Spinning reels were historically plagued by line twists and balky drag systems, but the wide range of open-faced reels on the market today leave those stereotypes in the dust. Even at a bargain price, you can get a multi-bearing precision tool capable of wearing down a rampaging gamefish. They also come in a wider range of sizes and price points than ever before. Whether you’re introducing a child to the great outdoors or looking to tackle record-class giants, there’s a spinning reel suited for the task.
In recent years, anglers have benefitted from an increasing number of entrants into this space, which now includes both long-term industry stalwarts and industry newcomers, each with a different idea of what makes the perfect spinning reel.
Spinning Reel Basics
It pays to know a bit about spinning reels before you pull the trigger on one. Designed for lines of less than 10-pound monofilament diameter, spinning reels are a great choice for catching panfish, trout, bass, specks, and redfish–pretty much anything but the largest species.
Their mechanism is deceptively simple: a fixed spool and a spinning bail capture and release line. All but fool-proof, this combination makes them very easy to use, and they’re a great choice for novice anglers.
To cast, you grab the line with your index finger, open the bail, and toss your lure, releasing your finger in time with the cast. To retrieve, you close the bail with your hand (doing so with the crank will wear the mechanism) and begin retrieving.
That simplicity offers real advantages in poor conditions: gusting winds really don’t affect the performance of a spinning reel, and wind-blown knots are not a problem. Moreover, unlike the more complicated baitcasting reel, they cast well into the wind and with light lures, and they don’t require re-adjustment when you change lure weights.
What Do You Look for and Why?
Whenever you are picking out a spinning reel, you want to make sure you choose a unit that has the features and characteristics you need to fish successfully. Some of the most important considerations include:
Freshwater Vs. Saltwater Reel
If you love to fish in freshwaters or your target species live in freshwaters, then it’s quite evident that you need a freshwaters reel. These reels are suitable for fishing in rivers, ponds, and lakes that require light lures. Also, the line capacity is often much shorter in freshwater.
On the other hand, if you want to go inshore or deep offshore saltwater for fishing, you need to choose a saltwater reel because these types of reel don’t get damaged with high salt amounts in the water. They also often tend to be larger, and capable of handling heavier line, an longer lengths of line.
The first thing to look at is size. Spinning reels are rated based on the weight of the line they are designed to handle, so if you are primarily fishing 6- to 8-pound test line, simply look at reels that are rated for those weights. You don’t need to concern yourself with the actual size dimensions here, just the weight ratings. This rating may not be a range, so if one number such as “6” or “6 lb. test” is indicated, you can safely assume that indicates the ideal line weight but that it can handle a few pounds less or more. The size rating may also appear as “6/140” or “6 lb./140 yards.” This spec is listed for each of our picks below.
Gear ratio is another common spec listed for spinning reels that can be confusing, especially for beginner fishermen and women. The ratio will appear as “5.2:1,” for example, which means nothing without a point of reference. What the ratio means for your fishing experience is that lower ratios reel in slower while higher ratios reel in faster.
Most reels fall in the 4:1 to 6:1 range with 6 being the faster reel. If you’re not sure if you want a faster or slower reel (different fishing techniques call for different reeling speeds), go for a medium or fast reel of 5:1 and up. The main advantage of slower reels is that they provide more torque for slowly cranking in monster fish, but faster reels are more versatile since you can always reel a fast reel more slowly but you can’t make a slow reel crank faster.
Spinning reels also have drag systems, and while the differences between the various drag systems don’t affect your average angler’s experience too much, front drag systems (vs. rear) tend to be more robust and longer-lasting. Some more expensive reels offer sealed/waterproof drag systems, which will also extend the life of your reel. If you’re lucky enough to fish somewhere that you regularly haul in extra-large fish, just be sure you buy a reel that’s built to handle the extra poundage.
Bearings count is another common spec, and you’ll see some of the cheapest reels around touting 11 or more bearings. While more bearings generally indicate a smoother-operating reel, quality is more important than quantity, so don’t assume that more bearings equals better reel. Numbers are usually listed as “6+1,” for example, which indicates 6 ball bearings and one roller bearing.
Weight is another concern, as extra ounces can wear on your hands and arms after long days on the water. This is especially a concern for children, older folks, and beginners worried about fatigue. Lighter reels are generally more expensive, but it may be worth it to let you fish longer.
Finally, materials come down to two primary options: graphite and aluminum. Both materials are lightweight, but aluminum generally is cheaper and more durable while graphite is slightly lighter. Graphite should be your choice if you’re fishing saltwater frequently, since it is more corrosion-resistant than aluminum. Anodized aluminum is more corrosion-resistant and is common in higher-end reels.
Our Top Picks
Kastking Summer and Centron spinning reel is loaded with many features and still is easily affordable. It has an excellent build quality, which is lightweight as it has a narrow graphite frame design.
Moreover, the drag system of this reel offers you incredible stopping power of up to 17.5lbs. Also, Centron’s nine quality ball bearings along with one instant stop and anti-reverse bearing provide an ultra-smooth performance.
Its brilliant finishing and high strength two color anodized aluminum spool that has a power launch lip for farther casting makes it an ideal choice. However, it’s not recommended to use it in saltwater.
Penn Battle models of spinning reels are durable for a long time, and also they are ideal for catching big fish. Its full metal body, side plate, along with its rotor and heavy-duty aluminum bail wire, increases its performance and durability.
Furthermore, it offers you an HT 100 carbon fiber drag system that gives a powerful drag with smoothness. Also, it has fluid cranking with 5 sealed stainless steel ball bearings and instant anti-reverse bearing.
