Person using a Rod with Spinning Reel

Fishing Reels: The Ultimate Buyers Guide [For 2021]

Picking the right fishing reels for your fishing style is no simple task.

There are quite a few types to choose from and hundreds of different products in each category type. 

Each reel is designed with a different drag, gear, features, line capacity, and more. Picking the right reel is about understanding your style, personal needs, and the environment/species you’re after. 

To help home in on the right reel we’ve broken down the key first steps to making your decision…

  1. Which type of reel do you want to buy?
  2. Which style of fishing will you use your reel for?
  3. Which fishing reel brands should you consider?

So lets get to it…

1. What Are The Different Types Of Fishing Reels?​

There are three main types of fishing reels to choose from; fly reels, baitcasting reels, or spinning reels.

If you’re a fly fisherman life is quite easy as you only have one choice, but if you fish conventionally the choice between a baitcasting or spinning reel comes down to your personal preference and skill level.

Fly Fishing Reels

A fly reel looks simple but has a lot going on under the hood when it comes to: drag, materials, durability, retrieve rate, and more.

Naturally, you want the best fly fishing reels for your needs and this comes down to the environment you’re fishing in, what species you’re after, and the reel you pick needs to be able to handle both

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Baitcasting Reels

Baitcasting reels are for the more experienced anglers among us.

They are tricky to use without getting into a frustrating tangle, but once you get the technique of using baitcasting reels right, the distance and accuracy of your cast will be the best it’s ever been.

However, you can’t just go find the first new one you see in a shop – it’s not that simple, unfortunately…

Each fishing reel is made differently and finding the best baitcasting reels comes down to finding a reel with the features you need for your environment and the fish you’re after. Line capacity, drag, usability, price, left or right-hand wind, and fishing style all play a part in finding the best fishing reel.

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Spinning Reels

Spinning reels are the most popular reels in the world as they allow you to fish multiple styles with just one type of reel. 

Top-water, jigging, cranking, and trolling are just some of the techniques the best spinning reels are ready for.

Spinning reels don’t just come in one shape, they have a few categories for specific styles and experience levels. The best underspin reels and trigger spin reels are usually for beginners to start their fishing career with as they’re simple to use and follow on easily to spinning reels. 

Then you have the best baitrunner reels that change the game when it comes to live-baiting. This kind of fishing reel gives you the top drag system to let a fish swallow a live bait without feeling any resistance, but letting you know about it so you’re ready at the same time. 

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2. Choosing a reel for your fishing style...

Once you have picked the type of fishing reel you need, you’re going to need to tailor it to the techniques you’re planning to use on the water. 

Each product is made with a specific use in mind and while some do follow the line of being all-rounders, they’re still best used with certain styles and in specific environments

Travel Friendly Fishing Reels

When you’re gearing up for a backpacking fishing adventure into the wilderness the thought of carrying a heavy 10 lb spinning reel on your back offers zero appeal, especially after you’ve picked all your space-saving essentials for the trip. 

Not to worry, the best ultralight or micro spinning reels offer space-saving agility, paving the way for any traveling angler

Less weight is more in this fishing reel category, and you can usually find a great make and match to suit the fish you’re after that is way lighter than any normal spinning reel. 

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Picking The Right Reel For Your Environment

Saltwater Fishing Reels

Saltwater is mean to a fishing reel as the salt gets everywhere. If you’re not using one of the best saltwater reels around, you’re likely to end up with a reel that was once pristine becoming a rusty mess.

A good saltwater reel, whether it’s one of the best saltwater fly reels, the best saltwater baitcaster reels, or the best saltwater spinning reels, is well protected from any corroding effects the sea throws at it.

They’re made with corrosion-resistant materials, and they’re as sealed as they can be to try to stop any salty water from getting into the internal mechanisms.

The best reels will last years in the salt with little maintenance, whereas a freshwater reel would probably fall apart in a day, week, or month.

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Surf Reels

The surf is probably one of the meanest environments a reel can find itself in. you have to contend with: spray, sand, rocks, plus quite possibly a huge fish to fight at the end of the day, like an 8ft grey shark. 

Only the best surf fishing reels can survive a life like this without the additional support of overalls and replacement parts

They don’t make surf reels in a single shape or size, that would make it far too simple for us to get the top new product we’re after. The age-old choice of picking the best surf baitcasting reels or the best surf spinning reels still comes into play. 

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Ice Reels

Ice fishing is another environment that’s tough on a reel and the fisherman holding it. 

Finding the best ice fishing reels isn’t about price, or anything related to it. 

The sign to look at when looking for a reel is that it can handle being used in freezing temperatures

A reel for ice fishing is designed not to stick, close, or be affected by the cold and is therefore reliable when you hook up that big pike you’ve been shivering next to your ice hole waiting for

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Picking The Right Reel For Your Experience Level

That feeling when you finally click with your fishing gear is great. You understand everything that’s going on and you’re enjoying using it to cast back and forth as you try and catch that lurking bass or the bluegill that’s in your sights. 

