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Spinning reels are a highly popular fishing tool utilized by both inexperienced fishermen as well as seasoned anglers for catching almost all sizes of fish in both freshwater and saltwater. In terms of ease of use, the spinner lies between the novice centric spincast reel and the advanced baitcaster reel – neither of the other two are able to strike the perfect balance between versatility and ease of use the way a spinning reel does though.
It makes sense then, for you to look for a decent spinning reel to keep in your fishing arsenal – the only catch (no pun intended) is that its popularity has led to mass production, to the point that the market is filled with spinning reel products: this may have brought the prices down, but it has also made it a daunting task for even seasoned anglers to choose the best spinning reel.
Having acquired my fishing expertise the hard way, I’d rather my readers were spared the ‘trial and error’ approach, so here’s a spinning reel guide that will teach you all that’s needed to make the right call when looking for one in the market.
Piscifun Steel Feeling 4000
Aluminum / stainless steel
Quantum Smoke PT Inshore
Aluminum alloy w/ CF rotor
PENN Spinfisher V 10500
Aluminum / stainless steel
Shimano Syncopate SC4000FG
Aluminum / graphite
Penn Spinfisher V SSV4500
Aluminum / stainless steel
Shimano Baitrunner D BTR1200D
Aluminum / graphite
Also referred to as open-face reels, spinners are mounted on the rod’s underside and feature fixed spools that do away with tangle producing backlash, which is the primary hindrance that keeps people from using more nuanced baitcaster reels. Spinning reels are available with gear ratios, drag limits and spool sizes that can hold as little as 2-lb test line for catching tiny fish, or as large as 50-lb test line for battling with prize bass or catfish!
Spinning reels are versatile: the variety of spool sizes, body materials, and drag strengths they’re available in lend them to applications ranging from casual weekend fishing at a local creek to competitive saltwater angling in the deeps.
Whereas a lot of patience and practice is required to control a baitcaster reel effectively, you can get started with a spinner after just an hour’s worth of training from a seasoned fisherman – thanks mainly to its simpler casting technique that utilizes a static spool instead of a moving one. In other words, the spinning reel is the go to solution for anglers who want more performance than what a spincast reel offers, but aren’t ready to take on baitcaster reels.
That said, unless you intend to use fishing techniques requiring ultra-precise control of the cast, you can use a spinning reel in place of a baitcaster reel (despite some pros tell you otherwise) even in testing waters filled with bulky catch – in fact, much more easily and at a lower cost!
Knowing how a spinning reel works is essential for choosing the right one from all that the marketing is offering, and for that, you need to have a sound understanding of the parts that make up a spinning reel - here’s a quick breakdown:
To give you an idea of how to choose a spinning reel to match a spinning rod and reel combo for a particular species of fish, I’ll go with three popular species: trout, bass and catfish.
Choosing the best spinning reels for trout fishing can be a bit tricky given that freshwater trout can weigh between 15 and 40 lbs., and saltwater species can go beyond 50 lbs.!
If you were exclusively targeting lightweight freshwater species found in small streams and rivers, such as brown, golden and rainbow trout, you’d have to go for a light to medium rod and reel combination. Head out to larger rivers (for example, in Colorado where I’ve fished for trout several times) and these combinations would be tested to their limits by larger species such as lake and steelhead trout.
Going after saltwater trout would necessitate a reel with a powerful sealed drag system, and corrosion resistant coatings on all vital components. In general, a 3500 to 4500 size reel, capable of holding 12 to 17 pound test line and a 10-15 lbs. drag, and a moderately fast retrieval rate (in the neighborhood of 5.0:1) would be my pick for the best trout spinning reel for the money.
Have a gander at the Syncopate Shimano spinning reel discussed in the next section if you want a real-world benchmark for a decent trout fishing reel.
Freshwater bass fishing reels need to have a swift retrieve as well as a healthy number of ball bearings to make the retrieve as smooth as possible. The hookset must be powerful, and the anti-reverse free from any kind of play that might lead to the fish escaping.
A reel with a gear ratio upwards of 5.5:1, a 15 lbs. or higher drag limit, a spool capable of holding about 200 yards of 10 to 15 lbs. of test line, and a lightweight construction, should service a freshwater bass angler well alongside a medium rod.
