Here are my reviews by equipment type:
This is where I splurged the most. I've never owned a fishing reel worth more than $50, so I bought one for bass/pike (Abu Garcia STX20) and another for carp/catfish (Penn Slammer 560 liveliner).
The Abu Garcia reel is extremely smooth, and delivers up to 15 lbs of drag, very impressive for a small, light reel. It comes with grooves in the spool, and matching elastic bands to hold superbraid lines to the reel to avoid line slippage. Overall, I'm very happy with the reel, though I'm not sure I'd pay the kind of money (about $150)if I had to buy it on my own. Only drawback is that it wasn't available in a 30 series, which would have been my choice. Faced with a 20 or 40, I pick the 20 due to it's light weight. In most situations, it holds enough 20 lb superbraid (6 lb diameter) for most of my needs.
The Penn reel is a real piece of work. Designed to still fish live bait in saltwater, it more than suits my needs for the monster carp I target so often. It holds about 400 feet of 65 lbs superbraid, also deliver 15 lbs of drag, although I rarely fish with more than 3 lbs of drag for carp, especially with superbraided line that has zero stretch. The transition from liveliner/baitrunner mode to normal is almost instant, and extremely smooth, unlike the cheaper Chinese baitrunner reels I've been using. It also doesn't jam up like they do, which is extremely important unless you plan on loosing rods when carps take off with them. Though I never would have spent that sort of money (about $165) on a baitrunner reel, I see myself possibly getting another one somwhere down the line.
I'm not one to tinker with fancy rods. In fact, I can't stand them. A couple of my friends spend $150-$250 for bass/pike rods, and these rods are constantly breaking one way or another. Though they may be guaranteed, chasing after the rod repair guy is a colossal waste of time.
Over the years, I've found 2 brands I'm happy with; Rhino, and Shakespere Ugly stik. I already had a 6.5 Ugly Stik, I decided to get a 7 footer, as Basspro wouldn't ship anything longer into Canada. I had planned to mount the Penn liveliner on it, but to my dismay, it was too big. My friend Jimmy bailed me out by selling me an 8 foot Saltwater Ugly stick that was well matched to my new reel.
The 7 foot freshwater Ugly stick didn't do all that well as a bass/pike rods. It's a bit on the heavy side, and frequetly comes apart when casting a lot. I mounted a 40 series baitrunner and used it for carp, it did very well until the water got too shallow and I started getting frequent cut offs from big carp in the rocks.
The 8 foot saltwater Ugly stick is much beefier. It comes with a stronger backbone and longer butt. Surprisingly, the upper section is quite wobbly whern compared to the freshwater series. However, when it comes to fishing for big carp, a wobbly rod is a good thing. Acts as a shock absorber when fishing with stiff superbraid line and small hooks. It had no problems whatsoever handling big carp and channel cats, I even used it to troll small musky lures later on in the season.
Towards the end of the season, my local fishing store got the 9 foot freshwater Ugly Stiks in stock. I picked one up for my last successful carp outing of the season. After fighting the first fish of the day on it, I fell in love with the rod. Perfect combination of strenth and flexibity, very light too. Fits my Penn Slammer perfectly as well. It's only drawback is being too long to fit in my house or most cars without breaking it down each time. Just picked up another one on special for next season.
This season, I had the opportunity to test various lines under many conditions. Mainly superbraids, and briefly Flourocarbon as well.
Power Pro 20 lbs (6 lb diameter).
Picked up a 1500 yard spool at the end of 2010, was waiting to see how it faired in 2011. Spooled it up on my new Abu Garcia STX20 bass/pike reel. I immediately noticed it's benefits, strength and castability, as well as a major downside: zero resistance to sharp rocks. Funny how you can get a line that easier to cut on a rock than with a pair of scissors or a line clipper. Less funny when you start losing lures every time you graze a rock. I lost about 4-5 crankbaits, and that was it. The line is resigned to being spooled on my kids reels, or being fished in waters where the cover is logs or weeds.
Power Pro 50lbs (12 lb diameter) & 65 lbs (15 lb diameter).
