Fishing Reel Guide: Beach Caster, Spinning & Boat Reels Explained

Finding the best fishing reel for your style of fishing means better casting, smoother retrieval, far fewer tangles and a more rewarding fishing experience. Use the page navigation below to find what you’re looking for. My goal with this page is that you make a good decision when choosing a reel and find what’s going to work best for you.

Contents

fishing with a reel

Best Fishing Reels

fishing reel

Here are the reels I recommend for each purpose. These are reels I have either used myself or been recommended from credible sources.

  • Best all round beginners beach caster reel
  • Best decent spinning reel that doesn’t break the bank
  • Best spinning reel for long term reliability (the reel I use)
  • Best Surf Fishing Reel
  • Best reel for float fishing and flat fish (4000-5000 size)

Best Reel Brands

best reels

Reel sizes vary a lot by manufacturer, and it’s important you find the right sized reel for your rod to create a balanced set up. Here are the reel sizes most suited for beach casters from each of the following brands.

  • Tronix 8000
  • Daiwa 5000-6000
  • Shakespeare 70-80
  • Penn 7000
  • Shimano 14,0000!

What are the actual performance differences between low end and high end spinning reels?

The biggest difference in performance comes from line lay and the drag. Reels with poor line lay with result in tangled lines. On a spinning reel, poor line lay prevents you from fishing with lighter lines that may be required if you wish to cast further or fish with lighter lures and rigs. A cheap drag doesn’t let out line at a consistent rate and may require a lot of initial tension before it releases any line at all. Reels like that will result in lost fish, but can be quite a laugh to fish with if you have the skill to work around their limitations and make them work!

Mid range reels that cost about £60 in my opinion have no limitations or performance disadvantages in comparison with higher end reels. You may get even better line lay with even fewer tangles by splashing more cash, but I’ve never had a tangle on my £70 reel with 8lb braid.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any differences between the mid-range and the high end. Reels genuinely do keep on getting better and better even up to £300. The difference is phenomenal. My advice which applies to most forms of consumption would be to buy what gives you the performance you actually need and avoid spending extra for thrills – BUT do not even touch the high end kit because if you do it will make your perfectly functional mid-range reel feel like cheap crap. Quality is relative. I got used to borrowing a friends reel that cost about £250 and was a Japanese import and then went back to my mid-range £70 Shimano and was quite shocked at how cheap it felt, despite being an excellent reel.

Spinning Reel Sizes:

Quick tip: if you’re a beginner, I recommend buying a rod and reel that are designed to go together so you’re guaranteed to get the right size. If not, just go for a size 4000 and it will work fine with whatever rod you have as long as it isn’t under 8ft and super light, in which case pick up a 3000 size.

With spinning reels Dawia reels are smaller than Shimano reels of the same size.

1000 Size = LRF – super light weight lure fishing with very light lines like expensive 8lb braid or 4lb flourocarbon line. Balances on rods that cast under 15g (less than half an ounce).

2000/2500 Size = Still only appropriate for super light weight rods that cast less that 21g and are under 7.5ft. This is a specialist size that will only match with LRF and HRF rods.

3000 size = the same reel body as a 2500 but with a larger spool with more line and more power. Perfect for rods that cast up to 21g and are under 8ft. Be careful about buying this reel size unless you’re sure your rod is a specialist rod for light weight lure fishing for species like Wrasse and Perch. It will look small even on most light weight lure outfits.

4000 size = perfect for bass fishing with rods of 9ft+ or for use with an entry level spinning rod between 7-9ft. This size is for using lures that weigh over 20g, which most traditional lures are. I recommend this size reel as a great general purpose size for people new to fishing. This size is going to balance well with rods that are 7-10ft like catching bass and other serious predators that require some bullying. A very versatile size, you won’t be disappointed if you’re looking for a simple spinning outfit.

5000 size = heavier lure fishing with 2oz / 50g weights and the largest bass and pike lures on rugged coasts with 10ft lure rods. Essentially, the reel size that was considered light weight a couple of decades back. This is great when you need power, long casting distances and something that can handle your big plugs and 20lb braid. Great for landing monster pike and monster bass or for match fishing when you want extra distance in your cast. Also as it happens, a good size for using mackerel feathers on a very heavy 10ft spinning rod.

