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Best Fishing Reels for Any Situation - Reviews and Buying Guide

Written by: Pete D
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Need a good reel but don’t know where to start?

We’ve got you covered!

Below, you’ll find an exhaustive list of the best fishing reels for any situation, freshwater or saltwater. After careful research, field testing, and detailed comparison, we’ve put together an unbeatable resource to help you make the best choice for your needs.

Quick glance at the best fishing reels:

Freshwater Fishing Reels

Saltwater Fishing Reels

Specialty Fishing Reels

Best Freshwater Fishing Reels Reviewed

Spinning Reel

Spinning reels offer easy casting, especially in the wind. Popular with anglers chasing everything from panfish to pike, they’re good for novices and experts alike.

Cadence CS8-3000

CS8 Spinning Reel,Cadence Ultralight Fast Speed Premium Magnesium Frame Fishing Reel with 10 Low Torque Bearings Super Smooth Powerful Fishing Reel with 36 LBs Max Drag & 6.2:1 Spinning Reel

Check Price

Maximum drag: 19 lbs.
Gear ratio: 6.2:1 (35” per turn)
Line capacity: 10/150
Bearings: 9 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 7.4 oz.

The CS8 series is a welcome addition to the angling market, offering high-end performance at a price-point lower than you’d expect. Serious competitors for established names like Shimano and Penn, these reels are an option no fisherman should ignore.

The drag on the CS8-3000 is excellent, and it uses a series of carbon fiber discs to create line tension. Actuated by a knob on the end of the spool, its maximum setting lets you fight anything from largemouth and walleye--and for experts, even pike and muskie when running strong braided lines.

And a 6.2:1 gear ratio that picks up 35 inches of line per crank means that even big fish can’t outrun your retrieve. That’s important for keeping a tight line, and a good reason to choose the CS8-3000.

Pros:

  • Excellent value for the price
  • Excellent drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Excellent casting
  • Silky-smooth operation

Cons:

  • N/A

Check out our buying guide and reviews of our favorites:

Best Spinning Reels

Ultralight Spinning Reel

Ultralight fishing increases the excitement and challenge of catching small fish, but it demands very, very light lines. And only spinning reels can reliably cast 2- to 4-pound mono without amassing tangles.

Cadence CS8-1000

CS8 Spinning Reel,Cadence Ultralight Fast Speed Premium Magnesium Frame Fishing Reel with 10 Low Torque Bearings Super Smooth Powerful Fishing Reel with 36 LBs Max Drag & 6.2:1 Spinning Reel

Check Price

Maximum drag: 11 lb.
Gear ratio: 5.2:1
Line capacity: 6 lb./110 yds.
Bearings: 9 + 1 roller bearing

Cadence’s is one of the few reels that make our list more than once, and that should tell you something!

The CS8-1000 is incredibly smooth, and its build quality is impressive. That Cadence has packed this ultralight with high-quality components is obvious. For the price, it’s a real contender with even the most expensive alternatives. Indeed, it fishes like a much, much pricier reel, easily offering the performance of high-dollar options.

The drag is awesome, employing a carbon fiber braking system that’s reliably smooth and effective, even at the lower end of its settings. Casting is reliably excellent as well, and for a medium-priced reel, the CS-8 is extremely hard to beat.

Pros:

  • Excellent value for the price
  • Super-smooth operation
  • Great capacity
  • Excellent drag system, very high quality
  • Great casting

Cons:

  • N/A

Check out our buying guide and reviews of our favorites:

Best Ultralight Spinning Reels

Baitcasting Reel

Baitcasting reels are especially for lines heavier than 10-pound diameter mono, allowing precise, powerful casting. They also sport very strong, very sensitive drag systems, making them an ideal choice for fish like largemouth bass.

Shimano Curado K CU200HGK

Shimano Curado 200K XG Lowprofile Freshwater Fishing Reel

Tackle Direct | Amazon

Maximum drag: 11 lbs.
Gear ratio: 7.4:1(31” RPT)
Capacity: 8/180, 10/155, 14/110 (mono)
Material: graphite
Weight: 7.6 oz.
Bearings: 7

Shimano’s reels are legendary, and the Curado K Series is among the best of the bunch. I know anglers who’ve dumped Chronarchs for the Curado K--it’s that good!

