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The first memory many anglers have trout fishing is hitting a creek full of stockers with a spinning setup in hand. There’s something timeless and satisfying about throwing an ultralight setup in a stream or lake full of hungry trout. Nostalgia aside, it’s also a highly-effective technique for catching trophy trout because a good spinning reel for trout helps you throw light lures and fight big fish in current. I’ve fished many of the best and surveyed top trout anglers on their favorites to help you choose your next reel. Here are my picks for the best trout spinning reels for a variety of situations.
- Best Overall: Pflueger President XT
- Best Reel for Targeting Big Trout Deep: Daiwa Crossfire LT
- Best All-Purpose Affordable Reel: Lew’s Speed Spin SS20HS
- Best Affordable High-Performance Reel: Abu Garcia Revo X
- Best High-End Reel: Shimano Vanford
How to Choose a Spinning Reel for Trout
Consider where you will be fishing for trout. Will it be still water (i.e., a lake or pond), or will it be moving water, such as a stream or river? If you’re trout fishing on a lake, the fish often hang extremely deep, and line capacity may be an important factor to consider in reaching the appropriate depth. If you’re fishing a small stream, line capacity may not matter as much as having a compact setup that is easier to manage on small water.
How large are the trout you plan on targeting? If you’re fishing for smaller stocked fish, drag and reel size probably aren’t that important. However, if you think you may have a shot at hooking into a trophy brown trout, you should certainly consider the quality of the drag and gearing system in the reel.
What kind of environment will you be using the reel in? Will you be wading and submerging the reel often, or will you be relaxing on the bank? If the former, it may be good to consider the quality of the sealing in the reel to prevent water and grit from entering the gears. Maybe you’ll be fishing from a boat, jigging, or trolling. If so, the line capacity and drag quality will certainly be important factors to consider. All of these situations can dictate what the most appropriate choice of reel is for you.
Best Overall: Pflueger President XT
Key Features (25 size)
- Braided Line Capacity: 140 yards of 6 pound
- Max Drag: 8 pounds
- Reel Weight: 6.6 ounces
- Sealed drag
- Smooth 9+1 bearing system
- Reasonably priced
- Weak drag
- Limited line capacity
The Pflueger President XT may not have the best of any one feature, but its combination of lightweight design with rugged capability and smooth performance allows for impressive functionality and quality. Top that off with a surprisingly low price tag for a reel with these features, and you have the most well-rounded trout spinning reel around.
A classic reel designed for all-around freshwater angling, the Pflueger President series has been around for years. The 9+1 bearing system of the President has always stood out as impressively smooth for a reel at this price point, and the President XT retains that signature feel. Where the XT improves upon the original is in the component materials and drag system.
Featuring corrosion-resistant aluminum for the shaft and pinion gear, as well as a carbon handle, the XT is incredibly light at only 6.6 ounces for the 25 size. While that alone is a nice improvement, the standout feature of the President XT is the sealed drag system. Sealed drags are primarily included in reels designed for saltwater use but having one in your trout reel has several distinct advantages. Throwing on the best waders and getting into the river is one of the most popular and common ways to target trout, and it’s a technique that exposes your gear to a lot of potential hazards. Having a sealed drag can help keep your reel smooth and prevent grit and grime from the river from entering the drag system. The XT also has a look that combines classic and modern aesthetics, with its carbon and aluminum components set off by a rubber cork handle. The old President had a signature wooden handle that was sadly eliminated in recent years, and the cork handle on the XT helps return some of that classic wood aesthetic.
The combination of lightweight design and durability with functionality and appearance help make the Pflueger President XT the perfect all-around trout reel. When combined with a reasonable price tag, the President XT is hard to beat if you’re shopping for the best trout spinning reels.
Best Reel for Targeting Big Trout Deep: Daiwa Crossfire LT
Key Features (3000 size)
- Max Drag: 22 pounds
- Braided Line Capacity: 220 yards of 8 pound
- Reel Weight: 11.04 ounces
- Good line capacity
- Strong drag
- Good value
- Slightly heavy
- Not as smooth due to fewer bearings
Daiwa markets the Crossfire LT as capable for both fresh and saltwater use, something shocking given its remarkably low price tag. While it’s a contender for best inshore spinning reel, its saltwater capability isn’t necessary for trout, the features that make it saltwater friendly sure are. Drag and line capacity, in particular, help this reel stand out.
