The two most essential pieces of fishing equipment are the rod and reel. They work together to help you effectively catch fish. Both are equally important, because they allow you to cast, control the lure or bait, control a fish, and bring it close to hand. The best reels will work in tough conditions and will allow you to precisely control your line.
How to find the right types of fishing reels for where you’ll be fishing
To find the best reel for your fishing, you need to figure out exactly what you’ll be using it for, and an understanding of what the reel should and shouldn’t do. What are you fishing for, and how are you doing it? Are you trout fishing with a fly rod? Are you bass fishing with topwater lures? The species and technique you choose to pursue will determine what type of reel you need.
Next, think about casting. How long of a cast do you need to make? How much line can the reel hold? Finally, make sure to consider drag and stopping power. If your drag is weak or defective, there’s a good chance you’ll lose fish.
Types of Fishing Reels
If you’re new to angling, the various types of fishing reels on offer can be confusing. But don’t be surprised – choosing the right reel is a dilemma as old as the hills. As any angler will tell you, knowing the pros and cons of each type of reel can make or break your day on the water. Thankfully, things are a lot easier than they might seem, and today, you’re going to learn how to choose your own.
The spincast is by far the simplest modern fishing reel out there. With it’s basic design, this guy is ideal for beginners or anglers on a budget. You don’t see them a lot these days, but a few decades ago, spincast reels used to be all the rage.
The spinning reel is arguably the most popular type of fishing reel in existence. It’s a tad more complicated to use than the spincast, but a lot more efficient and durable. Beginners have no trouble using it, and there’s a whole army of experienced anglers that won’t fish without it.
The baitcaster is arguably the most advanced type of fishing reel. Often used by experienced anglers and fishing pros, this reel is unmatched in both power and precision.
Baitcasting reels have a lot more moving parts than the spincast or the spinning reel. As a result, they come with a learning curve, but mastering them ultimately takes your fishing game to the next level.
Our Top Picks
Our team of anglers continuously researches fishing reels before buying the best to test ourselves. This 2021 review features 10 top reels currently available, each rigorously tested to provide you the assessments you need to make the right purchase decision for you.
With the best combination of operation, features, and construction among all reels tested, the Okuma Ceymar C-30 is the reel we recommend most. Its smooth operation meant we could cast with ease and reel in a big catch without fighting against the reel and the fish. It is one of the lightest reels we tested, too. At eight ounces, this reel feels barely noticeable on many rods, making for a more balanced setup. We also like its utility as a small, lightweight reel to pack into the backcountry to find isolated, less-often fished lakes and streams. It has a nice, solid aluminum bail with an oversize line roller, which helped keep our line in check. And when it comes to comfort, it has it in spades, including our favorite handle. The soft, EVA foam handle grip provided all-day comfort and solid hold.
As for drawbacks, this reel presents relatively few. We imagine the very comfortable foam handle grip may not stand up to the test of time. Over hundreds of casts and several weeks of use, it has held up fine so far, without any signs of deteriorating. One should also note that this reel is quite small in comparison to many reels we’ve fished with. We don’t think this is a bad thing, as its compact size is great for packability, but it’s worth remarking. If you’re looking for the best all-around fishing reel in performance and price, the Okuma Ceymar C-30 should be at the top of your shortlist.
2. Daiwa BG2500
When you’re after saltwater fish, it pays to have a reel designed for the job. That’s precisely where the Daiwa BG2500 comes in. Its aluminum housing and waterproof drag system performed at the top of its class during weeks of fishing from piers and jetties by our test team. Speaking of drag, it had plenty of power, which helped when fighting bigger fish. The drag dial was also one of our favorites, providing feedback with well-spaced clicks. The handle is well designed with a wide handle grip that gave us impressive control and comfort. Another great feature was its anti-reverse system. It instantly locks the second you flip the switch. It was also a great casting reel, giving us long and accurate casts, something we especially appreciate when trying to place a lure into tight spots.
The only real complaint we have about this reel is its bail. While it worked flawlessly during our testing, its thin wire design didn’t match the rest of the reel’s high quality. Overall though, if you want a versatile reel that excels in saltwater conditions, look no further than the Daiwa BG2500.
The Penn Pursuit III is a price-pointed saltwater reel that proved more capable than expected. It might be smaller than other saltwater specific reels, but it’s strong and has plenty of fighting power. We learned this first-hand when hauling in a fish that was seemingly too big for this reel. This reel also has one of our favorite features—a line capacity marker on the spool lets you know exactly how much line you have out. Very cool. While this model is marketed as a saltwater model, we found it to be up-to-snuff in freshwater angling environments, too. We like the versatility this model offers.
Although there were many upsides, there are a couple of downsides to consider. One of the most obvious is there’s no reverse. This means that instead of backreeling when fighting a big fish, you have to rely on the reel’s drag system. Luckily, the drag system on this reel was wholly sufficient for the fish we caught. While the reverse feature might go unused by many anyway, it’s still generally expected on a reel, and some might miss it.
We do have an issue with the bail. It had the habit of closing prematurely while casting. While this could have just been an issue with the unit we tested, it’s unfortunate to have this as a possibility. Overall, this reel surprised us with its strength and quality at a good price. If you don’t need a high-end saltwater reel but still want a good one, the Penn Pursuit III is our price-pointed recommendation.
