When conducting research for a new spinning reel, there are a few specifications you should review closely when comparing one reel against another.
The drag acts as a brake on your line when you hook a fish. Instead of being able to swim away and pull out line at will, the fish will face resistance based on the amount of drag you have applied. Older spinning reels required the angler to manually set the drag, while newer models can automatically apply varying amounts of pressure.
When you see that a reel is rated for a certain poundage of drag, that means the reel is applying that amount of weight as pressure against the fish. So, the higher the drag, the better equipped the reel is at bringing home a monster.
The gear ratio is a number that will be written out, as an example as “5.3:1” and simply means the number of times the spool turns over for each full rotation of the handle. The first number refers to the number of times the spool turns over, and the second number refers to the number of times you reel in a full rotation. In this example it would be 5.3 spool turns for every rotation of the handle.
The more ball bearings a reel has is directly related to the lifespan of the reel, and the smoothness of its operation. The purpose of ball bearings is to prevent friction from occurring between the various mechanisms in the reel. While more is better, the material that the ball bearings are made from is equally important when it comes to the longevity of the reel.
When reading reviews of the best spinning reels, you’ll see size referred to most commonly as a four-digit number. The lower the number, the smaller the reel, with 1000 representing the smallest size. The sizes can range all the way up to as high as 9500, but for most purposes the biggest reel you’ll want to consider on freshwater is a 4000. My recommended size for most applications is 2500.
The following are the range of sizes you’ll see most frequently on the water:
- Light as a feather, but still allows you to fish for most freshwater species.
- Smaller spool capacity, and slower retrieve than larger sizes.
- A slimmer version of the popular 2500.
- Best if you want the versatility of the 2500 with a slightly smaller capacity and weight.
- Most popular due to its incredible versatility.
- Perfect for bass fishing.
- Maintain most of the advantages of a 2500 with a larger spool.
- Ability to cast further.
- Cast even further, at the expense of added weight.
- Best for large, deep lakes or saltwater.
- Continue to sacrifice weight for spool capacity and casting distance.
- Best used going after the biggest of freshwater fish.
Best Spinning Reels for the Money
Determining the best affordable spinning reels depends on personal preference more than anything. When you’re looking at an affordable price point, some sacrifices will have to be made. Think about what characteristics matter to you the most in a reel and that way you’ll know how to prioritize what’s important about your next purchase.
For me, the best spinning reel for the money shakes out to a showdown between Daiwa and Abu Garcia. Shimano makes fantastic reels, but they charge quite the premium for their products. If you want to save a bit of money, you don’t have to sacrifice much in quality if you go with a proven product such as the ones below.
Best Spinning Reels Under $100
For under 100, the best spinning reel you can buy, in my humble opinion, is the Abu Garcia Revo X. Abu Garcia is one of the most well-respected and oldest brands in the fishing reel business, and the Revo line is their flagship product. The Revo X features all the high-quality components that anglers expect from Abu Garcia, at less than $100.
The Daiwa reel you should also consider at under $100 is the Daiwa BG. This reel is light, reliable and made of high-quality parts from the black anodized machined aluminum body, to the dynamic cut aluminum ABS spool. Whether you’re looking for a smaller freshwater model, or a larger saltwater reel, the Daiwa BG comes in sizes ranging from 1000-8000 to fit all your needs.
Best Spinning Reels Under $50
You’re going to think I’m biased, but honestly, it’s hard to beat Abu Garcia when it comes to the best spinning reels for the money. After careful consideration, the best spinning reel under 50 for my money is the Abu Garcia Pro Max Spinning reel.
Best Saltwater Spinning Reels
The best saltwater spinning reels are going to be sealed reels. This means that the mechanisms working inside of the reel are sealed off and protected against a buildup of salt. If salt gets into your gears, it’s going to be game over for your reel before too long.
Penn makes some of the best sealed reels on the market with their Battle, Conflict, and Slammer styles. Below are the my picks for the best saltwater spinning reels.
1. Best Saltwater Spinning Reel Overall: Penn Slammer III
You can buy this beast up to size 9500 and it features a full metal body, rotor and sideplate with CNC gear technology and instant anti-reverse. It’s also sealed up to IPX6 standards, meaning nothing is getting inside of this bad boy.
Best Offshore Spinning Reel
The legendary Slammer III also wins the award for best offshore spinning reel. There is a reason this reel is a fixture on charter boats around the world.
2. Best Saltwater Spinning Reel for the Money: Penn Conflict II
If you want a saltwater spinning reel that will be catching fish twenty years from now, go with the high-quality, no frills Penn Conflict II.
3. Best Budget Saltwater Spinning Reel: Penn Battle II
If you’re on a budget and reliability is your top priority, the Penn Battle II is without a doubt among the best saltwater spinning reels.
