Best Ultralight Spinning Reel – Buying Guide and Reviews For 2019

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Ultralight fishing provides an unbeatable mix of finesse and fun, and whether you chase crappie, yellow perch, bluegill, trout, or even largemouth bass, this tiny tackle makes a monster out of even the smallest fish. And when you do tie into a big one, you’ll test your skill in some heart-stopping moments.

At USAngler, we’re big ultralight fans, and much of the time, this is the gear we reach for first.

If you’re in the market for an ultralight setup, need to replace your worn reel, or just curious about dipping your toes in the ultralight water, keep reading. Below, you’ll find an in-depth discussion of what makes for a great reel, as well as reviews of some of our favorites.

Quick glance at the best ultralight fishing reels for 2019:

Best Ultralight Fishing Reel: What To Consider

Spinning versus baitcasting for ultralight

This may sound controversial at first, but hear us out. We strongly recommend spinning reels for any ultralight fishing, and so do major fishing companies like Berkley.

For many fishing applications, it’s fair to say that baitcasting reels are superior to their alternatives. If you’re trolling for marlin, for instance, a large, powerful baitcasting reel with incredible drag settings is just the thing you need. Moreover, when you step up in line diameter and strength, spinning reels start to experience trouble with memory and knotting.

Robust, incredibly smooth, and equipped with enviable drag systems – why wouldn’t we be reviewing ultralight baitcasting reels?

The answer is pretty simple: when you’re fishing ultralight tackle, baitcasting reels will often let you down. Whether that’s 1/32 ounce jigs, tiny beetle spins, or itsy-bitsy rooster tails, you want to avoid these otherwise excellent reel choices.

To understand why, think for a moment about how these two reels systems work to unspool line.

On a spinning reel, you cast with the bail open, and the line unwinds outward from the reel with very little friction. The spool isn’t moving; only the line does as it slips around the end of the spool.

By contrast, on a baitcasting reel, the line unwinds by spinning the spool itself–basically the reverse of retrieving. As it leaves the reel, it must turn the spool, and this creates friction as you cast, no matter how excellent the construction and components of the reel are.

Now, if you’re chunking a Texas rig, a large spinning lure, or a ½-ounce crankbait, you’re not going to notice that tiny bit of resistance. And as you step up in line diameter, spinning reels will start to fall behind baitcasters as the heavy line drags across the spool. In fact, for larger, heavier applications, the baitcasting reel will definitely outperform the spinning reel in terms of smooth casting and distance. But with ultralight lures, that almost unmeasurable resistance will tell–and you’ll find that you can’t cast nearly as well.

Ultralight reels tend to be spinners for a reason, and most dedicated ultralight anglers choose spinning reels.

Line capacity and weight

What makes an ultralight reel “ultralight” isn’t just its size and weight, though that matters for balance. Instead, it’s primarily the size of the spool and the line it’s designed to cast.

The designations on a reel typically list the midpoint line weight it’s intended for. When you see a reel with a listed capacity of “4 LB/110 YDS,” keep in mind that it’s designed to handle 2 and 6-pound test as well. These numbers usually refer to monofilament. It’s worth noting that more, or heavier, braided line can be spooled on these reels, if you wish, and more and more manufacturers are providing braid capacity in addition to the standard mono numbers.

We like to look for reels that can accommodate monofilament line weights of 2 to 8 pounds. They’ll hold more than enough line for long casts and all-day fishing. And if you need even greater distance or strength, you can always use braided line.

Smooth operation

When I shop for a reel, I like to spin it up, and then assess its balance on the rod and how smoothly it functions.

Smoother reels are a real blessing over the course of a day’s fishing, and this is one of the places where more money tends to make a difference.

Quality drag

Spinning reels offer one of two drag systems. They’re either mounted at the tail, behind the reel, or on the front of the spool. If you look at really high-end reels–especially those designed for saltwater–you’ll find that waterproof drag systems that are carefully sealed are available, too.

Generally, low-quality drag systems will be jerky or too tight on light line like 2-pound mono. We look for reels that run like butter, no matter how light they’re set.

