Is there a fishing reel brand that’s scientifically proven to catch more fish? No. There isn’t. And if there was, we'd all be using it. So, does the brand of reel you use have anything to do with the fish you catch?
Generally speaking, if you have the right type of reel for the application, you’ll catch the fish you seek, regardless of brand. But quality does matter. It can impact catch in certain battles, and there is a correlation between brand, durability, and working life.
Primarily, brand is about identity. It allows companies to create connections between their products and their targetted customers. It’s marketing - not fishing. But there are things we can assume/predict about a fishing reel based on brand. We just need to push past the marketing woo-woo.
Let’s take a look at 7 reliable fishing reel brands and see if we can quantify the benefits of choosing one brand over another.
My Review Process
I started fishing over 4 decades ago, when Mitchell spin reels were still seen as the spin reel to own. It was a time when PENN was an independent company, wholly American-made, and the holder of countless game records. Yes, I’m old, and yes, things have changed - radically.
Having written extensively about fishing brands, I’ve found that the fishing reel brand discussion usually ends up bogged down in subjective opinion. Nonetheless, I’ve persisted in finding a way to maintain objectivity, to help anglers make more appropriate reel choices.
Here’s a valuable tip from the get-go. Always shortlist your reel purchases based on application and budget - then consider brand.
Fishing Reel Brand Reviews
The fishing reel brands/fishing companies listed below are market leaders in brand recognition. Moreover, you’’l find the brands listed below in countless reel arsenals across the US. In the list below, I’ve selected a reel from each manufacturer that I believe exemplifies the brand.
In global terms, Shimano is the biggest brand name in fishing. The Japanese brand evokes images of refined, high-tech precision - advanced design, cutting-edge machining, assembly, and the ultimate in performance. Shimano has an extensive range of fishing reels that cover entry level through to the most advanced, premium fishing reels available.
It’s important to note that If you’re buying Shimano, you’re paying a brand premium in every price range, just as you would buying Nike, Gucci, or YSL, in the fashion world.
When I buy Shimano, I can predict above-average to astonishing durability and performance. My question with Shimano is ALWAYS about value for money. Can I get the same performance for less? Often I can.
Shimano may make the occasional misstep, as they did with the latest Stella reel, that makes the more discerning angler a little cynical. But Shimano is a great bet for a fantastic reel should your budget allow.
Best Big Fish Spin Saltwater Reel
Type: Spin Reel
Application: Saltwater. Big fish. Rock, Surf, and Offshore
Price Point: High - Mid Price point
I was so impressed with the Saragosa 14000XG I bought one. The mid-priced big fish spin reel is one of the best reels I’ve handled in the last decade. In my opinion, the Saragosa offers better value than their flagship Stella.
Daiwa is arguably the second biggest name in fishing. A Japanese company, you can pull all the superlatives from the Shimano profile and place them here under Daiwa. Daiwa, like Shimano, maintains its independence - they’re not owned by hedge funds or dominated by corporate machinations. They control their future and products.
Daiwa doesn't have the popularity in the US that it deserves. It’s surprising, as their range covers entry-level reels to the best you can buy in every price range. Daiwa fans often wonder if they will ever knock Shimano off its all-ruling throne. I don’t think it matters. In my opinion, little, if anything separates them.
Daiwa can also be accused of missing the mark from time to time. The Saltist MQ, for example, is a great concept that lacked some finesse in execution. However, I feel Daiwa is now the leading reel manufacturer. The release of the BG series has been a revelation for Daiwa. The BG provides outstanding value and performance at the bottom end of the mid-price point. It blew me away…I bought two.
Best Saltwater Spinning Reel - Editors Choice
Type: Spin Reel
Application: All inshore - Rock, Surf, Plus Med, Med-Heavy Offshore
Price Point: High - Mid Price Point
Easily the most famous brand name in US fishing, Penn Fishing still commands a high level of respect. But having lost its independence to corporate interest, Penn has lost a little of its famous gold luster, constrained by the interests of its parent company.
