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Published Mar. 3, 2022

The best trout spinning reel can make all the difference between landing a bunch of fish or a frustrating day on the water. Finicky trout call for a light line and a smooth drag that fights fish without breaking them off. The flashy lures and different baits are eye-catching, but won’t do you any good if you can’t land fish. If you’ve been losing too many fish over the last few seasons, it might be time to upgrade.

Reels with low start-up inertia, smooth drags, and small sizes are all key to finding a good balance with ultralight rods. You want something light enough that you can still feel subtle strikes but strong enough to handle a big fish. Finding the best of both worlds can be tricky, but I took the time to pick out some of the best trout spinning reels on the market.  

Things to Consider Before Buying

There are endless options for spinning reels on the market, including countless ultralight reels. The hardest part is differentiating what is designed to catch fish and what is designed to catch fishermen. Flashy-looking reels have flooded the market and knowing what’s worth your time and money can be tricky. If you look carefully, it’s easy to tell the gimmicks apart from the quality reels. A good reel should be lightweight, have a smooth drag system, and be built to withstand many seasons to come. Remember these considerations the next time you shop for a trout reel.

Drag

When it comes to trout, the drag is surprisingly more important than you may think. Traditional thinking leads people to believe that max-drag is the most important factor to look for. When in reality, the total pounds of drag isn’t as important for trout fishing as how smooth the drag system performs. Reels have what is known as start-up inertia or how easily the drag will kick in. Some reels take a second for the drag to start which on light line can mean lost fish. A good drag should start up immediately and remain smooth all the way through the fight. To test this, simply hold the reel and turn the spool with your hand until the drag kicks in. If it sets in immediately, you know the drag is good to go.

Size

This is one of the most important decisions you will make when it comes to trout fishing reels. Most trout anglers fish ultralight rods usually six feet or less in length. Finding a reel in a 500 to 1000 size is a good start to pair with an ultralight rod. These reels are small in size which makes the combo easy and comfortable to cast all day. While larger reels might be appealing since they hold more line, it is not necessary for most trout fishing situations. In a stream, there is not a lot of room for trout to run, and if they do take off, you can follow them downstream on foot. So, stick to a reel that feels right on the rod and you’ll enjoy your time on the water much more.

Weight

Like reel size, weight is equally as important in finding the right reel. Even some small-size reels are overbuilt and use heavy materials. A heavy reel brings the weight of the rod and reel combo towards your wrist. This may seem like nothing at first, but after a long day of fishing and casting, you’ll start to feel it. Look for a reel that is lightweight and you can avoid this altogether. A good rule of thumb I like to follow is to put the reel on the rod and try to balance it on your index finger. If the combo balances somewhere near the front of the cork grip, you’re good to go.

Use

Trout come in all shapes and sizes and might require different reels for different situations. If you target stocked fish on opening day, an ultralight setup is perfect. However, if lake run fish is more your thing then these ultralight reels are under gunned. A chromed-up steelhead will make quick work of an ultralight reel and can leave you wondering what happened in seconds. These fish require larger reels with more drag and added line capacity to withstand blistering runs. Take into account what you’ll need out of your reel and more fish will hit the net.

The Best Trout Spinning Reels of 2022
An angler releasing a brown trout on the Beaverkill River. Ryan Chelius

Best Trout Spinning Reel Overall: Abu Garcia Revo SX

Bass Pro Shop

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Key Features:

  • Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Drag: 10lbs
  • Line Capacity: 6/110 

Why It Made the Cut?

The Revo SX is a well-priced trout reel with a solid aluminum construction that will last for years of fishing.

Pros:

  • Solid aluminum construction
  • Carbon matrix drag system
  • Oversized PVC Knobs

Cons:

  • On the heavier side

Trout fishing is not easy on anglers and can be even harder on reels. Wading in streams and hopping over rocks will inevitably lead to you taking a spill in the river. Not to mention the usual wear and tear reels take from being out in the elements. The Abu Garcia Revo SX is built from a solid aluminum construction that results in one of the sturdiest reels I’ve ever felt for the price. It’s the kind of reel you hold and immediately know it’s ready for whatever you throw at it. The drag system is incredibly smooth and easily handles light lines with low start-up inertia, making it hard to break off fish. I like the 10-size reel for most trout fishing but the 20 and even 30 sizes have their place too. For bigger lake-run fish they hold up well and have the added line capacity for longer runs and bigger rivers. The slightly heavier weight also comes in handy for longer rods designed specifically for lake-run fish. A strong Abu Garcia spinning reel, like the Revo SX  will balance most setups perfectly and be able to stand up against the inevitable dip in the river.

