Best Spinning Reels to Cover All Your Bases: Our Favorite Ultralight, Light, and Medium Reels Reviewed

Are you looking for the best spinning reel to help you catch slabs of fish? Are you looking for a larger reel to catch bigger fish? There are several spinning reel options available that will cover your needs in one line-up. Today, we’ll be discussing these options.

As always, we are here to help you choose the right spinning reel for your budget and needs. You’ll find detailed information about what we look for when selecting a spinning reel as well as reviews from some of our favorite spinning reels that offer a wide range of sizes.

Best Spinning Reel Reviewed

Cadence CS8

CS8 Spinning Reel,Cadence Ultralight Fast Speed Premium Magnesium Frame Fishing Reel with 10 Low Torque Bearings Super Smooth Powerful Fishing Reel with 36 LBs Max Drag & 6.2:1 Spinning Reel

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CS8-1000

Drag: Maximum weight: 11 lb Maximum weight
The ratio of gears: 5.2:1 (25″ per turn)
Line capacity:6/110
Bearings 9 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 6.3 oz.

CS8-2000

Drag:16 lbs. Maximum 16 lbs
The ratio of gears: 6.2:1 (32″ per turn)
Line capacity:6/160
Bearings 9 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 7.3 oz.

CS8-3000

Drag:19 lbs. Maximum weight
The ratio of gears: 6.2:1 (35″ per turn)
Line capacity:10/150
Bearings 9 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 7.4 oz.

CS8-4000

Drag: Maximum weight: 20 lbs. Maximum weight: 20 lbs
The ratio of gears: 6.2:1 (38″ per turn)
Line capacity:10/220
Bearings 9 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 8.5 oz.

Cadence’s CS8-1100 reel has been reviewed before. I remember thinking that it was an excellent ultralight reel for crappie and other panfish.

The CS8 Series is a welcome addition to the angling market. It offers high-end performance at a lower price than you would expect. These reels can be used as serious competitors to established brands like Penn and Shimano.

There are four sizes of the CS8 series. Although they look the same, the spool becomes larger as you move up. All except the CS8-1001 offer a 6.2 to 1 drag ratio. The larger spool can hold more lines, and the two largest sizes can accommodate a lot of 10-pound lines. However, I recommend that you cast at least 8 to get maximum casting performance.

The drag of the CS8 series is outstanding. It uses a series of carbon fiber discs to create tension. The maximum setting is controlled by a knob at the end of each spool. It scales up as the size increases. It’s smooth and reassuringly precise, with no slippage.

The crank is impressive and the bail opens and closes perfectly. For left-handed anglers, the crank position can be reversed.

These reels are of exceptional quality, and a few casts will make you swoon.

The CS8-1000 and 2000 are my top picks. A baitcasting reel is the best choice if I need to use the heavier line. However, the 3000 can handle a lot of 6–8-pound lines. The 2000 and 1000 are also capable of handling ultralight and light spinning rods.

Pros

  • Great value for the money
  • Excellent drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Excellent casting
  • Silky-smooth operation

Cons

  • N/A

Penn Battle II

PENN 1338219 Battle II 4000 Spinning Fishing Reel

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BTLII1000

Drag: Maximum weight: 9 lbs. Maximum weight
The ratio of gears: 5.2:1 (22″ per turn)
Line capacity:275/2, 135/4 and 105/6
Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 8.1 oz.

BTLII2000

Drag: Maximum weight: 10 lbs. Maximum weight: 10 lbs
The ratio of gears: 6.2:1 (30″ per turn)
Line capacity:240/4, 180/6 and 125/8
Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 9.8 oz.

BTLII2500

Drag: Maximum weight 12 lbs. Maximum 12 lbs
The ratio of gears: 6.2:1 (33″ per turn)
Line capacity:255/6, 175/8 and 140/10
Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 10.3 oz.

BTLII3000

Drag: Maximum 15 lbs. Maximum 15 lbs
The ratio of gears: 6.2:1 (35″ per turn)
Line capacity:200/8, 165/10 and 120/12
Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 12.3 oz.