This is my overall favorite reels for both saltwater and freshwater fishing because of it’s waterproof drag. Striking good looks, light weight with a solid feel, and an ultra smooth reeling experience combine to win the hearts of anglers around the world. Incorporating exciting concepts like Hagane gear, G Free Body, CI4+, X-SHIP, Core Protect, and the totally new Magnumlite Rotor which allows a super light feel when you turn the handle, the new Stradic CI4+ is built to last. This is a great reel for both beginners and experienced anglers.
The Pflueger President is one of the most popular and well respected reels on the market. They have models ranging from ultra light to heavy depending on your preferences and types of fish you target.
This is an exceptional reel for both inshore saltwater fishing and for lake, rivers and streams. Whether you target bass, pike or sea bass, the President will last a long time and hold u under all conditions. The President from Pflueger is also our favorite as one of the best for your money. With a price well under $100 you can beat it for quality and cost.
The KastKing Sharky III spinning fishing reel is lighter, smoother, and stronger! This KastKing Sharky III provides brute force for fighting larger game fish with its amazing high efficiency triple disc carbon fiber drag to 39.5 lbs, 10+1 shielded stainless steel bearings, braid fishing line ready aluminum spool, precision manganese brass alloy gear, fiber reinforced body, and an oversized stainless steel main shaft. It is the perfect spinning rod and reel combo in sizes 1000 – 5000.
KastKing’s shark fin vented, braid fishing line ready aluminum pool allows you to eliminate backing line, and spool up entirely with braid line providing more line capacity for the fishing battle with the big ones. The 10 double-shielded superior quality stainless steel shielded ball bearings in every Sharky III provide buttery smooth performance for effortless fishing.
Light tackle anglers who like low-profile baitcasters often point to the Abu Garcia Revo SX (now in its fourth generation) as a classic reel that gets the job done without costing an arm and a leg. They’re quick to point out that this reel isn’t even close to the top end of the Revo line, but with nine ball bearings and C6 carbon side-plates it has some very nice features, a great feel, and a reasonable price-point.
The Penn Battle II battles its way into the top 10 by providing a strong metal body spinning reel with saltwater-capable parts, for about $100. Penn has always built tough reels, and with their modern infinite anti-reverse and HT-100 drag material, the Battle II can get the job done for light-tackle anglers for years on end in the brine.
9. Daiwa Exist
We’ll stipulate that with the way these reels are priced, they won’t be of interest to many anglers. But they’re so dang space-age cool we have to include them in this round-up. The Exist has a high-density carbon monocoque body requiring no screws, bringing weight down to a shocking 5.5 ounces for a 1000 and 7.2 ounces for a 4000. Meanwhile, the seal system utilizes magnetized oil. Magnets hold the oil in place, eliminating the need for a physical seal which causes friction, while still keeping out water and dust. It represents Diawa’s no-holds-barred absolute top effort at making the best spinning reel on the face of the planet, cost be damned.
Whether you’re targeting big fish in saltwater or freshwater, the Shimano Sustain FJ Spinning Reel utilizes a laundry list of advanced technologies paired with refined aesthetics. Housed in an extremely lightweight yet rugged aluminum HAGANE body, the Shimano Sustain FJ Spinning Reel is the toughest in MGL reel family and is crafted with a MagnumLite (MGL) rotor for easier start-up rotation and faster hooksets with increased sensitivity.
How do I choose a fishing reel?
When choosing a fishing reel, you need to consider what you are fishing for, how you are fishing, and what you need your reel to do. Make sure you understand how much stopping power you need from your reel’s drag and how your reel will impact your casting ability. Also be sure you’ll be able to cast it. Spinning reels are easy to cast and can be used almost anywhere.
What is the best fishing reel for beginners?
For someone just starting out fishing, a spinning reel is a great choice. They’re easy to learn how to use, and come in lighter sizes than spincasting outfits. Look for a spinning reel that holds 4- to 6-pound-test monofilament line for trout and panfish, and 8- to 12-pound test monofilament for bass.
Are expensive reels worth it?
If you only fish a few times a year, then there’s no reason to buy the most expensive reel. A quality reel is worth the investment for those who fish a lot, or need a reel with an excellent drag for powerful species such as steelhead and salmon.
Who makes the best fishing reel?
Who makes the best fishing reel is a subject of fierce debate. Many of the top fishing gear manufacturers produce a range of reels, including high end offerings. Shimano and Abu Garcia fishing reels are among the top quality reel manufacturers.
What should you consider before purchasing a new fly reel?
Fly reels are quite different from the reels that you use for conventional tackle. They are made to hold wide-diameter fly fishing lines, and are lightweight so anglers won’t tire from casting them for hours.
Fly reels come with light drag settings that allow you to pull out line so you can cast, but also provide some resistance when fighting big fish. Some fly reels have adjustable disc drags, similar to conventional reels, while others have only click drags that can’t be adjusted. The latter is a good option for small fish but can get you in trouble if you hook into anything that will really test your line strength. Make sure that your fly reel matches the line weight of your fly rod. Fly reels typically offer a small range of line weights with which they’re compatible.