Much of Shimano’s reputation on the water can be attributed to just how buttery smooth each and every one of their reels are. But the Curado K is a step-up in this department, and with fine-grained adjustments on the spool control knob, it’s pretty much in a class all its own. I’m not exaggerating--its performance is that good.

That translates into some of the best casting I’ve ever had, and it packs-on a lot of line. The Curado K’s drag is excellent, too, making full use of the SVS Infinity system that allows precise micro-adjustments.

It comes as no surprise that the Curado K will really last, and you can expect many years of service from this reel.

Pros:

  • Awesome casting
  • Exceptional drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Incredible durability

Cons:

  • Not particularly light

Check out our buying guide and reviews of our favorites:

Best Baitcasting Reels

Spincasting Reel

Spincasting reels protect your line with a shroud, and while they don’t cast quite as well as their alternatives, they offer a lot less trouble when the weather’s foul. They’re also a great choice for new anglers as they’re very, very easy to use.

Zebco Bullet

Zebco Bullet Spincast Fishing Reel, Size 30 Reel, Fast 29.6 Inches Per Turn, GripEm All-Weather Handle Knobs, Pre-Spooled with 10-Pound Zebco Fishing Line, Black (2017)

Tackle Direct | Amazon

Maximum drag: 10 lbs.
Gear Ratio: 5.1:1 (29.6” RPT)
Capacity: (yards/test) 90/10
Material: aluminum
Weight: 13.9 oz.
Bearings: 9 (8 + clutch)

If there’s one reasonable complaint about spincasting reels, it’s that their retrieval rate can be sluggish. That may not sound like a problem, but if you ever have a monster run right at your boat, you’ll find that keeping a tight line can be tough!

Zebco’s Bullet is an exception. Geared to 5.1:1, and sporting a big spool, it retrieves as quickly as many high-end spinning and baitcasting reels.

The Bullet offers an aluminum cover and very nice build quality. It feels solid in the hand, and everything from the crank to the knobs on its tips feels top-notch. The drag is easy to set and works well, and we’d fish this for bass in a heartbeat.

Casting is fantastic, especially with quality line, and with nine--that’s right, nine--bearings, this is a smooth, smooth reel. Durability is also awesome, and the gears are cut from solid brass. And like spinning reels, the Bullet’s spool oscillates, improving how the line lays, which leads to better casting and fewer problems.

Pros:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Blistering speed
  • Very, very smooth
  • Nice drag
  • Casts well
  • Awesome durability
  • Oscillating spool
  • Instant anti-reverse

Cons:

  • Expensive for a spincasting reel

Check out our buying guide and reviews of our favorites:

Best Spincasting Reels

Trolling Reel for Freshwater

Trolling for walleye demands a precise, powerful reel that can deliver excellent capacity and a reliable drag.

Shimano Tekota 300LC

Shimano Tekota 700 Saltwater Star Drag Fishing Reel

Check Price

Maximum drag: 18 lbs.
Gear ratio: 4.2:1 25” per turn
Capacity: 12/275,14/220,16/185
Material: aluminum and graphite
Weight: 14.3 oz.
Bearings: 3 + 1

If you spend a day on the Great Lakes, trolling for walleye, there’s a good chance you’ll see Shimano’s Tekota in action. A popular choice among serious anglers, the Tekota delivers the performance modern trolling demands.

Capacity is excellent, dwarfing comparable spinning reels. You’ll be able to run more than 500 yards of 6-pound line with the Tekota 300LC.

For fans of mono--and many fishermen who troll are--that’s good news. Stepping up to 8-pound test will still leave you with massive lengths of line, and the level wind on the Tekota will help to distribute your mono across the spool.

The 300LC features an accurate, easy-to-use line counter, allowing anglers to control their depth precisely. That’s a big deal if trolling is your go-to technique.

And the Tekota is geared to 4.2:1. Featuring solid bronze gears, it’s got power to spare, allowing you to turn the head of even the biggest walleye and keep her where you want her. A 25-inch per turn retrieve is nothing to write home about, but it’s enough to keep a tight line.

