Spinning gear—it’s one of the most versatile types of fishing equipment there is. Except for a few specific techniques where a baitcasting reel is a must, spinning equipment can work with almost any lure or technique you choose.
In addition to being extremely versatile, spinning reels are very easy to use. It’s much simpler for a novice angler to learn how to cast with spinning gear than with baitcasting tackle.
If you’ve walked past a case of spinning reels at your local tackle store or checked them out at one of the big online tackle vendors, you know there’s a dizzying array of choices.
There are tiny spinning reels that fit in the palm of your hand, big-game fishing reels, features that you’re not familiar with, and a wide range of prices. It can be hard to decide which spinning reel to buy!
In this article, we’ll help make the decision easier for you.
What Is A Spinning Reel?
A spinning reel has an open-faced design that’s made up of a fixed spool located in-line with the rod. A rotor turns around the spool, and the spool oscillates forward and backward as you crank the reel. This is how the reel is able to lay line on the spool in even wraps across the length of the spool.
A spinning reel is mounted on the underside of a spinning rod.
To make a cast, you perform four steps:
- With one finger, pick up the line just in front of the reel and press it against the rod’s handle.
- Open the bail.
- Make your cast.
- Crank the handle to close the bail.
You’d be surprised how often even experienced anglers skip Step 2!
You just caught a fish and are eager to get your bait back out there. You haul off and make a huge, sweeping cast, and your bait stays right there at the end of your rod. It happens to the best of us; when your buddy in the back of the boat sees it happen to you, expect some laughter!
Top 10 Best Spinning Reels
Okuma Azores Saltwater Spinning Reel
Inshore fishing calls for a large- or medium-sized spinning reel so it will have enough line capacity. A moderate to low gear ratio and powerful drag will help you control late surging fish. One fantastic spinning reel with all those features is the Okuma Azores Saltwater Spinning Reel.
It’s made from high-quality materials and includes Okuma’s precision Dual Force Drag system, with a click adjustment and a multi-disc design. It features 6 ball bearings and 1 roller bearing made from corrosion-resistant stainless steel.
If you’re looking for a great all-around spinning reel that’s just as capable in saltwater as it is in freshwater, the Okuma Azores Saltwater Spinning Reel would be an excellent choice.
Shimano Spirex FG Spinning Reel
The Shimano Spirex FG Spinning Reel is a great choice for those who like a trigger-activated bail. Historically, reels with that feature have had balance problems, and sometimes the trigger assembly got in the way while cranking the reel.
Shimano, one of the best spinning reel brands, figured out how to avoid both those issues, coming up with a trigger design that provides the help it’s supposed to without any drawbacks. That’s what makes the Spirex FG one of the very best triggerspin reels available.
When you cast lures that need to get moving the second they hit the water, like a buzzbait, for example, that’s when the trigger can be a big asset. It can eliminate the need to switch hands after the cast, letting you time your first crank perfectly.
Made with a lightweight graphite frame, with precision-engineered drive gears and bearings, the Shimano Spirex FG Spinning Reel features the usability, power, and smooth operation you expect in a high-quality spinning reel. It’s also one of the longest casting spinning reels in our line-up, which is another reason it would be great for throwing buzzbaits.
The Shimano Spirex FG also made it into our Best Ultralight Spinning Reels list. It’s an absolute pleasure to cast with. In our opinion, it is one of the best reels for the money.
Penn Spinfisher V Spinning Reel
Its watertight design is what makes it so good for saltwater conditions, and its power and long casting ability are best in class. Full metal construction, Penn’s Slammer drag system, smooth operation—you get it all with the Spinfisher V.
And just because it’s made to withstand saltwater use doesn’t mean it won’t work nicely when you head inland for a little catfishing. In either scenario, you’ll appreciate this reel’s rear drag system. With the adjustment knob located on the back of the reel body, it’s easier to tighten or loosen while you’re battling a fish. When you’re in that exact situation, you may be very glad you have a rear drag spinning reel in your hand!
If you’re looking for a tough, high-quality reel that can handle massive fish of any species, look no further than the Penn Spinfisher V Spinning Reel. It’s not what we would call cheap, but this is the best spinning reel under $200 that we looked at; the high quality speaks for itself, and this reel is well worth the money.
Okuma Avenger ABF B Baitfeeder Spinning Reel
Spinning reels are ideal for live or cut bait presentations where you need to make long casts but ensure that the bait stays on the hook.
