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The Best Spinning Reels Under $100, Tested and Reviewed

March 12, 2024 - Blog

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Best Overall

Daiwa Exceler LT


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Best Saltwater

Penn Pursuit IV


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Best for $60

Lews Speed Spin


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Whether you’re shopping around for your first spinning reel or looking to replace an old favorite, finding a reel that fits your needs and doesn’t break the bank can be a challenge. It’s even harder to find a spinning reel under $100 that will last multiple seasons and won’t hold you back from catching a new PB. 

But, I’m going to make that challenge a lot easier for you. I’ve been testing the best spinning reels under $100 while catching giant muskie, smallmouth, trout, crappie, largemouth, and landlocked stripers. After torture testing affordable spinning reels, I found the options that are worth your money. Here are my top picks. 

Best Overall: Daiwa Exceler LT

Best Saltwater: Penn Pursuit IV

Best All-Purpose: Shimano Sedona FJ

Best Finesse Reel: Pfleuger President XT

Best for $60: Lews Speed Spin 

How I Tested the Best Spinning Reels Under $100

The author caught several muskie on light line while using the reels for smallmouth fishing. Kevin Hughes

When it came to putting these reels through the paces, my goal was to keep it even across the board. All reels were spooled with 10-pound PowerPro braided line and paired with 7-foot, medium-fast rods. I used them in a variety of settings, ranging from rivers to large lakes, and even included some inshore saltwater. These settings allowed for a wide range of techniques to be used. I tested finesse jigs, small swimbaits up to ¼ ounce, and plugs like suspending jerkbaits and topwater lures in the 3- to 5-inch class.  

Smallmouth and largemouth bass were the most common species caught, but these reels also went up against trout, striped bass, perch, carp, pickerel, and even a few musky.   Kevin Hughes

To judge performance, I primarily looked at functionality during day-to-day use. I noted how smooth the reel feels, how its drag holds up during a fight, and how comfortable it is to fish. Most importantly, I determined how they held up after months of hard use. These attributes are what really separates reels at the sub-$100 price point.

Best Spinning Reels Under $100: Reviews & Recommendations  

Best Overall: Daiwa Exceler LT

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Key Features (3000 size)

MSRP: $100

Weight: 7.2 ounces

Six bearings

Carbon fiber frame

Line Capacity: 250 yards of 15-pound braid

Drag: 22 pounds

Pros

Extremely lightweight

Strong drag

High line capacity

Smooth

Cons

Cost

A muskie the author caught while testing the Daiwa Exceler LT. Kevin Hughes

Of all the spinning reels under $100, the Exceler LT by Daiwa was far and away the nicest to fish. It’s the only reel in this price range that legitimately feels like it should be far more expensive than it is. This reel was perfect for everything from river smallmouth bass fishing with jerkbaits to deep-water reservoir fishing with jigs.

With a super light carbon fiber frame and Daiwas AirDrive rotor and bail, the Exceler has many of the features of Daiwas higher-end reels at a fraction of the cost. It has an impressive 22-pounds, the silky-smooth drag held up incredibly well to fish that were far outside the scope of its intended use. It landed multiple musky and striped bass during testing, handling them all with relative ease. In addition, its lightweight carbon frame and machined aluminum handle were as comfortable to fish as any reel out there, regardless of price. 

It casts like a dream, with feathery line release from the spool and a nice even line-lay on the retrieve. Overall, despite being at the top edge of the price range, the Daiwa Exceler LT is an exceptional reel and well worth the cost. 

Best Saltwater: Penn Pursuit IV

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Key Features (4000 size)

MSRP: $70

Weight: 12.4 ounces

Drag: 15 pounds 

Five bearings

Line Capacity: 260 yards of 20-pound braid

Pros

Saltwater resistant

Durable

Cons

Heavy

Not very smooth

Finding any reel capable of withstanding saltwater for under $100 is a challenge, let alone one specifically designed for it. The Penn Pursuit IV is one of the rare spinning reels built to handle saltwater rigors while not breaking the bank. 

Penn is a name most saltwater anglers are familiar with, being a staple for decades. While not as fancy as its higher-end Penn counterparts, the Pursuit IV still carries many of the trademark features that have made Penn so popular in the salt game. The Pursuit IV is well suited for saltwater with a durable, corrosion-resistant graphite body and sealed, stainless-steel bearings. 

