No gear collection would be complete without at least one ultralight spinning reel. Sure, it may not get as much use as the big spinning rig you throw buzzbaits with, or that baitcaster you use for worming, but it will definitely see some time on the water.
Whether you’re targeting smaller fish, or you need to throw tiny lures, ultralight tackle will be needed at some point in your fishing life.
The problem is, shopping for an ultralight spinning reel can be challenging. There are so many reels out there, and not many of them actually say “ultralight” on the package. The good news is, most manufacturers offer a small version of their best-selling models - in general, those are the ultra-light reels you’ll be choosing from.
But, size isn’t everything, and there are many other factors you may want to consider before purchasing a reel. In this article, we’ll help break all those factors down for you.
Shimano Stradic CI4+
Our first pick is the super smooth Stradic CI4+. It may very well be the best micro spinning reel on the market.
Tipping the scales at just 5.6 oz, the Shimano Stradic is one of the lightest spinning reels of its size. It’s made with all of Shimano’s latest innovations, including improved gear durability and reduced friction between the spool shaft and gear, both of which will improve casting performance and help keep your reel operating in top form for years.
If you want to treat yourself to one of the very best high-quality options on the market, purchase the smallest size Shimano Stradic CI4+. But, a word of warning, once you get used to the feel of a spinning reel that’s this well-made, you may never be able to go back to low- or mid-range reels again!
The Shimano Stradic CI4+ is our best overall pick.
Shimano Spirex FG
Featuring the innovative QuickFire II One-Handed Casting System, this reel would be a very good choice if you like a trigger-activated bail. Shimano designed the trigger mechanism so it wouldn’t impact the reel’s balance or get in the way while you’re cranking the reel.
The Shimano Spirex FG Spinning Reel is made using high-quality components, features a fine-tuned, 5 ball bearing system, a 6.2:1 gear ratio, and a specially designed spool that lets line shoot off with zero resistance. A rigid graphite frame, side plate, and rotor help keep the weight down.
The littlest Shimano Spirex reel is perfect for handling the light line used in light fishing. It will hold 200 yards of 2 lb test mono, can manage up to 10 lb test, and works with your favorite fluorocarbon and braid too. Now that’s quality!
The Shimano Spirex FG is our best budget pick.
Daiwa Tatula LT Spinning Reel
This Daiwa reel is easily one of the best options you can get for under $200.
The Daiwa Tatula LT features a housing made of machined, aircraft-grade aluminum, giving it a sleek design that looks great, and performs even better. Its high-density carbon materials help make it light but also result in one of the strongest, toughest, most durable reels on the market.
Diawa’s put a lot of quality research into creating the perfect rotor, and their Air Rotor design is much lighter than the rotors most manufacturers have been able to produce. Features like that, plus the Tatula LT’s seven ball bearing system, digitally machined aluminum alloy gears, and expertly balanced bail make this reel rise to the top of our list of recommendations.
The Daiwa Tatula LT is our best premium pick.
Abu Garcia Revo SX
After checking out the Abu Garcia Revo SX Spinning Reel, it became clear that it’s the best ultralight spinning reel you can buy for under $150. The smallest model is a pint-sized powerhouse that features 8 stainless steel ball bearings and 1 roller bearing, plus precision-machined gears, giving it remarkable smoothness and power. A carbon matrix hybrid drag provides extremely even resistance when you need it most.
The innovative and smooth design of this reel’s lightweight carbon body, plus its highly-engineered gearbox design, make it light but give it the rigidness needed to keep the gears in perfect alignment for all the years you use it.
If you paired the quality Abu Garcia Revo Reel with a 5-foot, medium-action rod, you’d be in good shape to present small topwater lures, cast short finesse worms, or sling micro-crankbaits into shallow flats. Shorten the rod by a bit, and you have a jigging rod rig for ice fishing that will have you covered all winter.
Okuma Ceymar Lightweight Reel
When we reviewed the Okuma Ceymar Spinning Reel, we came to the conclusion that it was the best option you can buy for under $50. The smallest size in the Ceymar line-up is called the C-10, and it’s packed with awesome features and smooth control.
