Any angler worth his bag of worms needs at least one really good spinning reel combo in their arsenal. You can find a spinning reel in nearly any retail store, but let’s be real; most of those reels are utter crap. Those reels are toys, and while one of them might do in a pinch, on vacation when you spot a fishy looking pond near your hotel. But you’re here on Reel Rocket because you deserve better.
This guide will direct you to the best spinning reel for the money, a reel that is worthy of adding to your equipment. For beginner anglers, there are a bunch of technical specifications that we want you to get familiar with, and not intimidated by, before buying something. If you are already well versed with spinning reels, then jump directly down to our recommendations.
Light Line, Light Lures – The main advantages of freshwater spinning reels are their ability to easily handle light line and cast lightweight lures. The reason for this is due to the fixed and open spool, which on the cast allows line to flow off in coils and is then funneled through the guide system of your rod. This is also what makes them so easy to cast, and very rarely create backlashes or tangles.
Versatility – Spinning reels are most commonly used in live bait or finesse presentations, making them very popular among panfish, bass, and walleye anglers. Small jigs, spinners, and small crankbaits are all perfectly suited for use on a spinning combo. 6 to 10 pound test line is perfect for most freshwater spinning reels.
Great for all Experience Levels – Spinning reels are great for teaching someone to cast and fish. The operation is as simple as opening the bail, finger on the line, and let the lure sail. As an angler gains experience they can easily upgrade and appreciate the more refined models with better features.
“Rocket Score” is our own rating system. Images courtesy Amazon.
Spinning Reel Reviews
If you’re looking for the top spinning reel models, then check out the comparison chart below. These are what we consider to be the 5 best spinning reels with the best value for the money. You can’t go wrong with any of those reels.
Each should last you many years so long as you maintain them. If you have more time to review more reels, then continue down this article to find reviews about the type of reel you are looking for.
The Shimano Stradic CI4+ is without any doubt one of the best fishing reels you can buy today. Check any site out there and you will see almost universal 5 star reviews from anglers.
The CI4+ is indeed one of the more expensive spinning reels, but you get precision and refined performance in every aspect. The frame and handle are carbon fiber infused, for excellent strength and reduced weight. Since there are no metal parts on the CI4+ it a good choice for lighter saltwater fishing applications.
The CI4+ FB has returned to paddle style grips (were EVA foam grips a fad?), but they are hollowed out completely to further save weight. The paddle grips should reduce the number of times you fumble around trying to find the handle grip after an unexpected strike.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Stradic CI4+ is the silky smooth drag. When that big spotted bass is pulling hard for deep water, you can be assured the drag will be ready for you to fight the fish. 10lb test fluorocarbon line is a perfect match for this top rated spinning reel.
The Shimano Stradic series of reels have been very popular with freshwater anglers for many years. The Stradic has earned that reputation thanks to an excellent mechanical design and exceptional drag system.
Construction – The Stradic is recognizable thanks to its nearly all white finish. While it seemed odd when the reels first came out years ago, they look better than ever against the competition. Under that finish, the reel is constructed with quality materials all around, with very few plastic parts. The frame and handle are made of solid aluminum, with a cold forged aluminum spool, and the side plate and rotor constructed of lightweight graphite. The Stradic weighs in at 9.2 oz for the 2500 size, which is light enough for days of use without getting fatigued. The handles are traditional T and paddle shaped depending on the reel size you get.
The drag is built out of a tightly toleranced stack of steel and felt washers that fit locked together, and sealed by a washer inside the reel. The result is a drag that is able to lock down at the high end of 15lbs and remain fluid and smooth on the low end, allowing you to keep pressure on fish without worrying too much about your line breaking on a sudden surge.
Casting – The Shimano Stradic is an easy casting, level winding spinning reel. The reel employs what Shimano calls the Propulsion Line Management System, which is basically the specially shaped spool that allows line to flow off the spool in an efficient manner, translating into longer casts with fewer backlashes. On the retrieve, you will notice a nice balance without the wobble in your hands you’d see with lesser reels.
