Find the best spinning reel for you

Using a well made reel means having a smooth fishing experience, with no line lay issues, tangles or frustrations. In your hand, the reels below feel compact and solid. When a monster bass grabs your lure and runs with it, their drags will release line at a consistent rate, preventing snap offs in those crucial moments.

If there is one simple rule for choosing a good reel, it would be to grab one from PENN, Diawa or Shimano. These are safe choices, particularly if you spend £50+ but anything over £30 from these brands will be functional and a safe bet. A fancy appearance is not a reliable indicator of quality and poor choice reels with soft metal cogs will grind to a halt in no time and end up in the tackle grave yard. In my experience, it’s much cheaper to spend more and get something that will last.

If there was something decent under £30 I would recommend it, but there isn’t. For holiday fishing or feathering for mackerel, a cheap travel rod and reel combo does the job fine. If you’re looking to go spinning with single lures like wedges, soft plastics and bass lures then you want a decent modern spinning reel that can handle lighter weight lures and lighter braided lines.


Skip to FISHMAG’s Best Reel Choices


PENN Reels

Penn reels are work horses and are sturdy and powerful. They are suitable for pairing with bass rods, boat rods or traditional spinning set ups. Avoid them with for ultra light fishing (sub 28g).

PENN Pursuit III Spinning Reel (Cheapest Decent PENN Reel)

PENN is a brand every sea angler has heard of, and they’ve become known as a producer of timeless classics in the world of high end rods and reels. The PENN Pursuit is a reel that’s great for pairing with a light weight spinning rod that casts 1-3oz. It has uncommon power for a reel of its compact size. The spool is short and surprisingly deep, so if you want to hop on an inshore boat you’ll have plenty to work with at depth.

Do not pair this reel with an ultra modern specialist lure rod with narrow eyelets, because the line lay is quite wide it can cause issues if your rod has very narrow eyelets. This won’t cause issues unless your rod casts under 1oz or is under 7ft. This wide diameter is also what helps give the reel its considerable power.

The graphite body is sturdy and durable, and allows the reel to be sold at a bargain price point. I would compare it to top reels in the £60 price range more readily than the £40 range. It is not a ‘sleek’ reel nor exceptionally smooth, but it has a very sturdy, reliable feel.

You won’t find a reverse function on this reel, but then you’re not going carp fishing, are you?

PENN Pursuit III Spinning Reel with Sea Knight 8 Strand Braid

FISHMAG’S Verdict

I use mine in 3000 size for lure fishing with weights above 1oz. Anglers that generally like traditional spinning methods will enjoy this classic reel, but I would not recommend this for rods under 7ft or rods that cast under 28g maximum casting weight as the line lay is too wide for the eyelets of super light modern rods. This is a powerhouse, not a sleek design for light modern bass rods.


PENN Fierce (Midrange)

The Penn fierce is a sensibly priced reel that just does it’s job extremely well and consistently. Penn design their reels with fewer components than brands like Shimano, and many like this simple, sturdy feel. The reel visually may look less embellished than a lot of reels you’ll see out there, but that’s partly why its so reliable – it contains the bare necessities and each component fits perfectly into the next. Sometimes I think in fishing luxury is the absence of any problems, and that’s what a reel like this can offer.

FISHMAG Verdict:

This is a great reel for a moderate person that wants a very, very good reel. They do everything they need to do but nothing more.


PENN Spinfisher (Highest spec)

Penn’s Spinfisher is one of the most popular fishing reels of all time and for good reason. All PENN reels have that characteristic powerful feeling that a lot of people like, and at this price point you get a reel that still feels smooth and sleek despite being a complete work horse. Compared to Shimano or Daiwa reels at the same price point, I’d say this reel looks more understated in appearance. All the Penn reels are focused on delivering results not on looking like jewellery so if that’s your thing Penn is the way to go. If you’re going to be cranking larger bass lures for instance or fighting fish over the roughest ground, then that extra power could prove useful. This reel does it all, so if you’re serious about fishing for bass and other species with lures from the shore, this is a reel for you to own and for your grandchildren to inherit!

