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Best Under $100
Penn Fierce III 1000
The Fierce III 1000 has a metal body and side plates, carbon fiber drag, four stainless ball bearings plus a roller bearing, and a sturdy aluminum bail—great specs at this price, from an iconic brand.
Shimano Sedona FI 1000
The Sedona is a popular reel that offers some of Shimano’s best features at a relatively modest cost, including the precise and durable Hagane cold-forged gears.
Pflueger President 20
This handsome blue reel has six ball bearings, an aluminum handle and spool, and a slow oscillation that delivers great line lay, all for around $60.
The top ultralight spinning reels for trout and other smaller species depends on your budget, because there are great choices at every price point. Part of the fun of fishing for smaller species is using lightweight, appropriate-sized gear. This list features examples of well-designed, well-built ultralight spinning reels that are suited to fishing streams, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, and even saltwater bays and estuaries.
We’re talking here about spinning reels usually categorized as size 1000 models, the smallest most manufacturers produce, designed for line from 2- to 8-pound test. They all weigh less than 10 ounces, some of them much less, for which your casting wrist will thank you. Ultralight spinning is mostly a freshwater pursuit, so resistance to corrosion from saltwater isn’t emphasized as much as it would be with larger saltwater reels. If you do need a reel for small salt species, you’ll want to be extra careful to rinse it thoroughly after each use, and reapplying grease every so often is a good idea.
This list includes reels ranging in price from about $60 to $500. The best ultralight spinning reels fall somewhere in this range, and with proper care and maintenance should provide years of good fishing.
Best Overall: Shimano Sedona FI 1000Best Under $100: Penn Fierce III 1000Best for Trout: Daiwa Tatula LT 1000Best Premium: Shimano Stella FK 1000Best Budget: Pflueger President 20Best Micro: Abu Garcia Zenon SP20
Best Overall: Shimano Sedona FI 1000
Why It Made the Cut: The Sedona is a popular reel that offers some of Shimano’s best features at a relatively modest cost, including the precise and durable Hagane cold-forged gears.
Weight: 7.6 ouncesGear Ratio: 5.0:1, 26” of line retrieved per turnLine Capacity: 270/2 to 110/6 mono (yards/pound test)Maximum Drag: 7 poundsBearings: 3+1Maximum Drag: 7 poundsBearings: 3+1
Hagane cold-forged gearsHigher center of gravity for less fatiguePlenty of drag for an ultralight
Slow gear ratioNo anti-reverse switch
The Sedona FI has fewer bearings and a lower gear ratio than more expensive, metal-bodied Shimanos. But, it costs less than half as much and can still handle the species you’re after with an ultralight. One place it doesn’t skimp, offering signature high-end Shimano features, is in the gears. The Hagane gears are cold-forged instead of molded or machined. As with other cold-forged gears, the result—skipping on some science—is that a gear can be expected to have sharp teeth for years to come, resulting in a product that keeps its out of the box smooth reeling. The Sedona FL 1000 weighs 7.6 ounces but is also designed with Shimano’s G-Free body, in which the center of gravity is closer to the rod, so it feels lighter than it actually is.
Best Under $100: Penn Fierce III 1000
Why It Made the Cut: The Fierce III 1000 has a metal body and side plates, carbon fiber drag, four stainless ball bearings plus a roller bearing, and a sturdy aluminum bail—great specs at this price, from an iconic brand.
Weight: 7.8 ozGear Ratio: 5.2:1, 22” of line retrieved per turnLine Capacity: 160/6 to 110/10 mono (yards/pound test)Maximum Drag: 9 poundsBearings: 4+1
Sturdy metal buildFour stainless steel ball bearings can handle rugged environmentsImpressive drag power
Low gear ratio
Expect the Fierce III to hold up well when battling good-sized trout, panfish, bass or small salt species. That durability comes thanks to its metal construction—full body and side plates—and Penn’s proprietary HT-100 carbon fiber drag washers. The 1000 size is a true ultralight, comfortable for long use at 7.8 ounces. The 4+1 stainless steel bearing system includes instant anti-reverse to assure solid hooksets.
