You could easily spend thousands on a fishing rod and reel, but most casual fishers (and even some experts) would be happier with something more versatile and less expensive. After interviewing experts and spending more than 80 hours testing spinning rods and reels, we’ve determined that pairing the Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 rod with the Daiwa BG SW spinning reel makes the best all-around fishing outfit without breaking the bank. This combo compares favorably to outfits costing twice as much.
The Daiwa BG SW and medium or medium-heavy Ugly Stik GX2 combination is more versatile and durable than anything else in the same price range. Spending less means losing out on long-term durability; spending more means you’re paying for features designed for specific kinds of fishing, or lighter-weight materials that are nice to have but unnecessary for a general-purpose fishing setup. (Daiwa’s 1500–2500 models are ideal for small trout streams but can also handle light inshore fishing for spotted seatrout and flounder, while the larger 5000 and 8000 models will handle larger inshore species and perhaps even small tuna and dolphinfish.)
However, if you never plan on targeting anything larger than trout and small freshwater bass or small inshore saltwater species (about 1 to 4 pounds), you can get away with the ultra-light version of the Ugly Stik GX2 and a smaller BG SW reel (size 2500 or less) and save a few bucks. If you’re fishing from shore in thick brush or in a narrow stream, consider a shorter rod, down to 5 feet or even 4 feet 6 inches, for tiny creeks and brooks.
Compared with our previous pick, the Penn Battle II—not to mention many higher-end Penn and Shimano reels—the BG SW is equipped with a more durable rotor, as well as stronger, individual springs for the anti-reverse clutch (which keeps the reel from spinning backward), and most notably, the very same ball bearings included in Daiwa’s and Shimano’s most expensive models.
The BG SW’s design allows trapped water (a common issue with braided line especially) to drain through the reel. The drag mechanism is the same one found in higher-end $200-plus reels, but unique in the $100 range. This makes it comparable in durability to reels that cost twice as much.