This clicking feeling won’t come from using the wrong gear as a beginner and picking the right sort of reel at the start is key. The best beginner’s baitcasting reels are an ideal choice for those wanting to upgrade from spinning into the tricky realm of boat casting. 

The best underspin and triggerspin reels are designed to ensure that any level of fishermen has a top time when they get to use them. 

These reels are simple to use, almost tangle-free, and easy to cast with, and are the top choice for kids and first-timers who are new to fishing. 

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Picking The Correct Reel For Your Catch 

No matter the fish you’re after, you’ll need to think about whether the reel’s drag, gear, or line capacity can handle the catch you’re after. The top reels will be able to handle multiple species –  but you can drill down and get more specific. 

Bass fishing, for example, requires a lot from your reel and the best bass spinning reel will be able to handle everything from stopping a bass snagging you in cover, to letting you do close delicate casts. 

Catfish grow to immense sizes and without the best catfish fishing reels you’re likely to be underfunded in terms of drag and line capacity, you don’t need to be taking a knife to a gunfight after all, and taking the wrong gear to catch a catfish is a big no-no

Smaller species need light delicate reels and when looking for the best crappie fishing reels or the best trout spinning reels, it’s all about lightweight accuracy that allows the use of light 6lb line without any tangles. 

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Picking The Correct Reel For Your Budget

A reel can cost anything from under a hundred dollars to over a thousand but please don’t let any price-related fears keep you away to a life of not fishing. 

A high price doesn’t necessarily equal the best fit for you and your needs in the fishing world and there are quality products at affordable prices to be found. 

Whether it’s finding the best spinning reel for the money or the best baitcasting reel for the money, you can always source a top reel that works for your needs that’s in your budget, and this counts for the best saltwater fly reels for the money too. 

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3. What are the top fishing reel brands you should consider?

Sougayilang Fishing Reels

Sougayliang is a Chinese manufacturer that is quite new to the fishing world and has only been around for 10-years or so. 

Their mission is to spread the joy of fishing over the globe by providing quality fishing products at an affordable price

Their spinning reels are some of the best around when shopping on a budget and our favorite Sougayilang reels come with enough drag, line capacity, and quality to work for most environments and styles. 

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Shimano Fishing Reels

Shimano is anything but new and has been around the block a few thousand times in their hundred-plus years of providing some of the best angling equipment the world has ever seen.

If you’re looking for a brand to pin your hat on, then Shimano is a choice that’ll deliver across every bit of their product line.

Some of their most popular reels are the Shimano Sedona reel and the Shimano Casitas reel. The Sedona is a favorite in the spinning world and the Casitas is renowned in the world of baitcasters.

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Penn Fishing Reels

Penn is the USA equivalent to Shimano. They have been in the industry since 1932 and are about as trusted as a manufacturer can get. They produce some of the best gear around and you really can’t go wrong when picking their new or old products. 

They last, even if you treat them terribly, they’re still smiling at you every morning. 

When it comes to all-around fresh or saltwater spinning, the favorite tends to be the Penn Clash reel thanks to its beautiful build and ability to be delicate and light or strong and powerful when you need it to. 

Any rock and surf fishermen out there will know the Penn Battle II reel and Penn Persuit reels for their ability to survive salty hell and still pull out a giant tarpon at the end of the day thanks to their awesome drag and line capacity. You can abuse reels and it won’t even leave a mark, internally. 

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KastKing Fishing Reels

KastKing is 100% American made, and their gear is too. They’re the new kid on the block who wants everyone to be able to afford to go angling, and they send out the products to ensure it’s possible too. 

Now, you’re not going to stumble upon Shimano or Penn quality with KastKing but you will smile when you see the prices, max drag, and line capacity of a reel of theirs. The KastKing Stealth reels are a prime example of this and you can’t go wrong with a Stealth, especially on a budget. 

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Okuma Fishing Reel

Okuma is the middle of the road guy that always delivers the stuff you can rely on and they produce some top quality gear for every level of angler out there, beginner or pro.  

The Okuma Cedros reels really turned some heads when it came out and it’s an ideal choice for every kind of angling from big offshore to chasing bass in the shallows. Not many a reel can attest to that. 

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Check out our latest reel reviews...​

You’ll see some of our newest and bluest reviews below so you can continue your research on the quest to discover the best angling equipment for you. The more you research, the more likely you’ll end up with something that feels like an extra limb, rather than a foreign object. 

You can never do enough research when it comes to buying a reel, or any angling equipment for that matter, and you should always allow a little more time for research before you buy, at the very least you’ll learn something new

Okuma Cedros Spinning Reel Featured Image

Okuma Cedros Spinning Reel Review

To me, there’s nothing quite like saltwater fishing. I’m hyper-aware of all the big fish ready to pounce, so every cast is an adrenaline