Its drag system is smooth and easy to manage during fights. The 15 pounds of drag strength is enough for most inshore use like pulling sheepshead off a piling, catching dozens of schoolie stripers, or fishing reds in narrow creeks. The reel can even handle hard-pulling fish like tarpon, but it probably won’t last long as a dedicated tarpon reel. 

The overall feel of the spinning reel is one of durability, with a heavier bail and frame than most of the other reels on this list. The reel itself is comfortable to fish, but its heavy weight and bulky build do make it less suited for continuous casting. Additionally, it’s not quite as smooth in comparison to the rest of the reels tested, but the durability and corrosion resistance make up for that. 

While it may not be ideal for finesse fishing or casting plugs all day, it’s an excellent option for soaking bait or throwing a popping cork. When it comes to a budget-friendly saltwater reel, there aren’t many better choices on the market. 

Read Next: Best Trout Spinning Reels

Best All-Purpose: Shimano Sedona FJ

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Key Features (2500 size)

MSRP: $80

Weight: 8.5 ounces

Line Capacity: 145 yards of 15-pound braid

Drag: 20 pounds

Four bearings

Composite body

Pros

Smooth 

Good drag

Casting ability

Cons

Line capacity

Build material durability

One of the many big bass caught on the Shimano Sedona during testing. Kevin Hughes

The Sedona FJ is a prototypical all-purpose freshwater spinning reel. It’s not necessarily at the top in any one category, but its performance and suitability for most freshwater applications makes it a solid option. With a number of quality features at a reasonable price point, the Sedona FJ is a well-rounded reel that does the job it’s designed to do. 

The Shimano Sedona FJ is the next iteration of Shimano’s Sedona lineup, which is long a popular choice for budget-conscious anglers who still want the quality features that Shimano is known for. The drag on the Sedona is as smooth as it gets for any reel under $100, and with 20 pounds of drag strength, it can fight big fish. Additionally, this reel features the patented Shimano Hagane technology, a combination of balanced design and cold-forged gearing. This makes the Sedona FJ a well-balanced reel that’s very comfortable and smooth to fish. Other improvements in this latest Sedona model are the integration of SilentDrive and a G-Free body, both patented Shimano designs that help improve the reel’s balance and smoothness. 

Ultimately, the biggest weakness with this reel is the material it’s made with. The composite frame is a cost-saving measure, and while it doesn’t impact the overall feel of the reel while fishing, it could contribute to durability issues over time. It’s also not as light as aluminum or carbon, which puts it a step below the Exceler LT and Pleuger President XT. Despite some of these issues, the cost of the Shimano Sedona FJ balances well with its performance, making it a great all-around option for casual freshwater anglers. 

Read Next: Best Spinning Reels for Bass

Best Finesse Reel: Pfleuger President XT

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Key Features (25 size)

MSRP: $100

Weight: 7 ounces

Drag Strength: 8 pounds

Line Capacity: 140 yards of 6-pound braid

Carbon body and aluminum components 

Pros

Very light

Sensitive and finesse oriented

Very smooth

Cons

Weak drag

Low line capacity

Finding a reel this finely tuned to finesse fishing for under $100 can be challenging, but the President XT fits the bill. While it may not be as universally applicable as the Sedona or Exceler, it’s great at what it’s designed to do: light tackle finesse fishing. 

If the other reels on this list are hunting knives, the Pfleuger President XT is a scalpel. Much like the Daiwa Exceler, the President XT has a lightweight carbon body paired with machined aluminum components that make this reel light and comfortable to fish. The President XT also has a stainless-steel 10-bearing system, which makes for an incredibly smooth retrieve.

Throwing light lures, on light rods, with light line is the President XT’s specialty. Kevin Hughes

The President XT is ideal for throwing small lures on light line, having the sensitivity and control required to properly feel the action of the lure and the bite. This specialization for finesse fishing does have some drawbacks, primarily in the drag and line capacity department. At only 8 pounds of drag, the President XT isn’t an ideal reel for tackling larger gamefish or chucking heavier lures. The spool is also not designed to hold much line, especially if you go over the 8- to 10-pound test. 

