The Best Spinning Reels of 2020

person fishing with spinning reel

Pretty much every angler out there got their start using a spinning reel and rod, but that doesn’t mean you won’t still find them in the hands of seasoned pros. Not only are spinning reels easy to use, but these versatile outfits are perfect for everything from the pond to the lake to inshore ocean fishing. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best reels on the market in an attempt to identify the best spinning reel for the average angler. After that, we’ll do a deep dive into these reels and discuss what you need to consider before making a purchase. 

Our Top Picks

Our Picks for the Best Spinning Reels

Shimano Stratic CI4+

Shimano produces some of the most impressive high-performing fishing reels in the industry, and the Stratic C14+ stands among the company’s best. This reel is the sports car of spinning reels – light, smooth and built to perform.

The first highlight is the frame, which is built from Shimano’s CI4+ carbon fibre body. It’s quite an advanced material only found on Shimano’s high end reels that is super light with remarkable stiffness. This means you’ll be able to spend countless hours on the water with little fatigue, while minimising frame flex to maintain the beautiful smooth performance this reel is known for.

The quality internal components of the Stratic CI4+ include a lightweight Hagane gear and 7-shielded anti-rust bearings. Made of treated stainless steel, these bearings are 10x more resistant to corrosion than those used by the competition. At the same time, they prevent intrusion from debris that might hinder the reel’s performance. 

Another interesting feature of the Shimano Stratic is the ARC spool design. Constructed out of cold-forged aluminum, it features an angled lip that allows the line to leave the spool with minimal friction. This translates to increased casting distance and greater accuracy.

Currently, you can find the C14+ in sizes ranging from 1000-4000, which offers you a nice array of line weight options. Gear ratios range from 5.1:1 to 6.2:1 for the different models which will give plenty of versatility for your various techniques.

The Stratic CI4+ is really going to shine if you fish freshwater species like bass. While it’s not specifically designed for saltwater, it also going to work quite well for some inshore applications too. Just be sure to rinse your reel with freshwater after every trip. 

If you’re a bass angler who wants the best spinning reels have to offer, the Shimano Stratic CI4+ offers one of the lightest and smoothest performing reels available.

Pros

  • Perfect for freshwater or bass anglers
  • Lightweight and rigid carbon fiber construction
  • 7 shielded anti-rust bearings for long-lasting smooth performance
  • ARC spool design for improved casting
  • Hagane gear keeps operation smooth

Cons

  • Smaller range of reel sizes
  • Not suited to larger saltwater species

Penn Slammer

If the Stratic CI4+ is the sports car of spinning reels, the Penn slammer is the tank. The Slammer is designed for one thing and one thing only – pulling monster fish out of the ocean. 

The Slammer heavy duty reel is built out of durable aluminum and stainless steel with a metal jacket, side plate, and rotor. This will give the confidence in tough battles to keep the gears aligned where other reels will fail.

A massive highlight of this saltwater beast is its IPX6 sealing to prevent saltwater from entering the internal components. It basically means the reel can be blasted with saltwater without diminishing performance. This is really important for saltwater anglers, as salt usually corrodes internal gear components and can quickly kill your reel.

Penn has also included a state-of-the-art Dura-Drag system, which ranges from as low as 30 lbs for the 3500 reel up to a ridiculous 60 lbs for the 10500 size. A high quality drag system like this is going to be well worth it for battling any large species like pelagics.

The gear ratios match up well for the various reel sizes available. The smallest 3500 size comes with a 6.2:1 gear ratio which will work for a variety of bait and lure techniques. As the reel size increases, the gear ratios decrease with 4.2:1 for their 10500 size. These lower gear ratios give extra torque to leverage over large fish during the fight.

The main limitation of the Slammer is its weight. All the reliability and fighter power it provides comes at the cost of heavier and more durable components. Not a problem if you like using baits, but could get tiring if you’re frequently working lures.

If you want a serious saltwater reel that could pull the plug out of the ocean, I’d go with the Penn Slammer any day of the week. 

Pros

  • Heavy and durable metal construction
  • Low gear ratio options for extra torque and leverage
  • High quality drag system built to fight bigger fish
  • IPX6 sealing to keep water out of the system to prolong reel life and performance

Cons

  • No smaller reel sizes available 
  • Very heavy, which will contribute to arm fatigue

Daiwa Ballistic LT

The Ballistic LT from Daiwa is a versatile all round performing reel that’s going to work great for freshwater, inshore and offshore applications. This reel is part of Daiwa’s LT range (which stands for light & tough) and is loaded with extra features that bring its performance to the next level.

