(photo credit: Matt Sakakeeny/Casey Breeds)
Echo Ion XL
The ECHO Ion XL is sub $200 and can out fish a rod 3x the price. Available in 5-10wt, this fly rod is extremely durable and has a great feel in hand. We have put this rod to the test on trophy striped bass, pike, and even small blue sharks (with a 10 weight rod) in the 4-5ft range and can confidently say it can take a beating. The only con to this Ion XL would be it is a little heavier than some of its close relatives, however we attribute that to one of the reasons it seems to be more durable than most. It is plenty fast enough to cast the biggest of flies and has enough back bone to land any trophy striped bass, pike or musky. This is a great rod choice for those who are looking to enter the world of big game predator fish from the world of trout and salmon as it is a little less aggressive than some of the rods today that we refer to as "broomsticks" (super fast and stiff rods with very little feel). If you want a great casting rod that will stand the test of time.
Coming in at $349.99, the Redington predator is a great deal for a truly fast rod meant to cast big flies with high line speed. Not the cheapest on our list, but this rod will do great in windy conditions and handling more aggressive fly lines. Especially for saltwater scenarios here in Maine where these conditions are all too common, we like to recommend this rod for the entry level striped bass fisherman. This rod is lightweight and feels great in hand. In addition to the wide range of 5-16wts, the Predator is made in two separate 400 & 450gr Pike and Musky specific models. There are a lot of options for a wide range of situations and conditions!
TFO Axiom II
For $339.95, this rod is a steal. Available in 5-12wt. The Axiom II rod in hand is comparable to any of the higher end Made in the USA companies and performs just as well in the field too. It will accommodate a broad range of casting strokes and is capable of everything from throwing tiny crab flies on the flats with extreme precision, to big baitfish patterns on aggressive sinking lines. The A2 technology not only makes this rod extremely pleasurable to cast, but is designed to fight large predatory fish while protecting tippets and leaders. At $339.95 you get more than you pay for with this rod.