3413 Words - 15 Minutes To Read
You’ve decided you need a high-quality, no-compromise spinning reel. But you also aren’t made of money. You are looking for the best price-to-value you can find.
This guide is for you. We want to help you choose the best spinning reel for the money. There are so many choices and features available it's hard to cut through to what matters. Our hope is after reading this guide you'll be able to know how to determine quality in spinning reels so you can make an educated choice.
We've also included our choices for best values at the Sub-$50, Sub-$100, and Above $100 price points.
Millions of dollars are spent marketing the newest features of spinning reels to the public. While not as bad as the drug industry, the pull to make up new words to describe common features is strong. This makes it hard to compare reels across brands.
When you cut through the marketing hype, finding the best reel value really comes down to having a few essential qualities that any good reel needs. Once the reel you are looking ticks those boxes, the selection then becomes more personalized based on the type of fishing you are doing, the fish you are going after, and your personal casting/retrieval style.
We’ll go through all of these categories below, but for a beginning fisherman you probably want a reel that can handle the most fishing scenarios well. Our recommendations at the end of this article reflect that; all of them should work for a wide variety of common fishing types.
I feel strongly that ball bearings are the most important and often most overlooked part of selecting a spinning rod. Ball bearings have one role in a reel – they are there to lower friction. They are the peacemakers of the fishing reel, keeping your casting and cranking smooth and making sure temperatures don’t heat up. You won't think about them normally because you'll only see them when you take your reel apart. This sales representative from Shimano gives his opinion on ball bearings below.
QUALITY BEARINGS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT COMPONENT OF A REEL.
I can’t emphasize this enough – if a reel has cheap ball bearings all the other bells and whistles won’t matter. Your day on the water will eventually grind to a halt. If you doubt me, go buy a real with low-quality bearings and fish for a day. You’ll see just what I mean. Before you purchase, make sure the store has a liberal return policy – you'll be using it.
Notice I said quality, not quantity. It is true that as the price of a reel goes up, generally the number of bearings go up as well. But that doesn’t mean you will be able to feel the difference as the bearing count goes from 9 to 10 to 11. While the Shimano representative in the video might beg to differ with me, he is trying to sell you on features. I'm simply trying to help you only spend as much as you need to on features, and no more. I'll let you decide who has your interests more at heart.
Ok, smarty – how do I tell quality then? Good question. While there is a rating agency (the ABEC – Annular Bearing Engineers Committee) that rates balls based on precision, most brands don’t release this data.
Fishing reel manufacturers do provide us with information on the material of a bearing. In general a cold-press stainless steel bearing performs worse than one made of a stainless steel alloy. If you are buying an inexpensive spinning reel, you will likely be dealing with plain stainless ball bearings. The reputation of the manufacturer and overall engineering quality will take on more weight at that price point.
If you see a three or four letter acronym describing a reel’s ball bearings, it’s most likely made of an alloy. Most mid to upper end spinning reels use this type of material. Finally, all ceramic bearings are a much better material than steel. They are lighter, wear out much slower and resist corrosion the best. However, they are more expensive and many manufacturers have decided they can get close enough on performance with alloys while spending that money on other features.
As a reminder, look for:
Tip: If you are a salt-water fisherman you will have to deal with the ugly invisible hand of corrosion. Look for sealed-bearings in your reel's product description. While this will help keep the salt-water at bay, your best defense is to get a product with an stainless steel alloy or ceramic bearing. Doing so will protect your investment for years.
Quality construction is also essential to look at when judging the value of a spinning reel. One quick way is to see what materials a reel is made of. There’s a design trade-off that is made with every reel. On one hand, no one wants to cast for a day with a heavy brick for a reel. Keeping the weight as low as possible is a goal. On the other hand, the reel must be able to stand up against the force produced by a large angry pig of a fish with a hook in its mouth. This means designers face a trade off of strength versus weight. Fishing Nirvana would be a strong metal reel that has the “weight-feel” of graphite.
Roughly speaking, this translates into three groups of reels. There are all-metal, graphite and co-polymer, and a hybrid where the portions of the reel supporting the bearings and shaft are metal, and other parts made of graphite/plastics.
