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Lightweight fishing is a great way to start your angling journey - you can do it in almost any freshwater reservoir, you don’t need to scour the market for heavy duty tackle, and you don’t have to tire yourself out wrestling with big catch.
However, even with this, you need to have the right gear, and a spinning reel is a critical component of your gear set. When you’re restricting yourself to lighter fish, you have to get an ultralight spinning reel that doesn’t make casting small finesse baits on thin line feel awkward.
If you’re a rookie (or even if you’re an angler who has previously only dealt with large fish species such as tuna and cats), you may find the huge selection of lightweight reels in the market overwhelming – I know I did. I’m wiser now – after plenty of market research, mind you – so I’ve created this guide in order to help my fellow anglers pick the best ultralight spinning reel to suit their needs.
Plueger® President® 6930
Graphite / Aluminum
KastKing Sharky II 1500
Shimano SY500L Symetre FL
XTG7 composite / Aluminum
Abu Garcia Orra SX 10
Carbon / Aluminum
Quantum Smoke PT Inshore
Before proceeding further, it’s important to realize that ultralight reels will not be of any use in catching trophy catfish or bass. You also won’t be able to use them for saltwater applications (unless you’re fine with fishing in shallow saltwater channels for very light catch).
What you can go after are lighter species such as pan fish, mackerel, pike or trout (or even some smaller bass species). While this may seem like a turn-off, it is quite the opposite in practice: these small species are no match for mainstream fishing gear, but catching them using a light reel and rod combo, paired with 2lbs / 4lbs mono and a sub-10lbs. drag limit will test your patience as well as technical prowess as an angler!
These spinning reels are also great for scouting purposes: pen fishing rod with spinning reel combos are small enough to be transported in your coat’s pocket, so you can take them with you on excursions and test out any new waters you come across for tiny fish species.
The most important criterion for a reel to fall under the ultralight category is – you guessed it – light weight. More specifically, stay in the neighborhood of 8 oz., so heavy duty materials such as steel and thick aluminum is out of the question.
Manufacturers typically go with thin aluminum, graphite or composite materials to keep things light yet reasonably strong. It goes without saying that you can’t put these reels through the wringer as you normally would tough saltwater tackle. However, modern ultralight reels, if operated within their specified stress range and line capacity, will perform adequately.
As compared to mainstream spinners, ultralights are severely limited in their drag capability, typically able to reach no more than 10lbs. However, given the fact that your prey won’t exceed more than 10lbs. (and will normally lie in the 2 to 5 lbs. range), this is more than enough resistance against its pull.
These reels are rated for 2 to 10 lbs. monofilament line, and the yardage doesn’t normally go beyond the 200 yard mark. Again, this is stifling for anything other than finesse freshwater techniques, but makes sense in that the light weight of the reel won’t be able to sustain a heavy line cast.
You could always enhance the stress limit by spooling the reel with braid, but be prepared for issues such as slippage and looping if you’re using a cheap reel.
The type of drag washer used in an ultralight reel will depend on its price-point. In sub-$40 products, you’ll normally find washers made from felt. Those that lie in the $65 and upwards segment may utilize higher end carbon fiber washers, stainless steel washers or a combination of the two.
Remember that a higher quality drag washer means a smoother, more durable drag output, which is essential for catching any kind of fish.
These products are designed for fast action and quick reel-ins, so most manufacturers set up their products’ gear configuration with a high ratio to provide optimum speed (5:1 or higher). This lets you quickly pull in small freshwater fish that make a break for it as soon as they feel pressure on the line.
There isn’t a hard and fast rule for bearing count in ultralight spinning reels: some have as low as 3 ball bearings, while others have as many as 10. What’s certain is that the higher the bearing count, the smoother the reel will perform and the less effort it will place on the angler – however, considering the compact nature of ultralight fishing setups, this isn’t as crucial as it is for bulky saltwater products.
Regardless of the bearing count, make sure you pick a product whose bearings are corrosion resistant and, preferably, shielded. This ensures that the reel won’t seize up after it has been dropped in the water / mud.
Because the majority of ultralight reel applications are in freshwater, water-tightness isn’t a strict necessity for these reels. If you can’t afford a watertight model, simply make sure that you wash the reel after each angling session to clear out any debris that may clog the gear train if allowed to accumulate.