The Daiwa Crossfire LT frame is made primarily of a composite material, which helps keep its price tag low while not impacting performance in most freshwater situations. The spool and handle are aluminum, which is both light and strong. The aluminum components, combined with the composite non-metallic nature of the frame, are what lend this reel the “saltwater friendly” label, and they will certainly help against corrosion in other situations.
While the corrosion resistance is nice, it’s not really all that important when fishing for trout. The drag capability and line capacity, on the other hand, certainly are. This reel holds a whopping 220 yards of 8-pound braid, with a max drag of 22 pounds. This combination is ideal for targeting the larger trout that tend to hold deep in lakes and rivers. Having enough line to get down to a big lake trout or jumbo brown on the bottom is key, while having the pulling power to get them up to the boat can be critical. Whether you’re jigging or trolling, line capacity and drag are both important factors for success when fishing larger bodies of water for trout. The Daiwa Crossfire LT provides both at a price that’s hard to beat.
Best All-Purpose Affordable Reel: Lew’s Speed Spin SS20HS
- Max Drag: 9 pounds
- Line Capacity: 145 yards of 8 pound mono
- Reel Weight: 9.1 ounces
- Reasonably priced
- Comfortable to fish
- Graphite components and 9+1 bearing system
- Questionable durability
- Low line capacity and drag
The Lew’s Speed Spin series has long been a preferred option for those looking for a comfortable and capable reel at an affordable price. It provides all the performance necessary for trout fishing without breaking the bank.
Lew’s has always been great at manufacturing reels with the features most important to anglers while keeping costs down by eliminating unnecessary and expensive elements. The Speed Spin is the prototype for this design strategy, featuring an excellent ten-bearing system and oversized all-weather drag, along with a graphite body and aluminum components. These features allow for a lightweight reel that performs comfortably and smoothly in most situations. The signature Combat Grip handle adds an extra layer of comfort and grip when fighting fish in wet or cold conditions.
While it may not have the durability to be used day in and day out at a professional level, it’s more than capable of performing adequately for most casual anglers. The Lew’s Speed Spin is the perfect setup for throw-and-go missions to the river, or as a pairing with a travel rod for those non-fishing trips where you might be able to sneak some angling in.
Read Next: How to Catch Trout on Soft Plastics
Best Affordable High-Performance Reel: Abu Garcia Revo X
Key Features (20 size)
- Max Drag: 10 pounds
- Braided Line Capacity: 175 yards of 8 pound
- Reel Weight: 7.7 ounces
- High-performance reel designed for professional use
- Carbon Matrix drag
- Lightweight frame
- Quality line management system
- Not sealed
- Low max drag
While targeting trout with spinning gear is great because it often doesn’t require high-end performance, there’s something to be said for having a reel that you know is designed to be used by professionals. The Revo X gives you high-level performance capability and functionality at a surprisingly low price for its class.
The Abu Garcia Revo X is designed to be used in a tournament setting, which means reliability is the goal. There are several key components that help ensure the Revo X will function reliably for long days on the water on a regular basis. The overall compact and ergonomic design, carbon body, and alloy frame create a comfortable and sturdy reel that feels almost tailor-made for any angler.
Bail issues are one of the most common problems in lighter spinning reels, whether it’s warping, corrosion, or mechanical failure. The Everlast bail system in the Revo X is designed to tackle these problems. It ensures reactive and smooth bail functionality and helps keep your focus on fishing rather than fiddling with the bail all day.
Lastly, one crucial element that is often overlooked on spinning reels is line management. The lighter line commonly used for trout fishing can be particularly nasty when dealing with wind knots or other common line issues. Having a reel that lays line evenly can help save a lot of wasted time and energy that would otherwise be spent untangling a bird’s nest. The Revo X excels in this area, with the Rocket Line Management System specifically designed to help lay lines of all sizes evenly and cleanly all day long.