With its sophisticated multi-disc, oiled felt drag system, the Ceymar would be the perfect ultralight spinning reel for trout. Whether you’re easing an in-line spinner through the current or drifting a streamer in the riffles, when a big trout hits, the Okuma Ceymar will be up to the challenge. If a fish makes one last surge right before you scoop it up, this reel’s advanced drag system kicks in, providing exactly the right amount of smooth, steady resistance to keep that trout in check.
A solid anti-reverse roller bearing, seven ball bearings, and a finely machined brass pinion gear give this reel a smooth operation, while the aluminum spool and unique body design reduce the reel’s overall weight.
The Ceymar C-10 is ideal if you’re using 2- to 6-pound test line, so it would excel when you’re fishing for crappie, bluegill, and perch. But, it has the power to handle larger species too.
Whether you’re using finesse techniques to target stubborn fish, trying to fill a cooler full of panfish, or probing the icy depths and need a small ice fishing rig, the Okuma Ceymar Spinning Reel would be an excellent tool for the job.
Penn Battle II Spinning Reel
If you are looking for an ultralight Penn reel that give you smooth control, the 1000 size of their Battle II Spinning Reel is one of the best ones you can find. While this type of equipment is mostly intended for use in freshwater fishing, let’s face it, saltwater has small fish in it too.
Whether you’re trying to catch a light lunch or fill a bucket with baitfish, the smallest model of the Penn Battle II Spinning Reel can handle it all. That’s because Penn is one manufacturer that has definitely figured out how to make a smooth reel that can withstand the harsh conditions of a saltwater environment.
The Penn Battle II Spinning Reel features a carbon fiber drag system in which the drag washers are coated with a specialized grease for long-lasting performance. Durable materials like a full metal body, side plate, and rotor, plus, a sealed, stainless steel bearing system mean this reel will give you years of trouble-free service.
Lews Fishing Mr. Crappie Slab Shaker
A great mini spinning reel for crappie fishing, the Mr. Crappie Slab Shaker Spinning Reel from Lews is packed with features but is the lowest-priced reel in our line-up.
A graphite body, rotor, and spool limit the total weight of this reel, and the compact gearbox keeps the size down where it needs to be for an ultralight rig.
Experienced crappie anglers know that deep, submerged brush is the favorite hang-out spot for tasty panfish. When crappie hits your jig in the middle of wood cover, you need to put some pressure on and move the fish into open water. That’s when the Slab Shaker Spinning Reel’s powerful 5.2:1 gear ratio comes in handy. It will give you the cranking power to haul in giant crappie in any conditions.
A good line size for crappie fishing is 6-lb test, and the Mr. Crappie Slab Shaker Reel comes pre-spooled with premium smooth 6 lb. mono that can handle quite a bit. If you’re in the market for a reel that’s just the right size for battling crappie, this awesome little reel from Lews is the right one for you. There's no doubt this reel would go well with any of these crappie spinning rods.
Why Go Ultralight?
For some fishermen, the whole concept of “ultralight” gear doesn’t make sense. After all, we generally want our fishing equipment to be strong, and tough. The term “heavy-duty” seems right, and anything “light” seems wrong.
It’s an understandable assumption, but those anglers are missing a few key points. There are times when you either want to or need to, size down.
Here are the three main reasons fishermen use ultralight gear:
- It’s more fun. Even small fish will bend an ultralight rod! Between their flat-sides and a feisty attitude, many panfish can turn broadside and give you a fight you weren’t expecting.
- It’s more challenging. Lighter gear levels the playing field. There’s no horsing the fish in—you have to go easy!
- Sometimes, it’s the only way you’ll catch fish. If you’re dealing with heavily pressured fish, you need to use small line that they won’t see, and tiny lures to get them to bite.
That last reason really matters. You may be surprised how many times fish will ignore anything but the tiniest offerings. But if you were to try fishing a 3″ finesse worm, weightless, with conventional tackle, it would kill your presentation, and, you wouldn’t have the sensitivity needed to feel a bite.