If Daiwa and Shimano are Lamborghini and Ferrari, Penn, traditionally, is the muscle car Mustang. Penn is famous for strength and durability - and weight. Few reels (if any) have game records like the legendary Penn International game reel.
Penn Fishing has found itself at a crossroads as Asian manufacturers (and market demand) sought much lighter reels - a feature antithetical to the US fishing icon. While dabbling in the lightweight with several designs, they wisely stuck to their traditional muscular form. I love Penn, and I love that they are predictably robust. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have at least two Penn spin reels in my arsenal.
Penn covers the full range of reel types from entry-level to premium top-shelf models in all configurations. But for me, Penn has kept its traditions alive with the astonishing Penn International 80VISW.
Best conventional Game/Trolling Reel
Series: International VI
Type: Conventional Game. Trolling
Application: Blue Water. The Ocean’s Biggest Fish
Price Point: High End. Premium.
Okuma is a Taiwanese-based company, manufacturing out of Taiwan and China. Hitting the market in 1986, they were faced with impossible odds. Daiwa, Shimano, and PENN dominated market share, and it wasn’t clear where Okuma would fit.
In the early days, anglers found Okuma to be a surprise package. Great design, quality, and performance were apparent from the outset. But prices were far more accessible than their neighborhood rivals. There was/is honesty in their marketing that was consistent with the performance and price tags of their reels.
Ultimately, Okuma was probably never seen as a huge threat to the Japanese big guns. They simply started producing reels and went about their business without ruffling any feathers.
They do the basics extremely well. Range, performance, durability, aesthetics, and accessible pricing allowed them to carve out a modest market share.
I have two Okuma reels. A CN20L conventional reel I use for near-shore and break walls. And a Femm Fatale 1000 spin reel with pink accents that I bought for my daughter - then stole back from her. They’re both over 10 years old and still work brilliantly.
I’m a big fan of Okuma, and the recent release of the Makaira blue water spin series has marked the company's coming of age. In my opinion, the Makaira 300000 spin reel is the best big game spin reel available - Beating Daiwa and Shimano at their own game.
But it’s the Okuma Ceymar spin reel that exemplifies the brand, offering class, style, performance, and endurance at entry level. Despite the recent successful volley into the top-of-the-top shelf performance, Ceymar remains the brand’s throughline.
Best Entry-Level Inshore Spin Reels
Application: Inshore Salt and Fresh
Price Point: Entry Level
Abu Garcia originated in Sweden where it became the most influential reel manufacturer in Europe. In those days it was known simply as ABU. The company began as a watch and taxi meter factory in 1921, moving into the fishing industry in 1941. The precision image of watchmaking carried over to the reel brand.
Distribution was taken over by American interests in 1984, where ABU picked up the “Garcia.” By this point, the brand was global and viewed as an affordable precision reel alternative in US markets. Today it is now under the corporate umbrella of Pure Fishing, with PENN, Van Staal, and many others.
ABU Garcia has a broad range of most reel configurations and enjoys a loyal customer base, satisfied by the power, precision, and quality throughline. The REVO low-profile series represents the pinnacle of Abu Garcia’s achievement. It competes on level terms with reels such as Curado and Lexa, with the Revo Toro Beast being the first choice of those chasing freshwater monsters and spillway freaks.
Best Lightweight heavy Duty Low Profile Baitcaster
Series: Abu Garcia Revo Toro Beast
Type: Low Profile Baitcaster
Application: Inshore Salt and Fresh
Price Point: Mid to Upper Mid
Pflueger target the budget-driven angler and occasional weekend warrior, with a focus on affordable prices. Their range reflects this. Most reels are priced at entry level with only a few models hitting the bottom end of the mid-price point. Pflueger doesn’t really appeal to the more discerning angler, but there is still appeal, and they’re popular reels, nonetheless.
Firstly, Pflueger reels look great. You’ll never feel like you're using a toy. Secondly, deployed in inshore applications, you’ll catch everything the premium brands will catch. The reel is also likely to endure - if maintained and used for the application for which it was designed.