For walleye anglers, this is a tough reel to beat!

Pros:

  • Excellent, lightweight body
  • Massive capacity for walleye
  • Smooth, powerful cranking
  • All-metal gearing
  • Effective level wind
  • Accurate line counter
  • Nice drag

Cons:

  • The 4.2:1 gear ratio is a touch on the slow end, but still plenty for walleye

Rod and Reel Combo for Freshwater

If you want to get on the water quickly, but just aren’t sure which reel to choose, it might be worth exploring a combo. At their best, they offer a great rod and reel, leaving the hassle of selecting the right paring to the experts.

Cadence CC4 Spinning Combo

Cadence CC4 Spinning Combo Lightweight with 24-Ton 2-Piece Graphite Rod Strong Carbon Composite Frame & Side Plates Ergonomic EVA Handle Knob Reel & Rod Combo(CC4-1000-56UL)

Check Price

Maximum drag: 13 lbs.
Gear ratio: 6.2:1 (32” RPT)
Capacity: 6/160
Material: carbon composite
Weight: 8.3 oz.
Bearings: 7 + 1

Cadence’s C4 reels are an outstanding option for the price, and in this combo, one comes paired with a rod that’ll put a smile on your face!

We recommend the 2000 series on a medium-light rod, as it’s ideal for panfish, trout, walleye, and finesse techniques for bass.

Cadence offers a really nice drag system in this reel, and with a maximum setting of 13 pounds, it’ll handle walleye and bass while still working really well for panfish of all kinds.

It holds plenty of line as well, and there’s really nothing not to like about this affordable combo.

Pros:

  • Great all-arounder for freshwater
  • Nice rod
  • Good drag
  • Great capacity

Cons:

  • Not as smooth as more expensive options

Best Saltwater Fishing Reels

Conventional Reel

Conventional reels are built around the demands of massive fish like marlin, tarpon, grouper, and shark. Primarily used for offshore fishing, they’re generally larger and more powerful than other styles of reel.

Penn Fathom Lever Drag Size 30

PENN® Fathom® Lever Drag

Tackle DirectAmazon

Maximum drag: 33 lbs.
Gear ratio: 5.3:1 (36” RPT)
Capacity: 20/435, 30/325, 40/250
Material: aluminum
Weight: 19.8 oz.
Bearings: 5

Penn is perhaps the most trusted name in offshore angling, and the Fathom Lever Drag series is everything you’d expect in a top-flight reel.

The Fathom series sports a solid metal body and stainless steel gearing, providing the durability big fish and tough conditions demand. All that metal comes at a cost, of course, and these reels are by no means featherweights.

That said, expect bomb-proof durability and unrivaled stiffness, as well as cranking power to spare. Indeed, the Fathom’s stainless gears and bearing produce excellent retrieval rates. You’ll have no trouble keeping your line tight, which is always an important consideration, but absolutely essential in places where the law requires a barbless hook.

Capacity is outstanding, too, and you’ll find the spool marked with line capacity rings that keep you in the know at a glance.

The Fathom series is equipped with an exceptional, extremely durable drag system with power to spare in a hard fight. Expect no slipping or binding, even at high settings.

Count me as impressed!

Pros:

  • Awesome body--very strong and stiff
  • Smooth cranking, great gear ratio, and outstanding retrieval rates
  • Awesome drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Excellent durability

Cons:

  • N/A

Check out our buying guide and reviews of our favorites:

Best Conventional Reels

Surf Fishing Reel

Surf fishing demands a reel that can cast a country mile, deliver a sharp hookset, and muscle a nice-sized redfish, striper, or shark. You’ll find that the best of the bunch combine great capacity with strong drags.

Penn Battle III 3000

PENN 1338219 Battle II 4000 Spinning Fishing Reel

Tackle Direct | Amazon

Maximum drag: 15 lbs.
Gear ratio: 6.2:1 (35” per turn)
Line capacity: 200/8, 165/10, 120/12
Material: aluminum
Weight: 12.3 oz.
Bearings: 5 + 1 roller bearing

Penn’s reels are legendary among saltwater anglers, and the Battle III is a testament to their attention to fishermen who need a big spinning reel for surf-casting.

