Since their introduction into the North American fishing scene in the late 1800s, the spinning reel has become an increasingly common sight on the lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans across the world.
Popular in bass fishing circles due to its simplicity and ease of use, it’s a reel that’s proven its worth bringing in one of the hardest fighting game fish out there. Given its commonality as the first reel that many beginner anglers start out with, lots of people hold fond memories of it too.
Shopping for spinning reels is actually less simple than its history suggests however, given the many features and factors that can separate the good from the bad. Making the right choice? Mostly comes down to education.
Learning what a spinning reel is and does? One good way to start.
What is a Spinning Reel
Spinning reels are well known for their versatility when it comes to bass fishing. Not only good for use in a range of conditions, from heavy cover areas with lots of underwater grass to clear, open water, but they’re also strong multi-season reels too. Good ones will withstand all weather types.
What sets them apart from other popular bass fishing reels like the baitcaster or spincast types, is the metal bail arm. This is what holds the line on the spool (the rotating cylindrical component of a reel that the line is ‘wound’ around). Unlocking this enables the angler to free the line and then cast out into the water.
After the cast, when the lure is in the water, the bail is then set down and locked. The angler then begins the retrieve (bringing the line back in from the casting spot), which depending on the style and lure they are using, might involve twitching the rod or reeling the line back in with the reel handle.
Like other reels, the reel handle is a strong component of the spinning reel. Great bass reels of this caliber will need to have a handle that’s durable and strong and won’t fall to pieces when making the movements with a lure that’s likely to attract a bass’ attention. As we’ll learn later, there are also different handle types available on spinning models that can also prove useful.
Historically, the spinning lure came to prominence with the use of artificial flies that were designed to catch trout or salmon. Too light to be cast out with baitcasting reels, the spinning reel was invented to sit below the rod rather than on top. By conforming to gravity, that position freed up the strain on the weight-bearing wrist (as well as enabling a cast with lighter weighing tackle).
One last thing to keep in mind (especially when shopping) is that these lures might also be referred to as ‘fixed spool reels’.
Baitcasting Vs Spinning
Often in the bass fishing community, the debate usually comes down to baitcasting vs spinning when it comes to ‘serious’ reel types. Although mostly a matter of preference, considering the similarities and differences between the two can help you decide on what might be the right reel type for you.
Baitcasting reels get a lot of love from serious bass fishermen because one crank of the reel arm results in multiple turns of the spool. This makes them great for fast retrieves which is important considering that baitcasting lines are often cast out further. They are also considered better suited to heavier lines and lures.
Unlike the bottom mounted spinning reels, baitcasting reels are mounted on the top of the rod. They must also be turned on their side when casting to engage the “free spool” feature while holding a thumb down on the spool. The line is then let out after snapping the rod back before using the thumb contact the line when the lure is in position.
This casting motion is more complicated than the spinning reel’s mechanism of bail arm and line release. For that reason, the spinning reel is generally considered more “beginner-friendly” as it requires much less practice and technique to cast out with. What you sacrifice on finesse and accuracy with a spinning reel, you make up for in speed and simplicity.
Advantages of Spinning Reels
Spinning reels primary advantage in the bass fishing world comes down tackle type. For anglers preferring light equipment, and the added mobility and portability that brings, spinning reels are really out there on their own.
Throwing light tackle out far can be pretty convenient when fishing tough spots with lots of obstacles. If you can’t fish shallow without snagging and don’t want to mess too much with your cast, then a spinning reel on a light rod can really help.
One key advantage spinning reels have over baitcasting is that they also avoid the backlash that’s common on the latter. In windy conditions where this risk is even more exacerbated, the spinning reel can help shore up more fishing time than someone stopping and fixing tangles continually with a baitcaster.
Another thing to consider is the way a lure falls when using a spinning reel. As the line is free to move off a fixed spool a lure encounters much less resistance when it hits the water and sinks down. Baitcasters, in this situation, cause a ‘pendulum’ effect when their lure sinks due to the increased resistance of a rotational spool. For a finicky bass that’s easily spooked, the smoother sinking of a lure from a spinner might prove much more appealing.
