How Baitstick Goes About It

In this fishing reel buying guide Baitstick only recommends spinning reels and fishing gear we’ve actually used. Because it’s simply hard to judge things like the weight of a reel or the feel of a line retrieve unless we’ve gotten real gear in-hand.

When Baitstick looks at recommendations across all products we test, we try to recommend products to you in the same way that we would do to friends and family. So we keep it simple and explain exactly why we feel a given way in this fishing reel buying guide.

The Case for the Spinning Reel

Whether you’re an experienced angler or new to fishing, reels are an important part of a successful day on the water. And there are a few different types of reels to choose from, including spincast, baitcasting, and fly reels.  But this guide is focused on what to consider in buying a spinning reel.

Spinning reels offer great flexibility for different types of fishing for anglers of different skill levels. They also offer great flexibility to meet the needs of anglers fishing right or left handed with a handle that can be unscrewed and flipped to the opposite side of the same reel. Spinning reels are also popular for the range of types and weights of lures that can be cast with the reel, whether weightless baits, spinners, or heavier lures.

Even pro anglers will look to spinning reels for the ability to fish a softbait but also with the same reel in hand use shaky heads, drop-shots and light jerkbaits or crankbaits. And when the fish is on the line, spinning reels typically have a drag adjustment that is easily reachable and adjustable compared to other types of fishing reels.

With spinning reels, anglers can also cast with less concern for backlashes and time wasted untangling unwanted birdnests which can sometimes be an issue with baitcast reels.  While pros will typically be seen on television casting with baitcast reels at tournaments, many elite anglers will turn to spinning reels when the cameras are off and they are fishing a range of conditions, locations, or fish types.  For this reason, anglers of all levels will typically benefit from having a go-to spinning reel in their arsenal for any fishing trip, no matter where and when they go.

Making Sense of What’s Out There

With so many benefits and advantages, there are many spinning reels to choose from. And anglers can quickly find themselves facing a range of options and prices to consider. This fishing reel buying guide is aimed at helping to sort out important considerations to keep in mind before pulling out your wallet and hard earned money at the cash register.

In evaluating spinning reels yourself online, in a national retail store, or at your favorite local fishing shop give the reels you are looking at a good run through. In evaluating reels for product reviews and this fishing reel buying guide Baitstick goes through a standard assessment including some of the following:

  • How does reel look overall and feel held in your hand compared to what you’re used to with past gear you’ve used or owned?
  • How does the weight of the reel feel to you? Imagine being on the water for an entire morning or full day.
  • Does the reel feel any different when thinking about it hanging from your hand for a long stretch of time?
  • How does reel foot (section that attaches to rod) look and feel overall?
  • How does bail look and feel overall?
  • How does drag control look and feel overall?
  • How does spool look and feel overall?
  • How does line guide look and feel overall?
  • How does handle look and feel overall?


Choosing between spinning reels often requires thinking less about the reel itself and more about the type of fishing you will be doing, the type of fish you may be going after,
and where you think you may want to fish.

  • Do you plan to fish only, sometimes, or never in lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, or from boats?
  • Do you plan to fish only, sometimes, or never for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappie, bluegill, perch, shad, walleye, or some other type of fish?
  • Do you plan to fish only, sometimes, or never with crankbait, jerkbait, jigs, soft plastics, dropshots, spinnerbaits, swimbaits, or have some other types of lures up your sleeve?

No reel is built to necessarily do everything, or at least do them as well as you might expect for the money you spend. So it’s important to pull together a list, even if it’s in your head, of the different places and fish you plan to go after. For example, freshwater bass anglers living in coastal states may want to consider whether they’ll ever consider going to fish in saltwater. In this case, a reel that is built with freshwater and saltwater truly in mind will be an important factor to look into, which is not necessarily the case with all spinning reels.

Why Size Matters

Even if an angler never plans to step foot in saltwater, there are still decisions to be made about what type of reel is needed for the different types of freshwater fish an angler may go after. In this case, the size of the reel is something to consider. Reel sizing seems simple but it needlessly can become complicated quickly since there is little consistency or standards to the way that reel manufacturers define the reel sizing theory offer. Online or at a retail store you may see reels with sizing in many different ranges and scales, including 1000, 2000, 3000, 20, 25, 30, etc.

The key here is not to really focus on the exact number but look at how the scale and range of the reel sizes relate to each other. Why does this matter? Well, it comes back to the question before about the type of fishing you will be doing, the type of fish you may be going after, and where you think you may want to fish. In general, the smaller sized reel numbering tends to equate to what works well for smaller sized fish, shorter casting distances, and more straightforward lure selection (though there are exceptions like with anything here . . .) The larger the reel size number, the more likely an angler is going to be best suited for larger and stronger fish, longer casting distances, and a broader range of lure type being used (e.g., heavier or weighted lures).

