This is the lineup of baitcasting and spinning reels we tested for 2016. You'll find an Editor's Choice, a Great Buy, and two Super Saver selections for both categories, plus all the charts of the additional reels that we tested. In addition to new flagship rods and reels, this year we requested that manufacturers also submit their most cost-conscious gear for consideration in our new "Super Saver" category. Entries were blind tested side-by-side with high-end rods and reels. You can find an overview of the test—including notable features from this year and our testing methodolgy—right here. You can find the 25 rods we tested here.
▶ Tackle manufacturer 13 Fishing has leapt to the forefront of the baitcasting reel pack—no surprise, given the company’s reputation for producing quality products. The $229 Concept C is the latest example, offering velvety casting and cranking with rugged good looks.
The Concept C is built on an 8+1 stainless-steel bearing, gear-shaft powerplant. A six-way centrifugal casting control lets users throw morsel-sized baits on an infinitely adjustable system. Backing off on the reel’s dual-casting controls shifts the reel from buttery smooth to icy slick. Users will quickly discover their casting distance is limited only by their ability to fine-tune these controls.
The reel is an ergonomic delight suitable for both large paws and dainty mitts. The reflexed handle features cork knobs that provide a better feel for lure action than EVA.
▶ Bass Pro Shops has a very successful business model: offer quality, feature-packed merchandise at a reasonable price. The distinctive candy-apple-red Bionic Plus fits the bill in spades—an accessory-rich baitcasting reel for under $80.
Unexpected high-end features include the twin graphite side-plates; the one-piece, lightweight aluminum frame; dual-casting controls; and a truly slack-free instant anti-reverse for surer cranking power.
The Bionic Plus’ dual-braking cast-control system (which utilizes both magnets and centrifugal braking) functions flawlessly, letting the user dial up the right amount of spool resistance for most baits.
The pliable, oversize, ribbed-for-your--cranking-pleasure knobs are a good grab when hands are slimy or wet. The bearings provide sufficient smoothness, while a thumb rest over the level-wind mechanism helps prevent hand fatigue during extended winding sessions.
The Bionic Plus is available in 5.3:1, 6.3:1, and 7.0:1 gear ratios—perfect whether you’re winching wide-body crankbaits, hopping jigs, or crawling creature baits.
Laser MG SUPER SAVER Score: 89 / $79 / lews.com
▶ The Laser MG offers fishermen a plethora of features for a meager $79. This low-profile performer has dual-casting controls—both traditional friction and externally adjustable magnetic. Users are able to dial down backlashes while flicking even the tiniest of baits. We really appreciated the "free" and "max" labeling on the magnetic adjustment dial, simplifying which direction to dial-in casts.
Eight bearings and a well-meshed gear box smooth out cranking, while a 7.1:1 retrieve ratio gobbled 31 inches of line per turn. The signature wide-gap, contoured handle remains the best in the industry for both power and comfort.
An ergonomically designed palming plate fits the hand well. This is especially important when you’re trying to achieve a fluid cadence with jerkbaits and other finesse lures. Bottom line: It’s hard to imagine improving on this reel, given its low retail price and solid features.
Inception SUPER SAVER Score: 88.1 / $119 / 13fishing.com
▶ The Inception is 13 Fishing's first entry-level baitcasting reel. Oddly enough, we found our $119 Inception (8 bearings) to be nearly as smooth as the Concept C, this year's Editor's Choice award winner.
The reel has a matte-gray finish that you’ll either love or will make you cringe. Available in both 6.6:1 and 8.1:1 gear ratios, the Inception is well suited for most freshwater assignments. Its low profile is perfect for throwing crankbaits or burning wake baits—whenever palming the reel provides an advantage.
The six-way centrifugal braking system, which needed tweaking to get just right, is housed under the palming plate. With 12 pounds of drag adjustment, the Inception paid line out smoothly—unheard of on an entry-level baitcaster.
THE SPINNING REELS
Revo MGX EDITOR'S CHOICE Score: 94 / $299 / abugarcia.com
▶ The Revo MGX represents Abu Garcia's first foray into the high-end spinning market. If their goal was to make a splash, they have succeeded. A whopping 11 stainless-steel bearings, plus one roller bearing, keep internal tolerances tight, letting the MGX spin up with delightful ease.
Additional functionality is provided by a well-meshed gear box, that features fully machined (not stamped) components. Equally impressive are the carbon frame and rotor, which are light yet unexpectedly free from flexure. While the use of carbon isn’t unique to spinning reels, the real engineering feat is achieving this level of rigidity.
A high-capacity spare spool is included, increasing line payload for those who want to venture out into the salt. The flat carbon handle and milled spool collectively save weight, making the MGX ideal for all-day operation. The MGX is not cheap. However, if you’re searching for a quality reel—one that promises a lifetime of flawless performance—take the MGX for a spin.
Salt Striker GREAT BUY Score: 91.5 / $99 / cabelas.com
▶ While the “salt” moniker implies a saltwater--only reel, the Striker is suited for lakes, streams, bayous, or anywhere else fish congregate. Built for Cabela’s by Daiwa, the Salt Striker offers great features for a good price.
The aluminum frame is stout, even under the heaviest loads, and was a real advantage when we worked heavy or large-profile baits—or tried to control big fish.
The skeletonized rotor eliminates weight while letting the reel turn delicately but without unwanted wobble. This also serves to minimize user fatigue and provides crisper cadence when working snapped lures, such as jerkbaits, with a twitch-and-go cadence. A wide wire bail and oversize line roller manage line neatly, without tangling or kinking. And you’ll be able to find the large drag knob easily in the heat of battle. The drag’s payout is unexpectedly smooth for such a value-minded piece. The oversize paddle-style knob is one of the most comfortable we tested, and its large-capacity spool is perfect for line-gulping applications.
T200 SUPER SAVER Score: 84.2 / $79 / lews.com
▶ Another blockbuster from Lew's, the 8--bearing T200 is a no-nonsense reel sure to appeal to fiscally responsible fishermen. The build is tight, promising years of trouble-free operation. The rigid aluminum chassis felt bulletproof in hand due largely to the stainless bail system, which eliminates problem areas found on many other less-expensive spinners.
Lew's T200 Spinning Reelby OutdoorLife Internally, a solid brass pinion gear and beefy stainless-steel main shaft promise longevity. The carbon-Teflon, multi-disc drag system managed big saltwater fish without a fuss. At first blush, the T200 struck us as a reel for the less-than-serious basser. However, the T200 proves a worthy companion for anyone searching for priced-right performance.
Throttle TH20 SUPER SAVER Score: 82.5 / $59 / shop.zebcobrands.com
▶ The Quantum Throttle TH20 is stuffed to the gills with amenities—11 stainless-steel bearings (10+1), a stainless-steel main shaft, and a solid aluminum chassis.
A double-anodized spool promises corrosion resistance, while a nifty braid band provides hassle-free line spooling. An oversize multi-disc drag system provided plenty of fish-stopping power.
A thoughtfully designed graphite rotor spins smoothly, balancing the reel well. Ergonomic niceties include the grip and an oversize drag knob that is easily adjusted in mid-battle. We also liked the comfortable large-profile bail wire.
Photographs by Nick Ferrari; Videos by Jared Serigné