If you plan to use the reel in saltwater though, it is imperative that you pick one with a waterproof drag to prevent corrosive saltwater from entering and degrading the inner components.
These reels can only be effective if they’re combined with a matching ultralight rod. If you find it difficult to decide on a rod that will match the reel you’ve chosen, be sure to check if the manufacturer is offering it as a combo with one of their rods.
With a combo, the manufacturer has already matched both pieces of gear for optimum performance, so you don’t have to spend time figuring out whether one will bottleneck the other or not. Oftentimes, these combinations are cheaper than the individual cost of the rod and the reel, so it’s a budget-friendly option too.
However, if you’re confident about your rod selection ability, I’ll advise that you make your own rod and reel combo since this will give you the freedom to set up the tackle as per your specific requirement, without having to compromise on any feature.
The President 6930 is a lightweight spinning reel geared towards anglers who want a product that is compact yet can withstand a decent amount of stress and rough handling.
Made out of graphite and weighing just 8.3oz., the 6930 packing a stainless steel / felt drag system, it provides a consistently smooth drag output, while also remaining inherently corrosion resistant. 9 corrosion resistant ball bearings are integrated into the core of the reel, and ensure smooth castability, while a one-way clutch bearing yields an instant anti-reverse.
While the line capacity of 130 yards / 8 lbs. mono is pretty standard fare, it is worth noting that the spool has been optimized for braided wire as well, so you can always switch to the latter to go after bulkier fish. The drag limit of 9lbs is also quite decent for an ultralight, and should go nicely with a heavier braided line.
The reel has an aluminum handle, so it can sustain a bit of force; the handle design has received praise from anglers because of its non-slip grip as well.
While the majority of users are of the opinion that the reel’s dependable performance in lightweight applications fully justifies its price point, you should note that there have been a few complaints about flimsy construction and random breakdowns. However, for a mid-tier product, this is expected – besides, the manufacturer is very cooperative in replacing defective products.
With its high-end drag system and sturdy aluminum construction, the KastKing Sharky II is for anglers who want an affordable product that offers exceptional value for the money.
Even the lightest model – the 1500 – is able to pack a bold 11 lbs. of drag at just 7.05 ounces of weight! On top of that, the drag system utilizes carbon fiber drag washers and is waterproof for up-to three minutes, so you can expect smooth drag action time and time again from this reel.
To ensure noiseless, smooth performance, the Sharky II uses a whopping 10 corrosion resistant ball bearings that eliminate friction and reduce the amount of effort you need to put in during casting and reeling. The 75 yards/10 lbs. mono capacity is quite decent as well, and you can expand your possibilities even further by using braid instead.
Anglers have noted that the spool is able to work with braid without a hitch, and the reel is generally good at preventing common issues such as knotting and backlash. The 5.2:1 gear system will work nicely when you’re going after speedy fish such as trout and pike.
While most anglers have been satisfied with by the reel’s fluid performance, there have been some distinct complaints about grinding gears and noisy retrieves, indicating that the manufacturer has been a bit sloppy with quality assurance. In all likelihood, the low cost of this reel means the manufacturer can’t ensure consistency across their entire product line.
Built out of a proprietary XGT7 composite material into a highly compact form factor, the Symetre 500L is a product that can be referred to as the proto-ultralight reel.
Improving on their previous XT7 composite, Shimano’s new XGT7 yields superior support and rigidity in the reel’s inner machinations, and also results in a considerably reduced weight (the tiny 6.1oz. figure speaks for itself). Even the aluminum spool has been made through cold forging to pack in as much material in as little space as possible, resulting in both compaction and strength.
To ensure optimum casting free of backlashing problems, the Symetre uses a customized spool lip design. The reel’s main gear has also been precision manufactured so efficient coupling in the drive train can be achieved, and you don’t have to tire your wrist. The pinion gear is linked to the spool shaft by a couple of ball bearings, which ensures consistent alignment and reduces the friction in the system.
At 4.4 lbs. of max drag and a 6 lbs./60 yards mono line capacity, the Symetre is a classic ultralight spinner, meant for catching tiny fish. Furthermore, the 4.7:1 gear ratio is meant to provide powerful reeling, but at relatively close range, given the 20.8 IPT retrieval rate. In spite of its low top limit, the drag system has been praised for its silky operation by fishermen.