Plueger produces reliable reels that the lion’s share of recreational anglers will find fantastic to fish. I’m not quite sure how they manage to add the features and materials they do to such cheap reels, there has to be a compromise somewhere. But if it allows those on the tightest of budgets to experience a great feeling reel, then they're doing something right.
Pflueger is a consumer-driven fishing product caught in Pure Fishing’s corporate tentacles. However, they offer serviceable, enjoyable performance in a contemporary-looking package. The Monarch spin Ice fishing reel is a great example of making niche fishing very affordable, yet reliable
Best Entry-Level Spin Ice Fishing Reel
Type: Ice Spinning
Application: Inshore Fresh
Price Point: Entry
Lew’s is an example of very clever strategic marketing and niche focus. Unsurprisingly, the modern heart of Lew’s fishing is corporate. However, Lew’s slick and glossy packaging is backed up by product substance, especially their baitcasters.
While they have spin reels, their flagship reel range consists of high-performance baitcasters, targeted to young guns and seasoned freshwater sports anglers. Lew’s baitcasters are fast and powerful, high-performance reels built on a blend of experience-driven pragmatism, creative thinking, and innovative products.
Contemporary head-turning aesthetics is a clear marketing ploy - and it has worked. Young bass anglers love them. Moreover, Lew’s can count on cradle-to-grave brand loyalty, because most of their baitcasters perform every bit as their slick look promises.
Lew’s knows their freshwater fishing customers extremely well, listens to them, and delivers exactly what they want. Their narrow focus has ensured that a modest range gets plenty of attention, versus neglect that comes from keeping too many balls in the air.
Lew’s is an example of where insightful business practice benefits the angler. The Team Lew’s Pro-TI baitcast fishing reel is the epitome of Lew’s innovation and a must-have for dedicated bass sports anglers.
Best Freshwater Baitcast Fishing Reel
Series: Team Pro-Ti
Type: Fresh Water
Application: Pro Bass
Price Point: Lower Premium
What You Need To Know About Fishing Reel Brands
To wrap up our short venture into reliable reel brands, let’s look at some cold hard truths about brand selection, and what it means for catching fish.
The Cold Hard Truth About Fishing Reel Brands
For average recreational fisher folk, the brand of reel we select is borderline irrelevant to fishing success. Give me a $40 Pflueger 3000 spin reel, and I’ll get as many 8-pound drum from the estuary as the other guy with his $900 Daiwa Exist. The bulk of fishing carried out by the bulk of recreational anglers doesn’t need high-performance gear to catch fish consistently and reliably.
By and large, brand is only loosely about the product to which it’s attached. Brand is an idea, a dream, an aspiration, a lifestyle, and status. It’s an expression of how we perceive ourselves, and how we’d like to be perceived. It’s clever words and images that sell the fishing trip - the fishing adventure.
Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 Mid “Graffiti” shoes retail for $3450. You can get shoes that have equal or better comfort, performance and durability for less than $50. The fishing industry is no different. We’re sold a perception, not reality and truth. But there are times when brand is going to matter.
Big Fish In Tough Locations
Truth is, a very large portion of anglers don’t know what a 40-pound GT feels like, let alone 200 pounds of dog tooth or bluefin. Their power is literally shocking - mind-blowing.
Let’s just say when I hook into something like this I want the absolute best reel from a premium brand. Even then, I’ve seen Stellas and Saltigas melt with the first blistering run of these monsters. If you’re fishing for big, bullet-train pelagic species, Pfluega ain't gonna cut it. If you’re hunting game fish, only the best will do.
Quality For Longevity
If you’re going to do a lot of fishing, eg, multiple times weekly, premium brands known for long warranties and great componentry are a value choice. Premium brands, by and large, offer the best chance of a long working life. It’s not a guarantee and doesn’t always ring true, but it’s a worthy bet.
The Punch Line
Whilst I’m handing out all of this practical brand advice and insight, I remain conscious of one very critical consideration. Fishing is about feeling good. And if spending 900 bucks on a reel to catch flounder from the docks makes you feel good…just do it.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.