When I’m fishing new water, a lake I’ve never seen before, I choose lures to search for possibilities. I explore every fishy spot, working the top, middle and bottom of the water column. First, a medium-heavy casting outfit and crankbait. Then I switch to a medium-action casting rod rigged with a topwater lure. No luck.

I grab the light-action spinning reel and finesse jig. To cover the bases with three versatile combos, Kayak Angler’s editors put together ultimate rod and reel combinations for topwater, crankbaits and finesse fishing.

1. Abu Garcia: Jordan Lee Spinning Combo

$99.95 | www.abugarcia.com

After winning two Bassmaster Classic tournaments, Jordan Lee ascended to bass fishing royalty. But he hasn’t forgotten the little guy. Designing Abu Garcia’s new Jordan Lee spinning combo, Lee included the features he demands for tournament success. The light-action spinning rod and compact reel are perfect for finesse fishing. The rod features Winn golf-club grips with an exposed graphite blank in the reel seat.

The spinning reel has a slow retrieve to drag a jig across the bottom at a snail’s pace. Jordan Lee’s signature X9 braided line uses nine strands instead of eight for a softer, stronger line. Eight-pound Trilene fluorocarbon, further increases sensitivity and reduces visibility. The business end gets one of Lee’s new PowerBaits, our favorite is the HD Tru Color Champ minnow. I drop shot or jig the minnow and Tru Color mimics the markings and flash of specific baitfish.

2. Daiwa: Tatula Elite reel/Tatula Seth Feider Signature rod/Evergreen SB-105

$239.99/$279.99/$15.95 | www.daiwa.com

An opportunity to use topwater lures arises rarely and rarely lasts long. To make the most of any chance, I keep a rod rigged with a topwater lure or jerkbait. When I asked Daiwa’s Curt Arakawa to recommend a topwater set up, he was quick to point out Elite Pro Seth Feider’s signature Tatula rod and matching Tatula Elite reel. Arakawa said, “Seth designed the rods for topwater and jerkbaits.” The rod is medium-light action, six-foot, nine-inch casting model. I like a shorter rod when I’m fishing topwater, crankbaits, swimbaits and other swimming lures that work best with the rod tip pointed towards the water. When fishing topwater and jerkbaits, covering ground with a long retrieve puts the lure in front of the fish.

The 150 Elite casting reel is fine-tuned with a magnetic brake system and high-performance spool for extra-long casts. To take advantage of every inch of Tatula’s casting power, I spooled the reel with eight-carrier, super-round, 15-pound J-Braid Grand. The cherry on top, Arakawa sent an Evergreen SB-105 topwater popper. The pencil popper can also walk the dog or pop and pause. On the water, the Tatula system works smoothly to launch the light topwater and jerkbaits with distance and accuracy. On the retrieve, a stiff tip provided perfect control over the plug. The Tatula combo is good enough for Elite Pro Seth Feider, it should up my game, too.

3. Shimano: SLX DC reel/SLX crankbait rod/Jackall Chubble 80 SR

$189.99/$99.99/15.99 | fish.shimano.com

Searching the water with a crankbait requires a tough combo with a light touch. I’m looking for a rod with backbone to draw the crankbait through the water and make a strong hookset on a fast attack. The reel has to be stiff and powerful for the dirty work, and light and limber for long casts with a high-profile lure.

When I put these requirements to John Mazurkiewicz at Shimano, he responded with the award-winning SLX DC reel and matching SLX crankbait rod. Mazurkiewicz said the SLX motto is “Can’t stop fishing” with a focus on tournament features in an easy-to-afford combo. For long casts and steady retrieves, the SLX rod features a sensitive carbon fiber foregrip and split rear grip. Of course, he paired the rod with the new SLX DC reel featuring the popular digital casting control found on more expensive reels. On the cast, a tiny computer controls spool speed for ultimate distance without backlashing. By turning a dial on the side of the reel, the angler adjusts the settings to match the lure and casting conditions. Once the reel is dialed in, it’s almost impossible to backlash.

I find myself getting ridiculous making backhand casts and off-balance pitches I would never attempt with a magnetic or centrifugal baitcaster. The reel is spooled with smooth and supple PowerPro Super8Slick braid for long casts and fewer tangles. “I’ll throw in the new Jackall Chubble 80 SR crankbait,” Mazurkiewicz added, highlighting the Chubble’s internal magnetic weight. The sliding weight increases casting distance. On the retrieve, the weight balances the lure keeping it centered to bounce off rocks and deadfalls without snagging. “The Chubble 80 SR has been a tournament favorite from coast to coast,” he said.

Featured photo: Roberto Westbrook

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