Best Budget: Lews Speed Spin

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Key Features (30 size)

MSRP: $60

Weight: 9.4 ounces

Drag Strength: 13 pounds

Line Capacity: 200 yards of 15-pound braid

Graphite frame, brass gearing, aluminum spool/handle

10 bearing system

Pros

Well-rounded

Good material components

Cost

Cons

Brass gears aren’t as durable as aluminum 

With a graphite frame and machined aluminum components, you’d expect the Lews Speed Spin to cost considerably more than it does. It also offers a smooth 10-bearing system and soft rubber Combat Grips, making an extremely comfortable fishing experience. While it certainly isn’t at the top in any one area, at 9.4 ounces with 13 pounds of drag, the Speed Spin is a well-rounded reel. The biggest knock against this reel is the brass gearing, which aren’t as durable and corrosion resistant as machined aluminum or stainless steel. That said, at this price point it’s hard to expect any more than this reel offers, and it has more than enough quality features to justify a solid place on this list. This reel is an ideal option for the casual freshwater angler, or as a solid back-up for those looking to expand their quiver. 

How to Choose a Spinning Reel

The reel you choose should match the techniques you’ll use and species you’re targeting. Kevin Hughes

As with most fishing gear, understanding when and where you’ll be using the reel is the first step in deciding which one is best for you. If you’re primarily soaking bait, the weight of the reel won’t matter as much as the quality of the drag. If you will be actively casting lures all day long, you’ll probably care more about the weight of the reel and what kind of line it can handle. Perhaps the most important factor is knowing where the reel will be used, and if it needs any special features to handle the elements. 

Saltwater 

If you plan on using your sub-$100 spinning reel in saltwater, you’ll want something that’s corrosion resistant first and foremost. Sealed bearings and stainless steel or aluminum internal components are critical elements to avoid corrosion.

Techniques

Your fishing technique can help you narrow down the reel features to prioritize. Kevin Hughes

If you plan on using the reel for finesse fishing and repeated casting, you’ll probably want something that’s light and comfortable to fish. Line capacity can also be important if you plan on fishing deeper water or targeting fish that make long runs. Lastly, an overlooked factor can be making sure the reel casts smoothly and lays line evenly.

Reel Sizes 

Regardless of the way you plan on fishing, you’ll still want to make sure the reel is sized properly for you and the rod you plan to pair it with. Spinning reels generally use a metric of sizes ranging from 500 all the way up to 20000, with 500 being the smallest and 20000 being the largest. Despite the wide range, most anglers will want a reel in the 2500 to 4000 size for all-purpose use in freshwater. This size range is by far the most versatile for fishing anywhere in the country, being appropriate for everything from bass and panfish up to stripers and redfish. While the line capacity of reels in this range can vary noticeably, they generally allow for around 150 to 250 yards of line in the 8- to 15-pound test range. 

Gear Ratios 

Gear ratios in spinning reels under $100 are typically less varied and less critical than they would be in baitcasters or heavy-duty spinning gear. Still, it’s important to consider how the gear ratio will match up to the technique you primarily plan to use. 

Most reels in the 2500 to 3000 range will have gear ratios in the 5.2:1 area, which allows for a fairly consistent retrieve rate and line-per-crank ratio. If you plan on fishing faster lures or want more control over your presentation, consider looking for models with high-speed variations that have gear ratios in 6.2:1 or up. 

Materials and Construction

Finally, considering what material the reel and its components are made from will really help you understand its capability. Materials like machined aluminum and stainless steel are both light and corrosion resistant, generally making for a higher quality reel experience. Brass gears and composite bodies aren’t necessarily bad, but they are things to look out for if you plan on using the reel for larger gamefish or in harsher conditions. 

The drag construction is an important factor that can require more compromise in lower-priced reels. Felt is the most common material used for drag in spinning reels of this class. While felt is more than capable in most freshwater circumstances, it doesn’t hold up as well to fish that make blistering runs or to the elements. A carbon drag system is much better at handling these situations, but can add to the price of the reel considerably. 

Final Thoughts on the Best Spinning Reels Under $100

Spinning reels have always been a popular option among anglers, but with recent trends and advancements in technology they’re becoming more ubiquitous than ever. Finding a good spinning reel with quality features at a reasonable price can be a challenge, but hopefully this list has helped provide some insight into quality options. Whether or not you go with one of the reels on this list, just remember what qualities matter to you. You won’t likely find many reels under $100 that have every fancy feature on the market, so it’s important you go into the purchase understanding what your priorities are. If you consider what factors are most important to you, you’ll be better prepared to walk out with a great reel at an affordable price. 

Best All-Around: Daiwa Exceler LT

Best Saltwater: Penn Pursuit IV

Best All-Purpose: Shimano Sedona FJ

Best Finesse Reel: Pfleuger President XT

Best Budget: Lews Speed Spin 

The post The Best Spinning Reels Under $100, Tested and Reviewed appeared first on Outdoor Life.

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