The frame is built from a high-density carbon material called Zaion that is as strong as magnesium but 50% lighter than aluminium. Another added bonus is that this material isn’t going to corrode like these metals which is a huge advantage when fishing saltwater.

The reel also comes with a 7 corrosion resistant ball bearing system that lasts 12 times longer than standard stainless steel version. On top of this you get Daiwas Magseal technology to protect internal components of your reel from water intrusion. It’s basically a magnetised nano fluid that is held in place using magnets for a perfect seal. 

The Ballistic LT’s spool is designed to be exceptionally deep, which offers more line capacity than the reel’s shallower counterparts. Once again, this feature will be a big hit with saltwater anglers, who might want to set their bait deep or further out. That, and there will be more line available for when a big fish decides to take them for a run.

Sizes range from 1000 all the way to 6000, which allows you to use a nice variety of line weights and species options. The gear ratios are 5.2:1 for all models except the 6000 size which is 5.1:1. Once again, quite versatile for a range of techniques.

The lightweight compact build of Ballistic LT make it an exceptional reel for freshwater while the added features Daiwa have packed into its design mean it’s going to perform just as well in saltwater. 

If you like to mix it up with fresh and saltwater, but want one reel to do both jobs, the Daiwa Ballistic LT definitely requires some serious consideration.

Pros

  • Great all round reel suitable for freshwater, inshore and offshore fishing
  • High density carbon frame that is light, tough and corrosion resistant
  • Smooth performing corrosion-resistant bearings
  • Magsealed technology keeps water away from moving parts
  • Deep spool for better line capacity
  • Good variety of sizes

Cons

  • More expensive to spool due to higher line capacity

Daiwa BG

Another stunning spinning reel from the people at Daiwa, the BG is a value-priced reel that is still sturdy enough to handle almost any job. It’s no Slammer, but offers the same type of features at a lower price point for saltwater anglers.

As you’d expect from a solid reel like this, the frame is made of 100% aluminum frame to hold up against the tougher fishing fish of the ocean. The aluminium is also anodized which reduces corrosion – a major problem for saltwater anglers.

To help give you the smooth and effective fighting power you need on the water, the BG has Daiwas over-sized Digigear system. They use a larger drive gear with increased gear-tooth contact points. Not only does it give you more power and torque, but also smoother and extended gear life.

The Diawa BG also features a water-proof drag system, which will help reduce potential corrosion and keep the drag smooth, strong, and consistent. Another important feature for any offshore or inshore angler.

Sometimes these beast saltwater reels can be a little rough to use, but the BG is just ridiculously smooth. This is thanks to Daiwas quality ball bearings, six of which (+ a roller bearing) are incorporated into the BG’s design.

A huge range of sizes are available for this reel from 1500 all the way up to 8000. So whether you’re fishing for trout or tuna, there’s an option to suit. Gear ratios range from 5.6:1 up to their 3000 model, 5.7:1 for 3500-5000 and 5.3:1 for their 6500 and 8000 sizes.

If you want a reel that’s going to be tough and durable while offering smooth operation, the Daiwa BG might be one of the best value for money saltwater reels available.

Pros

  • Great value for your money
  • Sturdy and corrosion-resistant anodized aluminum frame
  • Over-sized Digigear system for improved torque and smoothness
  • Water-proof drag system
  • Excellent range of sizes

Cons

  • Comes in a little heavier than most reels

Abu Garcia Revo SX

If you’re looking for a lighter weight and smooth casting spinning reel in the middle price range, the Abu Garcia Revo SX is a great option.

The Revo SX uses Abu Garcia’s C6 carbon body which makes for a nice lightweight build. Weight savings are made with other components like its precision cut aluminium gear design and lightweight graphite rotor. Some nice features your arms will thank you for.

Abu Garcia have also been quite generous with a total of 9 high performance corrosion resistant bearings in the reels construction. This gives it a nice smooth operation which is what you want for a lightweight reel like this.

Casting is also great with the Revo SX featuring Abu Garcia’s Rocket line management system. The first component is the angled bail design, which offers better control over the spool. The next is the slow oscillation feature, which lays more length of liner per layer. This reduces the number of times the line meets the lip, minimizing friction and improving your overall cast. 

The Revo SX is going to be well suited for freshwater applications with sizes ranging from 10-40. Each of these models have a faster gear ratio of 6.2:1 which will work great for lure work where you want a faster retrieve.

Overall, the Abu Garcia Revo SX is a light weight, smooth and very castable spinning reel that’s going to excel at freshwater fishing for species like bass.

