Ultralight fishing has experienced tremendous growth over the last decade.
Whether it is a desire to “return to their roots” and catch panfish and crappie like they did as a kid or the challenge of landing trophy trout on 4-pound test small rod and reels are big.
But picking the right reel is not as simple as getting one that is small. Let us help you make sure your new ultralight is also ultra-awesome.
The market is flooded with options and even with a clear picture of what features you want, it can be nearly impossible to narrow your search. We would like to help you with that as well.
Here are three picks for our best ultralight reels. Below are the top ultralight reels in five most popular categories.
Hopefully, one of these reels meets your personal needs.
The 6 Top Ultralight Spinning Reels of 2020: Outdoor Empire Reviews
These are our top recommendations for ultralight spinning reels of 2020:
- Best overall: Shimano Sahara FI
- Best for the money: Okuma Helios HX-25
- Best under $50 #1: KastKing Sharky II (read 650+ Amazon reviews)
- Best under $50 #2: Daiwa D-Spin
- Best rod & reel combo: The Ugly Stik GX2
- Best for crappie: Shimano Stradic CI4 2500FB
*Looking for a specific feature? Check out our quick-reference chart below:
|Retrieval Rate||29 in||25 in||not specified by manufacturer|
|Line Capacity (Mono)||10/120||6/200 |
|Weight||8.8 oz||6.8 oz||7.05 oz|
|Max Drag||6 lbs||8 lbs||11 lbs|
|Construction||Graphite||Carbon, AlumLite alloy||Graphite, brass, aluminum, stainless steel & carbon|
|Cost||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
1. Best Overall Ultralight Reel: Shimano Sahara FI
If you are looking for power, durability and a tiny, ultralight package, look no further than the Sahara FI. The cold-forged Hagane gear system provides unmatched durability and power.
The ergonomically shaped GFree body means minimum fatigue and maximum comfort. An ARC spool provides incredible casting distances and even line lay on the retrieval.
The XT-7 body, four ball bearings, roller bearing and water-resistant construction mean this reel will last for many seasons to come, making it an investment in your fishing future.
- Packed with features Shimano is known for
- Smooth, long-distance casting
- The water-resistant body allows for use in both fresh and saltwater
- No anti-reverse switch
- Weighs 8.8 ounces — not heavy, but not the lightest model available
If you enjoy the benefits and challenges of using ultralight tackle, you will enjoy this reel. It is powerful enough for large fish, durable enough to last a lifetime and feature-rich, providing big performance in a tiny package.
Shimano Sahara FI is also available at:
2. Best Ultralight Reel For The Money: Okuma Helios HX-25
Okuma upped their game when they made the Helios, combining both innovative design and quality construction to produce a reel capable of handling anything it encounters.
Knowing what ultralight anglers are looking for, they focused on reducing weight and improving performance — hitting it out of the park in both cases. Plus they did it at a fraction of the price many others are charging for delivering far less.
The C-40X technology allows Okuma to offer a body and rotor with a very lightweight without sacrificing strength. Carbon is gaining increased popularity because of its lightweight, but is known for flexing under stress. Not the Helios.
C-40X uses longer carbon fibers interwoven to prevent flexing and produce a reel with a strength which rivals those made of aluminum.
Add the aluminum frame, and you have a final package which is lighter than aluminum, stronger than either carbon or graphite and better able to withstand torque than anything on the market.
The Precision Elliptical Gearing System, first introduced in the Ellipsis and nominated for 2005 Innovation Award, all but eliminates possible damage from heat or corrosion.
The combination of 10 stainless steel ball bearing and hydro block system further reduce the chance of corrosion or debris entering the housing and interfering with smooth retrieval.
Finally, there is the Carbonite Drag system. Although the Helios has a lower than normal maximum drag, they have allowed you to make use of every available ounce.
The carbon washers and special Okuma drag grease provide a smooth drag regardless of the conditions and higher than average heat resistance. Although you may need to play larger fish more than with similar reels, the Helios will allow you to do so successfully.
All in all, Okuma has provided a professional grade reel even the amateur can afford.
Not only do you get a quality reel with a feature you would expect to come with a much higher price tag, but also something that will last far longer than many of those more expensive models.
Gear Ratio: 5.0:1
Retrieval Rate: 25 in
Line Capacity (Mono): 6/200, 8/150
Line Capacity (Braid): unlisted
Weight: 6.8 oz
Drag: 8 lbs
Construction: Carbon, AlumLite alloy
3. Best Ultralight Under $50 #1: KastKing Sharky II
Most anglers expect a reel costing less than $100 will mean settling for reduced performance and quality. Find a reel for less than $50, and they expect to walk out with something more closely resembling a toy than a tool.
But not if you pick up the Sharky II. This reel is small in size and price but big on features.
It has a graphite body rather than carbon composite or aluminum; little weight but lower ability to withstand stress and greater tendency to flex.
Brass gears mean they are a little more prone to wear and damage during heavy strain. But you also get an aluminum spool complete with power casting lip, stainless steel main shaft and carbon drag washers. Give some, take some.
What makes it such good values, other than its low sticker price, is how they manage to provide the best performance possible from a slightly lower end blueprint.
1. They provide an astounding 11 ball bearing, all made from stainless steel to improve corrosion resistance and prolong reliability.
2. The brass gears are precision cut and matched to provide the best fit possible and smoothest action available.
3. The aluminum spool is also precision machined and includes a power launch lip — a combination which will provide lighter weight, better line management, and superior casting distance.
4. The carbon drag washers are increased in size and surface contact area. This not only allows for 11 pounds of maximum drag but does so in a way which reduces heat build-up and provides smooth action start to finish.
A bonus in the Sharky II is it being waterproof. Kast King claims the reel can be completely submerged for up to 3 minutes, left un-maintained and still function flawlessly.
Although I do not always put much stock in advertising claims, this has been field tested by many anglers and appears to be genuine.
What this means for you is that even if it takes a surprise swim, it will be able to withstand the rigors of day to day field conditions without being babied every time you take it out.
While I doubt the Sharky II will be the reel that you will hand down to future generations, I do believe it will provide many long days of excellent service.
For an average price well below $50, and several times less than that of competitors, this reel is without a doubt hard to beat.
Gear Ratio: 5.2:1
Line Capacity (Mono): 6/165, 8/110
Weight: 7.05 oz
Drag: 11 lbs
Construction: Graphite, brass, aluminum, stainless steel & carbon
4. Best Ultralight Under $50 #2: Daiwa D-Spin
The D-Spin would be a value at almost any price, but when it rings in at less than $50, it is a steal. The smooth, sleek design provides better angles for increased comfort.
Digigear Digital Design provides superior power, speed and durability. The composite housing provides superior protection and reduces the weight even further. Plus, it is one of the smoothest bargain ultralights available.
With two interchangeable washers, you can adjust the drag to fit the species you are targeting. The price may be low, but the value is much higher.
- Composite housing provides superior protection and reduces weight
- Delivers smooth, seamless casting and retrieval
- Digital gear design provides a perfect balance of power, durability and speed
- Great value for the money
- Bail does not close automatically
- Slightly larger profile than many ultralight users prefer
Ultralight anglers on a budget will be more than satisfied with the D-Spin. It provides all the features you need and then some, without the price tag you would expect. For under $50, you can have a quality reel that will last for many seasons.
5. Best Ultralight Rod and Reel Combo: The Ugly Stik GX2
Despite being a very affordable rod-and-reel combo, the Ugly Stik GX2 is one of the best ultralight combos available and it provides exceptional value for your fishing dollar.
The one-piece pole is available in several different lengths, but most serious anglers will opt for the superior casting range that the 7-foot-long model provides. The longest option in the GX2 series, this rod will also provide superior leverage, which can be important for those using ultralight tackle to catch trout or panfish.
The 3-ball-bearings reel comes with a one-way, instant anti-reverse bearing to ensure that you can set the hook securely, yet still enjoy silky-smooth retrieves. It also features a machined double-anodized aluminum spool with oversized bail wire to provide the durability modern anglers demand.
Compression bail springs are also included to absorb some of the wear and tear placed on the reel and ensure it will last for years.
6. Best Crappie Reel: Shimano Stradic CI4 2500FB
Crappie fishing requires a reel that is lightweight yet durable. You will be tossing lure over and over throughout the day and hopefully hauling in some massive slab sides. The Stradic CI4 2500 FB is just such a reel.
The Magnumlite rotor and carbon-fiber body mean it weighs in at 25 percent lighter than earlier models. The advanced CoreProtect 360-degree water-resistant coating means a longer life span.
The 6:1:1 gear ratio allows for a fast retrieval rate — up to 35 inches per turn of the handle. With two A-RB roller bearings and six A-RB shield stainless-steel ball bearings, you will experience superior stability and smooth operation.
- Lightweight, allowing for fatigue-free fishing all-day
- 6:1:1 gear ratio allows for fast retrieval, perfect for moving your lures to entice big crappies
- One of the best water-resistant packages available
- Small anti-reverse switch
- May be out of the average angler’s price range
If you are a serious crappie angler looking for a serious reel that will land the biggest slab sides with ease, the Stradic CI4 is the one for you. You’ll get lightweight, quality construction and superior features in one of the best ultralight reels on the market.
Shimano Stradic CI4 2500FB is also available at:
Important Choosing Factors
There are some key features needed in every spinning reel and there are also some specific to circumstances where it is used.
For example, if you are purchasing a saltwater reel, you need to consider corrosion resistance. Ultralight spinning reels are no different. There are specific features you must have, others that are nice and some that simply never come into play in this type of fishing.
“Maximize the first two, don’t worry about the third” and you should have a quality reel that will not only land big fish on light tackle but do so for many seasons down the road.
It goes without saying that weight is an important feature when it comes to ultralight reels, but it is more essential than many anglers understand.
When ultralight fishing, everything you are using is lightweight – rod, line and tackle. If you try to use a reel, even a small one, which weighs too much, it will disrupt your entire system:
- It will not balance with your rod correctly.
- You will not be able to cast small lures as far or accurate as needed ( here are the 6 casting techniques to use )
- You will not be able to use the proper line and likely face increased line management problems ( especially if you don’t spool you reel correctly )
Bottom line, the wrong weight reel will keep you from fishing efficiently.
Graphite & Carbon Composites
Advances in technology have put the pressure on reel manufacturers to produce lighter reels.
The use of graphite and carbon composites has resulted in full-size reels weighing far lighter than ever expected which has certainly upped the game when it comes to ultralight units.
Look for an ultralight reel weighing less than 10 ounces, any more and you are pushing the lower limits for modern traditional reels.
Tossing small lures may not put much strain on your reel, but catching fat fish will.
In fact, because you are using lighter tackle and lower poundage line, your reel is likely to take far more pressure than you realize. This is why it must be constructed with the strongest material possible with the best components viable.
- Look for solid lightweight body constructed of either aluminum, graphite or carbon composite.
- The gears, shaft, bail, and handle must be just as durable and made of similar materials.
- The spool will likely be aluminum, especially if the reel is braided line compatible.
Everything should be fitted tightly especially anywhere the very thin line may rub; otherwise, you are risking unnecessary snags.
Drag is always important when considering a spinning reel but when selecting an ultralight reel, it is vital.
The right drag will allow you to play and land amazingly large fish on a surprisingly light line. The wrong drag or one that performs poorly will break off even the smallest fish in the pond.
Consider These Aspects
1. The drag must be smooth. If it does not engage quickly, without hesitation, the bigger fish will run. Every foot of line lost increases the chances you will not land that fish.
If the drag hangs up or skips during the retrieval, it is likely that the line will break.
2. The drag system needs to contain high-quality materials and be either greased or oiled to prevent damage for the high temperatures created by friction.
3. The drag must be easy to engage and adjust. I prefer a front drag system as it is easier to reach while still maintaining control of the rod.
Drag weight is not as critical as overall drag performance, but most experts agree that the maximum drag for your ultralight reel should be at least 7 pounds.
Although it is unlikely that you will ever use your maximum, especially when using 4 or 6 pound-test line, but the extra drag capability provides extra protection against damage.
Again, the amount of pressure placed on a tiny package is going to create a lot of friction; and friction equals heat. The more heat you have inside your reel body, the more chances of failure, the more chance moving parts will lock up.
If you have a quality, top-notch ball bearing system it is the same as having a solid foundation for your home.
Consider These Aspects
1. The first thing most anglers look for when it concerns ball bearings is the total number, and that is no different when it comes to ultralight setups. In fact, I would say it is even more important.
On a full-size multi-purpose reel, you may get away with 5 or 6 ball bearing count — not in an ultralight. I would not recommend any reel with less than 6+1 bearing count, and even then I would not expect it to last more than a couple of seasons.
2. You need to have either a sealed bearing system or corrosion-resistant components. As was stated earlier, this is necessary regardless of whether or not you will be using this reel in salt or brackish water; it is more about overall durability.
Corrosion resistant ball bearings, such as those made from stainless steel, last longer and roll smoother because the surfaces do not pit, flake or otherwise deform. It is this overall vote of confidence you are looking for.