Field Test: 4 Top Ultralight Spinning Reels | Field & Stream

Field Test: 4 Top Ultralight Spinning Reels

Bantam-size spinning reels spooled with 2- to 6-pound-test fall in the ultralight category, a subset of tackle that places a premium on fun and finesse. Matching downsize gear with smaller fish—like a bluegill that wouldn’t feel like much on a regular outfit—provides more of a challenge. But tiny lures can attract big species, too, and that’s where the real fun begins. Landing a 14-inch brown trout on 4-pound line requires the ability to play a fish.

We asked four experienced anglers to use four ultralight spinning reels with various fish species for a full year to test them for drag quality, bail design, line handling, and overall value. The results show that going small can yield a big return on fun.

Abu Garcia Orra SX 10


Price: $100
Specs: 8.1 oz. • Holds 125 yards of 6-pound-test

Testers loved the quality construction and high performance of the Orra SX 10. “It casts well for a reel of this size,” said Cicinelli, “and the drag handled larger fish, like an unexpected smallmouth bass, very well.” Van Houten liked the nine-bearing design, which made it “the smoothest of all the reels tested.” He managed to land a 10-pound lake trout without having to “monkey the drag.” He did have problems with line coiling under the spool and wrapping around the inner shaft. But he praised the “heavy-duty large-diameter bail wire” that withstood hard use.

HITS: “Beautiful finish.” —Cicinelli

MISSES: “A bit pricey.” —Drake

Shimano Sedona 1000FD


Price: $60
Specs: 7.7 oz. • Holds 110 yards of 6-pound-test

With the best combination of value and performance, the Sedona 1000FD tied for first place. A “very solid design,” said Van Houten. “The drag is smooth and easy to use, and the spool rotates cleanly.” Cornelius agreed, saying, “There were no line-twist issues.” Cicinelli also said the drag worked well, but he thought the bail was very hard to close, “which cost me strikes on small trout streams.” Drake, who fishes for snapper bluefish in late summer, really liked that the reel was rated for saltwater. “All I had to do was rinse the reel off when I got home. I’ve seen no signs of corrosion.”

HITS: “Built to last a lifetime.” —Van Houten

MISSES: “Lightweight bail can bend easily.” —Cornelius

Quantum Kinetic PTi


Price: $80
Specs: 7.9 oz. • Holds 100 yards of 6-pound-test

This, the smallest reel of the bunch, was “the true definition of an ultralight reel—although it also happens to be the least rugged,” Cicinelli said, noting that the bail was not as beefy and the drag was harder to set. Van Houten had no issues with the drag and said, “This was the best-casting reel. The line jumps off the spool and casts like a bullet.” He felt the reel’s small size meant slow line pickup, and he would have preferred a stouter bail wire. Drake used the reel on brush-choked small trout streams. For him, it did a good job, but overall there was “nothing special here.”

HITS: “Has the capability to land big fish.” —Cornelius

MISSES: “No real innovation.” —Cicinelli

Lew’s Speed Spin SS100a


Price: $60
Specs: 6.7 oz. • Holds 130 yards of 6-pound-test

The testers liked the overall construction quality, but a couple of issues kept the reel from scoring higher. “Great performance. Easy to use, smooth retrieve,” said Cornelius. But when he loosened the drag, he felt the spool “didn’t run true.” Drake and Van Houten said the bail slapped their fingers when they closed it. Van Houten detected a lot of flex in the reel foot, which raised the issue of longtime durability. Cicinelli, however, said it was his favorite of the bunch. “With a full spool of line there are no problems; it retrieved smoothly, cast well, and the drag was smooth.”

HITS: “For what you get, a good price.” —Van Houten

MISSES: “The coating on the reel had a tacky feel.” —Cicinelli

The Testers

Ryan Cicinelli, 34
• Home Fishing Area: Michigan
• Days Fished per Year: 45

Charley Cornelius, 49
• Home Fishing Area: California
• Days Fished per Year: 4

Jay Drake, 65
• Home Fishing Area: Pennsylvania
• Days Fished per Year: 60

Chris Van Houten, 42
• Home Fishing Area: Michigan
• Days Fished per Year: 100