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Expert Shopper Camping & Outdoors

The best freshwater fishing reels

Which is the best freshwater fishing reel?

If you want to enjoy your fishing to the fullest, you need a good rod and a quality freshwater reel. Sounds straightforward, but if you’re new to the sport you have at least four basic types to choose from, with a variety of options that can put you in a spin (pardon the pun).

We’re here to help, with a quick and easy guide to reel choices and a few recommendations. Our best pick, the Shimano CURADO DC, is a superb example of precision engineering and a joy to use whatever level you’re at.

What to know before you buy a freshwater fishing reel

Let’s get reel!

A brief overview of reel types will get you off to a fast start:

  • A spinning reel is the great all-rounder and perhaps the most popular reel. Everyone from beginners to longtime anglers usually has at least one.
  • A baitcasting reel (or baitcaster) is also a very popular choice. They are used for casting heavier lures or baits over greater distances, usually when targeting bigger fish. They are a little more difficult to learn, and more likely to tangle (it’s called a bird’s nest).
  • A spin casting reel is a variation on the spinning reel, but with an enclosed spool. They are reasonably priced and very easy to learn, thus great for beginners. Line capacity is a bit limited, so more experienced anglers tend to eventually move on to either a spinning or baitcasting reel.
  • A centerpin reel is something of a specialist item, used for fly or float fishing. They’re great if that’s what you want to do, but the fishing style is different, and they don’t have the versatility of other reel types.

What to look for in a quality freshwater fishing reel

Cheap freshwater reels often use a lot of plastic, both externally and sometimes for gears. They might last a season, but probably not much longer. Better reels are made of aluminum and brass, and sometimes titanium and graphite (carbon fiber) — which are very strong, but light, too. None of these materials rust. Our favorite uses Hagane steel — which is also used for Samurai swords!

The clutch is a very important part of the reel, allowing you to adjust the drag. That’s the amount of force the fish needs to exert to pull line from the reel when you’re fighting it. It allows for a bit of give and take, so you can play large fish that might otherwise break the line. You want to be able to adjust drag on the go, so the mechanism needs to be accessible, and easy to use. The amount of drag varies from one reel to another, so it’s an area worth looking into.

Spool capacity is another consideration. Usually a reel will be marked with poundage and length, 6 / 95 for example. This means that if you load the spool with 6-pound line, you can get 95 yards on it. Stronger line (thicker) means less yardage. If you’re fishing for big bass at long distances, a small freshwater reel probably won’t have the capacity you need, so it’s another area to check.

You might also want to consider retrieval speed — the amount of line you reel in with each turn of the handle. A slow reel will be around 5:1, a fast reel as much as 9:1. If you’re casting long distances, it helps to have a fast reel, but the style of fishing, and your target fish also has a bearing. You might want to look into recommended tactics for particular species before you decide. That said, a 6:1 or 7:1 freshwater reel would be a good choice for beginners.

Stainless steel ball bearings help the reel run smoothly, and generally the more bearings it has the smoother it will run.

How much you can expect to spend on a freshwater fishing reel

The cheapest freshwater reels are around $20-$30, and if you don’t fish regularly, they’ll usually last a season or two. More avid anglers will want to spend $40-$80. Those who are really keen on their sport will probably invest anywhere from $150-$350.

Freshwater fishing reels FAQ

Q. Can I use these freshwater reels for sea fishing as well?

A. Unfortunately it’s not a good idea. First, they don’t generally hold enough line of sufficient poundage. Second, saltwater would wreak havoc with the internal mechanism, and they wouldn’t last long.

Q. Is it easy to change the winder over from right- to left-handed?

A. That depends on the reel. Most spinning reels and spin casters take just a few minutes to swap over. However, baitcasters are a very one-sided design, and cannot be changed. You need to order them as a right- or left-handed version.

What are the best freshwater fishing reels to buy?

Top freshwater fishing reel


Our take: Exceptional build quality and action, for the angler who appreciates the best.

What we like: Virtually indestructible Hagane steel gears and body, yet still light. Superbly balanced. Its Digital Control Braking System enhances durability. Easy to adjust clutch. Big line capacities.

What we dislike: Not much if you have deep pockets. Some backlashes reported.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon

Top freshwater fishing reel for the money

Abu Garcia Black Max Baitcasting Reel

Our take: Great value baitcaster has a surprisingly comprehensive feature set for the money.

What we like: Sleek low-profile design with lightweight graphite frame. Magtrax brake system reduces tangles. Five bearings make it super smooth. Good line capacity for its size.

What we dislike: Very little. A few owners have had problems with the drag.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon

Worth checking out

Daiwa Spincast 80 Freshwater Reel

Our take: Well-made reel is an easy-to-cast model ideal for beginners.

What we like: A good example of Daiwa’s renowned quality and affordability. Smooth three-bearing mechanism. Medium speed, simple to use, and rarely tangles.

What we dislike: Slightly limited line capacity. Drag button sometimes locks up.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon


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Bob Beacham writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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