The Okuma Avenger Baitfeeder Reel takes care of that and adds a whole lot more. The company’s “Baitfeeder Technology” is a wonder—it includes a secondary drag system that allows fish to hit your bait without feeling any resistance. A simple turn of the reel handle disengaging the secondary drag and re-engages the multi-disc, oiled felt, primary drag system. A machine cut brass pinion gear, six ball bearings, and one anti-reverse roller bearing give this reel smooth operation and incredible power.
The Okuma Avenger Baitfeeder Reel is a good choice for anyone planning to fish with live or cut bait for catfish or saltwater species. If you haven’t bought the rod you’ll use with this reel, check out our article on the Best Catfish Rods. The Okuma Battle Cat Spinning Rod would match up perfectly with this reel from the same manufacturer.
Pflueger Supreme XT Spinning Reel
The Pflueger Supreme XT Spinning Reel is great at covering a lot of water. When throwing spinnerbaits and lipless crankbaits, for example, you need not be able to cast a mile and burn that bait on the retrieve. The Pflueger Supreme XT is one of the best freshwater spinning reels we looked at, and one of the lightest reels Pflueger makes, thanks to its magnesium body and rotor.
There’s a sealed carbon drag system that provides smooth, consistent pressure on surging fish, and this reel features a special 10-bearing system made with corrosion-resistant components. A light, carbon handle and EVA knob keep the weight down and ensure all-day comfort.
When you plan to make hundreds of long casts in search of roaming fish, you need a reel that’s up to the challenge. The Pflueger Supreme XT Spinning Reel can handle it with ease.
To pair this reel with a great rod, check out our article on the Best Bass Fishing Rods. The Duckett Micro Magic Pro Spinning Rod would match up nicely with this reel.
Shimano Sustain FI Spinning Reel
If you’ve ever picked up a Shimano spinning reel and turned the crank, you know Shimano makes some of the smoothest feeling reels on the market. The Shimano Sustain FI Spinning Reel is a great example of that, and it’s one of the company’s top-rated spinning reels.
The Sustain is a high-end fishing reel that’s loaded with features you won’t find on lesser reels, and that means better performance. Its rigid body and precision-engineered gears give it remarkable power for battling huge fish, and its design is incredibly water-resistant, so it will stand up to the harshest conditions.
The Sustain FI is one of the most expensive fishing reels in our line-up, but if you want to treat yourself to the best, this reel would be a good choice, as it’s sure to give you years of awesome performance and trouble-free use.
KastKing Sharky III Spinning Reel
Topwater fishing and spinning gear go together. That’s because many topwater plugs are light compared to other lures, and the way line shoots off the spool of a spinning reel makes them ideal for casting these light, wind-resistant lures.
The KastKing Sharky III Spinning Reel would be a perfect addition to your topwater tackle setup. It’s built tough, but is remarkably light, thanks to its fiber-reinforced graphite body and rotor. The smooth, triple-disc drag features carbon fiber discs, and the precision-engineered brass pinion gears add incredible power.
Rounding out the feature list is a design that includes 10 ball bearings and 1 roller bearing, all made from rust-proof stainless steel, and an aluminum spool that can hold tons of your favorite braid or mono.
Daiwa Revros LT Spinning Reel
Fishing with plastic worms doesn’t always mean baitcasting gear. If you’re trying to skip a small worm under a dock or low-hanging tree limb, spinning gear will make it a lot easier. The Daiwa Revros Spinning Reel is one of the best freshwater spinning reels on the market and would be a fine choice for anyone interested in fishing soft plastics with spinning gear.
You want a lightweight but beefy reel for fishing soft plastics—one you can fish with all day with but still has the power to muscle fish away from cover when you need it to. The Daiwa Revros Spinning Reel is a lightweight workhorse, thanks to its Air Rotor, ABS Aluminum spool, composite body, high-tech digital gear design, and 8-bearing system.
If you’re looking for a value reel to pair with your favorite worming rod, the Daiwa Revros would be a great choice.
Quantum GenX Ultralight Spinning Reel
Just because bluegill and crappie don’t grow that big doesn’t mean you can get away with a low-quality reel. When fishing for them, you need casting ability to hit the right target, and a good drag is essential to make sure those slabs make it all the way back to the boat, and into your cooler. If you want a great crappie spinning reel, look no further than the Quantum GenX Ultralight.