Pros

  • Lightweight and corrosion resistant C6 body
  • Lightweight internal aluminium gear and graphite rotor
  • Smooth performance with 9 high precision ball bearings
  • Rocket line management system improves overall casting

Cons

  • Not well suited for larger saltwater species

Lew’s Custom Inshore Speed

While the Lew’s company is mostly known for its baitcasters, they offer some exceptional spinning reels as well. As the name suggests, this reel is designed for taking on inshore saltwater species.

As you’d expect, the Custom Inshore Speed has an aluminium body that’s going to minimise frame flex and keep the internal components nice and aligned. It also features a super neat flush and drain port. This allows you to quickly and easily drain water from the reel in case it’s accidentally submerged. By adding a spray of lubricant, you can flush out any remaining moisture to prevent corrosion or damage. 

A standout feature of this reel is the quality sealed carbon fiber drag system. It’s a smooth drag system that isn’t going to jerk around and is also sealed to prevent saltwater from getting in and seizing. The max drag for these reels is also quite nice, maxing out at 24 lb for their 400 size model.

All of the Custom Inshore Speed’s gears are precision cut for a smooth operation and retrieve. On top of that, they are subject to a passivation treatment to improve their corrosion resistance. Extra details like this are what make this such a great inshore reel.

There are only a few options available for this Lew’s spinning reel at 200, 300 and 400. It will do the job for most inshore species but if you want to step it up to a larger size you might be better off going for a Daiwa BG. The gear ratios for each model are the same coming in at a pretty standard 6.2:1.

If you enjoy inshore fishing and value a high quality drag system on the water, the Lew’s Custom Inshore Speed is well worth the investment.

Pros

  • High quality, tough sealed drag system
  • Aluminum frame and spool to reduce frame flex
  • Flush and drain port to avoid waterlogging
  • Precision cut speed gears with passivation for smooth lasting performance

Cons

  • Limited range of sizes

Piscifun Carbon X

If you’re looking for a reel in the cheaper price bracket but still want some of the bonus features you find in the more expensive reels, the Piscifun Carbon X is one to consider.

As you might guess from its name, the Carbon X has a carbon fibre body, rotor and side plate for a super light build. The 1000 size comes in at only 5.7 oz which is impressively comparable to the Shimano Stradic CI4+ and Daiwa Ballistic LT. As with any carbon based frame, you also get the added bonus of corrosion resistance.

The Carbon X also has a generous 11 ball bearing bearing setup for smooth performance at this price point. While this is important, the quality of the bearings also have to be considered. It’s going to perform great for the money but don’t expect it to be smooth as the higher end Shimano or Daiwa reels – fair enough considering the huge difference in price.

Another great feature of the Piscifun is the strong carbon drag system, which can handle up to 33 lbs. This allows you to square off against the larger inshore species while maintaining strict control over your line. The entire system is also rubber sealed to prevent it from being compromised by dust, debris, or water.

You have a total of four sizes to choose from between 1000 and 4000 which are suitable for freshwater and inshore fishing. The 1000 model has a gear ratio of 5.2:1 while the rest are a little faster at 6.2:1.

Overall, the Piscifun Carbon X is a super lightweight smooth performing reel for the price. It’s light enough for freshwater bass fishing but also has the high quality sealed drag system to let you take on some inshore species.

Pros

  • Great for inshore or freshwater fishing
  • Extremely light graphite construction
  • 11 bearing system for smooth operation
  • Powerful sealed carbon drag system handles up to 33 lbs. 
  • Very affordable

Cons

  • Smaller range of sizes
  • Budget reels generally contain lower quality internal components

KastKing Megatron

KastKing’s slogan is “affordable innovation,” and the Megatron is a great example of this philosophy in action. 

The standout feature of the Megatron is its rigid aluminium body which is uncommon for anything in this price bracket. Aside from it’s solid frame, the Megatron also features a strong carbon fibre drag system to give you the confidence to take on saltwater species. The max drag on this reel is ridiculous coming in at just under 40 lb for their 5000 and 6000 sizes.

It also features a 8 double-shielded ball bearing system. The shielding is particularly important when fishing saltwater or near dirt/sand to prevent these things from getting in your reel and degrading performance. That said, the Megatron doesn’t feature any sealed components, so it will need a good rinse after a day fishing in saltwater. 