If you can afford it, you’ll want all-metal construction. This means you want all the inner-workings of the reel to be metal. In general, all-metal has more strength which not only protects against your reel “blowing up” while landing a large fish, but it helps reduce the day-to-day stresses on your bearings as well.
Of course, the quality of the machining of the reel is important as well. A well-machined graphite reel can outperform and outlast a metal one machined to poor tolerances. You’ll see this most evident at the lower end, where no-name imports try to lure customers with metal construction. So while all-metal equaling quality is a good rule of thumb, there are innovative engineering solutions that can allow hybrids to outperform. We actually selected one in our recommended picks.
Most reels use aluminum in metal construction . I’ve seen it suggested that salt-water fishermen should stay away from all-metal construction because of corrosion concerns. Salt-water generally doesn't corrode aluminum reels in normal usage. Aluminum is very reactive with the air, and creates it's own protective coating called aluminum oxide. Most fishing reel manufacturers will speed this process along by anodizing the aluminum which creates aluminum oxide. You do need to be aware of galvanic corrosion if you dunk your reel in saltwater for fun (say you are a surf fisherman), but generally the aluminum will be protected from any salt-water problems.
This feature is simple to understand so I’ll keep it short. Bigger is better. Most spinning reels can be adjusted to have the handle on the left or the right side. Which side you mount the handle on is a matter of preference, but I’ve never heard anyone say “man, I wish my handle were smaller.” You get more leverage with a larger handle. As long as you went for quality components and construction, your reel will handle the leverage just fine.
Another reason to shoot for a larger handle size is it’s easier to find a bigger handle by feel. You’ll also be likely to get a better grip on the handle with one of substantial size. This can be an issue when you are wearing gloves or your hands are numb (spoken from experience, I assure you).
No, I’m not talking about racing or RuPaul.
Think of drag as the brake on your reel, stopping that monster lunker from swimming off with all your line. Just like with auto or truck brakes, the more surface area you have the more force the brake can exert. A larger brake also allows for heat to dissipate, so the brake doesn’t fail as fast. When fishing, this means minimizing the chance of broken lines and lost fish.
There are two types of adjustable drag for spinning reels. The front one is built for larger fish. Front adjustable drag generally have more surface area. Rear drags have less area, but are much easier to adjust during the heat of a battle. I’ve also found they are generally easier to adjust than front drags with gloves on.
Either way you go, you want to make sure the drag stays where you set it. It should also be easy and smooth to set the adjustment
The following spinning reel characteristics are based on your fishing style and the type of fish you are going after. This doesn’t mean they aren’t important, but rather these are the types of items you’ll argue about with other sportsmen over a beer at the end of the day. These are what personalize a reel to your particular “brand” of fishing.
As mentioned above, we went middle of the road in our recommendations. That should work for the largest amount of people most of the time.
The bail is the part of the reel that both wraps the line around the spool, and releases line when you cast your spinning rod. While there have been some advances to make casting more “trigger” driven (Quantum Hypercast Ultra link), I’m going to assume you are fine casting like normal people do. (If you didn’t guess, I’m not a fan of triggers).
The biggest decision regarding your bail is driven by how badly you have historically gotten line twist. If you’ve never experienced it, line twist is when the repeated wrapping of the line around the spool catches up with you. All of a sudden, you cast and you see knots and tangles headed down-water. Next up – a fun five minutes dealing with the mess. It happens, but is really annoying when it happen often.
There are some reels on the market that are designed specifically to deal with this problem to stop it before it starts. A lot of the issue comes down to what lure you are casting, the size of your spool, the type of line and your casting style. For this guide, I’m only using bail design as a tie-breaker. It’s not a primary driver in my decision process. However, you can check out other guides on the best spinning reels to stop line twist if it is important to you.
The gear ratio decides if you reel in with more speed or more power. This is more dependent on your style of fishing and what type of fish you are going for. There’s no “ideal” gear ratio for everyone.