While this line did well for carp in 2010 when the water levels at my hotspot were extremely high, the low water in the 2011 season quickly exposed the weak side of this line, anmely, it's low resistance to sharp rocks. Slightly more resistant than the 20 lb test version, I still lost a good 20 carp duie to cut offs, some while the reel was in free spool, before I even had a chance to get a hookset. Not to mention the expesive carp hooks and rest of the terminal tackle to go along with it. The 65 lb version didn't do any better than the 50 lbs.
In October, I had the chance to meet an American industrial engineer. Somehow, he started talking abut Spectra fibers. When i mentioned Power Pro being made from spectra braid, he exdplained how they streched the fiber to it's breaking point to give it the thin diameter. I guess that would explain why it snaps at the slightest tough of a sharp object...
Sufix 832 20 lbs test, 6 lb diameter.
Sufix 832 65 lb test, 17 lb diameter.
After the success of the 20 lb version, and the disastrous performance or Power Pro in the rocks, I picked up the 65 lb version of Sufix 832 to try on my carp reels. Results have been very good so far. About 15-20 carp landed in waters where they cut my Power Pro 60% of the time, not one cut off to date with the Sufix 832. I've switched my reels to it, as well as my hair rigs. Only drawback is that the carp seem to bit slighty more line shy due to it's 17 lbs diameter, wil probably tinker with the 50 lbs version next season as well.
Other lines I tried in 2011.
Tuff Line 80 lb, 20 lb diameter. Horrible line. I guy I fihed with hooked a mid sized carp which eventually spit the hook after a few minutes. When he brough in his line, I noticed 3 distinctive nicks where the carp had hit the rocks. A slight tug on each nick managed to snap the line like butter. Fish were also line shy due to it's 20 lb diameter.
Fireline XDS 80 lbs, 25 lb diameter. Extremely resistant to rocks, acually saw it chip of chunks from a sharp rock when running it along the edge to test it's strenght. Problem is it's diameter. Carp wouldn't get near it, as it's thick and rigid like telephone wire. Did manage a mid size channel catfish on it, but they don't require that sort of line. Also very hard to cast.
Seaguar AbrazX Fluorocarbon 25 lbs. After contemplating switching from superbraid to Fluorocarbon for carp, I researched some new lines. The review all point to AbrazX as being the most resitant to abrasion. I decided to tie some hair rigs from it as well, as it's supposed to be invisible to fish. The hairs ended up tangling on 50% of the casts. When they didn't, they did a fine job of hooking fish. However, when I set up a line with a 40 foot shock leader using the AbrazX, the first carp snapped it just as easily as they did the Power Pro. Also real tough to cast compared to thinner superbraid, so I stopped using it.
Got to test a fair number of specialized carp hooks this season. All hooks tested were size 4, and used in hair rigs with boilies as bait.
Monster carp tackle - These hooks are bottm line. Cheap, less sharp than the fancier brands, I had a number of carp spit them before I stopped using them.
ESP - Raptor and curve shank. I prefer the curve shank, the seem to do a better job hooking and holding fish. Teflon coated, micro barbed, extremely sharp and mid range cost ($0.75 - $0.80 per hook).
Kamasan B775 - Another good hook, sharp effective at hooking and holding fish, only started using them towards the end of the season.
Nash Fang X - Their number 4 are bigger than other brands, hooks are about $1.00 each. Didn't get to test them this season, but at that price, they better perform...
Main lure I got to really test this season was the Lucky 13 by Heddon. I had 2 sizes, the larger one with 3 trebles did a great job, while the smaller one was mediocre. Aslo did a fair bit of casting using a 1/2 ounce Booyah tux tail spinnerbait with double Colorado blades. Cast a mile, works great, you can really feel the blades working even without a fancy rod.
Caddis neoprene stocking foot waders - First chance I got to test them in really cold water, probably around 40 degrees or so. They held snug, kept me warm, despite me being in waist deep, freezing cold water for 4 hours, as well as a slight drizzle all day.