Currently, KastKing offers the Megatron in sizes from as low as 2000 up to 6000 to give a good range of options. The gear ratios are a little slower at 5.0:1 for the 2000 to 3000 sizes and 4.5 for the others. The 5.0:1 ratio is perfect for beginners and the 4.5:1 on the larger sizes will give you extra leverage to reel those fighters in.

If you’re a coastal beginner or just looking for an affordable spinning option, the KastKing Megatron might be a good option. It might not be the sleekest model on the market, but it’s durable and sturdy enough to get the job done. 

Pros

  • Tough aluminum frame to prevent flex
  • Carbon fiber drag system can handle over 30 lbs of pressure
  • 8 double-shielded ball bearing system
  • Strong enough for saltwater fishing

Cons

  • Heavier build
  • Few protected components, so it will need to be washed after each use
  • Budget reels generally contain lower quality internal components

Penn Pursuit III

If you’re on a tight budget but want a reel that’s going to outperform the no name reels from Walmart, my recommendation is the Penn Pursuit III. It’s not going to feel like the more expensive reels on the market, but it is great value from a quality reel brand.

As you’d expect from this price bracket, the Pursuit III has a graphite frame. It’s not going to give you the most flex resistant build, but is relatively light and won’t corrode. Anodized aluminium is used for the spool which is also going to reduce corrosion and improve your reels longevity.

You also get Penns HT-100 drag which you find is some of their mid range reels as well. It’s a quality drag for the price which will keep it performing smoothly without any jerking.

With bearings you get a pretty standard 5 stainless steel bearing system. The difference here is that these are going to be much higher quality than many other reels at this price point to give a smooth operation. 

You can find the Pursuit in a variety of sizes, ranging from 2500 to 8000. This gives you plenty of choices when it comes to line weight, which can give you the ability to tackle bigger species. The gear ratio options are also rather versatile. Smaller reels have a gear ratio of 6.2:1 while the larger models have lower ratios of 5.6:1 and 5.3:1 to give some extra leverage. 

The Penn Pursuit III is high-quality enough to let you enjoy the sport without the frustrations a “cheap” reel might cause. And at this price point, it’s hardly a risk to give the Penn Pursuit a try. 

Pros

  • Lightweight, anti-corrosive graphite reel
  • Budget-priced for beginners
  • Quality drag system
  • Large range of sizes
  • 4+1 stainless steel bearing system

Cons

  • No protected components
  • Budget reels generally contain lower quality internal components

When to Use Spinning Outfits

One of the key benefits of spinning reels are their ease of use. Casting is easy and you are usually less prone to your line getting all tangled when using a spinning outfit. This makes them perfect for beginners or casual anglers. Even when I want a nice chill day on the water I usually take my spinning reel.

In terms of applications, spinning reels are usually used for techniques that require more finesse rather than power alone. Lighter lines and lures are also usually going to be better suited for spinning outfits. Spinning outfits 

These benefits do come at a cost, however – mainly the fact that you tend to lose casting accuracy due to the way the reel operates. This will matter more to some anglers than it will to others., but it is still a significant drawback. The other main disadvantage of spinners is that they struggle with stiffer, heavier lines, particularly those made of fluorocarbon. 

Benefits

  • Easier to use – The open face and fixed spool design of spinning reels make them super easy to cast and retrieve. This makes them the best choice for beginners or casual anglers.
  • Lighter lines & lures – Lighter lines spool great on spinning reels and are easy to manage. Spinning rods are also more suited for lighter gear. They usually have a little extra flex, allowing you to load up on the cast and flick your lighter lures out further.
  • Sensitivity – The design on spinning reels let you easily hold your fighter against the line to feel any light bites after casting. The guides on spinning rods also face downwards and are always in contact with the line.

Trade-Offs

  • Less accurate – When you cast, your line has to unravel off the spool in a turbulent motion. Compared to baitcasting reels where the line comes off the spool straight, spinning reels generally offer less casting accuracy. The guides are also larger on spinning rods, giving the line more room to move around and reducing precision.
  • Less suited for heavier lines – Heavier lines tend to be siffer and have more memory compared to lighter ones. This can cause issues with keeping you line on the spool. Stiff heavy lines will not sit as well and tend to jump off the spool causing tangles.

How to Compare Spinning Reels

Frame Material

What frame material is best for you will depend on two factors – rigidity and weight. In general, rigid frame materials will experience less frame flex when fighting a large fish. This keeps all the internal components nicely aligned and operating smoothly. On the other hand, these more rigid materials are usually heavier. This can contribute to arm fatigue if you’re casting frequently over long periods of time.

