Published Aug 23, 2022 2:33 PM
Modestly priced spinning reels might have been a bit finicky and wobbly 20 years ago, but there aren’t many situations where a modern angler would be at a disadvantage picking up a value-priced modern version of the “egg beater.” Models range from less than a twenty-dollar bill to advanced saltwater rigs commanding prices that top $1,000. More expensive models undoubtedly offer features that will deliver a lifetime of smooth performance despite harsh use, but there are plenty of options under the $100 mark that won’t leave the average, or even advanced, angler wanting. Here we roundup a few of the best spinning reels under $100. These are models that even professional anglers will have rigged on the front of their decks, and they will leave enough money in your wallet to keep the boat’s gas tank full for the next adventure.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Spinning Reel for Under $100
Most reels on today’s market are going to come equipped with internal gears of brass or another alloy, but the frames of reels sold for less than a Benjamin often are made of either aluminum or graphite (AKA plastic). You may find a few reels with some components crafted of carbon fiber, but in the value-priced arena, aluminum is going to be the top-of-the-line. Graphite is fine if you’re angling for smaller species, but it can flex slightly under heavy strain, which can lead to issues with gears not meshing smoothly or the rotor becoming out of balance. Aluminum, carbon fiber and graphite all resist corrosion brilliantly and keep the overall weight of the reel down. Saltwater and brackish water found along the coast will chew away at other metals quickly and will require cleaning after every trip to prolong the reel’s life.
A few ounces can make a huge difference when it comes to a day of fishing. In addition to keeping the rod well balanced, a reel that comes in under the 8-ounce mark will actually help you feel the bite a little better when the fish are playing with their food instead of taking the bait. With less weight, you’re also able to keep the rod in perfect position throughout a long day of finesse presentations when the bite is tough.
The drag system on a spinning reel is often the difference in landing plus-sized fish when they make a hard run at the boat. The drag allows the line to slip smoothly off the reel when enough pull is exerted on the line. Instead of allowing the line to snap, a good drag system will give the fish room and remove some of the strain. Modern drag systems are usually made of oiled felt pads, ceramic discs or carbon fiber plates. The ceramic and carbon fiber offer a lifetime of service and resist the heat created from the friction of the rotating spool, but if you primarily chase crappie, bream or smaller saltwater species like speckled trout, a reel with an oiled felt drag system pays out line more smoothly. In either case, look for reels that have a sealed drag system, as it prevents debris from getting between the discs and causing premature wear and sticky performance.
The number of ball bearings in the reel is critical to the smoothness of the retrieve, but it’s not just about numbers, the quality of those bearings plays a huge part in performance. Even reels with six ball bearings can offer smooth turns of the handle, and the difference in performance between six- and seven-ball bearing reels may not even be noticeable to the average angler. However, light-line specialists who keep the spinning reel in their hands all day will attest that more is definitely better when it comes to bearings.
Why It Made the Cut: The Accurist continues to stand one step above the competition with its not-so-heavy metal components and criminally smooth gear system.
- Sealed ceramic drag system
- Aluminum frame with graphite side plates
- 6 ball bearings and one roller bearing
- 5.2:1 gear ratio
- 7.2 oz.
- Lightweight, yet extremely durable
- The best bail in the business
- Becoming a rare find on store shelves
I’ve been a fan of the Quantum Accurists since the beginning of their “Performance Tuned” series about 20 years ago. These reels have honestly improved with each generation, and the latest iteration is no exception. It’s one of the only spinning reels under $100 that still sports an aluminum frame to deliver rock-solid performance in any condition. The sealed ceramic drag has never failed to pay out line smoothly for me when playing a largemouth or even striped bass. The clincher for me, however, is in the bail. I’m a klutz and can be a bit rough on my equipment. The Quantum Accurist is outfitted with a titanium bail wire that flexes but does not take a permanent bend. It’s thin diameter also helps keep the reel’s balance perfect while you’re turning the lightweight handle. The worst thing about this reel is that it is becoming increasingly hard to find, as many anglers are opting for Quantum’s Smoke series reel with a slightly higher price tag. But the Accurist is all the reel you’re ever going to need for under $100.
Best for Bass
Why it Made the Cut: An innovative blend of budget-conscious options and high-quality components delivered a smooth, hassle-free fishing experience.
- Carbon/oiled felt hybrid drag system
- Graphite body and rotor
- 6-ball bearings and one roller bearing
- 6.2:1 gear ratio
- 8.5 oz.