The S A-RB bearings are shielded on both sides to protect from debris fouling up the bearings operation. The SR bail is a one piece design made of a small diameter metal, and flips open and closed with a satisfying ‘click’ mechanism.
Fishing – With all of the high end features the Stradic does not disappoint when the moment of truth arrives and you run into a huge school of willing fish. The solid gearing, stiff frame and handle, combined with the awesome drag performance, earns the Shimano Stradic our choice as #1 spinning reel for your dollar. The Shimano Stradic is available in sizes from 1000 all the way up to 8000, and is a great choice for bass fishing as well as saltwater fishing.
The Pflueger Supreme XT is the rare high performance spinning reel that doesn’t cost a fortune. The Supreme XT is constructed of high quality materials. The body, rotor, and side plate are all magnesium, helping keep the reel feather light and balanced in your hand. The handle is formed from strong and light carbon fiber composite. Continuing the lightweight trend, Pflueger put the ever popluar EVA foam knobs on the reel.
Pflueger is owned by Pure Fishing, who also owns Abu Garcia. An experienced eye can see a lot of similarities to the Revo SX and Revo STX spinning reels. It seems though, based on all the online reviews I’ve read, that the quality is as good as or better than the Revo series reels.
So it has all these sweet components, how does it fish? The Supreme XT spinning reel receives nearly universal high ratings from anglers who buy it. The feel is superb, the castability, and the sealed carbon fiber drag stack is smooth like Jagger.
The Revo Sx spinning reel looks strikingly similar to the Pflueger Supreme XT. The biggest difference is materials and weight. The Revo SX has an aluminum gear set plus carbon insert molded frame, sideplate, and handle compared to the magnesium Supreme XT.
So is the Revo SX still a good spinning reel? Absolutely it is, and I have two of them myself. I purchased my SX’s for drop shot fishing and lightweight shaky head fishing. They have the reputation of having ultra-smooth Carbon Matrix drag systems, and after a year of fishing with them I can confirm that fact.
I recommend the Revo SX spinning reels for all finesse applications from wacky rigs and flukes to drop shots and shaky heads. It comes with a braid ready spool, which I tend to fill with 20lb Sufix 832 Advanced Braid. When I use a leader it handles 10-20 feet of Seaguar InvizX with ease.
The #4 ranking reel on our list is another white spinning reel, the Abu Garcia Revo S. The Revo S is the lower priced sibling to the flagship Revo SX, but don’t let that fool you, it’s a great reel for the price.
Construction – The white parts of the Revo S are the polymetric body and rotor, while the matte black parts are the X-Craftic alloy frame and machined aluminum spool. The body houses a one piece gearbox with a duragear main brass gear to provide cranking power. The S20 weighs in at just 8.5 ounces, making it one of the lighter reels in our Top 5.
Casting – The S20 has a spool designed especially for braid, which will flow off the spool effortlessly when you click open the big wired Everlast bail system. The bail gives a solid and satisfyingly audible click each time you cast.
Fishing – Thanks to the alloy frame as its anchor, the Revo S will be solid with hardly any flex when fighting a fish. The reel sports the popular Carbon Matrix drag system. The max drag is advertised at 12lbs, but it has been shown to go higher. The Revo S maintains good smoothness on the lower end to fight fish.
For it’s light weight, solid components, quality drag, dashing good looks, and even better looking price, the Revo S would be an excellent buy for any angler.
The Shimano Symetre is the little brother to the Stradic. It costs quite a bit less than the Stradic, plus the same level of the performance and quality we’ve come to expect from a Shimano reel. For it’s price, the Shimano Symetre is one of the best reels, yet won’t hurt your wallet.
Construction – The Symetre has the small profile “M” style compact body, and is comprised of aluminum and plastic components. The Symetre is the lowest priced reel to have the new X-Ship gearing configuration that anglers are loving. X-Ship supports the longer and narrow pinion gear on both ends with stainless steel ball bearings. No matter how much pressure you or the fish puts on the handle, the gears will stay firmly in place to provide cranking power.
