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Published Jun 16, 2022 10:22 AM

Even the most stubborn, hard-core power bass fishermen have learned in recent years that spinning reels for bass have their place. They particularly excel for finesse techniques like dropshotting, Ned rigging, and wacky rigging, and their resistance to backlash means that they’re excellent for skipping under docks and overhanging brush.

Nevertheless, some bass anglers refuse to use anything but a baitcaster. That’s too bad, because modern spinning reels, especially but not exclusively the higher-end models, are functional works of art. They’ve reduced bugaboos like line twist while substantially improving drag systems and reducing overall weight.

My recognition of their value came while chasing rampaging yellowfin tuna in Panama and big salmon in Alaska—if the spinning reels can tame these beasts, there’s no reason they can’t be used effectively on a 4-pound smallmouth or 5-pound largemouth. Once I learned to tie an effective FG (fine grip) knot, I found I could spool my spinning reels with thin-diameter braid and top them off with a leader of ultra-premium fluorocarbon, giving me the best of both line types. Now I actually look forward to chasing big fish with an eggbeater reel. Here are my picks for the best spinning reels for bass:

Things to Consider

The best spinning reels excel at finesse fishing
Baitcasters might offer more control, but spinning reels can fish highly-effective lures that baitcasters can’t. Pete Robbins

Drag

While some anglers continue to backreel or don’t ever find themselves in situations where a smooth drag is necessary, if you’re going to battle decent-sized fish on light tackle, you want clean and even slippage. It’s critical that the clutch start up without resistance and remain consistently smooth during the fight, especially in inclement weather. The most expensive reels typically have silky smooth drag systems, but it’s the mid-range and lower reels where there’s the greatest level of variation.

Spool Size and Line Capacity

While you’ll rarely get down to your spool knot when fighting a bass, a spool that’s too small typically won’t cast as far, because the loops coming off of it are smaller. That’s especially true if you’re using a heavier-diameter line. The line should flow off the spool with a minimum of resistance.

Weight

The premier reels of yesteryear are still functional, but they feel like anchors compared to the lightweight and more feature-laded models that dominate the shelves today. It’s now possible to retain rigidity and add features in a package that weighs less than your previous favorites. That should reduce fatigue over a long fishing day or trip. Often the best spinning rods don’t weigh much so you need a light reel to balance it because an unbalanced setup throws off your casting action or accuracy.

Best Overall: Abu Garcia Zenon 30

Bass Pro Shop

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Key Features

  • 5.4 ounces
  • 6.2:1 gear ratio
  • 10 stainless steel bearings plus one roller bearing

Why It Made the Cut

This is the lightest reel of its kind and it doesn’t sacrifice a single essential feature. 

Pros

  • Extremely lightweight
  • Magnesium gearbox and carbon fiber drag system are compact, strong, and smooth
  • Fast gear ratio

Cons

  • Doesn’t come in a larger size for heavier spinning rods and applications

Product Description

Abu Garcia somehow eliminated all extra weight from a spinning reel without sacrificing quality, stability, or strength. In fact, in many respects this precision piece feels more solid than reels weighing several ounces more, and the drag remains buttery smooth and consistent on startup and throughout the fight. The soft-touch handle is comfortable to fish with all day, whether you’re skipping Senkos under shallow docks or dropping vertical presentations on smallmouths in 40 feet of water. Abu Garcia even added nice touches like a dropshot weight keeper and a padded case to protect the reel when moving from one destination to another. Mine never sees the padded case because it’s almost always part of the first spinning combo out of the rod locker – in fact, it’s such a joy to fish with that I deploy it even on days where spinning tackle is not at the top of the menu.

Best for Long Casts: Shimano Vanford VFC4000XGF

Bass Pro Shop

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Key Features

  • 7.6 ounces
  • 6.2:1 gear ratio
  • 7 ball bearings plus 1 roller bearing

Why It Made the Cut

Beefier reel delivers power, accuracy, and distance, yet remains remarkably nimble

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Long-stroke spool for longer casts
  • High-speed gear ratio
  • Super-smooth

Cons

  • Not quite as smooth as Shimano’s flagship reels, but at a fraction of the price

Product Description

Shimano was one of the first brands to introduce ultra-premium spinning models like the Stella, but the cost put them out of reach of budget-conscious bass anglers. The Vanford steps into the gap between high-end and entry-level reels, with many of the features and performance of flagship models. I particularly like the Vanford in a 4000 size, which allows larger loops to come off the spool, yet it still weighs under 8 ounces, which means you can cast baits into the wind, or just bomb them with the prevailing breezes, and get longer casts than you ever thought possible. The line goes back on the reel tight and smooth, to continually enable longer and more precise casts. Even after taking a beating for a year, the Vanford still feels solid in the hand and ready for action. I never fear that it would fail or stutter and put even the most distant breaking bass within my range most of the time.

Best Workhorse: 13 Kalon C 6.2-30

13 FISHING

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Key Features

  • 8.7 ounces
  • 6.2:1 gear ratio
  • 6 ball bearings plus one roller bearing

Why It Made the Cut

Beefy performance for under $100 and sized for a variety of purposes

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • High-quality instant anti-reverse
  • Speedy gear ratio
  • Lots of bearings at a budget price

Cons

  • Slightly heavier than some other reels in the survey

Product Description

The expensive, high-tech spinning reels show their mettle from the start, and stay true consistently, but many of the reels at lower price points quickly lose their luster. Their tolerances become looser and the performance less crisp. Not this reel from relative newcomer 13. After a year of hard fishing—bouncing across rough lakes on the deck of my boat, and even being dropped into the drink—it continued to perform as if just out of the box with a minimum of care. That’s important, because while most of us claim we’ll baby our gear, we rarely do. The drag proved smooth when I latched into a giant unexpected catfish, and while the reel is a bit heavier than some of the others in this survey, it’s not oversized. If I was looking to get four or five spinning reels of the same model to build a complete arsenal, the Kalon might be the one I’d recommend.

