Fishing reels come in all manner of shapes, colours and sizes, which can make deciding which is best for your budget a very difficult task indeed. The reel market is full of jargon and confusing numbers, but when you get your head around the basics, choice is largely dependent on the style of fishing you want to do.
The size of a reel is usually identified by a number, the higher the number, the bigger the reel. This is useful to know, as although a 10,000-sized carp fishing reel may be good for fishing on smaller lakes, it likely won't have the spool size and therefore casting capability of a 'big pit' carp fishing reel, for example.
Tiny 1000 sizes are perfect for small lure fishing and spinning reels. But if big predators are your main focus, you will need to look for something a lot larger to chuck heavy lures or deadbaits for pike. It's not always the case, but it is likely, the bigger the fish or venue, the bigger the reel required.
Best fishing reels at a glance:
• Best Budget Fishing Reel - Shimano FX - View offer on Go Outdoors
• Best Value Fishing Reel - Daiwa Ninja - View offer on Total Fishing Tackle
• Best Long-Range Fishing Reel - Shimano Ultegra 5500 XSD - View offer on Total Fishing Tackle
• Best Value Centrepin Reel - Okuma Sheffield - View offer on Amazon UK
The best fishing reel isn't just dictated by size, however. A good, powerful and reliable drag is essential in the best reels for barbel fishing or carp angling. The smoothness of a reel is also important, as is how the line lays onto the spool. If these crucial elements are flawed, the casting process can be severely impacted. Be sure to pick wisely to avoid buying twice. In this article, we have constructed a shortlist which hopefully has something for all angler's needs.
Best fishing reels under £50
- Smooth action.
- Available in a range of sizes.
- No spare spool.
2. Middy GFD
Best Budget Commercial Carp Reel
A light, compact reel for commercial carp. The 3000-size Middy GFD makes an ideal waggler reel,
- Quality gearing.
- Small spool size.
This minipit reel is a genuine bargain! Great looks and a steady performance make it the ideal
- Smooth drag.
- Superb line lay.
- A bait runner or quick drag system would be useful.
Best fishing reels under £75
4. Daiwa Ninja
- Incredibly smooth and reliable.
- Supplied with a spare spool.
- Not the biggest spool sizes.
The Daiwa Black Widow BR is a superb value freespool reel in four sizes, from the 3500 for smaller
- Smooth drag.
- Reliable freespool facility.
- Not the biggest spool size for big casts when carp fishing.
Best fishing reels under £100
Best Rear Drag Fishing Reel
The Shimano Super GT RD is a rare rear drag reel, packing a little more bulk and weight, but with
- Quality fighting drag.
- Fantastic line lay.
- A little heavier than other reels of this size.
Folding handles, dual line clips and a reasonably fast retrieve direct the Preston Innovations
- Fantastic cranking power.
- Dual line clips.
- Not the best for longer ranges.
Best fishing reels under £150
Ideal for modern-day match and commercial fishing, this is part of a new breed of worm drive reels
- Super slow oscillation creates perfect line lay.
- Plenty of power in reserve.
- Out of place, away from commercial venues.
Loved by long-range specialists, the bull-nosed spool offers little resistance on the cast, takes
- Superb line lay.
- Immense cranking power.
- A dual-line clip would have been a bonus.
Best fishing reels if money is no object...
10. Daiwa Exist
This reel is the best money can buy! The Exist's one-piece monocoque design reduces body size
- Incredible smoothness.
- Hard as nails.
- In a price range only suited to high-end match anglers.
Best centrepin reels
Still a firm favourite with the traditionalist, and with no bail-arm or gearing to complicate things, buy a centrepin, and you'll have direct control over line release and retrieval. A smooth-running mechanism is needed to release line at a steady speed for trotting.
11. Okuma Sheffield
Best Value Centrepin Reel
This 4.5ins diameter Okuma Sheffield reel in machine-cut aluminium with two German HPB stainless
- Looks amazing on the rod.
- Friction-free performance.
- Needs balancing with the right rod for weight.
12. Dam Quick Shadow
Best Beginner Centrepin Reel
The Dam Quick Shadow is an affordable 4.3ins diameter pin with two sealed ball-bearings and ABS
- Smooth action.