- Carbon fiber handle is lighter than aluminum and just as durable
- Carbon matrix sealed drag offers smoothness of felt with added longevity
- Graphite frame could be upgraded
The best spinning reel is the one that you don’t even realize is there. That’s the exact experience I had with the Jordan Lee series spinning reel from Abu Garcia. After fishing a Ned rig for spotted bass for about 30 minutes, I hardly noticed engaging the reel after the cast or looking down to find the sweet spot where the bail flips easily. The bearing system has 6 ball bearings and one roller bearing that grabs instantly to prevent any reverse play when you begin your retrieve. Spooled with braid, the reel allowed excellent casting distance. The drag payed out line smoothly to prevent my aggressive hookset from tearing out the hook, but kept the fish well under my control from the moment I lifted the rod. A neat little line clip on the opposite side of the handle even offered a place to run the weight on my dropshot to keep it from bouncing around on the boat ride. My main wish for this reel would be to see its frame construction upgraded to aluminum, but I really didn’t feel any flex with the current graphite model.
Why It Made the Cut: The Pflueger President series continues to shine in the ultralight category with high-quality construction and features found in their upper-class bass reels.
- Sealed oiled felt drag system
- Graphite body and rotor
- 6 ball bearings and one roller bearing
- 5.2:1 gear ratio
- 6.2 oz.
- Aluminum handle offers flex-free retrieves
- Lightweight, downsized construction ideal for ultralight rods
- Stepped down bearing count
The Pflueger President has been the go-to most panfish anglers for more than a decade. The graphite construction keeps things light in the hand, light on the wallet, and it’s durable enough to offer years of performance as long as you aren’t stressing the reel too much with large catfish or other tackle-busting catches. With lighter line, I tend to like the extreme smoothness of oiled felt drag systems, and this reel’s design will keep debris out of the felt washers for years of performance. The only knock against this ultralight reel is that Pflueger chooses to outfit it with a 6-ball bearing design instead of the 9-ball bearing construction they have in other sizes of President reels. However, most anglers wouldn’t even notice the difference in smoothness between the sizes unless they study the specifications.
How I Made My Picks
While working with anglers and product manufacturers for more than 30 years, I’ve had the opportunity to field test a slew of reels in the magical “under $100” price point. I’ve chased bass, crappie, walleye, catfish and trout with these reels and have spoken to many anglers who frequent inshore destinations for redfish and speckled trout. These selections are based on personal experience with these reels as well as input from trusted sources.
Q: What size spinning reel should I buy?
Spinning reel size is primarily dictated by the species you are after and the size of the line and spinning rod you’re using. Finesse specialists will pay close attention to the line diameter for which the reel was designed to ensure minimal line twist. Trying to run too large of a line diameter on a small reel can cause massive headaches with loops and knots after a few hours of fishing. Ultralight rods for bream, crappie and trout also become unwieldy with a reel larger than the 20-size class. As the species gets larger, so does the line size and reel needed to handle it. Saltwater spinning reels max out at giant 300-size class models designed for sailfish and tuna, but for the majority of freshwater gamefish, a 25- or 30-size class reel will fit the bill. Bass anglers who are going to spend a day fishing with monofilament usually opt for 30- or even 40-sized reels as the larger diameter spool can prevent the line from coiling up after being stored on the spool all day in the heat. If you’re looking for larger reels, you’re going to pay a bit more than the $100 limit I adhered to for this article. Here’s a selection of spinning reels where larger size is a consideration, but a $100 price tag is not.
Q: What gear ratio is best?
Speed might be the name of the game when it comes to baitcasting reels, but most spinning reels tend to be a touch slower. Most spinning reels sport a 5.2:1 gear ratio, with some bumping up the retrieve to 6.2 revolutions of the bail for every crank of the handle. While this may seem like a disadvantage, it usually does not hinder performance. Most bass and panfish techniques requiring spinning gear call for small, lightweight lures that can’t be fished quickly anyway. The slower 5.2:1 ratio enables the line to stack smoothly back in place without incurring excess twist that can cause tangles and loops. Anglers using braided line on their spinning rods or fishing live bait without many casts can step up to the speedier reel ratios, but for day-in, day-out performance using monofilament or fluorocarbon lines, keeping the ratio under 6-to-1 will prevent plenty of headaches.
Q: How many ball bearings should a reel have?
The number of ball bearings in a reel often is used as an indicator of quality. If the bearings are of the same construction and design, then more would always be preferred. However, the quality of the bearing construction also plays a large role in the smoothness of a reel. Some reels with six high-quality, ceramic ball bearings offer much smoother performance than cheaply made reels with nine roughly finished steel bearings. Still, any spinning reel should have a minimum of four to five ball bearings to deliver enough smoothness to enhance your fishing day without feeling like you’re grinding sand in the reel’s gears. Most of my favorite spinning reels sport six or seven ball bearings and one roller bearing.
Ultimately, comfort with your reel is a personal matter. Just about every reel manufacturer has an offering in the under $100 category, and all are built well enough for the average angler to never feel a need to upgrade. You may find other options in this selection, tailored for bass fishing, from fellow Field and Stream contributor Jerry Audet, but these are the sub-$100 standouts that grabbed my attention and have all performed well.