In 2023, I turned in 43 product reviews for Wired2Fish, reviewed more products for other publications and tested dozens of other baits, rods, reel, etc. that either didn’t make the cut or are yet to be reviewed in 2024; and I came to love and rely on some other products that have been out for a while now.
After dedicating so much time on the the water to testing products, I decided to compile a list of some of my favorite gear from 2023. Hopefully this list will help you cherry pick from the thousands of products on the market to find some new favorites of your own.
SEAGUAR BASIX 100% FLUOROCARBON
I’ve had a few spools of Seaguar’s new entry level line, BasiX, rigged up for about 6 months now. I’ve long been a fan of Seaguar’s InvisX, and was skeptical of how the company could make anything that could compare for $9.99 a spool. But just knowing they were willing to stake their reputation on it, I figured it had to be decent. So, I decided to give it a try.
I’ve been beyond impressed with this line, and it is THE line I would recommend for any beginner or budget-conscious angler. The extreme confidence I have in InvisX— and the fact that I can get it at a discount though a retailer I work with— are really the only reasons I’d still choose it over BasiX. For the money, it can’t be beat.
FLAMBEAU WATERPROOF SATCHEL
I reviewed the Flambeau Waterproof Satchel back in the fall of 2022. This box bounced around from the trunk of my car to the floor of whatever friend’s boat I was in for the day to the storage compartment of my own boat. I never had the chance to toss it in the well of a kayak, though I have no doubt it would be perfect there too.
I took it on many a bank fishing trip though, when pulling up to whatever body of water I could find at the moment to make a few cast and take a few product pics. For what I do, this box was perfect for keeping a good bit of tackle organized and on hand, to load up and take anywhere and everywhere.
DD26 FISHING MEAN STOPS GEN2
I’ve only had the DD26 Mean Stops for a little over a month now, but what an upgrade they were over my former method of securing my motor. My dear friend Neal Webster, who for two decades owned the boat that now belongs to me, did absolutely everything himself. Like drop the lower unit and rebuild it himself kind of DIY. So, it was no surprise that he split a couple small pieces of PVC pipe to snap on and secure the outboard.
One of these was misplaced though little while back. And so when DD26 reached out to send some products for testing, it was right on time. I was immediately impressed with the rugged but polished Mean Stops, fashioned from aircraft-grade aluminum and powder coated. The cable that connects them ensures one will never be lost or left behind, not without misplacing both at least, which is far less likely. And the pull handle makes these the easiest motor stops I’ve ever used when putting on and taking off.
AFTCO SAMURAI 2 HOODED LONG SLEEVE SHIRT
I’ve been wearing the AFCTO Samurai 2 Hooded Long Sleeve Shirt for about 3 months now, almost every time I go fishing. This has quickly become my favorite fishing shirt, not only because it is light, comfortable and doesn’t stain or hold a stench easily, but also because of the hood and long sleeves in particular.
As bad as I know I need to wear sunscreen, I can’t stand putting it on. So, any product that offers protection from the sun and keeps me from having to reapply that sloppy white mess time and time again, I’m about it. That’s why I love this shirt. The hood and long sleeves offer a lot of protection from the sun and make up for my shortcomings in the self-discipline it takes to lather up throughout the day.
BERKLEY CULL SHAD
The Berkley Cull Shad brought about quite a buzz multiple times this year. When the bait was first introduced early in the spring, the few that were in circulation with pros and product testers became the hottest commodity in bass fishing for the moment. Then, when the first production run made its way to the consumers, the product fell a little flat, as it didn’t perform the same way the first few did.
To Berkley’s credit, they took this one on the chin, made a public apology and vowed to make it right. I had one of those first baits early on, and it was awesome. I lost it back in the spring to a dock post after making about a 20-foot skip. I contemplated hopping in the water that day to go get it, but decided against the cold plunge that was necessary to do so, knowing the lures were in production and would be available soon. After the mayhem that ensued however, I regretted not having gone in to get it.
But now, the second run has finally made it to the states, and I bought up 6 as quick as I could. To me, these baits are as good as the original. But it honestly won’t hurt my feelings if you choose not to believe so, cause the fewer of them there are on the water, the better the bass will bite mine. This is one of about 5 baits that I’d just as soon no one know about, and one that I contemplated not even writing about. But, this is what I do for a living, and I owe it to you the reader to spill the beans… on at least almost everything anyway.
The Z-Man MinnowZ have been around for several years now, but over the last 18 months or so, these little soft plastics have become one of my favorite trailers for a variety of baits. Made from Z-Man’s proprietary ElaZtech material, these are the perfect selection to use for a trailer because of their size yes, but even more so on account of their durability.