Best Saltwater Spinning Reel: Daiwa Procyon

Bass Pro Shop

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Key Features:

  • Weight: 9 ounces
  • Drag: 22lbs
  • Line Capacity: 10/280, 12/220

Why It Made the Cut? 

A well-built saltwater reel boasting a drag system packed with features to withstand long runs from big fish.

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Long Cast ABS spool
  • DIGIGEAR drag system

Cons:

  • More expensive than freshwater reels

Apart from sea trout sharing a name with their freshwater cousins, the similarities end there. Life in the open ocean means there is always a bigger fish trying to eat you and speckled sea trout do their best to get away. As an angler, a reel with a powerful drag system and lots of line capacity is crucial when you hook into a trophy trout. The Daiwa Procyon AL is the perfect reel to withstand the abuse these fish can put your gear through. In saltwater fishing, the first concern is how well your reel will hold up to the elements. Salt, wind, and sand can cripple a great reel in no time. The Procyon AL solves this problem with an all-aluminum frame which increases rigidity and prevents corrosion from salt. After a day on the water, I simply run the hose over it, and rest assured it will be ready for the next time I take it out. 

What makes this reel a true saltwater machine is its drag system. In the 3000 size, it has 22 lbs of max-drag to stand up to the blistering runs of gator trout. Perhaps the most impressive feature is the Advanced Tournament Drag system. Unlike other reels, when you set the hook on a big fish the drag will tighten down ensuring you drive the hook deep into the fish’s mouth. Once the fish begins to run, the drag loosens to the point you set it on. Saltwater fish are notorious for having hard mouths that are tough to hook. Having this capability is incredibly important in case you hook something unexpected. I was recently fishing for sea trout and redfish when a hungry tarpon surprised me, but I was able to get a good hook in him even with a light setup.

Best Budget: Pflueger President Spinning Reel

Bass Pro Shop

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Key Features:

  • Weight: 6.2 oz 
  • Drag: 6lb
  • Line Capacity: 2/200, 4/100, 6/80

Why It Made the Cut?

A reliable and timeless classic. Sized perfectly for catching trout.

Pros: 

  • Budget-friendly
  • Fully sealed drag
  • Super smooth

Cons:

  • Graphite body

The name Pflueger is synonymous with fishing in America. Established in 1916,  Pflueger has been around for over a hundred years, and rightfully so—their reels work. The Pflueger President is no exception and offers a great reel at a budget-friendly price. While there’s a size for any kind of fishing, the 20-size reel is great for trout fishing. Its graphite construction dramatically saves weight allowing you to pair a slightly larger reel with ultralight rods while maintaining a good balance. This was the first trout reel I started with, and ten years later, with almost no maintenance, it’s still going strong. I contribute this in part to the fully sealed drag system which keeps out water and dirt. Trout fishermen are known for setting their rods down on the bank when they take a picture of a fish and all too often sand will sneak in. A fully-sealed drag system avoids this completely and saves you from the dreaded grinding sound of sand in the reel. For a reel as affordable as the Pflueger President is, the drag system is incredibly smooth. The low start-up inertia is great for fighting fish and the max-drag of 6lbs is more than enough for any trout fishing scenario.

Best Premium Trout Reel: Shimano Vanford

Bass Pro Shop

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Key Features:

  • Weight: 5.5 oz
  • Drag: 7lbs
  • Line Capacity:  6/110

Why It Made the Cut?

Lightweight, super smooth, and built to last—the Shimano Vanford is worth every penny.

Pros:

  • Carbon frame
  • Long stroke spool for added casting distance
  • Ultra-smooth

Cons:

  • Comes with a premium price tag

When it comes to world-class reels, Shimano is known for making the best and the Shimano Vanford is no exception. It was built to replace the legendary Shimano Stradic Ci4 and is packed with new features to solidify its spot in the lineup. If you like to roll up to the river in style then the Vanford is sure to do the trick. I’m usually not one to go off of looks, but this reel is sleek with a matte black finish and red accents. However, without functionality, there is no point in paying a premium price. Luckily, the technology is equally as impressive. It’s based on the old Stardic Ci4 platform so it feels very similar. The added edition of the long stroke spool is where this reel takes the cake. Casting light lures at wary trout can be tricky especially when you just can’t reach the pocket they are sitting in. The spool design can dramatically increase casting distance and ensures you can make tight casts into hard-to-reach places. It also features a drag system that is by far the smoothest I’ve seen in a reel this size. The adjustments are super crisp with plenty of fine clicks to dial it in. I tip my hat to Shimano on this one, they truly designed a premium reel for enthusiasts to get the most of their time fishing. 

