1. Mudhole MHXFK-17 Fly Rod Kit
MHX series rods from Mudhole incorporate innovative blank designs of both traditional and progressive actions, and the multi-modulus materials and advanced production process help to create a series of blanks unparalleled in the marketplace. The MHX series are as much as 40% lighter than comparable standard graphite models and accordingly more sensitive, and we appreciated both facets on the water this year. We enjoyed building and using the 9-foot, 4-piece, 10-weight fly rod, and put it to work on some beefy Alaska kings to great effect.
2. Highliner Custom Rods Custom Surfcasting Rod
Bill Amerongen builds beautiful, one-of-a-kind custom rods that are in our opinion the best-looking rods out there. He’s made us an 8-weight Sage fly rod, Lamiglas steelhead spinning driftrod, Lamiglas king salmon multi-purpose casting rod, and this time around, he produced a surf-casting rod. Built on a Lamiglas XRA 1205-2 blank, the 10-foot, 15- to 30-pound, 1- to 4-ounce rod is designed for chucking big baits a long distance. Bill incorporated his new carbon fiber grip, which is tough and light, and wrapped the blank in Seahawks-colored thread. We can attest that this is performance art, and it’s helping us access some of the surf-casting opportunities around the state.
3. Okuma Nomad Inshore Travel Rod
This rod series comes in two spinning and two casting options to cover a pound-test range of 6- to 20 pounds. We tested the 7-foot, 3-piece casting model that offered two tips for either a 6- to 15-pound-class rod (Medium-Light) or 10- to 17-pound-class rod (Medium). It performed well when casting to coastal silvers and packs down small into a protective waterproof case. Components and design are top-notch and the rod is comfortable to fish with.
4. Wright & McGill by Eagle Claw WMBB76C1 Salmon Rod
Designed specifically for back-bouncing applications, this 7-foot, 6-inch heavy-action rod was ace for Kasilof kings in 2014. The rod is just one of 14 in the technique-specific Salmon series from Wright & McGill, each offering powerful and light IM7 graphite blanks, Fuji reel seats and hard-alloy guides, custom cork handles and a 1K woven butt section.
5. St. Croix Legend X Fly Rod
When we think of a brawny fly rod capable of subduing slab-sided Chinook, hard-fighting chums, angry silvers and gravity-defying sockeye, then this line of rods is what comes to mind. These moderately fast 9-foot rods are powerful, capable of punching big flies through wind, burying hooks and landing chrome. We appreciated the Xtreme-Skin synthetic handle which is comfortable and did not absorb dirt, water or fish slime. We tried the 8-weight stick and whipped fish.
6. Temple Fork Outfitters 07 110 4 Deer Creek Switch Rod
Handling lines in the 350- to 550-grain range, the Deer Creek 7110-4 four-piece switch rod is a capable stick for Kenai trout and Anchor River steelhead. Our tester used this rod on a Wulik River float trip targeting sea-run Dollies and landed a 37.5-inch fish. The rod flexes deep into the blank—a characteristic that allows for a slow, relaxed casting stroke and might make it an easier rod to cast for beginners. At 11 feet long, this rod shines on small- to medium-sized rivers.
7. Okuma Nomad Travel Rod
This offshore jigging rod is awesome for Alaska’s bottomfish up to about 50 pounds. We targeted lingcod, halibut and rockfish with the 7-foot, 3-piece, 15- to 40-pound-class rod. Testers enjoyed the length and flex of the rod while fluttering 4- to 12-ounce jigs near the ocean floor some 200 feet below the boat, and the stiff butt section for hauling up the toothy critters that smashed the offering. The rod comes with a padded travel case to fit the two bottom sections and the two interchangeable top sections.
8. St. Croix Wild River WRC96XHM2 Casting Rod
This was one of the stout additions to the Wild River line in 2014, and we found it capable of handling brawny Chinook, whether boondogging, throwing hardware or back-bouncing. We also expect it would make a good jigging rod out on the salt when targeting rockfish, lingcod and under 50-pound halibut. It’s 9 ½ feet long, rated for 15- to 40-pound line and capable of handling up to 12-ounce lures.
9. Lamiglas SI 94 MC Casting Rod
This fast-action, 10- to 15-pound, 2-piece casting rod is light, fast, strong and sensitive. Advanced resins allow the rod to remain light, but are considerably stronger, which is a real bonus for anglers looking to target Alaska’s coho, sockeye, steelhead and oversized trout. We loved the performance and feel of this rod and found it to be well-suited to a range of techniques, including throwing tackle, floating jigs and drifting roe.
10. Echo Classic 6110 Switch Rod
The Echo Classic 6110 Switch Rod was also tested on the large, sea-run Dollies of the Wulik River, and we found that this rod had both more fish-fighting power and casting power than its 6-weight designation suggests. It is a fast-action rod and casts to 70 feet or so were possible when fishing Skagit-style with T-8 and T-10 tips. The Echo Classic 6110 is a good match for small-stream steelhead but has enough power to reach and subdue Kenai rainbows as well, though it might not be our first choice for that application. For $240 bucks, this rod is a steal.
11. Lamiglas X 10 MS Spinning Rod
We thoroughly enjoyed using the rod to catch coho and steelhead on a jig under a float. The spinning rod is 10 feet long, which provides for excellent line management and long drifts. It’s light and sensitive, which made for easy days of casting and battling anadromous specimens.
12. G.Loomis IMX 1174-2C SATR Casting Rod
We used this rod to great success to subdue Chinook to 30-plus pounds on the Nushagak. The blank is very light and sensitive and transmitted even the lightest bites while boondogging. The upper half is soft, which allows a Chinook to mouth the bait and swim off with it before feeling resistance. And when an aggressive fish would slam the rod tip towards the water, the butt half of the 2-piece, 9-foot 9-inch, 15- to 30-pound-test rod was stout enough to bury a large siwash hook into the bony mouth of a king salmon.