A 4-bearing system is made up of 3 ball bearings and one clutch bearing, giving this reel a smooth feel and solid anti-reverse operation. The compact, lightweight composite body and rotor make it perfect for mounting on smaller, ultralight rods. The multi-stack drag is easily adjustable.
Anglers going after panfish often throw lures as light as 1/64 oz, and they need a reel that’s suited for such tiny offerings. The Quantum GenX Ultralight is just such a reel, and one of the best small spinning reels we found. If panfish are your target, this reel would be an excellent choice.
Mitchell 300 Spinning Reel
A smaller, high-quality spinning reel is perfect for tossing small crankbaits near cover. You need to make precision casts in that scenario, and the Mitchell 300 Spinning Reel is a durable, lightweight reel that would be the perfect tool for the job.
This reel features a unique bail design that increases the strength of the rotor, 8 bearings, quality gears that give it a silky-smooth operation, and a multi-disk drag system that provides consistent pressure in any situation.
It’s has a super-strong polymeric body and rotor, with the spool and handle constructed from machined aluminum.
Anyone interested in a spinner reel that would excel when presenting small crankbaits in tight cover should seriously consider buying the Mitchell 300 Spinning Reel.
And, if you don’t have your rod yet, check out our article on the Best Crankbait Rods. Most of the rods we covered in that article are baitcasting rods, but the Lamiglas XP Bass Spinning Rod would pair beautifully with the Mitchell 300, the best value spinning reel that we found.
One of the main factors to consider when choosing a spinning reel is its size, in terms of the reel generally matching up with your rod, and in terms of spool size, which impacts line capacity.
But there are other factors in determining what is the best spinning reel for you.
Whether you plan to use the reel in fresh or saltwater is another important consideration, and the type of lures you’re going to use will help you decide on the right gear ratio.
You’ll want to factor in how the drag works. For that matter, a full assessment of the mechanical operation is a good idea. Focusing on the material used in a reel’s construction can lead you to some very high-end reels, and that has a huge impact on one final factor, which is the price.
When we selected the ten rods for our reviews, we considered all these factors. This section will break them down and get into a little more detail about each one.
Matching the Rod
A spinning rod has the reel seat mounted on the bottom, and the guides are also designed to be used facing downward. The first guide is larger than the rest to accommodate the line coming off the spool in swooping, loose coils.
You need to choose a reel that’s matched in size to the rod, so the rig, as a whole, feels balanced and can do the job you need it to. Rods are made to work with certain line weights, and their length, weight, and action all play into which lures and techniques they’re most suited for.
Technique and lure selection is a big part of picking the right spinning reel, and there are a lot of overlapping considerations when matching the reel up with the right spinning rod. If you already have a spinning rod and are shopping for a reel to match, think about these factors before making a purchase.
Check out our top 10 best spinning rods of the year too!
Freshwater or Saltwater
Where are you going to be fishing? That’s an important factor in picking the right spinning reel. If you’re into saltwater fishing, you need a reel that’s made to withstand the harsh conditions that go along with that. Look for features like rust-resistant bearings; never-fail, water-proof seals; and a rugged design that can tackle the larger species found in saltwater.
It’s not that freshwater reels don’t need to have good bearings and tough construction. They do. But there’s something about the salt that can shorten the life of a fishing reel. The best manufacturers take extra steps to ensure their saltwater models can stand up to the punishment.
One final consideration is that you may need a larger reel for saltwater than you would for freshwater. The expanse of open water often calls for longer casts, plus, larger saltwater species can take much longer runs during a fight than their freshwater cousins.
An ultralight spinning reel can take line as small as 2-pound test and help you cast tiny lures with accuracy. Spinning reels for surf-fishing rods can help you heave 8 ounces of bait and weight a huge distance into the surf, no problem.
Those two spinning reels will have extremely different line capacities.
A small ultralight model will hold about 150 yds of 4-pound test line. A typical surf-fishing reel will hold closer to 400 yards of 30-pound test. Line size has a lot to do with line capacity, but in general, smaller spools are made to hold lower pound-test line, while larger models are meant to be used with heavier- weight line.
All reel manufacturers include line capacity recommendations, so make a note of that detail while you’re shopping for spinning reels. Since line capacity will correspond closely with general reel-size, match up the reel with the rod and consider the lures and techniques you plan to use.