Going after saltwater bass species such as striped bass, which can weigh in excess of 60 lbs., will require you to upgrade to a heavy duty saltwater reel capable of holding 25 lbs. test line, and churning out a drag in the range of 20-25 lbs. For long lasting performance in saltwater, the reel must, at the very least, have an anti-corrosion coat on all its surfaces (both outside and inside).
The Piscifun Steel Feeling 4000 I’ve reviewed in the section below is a good example of a versatile all-rounder bass fishing reel.
Catfish happen to be one of the most popular species of fish among North American anglers, with three major species being flathead, blue and channel catfish. Depending on the species, catfish can grow between 30lbs. to over 100 lbs. as adults, and regardless of their mass, they all put up a good fight.
Many anglers choose to tire them out by letting them swallow the bait proper and run with the line for a bit, using a technique referred to as bait feeding. This requires using a special kind of spinning reel called a baitfeeder: this reel has a mechanism that completely disengages the main drag and lets the line unwind with minimal resistance.
Once the angler is confident that the fish has taken the bait, and exhausted itself in the process of pulling at the low drag line, they re-apply the main drag and pull the fish in without it kicking up as much of a fuss as it would have before.
Regardless of whether you choose this catfishing technique or not, the reel will still have to be very sturdily built and possess a robust drag mechanism, given the size to which catfish can grow; the Shimano Baitrunner D BTR1200D is a strong case in point.
While both saltwater and freshwater spinning reels operate on the same fundamental principle, there are a number of distinctions between the two based on the species of fish found in saltwater and freshwater.
Freshwater fish are lighter in weight – not going beyond 30 lbs. in general (and over 40lbs. being considered rare). This allows the reel maker to use lighter materials such as graphite and carbon fiber to fabricate the reels’ bodies, trading in strength for maneuverability. The drag system too, is usually rated at around 20 lbs., and you can make do with tighter line capacity.
Also, since freshwater isn’t inherently corrosive like saltwater, you can get away with a reel that lacks dedicated anti-corrosion coatings (although it is highly recommended that you get one that does have them).
A fine specimen for a freshwater spinner is the Quantum Smoke PT covered below.
Saltwater fish can go beyond 50 lbs., so the reel needs to be made from a sturdier material such aluminum. The reel should pack durable, anti-corrosive ball bearings and a strong drag system rated at least 25 lbs. The line used to catch trophy saltwater fish must be strong – so you’ll either need a reel with lots of line capacity (300 yards plus) to hold heavy 20lbs. test line, or switch to braided line (which provides the same pound rating in a much smaller diameter, and hence demands considerably less line capacity from the reel).
Braided line, because it’s super-thin, is quite slippery though, and is more prone to uneven winding: the best spinning reel for braided line will have a spool system that ensures tight and even line lay with minimum slippage during winding, so issues such as wind knots and tangling are eliminated.
Since, saltwater is corrosive in nature, the reel’s outer and inner surfaces must also have corrosion resistant coatings if it is to survive multiple excursions. Furthermore, unless the reel is water-resistant, saltwater tends to create deposits that jam the gearbox and drag system if the reel is isn’t cleaned properly after each use.
The Penn Spinfisher V is a good example of what to look for in a saltwater spinner – and one of the best spinning reels for braided line to boot. If you’re not sure about the type of fishing line you should use with your reel, my spinning reel line guide will help you out.
It must also be clear to you, from this rather brief comparison that saltwater reels are more expensive than their freshwater counterparts. Also note that there are reels in the market that possess qualities from both sides of the camp e.g. there can be lightweight reels made from carbon fiber that are also watertight and have ample ball bearings – these can be used in both freshwater and saltwater, but there would be a restriction on the size of the fish you could catch with it.
Anglers going after trophy bass species, such as those that dwell in saltwater, will find the Piscifun Steel Feeling 4000 to be a consistently reliable part of their arsenal.
Sporting a sturdy aluminum / stainless steel construction, the reel casts silky smooth thanks to the two stainless steel bearings present on the sides of its slider – these bearings are given a tough saltwater resistant coating to make sure they don’t jam after being dunked in a couple times.
In fact, this applies to the reel in its entirety as well: even if you do forget to wash it after it was dropped in saltwater, all you need to do is strip it apart, apply a decent lube oil in its gear system (after cleaning the interior), put it back together – and the reel is good to go again.