BTLII4000

Drag: Maximum 15 lbs. Maximum 15 lbs
The ratio of gears: 6.2:1 (37″ per turn)
Line capacity:270/8, 220/10 and 165/12
Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 12.8 oz.

BTLII5000

Drag:25 lbs. Maximum 25 lbs
The ratio of gears: 5.6.:1 (36″ per turn)
Line capacity:225/12, 200/15, and 135/20
Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 19.8 oz.

BTLII6000

Drag:25 lb. Maximum 25 lbs
The ratio of gears: 5.6:1 (41″ per turn)
Line capacity:335/15, 220/20, 210/25
Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 22.10 oz.

BTLII8000

Drag: Maximum weight: 30 lbs. Maximum weight: 30 lbs.
The ratio of gears: 5.3:1 (44″ per turn)
Line capacity:340/20, 311/25, 230/30
Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 30.2 oz.

Penn reels are a legend among saltwater anglers inshore and offshore. The Battle II series is an example of the high-quality reels you can expect. Penn also pays attention to fishermen who prefer a large spinning reel to a baitcaster.

This line-up includes eight reels that cover all bases of fishing. The BTLII1000 is a great choice for ultralight and light tackle. Each size increases the quality of the reels, with a heavier maximum drag, and a larger spool.

These reels have a lot of great features. As you would expect, the drag is actuated by the knob at the end of each spool. Carbon fiber is the heart of the system, just like the Cadence CS8 series. It holds and releases well. This Penn is my first choice if I was looking for a large spinning rod to deal with salt.

Each model’s spools hold quite a lot of lines. The larger models are designed to carry a heavy line. Casting may be affected by heavy monofilament, but some anglers are willing to trade that for the ease of use that a spinning reel provides.

All these reels make it easy for the crane.

The Battle II line-up is equipped with an instant anti-reverse bearing that locks up quickly, encouraging strong hooksets.

Penn’s Battle II series is an excellent choice if you don’t like baitcasting reels or want a light, slick reel.

Pros

  • Excellent drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Casting with the BTLII1000 and 2000 is excellent
  • Silky-smooth operation
  • Amazing anti-reverse

Cons

  • Casting will suffer when the reels are larger (but Penn isn’t to blame: blame physics!)

Pflueger President

Pflueger PRESSP30X President Spinning Fishing Reel

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PRESSP20X

Drag: Maximum 6 lb. Maximum 6 lbs
The ratio of gears: 5.2:1 (20.2″ per turn)
Line capacity:200/2, 100/4 and 80/6
Bearings 6 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 6.2 oz.

PRESSP25X

Drag: Maximum 8 lb. Maximum 8 lbs
The ratio of gears: 5.2:1 (22.4″ per turn)
Line capacity:220/2. 110/4. 90/6
Bearings 9 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 7.5 oz.

PRESSP30X

Drag: Maximum weight: 10 lb Maximum weight: 10 lbs
The ratio of gears: 5.2:1 (25.3″ per turn)
Line capacity:255/4, 130/8, 145/6, 130/8
Bearings 9 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 8.8 oz.

PRESSP35X

Drag: Maximum weight 12 lbs. Maximum 12 lbs
The ratio of gears: 5.2:1 (28.1″ per turn)
Line capacity:230/6, 185-8, 155/10
Bearings 9 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 10.7 oz.

PRESSP40X

Drag: Maximum weight: 14 lbs. Maximum weight
The ratio of gears: 5.2:1 (31.6″ per turn)
Line capacity:285/8. 230/10. 195/12
Bearings 9 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 11.5 oz.

Pflueger reels have a solid reputation. It’s easy to find another angler who is fishing one of the President’s lines-up. These inexpensive reels were redesigned in 2011 to decrease body weight. However, they offer respectable performance at an affordable price.

Pfleuger understands that not every angler can afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a reel.

The President series is distinguished by a small increment in maximum drag and/or capacity. Each step is small and has little impact on retrieval rates. However, each step provides an increase in maximum drag by two pounds.

The PRESSP20X is the smallest of all the bunch and offers fewer bearings than the rest.

