8 Best Spinning Reels for Every Angler
While opinions on fishing lures are easy to come by, relatively few people spend as much time thinking about their choice of reel—and that might be a mistake. While of course choosing the right lure for the fish and water you’re on is super-important, having the wrong reel (or rod for that matter) can make a difference in your fishing experience.
Spinning reels are the most common type of reel and will make up the majority of the options you see on the racks at Walmart, Bass Pro Shops, or your local outdoors store. And there are plenty of reasons why they’re popular. They’re fairly easy to use for beginners, they adapt well to a wide variety of fishing applications, and they’re generally cheaper than other, more specialized reels such as baitcasters.
Within the spinning reel category, however, there are plenty of options, and I’ll break down what to look for and highlight some picks based on the type of fishing and the angler.
What to Consider
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.
How We Selected
My selections here were based on my years of experience fishing across the U.S. as well as several years repairing reels for one of the largest fishing rod and reel companies in the U.S. (where I repaired and replaced a lot more plastic parts than metal ones). I grew up fishing mostly bass in New York’s Finger Lakes region, shorecasted and spearfished for saltwater species while living in Hawaii, and now I fish almost exclusively for trout in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
While there are many great reels available, we focused our selections on the most commonly available brands in North America that anglers will find stocked online and in the more popular big-box stores. Any of these reels will catch fish, but beginners should start simple with one of our budget or beginner picks. If you’ve been fishing for a while and know what type of fish and technique you prefer, you can select one of the reels that are more purpose-built.
Any reel will catch fish, but having the right reel will make the experience that much more fun.