This reel leaves you free to use braid to go after bigger fish (if you feel you can manage it at such a low top drag), since Shimano has included the Varispeed II oscillation system and Power Roller technologies to ensure even, slippage free laying of line – even when you’re using braid.
There aren’t any major complaints about this reel, but it should be noted that given its lightweight design, stretching the Symetre 500L beyond its capabilities will likely result in a breakdown.
Incorporating a unique aluminum reinforced carbon frame, a high end carbon fiber drag system and an augmented spool lip, the Abu Garcia Orra SX 10 embodies precision and compaction in a single package.
The C6 carbon body, strengthened with aluminum, weighs a mere 8.1 ounces, and is able to weather knocks and jerks while in action; it houses an X-Craftic™ gearbox in exacting alignment despite its apparently light design. In order to maintain friction-free performance after repeated use, the manufacturer has fitted the Orra with 8 stainless steel corrosion resistant bearings as well as a single roller bearing.
Even though the line capacity of the reel is somewhat conservative (140 yards/4lbs. mono or 150 yards/6lbs. braid), the Rocket Line management™ system ensures that, within the limits, you are able to enjoy excellent line control with this reel. Also present is the Rocket spool lip design™, that lets you actively control the line leaving the spool in a cast, thereby helping you land the bait exactly where you want it.
The reel has a generous 10 lbs. drag limit that can handle heavier fish such as bass, and since it utilizes carbon fiber drag washers, you can count on it deliver unhindered performance across the range. This reel has garnered glowing responses from anglers in that it produces results on par with competitive products costing several times its price.
Utilizing a state-of-the-art alloy aluminum frame and a carbon fiber rotor, this is a spinning reel that offers uncompromisingly robust performance for an ultralight, for those who are willing to spend some cash.
The reel’s tough alloy frame weighs a tiny 7.9 ounces, but holds a drag system that can churn out a huge 18 pounds of top drag, enabling you to go after fish that falls beyond the ultralight staples. Not only this, the drag washers are made from carbon fiber and ceramic, so they’re able to perform smoothly even after prolonged and intense use.
The drag system has been sealed to keep it from jamming after it has been dropped in the water a few times, and the frame is given a hardy corrosion resistant coat for maximum durability. In other words, this is one of those rare ultralight reels that can be used effectively in saltwater as well.
The MaxCast II spool system ensures an intuitive casting experience, and the action itself is kept smooth through 9 ball bearings that reduce friction in the moving parts. The reel is rated for 150 yards of 10 lbs. mono, which is sufficient for most light fishing applications by itself – however, the spool has been designed to handle braid just as well, in case you’re interested in going after larger catch.
The 5.1:1 gear system yields a swift (for an ultralight product) 31 inches per turn of line retrieval so you’re able to capture agile fish easily – thanks to a dedicated one-way anti-reverse bearing, you also won’t experience any play in the handle as you reel it in.
While the majority of anglers are quite pleased with capabilities of the Smoke PT, there have been a few scattered reports of buggy bait clickers or squeaky noises developing in the reel. These are isolated complaints that result from a faulty product escaping scrutiny during the manufacturing process: given the fact that manufacturer is charging a premium for this product, this is something of a letdown.
Choosing an ultralight spinning reel is a relatively simple affair: you pick the reel that offers the best line capacity and drag limit, while sporting the lightest, strongest frame. More often than not, this boils down to the amount of cash you’re willing to spend. Fortunately, if you keep yourself to fishing for lighter fish, you can get away with using cheaper ultralight reels as well.
However, if you want the best, you need to be prepared for spending cash on a reel sporting a high-end composite design that allows it to operate at high drag settings and with heavy line too. Going by this criteria, you may have already figured out my answer to the question of what is the best ultralight spinning reel: the Quantum Smoke PT, Size 30.
The rare QC complaint aside, this reel sports a right and lightweight aluminum alloy build, housing a carbon fiber drag system that can go as high as 18 pounds, and a tough carbon fiber spool that can hold as much as 150 yards of 10lbs. mono line. Combine this with a casting system that eases the implementation of finesse techniques, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better ultralight offering.
Loves everything to do with fishing and gear.
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