Best fishing reels for all budgets

Float, feeder or big carp – whatever turns your handle, we’ve picked one out for you!

Best fishing reels for all budgets

by Mark Sawyer |
Updated on

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 2500 - 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 float reel (2023 National Angling Awards Winner)

The Daiwa Matchman reels have been designed to complement the affordable Matchman range of rods, the
2500 is perfect for light feeder and float work, while the next size up, the 3000, is as suited to floatfishing, including the pellet waggler, as it is feeder challenges.

For outright feeder work, especially where power and a degree of distance is expected, the 4000 is perfect.
With a ratio of 5.3:1 it will crank back 95cm in one handle turn. The UTD drag also offers responsive control, with a wide range of adjustments to ensure you can set it just right for the set-up and fish action you are expecting.

Pros

  • A reel that performs way above its price tag.
  • Easy control when trotting.

Cons

  • Handle knob is a little clunky.

Best fishing reels under £50

Best Budget Fishing Reel

A quality budget fishing reel under £50 is hard to find, but the Shimano FX2500 is just that. With this one, you don't get a spare spool, and the clutch isn't the smoothest ever, but 10 ball-bearings ensure a smooth and reliable action. In five sizes, from the tiny 1000 through to the modest 4000.

Pros

  • Smooth action.
  • Available in a range of sizes.

Cons

  • No spare spool.

Best Bargain Big Fish Reel

This minipit reel is a genuine bargain! Great looks and a steady performance make it the ideal choice for the occasional big fish or big cast angler.

A smooth drag system and carbon steel bearings deliver precise power, while the S-Stroke system gives great line lay.

Pros

  • Smooth drag.
  • Superb line lay.

Cons

  • A bait runner or quick drag system would be useful.

Best fishing reels under £75

Best Value Fishing Reel

Offering quality at an affordable price, the Daiwa Ninja is a popular sub-£75 fishing reel choice among serious match anglers and occasional dabblers alike. A graphite body and Air Rotor save on weight while winding smoothness is maintained by four ball-bearings and an infinite anti-reverse.

It comes with a spare spool and is available in five sizes from 1500 to 4000.

Read our full Daiwa Ninja Match and Feeder Reel review.

Pros

  • Incredibly smooth and reliable.
  • Supplied with a spare spool.

Cons

  • Not the biggest spool sizes.

Best Value Freespool Fishing Reel

The Daiwa Black Widow BR is a superb value freespool reel in four sizes, from the 3500 for smaller commercial carp when Method feeder fishing, to big river and specimen carp tactics in the 5000 size. Silky-smooth front drag is coupled with a separate rear knob to adjust the freespool tension.

Read our full Daiwa Black Widow fishing reel review.

Pros

  • Smooth drag.
  • Reliable freespool facility.

Cons

  • 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 the advantage of reduced cost and Fightin' Drag – a lever to adjust the drag during a fight or to use the reel as a freespool without losing your initial clutch setting.

A huge amount of winding power and updated with an ARC spool and Aero Wrap 2, the chance of frap-ups is reduced, and line lay improved.

Pros

  • Quality fighting drag.
  • Fantastic line lay.

Cons

  • A little heavier than other reels of this size.

Best Short Range Big Fish Reel

Folding handles, dual line clips and a reasonably fast retrieve direct the Preston Innovations Extremity 520 and 620 reels towards match and serious all-round anglers.

The magnificent cranking power on the smaller body of the 520 makes it ideal for big fish at shorter ranges.

Pros

  • Fantastic cranking power.
  • Dual line clips.

Cons

  • Not the best for longer ranges.

Best fishing reels under £150

Best Worm Drive Fishing Reel

Ideal for modern-day match and commercial fishing, this is part of a new breed of worm drive reels with a perfect balance of winding power and speed. A compact yet powerful reel with an oversized spool, super-slow oscillation, and a spare die cast aluminium spool with dual line clips. Available in 320, 420 and 520 sizes.

Pros

  • Super slow oscillation creates perfect line lay.
  • Plenty of power in reserve.

Cons

  • Out of place, away from commercial venues.

Best Long-Range Fishing Reel

Loved by long-range specialists, the bull-nosed spool offers little resistance on the cast, takes fine or strong lines, and has bags of cranking power. Featuring a line clip, super-slow oscillation and a high-speed drag, the Shimano Ultegra ultra-shallow spool holds 200m of 0.20mm line.

Pros

  • Superb line lay.
  • Immense cranking power.

Cons

  • A dual-line clip would have been a bonus.

Best fishing reels if money is no object...

Best Fishing Reel Money Can Buy

This reel is the best money can buy! The Exist's one-piece monocoque design reduces body size while increasing gearing capacity.

All Daiwa's high-level technology is here, while Magsealed construction ensures a long and maintenance-free life. The drag is smoother than we thought possible, and the winding is taken care of via no fewer than 12 ball-bearings.

In five sizes, plus a High Gear option, Exist is ready for any battle - saltwater, freshwater, large or small.

Pros

  • Incredible smoothness.
  • Hard as nails.

Cons

  • 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.

Best Value Centrepin Reel

Okuma Sheffield
Price: £199.99

This 4.5ins diameter Okuma Sheffield reel in machine-cut aluminium with two German HPB stainless ball-bearings gives virtually friction-free running. The ideal choice for those wanting a top product without the cost getting out of hand.

Pros

  • Looks amazing on the rod.
  • Friction-free performance.

Cons

  • Needs balancing with the right rod for weight.

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.

Glossary

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.

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