- Great value for a centrepin.
- Not the best-looking pin on the market visually.
What to look for in a fishing reel
If you are fishing with multiple rods, then a freespool switch or dial is a must. This temporarily loosens the drag right off, but most commonly, it automatically switches back off when you turn the reel handle.
Big pit reels hold loads of line for long-distance casts, while mini big pit reels are great for general carp or long-range feeder fishing. If you want to use your reel for multiple tasks, a spare spool is a must.
The more you spend on a reel, the lighter it will be and the smoother the drag you will get. You will also expect better line lay, which aids casting range.
Drag/clutch: An adjustable tensioning system that allows a hard-fighting fish to pull an additional line from the reel instead of breaking the line.
Freespool: Similar to a clutch but working at far lower tensions, the Freespool will allow a running fish to take line, preventing a rod on a rest from being pulled in. Once the rod is picked up and the reel handle turned, it will disengage, putting the reel back into 'fish playing' mode with the drag working as normal.
Spool: The cylinder at the front of a reel which holds the line.
Big pit: A reel with a long spool designed for extreme long-range casting by reducing the resistance of the line.
Frap up: A tangle during a cast where a ball of line catches in the guides of the rod, typically causing a crack off.
Crack off: Named after the loud cracking sound made as line breaks during a cast.
Line clip: A small clip on the spool that line can be placed under, stopping it from leaving the reel. Originally designed to stop lines from falling off in transit, they are now commonly used to repeatedly cast a set distance.
Line Twist: Casting, retrieving and using the freespool and clutch adds twist to your line, which can weaken it and reduces casting distance. In extreme cases, the line will bounce off the spool and ball up as it untwists. More expensive reels incorporate various technologies to minimise line twists.
Frequently asked questions
What size reel should I use for feeder fishing?
A 3000 size suits rods of 10ft or less, whilst a 5000 or bigger will be needed on 13ft or 14ft rods designed for long distances. A 4000, however, is a great 'go-to' size for all general mid-range feeder fishing. Be aware that sizes vary between manufacturers, so take a look or ask in a tackle shop before you buy.
What size reel should I use for waggler fishing?
4000 is the perfect size with most manufacturers' reels, but a smaller 3000 might match lighter rods and finer lines in some models.
How much backing line should I use?
A cheap and thick backing line is often needed to bulk out a deep spool before adding the line you intend to fish with. Once the backing line and your fishing line has been added, the level of line should sit just beneath the lip of spool. Too little line on a reel reduces casting distance, whilst over filling will lead to tangles and frap ups. A shallow spool might not need any backing line.
How much line do I need on top of my backing line?
100m is plenty for most situations and allows you to discard some should it become damaged. 150m or more is the norm for long-range feeder fishing. You should use a backing line too if your chosen line doesn't fill the spool.
What's the advantage of a centrepin?
You get total control of the speed of the line leaving a centrepin, allowing you to perfectly match the speed your float travels down the river, keeping you in total control. With no bail arm or clutch, casting distance is extremely limited and playing fast-moving, hard-fighting fish is tricky. This limits their use to more specialist close-range situations.
How can I clean my reel?
A damp cloth and warm water should be enough. Although reels are designed to be as watertight as possible, keep their exposure minimal, as any that gets inside will rinse lubricants from the reel. An old toothbrush can be useful too.
Can I use one reel for multiple tactics?
Yes, as long as the size is suitable, as too big a reel for waggler fishing, for example, makes a lightweight rod feel clumsy, whilst too small a reel for feeder fishing will restrict casting distance and reduce the winding power needed to retrieve heavy feeders. This is where spare spools become useful. On a 4000-sized reel, one could be loaded with 3lb line for waggler fishing, whilst a second could be loaded with 6lb for the feeder.
How should I load a reel with line?
There are three methods.
1 Ask a second person to place a pencil through the hole of the spool and use a cloth to add friction to the spool to stop it spinning out of control whilst you wind it onto the reel.
2 Place the spool in a bucket of water and allow it to rotate whilst you wind it on. Beware, as getting it wrong will cause line twist.
3 Use a dedicated line loader.
Author Mark Sawyer holds the position of Tackle Editor at Angling Times, boasting more than thirty years of experience working within different fields of the angling industry.