One last thing worth mentioning is that spinning reels are often cheaper to buy too. That, coupled with the added simplicity of its casting motion, can give it an edge over other bass fishing reel types when it comes to the case-use of the beginner or novice.
Disadvantages of Spinning Reels
Spinning reels biggest drawback comes when wanting to fish with heavier lures and higher pound-test (weight) line. This can limit anglers from going after bigger bass or the schools of fish residing in heavy cover areas where lighter line and lures are likely to get torn up.
Almost all spinning reel spools have a line capacity that is usually listed in its specifications. It’s rare to find anything that can handle 20 lbs and above (fluorocarbon/mono) in line weight, with the average sitting around 10-15 lbs. If you plan on fishing heavy line you’ll need to pay close attention to this.
Another big disadvantage, specifically if you compare spinning reels to baitcasting reels, surround the control of the cast. Baitcasters use of the thumb to adjust casts as the line and lure fly out to the water give added control over the bail arm technology of the spinning reel. They’ll also be more efficient on the retrieve than a spinner, pulling more line in faster.
These disadvantages combined make it particularly hard to pitch and flip with a spinning reel. Two techniques that many bass anglers employ heavily, making short casts to specific targets (pitching) and pulling line off the reel to swing it into close quarters (flipping), is hard to do on the fixed spool of a spinning rod. This means you can’t cover as much water to figure out the location of bass.
Furthermore, it’s also hard to slow down the movement of bait with a spinning rod. This is due to the fixed spool and taut line that restricts playing it off the reel by hand. The consequence of which makes finesse fishing, and the slow and sneaky approach to catching a bass, inherently difficult.
One last thing to consider is line twist. Spinning rods are known to suffer from this issue far more than baitcasters on both the case and retrieve. Twisted line can really spoil a natural presentation by having the bait sit oddly in the water. Something that’s not going to attract bass into biting.
Having uncovered what a spinning reel is, as well its related advantages and disadvantages, it’s time to look at key features which help separate good from bad.
Shopping for the best spinning reel for bass possible involves having some level of understanding of aspects like frame material, drag system, and gear ratio.
A fishing reel’s frame is possible one of the most important aspects of the whole design. Since it is the central point between the rod, the line, and your hand, it’s important that it is strong, robust, and long-lasting. You’ll also want to ensure its made of materials comfortable enough to hold and use.
From a broader perspective, the frame has its own individual components that can vary in construction materials. The handle, that’s threaded into the socket on either side of the body, has already been discussed. The other components, depending on the design, can vary.
All reels have a body that houses a gear box (connecting the handle to the spindle), support arm (bridging the handle and the body) and foot (the part that attached the reel to the rod). Spinning reels also all have a fixed spool (the part holding the line) and a bail (the arm that’s a semi-circular section of wire attached to the body on a hinge joint).
Ensuring each of these components is as high-quality as your budget allows should be the primary focus of any reel shopping experience. Not all aluminum (which most of these components is made from) is made equal. Die-cast is the best and most durable but costs the most. Machine or extruded aluminum is the next best.
One last thing to consider is rust. As a reel is likely to be used in a range of conditions, exposure to moisture is inevitable. Finding a reel that’s made from reinforced material or has its body iodized is one way to avoid the issue of a reel and its components wearing down quickly.
A reels drag system is made from a set of washers that hold the spool and the shaft together. It’s also the main point of friction between the line and the reel, as the rotation of the spool is increased or decreased by the speed of your hand on the handle or the pull of the bass on the line itself.
The best spinning reels will have a dependable drag system that’s easily adjustable. Look for systems that have buttons or knobs on the front of the spool that let you adjust the drag manually. This will ensure you avoid line breakage when a fish pulls, allowing some line to be fed out as it fights back.
A good drag system is also necessary if you plan on fishing frequently and catching multiple fish in one session. Allowing a fish to pull the line back in their fight ensures that they’ll tire out and eventually succumb to being landed. Reels without good drag systems means that the line (or other rod components) might snap due to the build-up of tension.
