With so many spinning reels available for bass fishing, it can be overwhelming to pick just one. Here are some ways to make it easier
CREDIT TO: JERRY AUDET, FIELD & STREAM, MARCH 16, 2023
Choosing a spinning reel for bass can be overwhelming. There have never been more high-quality, affordable, and reliable spinning reels for the freshwater angler than there are today. There are literally dozens of choices that range from about $20 all the way up to nearly $1000, with a reel at almost every $10 increment! However, before you begin sorting through all your options, there are a number of factors you should consider. I’ll break them down here and offer some picks for the best spinning reel for bass at every budget.
My choice in bass spinning reels is based on nearly 30-years of angling experience. I have personally used and tested many reels in both freshwater and saltwater settings, from models costing less than $8 to more than $900. I take my gear very seriously, and I like to geek out over reel specifications and craftsmanship. I am not brand loyal, and I am looking for the best product regardless of reputation or preconceived notions about who, or what, is “the best.” While I have been bass fishing from a boat, kayak, and from shore for nearly three-decades, I also have many contacts with professional anglers, industry professionals, top-tier tackle suppliers and retailers, and some of the very best citizen anglers alive today. These resources and my own significant experience have informed all my choices here.
I have carefully weighed the top factors I believe are most important for bass anglers across the country (and the world), to come up with my spinning reel picks. I evaluated each reel here based on the following criteria:
The Daiwa Exceler is a great reel for a variety of fishing techniques. It is extremely smooth (one of the smoothest I’ve ever tested, at any price) while also remaining rugged and strong. The thing that really caught my eye is how light the Exceler is. Despite impressive line capacity and high drag-ratings, the “LT” (light and tough) body undercuts other reels at this price point in terms of ounces on the scale. You really notice this first when you pick up the reel; it’s just so light! The line-lay on this reel is excellent (as with all Daiwas), which keeps tangles down and likely helps in casting distance. Daiwa has an excellent reputation for reliability, and the Exceler is even popular for light saltwater use across the world, which speaks volumes for how tough it is. The Exceler provides at least 90% of the performance of even the very best reels, most expensive reels, and is all most anglers will ever need.
Of all the review articles I’ve written (across a variety of topics) this was the hardest pick for me to make to date. There are just so many fantastic spinning reels out there between $50 and $150, and it was very hard to choose. However, I have found that Daiwa and Shimano make the best moderately priced spinning reels for freshwater, and at this price point, it really is a toss-up between the Daiwa Exceler and Legalis, and the Shimano Sedona and Sahara. Ultimately, when comparing these four models, I think the Daiwa Exceler is the best option for most anglers. It has more drag, more line capacity and is lighter weight than the Shimano’s, and a slightly better design overall than the Legalis. If you’re not a fan of Daiwa or Shimano, the Abu Garcia Revo X is your next best bet- but it’s going to cost you an extra 50%, or $40 extra- but it is also a dynamite, top-performing reel.
Looking for more info on Daiwa reels? Read our reviews of the best Daiwa reels.
Shimano reels are in this article a lot, because it’s hard to argue with their excellent craftsmanship and reliability. However, they aren’t typically known for budget offerings. That’s a shame, because for around $30 the Sienna is a phenomenal reel that is light weight, strong, and incredibly smooth. The anti-reverse is instant and infinite, and I’ve had good luck with the bail not flipping close when I go to make a hard, long cast. I have fished my Sienna reels with both braid and monofilament, and they work well with both. The drag is smooth and doesn’t stick, and is easy to adjust in small increments. I fish this reel very hard, and it’s been dunked underwater many times, dropped on the pavement, even flew off the top of my car on a 50-mph road. It certainly doesn’t feel as good as it did when I first bought it, but I’m still fishing with it. Just last year it landed a largemouth in excess of 8-pounds and a bunch of smallmouths over 4-pounds. It’s a dynamite budget reel!
However, there are a ton of great alternatives, too. For the same price, the Daiwa Crossfire LT is a bit heavier and has fewer bearings, but also has a nicer bail wire, drag knob, and a good handle. I also really liked the Quantum Drive from my limited testing, as it was very smooth with nine bearings, and had a nice chunky bail wire, easily adjusted drag knob, and compact frame. For just a little bit more money, the Daiwa Revros LT is a high-quality reel that overall is just more solid, smoother, and stronger than the Sienna, and is your best bet at the $50 price point. For just a little bit more than that, the Pflueger President is a legendary reel that many anglers absolutely love, and has been around for many decades.