The drag is, as you’d expect, actuated with the usual knob on the end of the spool. The heart of this system is carbon fiber, and it holds and releases superbly. Indeed, were I looking for a large spinning reel to tackle the salt, this Penn would be my first choice.

The spool holds quite a bit of line, and cranking is nice and smooth.

Equipped with an instant anti-reverse bearing, the Battle II line-up locks up fast, encouraging strong hooksets.

Pros:

  • Excellent drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Superb casting
  • Silky-smooth operation
  • Awesome anti-reverse

Cons:

  • N/A

Best Surf Fishing Reel

Inshore Baitcasting Reel

For anglers who prefer heavy lines, nothing beats a baitcasting reel for inshore fishing.

Shimano Curado K CU200HGK

Shimano Curado 200K XG Lowprofile Freshwater Fishing Reel

Tackle Direct | Amazon

Maximum drag: 11 lbs.
Gear ratio: 7.4:1(31” RPT)
Capacity: 8/180, 10/155, 14/110 (mono)
Material: graphite
Weight: 7.6 oz.
Bearings: 7

The amazing Curado K finds a second spot on our list if you’re looking for an inshore baitcasting reel.

For reds, specks, snook, and strippers, this reel is simply exceptional. Combining phenomenal casting with a great drag system and plenty of line, it’s just all-around murder for inshore fishing.

The drag is buttery-smooth and plenty strong enough for big fish. Typically, I run 12- to 14-pound mono with this reel in the salt, and heavier braid when that’s called for. The drag provides plenty of tension for big fish, and it’s easy to adjust on the fly.

Capacity is superior, too, and there’s just nothing not to like about this reel.

Pros:

  • Awesome casting
  • Excellent drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Incredible durability

Cons:

  • Not particularly light

Inshore Spinning Reel

If you just can’t stomach a baitcasting reel, or you know you’ll be casting in heavy wind, a large spinning reel might be just the right pick for inshore fishing.

Shimano Ultegra ULT4000XGFC

ULTEGRA FB

Tackle Direct | Amazon

Maximum drag: 24 lbs.
Gear ratio: 6.2:1 (39” per turn)
Line capacity: 8/240, 10/200, 12/160
Material:
Weight: N/A
Bearings: 5 + 1 roller bearing

Plenty of anglers fish a spinning reel inshore for its superior casting in the wind.

The Ultegra’s drag is stout and smooth--just what you’re looking for when you hook a big red or snook. Cranking is smooth, too, no doubt due to Shimano’s Hagane all-metal gearing. They also have included a waterproofing seal around the gearing, a nod to saltwater anglers concerned about corrosion.

Line capacity is fantastic, and if I were looking for a spinning reel for salt marshes and mudflats, this would be my first choice.

Pros:

  • Excellent drag
  • Fantastic capacity
  • Excellent casting in the wind
  • Silky-smooth operation

Cons:

  • N/A

Check out our buying guide and reviews of our favorites:

Best Inshore Spinning Reels

Rod and Reel Combo for Saltwater

If you’d rather hit the water than worry about which reel to choose, a combo offering a rod and reel together might be the right choice for you.

Penn Battle III Spinning Fishing Rod and Reel Combo

PENN BTLII4000701M Battle II 4000 Spinning Reel Combo, Inshore, 7 Feet, Medium Power

Tackle Direct | Amazon

Maximum drag: 15 lbs.
Gear ratio: 6.2:1 (37” per turn)
Line capacity: 8/270, 10/220, 12/165
Material: aluminum
Weight: 12.8 oz.
Bearings: 5 + 1 roller bearing

Penn’s Battle III reels are an excellent spinning option for saltwater species like striper and redfish, and in this case, a 4000-size reel comes with a superb Penn medium-power rod to match.

Penn offers an exemplary carbon fiber drag in the Battle III, and it’s smooth and strong enough for real brutes. Capacity is awesome, too, and in concert with this nice rod, it has you prepared for bruising fights and long runs.