As washers are a crucial component of this system you’ll want to ensure they are as high grade as possible. Metal beats out plastic in this respect and is much less likely to break or become warped after time and use. Washers that have better lubrication ensure that they’re unlikely to rust too.
Setting your drag should be easy to do also. To do so appropriately you’ll want to consider both the strength of your line and the strength of the fish you plan to target.
If you plan on going for large fish it’s generally recommended to set your drag tight. The opposite is true for light fish (bass under 2 lbs in weight).
The spool is another critical feature of a reel and houses the line that’s responsible for bringing a bass in from the water. Sizes of these vary and each manufacturer has slightly different guidelines and numbers concerning what ranks as big or small.
Bass anglers typically go for small to medium sized fish (except purposely fishing for large specimens in a tournament or recreational angling), meaning that, more often than not, small spinning reel sizes (and the accompanying spools) are sufficient. Matching reel with line size, ensuring you have enough for a range of casting lengths, is ideal.
As spool sizes go up the reel will be able to handle more line of a higher weight. For some anglers fishing with heavier lures, targeting big fish or planning to fish in cover, this can be a benefit. For others, it simply adds to the overall weight of the setup and can impede on mobility and speed.
Most bass anglers will be served with spool sizes in the medium range. These will cover line heavy enough for most bass fishing conditions and won’t limit anglers casting capabilities too much.
Due to the varied numbering technique when it comes to spool size you might need to inquire with the manufacturer or other uses of a reel if there is some confusion. A size 20, for example, can sometimes be a size 2000 according to other reel makers.
Line capacity is a way of dictating what weight of line a reel works best with as well as how many yards (length) can be held on the spool. Bearing in mind these are usually estimates, there’s often some leeway when it comes to these numbers. Advanced anglers can often call on experience to know that a reel can get away with being fished on line larger than the capacity specifications given.
Given in two numbers, the first number is line capacity specifications related to pound-test (or weight) and the second the length (amount). 8 (180), for example, dictates that the reel works best with lines up to 8 lbs in weight and 180 yards in length. This is sometimes noted at 8/180 depending on the manufacturer.
Depending on line type preference, bass anglers will want to look for a spinning reel with different line capacities. For anglers preferring to fish braid, which is thicker, more powerful and has less stretch, the capacity of a reel for this line type might be less than for monofilament or fluorocarbon alternatives.
As most spinning reels are recommended for light gear, the average bass angler can work with a wide range of line capacities as long as the first number in the specification remains under 20 lbs.
Gear ratio is a figure that corresponds to the speed at which a reel picks up line. In bass fishing, this figure is dependent on preference but also has a lot to do with the lure type you’re choosing to fish with as well as the types of techniques you wish to employ.
Using a spinning reel most likely suggests that you’ll be applying simpler cast and reel techniques and not pitching or flipping as much as you would on a baitcaster. With that case-point in mind, it’s mostly recommended to go for gear ratios between 5:1 to 7:1 in range. The first number refers to revolutions of the spool with each (1) handle turn.
Gear ratio choice becomes more nuanced when you’re fishing specific lure types.
Crankbaits, for example, which are designed to dive deep, run better on low gear ratio lures.
Jigs, which can be run at varying depths, pair up well with higher gear specifications.
Ball bearings are a specific design feature of spinning reels that are placed in the body and help improve its smoothness, stability, and support. The higher number of them doesn’t necessarily mean better performance though, specifically if their overall quality is low or if they’re prone to rust or crack.
In high quality spinning reels, ball bearings will be of stainless steel that’s well lubricated. Chrome, although cheaper, doesn’t perform as smoothly.
Placement of ball bearings also matters. Those place in line rollers with evenly spaced distribution will serve an angler far better than an odd number placed at seemingly random locations in a reel body.
Another advantage that a spinning reel has over other reel types is the anti-reverse handle. This prevents a reel from turning backward and engages its drag system. The best reels also have the ability to run this feature on and off as the angler prefers.
The idea of anti-reverse handles is considered something of an “old-school” technique that fits well with catching smaller bass.