Best Budget: Daiwa Laguna LT 2500

Daiwa

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Key Features

  • 8.8 ounces
  • 5.3:1 gear ratio
  • 3 ball bearings plus 1 roller bearing

Why It Made the Cut

A solid choice for beginners or the bargain hunter, with multi-species application

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A lot of bang for the buck
  • Oversized handle knob easy to grab and hold
  • True carbon frame is rigid yet not unreasonable heavy

Cons

  • Heavier than comparable reels

Product Description

Daiwa has packed features and quality into a spinning reel that retails for under $50 that would’ve been hard to find on models costing three or four times as much a generation ago. Now that the pros have access to lighter and smoother models, they might be disinclined to use a reel such as this one, but there’s no reason that they couldn’t. I found the drag to be reasonably smooth, the casts to be long and accurate, and the anti-reverse to be relatively solid and unforgiving. Moreover, if you just want to dip a toe into the spinning world, and you’re not sure whether you’ll be chasing bass, walleye, pike, or trout, this is a good choice to cover all of those bases. Keep one in your vehicle on a multi-piece rod for times when you pass a juicy looking piece of water and you’ll be glad you did—and not out much cash for the effort.

Best High Speed Spinning Reel: Lew’s HyperMag HMS 300

Bass Pro Shop

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Key Features

  • 7.6 ounces
  • 6.2:1 gear ratio
  • 10 ball bearings plus 1 roller bearing

Why It Made the Cut

Everything about this reel screams high-intensity, high-speed performance

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • High-speed gear ratio
  • Huge number of premium bearings at this price point
  • Winn Dri-Tac knobs

Cons

  • Limited sizes available

Product Description

Historically, spinning reels’ line-retrieval rates were substantially slower than their baitcasting counterparts, and while they haven’t approached the 9:1 or 10:1 rate of high-end casters, they’re getting faster across the board. The Lew’s HyperMag excels when speed is of the essence—to corral a smallmouth running at the boat, or to bring in your popper for another cast at busting fish—not just because of its impressive gear ratio, but also because of all of its other features. For example, the Winn Dri-Tac knobs prevent you from losing your grip no matter how fast you’re reeling or what the conditions, and the 11 total bearings mean that the reel won’t break down after you put it through its paces. I love this reel for skipping a Senko, because I can get my lure back quickly on errant or unproductive casts and fire it back out. That means more total skips in the course of a day, and more fish over the course of a season. At the same time, I know that if I hook a true giant in gnarly cover, this reel will give its best fighting chance to help me get that fish in the boat.

Best for Brackish Water: Penn Clash II 3000

Bass Pro Shop

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Key Features

  • 10.1 ounces
  • 6.2:1 gear ratio
  • 8 stainless steel bearings plus 1 roller bearing

Why It Made the Cut

Made of durable, corrosion-resistant components and sized to horse in open-water brutes

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Highly corrosion-resistant
  • Proprietary CNC gear technology
  • Super stout

Cons

  • Relatively heavy

Product Description

Anglers who want a reel that can manhandle big bass, pike, and catfish, but also excel in brackish water for species like redfish and stripers need a tool that won’t give out when exposed to salt air and salt water. Penn, a longtime leader in saltwater circles, makes a reel that’s fine for all heavy-duty saltwater applications, with the added benefit of corrosion resistance. A hydrophobic line roller bearing and the “Clutch Armor System” keep components working as intended for years to come, whether they’re subject to heavy spray or a full dunking. I took this one on the lower Potomac and sections of our other local brackish waters and then just hosed it down at the end of the day (OK, I might’ve missed a day or two). I’d love to take it to Central America for tuna or mahi and see if the drag system, which so far seems incredible, is in the neighborhood of those available on reels that cost two or three times more. Anglers can get this reel with either a paddle knob or a “power knob” depending on the type of fishing they expect to be doing and personal preferences.

Methodology

I tested spinning reels over the past year on bass from Michigan to Mexico, as well as in saltwater, but mostly on the rivers of the mid-Atlantic. I’ve actually made it a point to try to integrate spinning tackle more consistently into my fishing, both to test its limits and because there are certain situations where it provides a distinct advantage over baitcasting gear. I find them especially effective when throwing the best smallmouth bass lures like a Ned rig. I spooled them with braid-to-fluorocarbon, straight fluorocarbon, and old-school monofilament to see if there were any performance differences.

FAQ

What size spinning reel is good for bass fishing?

Most bass fishing techniques can best be accomplished with a spinning reel in the 2500 or 3000 size. That provides the best match of overall combo balance with line capacity. However, as reels get lighter, it may be possible to use a larger reel – in which the loops come off the spool in greater diameter – without any corresponding loss of balance.

What is the best gear ratio for bass fishing?

Most spinning reels have gear ratios in the 5:1 to 6:1 range, and while faster speeds certainly excel for many techniques, these are more than adequate for most presentations you will make with spinning tackle. Remember that the number of inches of line picked up per revolution of the handle can be just as important as the gear ratio itself.

Why use a spinning reel for bass?

There’s no reason not to use a spinning reel for bass in any circumstances. Anglers who are most comfortable with this style reel can use it across the board. However, spinning reels particularly excel in light line, finesse techniques, and throwing lines lighter than 10-pound test. Because the line comes off the reel freely, they also excel for vertical techniques like dropshotting and shakey heads, where any “pendulum” action or resistance can be a huge negative.

Final Thoughts

Some of the best bass lures should be fished on a spinning reel. If you want to take advantage of these highly effective techniques, choose the best spinning reels for bass that suits your budget and need.