Choosing a beach casting reel

The best beach casting reels have long spools which allow you to cast further. A long spool allows your line to leave the reel at higher speed with much less resistance, and can help avoiding coiling in your line, though that shouldn’t be a problem if your line is light enough anyway.

If you’re after a reel that you can use for both beach casting and boat fishing however, a shorter spool like you get on the big game reels is required, as longer spools mean your spindle can break under the pressure from 100lb fish you might catch from a boat.

Best Multiplier for Boat Fishing

Most boat anglers use multipliers because they can withstand the bullying they will get both from fish offshore and from anglers swaying around on a boat. Fixed spool reels are a bit more delicate with their bail arms. A 7000 sized multiplier is appropriate for uptiding and drifting over wrecks as an all purpose reel. For conger and sharks though it’s common to use a large 6/0 sized reel. Just be sure the reel can hold the amount of line you’ll be needing and has a smooth drag so you know you can handle whatever you hook. There are more and more tuna in the UK these days, who knows what you’ll hook. Lever drag reels and star drag reels both work well, but lever drags are superior for playing large fish when you may need to change the drag quickly.

A price guide to fishing reels.

Less that £20 = best fishing reels for kids on holiday for one-time use

Don’t turn your nose up to the super low end. Basic kits like this one on Amazon offer a price entry point that gets your kids fishing for the first time for a very small amount of cash. I started fishing with a fishing kit in France purchased by my father for 10 euros and caught a fish first cast. It was beyond crap, but still the best fishing trip of my life. Obviously this is not the price range for those keen on sustainability because it will end up in the bin after a few uses. Performance will be poor, but if your kid is completely new to fishing the reel isn’t going to be the limiting factor anyway (no offense to your kid I’m sure they’re talented or whatever).

£20-30 = best reels for mackerel fishing and once-a-year anglers

These reels are very basic and only useful for mackerel fishing with feathers or those that like to fish once or twice a year. They should still last years if cared for and are fine for people that enjoy going fishing a couple of times a year in summer to see if they can catch something. That’s probably your average person. If you fish more regularly, you may not enjoy the poor line lay, the clumsy bail arm, the temperamental drag and the way the reel feels like it came with a Happy Meal. However, there is a certain charm to using a piece of cheap crap to provide you with freshly caught fish you literally couldn’t buy, so they have their place. Remember though, line tangles (called ‘birds nests’) are more common with reels at this price than intermediate models. Advanced reels are actually easier for beginners to use, not harder.

£30-60 = fine for beach casting reels, but spend more for a quality spinning reel

This is a bit of a limbo-land where you’re spending a bit extra but you’re not really getting a lot extra in a spinning reel. For beach casting reels for surf fishing, this price range is absolutely fine. There may be exceptions to this and forgive me if you have found one. In general however I would suggest skipping this price range altogether and either spending £25 to save your cash or £60 to pick up something nicer.

£60+ Best fishing reels for serious angling & full performance

Decent fishing reels start at this price point. For serious anglers, this is kind of the ‘low end of the high end’. This is the price that gets you all the functionality you need, all the performance, beautifully made – but noticeably missing the luxuries of super smooth fishing a £100+ reel offers. The reel will turn smoothly and lock in a millisecond, the bail arm will click into place perfectly 97% of the time. The line lay should mean you avoid getting in the tangles cheaper reels can lead to, and you will be able to fish with higher performance low PE lines like braids.

£120+: Most expensive fishing reels for tackle tarts! (but it feels so damn good)

These are luxury products. They are like sports cars for your hands, and yes they do feel completely different. With one of these, you are officially a tackle tart of the highest degree. But careful – that’s not a little scratch is it? It’s nice to treat yourself with something like this and take care of it forever. Your grand kids will probably inherit a reel like this and it will still feel flash in 30 years (I’d bet).

Reel Buying Guide: Understanding Fixed Spool Reels

Drag Systems

You want a reel with a smooth drag. You can generally get this when you spend more than £40 on a reel and more expensive models often have silky smooth drags. This prevents your line breaking off when a fish makes a crash dive for the kelp. It could even prevent your rod from snapping.

