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Our team of anglers continuously researched fishing reels before buying the best to test ourselves. This updated review features 8 top reels currently available, each rigorously tested to provide the assessments you need to make the right purchase decision. Our experts tested these reels from rivers to lakes to bays in as many different environments as possible. Along the way, we made detailed notes on how each performed in metrics like operation, features, and line control that contribute to accurate casts and reliable trophy fish landing. Whether you want the best reel money can buy or one that won't break the bank, our hands-on evaluations can help you find the right reel for your needs.
Thanks to a combo of smooth operation, awesome features, and quality construction, the Okuma Ceymar C-30 is the fishing reel that rose to the top of the fleet. Its smooth operation meant we could cast with ease and reel in something big without fighting against the reel and the fish. At eight ounces, it's one of the lightest reels we tested and feels barely noticeable on many rods, making for a more balanced setup. We also like its utility as a small, lightweight reel to pack into the backcountry to find isolated, less-often-fished lakes and streams. It has a nice, solid aluminum bail with an oversize line roller, which helped keep our line in check. And when it comes to comfort, it has it in spades, including our favorite handle. The soft, EVA foam handle grip provided all-day comfort as well as a solid hold.
As for drawbacks, this reel presents relatively few. We imagine the very comfortable foam handle grip may not stand up to the test of time. However, over hundreds of casts and several weeks of use, it has held up fine so far, without any signs of deteriorating. One should also note that this reel is quite small in comparison to many reels. We don't think this is bad, as its compact size is super packable, but it's worth mentioning. If you're looking for the best all-around fishing reel for performance and price, the Okuma Ceymar C-30 won't disappoint.
When you're after saltwater fish, it pays to have a reel designed for the job. That's precisely where the Daiwa BG2500 comes in. Its aluminum housing and waterproof drag system performed at the top of its class during weeks of fishing off of piers and jetties into the briny deep by our test team. Speaking of drag, it had plenty of power, which helped when fighting bigger fish. The drag dial was also one of our favorites, providing feedback with well-spaced clicks. The well-designed handle has a wide handle grip that offers comfort and impressive control. Another great feature was its anti-reverse system. It instantly locks the second you flip the switch. It was also a great casting reel, giving us long and accurate casts, something we especially appreciate when trying to place a lure into tight spots.
The only real complaint we have about this reel is its bail. While it worked flawlessly during our testing, its thin wire design didn't match the rest of the reel's high quality. Overall though, if you want a versatile reel that excels in saltwater conditions, the Daiwa BG2500 should be your top choice.
If you are looking for a reel that performs admirably without breaking the bank, check out the KastKing Centron 2000. While this model lacks the superior construction found on higher-end reels, it makes up for it with its operation and features. The drag system gave us plenty of fighting power and was smooth throughout the drag range, while the instantaneous anti-reverse system ensured we didn't have any tangles after flipping the switch. This reel also features an excellent bail roller that kept our line in check while reeling. Its casting performance was also impressive, with the line coming off the spool effortlessly with every cast.
Of course, with such a low entry point comes a few tradeoffs. While it didn't give us any problems, the lightweight materials may not hold up over the long term, so you may have to be more cautious when using this one. There was also an issue with filling the spool with line too close to the top. Compared to other reels, this one ended up giving us a tangled mess when we did so. But if you're looking to save some cash while still getting a nice fishing reel, we recommend taking the KastKing Centron for a spin.
The Penn Pursuit III is a price-pointed saltwater reel that proved more capable than expected. It might be smaller than other saltwater-specific reels, but it's strong and has plenty of fighting power. We learned this first-hand when successfully hauling in a fish that was seemingly too big for this reel. This reel also has one of our favorite features—a line capacity marker on the spool lets you know exactly how much line you have out. Very cool. While this model is marketed as a saltwater model, we found it to be up-to-snuff in freshwater angling environments, too. Our testers were big fans of the versatility that the Penn Pursuit offers.
Although the pros are many, there are still a couple of downsides to consider in regards to this model. One of the most obvious is that there's no reverse. This means that instead of backreeling when fighting a big fish, you have to rely on the reel's drag system. Luckily, the drag system on this reel was wholly sufficient for the fish we caught. While the reverse feature might go unused by many anyway, it's still generally expected on a reel, and some might miss it. We do have an issue with the bail. It had the habit of closing prematurely while casting. While this could have just been an issue with the unit we tested, it's unfortunate to have this as a possibility. Overall, this reel surprised us with its strength and quality at a good price. If you don't need a high-end saltwater reel but still want a good one, the Penn Pursuit III is our price-pointed recommendation.
If fishing is not just your hobby, but your lifestyle, then the Abu Garcia Revo SX is the reel to get. It's hands-down the most well-built reel we tested, and its operation was equally impressive. It casts remarkably well, has exceptional line control, and packs plenty of features. Some of our favorites are the angled lip design on the spool, which helps improve casting distance, and the slow oscillation that gave us near-perfect line lay for fewer tangles. It also provided smooth drag no matter what level we dialed in. And since it's lightweight, it makes for a great travel setup when paired with a telescopic rod, something we appreciate after hiking a few miles to fish.
Are there any downsides? Yes. For one, this is by far the most expensive reel we tested. And while it will most likely last for an extended period, the upfront cost is hard to swallow. It is also slightly more challenging to switch the handle to the opposite side than other models we tested, but that's not much to gripe about. Due to its high-end price, we recommend this reel only for truly dedicated, angling "lifers." If you want a fishing reel that will perform at the highest level, the Abu Garcia Revo SX is hard to beat. For what it's worth, we caught more fish with this reel than any other.