The medium sized 4000 spool allows you to pack good lengths of line, even those of a higher diameter which will allow you go after monsters. To keep the reel from buckling when a fish is being pulled in, two stainless steel bearings have been incorporated to support the pinion gear – eliminating torsional twisting and shaft misalignment that can lead to jittery performance.
The 5.1:1 gear ratio in conjunction with the generous spool size, makes the reel capable of yielding both torque and speed – allowing for a diverse range of casting and retrieving techniques. Carbon fiber drag washers yield a smooth drag throughout the adjustment range, which can be stretched as far as 22 lbs.
Complaints about the reel’s performance are practically non-existent, but anglers used to ultralight reels may want to brace themselves, because this one is a bit heavy (it is a size 4000 made from metal after all!).
The Quantum Smoke PT is a product that should technically fall into the ultralight category given its lightweight (7.9oz.) aluminum alloy construction – but its ability to yield a remarkable (for its size) 18 lbs. of drag makes it a credible solution for going after species that are normally out of the reach of ultralights.
The reel’s alloy frame is tough in spite of its compact nature, and it incorporates the MaxCast II spool system to allow for fluid casting performance – this is bolstered by 9 ball bearings to ensure optimum motion transfer within the gear system. The drag washers are made from ceramic as well as carbon fiber, which enables the reel to provide consistent drag over the entire setting range, for an extended period of time.
Furthermore, the drag system is sealed, and the frame has been coated with a corrosion resistant material: both features ensure that this ultralight reel is able to hold its own in extended saltwater usage scenarios too. The spool can hold 150 yards of 10 lbs. test line, sufficient for most freshwater applications and even saltwater angling close to the shore – but you could pair it with braid just as easily to go after meatier fish, because the spool has been designed to hold braided line as well.
The gear system has a 5.1:1 ratio, which is capable of producing a relatively swift 31 IPT retrieve, so reeling in fast escaping fish is made that much easier. A dedicated one-way bearing eliminates any looseness in the retrieve.
In spite of a few scattered complaints pertaining to bait clicker malfunctions and squeaky sounds, most anglers are well pleased with the way this tiny reel performs; it is my pick as the best one from all the freshwater spinning reel reviews I’ve done, and you could easily use it for less demanding saltwater applications.
Everything about the Spinfisher V 10500 screams power: from the 4.2:1 torque centered gear ratio, to the enormous spool size (capable of holding 255 yards of 50 lbs. mono or 580 yards of 80 lbs. braid), to the hefty 40 lbs. sealed HT-100 Drag System packing three durable drag washers to stop even the mightiest tuna dead in its tracks.
The stainless steel mainshaft is strengthened by means of a triple-support mechanical design to enable the reel to perform to such high standards, and 5 stainless steel bearings are used to increase the efficiency of the internal mechanism. The anti-reverse system has both one-way bearing and backup ratchet, so there is absolutely no chance of you losing your trophy catch to backplay.
Incidentally, this reel features a rubber band on its spool which makes it painless to wind it with braid, even without a mono backing – ultimately, this means minimal chances of wind knots during casting, making it a top spinning reel for braided line too in my opinion.
Keep in mind the price at which the Spinfisher V is selling, you won’t get perfect waterproofing – as is evident from the odd complaint of jammed gearboxes from users who dropped the reel in saltwater and forgot to clean it after. Furthermore, the spool’s aluminum / stainless steel build makes it heavier than the market average – at 40 lbs. – a fact that isn’t helped by the large size of the spool.
These criticisms aside though, the reel still performs its core function of catching big saltwater game with flair, and is one of, if not the best spinning reel for the money as far as heavy duty saltwater angling is concerned.
The Syncopate series from Shimano has a reputation among anglers as an easy to use one-handed casting tool that performs better than your average lightweight reel.
The body and rotor are made from graphite, hence the lightness of its weight, and the form factor as a whole is quite compact too; coupled with Shimano’s proprietary QuickFire II technology, this makes the reel an effortless single handed caster. Wind knot issues are taken care of thanks to the modified spool lip design.
Anglers using thinner diameter lines, such as 4lbs. mono or 10 lbs. braid will also appreciate the uniform line laying afforded by the combination of a variable speed oscillation gear system and Power Roller II, which almost completely eliminate slippage of the line which can result in casting issues.
The 5.1:1 gear ratio is able to achieve a brisk retrieval rate of 32 inches per turn, and combined with the 13 lbs. drag and 12 lbs. / 160 yards mono line capacity, this makes the reel ideal for going after lightweight fish species such as freshwater trout – heck, you may even try your hand at saltwater fish dwelling closer to shore if you want to flex your angling skills, and this reel would rise up to the challenge.
