In early September, mosquitos buzzed the humid afternoon air at Spread Oaks Ranch in Markham, Texas. But that didn’t stop me from fishing the ranch’s trophy bass pond. I don’t get to bass fish as often as I’d like, and I was intent on catching a Texas-sized largemouth bass. And besides that, I was putting the yet-to-be-released Academy Sports + Outdoors H20X Fishing line through the paces. And though the late-summer bass fishing was slow, I was enjoying testing out the new gear.

Then, I got lucky. I was running a soft-plastic creature bait over some lily pads when something struck the surface. I missed the hookset and worked my way down the bank before working back to the spot where I’d missed the strike. This time, I fluttered the soft-plastic lure a tad slower, and the bass struck again—and I swung the H20X Ethos rod, which loaded up beautifully as I cranked the 19-inch bass to shore. I was on the board. Here’s what I learned about Academy’s impressive new H20X while fishing in Texas.

angler pulls fishing gear out of car
H20X has everything from rod and reel combos to accessory bags and soft plastic baits. Academy Sports + Outdoors

A Brief History of the H20X Line

Academy Sports + Outdoors was founded in 1938 as a family business in Texas. Today, the brand, which is still based in the Lone Star State, has expanded into 268 stores across 18 states, though most of its stores are still in Texas. In 2008, Academy launched its first brand-name fishing gear, a line of hard baits under the moniker H20Xpress. Over the past 15 years, H20Xpress grew into a fully-fledged fishing line, complete with everything from rod and reel combos to fishing pliers. This spring, the company is launching the H20X Line, which will replace H20Xpress. The line is meant to offer high value at reasonable price points. Additionally, the company is focusing on making products that are accessible to novice and experienced anglers alike.

How I Tested the New H20X Line

I was invited to Spread Oaks Ranch in September 2022 by the folks at Gunpowder Inc., who manage PR for Academy Sports + Outdoors. Along with several other media members and Bass Pro Stetson Blaylock, we spent a long weekend testing out new Academy gear during a Texas “Cast and Blast.” The first morning was a fast and furious early-season bluewing teal hunt, but most of the weekend was spent fishing. We fished on the bass pond for many hours and also spent a morning chasing inshore redfish and seatrout on Matagorda Bay.

angler catches redfish
Matagorda Bay is a premier redfish destination. Academy Sports + Outdoors

The rods and reels we primarily used were from the H20X Ethos Series, which Academy bills as its broadest and most versatile assortment of fishing gear. The Ethos is more affordable than the brand’s premium Evo Series and is higher performance than its Premier Series. In addition to rods and reels, we experimented with the H20X hard baits and soft plastics.

When targeting largemouth bass, we primarily fished soft plastics and weedless surface baits, since the pond was choked with vegetation. From a doc, we were able to cast some of the deeper diving hard plastics. When targeting inshore species, we used shrimp and some soft plastic lures. I tested the gear by fishing it hard—chucking long overhead casts, flipping baits into small pockets of water, and everything in between. In two days of hard fishing, I paid attention not only to performance but also durability. Would this gear stand up to the harsh conditions that bass anglers often use their equipment in? Could it handle recreational outings on small ponds to more serious excursions?

angler casts H20X fishing rod
We fished a lake managed for trophy largemouth bass. Academy Sports + Outdoors

My Favorite H20X Fishing Products

Overall, I was largely impressed with the new H20X line. The rods I used were sensitive—and tough—enough for pretty much any kind of freshwater fishing, from trout and panfish to big catfish. Though I only used the rods for two days, I’m certain they could take a beating and still hold their backbone. The reels performed well, too, especially the baitcasters, which threw line smoothly without being prone to backlash.

As for the lures, I tested out only a fraction of the array of the brand’s assortment but was satisfied with what I did use. The baits are not particularly original—none of them are going to take the professional bass fishing world by storm—but they were well made and offered in color patterns that will catch fish, period. The soft plastics were all salted and flavor-enhanced. The hard baits were built with dive depths conveniently printed on the bills and premium hooks. Below are my favorite products from the new lineup.

The Ethos Casting Rod

If you had only one bass rod, this could be it. Built with a one-piece IM8 graphite blank, the rod is light and sensitive. It’s also durable and surprisingly affordable. The rod comes in 12 casting configurations, all tailored to different kinds of bass fishing. I caught a nice bass with this rod and it had plenty of backbone during the hookset and fight. What the rod lacks in premium feel, it makes up for in durability.

The Ethos Baticast Reel

Spool this with braided fishing line and start fishing heavy cover. That’s what I did—and it worked well. The reel spits line quickly and cranks smoothly. Best of all, I didn’t have any trouble with rat’s nests—which is something that can happen all too easily with a poorly made baitcasting reel.

The Mettle Spinning Reel

If you prefer using a spinning reel for your freshwater pursuits, H20X has a solid option in its Mettle Spinning Reel. It’s a no-frill spinning reel built with a durable one-piece aluminum frame. Ten stainless steel ball bearings help it cast smoothly.

The 4-Inch Soft Plastic Creature Bait

This is my favorite lure in the new H20X soft plastic line, and not just because I caught a fish using it. The bait is fully salted and can be used as a flip bait or on Carolina and Texas rigs. I especially appreciate its versatility. You can work it through thick cover, as well as in open water scenarios. Fish it on the surface or bounce it against the bottom—you’ll catch fish either way.

H2OX Sinking Hybrid Jerk Sun Fish Bait

Use this hard plastic jerk bait to successfully target big bass. The lure comes with realistic panfish patterns and generates good, impressively realistic action in the water because of its jointed construction. Best of all, it comes with premium VMC hooks, so when you do hook a giant, you don’t have to worry about your terminal tackle failing you.

The Topwater Popper

I also enjoyed fishing the new H20X popper. The red popping mouth generates plenty of commotion on the water. There are no unnecessary frills, but each one has 3D eyes and a hand-painted finish. I especially like the Bone color pattern for both freshwater fishing and chasing stripers.

The H20X Ethos Tackle Bag

The Ethos Tackle Bag will help you keep your bait and other tackle organized when you’re on the go. You can sling it over your shoulder when you’re walking a bank or stash it on your boat. The 840-denier fabric and molded bottom make it durable. The main pouch can fit several utility boxes, while the easy-access side pouches are great for items like pliers.

The Final Word on the New H20X Line

angler holds largemouth bass with H20X fishing rod
A nice bass caught with an H20X combo. Academy Sports + Outdoors

With their new H20X lineup, Academy has made something for nearly every freshwater angler. The line offers premium and budget products, but most anglers will find something right in the middle with the versatile and high-value Ethos Series. The gear can be used for most freshwater pursuits but it really shines when chasing largemouth and smallmouth bass—which is exactly what you’d hope for from a Texas-centric brand like Academy Sports + Outdoors.

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