It performs very well. Casting with very light lines is possible because the bail opens and closes easily. Although larger diameters can cause more friction in the spool, it’s not a bad tradeoff for easy casting on windy days.

These reels have a very nice drag. They hold their line at the highest setting but release it easily when they are set to lower weights.

Pfleuger’s spools aren’t as strong as those of the competition, so if this bothers you, it might be worth looking elsewhere.

The handle can be craked, and it is smooth but not as silky as more expensive reels. This is to be expected at this price point.

The President series is a great value for money and a good option for those on a budget.

Check out our detailed review of the Pflueger President Spinning Reel Review for more information.

Pros

  • Excellent value for the money
  • Great drag
  • Excellent casting

Cons

  • Comparing side-to-side, the spool capacity is a little lower
  • It’s not as smooth as the more expensive options
  • Casting will suffer if you use a line that is more than 10 pounds in mono diameter (blame Pfluger, not physics!)

Shimano Ultegra

SHIMANO Ultegra Spinning Fishing Reel

Amazon

ULT1000HGFB

Drag: Maximum weight: 7 lbs. Maximum 7 lbs
The ratio of gears: 6.0:1 (31″ per turn)
Line capacity:2/270, 4/140 and 6/110
Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: N/A

ULT2500HGFB

Drag: Maximum weight: 20 lbs. Maximum weight: 20 lbs
The ratio of gears: 6.0:1 (35″ per turn)
Line capacity:6/200, 8/140 and 10/120
Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: N/A

ULT4000XGFB

Drag:24 lbs. Maximum weight
The ratio of gears: 6.2:1 (39″ per turn)
Line capacity:8/240, 9/200, and 12/160
Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: N/A

ULTC3000HGFB

Drag:Maximum weight: 20 lb. Maximum weight: 20 lbs
The ratio of gears: 6.0:1 (35″ per turn)
Line capacity:6/230, 8/170 and 10/140
Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: N/A

ULTC5000XGFB

Drag:24 lb. Maximum weight
The ratio of gears: 6.2:1 (41″ per turn)
Line capacity:10/240, 11/195, 14/120
Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: N/A

Name Shimano is synonymous with quality. While not all reels they produce are winners (I’m thinking of you, Sedona), their Ultegra set the standard.

Like the Penn Battle II and the Ultegra series, the Ultegra series offers angling enthusiasts the choice of a spinning reel that matches almost any situation. If you don’t want to use a baitcasting reel or are unable to stomach a spinning reel, these are great alternatives.

The ULT1000HGFB is the smallest reel in this series and an excellent ultralight reel. You can increase the line that is retrieved per crank as you grow in size. However, the gear ratios remain the same at 6.0:1 (with two exceptions).

Shimano drag systems are very smooth and the Ultegra series is exactly what you would expect. Drag performance is consistent and precise, regardless of whether you are using light or heavy settings. Shimano’s Hagane all-metal gearing makes crane work easy. A waterproofing seal has been added to the gearing as a nod towards saltwater anglers.

The line capacity of all models is great, but stepping up to larger diameters with the spool will increase friction. Expect casting to suffer.

It would be difficult to determine if the Penn Battle II is better than the Ultegra head-to-head. Penn reels tend to be heavier, but they hold more lines. Usually, Shimano edges Penn in smooth operation. However, this is not the case and the Shimano holds just a little more.

You can’t answer that question, but I would probably choose Penn.

Pros

  • Excellent drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Casting with smaller reels is easy
  • Silky-smooth operation

Cons

  • Casting will suffer when you use larger reels. But that’s not Shimano’s fault. Blame physics!
  • Our most expensive reel

You can also check our guide to the best ultralight spinning wheels if you are just looking for the ultralight tackle!

Spinning Reel Basics

Before you pull the trigger, it pays to be familiar with spinning reels.

Spinning reels can be used to catch panfish, trout, and bass on monofilament lines less than 10 pounds in diameter.

For the best fishing line to spin reels, check out our buying guide

The mechanism of these lines is simple, with a fixed spool and spinning bail capture and release lines. They are almost foolproof and easy to use. This combination is a great option for beginners.