If you’re not sure how to match your rod and reel together, or just don’t want to spend too much time thinking about it, getting a factory rod and reel combination is a great option. The Daiwa Revros combination is fantastic for bass fishing, as long as one of the rod options matches how you want to fish (in terms of lure or bait weight). For its price, the Revros reel is one of the best on the market, and it will deliver smooth, reliable function for many years if you take basic care of it. The body is strong and light, the drag is fantastic, and the handle is tough and comfortable. The rod that Daiwa provides in the combo is decent, with good action and a nice handle. I felt it was a huge step up from the rod that comes with Shimano’s Sienna combo. Is it the best rod out there? No, of course not. But it offers good performance and will help you catch plenty of fish. Whether you use the Revros as a primary, everyday rod and reel, or keep it as a back-up or loaner setup, you won’t be disappointed.
I think this combination offers incredible value, and without jumping way up in price it’s hard to beat. However, those that love the Pfleuger President reels should know that they offer a good combination for just a little bit more money than the Daiwa Revros combo. The Plfueger rod that comes with the combination is also available in more lengths, actions, and one-piece options.
Let’s get this out of the way right from the start: I love the Abu Garcia Veritas rods, and I have for years. They are just amazing rods for the money that cast fantastic, are extremely sensitive, ultra-light weight, and provide astounding backbone. This influenced my pick substantially. However, the Zata reel that comes with the Veritas combination is a serious contender in the mid-high price point. And though it’s not quite as good as the Shimano Stradic CI4+, in my opinion, it’s also $75 less expensive! It’s a very solid reel, built around an aluminum main frame, and it simply feels more rugged in your hand than other reels at the same price (including the aforementioned Stradic CI4+).
It’s not the lightest offering out there, but this is the trade-off for how rugged it is. The drag is extremely adjustable, and its essentially over-kill. All sizes have 14-pounds of drag which is more than you’ll ever need fighting bass. Of course, with 11-bearings, it’s extremely smooth. If you want a professional level rod and reel combination that matches perfectly and will last you a decade of hard fishing, I think the Veritas Combination is impossible to beat, with no competitors on the market.
If you’re looking for more rod and reel parings, read our roundup of the best rod and reel combos.
Before you buy a spinning reel for bass, you need to carefully consider what kind of fishing you do most. Get a rod that matches these requirements first; then shop for a reel. Matching your reel to your rod is one of the most important factors in how well it functions out on the water. Having the wrong one can impact casting performance, fishing fighting ability, and can lead to increased fatigue or even injury when you’re out on the water for long hours. Purchasing a reel that is too heavy can dramatically throw-off the balance of the rod and make the whole setup cast awkwardly. Choosing too small a reel can make the rod very tip heavy, and the leverage will torque on the angler’s wrist and arm while fishing. You also lose a lot of retrieve speed and line capacity with a small reel, which can make fishing tiresome or frustrating.
Most anglers will be happy with a 2000 or 2500 size reel for an average bass rod between 6- and 7-feet. However, ultra-light anglers who fish short, very light rods may want a 1000 or even 500-sized reel. Those fishing heavy tackle (like swimbaits or large top-water) may want a 3000 or even a 4000-size reel (though this is rare).
Need help picking out a rod? Check out our roundup of bass fishing rods for some excellent suggestions.
When it comes to choosing the best spinning reels for bass, key in on the following eight factors.
Size & Weight: The size of the reel will determine a few quite a few different factors, including the weight, rod balance, line retrieve, line capacity, and even casting distance. Most anglers will be happy with reels between 1000 and 3000 size, with 2000 and 2500 size reels being most popular. The weight of a reel is highly variable between brands and models and is primarily determined by the overall size and materials it is composed of. Importantly, the weight of the reel will dramatically impact how well it matches with a rod.
Budget: There are truly great bass spinning reels that start at around $30 and go all the way up to nearly $1000. As price increases, you generally get more reliable, stronger, smoother and lighter reels. However, don’t feel like you have to spend a lot- reels in the $50 to $100 range offer amazing value and long-term reliability.
Construction: There are a lot of factors to look at in terms of construction. The materials of the body and spool will dictate how rugged and stiff the reel is, as well as its weight. Don’t be afraid of reels from well-known makers with plastic or composite bodies. Plastic has come a long way and can be a very strong, durable, and relatively lightweight main material.
The internals of the reel—the gears, bushings, and bearings—are harder to investigate, so you have to do your homework. Stainless and forged gears are by far the best internals, and I do think you get what you pay for in this regard. Also, if it’s in your budget, getting a reel with a sealed body and water-resistant drag will increase its durability, especially if you’re fishing in the rain a lot.
A few other specifics I look for include a high-quality, stiff handle arm with a comfortable knob. I always investigate the bail wire and arm, to make sure they’re strong and resistant to bending or warping under pressure. Line roller design is also very important, as it’s one of the first parts to fail on many reels with heavy use or constant splashing. There should be no play, vibration, or “roughness” to the line roller, and it should have a quality bushing or bearing. I also appreciate a smooth drag, without any start-up inertia, and a solid drag knob that is easy to adjust in small increments.
Bearings: How “smooth” a reel feels is heavily influenced by the number, type, and quality of bearings found in a reel. Generally, the higher the number for bearings, the smoother a reel will feel and perform on the water. It also is just more comfortable to have a super smooth reel, and it can be addicting once you get used to it!
