So many new fishing reels hit the market each year that it’s almost impossible for an angler to keep track—and harder still to get an objective comparison of them all. So, we did it for you. Fishing editor Joe Cermele and I spent several long days spooling, casting, cranking, and torture-testing every new spinning and casting reel we could get our mitts on—35 in total. The upshot: There are lots of sweet new models for 2016, including a handful that stand out from the crowd, and a couple of real surprises. We winnowed the field down to the top 10 in each category. Here’s how they stacked up.
We gave up to 20 points for each of the following test categories, for a maximum total score of 100: Casting We spooled the reels to capacity, the spinning models with 6-pound and the baitcasters with 14-pound Berkley Trilene XL. Then, using 1/4-ounce weights for the former and 1-ounce weights for the latter, Cermele and I both made and measured several casts, switching reels out so they were on identical rods. Power Using a heavy saltwater stick and 80-pound braid, we deadlifted a 5-pound weight to see how easily the reel pulled the weight off the ground (or failed to do so). Drag Taking max power into consideration, we tested smoothness and engagement by pulling the line as fast and hard as we could. Retrieve Making a series of casts and cranks, we assessed the retrieves for fluidity while observing how evenly each model stacked line onto the spool. Construction We evaluated build quality and fit and finish via a thorough inspection of each reel, and combined that with how it held up under the strain of the power test. —M.M.
The Winners: Spinning
 Best of the Test
The new incarnation of Shimano’s hugely popular Stradic is a gem. Our test reel was smooth and powerful, packing 20 pounds of stopping power with a silkiness that almost guarantees against ripping lips. Constructed with Shimano’s new bulletproof Hagane composite body and gears, the Stradic is loaded with cutting-edge technologies, such as X-Ship, which increases gear efficiency and power, and Dyna-Balance, which eliminates wobble during the retrieve. The $200 price tag may put the Stradic FK out of some anglers’ reach, but that’s its only drawback.
 Best Caster
The Exist thumped all comers in the casting contest, launching the 1⁄4-ounce weight over 150 feet, thanks to an oversize ABS long-cast spool. It won the retrieve test and scored tops in power, too, as the new Zaion super-carbon frame provides superior strength while minimizing weight. That said, the $720 ticket on this reel is off the charts. The Exist delivers high-end performance with great looks to match—and may have some value for you as a status symbol—but other reels fared nearly as well or better for a fraction of the cost.
 Best Build
If you’re tough on equipment and need a quality reel that can hang with you in the trenches, look no further than the Abu Revo SX20 for $160. I think I could drive over this reel with my truck and still take it fishing. The fact that the SX20 is built to last is obvious the second you pick it up, but a closer look reveals an extremely rigid body and a thick, durable bail wire—two qualities I look for in a workhorse reel. When our testing was all done, it finished tops in the construction category, and it makes a great all-purpose reel on the water. There are three other sizes, too.
 Best Value
Far and away the biggest surprise, the Ceymar claimed the No. 4 spot with a double-take price of just $50. Throughout the test we kept saying, “There’s no way that price is right.” But it is. Out of the box, our test reel seemed well built and sturdy. With a thick bail wire, a drilled spool, and a sleek black design, nothing about it looked inexpensive. But would it hold up to our test? Yup, in spades. The Ceymar cast far and cranked well, and its 13-pound drag was buttery smooth. Our only concern was how much of a beating a $50 reel can take over time, but it’s worth finding out. —M.M.
The Winners: Casting
 Best of the Test
It isn’t cheap at $580, but this reel is a work of art. Every moving part is rigid and smooth, and 13 total bearings serve up a flawless drag and retrieve. The Conquest is incredibly lightweight and compact; even the 400 model we tested nestles into the palm of your hand. We did have a few backlashes, but the 20-point cast-control should take care of that with some fine-tuning. There are four models, so everyone from bass guys to hardcore muskie and striper nuts will be drooling, left-handers included.
 Best of the Test, Tie
Another huge surprise: This relatively new small company has been impressing us in recent years, but the Inception still caught us off guard. For such a modestly priced baitcaster ($120), it performed above all expectations. Lightweight, compact, and well built, the Inception cast at the top of the pack, and its drag is as powerful and smooth as that of reels costing three times more. The centrifugal brake is easy to access and adjust, and it took only seconds to get it tuned. It’s also sleek and beautifully finished.
 Best Build
Aptly named, this reel is a true monster, and it gives Abu Garcia a clean sweep for Best Build honors. With a perfect score in both construction and power, the Beast is built to take an absolute pounding without missing a beat. Unlike many baitcasters with a disengaging levelwind, the Beast has a narrow spool that lets line pass through easily for better casting. The price ($400) may seem steep at first, but when you consider that this reel is likely to last your lifetime, and your grandchildren’s lifetime, it’s a solid investment.
 Best Caster
There was a look of shock on our faces when the first cast flew off the Pulse. This reel sent our 1-ounce weight farther and faster than any other casting reel in the test. On a handful of occasions, we almost dumped the entire spool. All of this was without a single backlash or even the slightest overrun. It was no slouch in the other categories either. The soft paddle handles of the Pulse are easy to grip, and the reel’s lightweight construction reduces fatigue on long days of launching baits. The $50 price tag is tough to beat, too.
 Best Value
Speaking of clean sweeps, Okuma gets one in the Best Value category. As with its Ceymar C-30 spinning reel, the price of this baitcaster ($75) does not come close to reflecting the quality put into it. The Calera features both a centrifugal brake that’s easily accessed via the side panel and a magnetic brake to fine-tune the cast-control on the fly. The performance of the Calera should put it on the radar of any angler, regardless of cost. But given the cost, it’s a no-brainer for the fisherman on a budget. —M.M.