Casting is as easy as grabbing the line with your index finger. You can retrieve the lure by closing the bail with your hands (the crank will make the mechanism wear) and then you open the bail again with your other hand.

This simplicity has real benefits in bad conditions. Wind gusts don’t really affect the performance of a spinning rod, and wind-blown knots do not pose a problem. They cast well in the wind, with light lures, and don’t need to be adjusted when changing lure weights.

This is a strong reason to use a large spinning reel for inshore fishing where the conditions are often sunny.

However, they do have a disadvantage.

The fixed spool holds the line with a large forward lip. Casting heavy-diameter lines or not having enough lines on your spool will cause friction and make the line slip. Casting distance will suffer in both of these cases.

It is important to follow two rules when spinning a reel.

  • Never run a monofilament that is more than 10 pounds in diameter.
  • Keep your line at least 1/8 inch from the lip of your spool. Your spool should be full.

What to Consider when Buying the Best Spinning Reel

Drag

The drag is what I first look at when looking at any reel.

First, I evaluate where it is. The best drag systems are situated directly over the area they will be working. Therefore, drag knobs are often located at the end of the spool.

While some spinning reels may have dials located elsewhere, these require a more complex mechanism that doesn’t work as well as does not last as long.

Second, I look closely at the maximum setting to see if it slips at this weight. For spinning reels, I look for a maximum setting that is appropriate to the size and weight of the species I am after. I test the drag by stringing some heavy line and weighing it.

This is about evaluating the drag’s quality, not testing the maximum. I won’t set the drag that high.

Finally, I like spool up some medium-weight lines for the reel. Then, I set the drag to about a third of that and see how easily it allows me to take the line. I like a steady, smooth release, no jerking, catching, or slipping.

Ratio of gears

The reel’s gear ratio is the relationship between the crank, the spool, and the crank. It tells you how many turns the crank makes. A gear ratio of 5.2 to 1 means that one crank turn spins the spool 52.2 times.

This is important for two reasons.

Some lures require a slow, medium, or fast retrieve. A reel’s gear ratio should be matched to the intended purpose of the reel to improve action. A fast reel with a gear ratio greater than 5.2:1 is ideal for topwater lures and shallow crankbaits.

You should also care about the gear ratio because it shows you how fast it picks up lines. A medium to fast ratio is important, regardless of whether you are jigging deep and casting far out to cover the water.

Smooth operation

A reel of high quality should have a tight bail, a crank that spins freely, and a drag knob that adjusts the setting. To encourage solid hooksets, the anti-reverse system should also lock up quickly.

Capacity

It is important to have a line capacity.

A properly filled spool will ensure that you don’t cast your line too far. Over a day of fishing, however, you may need to cut the line to either reduce abrasion or recover from a poor cast.

Your reel should have enough line to last you the entire day without having to re-spool.

I will be reporting line capacity using monofilament weights. You can change to braid to get more line on your reel or increase the weight to a mono equivalent of 4 or 6 pounds.

When I decided to use my ultralight to record big bass, I did exactly that!

Last Thoughts

Performance-wise, the Cadence, Penn, and Shimano reels are all pretty good. It’s also worth noting that the Cadence CS8 series reels are less expensive than their rivals. Cadence would be my choice, but I prefer the Penn and Shimano ranges. They offer more options at the larger end, which means more options if you are looking to spin for pike or walleye reds, or blues.

Pfleuger’s President lineup is an excellent option for anglers with tight budgets. They also offer larger sizes that will give you great care if you are after large fish. These reels do have a smaller line capacity than their competitors, so be aware of that. This is not a problem for me. You can only cast efficiently with 20% of your line, so it’s not much of a difference.

These reels are great for perch and panfish, while the larger end of the range is ideal for larger species. All four brands have excellent options for anglers who don’t want to use bait casters.

Are you a fan of one of our favorites? Do you have a thought, suggestion, or criticism?

Leave a comment below

Lewis
Lewis Mark is a vastly experienced fly fisher. His encyclopedic knowledge of fly tying has led to start blog on fishing. He also review Fishing equipment based on his knowledge and experience.