Best for Trout: Daiwa Tatula LT 1000
Why It Made the Cut: Probably because of its high-density carbon fiber body, the Tatula LT 1000 is remarkably light. It has a very efficient gear ratio and plenty of smooth drag power to handle the biggest trout. Looks good, too.
Weight: 5.8 ouncesGear Ratio: 6.2:1, 30.5” of line retrieved per turnLine Capacity: 250/4 to 110/8 mono (yards/pound test)Maximum Drag: 11 poundsBearings: 6+1
LightweightSix ball bearings plus roller for super smooth operationDigigear technology
Complaints of bail slipping open
This not-so-cheap reel is part of Daiwa’s LT line. The “Light and Tough” concept pares down design and focuses on construction, using state of the art materials for lighter weight components that don’t compromise a reel’s strength. The Daiwa Tatula LT sticks to that LT concept with a strong but lightweight high-density carbon material body, what Daiwa calls Zaion. The reel also offers a high-tech drive train, with the company’s DigiGear digital machining—ensuring gears fit together exactly—and a cold-forged aluminum main gear for silky smooth reeling. The components turn within a generous set of six stainless steel ball bearings, including one with corrosion resistant coating. A high gear ratio gets fish to hand quickly and can affect a speedy retreat from snaggy structure. The result is a reel with the finesse needed to land the smallest native, but with enough horsepower to tame the largest steelhead.
Best Premium: Shimano Stella FK 1000
Why It Made the Cut: The newest edition in the Stella series is built for corrosion resistance with a metal body and waterproof drag, yet it weighs just under six ounces and features 12 shielded ball bearings to keep it working smoothly for a lifetime of use.
Weight: 5.8 ouncesGear Ratio: 5.1:1, 25” of line retrieved per turnLine Capacity: 270/2 to 110/6 mono (yards/pound test)Maximum Drag: 7 poundsBearings: 12+1
Metal body, coatings, and sealed dragSmooth cross carbon dragTwelve sealed ball bearings offer exceptionally smooth performanceSurprisingly light weight
Slow gear ratioAn expensive investment
Shimano’s Stella series reels represent a long-term investment in high-quality gear for serious anglers. The cold-forged metal body is fully rigid, immune to flexing under stress, and a suite of internal and external coatings help prevent corrosion, even in saltwater use. The smooth, sealed drag affords complete control of your fish. The long-stroke spool and one-piece bail fight tangles and promote orderly line lay on the retrieve.
A lot of thought has gone into the engineering of the Stella’s Propulsion Line Management System, including a spool lip designed for maximum casting distance. Cold-forged Hagane metal gears are part of a specially designed drive train, dubbed Micromodule Gear II, for effortless, smooth performance. The range of technological advances built into the Stella FJ have inspired fierce loyalty among ultralight anglers, and it’s easy to see why.
Why It Made the Cut: This handsome blue reel has six ball bearings, an aluminum handle and spool, and a slow oscillation that delivers great line lay, all for around $60.
Weight: 6.2 ouncesGear Ratio: 5.2:1 Gear Ratio, 20.2” line retrieved per turnLine Capacity: 200/2 to 80/6 mono (yards/pound test)Maximum Drag: 6 poundsBearings: 6+1
Lightweight and compactRuns smoothly on six ball bearingsAluminum handle and bail
Some reports of line twist
Pflueger’s President 20 is a great value daily reel, and it’s the one I use to fish spinners for small bass and panfish in my local pond. The drag is more than adequate for smaller species, and the feel is effortless on a light 6-foot rod. The drag is sealed, and the aluminum spool is braid-ready; Pflueger lists the capacity as 180 yards of 4-pound test braid. The body and rotor are graphite for a lightweight construction, while the bail and handle are sturdy solid aluminum.
Why It Made the Cut: Abu Garcia calls the Zenon “the lightest spinning reel ever produced,” and it’s loaded with high-end features, including 10 ball bearings, 11 pounds of drag, and a tiny, one-piece, no-wasted-space magnesium body.