Equipped with an instant anti-reverse bearing, the Battle III line-up locks up fast, encouraging strong hooksets.

Pros:

  • Excellent drag
  • Awesome capacity
  • Excellent casting
  • Silky-smooth operation
  • Awesome anti-reverse

Cons:

  • The rod can come damaged from transit

Best Specialty Fishing Reels

Fly Fishing Reel

Fly anglers use very specialized in-line reels that need to be tough and capacious. A strong, highly-adjustable drag is essential, as well, to help them fight trout, bass, and even reds with light tackle.

Galvan Torque #5

Galvan Torque Fly Reel Size 5 Black

Check Price

Spool width: .9”
Capacity: 5wt./125, 6wt./100
Material: aluminum
Weight: 4.8 oz.

Galvan’s Torque series of fly reels are among the most celebrated out there, and they’re perennial favorites in any head-to-head competition.

This reel’s drag knob spins a full four times before cranking down, allowing very fine adjustments. It’s also unbelievably smooth, consistent, and reliable. Sealed against the elements, it’s fine in the salt, too!

While not the lightest fly reel out there, it’s one of the most durable, and with a very deep spool, capacity is excellent.

Given my pick, this is the reel I’d fish on my #5 rod.

Pros:

  • Very durable
  • Sealed drag
  • Awesome drag
  • Deep spool and excellent capacity
  • Super-high build quality

Cons:

  • N/A

Check out our buying guide and reviews of our favorites:

Best Fly Fishing Reels

Ice Fishing Reel

Ice reels offer an in-line spool that needs to hold enough line for deep jigging. Strong drags aren’t usually necessary, as cold water means the fish will be sluggish.

13 Fishing Black Betty 6061

13 FISHING Black Betty 6061 Hardwater Inline Ice Fishing Reel

Tackle Direct | Amazon

Maximum drag: N/A
Gear ratio: 2.7:1 (18” RPT)
Capacity (approximate): (mono) 2#/270 yards, 4#/190 yards, 6#/120 yards
Material: aluminum
Weight: N/A
Bearings: 5

13 Fishing’s Black Betty is the talk of the ice fishing community, and the general consensus is that this is the best straight-line reel available. We chose the 6061 as our model to review, and we think you’ll be as impressed as we were.

Machined from aluminum, the 6061 is plenty tough. It can hold more line for jigging than you’ll ever need, accommodating everything from 2-pound monofilament on up. And similar to the Eagle Claw, it, too, offers a free spool button to assist your jigs’ descents. We’re impressed by the bearings and smoothness of the spool--it’ll drop 1/32 ounce jigs with no trouble.

Pros:

  • Good gear ratio for deep jigging
  • Free spool button helps you drop jigs
  • Excellent capacity

Cons:

  • Not cheap

Check out our buying guide and reviews of our favorites:

Best Ice Fishing Reels

Rod and Reel Combo for Kids

Many kids combos are little more than toys designed to catch the eye of young anglers. But if you’re looking for an actual rod and reel sized for your child, we know just what you need.

Shakespeare Ugly Stik Dock Runner Spinning Combo

Shakespeare Ugly Stik Dock Runner Spinning Combo Red, 3'6'

Check Price

Maximum drag: N/A
Gear ratio: N/A
Line capacity: 4/190, 6/140, 8/110
Material: N/A
Weight: N/A
Bearings: 1

Shakespeare’s Ugly Stick Dock Runner is a real rod--not a toy. For young anglers who are serious about fishing, and for parents who are serious as well, this is a great choice.

They pair this nice rod with a decent reel for the price, and kids won’t have any trouble casting or fighting panfish like bluegill, crappie, or perch with this combo.

Reasonably smooth for the price, Shakespeare’s not talking a lot about the specifics.

Pros:

  • Good capacity
  • The drag is strong enough for panfish
  • Reasonably smooth

Cons:

  • Overall quality--as you’d expect at this price-point--is just acceptable

Check out our buying guide and reviews of our favorites:

Best Fishing Rod and Reel Combo For Kids

Final Thoughts

We hope this article gets you on the water and onto the fish, and if it’s helped you or left you with questions, please let us know.

We’d love to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment below!

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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