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Academy H2OX ETHOS Baitcaster Review

The folks at Academy sent me a new H2OX ETHOS Baitcaster and a new H2OX ETHOS Casting rod to test. I’ve been a fan of Academy H2O Xpress original series of crankbaits, and have been throwing the square bills since they came out in 2008. So I was pretty excited to see the new line of H2OX fishing gear first hand.

Now that I’ve had the opportunity to fish with the H2OX ETHOS Baitcaster and rod for a couple of months, and get a good bend on it with some nice smallmouth bass this spring, I wanted to relay my thoughts and experiences with this setup. If you’re in the market for a good baitcaster under $100, this quick review might point you in the right direction.

This whole combo is less than $150 which is a great deal based on the performance and fishing I’ve seen with it.


The H20X ETHOS casting reel is built on a solid one-piece aluminum frame. While that by itself is not earth shattering, it’s really uncommon on a reel that only costs $84. And it’s the foundation on which they built an affordable reel that a lot of anglers are going to really love. The oversized swept handle is solid. The carbon fiber drag system is strong and the entire reel feels solid in your hand.

It’s comes in 6.6:1 and 8:1 gear ratios in a 100 reel size footprint. It Pams well and the handle is comfortable and easy to grip under torque.


The clickers on the braking system are not as smooth as some of my higher end reels but that’s really all I could come up with on what didn’t seem like a much more expensive reel. But the real proof was in the casting. I’ve been fishing a lot of light plastics and weightless heavy plastics like the Yamamoto Yamatanuki on the ETHOS Casting reel and rod this spring. It will absolutely bomb cast those baits. I mean I was floored by the casting distance I was getting on this $84 reel.

And besides the distance the casting was very smooth and quiet. The retrieve is pretty smooth as well. Not as smooth as some higher end reels, but smooth nonetheless. There was just a slight bit of play in the handle and I think that is why the reel wasn’t quite as smooth as some of my $200 reels. But it also casted farther than some of my $200 reels.


I was most pleased with the reel’s performance under pressure, namely in the form of 4-pound smallmouths who just realized I stuck a hook in their head. I set a hard hook, grinded hard on the reel handle while dunking the tip of the rod under the surface trying to stop their jumps and thrashing on the surface before boat flipping several 4-pounds smallmouths this spring and a few chunky 3-4 pound largemouth as well. 

I’ve had a bunch of fun pitching plastics around on this combo, and setting the hook on spawning and post-spawn, fry-guarding bass. There is just something about setting the hook on a smallmouth from about 10 feet away and them going absolutely nuts after realizing they are hooked that is always a good test for bass fishing rods and reels. 

The drag was smooth with a low amount of startup inertia required. The drag dial is large and easy to dial down and up during a fight when you are otherwise preoccupied.


This reel has been a welcomed surprise to me. I honestly was not expecting it to be this good for $84. I can safely say this is one of the better baitcasters I’ve fished for under $100. The whole combo is $150. And performs very well with a ton of power and strength. This reel feels like it will last. Time will tell there. But so far after several dozen bass and other fish including a couple nice flathead catfish and one big drum, this reel has held up like a champ. The deep spool holds a good bit of 15- to 17-pound line.

The H2OX ETHOS Baitcasting reel exceeded my expectations. While it’s not going to replace my high-end Shimano and Daiwa reels, it certainly has earned a spot in my boat and in my fishing travels and adventures going forward. I have a real soft spot for an affordable combo that can take a beating in the back of a truck, in a kayak, laying on a pond bank and still works flawlessly every time. This reel will fit that bill for a lot of anglers for under $100. 

Check the H2OX ETHOS casting reel out exclusively at