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Rod Preview


Z-Man Readies Launch of Drew's Ultimate NED Finesse Rods at ICAST


Date: 6/28/23
Tackle type: Rod
Manufacturer: Z-Man
Reviewer: Zander

Introduction: When it comes to fishing NED rigs the first bait company that usually comes to mind is Z-Man, as the TRD has  become a globally renowned lure. This ICAST the company is launching their own signature NED rods designed with Drew Reese, a finesse legend himself, and co-creator of the TRD bait.


Z-Man Drew's Ultimate Ned Rod Specifications (2 models 5'4" and 5'10")

Material Toray 12K High Modulus fiber
Length 5'-4" and 5'10"
Line Wt. 4-8 lb. and 4-10 lb.
Pieces One
Guides SSR (stainless steel frames and double swaged stainless steel inserts)
Handle/Seat Cork/None - Tennessee handle
Power Rating Both are Medium Light
Taper Both are Fast
Weight 1.75oz. and 2.2 oz.
MSRP $169.99 (5'4"), $179.99 (5'10")


Ultimate NED Rod?: It took me a minute to wrap my head around the idea of a Z-Man fishing rod but when you think about it a NED specific rod from the brand actually makes a lot of sense. Drew Reese co-created the TRD series which has become a staple for finesse anglers and the new "Drew's Ultimate NED Rig Rod" merges the original art of Midwest finesse with modern day rod building materials. 


Z-Man is launching a rod designed specifically for fishing the NED rig this ICAST


Besides being very short rods (5'4" and 5'10") by today's standards the first thing anglers will visually notice about the rods are the Z-Man signature colors on the wraps. The bright blue reminds me a bit of classic G.Loomis NRX, but with red highlights. This rod matches the brand's plastic packaging and is not shy about highlighting Z-Man colors, and I'm kind of here for it. Why not embrace the brand in this very application specific rod?


Notice anything interesting about this rods handle and reel seat?


Look further down the rod and the next thing you will notice is the lack of any reel seat. These rods are truly retro-finesse with Tennessee style handles that require tape (typically electric tape) to strap a reel into place.


Drew explained the design stating "anglers who see a Tennessee handle today might scratch their heads, but experiencing a rod’s true performance can’t be fully realized until you’ve found the precise balance point, or fulcrum, between rod and reel. We chose a cork Tennessee handle because it’s many times lighter and ten times more sensitive than traditional reel seats. The rod’s handle allows each angler to maximize comfort and sensitivity by customizing reel placement on the sweet spot. For me, it’s a 2000 size Daiwa, positioned just forward from the handle’s center. Couple strips of electrical tape work nicely, providing a nice, low-profile grip that fits comfortably in your hand. In order to achieve the same balance with a 7-foot rod, you’d need to add two more feet in the butt section, and that adds extra, unnecessary weight to the rod.”


You can tape your reel anywhere on the handle to adjust for balance


It has literally been two decades since I've personally fished a Tennessee style rod and the whole design felt oddly novel to me. To many anglers in this generation this design will be completely new. Countering inevitable questions about shorter rod lengths, Reese makes a case for weight, sensitivity and lure control with this design.


“Pick one up and you’ll immediately wonder why you’ve been weighed down by 7-footers for so long. Many of these ideas on the merits of shorter, lighter rods came from Ray Finke, a pioneering Kansas city tackle shop owner," recalls Reese. "All the way back in the 1980s, Ray designed two such rods for one of the top rod companies in America. These were brilliant, light line tools for the time, but Ray’s work started me on this quest to perfect his ideas and produce a pair of truly exceptional finesse rods. The overarching idea is that creating a superior sense of feel is all about rod weight and length. A shorter, super-light blank simply puts you in closer contact with your lure and the fish. It’s an almost intimate connection. Like your hand is in a direct conversation with your lure. It’s right there, and each move of the rod tip transmits straight to the lure and back to your fingertips again."


Guides are stainless steel and very lightweight with integrated SS inserts


The idea of a smaller and lighter rod also impact presentation and action. Every little twitch of the rod tip moves the bait a short precise distance, whereas the same maneuvers with longer 7-foot sticks tend to move the lure much greater distances, often to the detriment of a precise presentation.


I paired a KastKing Kestrel 10GS reel with the Drew's Ultimate NED Rod. This reel weighs 4.6 ounces. I spooled up with 8lb. Daiwa J-braid Grand and 4lb. Seaguar Tatsu leader


Fished with a light, low-stretch braided line and fluorocarbon leader and there is the potential to detect more strikes. When discussing these new rods Reese hints that anglers wielding longer, heavier spinning rods, even with relatively light lines only detect a fraction of the strikes, especially the subtle inhale-and-spit or ‘soft-mouthing’ variety.


The Toray based blank looks great and feels surprisingly sensitive for a rod at this price point. The light weight really helps add to the overall feel


At the coming ICAST Z-Man will launch two medium-light power / fast action models which include a 5’4” (4- to 8-pound test) and 5’10” (4- to 10-pound test) rod. Both are built on carbon fiber blanks that leverage Toray’s 12K High Modulus Fiber with a modulus value of 50 million.


Designed for fishing the Z-Man TRD


Guide components consist of lightweight SSR guides with stainless steel frames and double swaged stainless-steel inserts are designed to bolster strength and durability. The new rods will retail for MSRPs of $ 169.99 (5’4”) and 179.99 (5’10”) and start becoming available in August. Both rods will also come backed with a two-year limited warranty.


Every fish, regardless of size, feels exciting with this short medium light rod


Our Quick Take: I have been fishing the first mass production Z-Man Drew Ultimate NED rods for the last two weeks and while it took a little bit to adjust to the Tennessee style handle I am finding that the rods are very well suited for fishing NED rigs. They cast the rigs very easily, feel sensitive, and are an absolute blast from strike to landing. The taped on reels don't feel nearly as secure as modern reel seats but the sheer fun factor on these rods is off the chart. Even one pound fish feel huge, and any fish three pounds on over feels like you are battling a trophy. They are very different, and an example of something classic feeling new again, only improved with today's advanced materials. We will be working on a complete review post ICAST but thus far these little "Ultimate Rods" have been a joy to fish with.










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