  • Rear drag systems are easy to access, but are more mechanically complicated and less effective because they don’t directly touch the spool.
  • Front drag systems are slightly harder to access while fishing, but they feature tougher and more reliable, powerful, and smooth mechanisms. They use mechanical “brakes” applied directly to the spool, and these are the drag systems we look for in a quality reel.
  • Sealed drag – When you can afford them, waterproofed, sealed drag systems provide longer service lives as they protect the innards from corrosion. But they are a good bit more expensive, and it’s up to you whether they’re worth the cost for freshwater.

All the reels we review feature front-mounted drag systems.

Gear ratio

A final thing to note when selecting a reel is its gear ratio (for instance, 5:1). These numbers describe how many turns of the spool one full rotation of the handle produces: in this case, five full spool revolutions per crank.

5:1 is mid-pack; any lower is slow, and any higher is considered fast.

This number matters for two reasons:

  • Lure action – The faster you retrieve a spinning lure, the more speed and activity you demand from the fish, and the less time you give it to decide to strike. That can be a good thing in clear, warm water on bright days. But keep in mind that some lures are best fished quickly, while others perform best when retrieved slowly. You need to consider how you fish and what you throw when selecting a lure.
  • Retrieval speed – The higher the gear ratio, the faster the retrieve. When you’re jigging deep or casting at a distance and need to cover a lot of water quickly, a high gear ratio can help. But too much speed can be counterproductive, and you need to get the retrieve right for the lure and for the bluegill, crappie, or trout you’re after!

Generally, we look for 5:1 as a good place to start for a general purpose reel, and all the options that made our shortlist cluster around that number.

Final Thoughts

To differentiate themselves from their competitors, you’ll see things like bearing count and housing material advertised. Whether that’s composite or graphite housings or bragging rights to the most bearings, in our experience, these don’t necessarily translate into quality or performance for ultralight reels.

That’s because these little guys don’t take much of a beating from panfish and trout. Larger, heavier reels take a lot more abuse from the big fish they’re designed for. There, the housing material really can matter.

Ultralight Spinning Reel Reviews

Cadence CS-8 1000 – Our Pick!

CS8 Spinning Reels,Ultralight Premium Magnesium Frame Fishing Reel with 9+1 Corrosion Resistant Bearings Smooth Powerful Fishing Reel Spinning with 19Lb Carbon Fiber Drag & 6.2:1 Gear Ratio Reels
Amazon 

Line capacity: 6 lb./110 yds.

Bearings: 9 + 1 roller bearing

Gear ratio: 5.2:1

Max. drag: 11 lbs.

Cadence’s CS-8 is an exceptional reel, potentially unseating more established brands in terms of performance. For its price, this may just be the most bang for the buck available.

The CS-8 is incredibly smooth, and its build quality is impressive. That Cadence has packed this ultralight with high-quality components is obvious, and it’s a real contender compared to even the most expensive alternatives. We find that 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. Offering a full 11 pounds of maximum drag, I’d be comfortable fishing anything my rod could handle, especially given that its spool will hold 115 yards of 10-pound braid.

Cadence says that its reels compare to models costing twice as much. We think that’s true, and if you pick one up, you’ll be impressed!

Casting is reliably excellent, and for a medium-priced reel, the CS-8 is extremely hard to beat.

Pros:

  • Super-smooth operation
  • Excellent drag system, very high quality
  • Great casting
  • Nice line capacity

Cons:

  • Drag isn’t sealed or watertight

BassPro Micro Lite Elite

Line capacity: 6 lb./150 yds.

Bearings: 6 + 1 roller bearing

Gear ratio: 5.2:1

Max. drag: 6 lbs.

Available at Bass Pro

You may shy away from a store brand, but BassPro’s reels won’t let you down, and in terms of performance for the price, they’re a real bargain. In fact, I’d put the quality level of these inexpensive reels quite a few notches above their price-point.

That’s not just my opinion–check the reviews! But that said, I own and fish one of these on my ultralight rod, having been won over after testing it one-on-one versus various competitors. I found the Micro Lite Elite to be as smooth as Pfluegers that were three times the price, though it does take a touch more force to close the bail with a crank.