When you look at the ratio of a reel, they are almost always presented in a “X.X:1” format. So X stands for how many times the spool will turn for each crank of the handle. The bigger the number, the faster the speed. A rule of thumb, those in the 4.8:1 and below are more geared (pardon the pun) for power fisherman, where those above 5.5:1 are built for speedy retrieves. If you are only buying one reel, get a 5:1 ratio. It’ll work just fine.
Spinning reels can handle a wide range of fishing line weights, from heavy-test line for trolling all the way down to 2 lb test for ultra light fishing. All spinning rod spools will have a line capacity indication to let you know what kind of test line it’s meant to handle. In general, the weight given on the spool is the middle of the range a reel is meant to handle. For example, a reel with “8LB/90YD” can take 6 to 10 pound test line without an issue.
There is no universal “right” size. This decision will come down to what type of fishing you normally will do. Match your reel size to the fishing you will do most often, and you’ll be set. As an example, if you jig for “smallies” (smallmouth bass) or walleye most of the time, you’ll likely use 8lb test the majority of the time. Get a spinning reel rated for 8lbs and you’ll be good to go.
Keeping our qualifications in mind, we’ve come up with three selections that fit our criteria for high-quality. We’ve tried to give a choice at all price points – less than $100, less than $200, and $200 and over. These spinning reels should last a long time with proper maintenance and deliver a fishing experience above their peers for the same price.
Remember, we are looking to get the best bang for our buck versus other reels at these price points. While we’d love to check every box in our primary requirements, that’s not always possible.
That’s readily apparent in our under $50 category selection. Almost any all-metal reel at this price will be poor-quality. All bearings will be stainless steel. Therefore we need to rely on the strength of the brand, and quality consistency throughout the years.
Pflueger is a well-known brand that stands behind it’s products, and this model is a fan-favorite year after year. Why do so many people rave about the value of this spinning reel? Look below.
At this price point, we begin to see the entrance of higher-tech components. This reel has one less ball-bearing than the President, but the 9 remaining are made of a stainless-steel alloy called HPCR. To you as the fisherman,HPCR means a smoother reel with better resistance to corrosion and scratching if a stray sand particle or two gets into the gearing. Corrosion resistance is one reason why you should consider this the lowest price point if you are a heavy salt-water fisherman.
Once again, we go with engineering over straight materials in our pick. The way the Orra SX is manufactured is ingenious: the metal alloy gear box is inserted into a mold, and the carbon frame is built around it. This allows each frame to be built specifically for each individual gear box, allowing for much smaller tolerances. It’s the beauty of mass customization at work. You’ll feel that engineering when you cast and retrieve. I’m surprised more manufacturers haven’t picked up on this method – maybe they will in the future.
You’ll also get “Rocket line management” and “Rocket spool lip design” – Orra’s way of handling line twist issues. At this price point, the spool is braid-ready so you can tie braided line directly without any slip. These perks sum up to less problems when fishing for you – which in my case I think are well worth the little extra money.
The flagship of the Shimano line, the Stella is known worldwide for its engineering quality. You pay for it, but really it is an incredible bargain for the money. For less than $2 a day for a year, you get an all-metal construction that’s known for rigidity. The teeth of your gears aren’t cut – they are 3D modeled and then cold-forged. That adds to your cranking power as less energy is wasted in gear friction. The gears will likely outlive you as well because of this manufacturing process.
When actually fishing, XShip technology makes bites easier to feel, and retrieval easier as well. The drag on this model is top of the market – you’ll be ready for nearly anything you hook on your line smaller than a ballistic missile submarine. (Ok, not really, but you get my point). Max drag weight on this particular model is double the line rating (20#/10#, respectively). Others in this line go above 60 lbs of drag if you need it.
The Stella is just plain good looking as well. Other fisherman will ask you about it. In fact, people will sometimes ask to take pictures of the Stella. It’s the fishing world equivalent of a Ferrari. It’s a really, REALLY nice reel. Do you NEED a Stella? No, not unless fishing is your life. But will you be able to tell the difference between this and say the Orra. Certainly.
Hopefully this guide will help you when you are out shopping for the best value for the money in spinning reels. Whether you take our selections or decide another model fits your needs, I wish you the best of luck in your fishing adventures.