Just like on the high end Stradic, the Symetre is loaded with shielded S A-RB bearings in this reel (2 on the X-Ship, 2 on the handle), plus a roller bearing on the line guide.
Fishing – The two things anglers love most about this reel is the smooth casting, smooth cranking, and the line management. Thanks to it’s sealed bearings, you’ll feel the movement of your bait, and not the grinding of the bearings. This allows you to focus on moving your bait the way you need to get a bite. The variable oscillation speeds on take up is great for keeping light, but constant pressure on your lure.
The line management is solid on this reel. You know how after a day of casting with a cheaper reel will sometimes suddenly result in an explosion of birds nests? With the Symetre you can be confident it will be many trips before you notice any line twist. When it does occur it’s not going to prevent you from casting like cheap reels.
Things to Look for in a Good Spinning Reel
There is a long list of mechanical specifications that go along with every spinning reel. They are simple to understand once you think about them. Some specs are more important than others, at least in our opinion. Here is our explanation of the most common specs, starting with the most important ones.
Drag System – The quality of the drag system is one of the most important features in a spinning reel, especially at the large sizes where you are fishing for bigger fish. A smooth drag allows you to play a big fish on smaller line. You want the drag to engage smoothly on your hook set or when a fish makes a dive. A sticky drag can cause your line to suddenly break off from the shock of a surging fish.
Most reels have a front drag system that you control with a dial, while others have a rear drag controlled with a knob. In both cases, you control the amount of tension on the spool by turning the knobs. The quality of the drag typically corresponds with the price of the reel. In the case of the drag system, you nearly always get what you pay for.
Spool Size/Line Capacity – Most models of spinning reels come in 3 or 4 different sizes. The total line capacity increases as you go up in spool size. Manufacturers typically provide line spool capacities for both monofilament and braided line (which has a smaller diameter for equal strength vs regular lines). Many times you will get an extra spool with your new reel that you can fill with a different kind of line to serve as an emergency backup.
Frame Material/Total Weight – Most reel frames are made of plastic, aluminum, carbon, or magnesium. Plastic and aluminum are the most common materials. Carbon and magnesium are found on higher end reels for their low weights and excellent rigidity.
Being a reel enthusiast, we recommend that you look for aluminum or carbon framed spinning reels first. They are affordable, tough, and lightweight. A plastic reel is just not going to give you the longevity you deserve.
Line Recovery Rate – This number is simply the amount of line, in inches, that the reel takes up and back on the spool with one full turn of the handle. Spinning reels can usually recover a few more inches of line per turn then than a similarly sized baitcaster.
Bearings – The bearings are what make the handle and spool move smoothly together. The number of bearings is not what makes a great spinning reel. A good spinning reel only needs 4 or 5 bearings, anything more is just adding cost to your reel.
You need bearings on the main handle shaft and main gear. Then one for the anti-reverse, and one roller bearing for the line roller. When you see reels with 8, 9, 10, or more bearings, all they are doing is replacing the bushings inside the reel with bearings. Most of that is unnecessary, so don’t get too caught up with the number of bearings in a reel.
Anti-Reverse – This feature prevents your reel handle from unintentionally unwinding. When a reel has anti-reverse, it’s usually controlled by a little black lever or switch towards the butt of the reel. Most freshwater reels will have an anti-reverse, and most people will never even switch if off. Some anglers like to switch anti-reverse off. Instead doing something called back reeling when fighting a big fish or when they are trying to swim a plug through heavy current.
Find Top Reels by Price
5 Best Spinning Reels Under $50 – Most casual anglers will be happy with our picks in the 50 buck range. You’ll be surprised at the types of reels that are available at that price today.
5 Best Spinning Reels Under $100 – This is by far the most popular price range for spinning reels. You’ll get a high quality reel, with solid features and good performance .
5 Best Spinning Reels Under $200 – For a few more dollars, you’ll get a lighter reel with a more refined drag system. This is a must for more avid and serious anglers who cannot afford reel failures, and demand high performance from their reels.