Tackle Test 2017: The Best Fishing Reels

These reels surpassed expectations and survived our test on top

Our tackle testers rated and scored equipment for qualities including ergonomics, durability of construction, sensitivity, casting capability, innovation, drag quality, line management, fish-­fighting performance, aesthetics, and value. In the end, the team was left with the task of figuring out which rods and reels ranked highest, and which from the expansive test field offer anglers the best bang for their buck. Here are this year’s reel winners.

SPINNING: EDITOR’S CHOICE

ABU GARCIA REVO ROCKET

Score: 92.7

Price: $200

Fishermen who prefer spinning gear have been hamstrung with sluggish reels since the advent of the contraptions. All that may have just changed. The Revo Rocket is a thirsty spinner. Its outrageous 7:1 retrieve rate slurps up a shocking 40 inches of line per turn, thanks to Abu’s proprietary computer-optimized gear design (COG).

Built on a carbon body, the Rocket features a rigid insert that stiffens the frame, ensuring precise gear alignment while remaining ridiculously light; our test model weighed 7.7 ounces. We worked large expanses of water quickly with jerkbaits and found the Rocket to be equally up to the task of probing deep-water structure with finesse baits, or yanking fish out of vegetation. It’s a winner, but comes with a blistering retail price of $200.

SPINNING: GREAT BUY

BASS PRO SHOPS FORMULA FML30

Score: 81.1

Price: $50

The Bass Pro Shops Formula stunned us first with its performance and then with its rock-bottom $50 retail price.

The FML30 is surprisingly well balanced, featuring an oversize arbor that spins wobble-­free. The graphite chassis is both light and sturdy, flexing very little even under heavy, big-fish loads.

A 10-bearing system spins crisply, while a finely meshed gearbox provides smoothness typically found on reels costing considerably more. A smallish soft-touch PVC knob is a great grab, even while wet.

The Formula won’t win any beauty contests; however, we all liked that the engineers at BPS obviously spent most of their design dollars on the inner workings, producing one of the best-­performing budget spinning reels we’ve seen in a quite a while.

spinning reel test
The scores for spinning reels. Outdoor Life

BAITCASTING: EDITOR’S CHOICE

LEW’S CUSTOM SPEED SPOOL SLP

Score: 94.9

Price: $180

The downsized SLP is 10 percent sleeker than last year’s model and was a treat to fish with. Anchored on an all-­aluminum frame, this Lew’s lives up to its billing as a super-­low-profile performer. Our model, geared at 7.5:1, swallowed line easily while retaining reasonable cranking power. The multi-­casting controls are easily dialed in for most lure weights. The carbon-­fiber disc drag, with its 14-pound max, ground down fish quickly when a fast extraction from cover was necessary. The long-throw recurve handle, with its Winn Dri-Tech knobs, is a joy to throttle, easily besting the field in the comfort category.

Lew’s continued design innovation is evident in the flip-out lure keeper and line indicator, which allows users to dial in line type (braid or clear) and poundage.

BAITCASTING: GREAT BUY

PFLUEGER PRESIDENT XT

Score: 86

Price: $80

The Pflueger brand has been around for nearly 150 years. Their latest econo-performer, the President XT, is bland on the exterior, with little more than a handsome set of rubber-­cork knobs to excite the senses. However, once you have the reel in hand, the flexibility of the President shines.

The XT is capable of throwing a variety of bait weights across its wide casting control range. A 9-bearing (8+1) system provides smooth operation, while the dual magnetic casting controls dial up extended casts. The aforementioned rubber-cork grips transfer bait chatter to the user better than its EVA cousins.

The anti-reverse on the XT is top-notch, positively engaging on hard hooksets. The drag dispenses line surprisingly well on a reel with such a reasonable price.

baitcasting reel test
The scores for baitcasting reels. Outdoor Life