Best Freshwater Spinning Reels
It’s time to give the Daiwa brand some love. If you’re reading this thinking, forget that list, I’m just going to buy a Daiwa, I wouldn’t argue with you. The Daiwa Ballistic LT Freshwater features a machined aluminum alloy DigiGear frame for smooth operation and durability. What makes the Ballistic stand out among other reels is top of the line quality in a compact package that can weigh less than six ounces. The Ballistic weighs in at just 5.8 ounces for a 1000 size, and 6.3 ounces for a 2500.
One reel I’m going to go out of my way to tell you to avoid is the Shimano Sedona. With a gear ratio of 5.0:1 it has a retrieve speed that is markedly lower than most in its class, and at 8.6 ounces it’s certainly not a light reel. To cap it off, it has just three ball bearings to one roller bearing.
Proponents of the Sedona will clamor for its Hagane cold forged gears, but I’ll spend my money elsewhere. For $70 you can buy a nice $50 Abu Garcia Pro Max and pocket the extra $20 as it is, in my opinion, the clear winner as the best freshwater spinning reel for the money.
Best Ultralight Spinning Reels
They can get pricey, but there is no denying the joy that comes from the lightweight ease of a nice Shimano reel. While the best lightweight spinning reel award goes to the Abu Garcia Revo MGXtreme, some may not be able to afford a $400 reel. At just 5.6 ounces for a 2000-3000 sized reel, the power to weight ratio for the MGXtreme is simply off the charts.
However, if the MGXtreme isn’t in your budget, the best ultralight spinning reel for the money award goes to the Shimano Stradic Ci4. The Stradic Ci4 weighs in as low as 5.6 ounces for the 1000 size, and 6.7 ounces for the 2500. As far as the best inshore spinning reels go, the Shimano Stradic Ci4 takes the cake.
Best Spinning Reels for Bass
Size is the first place you should start when looking for a reel specifically for bass. The range you’ll typically be considering is between 2000-3000 as these will be big enough to handle the biggest bass, while still small enough to stay light and versatile.
You don’t need to break the bank for a nice bass fishing spinning reel, but if you want to buy a reel that will always be your bass fishing reel, you’ll want to buy one that is built to last. The motto at Abu Garcia is “For Life” and I am a firm believer in buying an Abu Garcia reel if durability is at the top of your priority list.
If you were feeling like breaking the bank for the best of the best, look no further than the newest Abu Garcia reel, the beautiful Revo MGXtreme.
Weighing in at just 5.6 ounces, the MGXtreme is Abu Garcia’s lightest and most compact reel ever made. The MGXtreme features a C6 carbon body and a one-piece X-Mag alloy gear box. The handle arm is made of carbon, topped with a stylish and lightweight cork knob. Inside the reel are 11 high performance ball bearings which feature a Salt Shield for saltwater and freshwater capability.
Best Surf Fishing Spinning Reels
When it comes to saltwater fishing reels, it’s hard to not go with a Penn product. So, for our recommendation of best surf fishing spinning reel, we’re going back to the Penn Battle II if you’re on a budget. If you have some extra coin to spend, the Shimano Stradic Ci4+ is among the best surf fishing spinning reels that money can buy.
Best Lures for Spinning Reels
One of the nicer perks of spinning reels is the ability to throw lures of all shapes and sizes with relative ease. While I prefer to throw heavier spoons with my spinning reels, one of the distinct advantages spinning reels have over baitcasting reels is that it’s much easier to throw lighter lures on a spinning reel.
Best Fishing Line for Spinning Reels
The best line for spinning reels depends on the application and personal preference. Braided line is my personal favorite to use with almost any reel. I also believe braided line to be the best fishing line for spinning reels due to its strength to diameter ratio. You can utilize braided line that is not very thick in diameter, but still holds plenty of strength. Braided line allows you to make up for having a smaller spool on a spinning reel when compared to a baitcasting reel.
Best Braided Fishing Line for Spinning Reels
To find the best braided line for spinning reels, you’re probably looking at Power Pro as the top option.
The best braided line for saltwater spinning reels is going to be a longer line with a very high pound capacity. If you’re going after big game on the ocean, try out the 1500-yard spool of 100 pound Power Pro Spectra Fiber. The Spectra Fiber line is the best you can buy from Power Pro, and the best braid for spinning reels. On top of ultimate performance, it also includes an EZ Spool which lets you load up your reel directly from the Power Pro box.
Best Monofilament Fishing Line for Spinning Reels
Some prefer monofilament over braided line due to the lower cost. The best monofilament line for spinning reels for my money is the KastKing Superior Fishing Line which comes in a variety of colors.
Best Fluorocarbon Fishing Line for Spinning Reels
Fluorocarbon claims to be completely invisible underwater, and some feel more confident knowing their line is as stealth as possible. Personally, I don’t think it makes a difference whether a fish can “see” your line most of the time, but the one case where I could be persuaded is when fishing for trout. Trout can spook very easily, so the best trout fishing line for spinning reels is very likely fluorocarbon.