There are front drags which sit on top of the spool and rear drags which poke out the back of the reel. The first of these are more common in sea fishing. Both are fine, but the front drag models are much more compact.

Frame Materials

Frame materials vary from solid aluminium, magnesium and plastic. Plastic should be avoided as it will feel clunky and the different components won’t feel as tightly integrated into one another. If you’re kayak fishing or fishing from rock marks where you frequently get wet, you need a reel that is corrosion proof. The main way reels die is by salt and corrosion making them juddering, jolting things you don’t want to use. Unfortunately there’s not a lot you can do once you’ve dunked a reel in salt water – leaving it to sit in warm fresh water will help keep it going but it’s on its way out unless you’re using a specialist kayak fishing reel that’s designed for it. Magnesium corrodes. Titanium is superior. Graphite is not as durable as carbon fibre or metals like aluminium.

For sea fishing you should also avoid reels targeted at fresh water anglers. Some reels designed for fresh water can also handle salt, but it’s safer to buy reels designed for sea fishing primarily.

Reel Bearings

Bearings make the reel turn smoothly. It’s quite striking the difference in smoothness as you up the quality of your reel. It’s a luxury that’s hard to go back from once you’ve fished with a solid and smooth reel – it makes most other reels feel clunky, like the handle could fall off any minute – even though it’s fine. However, more bearings doesn’t always mean a superior product and there are rapidly diminishing returns.

Spools

Spool size and line capacity are worth paying some attention to. Some spools are very shallow and others are deep with room for a lot more line. On a beach caster you need a reel that can store 300m of 15lb line. Line of about 12-15lb is best for getting a long casting distance, but if you’re new to fishing you may prefer to use 20lb and slightly lighter weights so that you don’t need to use shock leader.

Line Basics

Most people using ‘backing’ line which is where you use a stronger and thicker line to fill out the bottom of the spool before then tying on your casting line which is what you’ll actually be using. This allows you to save line, because if you just tied your mainline directly to the spool, when you eventually loose half your line, the line you have left is too deep in the spool to cast effectively, as the line casts with greater resistance the deeper into the spool you cast. A reel with too much line on the other hand will be prone to tangles, as the line will come loose too free

Backing line is also useful for providing extra strength should you hook into a very large fish that strips you of all your mainline, and the thicker line ties a stronger knot to the reel than thinner lines can, however good your knot.

Anti-Reverse

Anti reverse is a lever on the back of the reel that allows you to reel backwards, letting line out rather than letting it in. Given that you have a bail arm for letting out line and you can use your fingers to control the amount of line you release or the drag when fighting a fish, this feature is essentially useless. A useful indicator however of the quality of a reel is to reel forwards and then suddenly change direction to reel backwards, with anti reverse switched on so that the reel locks up and doesn’t reel backwards. On a cheaper reel, there will be a bit of ‘loose movement’ in the reel handle where the handle isn’t quite sitting tight in the body of the reel. On higher end models, when you do this the handle stops turning instantly, with no movement at all. This makes the reel feel like a tight, cohesive unit.

Gear ratio

Gear ratio tells you how many times the spool will rotate with each turn of the handle. A ratio of 5.4:1 means the spool turns 5.1 times for each full turn of the handle. It’s not important most of the time, but you should know that the faster the retrieve the less power you have, so it’s a trade off. Reel size matters so much more than gear ratio for 99% of angling.

Weight

Reel weight can determine if a reel balances nicely with your rod or not. It’s disputed whether this actually matters, but a rod that can be balanced perfectly on one finger on the rod handle just before it meets the reel is considered balanced. It’s definitely not fun when the reel is too heavy for the rod, as the tip of your rod will tend to lift upwards unless you direct it to do otherwise and it feels clumsy. Reels that are too large or small for the rod also increase the chance of line tangles. Other than this, reel weight is not an important factor unless you are lure fishing for long time periods. Reel weight is only an issue when you fish for mackerel with a beach caster and beach caster reel, which is not advised.