Its front-mounted drag is excellent as well, functioning smoothly with very light line. Casting is excellent, too.

One thing I like a lot about this reel is that it’s tiny, light, and capacious–holding fully 150 yards of 6-pound mono. That’s impressive for an ultralight, and if those features are a concern for you, take a close look at the Micro Lite Elite.

Pros:

  • Affordably priced
  • Smooth operation
  • Excellent drag system
  • Lots of line capacity
  • Great casting

Cons:

  • Drag isn’t sealed or watertight

Daiwa Exceler LT 1000D

Line capacity: 6 lb./160 yds.

Bearings: 5 + 1 roller bearing

Gear ratio: 5.2:1

Max. drag: 4 lbs.

If you’re an experienced angler, it’ll come as no surprise to see a Daiwa make our short list. An established name in the fishing industry, Daiwa’s reels are trusted gear for many, and the Exceler LT series helps to explain why.

First off, you’ll notice that the 1000D is smooth and quiet. Like the Cadence, we’d say that this reel punches well above its price point, offering impressive performance for a mid-level reel.

Holding one of the more capacious spools on our list, the Exceler LT is a great choice if you want to tackle larger fish like bass with ultralight gear. You can pack a bit more mono–or step up to some serious braid–given that capacity. And with a maximum drag of 8 pounds, you won’t be outgunned by big fish.

As you’d expect, you’ll find the drag knob on the front of the spool, and it delivers enviably smooth pressure, even with 4-pound line. But be aware that it can only offer you 4 pounds of drag, and as a result, you’ll need all the line capacity you can get!

Casting is excellent, as you’d expect.

Pros:

  • Super-smooth operation
  • Excellent drag system, very high quality
  • Great casting
  • Great line capacity
  • Very quiet

Cons:

  • Low maximum drag
  • Drag isn’t sealed or watertight

Okuma Ceymar C-10

Okuma Ceymar Spinning Reel Size 10 - 5Lb Max Drag Pressure
Amazon 

Line capacity: 4 lb./100 yds.

Bearings: 7 + 1 roller bearing

Gear ratio: 5:1

Max. drag: 6.6 lbs.

Okuma’s C-10 is a tiny reel that’s big on performance. Priced for any budget, it demonstrates that paying more doesn’t necessarily buy you a better reel.

The C-10 is silky smooth, and indeed, this Okuma reel is winning converts from more well-known brands because its build quality is awesome, translating into excellent overall performance.

Designed with a front drag system, the C-10 shows its stuff here, too. Smooth even with 2-pound line and the gentlest drag setting, you won’t be disappointed.

On ultralight rods, the Okuma casts well, and it easily accommodates 100 yards of 4-pound mono. Like other budget-minded reels we review, you may notice a slight difference between its performance and that of pricier alternatives, but we think it’ll leave you scratching your head about why you’d pay more for that slender margin.

Pros:

  • Affordably priced
  • Smooth operation
  • Excellent drag system
  • Great casting

Cons:

  • Very small spool
  • Drag isn’t sealed or watertight

Pfleuger President PRESSP20X

Line capacity: 4 lb./100 yds.

Bearings: 6 + 1 roller bearing

Gear ratio: 5.2:1

Max. drag: 6 lbs.

Available at Bass Pro

Pflueger’s President continues the trend you’ve seen in our reviews toward high-quality, reasonably priced ultralight reels. It’s a trusted name in the business, and one crank will tell you why this brand has won so many fans.

Like pretty much every other reel we review, this Pfluger outperforms its price-point, easily competing with higher-end alternatives. Its operation is silky smooth, and you won’t be disappointed by how well it fishes–guaranteed!

The front-mounted drag is smooth and reliable even with light line, and like all of the reels we recommend, it casts exceptionally well. Like the Okuma, this reel has been designed with a tiny spool, holding just 100 yards of 4-pound mono. That’s not a problem for us, but if you’re worried, there are larger capacity ultralights on our list.

That said, Pflueger reels are popular for a reason, and many anglers swear by them. Give one a try, and you might be hooked!

