflueger Razor Tip Microspin: ( $49 $22):  This was an outstanding rod, while it lasted.  The tip magically broke off and vanished in the bed of my truck after a heavy 18 months or so of use, which, if you read reviews on the rod, is about on par with other anglers' experiences.  Given the abuse I put it through, it was more than worth the $20 or so that I spent on it - some fishing outlet websites offer it for even cheaper.  Perhaps because of the "vanishing" razor tip, Pflueger recently pulled the rod from its product lineup, and replaced it with their new Microspin rod.  Even though I haven't fished that rod, I recommend that you give it a shot, if you find it on sale for maybe $30 or less.  Still a better "feel" to it than the standard stock Shakespeares and Berkeleys, although it has a pretty similar field life span of those crappers.

Best length: 4'6" or 5'0"
Recommended species:  anything less than 12" long
Recommended fishing style: shoreline ambush, short casts, wading small water.  Not highly accurate casting beyond short range.

Quantum Xtralite XT Spinning Rod ($19):  This is the only rod in the bunch that I've never owned, but I've borrowed one twice, with pretty satisfying results on small panfish and smallmouth. It's also the only rod in the bunch with an MSRP under $25.  It's very sensitive - almost too sensitive for me - and if you hook a big fish, you almost feel like the rod is just "hanging on."  The owner of this rod loves the feeling, kind of an extreme - ultra-light, I guess.  But again, at $19, it's cheaper and probably a better rod than many of the standard cheap rods at your local sporting goods store.  Trust me, because I've broken many of those and left them in access point trash cans up and down the east coast.

Best length: 5'0"
Recommended species:  anything bigger than 12" long is a roll of the dice!
Recommended fishing style: shoreline ambush, short casts. Not a finesse/accuracy rod.

Quantum Triax Spinning Rod ($35):  This is a great rod that I haven't used enough.  After a half season of abuse, I transferred it to my gear storage spot in South Florida....and have had no chances to use it since.  Like the BPS Microlite (reviewed above), I am 1000% confident working big fish with this ultralight rod - I intended to use it on Oscars, small peacock bass, and giant bluegills in South Florida.  Hopefully that trip will happen in 2012!   This rod is a little more sensitive, especially in the tip, then the BPS Microlite, so in time, I  may just fall in love with it.

Best length: 5'0", 5'5", 6'0"
Recommended species:  whatever your reel is up for! Big panfish and aggressive largemouth for sure.
Recommended fishing style: boat, wading, tight structure, open water. Good long range accuracy.

Honorable Mention: Shakespeare Ugly Stik Ultralight ($29) : 
You didn't honestly expect me to write up this list without a mention of one of the sturdiest, best-selling ultralight rods of all time, did you?  My relationship with Ugly Stik goes back about 16 years, when my Dad gave me one (casting rod, medium/fast) as a reward for living to age 22, or not failing out of college, or not getting some girl pregnant, or something.   I still have it, too, and actually fished it last year! (thanks, Dad!)

 The UL rod, though, has lasted longer than any rod described on this page, no matter how you measure "longer."  It has absolutely not caught the most fish, or the biggest fish.  But it didn't cost a lot of money, it has actually caught fish, and it and my Ugly casting rod have lasted longer than any other single rod I have ever bought for freshwater fishing. If you normally have guests fishing with you, and they want to fish light tackle (or don't know any better), how can you not have an Ugly Stik on hand for them? Hell, they ain't gonna break the  bank....or break the tip off, that's for sure.

Best length: 5'0", 5'5"
Recommended species:  whatever your reel is up for!
Recommended fishing style: boat, shoreline, or wading in open water. Not super accurate beyond about 8 yards.

I hope you found this list useful - what are your favorite rods under $50?


Tim Borkert said...

My very favorite rod is the "Bass Pro Shops Micro Lite Glass Spinning Rod" in the 7'6" length. Its the yellow one. $19.99. My dad and I ONLY use ultra-light or, recently, fly fishing gear. Funnest way to fish!

I will say I pair my cheap rod with an over $100 reel. I love cheap rods, but hate cheap reels!

Kirk Mantay said...

Tim, I've looked at that rod many times, intrigued by its ugly ass appearance, its seemingly sensitive play, and the $20 price tag. Wonder how it's different from the Microlite Graphite (which I fish all the time)?

I also hate cheap reels. They suck.

Eastern Shore Outdoors said...

Those are some great recommendations, thanks for the review and research.. I am looking for some ultralight gear for fishing some of the ponds and skinny water in the rivers...Phil

Devin Angleberger said...

Mine are what you listed and the Trout Magnet Sore lip'em Series rods. It's 6'6" and handles 2 lb test. Works great with Trout Magnet!

Kirk Mantay said...

Thanks Devin, I didn't know TM even made rods - I will look into that, because there are certain spots I won't take my "nice" trout rod....

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