FISHMAG’s Verdict:

Hey if you’re getting yourself one would you mind getting me one at the same time? Don’t forget to add this reel to your will, because it will probably outlive you and you don’t want the grandchildren fighting over it. Also remember, nice reels need nice line to work well. A high end reel with mediocre line isn’t going to feel that high end. It’s when you pair the two together that you notice the extreme difference in the whole angling experience.


Daiwa Reels

Daiwa reels have the best line lay, particularly in their higher end models. These are the best reels in my opinion for modern lure fishing with bass rods or lighter gear.

Daiwa have been making reels since the 50’s and they haven’t sold out like a lot of other brands. If you study the Japanese methods for process improvement in their factories you’ll understand why many consider Daiwa reels to be in a league of their own. They are a bit tarty for some.

Diawa Sweepfire (Cheapest Decent Diawa Reel)

Diawa’s Sweep Fire is the best value spinning reel on the market as far as I can tell. There are no other reels we’re aware of that are this cheap and this decent.

This is one of those rare reels that combines the reliability bass anglers are used to, but costs much less than most reels of its calibre. It does not come with the slickness (or tartiness) of a more expensive reel, and is not comparable to a reel that costs 2-3x the price, but it is the best beginner spinning reel out there. Most reels at this price point are not reliable, even though from the outside they may look impressive.

It’s not fancy. It does the job and gets it done.

A Sweep Fire in need of respooling

FISHMAG’s Verdict:

This is a definite buy for someone that is dabbling in modern lure fishing approaches, using lighter lures and spinners, but that doesn’t want to fork out £80 on a specialist spinning reel.


Diawa Ninja (Midrange)

Diawa is arguably the best reel manufacturer in the world, and this is their most accessible high end reel. Some prefer Shimano, some prefer Penn, but Diawa makes reels that are deadly for light weight lure fishing and often have more compact designs than their Shimano counterparts. The quality of a reel like this puts it in a different category altogether from most reels you will see on the typical harbourside in summer.

The Diawa Ninja Reel is a modern specialist spinning reel that pairs perfectly with a bass rod or light spinning set outfit. Paired with a rod from the same company, you are in for a high end lure fishing experience at a mid-range specialist price point.

FISHMAG’s Verdict:

This is the entry level to specialist spinning reels, and you will notice a huge difference between this and most reels in use on harbours across the UK. Reels of this caliber are essential for modern bass fishing with lighter lures under 1oz, since they allow you to fish with much lighter lines including braid.


Daiwa Crossfire (Midrange)

Daiwa’s crossfire is a superb reel but comes in a size that is too small for most anglers needs. If you’re looking for a mid-range LRF or HRF reel then the crossfire is an excellent choice.

FISHMAG’s Verdict:

One of the most attractive and high functioning reels at its price point on the market, but only suitable for specialist anglers that fish with rods that cast 28g and below.


Daiwa Bg (Highest Spec)

The Diawa BG MQ is a next level reel that is the stuff of anglers dreams. I can’t claim to have fished with one, but have used a friends Daiwa of the same price point and it was a painful experience going back to my own reel. I won’t pretend to have much to say about this reel except that if you can afford it, it’s going to be a damned nice experience.

FISHMAG’s Verdict:

While visually understated, this reel is about as high performance as a reel can be. Some people buy these because they’re mag sealed, so in theory you can get them drenched in salt water and be fine. I wouldn’t risk it and would minimise salt exposure and always rinse with fresh water after use if it gets seriously wet. Salt damaged reels feel ‘crispy’ when you turn the handle.


Shimano Reels

Shimano have exceptional reels at every price point. Their lower end reels are shockingly good for the price and the higher end reels are among the best in the world.

