If you’ve done some amount of fishing before, whether as a sport or as a hobby, you’ll know that quality of your fishing equipment can be a deal maker or breaker. Among these, buying a fishing reel is an important investment. If you get it right, you struck gold, but if you get it wrong, fishing can prove to be more of a pain than pleasure, as it can completely wreck the balance in your rod.

The main function of a fishing reel is to deploy and retrieve the fishing line using a spool, which is mounted on an axle. Pictures of earlier fishing reels can be seen in Chinese paintings originating in and around 1195 AD. In these, the reels were shown as hand wound and were attached by a string to a bamboo pole. Of course, during that period, fishing wasn’t really a sport. It was more of a way to bring food to the table. As time passed and technology prospered, the modest fishing reel underwent many changes, though still based on that first design, and they continue to evolve to this day. Today, fishing has become a sport and the fishing reel has evolved even more to make the process of fishing increasingly efficient and easy on the fish.

If you are new to angling or have little experience, you can use this guide to assist you in deciding what kind of reel you should pair up with your fishing rod for your next fishing bout. I will try to give as much detail as I can without making it too technical.

Considerations to Take when Selecting a Fishing Reel

Some of the things you’ll need to consider right at the beginning will be the reel parts, the number of ball bearings, the gear ratio, line capacity and what your fishing style is. The most important deciding factor, though will be where and what kind of fish you intend to catch, in addition to whether you are planning to participate in a competition, catch large scale fish for a meal or just want to angle to kick back and relax. You should remember that gear requirements for freshwater reels are different from those of salt water reels. Things to keep in mind when purchasing you next reel are as follows:

Line weight Range of the Rod

On commercially available rods, you’ll find a series of numbers printed along with the brand name and model. This number will contain the length of the rod, either in feet or centimeters and the recommended range of line weight to be used with the rod. So a rod with 4-8 pound line range can be suitable for fish weighing up to 8 pounds. Similarly, there are weight classes for fishing reels too and you should make sure that the weight specification on the fishing reel matches that of the rod. It is very important to balance the two. A well balanced rod will make it easy to cast, offer more precise angling and will minimize user fatigue from using for longer intervals of time. So this consideration is very important if you are thinking of angling on a regular basis, or landing a trophy catch. Moreover, if your fishing gear is well balanced, it will increase the sensitivity of the rod tip so that you can easily detect fish coming to you bait.

Comfort and Cost

If you are a fairly experienced angler, it would be advisable to go with equipment that you are familiar with and have a good amount of experience within the past. A lot of reel handles come with comfortable cushioning, which reduce the amount of fatigue on your fingers. If you mostly use your gear for light fishing, or want to purchase fishing gear for children, it is advisable to use a lighter rod and reel to eliminate unnecessary pressure and weight.

Try to start with a reel that has a lower number of ball bearings and a less complicated reel design. This will also bring down the cost considerably. There are a great number of good looking and quality reels that can match your angling needs below the $100 range. You can start with that, and then move on to more advanced versions.

Drag system

The drag system’s main function is to tighten or loosen the spool when the fish tugs at the line. The main aim of tightening and loosening the drag is to get the fish to work hard enough to tire it out when fighting you and also maintain a control over the fish when hooked on. There are mainly two types of drag systems to choose from – front drag system and rear drag system. The front drag system is located on the front of the reel, while in the rear drag system, it is adjusted onto the rear. Front drag systems are more popular since the mechanics of the drag do not have to travel the length of the reel body. This makes it ideal for match anglers. While for those who fish for pleasure, the rear drag system is more comfortable and ideal.


The number of ball bearings in the reel will decide how smooth the reel works. The more the number of bearings, the smoother the reel spin. Bearings also increase the longevity of the reel as they absorb most of the wear and tear from the reel’s moving parts.

Retrieve Ratio

The retrieve ratio is a measure of how fast the reel retracts the line when a catch is made. A retrieve ratio of around 5.2:1 means that the rotor can spin around the spool about 5.2 times for every full rotation of the handle. The higher the ratio, the faster the retrieval. This means the angler will get more reeling power, to enable him to control larger and more powerful fish with ease.

Once you’ve acquired a basic idea of what you want in your fishing reel, based on your fishing needs, you can go ahead and take a look at three of my top picks of quality fishing reels for the year 2018, all three of which are from Penn, who have been leaders in the reel design business since 1932. The company has been manufacturing fishing gear, including rods and reels for decades and are famous for the endurance and performance of their products. Here are three of their star reels.

Top 3 Quality Fishing Reels

1. Penn Spinfisher V & VI Spinning Fishing Reel

The Penn Spinfisher V is the ideal spinning reel for those who are fond of all out angling in salty seas or sandy waters. It has a water-tight frame that protectively seals out the salt water and sand form the gear box and drag system to ensure longevity of vulnerable parts of the reel.

The full metal body, rotor and sideplate are constructed to give it high durability and flexibility, ensuring that it doesn’t snap under pressure and so that it can handle water battles with the most aggressive fish in the sea.

The HT-100 Slammer Drag System allows for a high drag range and smooth cranking capabilities to tackle your catch with ease. This is thanks to the robust and smooth drag washers that the Spinfisher is equipped with. This is actually the reel’s highlight feature. The large diameter of the knob lets you reel to highest drag amount without the fear of snapping the line. Every washer is also individually treated with a special grease for a smoother functionality.

Due to the friction trip ramp, you can cast off at larger distances with high accuracy, without the fear of accidentally tripping your bait before time. The contraption also comes with five stainless steel ball bearings to ensure smooth reeling and the instant anti-reverse system in the bearing allows you to retract your catch easily and disturbance-free.