Its superline spool doesn’t require backing and has line capacity rings marketed at ⅓, ⅔, and full capacity. Apart from all these features, it’s a bit heavy.
The Pflueger President series is one of the most popular products on the market and is designed for anglers who need high performance without spending a lot of money. Though this option is not a budget-priced reel, it still comes within the budget that most serious anglers can afford. The President is built to last with a metal body, high-quality handle and metal-cased rotor.
The high-quality machined bearing system is cased in steel to better protect the reel in the saltwater. We also recommend getting a good reel cover to protect your valuable gear for the long term.
The feature we like most about this reel is that it comes with Sure-Click bail. It also has an on/off instant anti-reverse bearing. Also, each of the models are extremely lightweight, which can eliminate some muscle soreness after a full day of fishing.
If you are looking for the best spinning reels under 200 for saltwater fishing, then the Shimano Stradic CI4+ front drag is the top contender. Shimano are renowned for making high quality products with leading edge technology.
This lightweight spinning reel is designed for fishers who want an affordable option. However, it also gives high performance and looks good with great aesthetics. This combines into one of the top spinning reels. This spinning reel comes with 6:0:1 gear ratio and weighs only 5.6 ounces.
The Revo Sx spinning reel looks strikingly similar to the Pflueger Supreme XT. The biggest difference is materials and weight. The Revo SX has an aluminum gear set plus carbon insert molded frame, sideplate, and handle compared to the magnesium Supreme XT.
So is the Revo SX still a good spinning reel? Absolutely it is, and I have two of them myself. I purchased my SX’s for drop shot fishing and lightweight shaky head fishing. They have the reputation of having ultra-smooth Carbon Matrix drag systems, and after a year of fishing with them I can confirm that fact.
I recommend the Revo SX spinning reels for all finesse applications from wacky rigs and flukes to drop shots and shaky heads. It comes with a braid ready spool, which I tend to fill with 20lb Sufix 832 Advanced Braid. When I use a leader it handles 10-20 feet of Seaguar InvizX with ease.
6. OKUMA Ceymar
Are you looking for an affordable, quality reel that will get the job done without breaking the bank? If so, then the Okuma Ceymar should be on your shortlist. This lightweight reel packs a punch far above its size or price range.
The first thing you will notice about the Ceymar is its size. Even for a lightweight reel, this one is small, but thanks to the graphite body, forged zinc anodized handle, machined aluminum spool and narrow-blade body design, you get a reel that is much tougher than it looks.
But there is so much more packed into this tiny package. The 7+1 ball bearings, quick-set, anti-reverse roller bearing, machine-cut brass pinion gear, precision elliptical gearing system and superior line control system all combine to give you a top-of-the-line reel at an average-Joe price.
The Shimano Stella series are some of the most celebrated spinning reels on the market and they receive very high praise from most who use them. The FI series was released in 2014 but later replaced by the FJ series in 2018.
They are packed with high-end features, including unique grip designs and the X-Ship drivetrain system which lowers the force required to crank the reel. This helps improve the sensitivity of the reel, enabling you to detect even the lightest bites.
The reel’s altered center of gravity helps reduce fatigue, while the polished gears and 14-bearing (13+1) system ensure smooth operation. However, all of this incredible quality comes at a price.
PENN first introduced its now-famous line of spinning reels over 50 years ago. Now, the sixth generation offers improved performance and a live liner feature for bait anglers.
The additional rear drag allows bait users to independently adjust tension, fine-tuning the resistance the fish feels during the pickup. This live liner feature automatically turns off with a turn of the handle, allowing you to switch to fighting mode without doing anything extra.
The Spinfisher IV offers the live liner feature on four different size reels: 2500, 4500, 6500 and 8500. Each model features a full-metal body, IPX5 seals, CNC gear technology, HT-100 carbon fiber drag washers, heavy-duty bail wire, and a stainless steel ball-bearing system.
The Akataka 4000 spinning reel is built for a smooth and powerful operation. Although it is super lightweight, it has a high-quality build using premium quality materials. Its body, handle, and rotor are compact and made of high tensile aluminum. The handle is left/right hand interchangeable.
The reel is made of a high-efficiency triple disc carbon fiber to offer a maximum drag of up to 29lb. Its main shaft is hardened for durability and sturdy handling even when retrieving large catches. Its gear operates on 10+1 corrosion resistant ball bearings for a smooth retrieval.
The Cadence Ideal 4000 Spinning Fishing Reel has a 30lb maximum drag load suitable for catching bass both in saltwater and freshwater. Its main shaft is made of stainless steel for sturdiness.
It has a 6:2:I ratio gear and 10+1 ball bearings for a smooth operation. Its drag system is carbon fiber sealed, while the rotor is made of graphite. The spool is made of aluminum and comes braid-ready, while the body is made of graphite.
The spool has an optimized lip design that reduces line twists and wind knots to enable seamless casting for longer distances. The aluminum handles are covered with rubber for a non-slip grip even when operating the reel with wet hands. Cadence backs the unbeatable value of this spinning real with a one year warranty.
Most of the reels we’ve reviewed are offered by reputed manufacturers offering large lines of models for any need. Whether you’re looking for cutting edge tech, or budget minded proven reels, there’s something you can rely on here.
It’s up to you to research what type of fishing you’ll be doing and what reel is the best for your choice. Just jump up to the top and read through our buyer’s guide to get a great sense of what reel will meet your needs!