Shimano Fx 4000 (Best Budget Option)

The Shimano FX is one of the best value spinning reels on the market. You get a reel from one of the top 3 best reel brands of all time at a price point that makes Chinese tat redundant. If you want to buy an excellent specialist spinning reel for a low price then this is where to look.

FISHMAG’s Verdict:

Incredible value. Everyone out there that wants to buy a spinning reel and doesn’t want to spend much money should get one. They’re also perfect for a reel on a second rod as back up or if you want to take a friend fishing and don’t trust them with your slickest reel.


Shimano Sahara (High Spec)

The Shimano Sahara is a very high end reel that performs flawlessly and is trusted by thousands of anglers. It’s not necessary to buy a reel like this to catch fish and everybody knows that, but after they’ve used one, people don’t seem to care. It just makes fishing a bit more pleasant and since time by the water is precious and for many busy people quite rare, some want to maximise the experience in any way they can.

I’ve heard reports of people landing fish weighing up to 20lb on the smaller versions of these reels. When you have a fish ripping line from your spool you’ll be glad you invested in a top quality reel. Nobody regrets it then.

FISHMAG’s Verdict:

This is a high end mid-range reel. If you’re going to spend this much it’s tempting to spend another £20 and get something truly exceptional, but then equally you could drop £20 from this price and still get something that will last forever if cared for so at this point I would argue there’s not a lot in it in terms of performance. It’s obviously an excellent reel that is going to make your fishing that much more enjoyable. It will feel smooth, solid and the drag will work flawlessly compared to slightly cheaper models.


Rod and reel combo’s:

Buying a rod and reel combo solves the big problem of ensuring that the reel you buy is perfectly balanced with your rod. Note that while telescopic rods and rods that break down into more than 2 pieces are easy to transport, they are much more prone to snapping so drags need to be set more conservatively when fishing with these rods. I would recommend avoiding those except for fishing on holiday, where their usefulness justifies their limitations.

The Best Rod & Reel Combo’s

Once again, my advice if you’re buying a rod and reel combo is to choose one made by PENN or DAIWA. This is fairly conservative advice because there will be other good options out there, it’s just that if you stick with these brands you are going to get the best possible quality for your pounds.

If you are looking for a simple rod and reel combo for mackerel feathering, then you’ll want something long and strong. Quality is less important, but if you go for a PENN rod and reel combo that casts a couple of ounce, you’ll be fine with feathers and you’ll get something high quality, too.


What are the actual performance differences between low end and high end spinning reels?

The biggest difference in performance comes from line lay and the drag. Reels with poor line lay with result in tangled lines. On a spinning reel, poor line lay prevents you from fishing with lighter lines that may be required if you wish to cast further or fish with lighter lures and rigs. A cheap drag doesn’t let out line at a consistent rate and may require a lot of initial tension before it releases any line at all. Reels like that will result in lost fish, but can be quite a laugh to fish with if you have the skill to work around their limitations and make them work!

Mid range reels that cost about £60-70 in my opinion have no limitations or performance disadvantages in comparison with super high end reels. You may get even better line lay with even fewer tangles by splashing more cash, but I’ve never had a tangle on my £70 reel with 8lb braid.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any differences between the mid-range and the high end. Reels genuinely do keep on getting better and better even up to £300. The difference is phenomenal. My advice which applies to most forms of consumption would be to buy what gives you the performance you actually need and avoid spending extra for thrills – BUT do not even touch the high end kit because if you do it will make your perfectly functional mid-range reel feel like cheap crap. Quality is relative. I got used to borrowing a friends reel that cost about £250 and was a Japanese import and then went back to my mid-range £70 Shimano and was quite shocked at how cheap it felt, despite being an excellent reel.

Here’s an example.

Spinning Reel Sizes:

Quick tip: if you’re a beginner, I recommend buying a rod and reel that are designed to go together so you’re guaranteed to get the right size. If not, just go for a size 4000 and it will work fine with whatever rod you have as long as it isn’t under 8ft and super light, in which case pick up a 3000 size.