To support the fishing line and to prevent it from slipping, the reel is equipped with a rubber gasket along with the spool. This will allow you to use a braided line without having to install a monofilament backing. The spool is also marked with line capacity markers to allow you to know at one glance how much of the line is left.

All these features give the Spinfisher the versatility required by the action-seeking saltwater angler.


  • Watertight spinning reel
  • Full metal body
  • Sealed HT-100 Slammer drag system
  • Friction trip ramp
  • 5 shielded stainless steel ball bearings and instant anti-reverse bearing
  • Line capacity rings on the spool

Customer Testimonial

I mostly prefer fishing in saltwater and this reel gives an outstanding performance. Works fine and cleans up with a quick spray by the end of the day.

2. Penn Battle II Spinning Fishing Reel

The name of the reel itself suggests that this one has been combat tested on its performance, endurance and reliability. A newer version of the original battle series, this reel has been built like a tank.

Its durable metal body, along with the rotor and side plate give it the tenacity to endure and not bend under pressure. It is also corrosion resistant, making it the ideal candidate to take along on your saltwater adventures.

Unlike the Spinfisher, the Battle II does not have a water-tight frame. But this can be advantageous at times, as that makes it easy to pull apart and then assemble back. The reel works best with a graphite 7 foot rod and the HT-100 carbon fiber drag allows high drag flexibility along with optimum smoothness. By using both sides of the drag washers, you can now get about 20% more drag than the previous battle versions. Not that a lot of people max out the drag completely, but it’s nice to know in case you have to stop a fish running for cover.

As with the Spinfisher, this one also has 5 sealed stainless steel ball bearings, ensuring that even if salt water does get inside and then dries out, it doesn’t affect the ball bearings, allowing you to use the reel for years. The ball bearings, along with the anti-reverse bearing give you smoothness both while casting off and while retracting.

Though not the lightest reel in the market. The Battle II offers high-range flexibility and durability to last you a very long time.


  • Durable
  • Withstands tough saltwater conditions
  • HT-100 carbon fiber drag system
  • 5 sealed stainless steel ball bearings and instant anti-reverse bearing
  • Super line spool needs no backing, is braid ready, and has line capacity rings marked
  • HT-100 carbon fiber drag system delivers powerful, smooth drag
  • Full metal construction offers exceptional durability and leverage
  • Suitable for use with Berkley or Spiderwire Superline

Customer Testimonial

This reel showed a good performance at the jetty and I could use it to pull in blackfish and skates(stingrays) fighting against the current. I wish it were a little lighter though, but it sure is a strong reel for the price.

3. PENN Squall LevelWind Fishing Reel

The PENN Squall is one of PENN’s good lookers, with a graphite body, graphite frame and some aluminum accents. This helps not just make the reel look good, but also makes the structure more rigid.

The graphite make also helps keep it lightweight at just 6.9 ounces. However, don’t be fooled by its lightweight, with its HT-100 carbon Fiber drag system, the Squall LevelWind is capable of up to 15 pounds of drag, giving it a powerful combination of both strength and smoothness. There’s also an aluminum clickable star drag, which a lot of people find very convenient as it gives them more control over the line.

The spool has got aluminum rings and a braid ring to accommodate a variety of braids. The 3 shielded stainless steel ball bearing system allows for easy reeling and you don’t have to worry too much about corrosion from the salt-water. In addition, the graphite frame provides an extra protection from salt water corrosion. It is however, better off to keep the ball bearing as salt-free as you can, if you want them to last longer.

The Penn Squall LevelWind has a nice football shaped rubberized handle, that is very comfortable to hold onto and help keep you tension free about getting it wet. With the Versa-Handle feature, the reel lets you adjust the handle length quickly and with ease, according to your need. Although the retrieve ratio is a little low-key, at only 4.9:1, the reel comes at an affordable price. So it doesn’t matter if you are sharking or trolling, this LevelWind reel from Penn will give you the versatility and performance you need to bag practically any big saltwater game fish.


  • Graphite frame and side plates
  • 2 sealed stainless steel ball bearings and an anti-reverse bearing
  • HT-100 carbon fiber drag system
  • Alum spool, Braid 30/1020, 50/710, mono 25/455, 30/370
  • Durable and lightweight
  • Versa-Handle system
  • Aluminum Spool with Line Capacity Rings
  • Retrieve rate (inches): 35

Customer Testimonial

Penn has always been my go-to reel . This one is so smooth and stress-free to wind, I have used it with some very large fish!! I even reeled in a 100 pound Halibut using this!

How you can Care for Your Fishing Reel

If you want your fishing reel to have a longer service life it is important to give it some TLC.

  • Ensure that you purchase the right reel size for your fishing rod, to get a well-balanced outfit.
  • Even if the manufacturer says that the reel is resistant to corrosion, it is always wiser to keep it free from salt water. So you should clean it well after any saltwater or dirty water fishing excursion. Cleaning is simple. Just rinse it out gently with some fresh water.
  • Once in a while, it is a good idea to take off the spool and handle and grease the moving parts with some reel oil. Penn has got a good variety of specialized reel oil that you can easily purchase and use.
  • Try to avoid opening any casings, since you want to avoid losing any small parts like a washer or a cog. If any part goes missing, it may affect the functioning of the reel. It is best to let a qualified technician handle these things.

I tried to present here a little recommendation on some of the best fishing reels available in the market, how to go about purchasing them and how to take care of them. Among the ones presented, my personal favorite is the Penn Spinfisher V. I particularly like the water-tight frame it comes in, so I have worry less about accidentally splashing salt water over it. I also feel the double sided washers are a rare feature that give me a good drag range and smooth reeling. It’s a versatile reel providing me with multiple functionalities. I don’t think I need much more.

If you found this helpful, do share it with others and let me know if there’s anything else you would like me to discuss by writing in the comments.

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