Another case when light tackle is called for is when you want to cast a small in-line spinner to trout. That kind of lure may weigh as little as 1/32 oz. Good luck throwing that with a normal-sized rig!
In the reel reviews and other sections coming up, we’ll touch on all three of the reasons mentioned above, but we wanted to get this info out upfront, so you’ll know where we’re coming from in assessing these pint-sized spinning reels.
Few manufacturers bother to put the word “ultralight” in the reel’s name, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make good reels that are extremely lightweight.
In most cases, you’ll find a reel maker will, in at least their most popular model, offer a size that is clearly intended for this type of fishing. They usually have 500 or 1000 in the model number. It’s kind of a loose designation, but basically, 500 or 1000 means small, whereas reels labeled 3000 or 4000 would be the models you’d use with a conventional rig.
In this section, we’ll discuss how reel size matters when you’re trying to match the right rod, and cover how a good drag is even more critical than in any other type of fishing. After a brief discussion about how a reel’s engineering impacts quality, we’ll wrap things up with a few notes on the price you can expect to pay for a good light spinning reel.
Matching the Rod
When putting together a lightweight fishing rig, it’s important to pick a reel that matches your rod. The rig needs to feel balanced. Check the rod you plan to use and see what line weights are recommended. In general, you’ll want a light rod weight and a fast action. That will allow you to cast and present the smaller lures used in this type of fishing.
All fishing reels need a reliable drag system, but with ultralight reels, it’s even more important.
The lighter line you’ll be using means that, to avoid having the line break while you’re fighting a fish, you’ll depend on your reel’s drag to produce smooth and consistent resistance.
It’s a good idea to set your drag so that it creates moderate to heavy pressure when you start fishing, then adjust it to match the conditions and the size of the fish you’re targeting.
The design and construction of a UL spinning reel have a lot to do with how well it performs. Most manufacturers have figured out a way to balance their reels’ weight and strength by building them with modern alloys and other strong, lightweight materials.
The internal components of a well-made light spinning reel will be machined with tight tolerances to give it a solid, mechanical feeling when you operate the bail and turn the crank.
When you check out a reel, open the bail. It should move smoothly, and when you crank the reel, the bail should snap closed with little resistance.
Higher-end spinning reels will have more bearings, but it’s really what the bearings are made from and the precision with which they’re engineered that matters the most. That is to say, if you buy a reel from a well-known manufacturer, you can be sure they’ve paid attention to the bearings, even in their low-end models. Anti-reverse bearings are ideal to have.
Tougher, lighter, stronger, made using high-tech materials—that’s what you’ll hear from most reel makers. Many are telling the truth when they describe their reels in such glowing terms.
When you pick up a micro spin reel and operate it, you’ll know almost instantly where it lands on the quality spectrum. An expensive reel will have a silky smooth feel that’s not there in less expensive reels.
Perhaps because of their smaller size, you can find extremely nice light spinning reels for a budget-friendly price. Mid-range options are numerous, and they will all perform well.
When selecting reels for our reviews, we focused on affordable models, including a few high-end reels for context. We believe choosing from this selection is a good way to find the best ultralight spinning reel for the money.
Conclusion: Making Reel Shopping Easy
It can be hard to factor in all the right details when selecting an ultralight spinning reel. They have a lot in common with larger models, but there are things about an ultralight reel that demand special consideration. We hope that this article helped clear up any confusion.
Ultralight fishing is one of those specialized techniques that, when it’s the right tactic, can be very rewarding. Whether you’re targeting pressured fish who will only look at smaller offerings, or you just love battling feisty panfish on a bendy rod, ultralight fishing should not be overlooked.
If you’re in the market for a new ultralight spinning reel, you can find one that’s just right for the fishing you have planned, but the are some details you’ll need to consider. In this article, we tried to give you all the information you’ll need to make a solid decision and end up with an awesome ultralight spinning reel for the money.