Why You Should Trust Us
Mammoth Lakes, California, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and multiple southern California locations provided exceptional testing grounds for these reels. Our lead tester put every reel through its paces in many different environments, from streams to lakes to bays. Dozens of fish were caught and released in the process of testing these products. We took each fishing reel out into the field to get a feel for the operation, as well as the features and versatility. We spent several months angling to assess these products fully. We also shared these reels with our fishing partners on multiple fishing trips to get diverse feedback. Our side-by-side comparisons from field tests and in-depth inspections informed our rankings and recommendations found in this article.
Kit Smith, our lead reviewer, is no stranger to fishing life. He's been at it for 35 years. It all started around the San Francisco Bay, where he began fishing for salmon and halibut at a young age. Later, he got hooked on fishing local streams and lakes around his family's cabin in the small mountain community of Bear Valley in the Central Sierras. He ended up moving to Colorado to attend college, where his love of angling continued to grow. With decades of salt and freshwater angling experience with dozens of reels, Kit brings the expertise needed to accurately assess these fishing reels.
Analysis and Test Results
Through our extensive field testing, the five performance metrics we focused on are Operation, Features, Line Control, Versatility, and Construction. We discuss each of these in more depth below.
Though we don't score products based on their prices, we always keep a sharp eye out for good deals. If something scores quite well in our testing and has a middling to low price tag, we take note. The KastKing Centron 2000 is such a product. With great features and performance and a retail price that's a fraction of some of the premium reels, it's a great value. The Penn Pursuit III is another affordable model that did well in our testing, and we recommend it as a budget reel for saltwater use. And one of our favorite overall, the Okuma Ceymar C-30, also rings up with a lower price, providing another great value option.
A reel's operation is one of the most important factors to consider. It includes everything from casting performance to line retrieval to drag control. Casting performance is dictated in part by the spool's design, while line retrieval is determined by internal gearing and the bail roller. The drag system's operation comes down to the range and how easy it is to dial in the desired amount of drag with precision.
When it comes to operation, the Abu Garcia Revo SX and the Okuma Ceymar C-30 are the most impressive. While the Abu Garcia is hard to beat for its exceptionally smooth oscillation and line control, it's also the most expensive reel we tested by far. The Okuma Ceymar, on the other hand, was reasonably priced and provided easy line retrieval and an impressive drag system. Very close behind, and geared toward saltwater use, is the Daiwa BG2500. This model casts long and accurate while boasting one of our favorite drag dials. After testing all the reels for months, these three reels are decidedly the most pleasant to use for a day of fishing.
This might be the most popular metric when considering a reel. Obviously, you can catch fish without all the fancy stuff, but smart features can give you an even better shot at that lunker. What features are we talking about? Things like instant stop reverse, automatic bail, and ergonomic handle grips. But having all of these doesn't ensure our vote. They have to be useful features that improve the fishing experience.
This category's standout is the Daiwa BG2500. With an abundance of useful features, like a reverse system that stops the spool instantaneously and a wide handle grip that's good for all-day outings, this reel made an indelible impression.
With a one-of-a-kind handle grip, the Okuma Ceymar C-30 also proved strong in this metric. While some of the reels feature plastic grips, this one sports an extra soft foam grip that provided unmatched comfort. It's not necessary, but our testers all agreed that it's a nice touch. The KastKing Centron packs plenty of features, too. We especially liked the considerable drag range that gave us a precise setting and the oversize bail roller that helped smoothly retrieve the line. The Penn Pursuit III has a unique feature that tells you how much line you have out after casting. We liked it.
Having a reel that can be used on a lake one day and in the ocean the next is essential for some anglers. Not all reels are up to this task. The Penn Pursuit III is hard to beat here. While it's geared for (and great) in saltwater environments, it turned out to be at home on a lake or stream during our testing, too. It also worked great when it came to different styles, from bait fishing to jigging.
In contrast, while it's an impressive reel, the Daiwa BG2500 is built specifically for saltwater fishing. Its larger spool meant this reel wasn't quite as comfortable around lakes and rivers. Because of that, its versatility metric took a hit.
If you want to reduce line twisting and tangles, this is a critical metric. Of course, it's hard to eliminate the occasional spirals and knots completely, but a reel with great line control can keep them to a minimum. The Daiwa BG2500 is one of the standouts in this category. Its well-designed bail provided smooth retrieval, while the lip on the spool was made for controlled casting.
The Abu Garcia Revo SX is also a leader in this metric. Its oversized bail roller and unique, angled lip on the spool made us almost forget what it was like to deal with twisted, tangled lines. But many other reels were worthy in this metric as well, including the Okuma Ceymar C-30 and the KastKing Centron. Both had great oscillation, which improved line lay on the spool. If you're looking for better line control, one of these reels won't disappoint.
While this isn't the most exciting metric to talk about, it plays a significant role in a reel's performance. Depending on the material, you can get a lighter, stronger, and higher-performance reel. The construction may be the determining factor in whether the reel lasts ten days or ten years. We saw a lot of differentiation within this metric among the models we tested.
The Okuma Ceymar C-30 feels built to last. Its aluminum construction not only made it durable, but it made for an incredibly light reel.
The true king of construction, though, is the Abu Garcia Revo SX. Built with a unique carbon body, this reel provided an incredible feel and fighting power. Of course, one would expect high-quality construction in a model priced this high. Other standouts for durable and quality construction include the Daiwa, Penn Pursuit III, and Pflueger President.
A reel alone can't catch you more fish, but selecting the right one can surely give you the upper hand. One of the most important things to consider when selecting a new reel to purchase is the environment you're planning on fishing. Are you looking to do a lot of lake fishing, mostly ocean fishing, or a little of both? Whatever it is, there's a reel here designed just for you. We hope this article will help you in your search for the perfect reel. So, plan the next fishing adventure, pack your gear, and make it a trip to remember.
Unless you are willing to risk it for the biscuit...
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.