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It’s often said that your fishing rod is the backbone of your fishing tackle..and it’s also true that then your fishing reel is the heart of it. Regardless of how you fish or what you fish for, your fishing reel is one of the most important pieces of fishing equipment that you can own, period. It doesn’t matter how good your rod is unless you pair it with a high quality fishing reel. Your fishing reel affects your casting, line management, and bringing fish in. The following are among the best fishing reels on the market today.

Best Fishing Reels: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Spinning Reel: Shimano Stradic FL Spinning Reel

It’s a well made, reliable spinning reel rady that can handle any species of freshwater fish as well as many close-to-shore saltwater species.

The Shimano Stradic FL Spinning Reel is a versatile and effective spinning reel. The drag is smooth, and the gearing is strong, balanced, and quiet. The high-end Long Stroke Spool makes long, accurate casts achievable. The handle folds in for compact transport. 

Best Baitcasting Reel: Abu Garcia Revo Rocket

It’s a lightning-fast reel ideal for bass fishing.
Abu Garcia

The Abu Garcia Revo Rocket is a high-speed reel, with a 10.1:1 gear ratio reel that cranks in 41 inches of line with every handle turn. It’s still durable and strong. The Power Stack Carbon Matrix Drag System provides plenty of force to put the brakes on a big fish, with up to 18 pounds of drag. 

Best Baitrunner Reel: Shimano Baitrunner OC Spinning Reel

It’s a battle tested baitrunner that will get the job done no matter what species you’re targeting.

The Shimano Baitrunner OC Spinning Reel is a great choice for a live bait spinning reel and one of the best Shimano reels. The XT-7 graphite frame and rotor are strong, rigid, and lightweight. It operates just like any other spinning reel, but with the additional option of a baitrunner setting, that you can engage or disengage whenever you want.

Best Fly Reel: Orvis Hydros Fly Reel

The Hydros is a top-notch freshwater reel available in a range of sizes.

The Orvis Hydros Fly Reel is a phenomenal fly fishing reel ideal for freshwater endeavors. The fully sealed disc drag is smooth and easy to adjust. The reel’s design is minimal, and the frame is extremely lightweight, so you won’t tire when using it.

Best Cheap Fishing Reel: Zebco 33 Spincast Reel

It’s a durable, no-frills reel that has been used by millions of anglers. Zebco

You can’t beat the Zebco 33 in terms of value. It’s also a legit fishing reel that you can trust when battling big fish. The graphite frame is durable and with the proper care, the reel can last you a long time. This is not just the best cheap fishing reel–many think this is the best spincast reel ever made.

What to Consider When Choosing a Fishing Reel

For most angling scenarios, it is difficult to overstate the importance of your fishing reel, because it plays several key roles. First, it holds your line, which is a basic but nevertheless crucial function. Second, it affects how far you can cast. Third, your reel provides a drag, which allows the line to be released from the spool before the line breaks—a key role in playing, tiring, and landing big fish. 

What kind of reel should you buy? This depends largely on the kind of fishing that you do. Are you a bass angler? It’s hard to beat the integrity of the best baitcasting reels. Do you fish bait for big fish? You should consider a baitrunner. Are you a fly angler? There’s a whole world of fly fishing reels to choose from. Before purchasing a new reel, make sure you are getting the right kind for the type of fishing that you do. 

The next factor that you need to consider is how well your reel pairs with your rod. Make sure your reel is the correct size and is compatible with the rod you hope to pair it with before making your purchase. Make sure that the reel and rod both use the same pound-test class of line.

A spinning reel is a great all-around fishing reel

A spinning reel is hands-down the most widely used reel around. Spinning reels are easy to use, effective, and can be used to fish for nearly any freshwater species and most saltwater species. They’re simpler to use than a baitcasting reel and don’t get tangled as often as baitcasters do. This makes them a better choice for less experienced anglers—though many experienced anglers opt for spinning reels. Spinning reels also throw lighter lures farther than baitcasters, and you can easily adjust your reel’s drag to properly fight big fish. 

If you’re a bass fanatic, consider a baitcasting reel

Baitcasting reels are extremely popular among bass fishermen because they’re fast and powerful. A baitcaster sits on top of the rod and positions the spool so the line goes directly off of the spool and through the line guides. This allows long, accurate casts, and provides power to reel in strong, heavy fish. There’s more of a learning curve with baitcasters than with spinning reels, but the benefits are well worth the effort. You can control the line with great precision, making for more accurate casts. You can also slow the lure down on the cast, which minimizes the splash when it hits the water. This is especially important for flipping lures or baits into cover. Baitcasters offer a fast retrieve and can easily handle large lures such as spinnerbaits and crankbaits. They’re also better at handling braided lines than spinning reels.

If you fish bait for large fish, consider a baitrunner reel 

A baitrunner is a spinning reel with an added feature that makes it ideal for fishing bait for large fish. They are most often used for catfish, carp and bowfin, but are ideal for surf casting. Basically, a baitrunner allows you to put the reel into a “free spool” mode. This means that you can set the reel up so that a fish can take the bait and run with it—which fish often do before they commence eating it. In “free spool” mode, there is actually a secondary drag that puts very minimal pressure on the line, which prevents long loops of line from coming off of the spool and creating tangles. 

Why would you want to let a fish run before setting the hook? Some fish will drop a bait immediately if they reel resistance when they take a bait. Also, a very large fish can pull a rod right out of a rod holder if the reel won’t allow the line to pay out. A baitrunner reel solves both problems, without allowing the chance of line tangles.  

What should you consider before purchasing a new fly reel? 

Fly reels are quite different from the reels that you use for conventional tackle. They are made to hold wide-diameter fly fishing lines, and are lightweight so anglers won’t tire from casting them for hours. 

Fly reels come with light drag settings that allow you to pull out line so you can cast, but also provide some resistance when fighting big fish. Some fly reels have adjustable disc drags, similar to conventional reels, while others have only click drags that can’t be adjusted. The latter is a good option for small fish but can get you in trouble if you hook into anything that will really test your line strength. Make sure that your fly reel matches the line weight of your fly rod. Fly reels typically offer a small range of line weights with which they’re compatible.

Are you on a budget? 

Fishing reels can be expensive, but there are more budget reels on the market than ever. Many are made by companies that don’t have a well-known brand name. Budget reels will never perform quite as well, especially in terms of speed and smoothness, as high-end reels. But if you want something basic but well made, look for a spincast reel made by a reputable manufacturer. Spincast reels are sturdy and reliable, and you can get a solid one for little money.


Q: Are expensive fishing reels worth it?

Expensive fishing reels are worth it if you fish hard and often. Budget reels will get the job done fine for some anglers, but if you spend a lot of time fishing—and targeting big fish—a high-quality reel is a worthy investment. An expensive reel should last longer with the proper maintenance as well.

Q: Who makes the best fishing reel?

Who makes the best fishing reel is a subject of fierce debate. Many of the top fishing gear manufacturers produce a range of reels, including high end offerings. Shimano and Abu Garcia fishing reels are among the top quality reel manufacturers. 

Q: What is the best reel for bass fishing?

The best reel for bass fishermen depends on personal preference and what you use. If you use light tackle, a spinning reel is better. If you like to throw heavy fishing lures and baits, go with a baitcasting reel.

Best Fishing Reels: Final Thoughts

One of the most common issues with fishing reels is incompatibility with the fishing rod it’s on. Make sure the reel you get is rated for the same strength, or pound-test, of line as your rod. You can find that information on the rod itself, and in the descriptions of fishing reels. 

Why Trust Us

For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.