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Best Fishing Reels

Updated June 2023
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Best of the Best
Penn Battle Spinning Reel Kit
Battle Spinning Reel Kit
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Best for Experts
Bottom Line

This kit from Penn includes everything you need to up your game.


Its handle position can be set to either left or right. It has 6 ball bearings for fluid motion: 5 are sealed and 1 is an “instant-anti-reverse” bearing. It’s a size 6,000 reel.


Some found it weighed more than is comfortable for fishing long hours.

Best Bang for the Buck
Daiwa Regal LT Spinning Reel
Regal LT Spinning Reel
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Bargain Pick
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This spinning reel is extra light so you can fish all day and night.


It uses aluminum to maintain its low weight without sacrificing any durability. Its action is fluid and smooth, making it easier to both cast and reel back in. It has a 22-pound drag.


Some purchasers had issues with pieces of the handle coming off.

Shimano SLX Baitcasting Reel
SLX Baitcasting Reel
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Most Stylish
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This baitcasting reel is perfect for going bass fishing.


The black with blue accents coloring looks great on a variety of rods. It’s got a compact design without losing any strength. It comes in 3 gear ratios: 8.2, 7.2, and 6.3:1.


Only the 7.2:1 gear ratio is available in a left-handed model.

Penn Pursuit III Nearshore Spinning Fishing Reel
Pursuit III Nearshore Spinning Fishing Reel
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Durable & Rugged
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Elements of this reel make it well suited to saltwater fishing.


The body is graphite to resist salt water and other corrosive elements. Other pieces of it use stainless steel and carbon fiber for durability and to prevent excessive weight. It comes in many sizes.


Some buyers had issues with the lining sometimes becoming unbalanced.

Pflueger President Spinning Reel
President Spinning Reel
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Simple yet Solid
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This reel is particularly adept at catching catfish and bass.


It has a maximum drag of 6 pounds and a line capacity of up to 200 yards. It uses an aluminum spool and bail to keep weight low while maintaining the fluidity of your line. It can be situated for both right- and left-handed people.


Some had issues with the handle becoming unscrewed. It doesn’t hold up well in salt water.

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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. About BestReviews  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.About BestReviews 

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for best fishing reels

The right reel is an essential part of a good day of fishing, and whether you fish for trout or marlin, you have an enormous amount of choice. Fishing reels can be complex devices, and making the right decision isn't easy. Do you go for the big name the pros use, or would a budget fishing reel serve you just as well, leaving you more money to spend on the rest of your gear?

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Who invented the fishing reel? We don't really know. The first are recorded in Chinese paintings from the 12th century. Reels didn’t appear in Europe and the U.S. until hundreds of years later. George Snyder of Kentucky introduced the reel as we recognize it today in 1820.

Fishing reel basics

At first glance, there appear to be lots of different types of fishing reels, but essentially there are two:

  • Fixed spools

  • Centerpins

Fixed spool reels

Fixed spool reels have their line wound on a spool at the front of the reel. This is your classic spinning reel arrangement. The spool doesn't move. To wind line in, a "bale" or "bale arm" rotates around it. To let line out when casting, the bale arm is released.

The free spool reel is a variation on this that has an extra drag system. The spool isn't completely free; a small amount of force must be exerted on the line to drag it from the reel – when a fish takes your bait, for example. Turn the handle, and it reverts to a fixed spool.

A spincast reel (also called a closed-face reel) is another variation. This has a shroud over the spool, and the line comes out the center. These reels are popular with beginners because they're very easy to cast.

Centerpin reels

The classic centerpin reel is the type used for fly fishing. The line is carried on a central spool that is free to rotate. Line is stopped by the thumb of the angler. The free motion of the spool is stopped by rotating the handle to retrieve the fly.

Although a baitcaster reel looks quite different and is far more versatile, the basic construction and principle are the same. They're often called mid-arbor reels, but it amounts to the same thing. The spool is free to turn during casting, but it engages again when the handle is turned. A set of gears multiplies the turning effect of the handle, so a single turn of the handle will actually rotate the spool several times.

Deep-sea and game-fishing reels are large versions of the centerpin reel.

Fishing reel essentials


Drag is a feature that allows a powerful fish to pull line from the spool during the fight. Without drag, it's likely the line would break. Drag is variable and set by the angler. Better-quality reels usually have smoother drag systems.

Light weight

You generally want a reel to be as light as possible. On baitcasters and spinning reels, graphite and aluminum bodies are common for this reason. Saltwater reels need to be more robust, so more metal is used in the construction of those types.


Most fishing reels have anti-reverse to prevent the handle from banging you on the knuckles.

Indicator marks

Spools should have indicator marks for line capacity – to signify both when they're full and when you're getting near the end!

Ball bearings

Ball bearings keep everything running smoothly, so the more of them your reel has, the better. They should be stainless steel for greater corrosion resistance. The best are sealed units.

Other considerations

Braking system

Baitcasters have one of two braking systems: magnetic or centrifugal. In testing, both perform equally well, so we have no preference.