The Abu Garcia Revo X is a lightweight reel designed and intended to be fished hard and function reliably all day long. It’s not necessarily the lightest or strongest, but the overall design and attention to detail helps create one of the most comfortable and downright usable freshwater spinning reels around.
Best High-End Reel: Shimano Vanford
Key Features (2500 size)
- Max Drag: 20 pounds
- Line Capacity: 145 yards of 15 pound braid
- Reel Weight: 6.3 ounces
- X-Protect seal
- Incredibly light
- Strong drag
- Top tier performance
The Shimano Vanford is the lightest, smoothest, and most functional spinning reel on the market. While it is expensive, the level of quality and comfort it provides is unbeatable for freshwater use. Combining a ridiculously lightweight design with powerful drag and sealed internals makes for a reel that excels in almost any situation.
The Vanford is the descendant of Shimano’s ultra-popular Ci4 line of reels. The Ci4 lineup made waves for using all carbon components for the body and frame, making the reel ridiculously light while still incredibly strong. The Vanford is a worthy successor, taking all the elements that made the Ci4 line popular and improving upon them. It’s lighter and stronger than its predecessor and has a number of new Shimano features that help it stand out above anything else in its class.
Touted as the most versatile reel on the market, the Vanford can be used in both fresh and saltwater. As mentioned with some other reels on this list, the saltwater-friendly nature of this reel can be incredibly beneficial for many elements of trout fishing in freshwater.
The X-Protect water-resistant seal is perhaps the most obvious example, helping keep water and grit out of the important inner mechanics of the reel and making it very practical for wading. As with the Revo X, the Vanford has a unique and practical bail design that helps it function properly all day long. Where it surpasses the Revo is in the One-Piece bail design, which helps keep the areas of potential mechanical failure to a minimum. Additionally, the Cross Carbon drag system is the same used in Shimano’s high-end saltwater reels. The drag system is as smooth as it gets at any level, and still provides an impressive degree of strength for such a lightweight reel.
While it’s certainly not necessary to have top-of-the-line gear for trout fishing, there are some anglers who want to make sure they are fishing the best in any situation. The Shimano Vanford is the perfect option if you’re looking for the best performance and don’t mind spending extra to get it. The Vanford was also chosen as one of the best ultralight spinning reels.
I chose the best spinning reels for trout, by fishing them in a variety of conditions and catching a lot of trout on them. I also talked to experts from around the country to get an idea of regional reel preferences. That allowed me to select the best reels for different applications.
Do I need an expensive spinning reel for trout fishing?
Absolutely not! The beauty of using spinning gear for trout is that there is a very low barrier to entry. While it can be nice to have high-level gear, you can go trout fishing with just about any spinning reel and still have a fun and successful day on the water.
What is the best size spinning reel for trout fishing?
The way reel size is labeled varies by brand, but generally, some variation of size 2500 or 20 is the ideal size for trout. This size range is intended for lighter use but often still has the drag and line capacity for targeting larger trout. You can certainly go smaller with a 1000 size, or larger with a 3 or 4000 size, depending on the situation. However, 2500 is typically the perfect size for trout.
Can I use spinning gear for trout anywhere?
Be careful and know the local regulations! Trout regulations vary not only on a state-to-state basis, but often on a water body basis as well. Many streams are fly fishing only, and there are often specific gear regulations on spinning gear friendly water bodies, such as no live bait or no treble hooks. Make sure you check all the local regulations and have the proper gear before hitting the water.
What is the best reel gear ratio for trout?
The gear ratio you choose will depend on your personal preference and how you are fishing. Anglers that need to quickly pick up slack as they drift a lure or bait in fast water will want a faster retrieve ratio. Or if you’re deep jigging trout a fast retrieve ratio will help you pull up yards of line. If you’re slowly reeling a soft plastic swimbait, a slower reel will help you maintain that presentation.
Trout are one of the country’s most widely available and accessible gamefish, and spinning gear paired with the best trout lures is a great way to target them. Even if you’re a hardcore fly angler, consider busting out a spin rod on occasion, because you might be surprised at how much you can learn about a fishery by expanding your repertoire. If you’re introducing someone to trout fishing or just getting into it yourself, having one of the best trout spinning reels and a good spinning rod can help you find success and enjoy your day on the water.