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Rod Review

The Search For One... Kistler Puts the "Z" in CuZtom (continued)

Power: The Phat Frog is an amazingly easy frog to walk and I was really getting into a zone casting and working this bait tied to the end of my ZBone stick. Granted with a medium heavy power rating more or less, this is a less than ideal frogging stick but that’s often how we, at TackleTour, find out more about a product by putting it into situations they were never intended to encounter. From the product’s perspective this can be good or very bad, but for our custom ZBone, it was all very good.

A medium heavy powered frog stick?

I was having so much fun slinging the Phat Frog into the unlikeliest of spots, the unthinkable actually happened – I got a blow up! And a blow up in the midst of moderate, wooded cover consisting of branches, limbs, and twigs - not overgrown mats of weeds. It was so all together unexpected, I froze for a moment, but soon after I felt the rod load up, so without a second thought, I reeled down and swung! The frog planted firmly into the fish’s mouth and the force of my hookset translated through the power of the ZBone forced the fish to the surface where I was able to pull and crank it right out of the wooded cover and into open water. A very brief battle ensued before we pulled the roughly four pound fish out of the water for a photo-op and then slid her right back in.

Don't try this feat on your home waters! But if you do, know that our ZB-4MH handled this bass surprisingly well!

This ZBone ZB-MH4 rod built on the North Fork Composite blank had power to spare in this encounter despite specifications and RoD WRACK measurements saying otherwise. I was both very pleased, and after some thought, very surprised.

We spec'd our ZBone with micros but had it tipped with a standard guide wrapped with strike indicator red thread.

Sensitivity: As if this Custom ZBone did not already perform well enough in the first two categories of this review, perhaps the most impressive characteristic of this stick is its sensitivity. This North Fork Composite blank coupled with the micro-guide build is one seriously deadly combination. On my first trip out on the water with this stick, on Pardee Lake, California in January of this past year, we were fishing some humps twenty to thirty feet down with jigs and I was truly astonished at the feel this stick afforded me of the rocky bottom. I could literally feel my jig dragging across the bottom and hitting the occasional rock. It was very easy to guide my bait along the bottom with the only thing really needed to complete the experience was a nice smallmouth hitting my jig – it didn’t happen.

Kistler threw in this touch on the rear grip or our rod.

Fast forward about a month to Falcon Lake, Texas where we were fishing this stick along with several other experimental builds with Trey Kistler himself and my impressions of the sensitivity of our ZBone custom was merely validated fishing weighted, Texas rigged senkos (mine dressed with a Punch Skirt). A little pitch or cast out to a clump of branches, let it sink and you can almost feel the fish inhale the bait through this rod. Even on those pickups (and there were many) where you didn’t really feel much but something just felt different – that different feeling was very easy to discern with this stick.

A macro look at the K-Series micro.

Warranty: We saw first hand out on Falcon Lake the type of abuse these rods were built to withstand. If each blank and each build were identical to the sticks we saw, held and used out on the water those few days in late February, the consumer would have very little to worry about. But we’ve seen enough inconsistency within the industry to realize no matter how perfectly you plan, no matter how careful you are during a build, you cannot account for every variable. At the time of this writing Kistler Custom Rods only offered a 90 day warranty on all ZBone purchases. Simply put, that is insufficient. I had a long diatribe about this policy and then, as if Kistler knew what I was writing, several days after I finished the article Trey Kistler got in touch to tell us the warranty period is going to change.

Kistler's ZBone balancing kit features this fun badge and a stack of removable weights so you can find tune the balance you want on the rod.

Effective immediately, Kistler will be offering a one year warranty on all ZBone purchases. Certainly not the reassurance of a lifetime warranty still, but far more forgiving than a ninety day, and one year is a reasonable period, in our view, for defects in workmanship or materials to reveal themselves. Anything longer is just putting the company at risk for an inordinate number of unsubstantiated claims by people trying to take advantage of the system.


Kistler Custom Rods ZBone ZB-4MH Ratings (?/10)

Construction/Quality Custom quality from a large manufacturer 8.5
Performance Surpassed my expectations really 9.5
Price You choose the option and price from $315 - over $500 7
Features I would like to see even more guide options available on the website along with the painted reel seat and an even longer warranty would be nice 7.5
Design (Ergonomics) Heavy with the balancing kit, but you can take it off if you don't like it 8
Application This particular build handles everything from jigs to soft plastics to spinnerbaits to frogs all very very well! 9

Total Score

Ratings Key: 1 = terrible : 2 = poor : 3 = lacking : 4 = sub par : 5 = mediocre : 6 = fair : 7 = good : 8 = great : 9 = excellent : 10 = unbelievable!
For More Details of the updated rating system visit our explanation here


Pluses and Minuses:


J Custom rod options through a mainstream manufacturer minus the wait for parts L Warranty period is too short
J Balance or light weight? The choice is yours L Even higher end guide options made available without having to call or email the company please
J This North Fork Composites blank is the real deal  


Conclusion: There are options, and then there are fewer options. There's no doubt our ZBone Search For One entry looks, feels, and fishes like a high end stick. Looking back at our introductory piece on this series of rods back in August of 2009, the prototype ZBone showcased in that article had a painted red reel seat. That'd be a nice option to still have. Also missing from the order site is an option for SiC inserts though you can certainly order them with an email or call into the factory. Up until now, the warranty was a true concern, but that's been remedied to a tolerable compromise.


A jig fish courtesy of Falcon Lake, Texas the Editor's Choice Award winning ZBone Search For One MB-4MH.


Despite those nagging points, our ZBone Search For One participant is a top end performer and has really grown to be one of my favorite sticks. While the one year warranty period will still be of concern to many, personally it's not an issue for me. It's obvious I never purchase a stick based on its warranty, and I just treat this ZBone like my JDM sticks that have zero warranty from the time I click "buy it now". Sadly, it's time to stick my ZBone back in the rod locker and continue The Search. For while Kistler Custom Rods and Evergreen International have helped to narrow my choices thus far, there are still quite a few other sticks to search through including an entry or two from Megabass. That does not mean, however, that I cannot put a sticker on this rod to remind me of how well it performed. Zander called it early on... Editor's Choice.


Looking for the Kistler Z-Bone? Try the manufacturer's website










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