Weight: 4.9 ouncesGear Ratio: 6.2:1, 33” line retrieved per turnLine Capacity: 185/6 to 110/10 mono (yards/pound test)Maximum Drag: 11 poundsBearings: 10+1
Amazingly lightTen bearings assure smoothness and durabilityFast gear ratio
PriceNo reverse switch
Built as a finesse fishing reel for the quality-obsessed Japanese domestic market, Abu Garcia’s Zenon is packed with the manufacturer’s best tech. The reel achieves its remarkably low weight with a one-piece magnesium body that eliminates unnecessary material, a heavily vented spool, and carbon fiber rotor. In addition to being lightweight, the C6 V-Rotor provides ultra-low start up inertia. Ten HPCR ball bearings keep the “aircraft grade” aluminum main shaft turning smoothly. The fast 6.2:1 retrieve will bring in 33” of line with each turn, and the 11-pound carbon fiber drag is strong enough to turn fish that are usually played on bigger reels.
Things to Consider Before Buying Ultralight Spinning Reels
Spinning reels have a lot of specifications, and ultralights are no exception. The different components of a reel will determine how well it performs on the water, and how well it holds up season after season. You’ll want a reel that doesn’t feel heavy in the hand, cranks smoothly, can vary how hard it is for a fish to pull line from the spool, and resists corrosion and grit.
Metal is widely seen as the best material for your reel’s body because of its sheer strength and rigidity. However, carbon fiber can a perfectly acceptable substitute and is used for bodies and rotors on the some of the top models. Carbon fiber is usually lighter than metal, can generally handle the stress of fighting larger fish, and will never rust.
You’ll rely on your reel’s drag to put the brakes on hard-charging fish before they get too far away to control, or dart into heavy cover that might break your line. The rule of thumb says drag should amount to one-quarter of your line’s pound test rating. All the reels listed here can easily exceed that level of drag, but a stronger drag is better because it requires less fiddling with the knob while playing your fish.
Reels use bearings to keep gear shafts turning smoothly. The more, the better, although having a few high-quality bearings is preferable to numerous low-quality ones. Reel specs generally list the number of ball bearings plus one roller bearing for the anti-reverse clutch.
The higher the first number in the gear ratio, the more line your reel will retrieve per turn of the handle. If the ratio is 5.1:1, the rotor turns 5.1 times for each crank of the handle. A slower retrieve is good for deep-running crankbaits or spinnerbaits, but a high ratio also enables you to pull a buzzbait or lipless crankbait with appropriate speed. The gear ratio combined with the size of the spool yields in the “inches per turn” figure – how much line comes back onto the reel with a full turn of the handle.
Q: Who makes the best ultralight spinning reel?
All reel brands have expensive and inexpensive models, and as with most things, you get what you pay for. Some brands, such as Penn and Van Staal, are better known for larger freshwater and saltwater spinning reels. The best ultralight spinning reels probably come from Shimano, which has a number of very popular models, including the Stradic, the Stella, and the Vanford.
Q: Can you catch big fish on an ultralight rod?
You certainly can catch big fish on an ultralight rod. The next question is, can you land them? This is when a reel with a smooth drag is most important. A good-quality drag can apply enough pressure to control the fish, but not tighten so hard that the fish can break the line.
An ultralight spinning reel is a remarkably versatile fishing tool, one that’s useful on the shore of a large reservoir and on a small upland trout stream. Paying close attention to features and characteristics—like materials, drag, bearings and gear ratio—makes it easier to select a reel that will give you few problems and much pleasure for seasons to come. Any of the above will serve you well in your light-tackle angling pursuits.
How I Made My Picks
I compared spinning reels in the ultralight category from established manufacturers, looking for the features and characteristics that most impact day-to-day use – weight, build quality, thoughtful design, manufacturer reputation, and user reviews. Price was a consideration, and I found a number of good options for under $100. If you use these reels in the manner they were designed for, they will all provide a lifetime of service.