Best Lightweight Trout Reel: Okuma Ceymar Tactical Spinning Reel

Key Features:

  • Weight: 6.8 oz
  • Drag: 6lbs
  • Line Capacity:  10/180, 15/140

Why It Made the Cut?

A reel that looks as good as it performs.

Pros:

  • Matte tactical styling
  • Crisp drag system
  • Aluminum spool and handle

Cons:

  • The body is not full aluminum construction

The “tactical” trend has gained a huge following in recent years with every company branding geared towards the tactical crowd. Unfortunately, more often than not, the products don’t live up to their tactical name. But Okuma nailed it with this reel by redesigning their classic spinning reel to produce the new Okuma Ceymar Tactical Spinning Reel. Known as a premier reel producer for decades, Okuma’s care in designing this reel is immediately apparent. For trout anglers, they offer the 500 and 1000 size reel in traditional spinning reels or bait feeder options. I prefer the bait feeder option to allow me to drift live baits drag-free or work conventional lures through promising hideouts. The versatility allows you to have a do-it-all reel, which is important, especially if you’re not looking to spend a fortune on multiple setups. While it’s not as light as some high-end reels, for the money, it’s one of the lightest options available. The 500 size comes in at exactly 6 ounces and balances perfectly with a 5-foot rod. The carbon drag system has performed flawlessly for me and has even tangled with a 22-inch wild brown with no issues at all.

Methodology

I grew up in New Jersey where the opening day of trout season might as well be a holiday. Every spring we chased trout until the summer heat came and it fueled my passion as a cold-water angler. Since then, I’ve traveled across the US and even overseas checking off several unique trout species. I learned a lot about gear during this time and know what it takes to build a reliable reel that will last for many seasons. There are quality options available at every price point and a little research can go a long way. I took the time to find options that will cover any basis of trout fishing and tested them to make sure they’ll be around for a while. I based my selections on the following criteria:

  • Construction: What materials make up the reel?
  • Durability: Is the reel built to withstand long days on the water?
  • Drag System: How strong and smooth is the drag system?
  • Weight: Will the reel balance light rods well?
  • Start-up Inertia: Is there any hesitation before the drag kicks in?
  • Line-Capacity: How much line can it hold?

FAQs

Q: Why Spinning Reels Rather Than Baitcasters?

While baitcasters are great reels that can do a lot, they simply are not designed to throw light lures required for trout fishing. They work off an internal braking system that works best with heavier lures while spinning reels have no braking system. The weight of the lure pulls the line off the spool when you cast a spinning reel. When set up with a light line, you can throw light lures surprisingly far. Spinning reels also give you the ability to keep the bail open and drift live baits to waiting trout.

Q: How do you size a spinning reel?

Spinning reels vary widely in size but for trout, a 500 or 1000 size is usually best. These reels are lightweight and small so they fit well on shorter ultralight rods. However, sizing varies between companies, and some companies size their reels in 500 and 1000 sizes, while others size them in 50 and 100 for the same size reels. I find it best to look at the reel in person and even bring the rod you plan on putting it on to make sure it balances well.

Q: How Much Drag Does a Trout Reel Need?

While some trout reels have more than 10lbs of drag, a good trout reel doesn’t need more than 5lbs of drag. Trout fishing calls for a light line which can break easily if you use too much drag. I never find myself using the full drag on a reel so buying it based on max-drag is unwise. Look more at the construction and feel of the reel and you’ll be much happier with your purchase.

Q: What is the best frame material for a trout spinning reel?

Trout reels vary in frame material and each serves a different purpose. Aluminum framed reels are great for durability but suffer in weight. They are usually heavier and pair better with longer rods. Other reel frames like graphite are lightweight and are great trout options. They are not as durable as aluminum frames but sometimes the comfort of the setup is more important when you are casting all day. If you want the best of both worlds, full carbon frames are available like the Shimano Vanford. Just know you’ll pay a pretty penny for one.

Final Thoughts on the Best Trout Spinning Reel

Trout fishing is a great way to get on the water and catch fish. It’s probably the most accessible kind of fishing there is. You don’t need an expensive boat to get there and tackle is very minimal. It’s a great way to get kids involved in the outdoors as well. Choosing the right spinning reel to enjoy your time on the water is important. Take into account your budget, the size you want, and look closely at the construction of the reel and it’s easy to find a solid reel. My top picks cover a wide range of price points all with great features to keep you focused on catching fish.

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