Pros:

  • Affordably priced
  • Smooth operation
  • Excellent drag system
  • Great casting

Cons:

  • Very small spool
  • Drag isn’t sealed or watertight

Shimano Sahara SH1000FI

Line capacity: 4 lb./140 yds.

Bearings: 4 + 1 roller bearing

Gear ratio: 5:1

Max. drag: 7 lbs.

Shimano’s reels are a must-have addition to this list, as their reputation for bomb-proof durability and flawless performance is legendary. One change from the Shimanos of old, however, is the absence of an anti-reverse lever, a testament to rising production costs and a nod in the direction of better water resistance.

Whether this is a deal-breaker is a personal decision; I don’t mind not having the anti-reverse feature, but I know plenty of anglers who won’t fish a reel without one.

That caveat out of the way, I’ve fished this reel extensively, and it’s among my favorite ultralights. Silky smooth despite giving up a few bearings to the competition, a few cranks can tell you why Shimano is a household name in the fishing industry.

The Sahara features an average-sized spool in this class of reel, and in my experience, provides plenty of line capacity, even for bass. I’ve landed several big ones with this reel, and I can guarantee you that the drag is up to the test. Fully tightened, it provides 7 pounds of resistance–more than enough for anything you’ll tackle with an ultralight.

That drag is also very smooth with lighter line, making this a great choice for the little guys, too.

Casting is outstanding with this reel.

Pros:

  • Smooth operation
  • Excellent drag system
  • Outstanding casting

Cons:

  • No anti-reverse lever
  • Drag isn’t sealed or watertight

Shimano Stradik FK ST1000HGFK

Line capacity: 2 lb./270 yds.

Bearings: 7

Gear ratio: 6:1

Max. drag: 7 lbs.

It’s fair to say that in many respects, Shimano sets the standard of excellence. Especially in their higher-end reels, like the Stradik FK series, you can really see this company’s commitment to quality.

As is the case on many Shimano spinning reels, the newer models have dropped an anti-reverse lever. This reduces costs and improves the water resistance of the body. Some anglers see this feature as a must-have; others shrug and keep fishing. If you count yourself among the former camp, this is probably not the reel for you.

That said, this high-end Shimano is a fishing machine. Designed to run even the lightest of lines, its spool will accommodate plenty of 6-pound mono. Indeed, in terms of braid, Shimano boasts a line capacity of 95 yards with 10-pound PowerPro, 85 yards with 15-pound PowerPro, and 65 yards with 20-pound PowerPro. When matched by a 7-pound maximum drag, I’d be confident chasing bass or pretty much anything else an ultralight rod can handle.

Speaking of that drag, it’s butter-smooth with 2 or 4-pound line. I’ve fished a lot of reels, and I’d say this is among the best in terms of smooth operation. General build quality is superior, and you can count this reel among the best of the best in that respect.

Obviously, it casts very well, too.

Pros:

  • Ultra-smooth operation
  • Awesome drag system
  • Great casting

Cons:

  • No anti-reverse lever
  • Drag isn’t sealed or watertight
  • Expensive

Our Pick – the Cadence CS-8 1000!

You might be surprised by our pick–it came as something of a shock to us, too! But ultimately, the Cadence impressed us with its high-end performance, great line capacity, and excellent drag. And while any of the models that made our reviews will impress you, we think this is the best of the bunch.

Indeed, as impressive as the Shimano Stradik FK is–and it is impressive–for many anglers, the lack of an anti-reverse lever is a deal-breaker. That figured into our analysis, ultimately pushing the expensive Shimano from the top spot. But if that doesn’t bother you, it’s an awesome choice.

In the end, we chose the Cadence CS-8 because it delivers the highest performance at a price that’s still reasonable. In fact, it offers the smoothness, casting, and drag quality you’d expect from a $200 reel, setting the bar very, very high for affordable excellence. It holds a huge amount of light mono or slender braid, packs a powerful drag, and can tackle pretty much any fishing adventure your rod can handle.

That’s a tough combo to beat, and we think you can see why it made our top spot.

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