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Best New Reels at ICAST 2021

Our top fishing reel picks from ICAST 2021
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ICAST best fishing reels

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Fishing reels have been used for centuries, since first being recorded about 1195 A.D. in Asia and about 1650 in England. We have seen tremendous change in the more than 370 years since English fishing guide and author Thomas Barker described the reel as … within two foot of the bottome of the Rod there was a hole made, for to put in a winde, to turne with a barrell, to gather up his Line, and loose at his pleasure.”

Anglers today send lures large and small flying to pinpoint targets with lightweight reels. They’re made of magnesium and aluminum, with precision-cut gears and intricate engineering. Here are some of the notable reels from the 2021 ICAST show in Orlando, Fla.

ProFISHiency Sniper

Profishiency Sniper fishing reel
The ProFISHiency Sniper. Alan Clemons ProFISHiency

Thanks to the surge of new anglers in 2020, several companies updated and upgraded their spincast reels. These legendary reels pretty much are tangle-free and a great way to get started fishing, or to make precise casts (after much practice) that maybe you can’t do as well with a baitcaster. I know of an older angler who competed successfully for years in tournaments on Lake Guntersville in Alabama who used a spincast reel. They work. From the earliest models 70 years ago, they’re a staple of the industry.

The new Sniper from ProFISHiency combined some of the best features of baitcast reels with the ease of spincasts and beefed up the components. The Sniper weighs just 9.9 ounces but is a hearty, robust reel. No lightweight plastic or anything that might make you think a big catfish or bass will destroy the guts. The Sniper has a 6.5:1 gear ratio that hauls in 31 inches of line per handle-turn, along with a 12+1 steel bearing setup, zero-play anti-reverse, metal gears, and a carbon washer drag system with 10 pounds max of drag. The aluminum body comes in stylish black, white, or silver. Info:

Team Lew’s BB1 Pro LFS

Team Lew’s BB1 Pro LFS baitcasting reel
Team Lew’s BB1 Pro LFS. Lew's

If you’re familiar with Lew’s reels, either the storied history or relatively recent revival, you know they’re among the most popular on the market. Much improvement has been made in the last 10 or so years to the Lew’s lineup thanks to input from the company’s pro anglers and consumers. This year’s new model — the Team Lew’s BB1 Pro LFS — is a welcomed update.

The BB1 Pro features Lew’s 27-pin QuietCast adjustable centrifugal braking system and three gear ratios: 6.2:1 for moving baits such as crankbaits or swimbaits, the 7.5:1 for topwaters or jerkbaits, and the 8.3:1 for faster techniques. The reel sports a tough aluminum frame and lightweight graphite side plates, and is ergonomically designed to fit comfortably in the palm. The titanium-coated line guide also is a bit farther from the spool, which helps with casting. The BB1 Pro joins several other new reels from Lew’s including the HyperMag Speed Spin spinning reel, which has a magnesium body and skeletal rotor, 11 stainless bearings and forged main gear. Info:

Daiwa Zillion SV TW

Daiwa Zillion SV TW baitcasting reel
Daiwa Zillion SV TW. Daiwa

The Daiwa Zillion SV TW is gorgeous. Daiwa’s engineers have updated the popular Zillion reel, one of my old favorites, inside and out. The Zillion SV TW features a new gear design to increase power and smoothness, two bearings for the pinion gear to eliminate flex, aluminum frame and sideplate, and redesigned internal components. The “SV Booster System” is a two-stage braking system for improved casting distance. The familiar T-Wing System reduces drag and friction on the line as it comes off the spool. This helps with distance and fewer backlashes. The Zillion SV TW comes in six models from 6.3:1 to 8.3:1 gear ratios, all weighing just 6.7 ounces, thanks to its aluminum body and side plates. Info:

Okuma Hakai DT

Okuma Hakai DT baitcasting reel
Okuma Hakai DT. Okuma

If you’re a fan of palming the reel and rod while fishing, Okuma’s Hakai DT low-profile reel may be right up your wheelhouse. The Hakai DI has a magnesium alloy frame and weighs just 5.8 ounces. Over the course of a day, or several days in a tournament, that lighter weight will make a difference. Okuma’s engineers rethought everything in the Hakai DT, from the weight and designs of the shaft, spool, and gears, to the overall size. It’s available in 10 models and three gear ratios. Info:

Abu Garcia MaxPRO

Abu Garcia MaxPRO baitcasting reel
Abu Garcia MaxPRO. Abu Garcia

Does everyone need a $500 or even $200 fishing reel? No, just like not everyone needs or wants a $90,000 bass boat or a $5,000 kayak. That’s why one of my favorite reels from ICAST is the Abu Garcia MaxPRO baitcaster, which comes in at a nifty $85 and punches above its price class. With the MaxPRO you’ll get a 7+1 stainless bearing system and MagTrax braking system, oversized soft-touch knob handles to help while reeling, a machined anodized aluminum spool, brass gears and more. The one-piece graphite frame and sideplates help reduce weight. Normally for a baitcaster of this price you might not expect much, but with the MaxPRO you get more than you expect.

Should you want something more, however, consider the Abu Garcia Veritas combo. A Veritas rod is paired with an Abu Garcia Zata V reel, in four casting and five spinning combos. This is a good combo, designed in all-white, for recreational and weekend tournament anglers looking for an affordable yet solid combo. Info:

Shimano Curado MGL 150

Shimano Curado MGL 150 baitcasting reel
Shimano Curado MGL 150. Shimano

Baitcasting reels seem to weigh less every year thanks to new materials, and designers shaving a bit here or an edge there to reduce weight. The new Curado MGL 150 from Shimano joins the trim crowd at just 6.5 ounces. It is packed with the features anglers expect in Shimano’s low-profile baitcasting reels, with a 150-size spool capable of handling higher amounts of fluorocarbon or braided lines. Included is the aluminum Hagane body, cross-carbon drag system and other Shimano technologies. The Curado is one of the company’s legendary reels among bass anglers, without doubt, and the MGL 150 likely will find a home with many of them. Info:

Quantum Smoke X

Quantum Smoke X baitcasting reel
Quantum Smoke X. Quantum

Reliable performance is a hallmark of the Quantum baitcasting line, and the Smoke X incorporates that dependability in a compact package. The one-piece aluminum frame, gull-wing side plate and oversized spool make this a tough reel to overlook. Anglers can easily adjust the settings thanks to the ACS 4.0 Cast Control for better performance with a variety of lures. The Smoke X has a carbon fiber-ceramic drag system, nine ball bearings and other features. I don’t care for the color, but that’s a quibble. The reel certainly stands out amid the brushed aluminum, white and black models elsewhere. The low profile and light weight will be appreciated during long days on the water. Info:

Shakespeare EZ-Grow 4+

Shakespeare EZ-Grow 4+ fishing combo
Shakespeare EZ-Grow 4+. Shakespeare

The Shakespeare EZ-Grow 4+ Combo is neither expensive nor capable of catching giant monster fish. It will catch panfish and small bass, catfish and maybe a walleye or inshore saltwater fish. But even better, it will help catch children and get them hooked on fishing. Despite what the crabby and selfish believe, it’s imperative to get kids interested in fishing so we’ll have more anglers on the water in the future. This combo is designed for children ages 4 to 10, although I suspect by the time they’re 9 or 10 most would want something more substantial.

The Shakespeare EZ-Grow 4+ Combo has a telescoping rod that expands from 2 1/2 feet to 4 1/2 feet. The spincast reel has an oversized attachment – great for little hands – and an extended push button. Both can be removed as children grow. The reel is spooled with brightly colored line, and the combo is available in purple, orange, seafoam green, and blue. For less than $30 you can get a kid into fishing with size-appropriate gear, and have a new buddy on the dock or boat. Info:

Zebco Bullet MG

Zebco Bullet MG spincast reel
Zebco Bullet MG. Zebco

Another spincast reel? Yes, because spincasts are good to help younger anglers get interested. The Zebco Bullet MG is a souped-up version of the company’s popular Bullet spincaster, but with less weight and better performance. It has a lightweight magnesium body, precision aluminum gears and Glideline ball bearing to assist with easier and smoother casting. Spincast reels aren’t always bullet-proof; I’ve put some twists and tangles in them over the years. But these newer, updated and improved models from different companies are sure worth a look if you’re interested in helping someone young or old have more fun on the water. Info: