Are you a little short on funds, or just unwilling to spend hundreds of dollars on a single piece of fishing equipment? No problem. Despite what many hardcore anglers believe, quality is not always measured in dollars and cents.
There are fishermen on both sides of the experience coin who think that if you intend to buy a quality spinning reel, you have to spend a small fortune. Do not get me wrong. There is some truth to this statement. Like any purchase, you get what you pay for.
Top of the line spinning reels can set you to pack a car payment or more, but that does not need to be the case. There are excellent spinning reels available that cost a fraction of what you might expect – including less than $100.
How do you weed out the best of the best?
Navigating the isles of your local tackle store, even when you skip the expensive models can still be a daunting task. We know this, we’ve been there. So we’ve helped by providing some suggestions.
After reviewing dozens of reels in multiple categories, we have narrowed down the field. Hopefully one of these reels will fit your specific needs and your price range. If not, at least they will provide a benchmark against which others can be measured.
The 3 Top Cheap Spinning Reels of 2021: Outdoor Empire Reviews
These are our top recommendations for budget spinning reels of 2021:
- Best overall: Get the Shimano Spirex 1000FG
- Best for saltwater: Get the PENN Battle II 5000
- Best under $50: Get the Shimano Sienna FE
*Looking for a specific feature? Check out our quick-reference chart below:
|Product|| || ||
|Weight||8.8 oz||19.8 oz||7.9 oz|
|Max Drag||7 lbs||25 lbs||18.5 lbs|
|Line Capacity (Mono)||2/270|
|Line Capacity (Braided)||10/95|
|not specified by manufacturer|
|Material||Graphite, aluminum (spool)||Aluminum||Diecast aluminum|
|Cost||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
1. Best Overall Spinning Reel Under $100: Shimano Spirex 1000FG
It is hard to believe that it costs less than $100, especially when you see that it includes many of the same Shimano features also found on other models costing several times this.
- The graphite frame, sideplate & rotor over provide an excellent combination of weight and strength.
- The aluminum spool, which is braided-ready, offers the ability to house a wide variety of line sizes including a whopping 30-pound braid.
These features alone exceed those found on most low-cost reels. But there is far more to the Spirex.
The one-handed Quickfire II casting system makes the line management a breeze and even increases casting accuracy.
Retrievals are just as quick and smooth time after time due to the Varispeed Oscillation and Fluid Drive. All these weigh 8.8 ounces, a bit more than optimal but average for a lower end design.
For added comfort, designers have utilized a double paddle handle, commonly used on bait casters rather than spinning reels, which may be unconventional but makes winding in those long cast as easy as one could expect.
All in all, the Spirex suffers from very few of the pitfalls one would expect from an “Under $100” reel while providing many options you would expect to pay far more for.
Weight: 8.8 oz
Drag: 7 lbs
Line Capacity (Mono): 6/200, 8/140, 10/120
Line Capacity (Braided): 10/95,15/85,20/65
Material(s): Graphite, aluminum (spool)
2. Best Saltwater Spinning Reel Under $100: PENN Battle II 5000
The Battle II is a perfect example of price not being an indicator of quality. PENN prides itself in offering a full selection of lower priced models comparable to their more expensive flagship series. But lower price does not equal cheap.
This reel shares many of the same features found in the Spinfisher V at about 2/3rds the cost.
- The body, side plates, and rotor are an all-metal construction.
- The HT-100 drag complete with carbon fiber washers is still there.
5 stainless steel ball bearings provide a smooth as glass action from start to finish. Add a lightweight but still super durable aluminum bail wire, super line ready spool and instant anti-reverse, and you have the complete package.
The Battle II is perfect for those entering the saltwater arena as well as veterans looking to increase their options without breaking the bank. With a little care, it will easily give you years of faithful service far more than competitors that cost twice as much.
With a few simple tools and basic knowledge, available via easy to find YouTube videos, even a novice angler can keep the Battle II running smoothly season after season.
Gear Ratio: 5.6:1
Retrieval Rate: 36 in
Line Capacity (Mono): 12/225, 15/200, 20/135
Line Capacity (Braid): 20/420, 30/300, 40/240
Weight: 19.8 oz
Drag: 25 lbs
3. Best Spinning Reel Under $50: Shimano Sienna FE
Having a quality reel is key to fishing success, but that does not mean you need to spend a fortune to get one. The Shimano Sienna FE offers top-quality, modern features for under $50.
The new M-Compact Body features an oscillation gear placed closer to the rod for improved balance. The Propulsion Line Management System allows longer casts with less likelihood of backlashes or wind knots.
Super Stopper technology provides instant anti-reverse and eliminates wobble during retrieval for increased sensitivity. Superior reel alignment allows single-hand casting with greater distance than you might expect. This reel had everything the freshwater or inshore angler is looking at a nice low price.
- Suitable for use in both freshwater and saltwater
- Not a new design, rather a modern version of a time-tested model
- Excellent balance and lightweight allows for superior casting, even with one hand
- Smaller size and shape of the M-Compact Body does require some getting accused to
- Drag has a maximum setting of 18.5 pounds, which may cause it to fail under heavy pressure
The Shimano Shienna FE is a high-quality reel with the most modern of features at a price that is far less than many competitors. Inshore and freshwater anglers looking for quality and a bargain need look no further.
What Type of Cheap Reels to Look At?
Top End Knock-Offs
There was a time when makers of higher end reels made a point of only putting their name on the best of the best.
Over time, many of these manufacturers have come to realize that there is a large population of anglers who are unwilling or simply unable to pay more for a reel than they do in rent, so they have compromised.
Yes, these reels lack some of the cutting edge technology that their more expensive cousins are famous for, but they often do include features made possible by what was learned through using this technology.
Designed to be Cheaper
While some manufacturers have expanded their market by making cheaper versions of their more expensive models, others have made their living developing low-cost reels from the beginning.
These reels are not knock-offs or generic versions but quality ones designed from the ground up to cost less. Yes, there are some features which you will not get but in most cases, they rely on top-end features developed using cheaper but still reliable means.
What’s Important In A Cheap Reel?
There are certain important features you should look for in any reel regardless of price:
- ball bearing count
- line capacity
- ability to utilize braided line
- maximum drag level
The key is to focus not only on what is available or how it differs from higher prices models, instead focus on how the manufacturer has mitigated any shortcomings.
For example, have they included corrosion-resistant gears and bearing to make up for not having a sealed gearbox?
The body is the foundation of your reel. Get a body which is constructed poorly, and it will weigh too much for continued use, flex and cause gears to bind or even break.
Due to the reduced cost, you should expect some compromise on reel body construction. But rather than using inferior materials, reliable reels will use lower cost manufacturing processes.
For example, instead of using precision machined aluminum they will use cast aluminum.
1. Aluminum is considered the best material for reels: it is lightweight, sturdy and corrosion resistant. An aluminum reel, regardless of cost, can be expected to give you long-term performance.
2. Graphite is very popular when designing lower cost reels. This material is lightweight and strength to weight ratio is very good but not as high as aluminum.
3. Carbon composites are growing in popularity when constructing reel bodies as well as internal components. Carbon is extremely lightweight, but not as strong as aluminum or graphite.
Breakthroughs in technology are allowing carbon reels to be developed which may not last as long as those made from other materials, but still capable of providing several seasons of enjoyment.
4. Magnesium is often found in low-end reels. Although lightweight, it lacks the strength necessary to tackle larger fish.
A major drawback associated with magnesium is its low level of corrosion resistance – if used, it also includes a protective coating especially if you will be anywhere near salt water.
Drag is important regardless of price as it determines how easy it will be to manage fish and prevent uncontrolled runs or line breakage.
Higher cost models depend on space-age materials and technology and high bearing counts. Lower prices reels can still provide smooth, dependable drag by utilizing computer balancing and lower number quality bearing.
I would consider 5 as the minimum bearing count, but only if stainless steel or sealed. Otherwise, 6 bearing would be preferred.
Here is an overview of how every part of the spinning reel functions, including the drag system.