For the modern-day angler, often the drag system on the spool is good enough not to warrant this feature, relegating it as a “nice extra” rather than a necessity.
Best Spinning Reel for Bass
With a solid understanding of all the features that help make a great spinning reel for bass, it’s time to take a look at some of the more popular models on the market. With hundreds of options to choose from, many bass anglers have settled on the following five as reliable and high-performing models. Hopefully one of these could work well for you too.
The KastKing Summer spinning reel is a strong option for those shopping at the low-end of the market who want something reliable yet cost-effective. With a graphite frame design and balancing system, this reel is super light, making it both easily portable and easy to use on both the cast and retrieve. Design and finish are nice too, with models available in black and blue, or grey and blue.
- Nine quality ball bearings and one anti-reverse bearing makes for great control and smooth casts
- Aluminum spool and metal shaft make it durable and long-lasting
- Consistently performing bail that doesn’t snap closed on casts
- Tendency to rust in heavy rain conditions requiring extra after-care and maintenance
- Plastic feel that doesn’t boast the solid robustness of more expensively priced spinning reels
- Drag produces a consistent “click” that can prove annoying (despite retaining a consistent, even pull)
This Pflueger model is braid-ready and features a sealed drag system that eliminates line twist and reduces snags and tangles. With reel sizes ranging between 20 and 40, ball bearing counts ranging from 7-10, the gear ratio option also ranges from 5.2:1 up to 6.2:1 for added choice. Medium-level price.
- Very smooth performing reel with suitable drag range and well-lubricated ball bearings that are unlikely to rust down
- Thick bail that is easy to move up and down in the cast
- Very aesthetic design that feels comfortable in the hand and lightweight enough to transport with limited hassle
- Tendency for the parts to slow down and its action to wear if components are exposed to cold water for a long period of time
- Finish might start to peel or fray if overused in humid conditions
Since their first spinning reel was released into the fishing world in 1955, Daiwa has developed a strong reputation among the bass fishing community for producing high-quality gear proven to perform. This BG Spinning series, which has gotten progressively leaner and smoother, has a track record in both fresh and saltwater environments.
- Small BG option is best suited for bass angling and is both light and robust to handle a variety of fishing styles and techniques
- Oversized gear components provide smoother performance and less wear, making it better value for money in the long run
- Black anodized body allows for better adhesion to its aluminum base making it scratch resistant and unlikely to peel or chip
- At its high price level, although the Daiwa has a long and respected name, it might be too much for the budget bass angler
- Heavier than other spinning reels, beginners or those unused to handling heavier bodied components might struggle to fish for hours on this without some level of fatigue
With its extremely budget-friendly price ticket, the Piscifun Flame series is a great starter lure that feels comfortable in the hand, has a nice matte black body finish and a hollow body that keeps your rod and reel setup very portable. Braid-ready, X-shaped spool and a drag power that goes up to 20 lbs; the features on this are everything a young or novice bass angler could want.
- Reinforced metal main shaft and triple drag washers make this unlikely to break in the hands of the average bass angler starting out on their fishing journey
- Super light, this is a great reel for off-the-dock fishing and gives anglers the chance to fish off a kayak or anything else that enables them to cover a lot of water
- Limited noise and vibration make this a quiet lure that’s unlikely to annoy or distract in the middle of an important cast or retrieve
- Base arm is a little short and can cause problems with finger slippage when needing to bring in a hard fighting bass
- Small size might prove frustrating for anglers who are looking to grip something with a bigger body
Another high-end option that boasts watertight top-grade material components that’s infallible in sand, fresh, and saltwater environments this is perhaps for the tournament bass angler or someone ready to take their fishing very seriously. With a heavy duty aluminum bail wire, sideplate and rotor, the features on this means it’ll stand the test of time no matter where and how you fish.
- 5+1 sealed stainless ball bearing system give this one of the smoothest actions of any reels
- Available in bail-less, long cast and live liner models, anglers can buy whatever is likely to suit their style
- Features could be excessive for the run-of-the-mill bass angler looking to scale down their equipment and fish on a leaner budget