Ken DukeWritten by

Classic Winning Rods and Reels

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Yesterday, we covered some of the lures that have won the Bassmaster Classic. Lures, quite naturally, have gotten a lot of attention at the Classic. They are the things that bass try to eat or attack and certainly the things which ultimately result in hundreds of fish being held up for all to see on the weigh-in stage.

But there can be no weak links in a Classic champion’s arsenal. Rods, reels and lines matter just as much, and we at FTR leave no stone unturned when it comes to bringing you the story of the gear that makes news. Besides, we’re fascinated by that sort of stuff.

First, a caveat: The data regarding rods and reels used to win the Classic is incomplete at best. Quite often there was no contemporaneous report of the combos used by the winners. In fact, a study of the combos used to win the Classic is simultaneously a study of fishing “journalism” practices.

When you read recent (since 2000 or so) coverage of the Classic, you can usually find reference to the rods and reels used by the winner … and sometimes even the top five anglers. Whether that inclusion is a marketing decision driven by advertising dollars spent by those companies or merely the desire to tell a more complete story is a subject for debate, but the info is mostly there and in considerable detail.

Back up into the 1990s and that information is demonstrably less complete. For 2017, we may soon learn that the winner was using a MegaCaster Model LMB2204-SP (“southpaw” or left-hand retrieve) casting reel with a 7.999:1 gear ratio. He paired it with an Ahab Rods 8-foot-2 medium-heavy action F/P25-50WG rod designed specifically for flipping and pitching baits weighing between 1/4- and 1/2 ounce, featuring a Winn Grip handle and fore grip.

In the ‘90s, the coverage would be less detailed. You’d learn only that the winner used a Megacaster on an Ahab flipping rod. And in the ‘80s you might get the rod, but not the reel … or the reel, but not the rod. In the ‘70s, you usually didn’t get either.

Of course, those sort of hurdles don’t stop us at FTR (which for this story stands for “Find The Rod/Reel”). Your intrepid reporter has contacted (and continues to contact) past champions in an indefatigable effort to get you the complete story. (Motto: “We dig into the minutiae, so you don’t have to.”)

It’s because of these tireless efforts that I can tell you Bobby Murray used a black Ambassador 5000C on a 5-foot-6 Browning Silaflex casting rod with a custom ebony pistol grip handle to win the first Classic in 1971.

Don’t believe me? Go ahead —ask him!

Admittedly, there are still some gaps in the research and data, but since no one has any better or more complete information we’ll tell you what we know. Here are the top three rod and reel manufacturers when it comes to winning the Bassmaster Classic and the number of championships for which they’ve been credited.


  • 12 Daiwa
  • 6 Quantum
  • 3 Berkley


  • 13 Daiwa
  • 8 Abu Garcia
  • 7 Quantum

When we publish this list again next year, it will certainly be more complete, so the numbers may change. But for now, at least, that’s what we know.

As you can see, Daiwa has dominated on both sides of the combo category. Quantum has done extremely well, too. Berkley/Abu Garcia rounds out the top three in both rods and reels.

Daiwa dominated from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, having the winning rod and reel for four straight years between 1996 and 1999 and three straight between 2002 and 2004. And they did that with seven different anglers.

Of Quantum’s six rod and seven reel wins, Kevin VanDam earned four on each side. Good things happen when you work with competitive bass fishing’s greatest angler to help design and use your products.

Do these numbers say more about the equipment or the pro staffs? Does the equioment make the pro or does the pro make the equipment? You decide on both counts, but there’s no denying that these companies have had outstanding pro staffs and great gear through the years. Certainly one complements the other.

Daiwa’s success in the Classic reminds me of a promotion they did in 1999 or 2000. They took a combo from each of their Classic champs between 1996 and 1999 (George Cochran, Dion Hibdon, Denny Brauer and Davy Hite, respectively) and raffled the set of four off to one lucky winner who filled out a paper entry form (the internet wasn’t quite ready for such things yet). The rods and reels looked battle-tested in the photos, and I wanted them very badly. I even identified a spot on my wall where they would be displayed.

I must have filled out at least 100 of those forms (a photocopy machine assisted with 99 of them), but I didn’t win. Naturally, I suspected foul play.

If the winner of that promotion happens to be reading this, you can make things right by shipping me the combos as soon as possible. I promise to display them prominently in my office (under custom lighting) where houseguests and random passersby will be given occasional (hourly) viewings.

Only you can right this terrible wrong.

Joe Sills Hi there, did you know? Each week, we curate a list of the Top 5 stories in fishing and send them right to your inbox. Reading Tackle’s Top 5 is one of the best ways to become or remain an industry expert. -Joe Sills, Digital Editor