Gear material

Some cheap fishing reels have plastic gears to keep costs down. Metal gears are much more durable.

Gear ratio

Gear ratio determines the speed at which you can reel the line in.

A ratio of 5:1 means that every time you turn the handle, the spool goes around five times. In fact, 5:1 is about the slowest, with 9.1:1 the fastest we found. The ratios of 6.2:1 and 6.3:1 are common and very manageable, suiting both beginners and more experienced anglers.

A faster reel gives greater retrieval speed but is difficult to use with slow and mid-range lures. Highly experienced and professional fishermen can benefit from fast reels.

"Low gear ratios aren't always a bad thing. If you use lures with slow retrieval rates, a 5:1 ratio is better than a 6.2:1 ratio."

Line guide

Line guides can be steel, ceramic, or titanium. Titanium would be our top pick, ceramic second.

Retrieve per crank

Closely related to gear ratio is the length of line recovered each time you wind the handle, often referred to as “retrieve per crank.” This length depends on ratio and spool diameter. You should consider 21 inches as a minimum. It's probably a figure that's more important for the competitive angler than the hobbyist who fishes solely for pleasure.

Line capacity

How much line capacity the reel has (of a particular poundage) can make a big difference. Line gets thicker as poundage rises. For example, a reel that takes 150 yards of eight-pound line will only take about 90 yards of 20-pound line – so you can't expect to use the same reel for river fishing one weekend and deep-sea fishing the next!

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Never leave discarded line behind. It's lethal to birds and wildlife. Take it home, and put it in the trash.

Fishing reel prices

  • Low-Cost Fishing Reels

We usually caution against buying cheap products because of quality and durability issues. However, if you're the kind of angler that just goes out occasionally for fun, you can find a perfectly good spinning reel for between $20 and $30. Add another $10 for an equivalent baitcaster.

  • Moderately Priced Fishing Reels

If you're more committed to fishing, you'll want to spend a bit beyond budget level. However, it's an extremely competitive market, and top-quality freshwater fishing reels remain surprisingly affordable. There's an enormous choice between $50 and $100, and even the priciest baitcasters are unlikely to top $200.

Some of these reels can be used for light saltwater fishing, though it's important to check. Many are marked freshwater only. While some dedicated saltwater reels can be found for the same prices as freshwater reels, they tend to be 10% to 20% more expensive.

  • Expensive Fishing Reels

Big game reels are a different kettle of fish. They are much larger, offer greater capacity, and are built for a tougher environment. The most expensive fishing reel that came up in our research was an electric saltwater reel that can carry 1,500 feet of 120-pound line. The asking price: $3,500.


  • For a baitcaster reel, a monofilament line of 10 pounds or greater is recommended. They don't come off the reel too fast, and they're much easier to untangle if you get the dreaded backlash.

  • Braided line is recommended for spinning reels. Pound for pound, it's much thinner than monofilament, and more durable. It is visible in water, which can disturb some fish, so many experienced anglers use a fluorocarbon leader line that can't be seen.

  • It's important to fill your fishing reel with the right amount of line. Too little, and you'll reduce your casting distance. Too much, and it will keep overflowing and tangling. Most experts recommend filling to within 1/8-inch full for both baitcasters and spinners.

  • "Line memory" is the tendency fishing line has to retain the curl it has when wound on the reel. Monofilament is the worst, fluorocarbon less so, and braided lines hardly suffer from line memory at all.

  • Make sure you understand how each part of your reel works before you go fishing, particularly the drag and tension. Learning at home will save you time and frustration when you get out on the water.

It's easier to learn with heavy gear – line and lure – and then go lighter as you gain experience.


Q. Which is best, a baitcaster or a spinning reel?

A. If you're learning to fish, a spinning reel has an easier learning curve. However, beginners soon discover they want more control than a spinning reel offers.

Learning to cast takes a little practice, but a spinning reel seldom gives beginners any problems. Baitcasters are great reels. They allow you to cast heavier lures or baits over longer distances, and with more accuracy – but there's a knack to using them. Many experienced anglers prefer a baitcaster, but they do take time to master.

Some anglers buy both: a spinning reel when going for fish under 10 pounds and a baitcaster for catching fish over that size. There are always exceptions, and debate certainly occurs between one angler and another. Much of the fun of angling is trying different rigs. As you gain experience, you'll develop your own preferences.

Q. What is backlash?

A. Backlash happens when the bait stops moving forward, but line still flows off the reel. With nowhere to go, you get a big tangle, often called a bird’s nest. It can happen with any reel – particularly if you're casting into the wind – but mostly it's a problem for those new to baitcaster reels. Their action demands more control. Lots of fishing books and websites offer good advice, but the bottom line is, get plenty of practice!

Q. What's the difference between front drag and rear drag?

A. Both do the same job, allowing a fish to take the line rather than break it. The distinction between front and rear drag has to do with where on the reel the adjustment is set. Front drag adjustment is right on the spool, so it tends to give more precise feedback.