Choosing a reel with the right gear ratio is all about balancing speed and power, but let’s return to that idea after we’ve taken a closer look at what the gear ratio numbers mean.
Let’s say you have a reel with a 6.3:1 gear ratio, for example. The first number, 6.3, is the number of rotations the rotor makes for every full turn of the handle. That full turn is what the second number is referring to—it’s “1” full turn of the reel’s crank.
So, back to the speed vs. power topic. The gear ratio determines how fast you can retrieve line, and how much cranking power the reel has. A reel with a ratio of around 5.5 or higher is considered a fast retrieve reel, while a reel with a lower ratio, like 4.3:1, is considered a slower, more powerful reel.
Fishing with a crankbait using a high-speed reel is not ideal. Crankbaits displace so much water, there is a lot of resistance as you reel. If you use a reel with a lower gear ratio for crankbait fishing, you’ll have a better feel during the retrieve and it won’t tire you out as much as a reel with a high gear ratio would.
Fishing with a spinnerbait or other search bait calls for a high-ratio reel. If you’re cranking a reel with a gear ratio of 6.0:1 or higher, you’ll be able to cover a huge amount of water very fast.
Every fishing reel, regardless of type, must have a reliable drag system. It's critical in helping tire out a fish while you’re fighting it. A drag system can put smooth and steady resistance on a fish.
Drag systems consist of a series of washers and discs, with the discs typically being made of carbon, graphite, or ceramic. Most spinning reels have a front drag—that design allows for large disks, with more surface area helping to create smooth resistance.
Rear drag systems can be effective too, and they’re a little bit easier to adjust while you’re battling a large fish. With many types of fishing, a mid-fight drag adjustment is part of the plan, for example in saltwater fishing for large species, or when using live or cut bait for giant catfish. Those would be good applications for a rear-drag reel.
In any case, it’s smart to adjust your drag to a moderate to heavy setting before you cast, then fine-tune the resistance when you get a fish on.
Many of the critical decision-points when you’re selecting a spinning reel are about the engineering that went into its design and construction.
Manufacturers balance weight and strength by using high-tech alloys and other materials. Some create the reel’s frame with portions missing as a way to keep the weight down. While you may find graphite or copolymer used in some very good spinning reels, the very best spinning reels will be made almost entirely from metal.
Machining has a big impact on the quality of spinning reels. The machine work is what gives a reel the solid, well-made mechanical feel mentioned at the beginning of this article. All the surfaces that involve bearings must be created with tight tolerances, so the reel will feel balanced and smooth when you crank it.
The bail should move smoothly when you’re opening it, and snap closed easily, with very little resistance as you crank the reel. If the reel features a trigger activated bail, the trigger mechanism should operate smoothly and not hamper the rotational motion of the bail.
The most expensive fishing reels are designed with a lot of attention paid to the bearings. The number of bearings is not quite as critical as the precision with which they’re engineered and the materials they are made of. Alloys like Chromium are added to steel to make the bearings harder and more corrosion-resistant.
Finally, there are features that can affect how comfortable a reel is to use. The ability to position the crank for left- or right-hand retrieve is valuable, and you should consider the size and construction of the handle and grip.
Manufacturers separate their high-end reels from their low-end offerings by building their best reels with stronger, lighter materials and engineering them with extremely tight tolerances. That’s what gives an expensive reel that silky smooth feeling when you open the bail, turn the crank, and activate the internal trip that closes the bail. There will be a solid mechanical feel that’s not present in less expensive reels. Also, the drag systems of an expensive reel will typically be better than the drag on a lower-cost reel.
That being said, you don’t have to drain your bank account to buy a high-quality spinning reel. There are many mid-range reels that will perform up to your expectations. Most of the products we selected to review in the article are affordable fishing reels, and good examples of mid-range reels, but a few are on the more expensive side.
Our advice is to limit your shopping to mid- to high-end reels and avoid low-end reels. That way, you’re sure to find the best spinning reel for the money.
Spinning Reel Selection Made Easy
When you’re shopping for a new spinning reel, there are a lot of important details to consider, and factoring them all in can be tough. We hope this article will help you weigh the decision points and pick the right reel for your style of fishing.
If you carefully consider what you need your reel to do, you should have no trouble finding the best spinning reel for you.