Spinning Reels

When it comes to spinning reels, I’ve always found Shimano and Daiwa to be my go-to brands of choice. With a strong heritage designing and manufacturing gears for fishing tackle and bicycles, their reels are as smooth as they come. They aren’t the only choices though. Worldwide spinning reels are almost certainly the most popular category of reel there is, which means the choices are endless. And they aren’t all expensive. There are some extremely cheap reels on the market these days, and while personally we would prefer something a little more proven, it’s hard to argue against cheaper reels that have gathered a passionate, loyal following. For example, just check out the reviews on the Pflueger President, pictured here:

Pflueger President Spinning Reel - best mid-range spinning reels

If you’re looking for something that’s made to last, we’d advise avoiding plastic reels and aiming for something metallic. Something from one of the more recognised reel manufacturers is usually worth the money. Sure, you may be paying for the brand, but the reason these brands are worth paying for is they have a reputation to maintain, and the only way they can achieve that is by consistently producing quality products.

Check out our recommended spinning reels below:

Best Entry-Level Spinning Reels

KastKing Sharky Series – 1500, 2000, 2500, 4000, 6000, 8000, 10000 *

If you’re new to fishing or are looking for a lightweight and inexpensive spinning reel then you might want to consider one in the KastKing Sharky series. There are definitely reels on the market of much higher quality. However, for the price, you would be surprised at how smooth and efficient these reels can be.

Many satisfied customers have provided feedback on these reels. Among other positive things, they often comment on how user-friendly they are. They like the anti-reverse function, and many people seem to appreciate its sleek black/red appearance.

There are some drawbacks to this reel. The handle seems to be a bit loose, no matter how much you tighten the screw. Also, when reeling fast, the spool may get a little wobbly. Neither of these seem to affect performance, but they may become annoying! Others have noticed that the line seems to tangle more often with these reels, upon retrieval (perhaps because the line roller isn’t offset?).

Overall, this reel’s durability is unproven. I also think it’s fair to assume that the drag system is not ideal for larger fish (despite the manufacturer’s assertion that the larger models are ideal for trophy specimens). If you want an entry-level reel, it’s a good first step. If you want something long-term, or if you are going after trophy fish… or if you want a reel that you can hand down to the grandchildren, keep reading!

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Best Value Spinning Reels

Pflueger President

Not dissimilar to the Kodiak, but edging it out by a whisker, the President is our selection for ‘best value spinning reel’. Lightweight, thanks to a graphite body; quality machined parts and anodized ‘braid-ready’ aluminum spool; plus a very smooth wind and multi-disc drag. There isn’t much to dislike. Oh and then there’s the price tag. We simply don’t know how they do it.

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Best Mid-Range Spinning Reels

Shimano Baitrunner OC Reels *

If you’re a regular visitor to Drowning Worms, you’ll know we’re big fans of the baitrunner. We’ve loved them for more than twenty years. The OC reels are yet another example of how brilliant these reels can be. The OC Baitrunner has the same legendary drivetrain and auto-return Baitrunner feature. But it claims to offer improved ‘castability’, better line lay, less backlash, and less friction on the line. It feels larger, which makes it more comfortable, and there’s a higher max drag than in its predecessors. It’s hard to do better than this, unless you’re chasing massive saltwater monsters.

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Best High-End Spinning Reels

Best Money-Is-No-Object Spinning Reels

Daiwa Saltiga Spinning Reel

The ‘Saltiga’ is, quite simply, the daddy of the spinning reel world. If you’re heading off around the globe to do battle with the ocean’s true hooligan – the GT – this is probably the reel you need to buy. Its drag is pretty much unparalleled, and it’s built to withstand the toughest fishing conditions, like those that come from a typical GT expedition (repeatedly casting heavy plugs and doing battle with the world’s heaviest, fastest and strongest saltwater fish). The jargon is fit to baffle even a NASA scientist (Mag sealed system body, Zaion air rotor, Air bail protrusion-free tubular stainless bail system, Digigear, Forged aluminum spool with Titanium Nitride SVS spool ring… need I go on?! Rest assured though, these are great reels.

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* NOTE: Where we’ve presented a ‘series’ of reels, as with Kast King and Baitrunner OC, how do you know which model to choose? Well, there are slight differences from model to model, but basically, the higher you go up on the model number, the bigger the reel gets. (We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that, even in the larger models, these are still among the lightest in their class. That is great for inexperienced anglers!) Additionally, you will see improved drag pressure and greater line capacity in the larger models.