With spinning reels Dawia reels are smaller than Shimano reels of the same size.

1000 Size = LRF – super light weight lure fishing with very light lines like expensive 8lb braid or 4lb flourocarbon line. Balances on rods that cast under 15g (less than half an ounce).

2000/2500 Size = Still only appropriate for super light weight rods that cast less that 21g and are under 7.5ft. This is a specialist size that will only match with LRF and HRF rods.

3000 size = the same reel body as a 2500 but with a larger spool with more line and more power. Perfect for rods that cast up to 21g and are under 8ft. Be careful about buying this reel size unless you’re sure your rod is a specialist rod for light weight lure fishing for species like Wrasse and Perch. It will look small even on most light weight lure outfits.

4000 size = perfect for bass fishing with rods of 9ft+ or for use with an entry level spinning rod between 7-9ft. This size is for using lures that weigh over 20g, which most traditional lures are. I recommend this size reel as a great general purpose size for people new to fishing. This size is going to balance well with rods that are 7-10ft like catching bass and other serious predators that require some bullying. A very versatile size, you won’t be disappointed if you’re looking for a simple spinning outfit.

5000 size = heavier lure fishing with 2oz / 50g weights and the largest bass and pike lures on rugged coasts with 10ft lure rods. Essentially, the reel size that was considered light weight a couple of decades back. This is great when you need power, long casting distances and something that can handle your big plugs and 20lb braid. Great for landing monster pike and monster bass or for match fishing when you want extra distance in your cast. Also as it happens, a good size for using mackerel feathers on a very heavy 10ft spinning rod.

Choosing a spinning reel

A quality reel is a pleasure to use and is very different from most reels you’ll see in tackle shops around the country.

The key difference, asides from being smoother, nicer to use and more durable, is that they lay line in a way that prevents tangles and allows you to cast further. Cheaper reels cannot be used with higher quality braids, because most reels are not designed with super-fine lines in mind. For this reason, if you want the best fishing experience you will need a reel that costs at least £50. Reels below this price point will limit the fishing styles you can use. You won’t be able to fish effectively with light weight lures (below 1oz) or heavier tackle (over 3oz).

If you just want to catch some mackerel with feathers, then there is no need to spend more than £30 on a reel. Higher quality reels are required for more advanced beach casting rigs and for spinning with single lures. Casting 3oz leads is something that any reel can do well enough. It’s when you start putting on heavier rigs, lighter rigs, and nicer lines that you need something more specialist and advanced.

If you want something cheap and cheerful that just gets you out by the water and does its job, that’s fine too. It can be good to have a reel that you aren’t too fussed about taking on a kayak for instance. There are imitation reels out there that are decent quality for the price and are fine for most sea anglers. Do consider though that spending an extra £20 could get something that might last a lifetime if looked after and be much nicer for you to use. For occasional mackerel bashing, cheap is no problem. For using lighter weights such as when spinning or float fishing, you’ll appreciate a superior product. For using very heavy leads and fishing at range over mud flats and beaches, you’ll also want superior line lay to maximising your casting distance and power of retrieval.

The big leap forward is going from something you picked up for £30 from the tackle shop to getting a mid-range Shimano, Penn or Diawa and putting some decent line on it. When I started fishing and used cheaper kit I thought I got in tangles and birds nests because I was new to fishing but in fact my reel just had crap line lay and my line was too thick for the size of the spool, resulting in coiling. Sometimes when the ‘poor workman blames his tools’ he’s damned right. Using lighter line or braid and a half decent reel makes a world of difference.

Reel Buying Guide: Understanding Fixed Spool Reels

Drag Systems

You want a reel with a smooth drag. You can generally get this when you spend more than £40 on a reel and more expensive models often have silky smooth drags. This prevents your line breaking off when a fish makes a crash dive for the kelp. It could even prevent your rod from snapping.