Graphite / Carbon Composite – These materials are common in the manufacture of many spinning reels, as they are inexpensive and extremely lightweight. They also have the added benefit of being naturally anti-corrosive regardless of whether they’re used in fresh or saltwater. However, these materials are more prone to frame flex, and they won’t come close to the durability of metal. It’s also important to note these materials differ significantly depending on the manufacturer and price. High quality graphite reels will usually be more rigid while maintaining a light feel.

Aluminum – Aluminum reels tend to be much stronger than their graphite counterparts, but heavier and more expensive as well. Still, thanks to their tougher construction, they are much less prone to frame flex and less likely to suffer gear misalignment during a serious fight.  

Bearings

All reels have bearings, as they are essential to allowing the gears and spool to spin. Yet there is a lot to consider when discussing the bearings in your spinning reel. This includes how many there are, whether or not they’re shielded, and the quality of the materials used in their construction. 

Number – The number of bearings in your reel system will seriously affect the “smoothness” of casting and retrieval. Generally, the more bearings in place, the easier your reel will spin.

Quality – The precision, material, and overall quality of the bearings in your reel are worth considering as well. Generally, you want to see bearings that are made out of stainless steel or ceramic, not a cheaper material like chromed steel. 

Shielding – Many fishing reels feature bearing systems with metal shielding around the moving parts. This protects them from sand, water, salt, and other corrosives that might cause wear and hinder smooth function. 

Drag System

A quality drag system is important for providing a smooth consistent pressure to the hooked fish. Poorer quality systems will tend to jerk and be a little temperamental. This jerking behaviour offers much less control and can lead to thinks like line breaks or slipped hooks.

Oil Felt – Felt is the less expensive option and is usually considered to provide rather low-quality drag. With extended use, the felt often wears down. This causes metal on metal friction that will eventually seize up the mechanism and result in broken lines. 

Carbon Fiber – I tend to recommend carbon fiber drag systems whenever possible, as they offer a much better range and holding power. They also generally give a smoother and more consistent drag that won’t wear down as much over time.

Weight

A lot of things we’ve already discussed will greatly affect the weight of your reel. These include the material used in the frame, the number and type of bearings included, and the various materials used in the gear system. 

Most anglers going after larger fish with bigger bait will prefer to use a sturdier reel. This helps ensure that they won’t have to worry about misalignment or frame flex as they fight to get the fish to the boat. Lighter reels, which generally incorporate carbon fiber and graphite parts, help reduce arm fatigue, but won’t always allow you to land that monster bass. 

Choosing the Right Spinning Reel Specs

Size and Line Capacity

Each reel manufacturer will have their own system for the size of their reels. They are usually expressed as a number in various formats such as thousands, hundreds or double digits. Lower numbers will be assigned to smaller reels and higher numbers for large reels. 

The main thing to look at is the first two digits. So a 20, 200 or 2000 size reel will generally be equivalent across different brands.

When discussing reel size, the primary consideration is what type of line you plan to use and what size fish you’re after. For example, if you’re targeting smaller fish, such as panfish, you might want to go with a 6-10lb monofilament line. This would pair up nicely with a reel sized in the 3000 to 3500 range. However, if you hit the water looking for snapper, you’ll need a 12-16lb line, which might work better with a reel that’s 6000 or higher. 

You’ll also want to consider the rod you’re going to use, what it’s made of, and the amount of weight it can handle. After all, equipping a line and reel combo that’s too heavy for your rod will only result in broken rods and bad days.

Gear Ratio

One of the most important things to consider when shopping for a spinning reel is the gear ratio. This refers to how many times the spool will turn per revolution of the handle. Most reels will come in several ratio options, but some will only feature one or two. Either way, whatever you choose will significantly impact both your fishing style and the type of fish you can catch. 

A slower gear ratio in the 4:1 range is perfect for getting extra torque. Just like you’d use a low gear on a bike for riding up a hill, these reels give extra leverage when battling large fish. 

A faster gear ratio around 6:1 are usually found in smaller reel sizes. These are great for smaller species like panfish or if you’re using techniques where you want to take up the slack line a little faster.

Gear ratios around 5:1 are a great middle ground and make for a versatile spinning reel. These are very easy to use and perfect for beginners or casual anglers.

Takeaway 

There are many factors you have to consider before picking the best spinning reel for you. After deciding your budget, you need to think about what’s going to be important for your particular fishing style. A bass angler is going to value smooth operation, great casting and a lightweight design. Whereas an offshore angler will prioritise a sturdy rigid frame to help fight larger species and sealed components to prevent saltwater intrusion.