I like to use a trailer hook a lot on buzzbaits, spinnerbaits and even ChatterBaits. When doing so, I’ll secure the trailer hook with a little piece of surgical tubing, to ensure the hook doesn’t come off during a fight. When a soft plastic trailer is torn or otherwise damaged, it’s a bit of pain to cut this tubing off, remove the tailer hook and remove and replace the trailer. The stretch and durability of the ElaZtech reduces the need to do this by about 90%.
See full Z-Man MinnowZ review.
ARK VIPER ROD
I’ve had the absolute pleasure of testing out 6 or 7 Team Ark fishing rods this year. I’ve truly been impressed by every single one of them, but chose to only include one model on this list. I landed on the Ark Viper Series Casting Rod in the end, because of it’s rugged durability for the price point and it’s proven ability to put big fish in the boat.
I tested the 7-foot, 6-inch Viper in particular and used it to punch and throw a big wakebait, both on 65 pound test Sufix 832 braided line. The Viper performed flawlessly both flipping a 1- and 1/2- ounce weight as well as lobbing a heavy wakebait (one that the rod honestly isn’t even rated for.) Between the two techniques, I boated several fish over 4 pounds and one in the 6-pound range. I highly recommend this rod for a little over a hundred bucks.
13 FISHING BLACKOUT ROD
Another great rod for the money, the 13 Fishing Blackout Rod has been in the rotation for me for over a year and a half now. At $79.99, this rod is a great deal. At $59.99, it’s a no-brainer (currently on clearance at Tackle Warehouse).
I’ve used this 7-foot, 3-inch medium-heavy rod for spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, Texas rigging, large topwaters, swimjigs, frogging and ChatterBaits. It’s a great all-around power-fishing rod, rigged with either 17-pound fluorocarbon or 40-pound braided line.
TEAM ARK TOPWATER POPPER
Staying on the best-bang-for-your-buck train of thought, the Team Ark Topwater Popper is the best popper for the money in my opinion at $6.99. And I’d argue it’s as good as any popper out there at any price for that matter. There’s a feathered treble on the back and a large ball bearing in the tail to help with casting.
I relied on this popper a good bit in tournaments this last year. It’s a nice size, not too big and not too small. It produces a solid chug without losing the quick spitting pop most folks want from a popper. The technique needed to skip a topwater is a bit different from other baits, but this popper actually skips really well if you know how to skip a topwater. A new favorite of mine in the fall, with only the Mad Max popper from MONSTERBASS competing for my affection in this category.
Read the full Ark Topwater Popper Review.
COSTA DEL MAR CORBINA PRO SUNGLASSES
Over the years, I’ve worn several really high-dollar sunglasses from a few different leading brands. And I’ve bought more than one pair of cheap shades from off the shelf of a gas station or checkout isle. I’ve not found any I’ve been as happy with as the Costa Corbina Pro.
These sunglasses have proven to be the most comfortable best fitting shades for my big head. And the function is as good as the fit, with these being my everyday wear on the road and around town, as well as the sunglasses I rely on to protect my eyes on the water and help me peer beneath it. I did a full review on these a little while back if you want to know more about the specs and all the features.
Read the full Costa Corbina Pro Sunglasses Review.
CAL COAST FISHING BATTLE BOX
About a year ago now I guess, I swapped all my hooks, weights and other terminal tackle over to the Battle Box from Cal Coast Fishing. And it’s still what I’m using for the task of maintaining order and protecting all my gear in that regard.
The battle box has a sturdy construction with a waterproof seal and strong clasps to keep moisture out and tackle in place. But most leading tackle box brands have these as well. What I like about the Battle Box in particular is how Cal Coast decided to segregate the different tackle. Using little pill-bottle-looking “ammo cans”, you can separate out different hooks, weights, clips, slit rings, blades, swivels and whatever else you’d like.
And I really like that one of these ammo cans can be slipped out of the box and into my pocket while in the boat or just out for a quick bank or kayak fishing trip. I’ll test out another terminal tackle box at some point I’m sure, but for now, this is my favorite way to keep everything sorted, secure and at the ready.
ZOOM UNI TOAD
The Zoom Uni Toad is a bait that I first got my hands on back in the spring, and it’s one that I instantly thought Zoom should have somehow come out with years ago. Capitalizing on the body style of Zoom’s world-renowned Horny Toad as well as their industry leading soft plastic material and colors, the Uni Toad fell right into place as an instant classic.
With one paddle tail and a chunky body, the Uni Toad is the perfect swimbait for launching way back into vegetation and reeling back through the thickest mess on the lake. It’s size and action make it a big bite producer and the meat of its body provides ample room for a beefy EWG hook to complete the big-bass-busting package. Big fan of this one too, for sure.