Spinning Reels Background

The Main Benefit of Spinning Reels

It is believed the first version of a modern spinning reel (sometimes called ‘fixed spool’ reels), was invented by a US textiles entrepreneur called Holden Illingworth. Like today’s spinning reels, the self-styled ‘Illingworth reel’ used a contraption that literally orbited a stationary spool. This contraption wound the line without the need for the spool to revolve on an axle or bearing.

Although not immediately obvious when retrieving line, when casting, the benefits of a reel with a fixed spool are obvious. With the line free to pay off the leading edge of the spool, it became possible to cast much further. These reels also allow you to cast much lighter lures or baits. Traditional baitcasting reels, by comparison, were always limited by the friction caused by the spinning spool.

Spinning reels also solved the problem of overrunning or ‘backlash’, which many baitcast fishermen will tell you can be a constant irritation. Spinning reels have no rotating spool, which means they are more or less incapable of overrunning and fouling the line.

How to Use a Spinning Reel

So as not to fight the laws of gravity, spinning or fixed-spool reels are usually mounted underneath the rod. They literally hang from the reel seat, where they can be reeled – usually, although not exclusively, using the left hand – using a ‘crank handle’. This handle turns the reel’s rotating line roller and wire ‘bail arm’ via a series of gears, winding the line onto the ‘fixed’ spool. If it sounds confusing, the diagram below should help.

When the handle is turned, the wire bail arm automatically recaptures the line. It wraps it around the spool, which these days moves up and down as the handle is turned, thus spreading the line evenly across the spool.

Once you’ve retrieved the line, it’s time to cast again. Simply open the bail arm, trap the line with the forefinger, and make a forward cast. As you do so, release the line using the forefinger.

To restrict, slow or stop the action mid-cast, the left hand or forefinger can be used to trap the line, once more, against the leading edge of the spool. Alternatively one turn of the reel’s crank handle will engage the wire bail arm, which will stop the line abruptly. Note: stopping the line suddenly can cause break-offs – see below.

Component Parts of a Spinning Reel

Parts of a spinning or fixed-spool reel

Potential Problems with Spinning Reels

Fixed spool reels are not foolproof. It’s advisable, for instance, to use caution when winding the reel handle to stop a bait mid-cast. Doing this with a powerful rod or heavy bait can be dangerous. It’s possible to stop the progress of the cast so abruptly that the line will break, sending your bait (and hook) sailing into the water, unattached. This can pose a lethal danger to the fish.

What’s more, although spinning reels solve many of the issues of baitcasting set-ups, they don’t solve them all. As the line is released off the leading edge of the spool, it has a tendency to stay in loops or coils, which can occasionally detach from the spool and subsequently get caught up or form knots. Or, upon retrieval and re-spooling, the line can get twisted or trapped underneath itself, subsequently leading to it unspooling when it’s not supposed to.

Why use a spinning reel

Despite the issues above, thanks to their simplicity and versatility, spinning reels are a great ‘go-to’ for both beginner and advanced anglers alike. Spinning reels can handle tackle of nearly any size and shape. They will cost you less time dealing with birds’ nests. Being quick to learn and easy to use, they will have you fishing quickly and efficiently; and they will ultimately give you more time to enjoy the fishing (and more time to catch fish!).

Spinning Reel Features

  • Mechanical Drag (front or rear). Spinning reel drag systems are generally fairly strong and reliable. The major difference in this feature is the location of the adjustment knob. It sits either on the front (top) of the reel or on the rear (bottom). Front-located drag settings are typically stronger and preferred for harder, longer runs, yet are harder to adjust with a fish on the line. This is partly due to the location and partly because the rotating bail can impede access. Rear-located drags, by comparison, boast easier access for making adjustments while fighting a fish – the rotating bail is not in the way – but aren’t considered as powerful or reliable for the harder-fighting, longer-running species.
  • Anti-reverse lever. This function prevents the handle from spinning backward. I know some anglers who prefer to ‘back-wind’ but most keep the anti-reverse engaged, then fight their fish with the reel drag. This tends to ensure a better hook-set, and allows you to free a hand – sometimes necessary for grabbing or netting the fish! Sometimes, however, the anti-reverse lever is a good ‘fail-safe’. If your drag is set too tight and the fish makes a sudden, strong run, you can use the lever to ‘back off’ in an instant (you can quickly and easily flip this lever to give let him run and avoid breaking the line, although this can come with its own issues, so beware!).
  • Ambidextrous handle. With spinning reels it is usually very easy to change the handle position from right to left, and vice versa. There is virtually no disassembly required. It’s a simple matter of unscrewing the handle and moving it to the opposite side.