There are front drags which sit on top of the spool and rear drags which poke out the back of the reel. The first of these are more common in sea fishing. Both are fine, but the front drag models are much more compact.

Frame Materials

Frame materials vary from solid aluminium, magnesium and plastic. Plastic should be avoided as it will feel clunky and the different components won’t feel as tightly integrated into one another. If you’re kayak fishing or fishing from rock marks where you frequently get wet, you need a reel that is corrosion proof. The main way reels die is by salt and corrosion making them juddering, jolting things you don’t want to use. Unfortunately there’s not a lot you can do once you’ve dunked a reel in salt water – leaving it to sit in warm fresh water will help keep it going but it’s on its way out unless you’re using a specialist kayak fishing reel that’s designed for it. Magnesium corrodes. Titanium is superior. Graphite is not as durable as carbon fibre or metals like aluminium.

For sea fishing you should also avoid reels targeted at fresh water anglers. Some reels designed for fresh water can also handle salt, but it’s safer to buy reels designed for sea fishing primarily.

Reel Bearings

Bearings make the reel turn smoothly. It’s quite striking the difference in smoothness as you up the quality of your reel. It’s a luxury that’s hard to go back from once you’ve fished with a solid and smooth reel – it makes most other reels feel clunky, like the handle could fall off any minute – even though it’s fine. However, more bearings doesn’t always mean a superior product and there are rapidly diminishing returns.

Spools

Spool size and line capacity are worth paying some attention to. Some spools are very shallow and others are deep with room for a lot more line. On a beach caster you need a reel that can store 300m of 15lb line. Line of about 12-15lb is best for getting a long casting distance, but if you’re new to fishing you may prefer to use 20lb and slightly lighter weights so that you don’t need to use shock leader.

Line Basics

Most people using ‘backing’ line which is where you use a stronger and thicker line to fill out the bottom of the spool before then tying on your casting line which is what you’ll actually be using. This allows you to save line, because if you just tied your mainline directly to the spool, when you eventually loose half your line, the line you have left is too deep in the spool to cast effectively, as the line casts with greater resistance the deeper into the spool you cast. A reel with too much line on the other hand will be prone to tangles, as the line will come loose too free

Backing line is also useful for providing extra strength should you hook into a very large fish that strips you of all your mainline, and the thicker line ties a stronger knot to the reel than thinner lines can, however good your knot.

Anti-Reverse

Anti reverse is a lever on the back of the reel that allows you to reel backwards, letting line out rather than letting it in. Given that you have a bail arm for letting out line and you can use your fingers to control the amount of line you release or the drag when fighting a fish, this feature is essentially useless. A useful indicator however of the quality of a reel is to reel forwards and then suddenly change direction to reel backwards, with anti reverse switched on so that the reel locks up and doesn’t reel backwards. On a cheaper reel, there will be a bit of ‘loose movement’ in the reel handle where the handle isn’t quite sitting tight in the body of the reel. On higher end models, when you do this the handle stops turning instantly, with no movement at all. This makes the reel feel like a tight, cohesive unit.

Gear ratio

Gear ratio tells you how many times the spool will rotate with each turn of the handle. A ratio of 5.4:1 means the spool turns 5.1 times for each full turn of the handle. It’s not important most of the time, but you should know that the faster the retrieve the less power you have, so it’s a trade off. Reel size matters so much more than gear ratio for 99% of angling.

Weight

Reel weight can determine if a reel balances nicely with your rod or not. It’s disputed whether this actually matters, but a rod that can be balanced perfectly on one finger on the rod handle just before it meets the reel is considered balanced. It’s definitely not fun when the reel is too heavy for the rod, as the tip of your rod will tend to lift upwards unless you direct it to do otherwise and it feels clumsy. Reels that are too large or small for the rod also increase the chance of line tangles. Other than this, reel weight is not an important factor unless you are lure fishing for long time periods. Reel weight is only an issue when you fish for mackerel with a beach caster and beach caster reel, which is not advised.