The drive system incorporates 4 shielded ball bearings that may not seem like much, but given the compactness of the structure, yield remarkably fluid performance time and time again. All things considered, this would be my pick for a reliable trout fishing reel.
This variant of Penn’s formidable Spinfisher V lineup is geared towards anglers in need of a sturdy tool that can fight the most powerful species found close to saltwater shorelines.
Utilizing the same HT-100 Slammer Drag System as its more powerful deep saltwater sibling I’ve covered above, this reel is able to output a top drag of 25 lbs. Furthermore, the use of carbon fiber washers ensures uniformly smooth drag performance throughout the range. The fact that the drag system is watertight means you won’t have to deal with roughness in the drag after the reel has been exposed to saltwater.
5 stainless steel bearings enable efficient, friction free casting and reeling, and these too are corrosion resistant to survive saltwater. A rubber gasket present on the spool ensures even line lay, so the reel works just as well with braid as it does with mono.
The line capacity is impressive too: with about 185 yards of 12 lbs. mono (or 300 yards of 30lbs. braid) coupled with a 6.2:1 gear system putting out a 34 IPT retrieval rate, you could easily use this reel for long distance shore side casts. Also worth mentioning is the reel’s friction trip ramp, which removes the risk of accidental bail trips that can lead to lost line (and even catch).
User ratings for this reel are highly positive, with anglers praising it for how well it performs in saltwater time and time again, with only a few complaints related to jams having surfaced (these could stem from broken drag waterproofing). That said, the only issue worth noting is that this reel’s 15.4 oz. all metal construction may prove cumbersome for individuals who make dozens of casts continuously.
The Baitrunner D BTR1200D is an incredibly powerful reel that lets you to battle it out with massive fighting fish without breaking a sweat.
Featuring a topnotch waterproof drag mechanism utilizing high end carbon fiber drag washers and a 25 lbs. maximum drag limit whose capability has been attested by dozens of pros, this reel can stopper even the toughest pray, time and time again.
Shimano’s customized spool lip design makes its way to this series as well, so you can count on the Baitrunner to yield smooth, knot-free casting. The Varispeed and Power Roller features present in the line laying mechanism minimize the chance of slippage / looping when using a super thin braid.
In spite of boasting a 4.4:1 gear ratio that is clearly biased towards torque, the reel still manages to output 37 inches per turn of line retrieve thanks to a large spool that can hold as much as 265 yards of 20 lbs. test line, or 230 yards of 80 lbs. braid. This combination of speed and power means you’ve got a diverse arsenal of techniques at your disposal for going after large, troublesome species.
Three high quality corrosion resistant ball bearings are placed strategically inside the internal machinery to improve the overall efficiency in casting and reeling, and an audible baitclicker is present to alert you every time a fish swallows your bait and pulls on the line.
There have been practically no issues reported by anglers, and the only thing you need to worry about (besides the rather hefty price tag) is the 30 ounce weight of the reel’s metal frame, no doubt needed to withstand the force exerted by strong catch.
Angling is one of the oldest activities adopted by civilized humans, and has evolved into a rich pastime / survival technique in the past century or so – so even if you’re a bit overwhelmed by all this information, know that this is as condensed as this guide can get without leaving out important details.
Having reached its end, you will have gained fresh insight into the process that goes behind the selection of a spinning reel – in particular, it is my hope that rookie anglers will now have a platform of knowledge on which they can expand through market research, and hopefully end up with the best spinning reel for their needs.
As with any other piece of specialized equipment, you’ll need to figure out your intended application, relate it to the specific features of a spinning reel, and then make product comparisons to select the reel that possesses those features while remaining in your budget. That said, given the diverse range of uses for which spinning reels are designed, it’s impossible to pick a product that qualifies as the best spinning reel universally.
For instance, my personal favorite would have to be the PENN Spinfisher V 10500 Spinning Reel, because I prefer going after large saltwater fish that this reel can manage well thanks to its superb drag system, large spool size, and inherently saltwater resistant design. However, you may be of the camp that prefers going after fast and light freshwater fish, in which case you’d do perfectly fine with the ultralight yet reasonably hardy Quantum Smoke PT spinning reel.
Loves everything to do with fishing and gear.
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