Smaller Reels

Reels numbered in sizes from 1000s to 10s tend to be grouped or thought of as smaller sized spin reels. Reels in this size range will tend to hold less line compared to reels in larger sizes with physically larger spools capable of holding more monofilament or braid line. In addition, Reels in the 1000s to10s tend to also be designed for lower line weights. These reels are also typically best paired with smaller rods, maybe in the 6-7ft size, and designed to cast the lower line sizes. All of this translates into reels in this size being best suited for light fishing tackle and going after smaller sized species in lakes, streams, and relatively short distances from shore or off a boat

Medium and Larger Reels

Reels numbered in sizes from 2000s or even 20s and up tend to be either medium or larger sized reels. The goal of this guide is not to over define every level of reel size but to give a general sense of scale and proportion. If the small reels are best suited for light tackle fishing overall then the higher numbered reels are designed to enable anglers to get into fishing that tends to require larger rod sizes, more line capacity, and higher line strength. The larger reel sizes also tend to help anglers go after larger sized species and in a broader range of fishing locations and conditions. Of course, as anglers move into higher sized reels and corresponding heavier rod sizes, there are trade offs that have to be considered in the resulting changes that anglers will encounter with rod performance, whether overall power, action, or sensitivity.

So it’s quite easy at this point to get tangled and lost in the choices to be made and the options that come with all the different reels available online or in the retail store. And this again is where an angler needs to go back to basic questions specific to their fishing needs:

  • What type of fishing will you be doing?
  • What type of fish will be going after?
  • Where do you think you may want to fish?

Answering these questions first will help an angler address what matters, their own fishing needs, and will help simplify a lot of the reel choice complexity and range of options available from manufacturers and retailers.


Price Matters

In the end, one of the biggest determiners of choice for most anglers is price. Spinning reels can range from the equivalent price of a family pizza dinner and some beers or sodas ($20-$30) to the price of a full course meal with white linen tablecloths and fancy imported wine ($200+). But don’t be lulled into thinking that the more money you spend, the better reel you are going to get. It doesn’t always work this way with fishing reels.

First, start with how much you want to spend and go from there. Also consider what level of angler you are now and how much you truly expect to fish in the year ahead or even over the next few years. A well built reel can last many years if properly maintained and cared for. In this sense, a spinning reel can be an investment and may be worth spending a little more if you plan to fish more and more or if you plan to fish in different locations and conditions.

An example of a spinning reel that can be thought of as an investment is the Shimano Vanford. With a commonly found price point in stores and online of just around $229 the Vanford is a premium reel for sure and one that offers great performance and flexibility for different types of fishing. Check out Baitstick’s full review of the Shimano Vanford here

Still, the high price point of any premium reel makes for a product that may not make the most sense for anglers looking for more affordability or a different mix of price and value. For sure, there are lots of reels on the market that deliver considerable quality and performance for less money.

The Lew’s KVD is part of Lew’s gameplan to expand its product line up with higher end performance while keeping affordability part of the overall value from the company. The KVD’s price of just under $89 is meant to keep the reel price still below the $100 boundary that many anglers hold as a limit of how much should be spent in their minds for a quality reel. Check out Baitstick’s full review of the Lew’s KVD here

The Abu Garcia Max X is priced to be a reel of choice for beginner anglers as well as more experienced anglers. The sub-$40 price for the reel puts it at the low end of Abu Garcia’s family of spin reels. But the reel is an effort to bring advanced functionality down to an affordable price for everyday anglers but to make sure that the reel is not overly complicated or promising more than it can deliver as priced. Baitstick’s full review of Abu Garcia’s Max X here

The Baitstick Way of Doing Things

Baitstick doesn’t accept vendor gifts or free samples. And Baitstick strives to be free from corporate influence in our reviews, assessments and buying guides. So we strongly support users’ choice over decisions about what to buy and where to buy it.

In this fishing reel buying guide Baitstick holds product companies we include in our tests accountable for their products. And we hold ourselves to the highest standards of independence and ethics with unbiased, independent, and in-depth reviews and evaluation of products.

Baitstick applies a similar process to all of its product reviews and evaluation, including:

  • Going through the similar buying research and discovery process as consumers at different online merchants and national and local retail stores
  • Buying product at prices available to the general public and accepting no freebies or benefit from free manufacturer or retailer gifts
  • Inspecting product out of retail packaging and putting product through in-field testing at various locations in the United States
  • Collecting results from in-field testing and product quality analysis and summarizing in reviews and buying guides
  • Providing anglers with access to latest product reviews and things like this fishing reel buying guide to help anglers with buying decisions and choice on where to purchase
Spinning Reel Comparison
Max XMax STXMax ProElite MaxMach 2
Spinning Reel*
Spinning Series
Mach Crush
Spinning Series
Custom Speed
Spin Series
GraphiteGraphiteGraphiteGraphiteC40 CarbonC40 CarbonC40 CarbonC40 CarbonGraphite
GEARS*5.2:1 – 5.8:15.2:1 – 5.8:15.2:1 – 5.8:15.2:1 – 6.2:16.2:16.2:16.2:15.2:1 – 6.2:16.0:1
190/2 – 150/20190/2 – 80/8190/2 – 80/8225/6 – 150/20120/6 – 120/8120/8 – 190/12120/6 – 120/890/6 – 160/8270/2 – 95/10
6.2 – 12.96.4 – 9.86.4 – 9.88.5 – 13.36.9 – 9.98.6 – 9.88.6 – 9.87.5 – 10.46.3
6.4 – 206.4 – 146.4 – 1414 – 188 – 1814 – 1814 – 188 – 247 – 24
20.5 – 30"20.5 – 29"20.5 – 29"28.2 – 38"30 – 35"31 – 35"31 – 35"25 – 37"25 – 40"
One Year
One Year
One Year
One Year
One Year
One Year
One Year
One Year
*Option by Model

Baitstick supports efforts to build the next generation of anglers nationwide, including the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) and The Outdoor Foundation