Classic Gear Part 2: Rods and Reels

Yesterday, we covered some of the lures that have won the Bassmaster Classic. Lures, naturally, get a lot of attention at the Classic. Tackle-wise, they get more credit than anything else for the fish that come across the weigh-in stage.

But rods and reels are just as important… obviously. You must deliver the lure to the bass, after all, and that’s what rods, reels and line do, but they tend to get less of the spotlight.

In more than half a century of Classic reportage, there has been decidedly less focus on rods and reels versus lures. The data on 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 good detail.

Back up into the 1990s and that information is demonstrably less complete. For 2023, we may soon learn that the winner was using a MegaLauncher Model LMB2204-SP (“southpaw” or left-hand retrieve) casting reel with a 11.999:1 gear ratio (12:1 was a little too fast for the technique). He paired it with a 9-foot-11 medium action LDC/P25-50WG rod from Jaw Jacker Rods that’s designed specifically for casting crankbaits into the stratosphere by taking advantage of prevailing trade winds (which the rod measures via an internal Doppler radar system).

In the ’90s, the coverage was less detailed. You’d learn only that the winner used a MegaLauncher reel on a Jaw Jacker 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 sorts of hurdles don’t stop us at FTR (which for this story stands for “Find The Rod/Reel”). Your intrepid reporter has contacted past champions in an indefatigable effort to get you the complete story. (Motto: “We sweat the details, 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 rod and reel manufacturers when it comes to winning the Bassmaster Classic and the number of championships for which they’ve been credited.

Wins Per Rod Brand

  • 13 Daiwa
  • 9 Quantum
  • 5 Berkley
  • 3 Fenwick
  • 2 many manufacturers

Wins Per Reel Brand

  • 16 Abu Garcia
  • 15 Daiwa
  • 10 Quantum
  • 2 many manufacturers

As you can see, Daiwa, Quantum, and the Pure Fishing brands have dominated on both sides of the combo category.

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 equipment 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. Sigh.

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 (i.e., hourly) viewings.

Only you can right this terrible wrong.

I will even pay postage.

And if any Classic champs want their Classic-winning outfits to have a good home, you know how to find me.