Retrieve Speed: The first number in the retrieve speed is the number of revolutions the spool will make, and the second is the number of revolutions the handle will make (typically one). For example, a reel that is 5.0:1 means the spool will turn 5 times for every 1 turn of the handle. But different spool and handle sizes mean the amount of line retrieved at the same ratio can be different between reels. Check the manufactures website to see the inches per turn to get the most accurate representation of how “fast” a reel is.
Infinite Anti-Reverse: Infinite or instant anti-reverse allows the reel handle to stop instantly in any position with no backwards motion. It’s become a common feature even on budget reels, and I could never go back to fishing a reel with any backwards movement at the handle. I’d steer clear of any reel without infinite anti-reverse.
Preference: There are several high-quality brands that make offerings that are essentially equal, with slight differences that might be more or less important to you personally. Something as minute as the position of a handle could determine your favorite reel. Therefore, it can be helpful to test out a few reels before you buy—either in the store, or by borrowing from a friend.
Need more advice? You can read more on selecting a spinning reel here.
Baitcasting reels, or “baitcasters”, are very popular for bass fishing. As someone who uses both, I like to sum it up like this: The baitcaster is more precise, but also takes more precision. With a baitcaster, I’m more in-tune with what’s going on underwater, and small adjustments in depth or action are easier with a baitcasting setup. However, there are several adjustments that typically need to be made on a baitcaster when switching between large and small lures to prevent tangles and get good casting distance. Frankly, I still mess this up sometimes and end up with tangles or frustratingly short casts.
Spinning reels are simple to use, and for most beginner and intermediate anglers result in less tangles and further casting distances. Once I’ve set my drag with a spinning reel, there are no other adjustments that need to be made, whether I’m casting a giant lure or a tiny one. They also work much better with braided line, and only after a lot of practice should you consider using thin braid with a baitcasting reel. I also have found that budget spinning reels are much higher quality than budget baitcasters. If I only had 50- to 70-dollars to spend on a reel, I wouldn’t even consider a baitcaster; spinning reels in that price range are just so much better.
For even more choices, read about our picks for the best spinning and baitcasting reels.
Q: What line should I use on spinning reels for bass?
Though often overlooked, the fishing line you chose can dramatically impact how you fish. What you should choose to put on your spinning reel is based entirely on where and how you want to fish. If you want to know more about the strengths and weaknesses of monofilament, fluorocarbon, co-polymer, and braided line, we have a great guide for you in this article.
However, one of the great attributes of spinning reels is their ability to work well with virtually any kind of line. They don’t tangle as easily as a baitcaster, and as a result work well with thinner lines, like ultralight monofilament or typical braided line. If you’re looking for specific line advice, 8- to 12-pound high-quality monofilament or 15- to 20-pound braided line are excellent options for using on their spinning reels for bass. If I had to pick just one for the average angler, I think high quality 10-pound monofilament, like Sufix Advance or Sufix Elite, would be my choice.
Q: What size spinning reel should I use for bass?
What size spinning reel you use really comes down to four factors: the rod you’re going to use, how much line capacity you need, the retrieve speed you’re looking for, and your preference. The shorter and lighter a rod, the smaller and lighter the reel needs to be to match. The larger the reel, the more line capacity it will have. Some anglers prefer a larger, beefier reel that has a faster retrieve and larger body and handle. Others prefer a super light weight, compact reel. I think most bass anglers will be happy with a reel between 1000 and 3000 sized, with 2000 or 2500 the perfect “do-it-all” size that matches well with freshwater rods between five-and-a-half- and seven-and-a-half-feet. If I was to have just two spinning reels for bass, I would want a 1000 and a 3000, and these two reels would cover every situation I encounter on the water.
Q: What is the drag on a fishing reel?
The drag is an essential component of any fishing reel, especially if you’re trying to catch large fish, fish in heavy cover, or if you’re using very light gear. The drag is a mechanism in the reel that allows the line to come off the reel under a certain force, to prevent the line from breaking. Without getting into the details, this is controlled by a series of washers that are compressed together using a cap on the top of the spool. You tighten or loosen the drag using a knob at the top of the spool.
Most anglers agree setting your drag at about 30% of the breaking strain of your line is a good rule of thumb. However, this requires measuring it with a scale, and many of us don’t want to do that. Instead, one simple way to know you’ve set your drag correctly is it doesn’t slip when you set the hook, and it slips before your line breaks even if you give it a quick, hard yank. Just take note, the rod will add some drag, so it’s best to test all this by pulling the line at the end of the rod- not directly out from the reel.
There are a lot of spinning reels for bass fishing out there. A lot of really good reels, in fact. After you choose your rod, and decide on what you most want out of your reel, use my recommendations to make the best choice. Then, get out there and catch the fish of your dreams!