Ultralight Fishing Reels
There are a number of reasons people choose ultralight fishing gear. Perhaps you're planning a backpacking trip and want to keep your additional pack weight to a minimum. Or maybe you often find yourself hopping between boulders in trout streams and feel heavier gear is too cumbersome. Whatever the reason, ultralight fishing gear is innovating rapidly, using new materials such as carbon fiber and magnesium to make it possible to pack an extraordinary number of features into remarkably lightweight packages.
Advantages of Spinning Reels for Ultralight Fishing
If you've been shopping for ultralight fishing reels, you've probably noticed the majority are spinning reels rather than casting reels. There's a good reason for this. Spinning reels are much better at handling lightweight fishing lines, as well as casting the types of lightweight lures you'll be using. When casting you are essentially trying to build up and store as much energy into your lure and fishing rod as possible, and then transfer it quickly to the fishing lure, sending it flying out in front of you. With spinning reels, the lure does lose some energy to drag as the line spools off your reel. However, with casting reels, your lure loses more energy, as the casting reel spool has to accelerate to allow the line to leave your reel. Since the spool on a spinning reel is static during the cast, less energy is lost. Trying to cast a 1/16th oz spinner with a casting reel can be very difficult.
So, if you're thinking ultralight, think spinning reel.
Fishing Line for Ultralight Reels
If you want to get the most out of your ultralight spinning reel, you'll want to choose your fishing line carefully. Putting the wrong line on a top-end reel can all but ruin its function. A proper fishing combo, whether you're fishing in the deep sea or a backyard creek, is all about balance. If you're choosing an ultralight fishing combo, you'll want all elements of your rig to be kept lightweight.
As mentioned earlier, when casting a lure with a spinning reel, the stored energy in the reel and lure must accelerate the line as it leaves your reel. A number of factors come into play here: line diameter, line weight, line type, and line stiffness. The larger the line diameter, the more air drag will occur as the lure flies through the air. It may seem trivial, but we don't have a lot of energy to start with, so it adds up quickly. Also, the heavier the line, the more energy is lost from your cast. Different line types behave differently as well. Braided lines for instance have a much rougher surface and create additional friction. Finally, the stiffer the line, the more friction will occur between your line and casting guides. The more we can minimize energy losses to the line, the more casting distance and control we will have.
While you might be tempted to think that the $45 dollar 300yd spool of 100% fluorocarbon line is a better choice than the $8 spool of mid-shelf monofilament, you'll probably regret that decision on the first cast. There are plenty of specialized fishing lines that are worth the price for certain applications, but if you're going to be casting lightweight spinners and spoons, just go with a straightforward reputable monofilament. The knots hold better, it will tangle less, cast further, and save you money.
The biggest factor in the weight of a spinning reel, quite obviously, is the size. While smaller fishing reels will weigh less, they will often lack in other features such as casting distance, line capacity and drag power. Larger reels will provide a better fishing experience, but at the cost of additional weight.
This is where the new innovations in ultralight spinning reels come into play. With new materials and methods of manufacture, you are now able to buy much larger, much more powerful spinning reels that weigh a fraction of traditional spinning reels. With the inclusion of carbon frames, some manufacturers have been able to cut the weight of "25" or "2500" size reels down to the weights of spinning reels half their size. The only drawback is increased cost.
In general, if you are going for an ultralight spinning set-up, I would suggest reels in the "10" to "15" or "1000" to "1500" sizes. Size standards are different between manufacturers, but that will apply to most. While there are "5" or "500" series spinning reels, I've personally found them to be almost too small, to the point of awkwardness. What I'll call "micro spinning reels" have very limited drag capabilities, very restricted line capacities, and reduced casting range. The very small spools just don't feed or stack line well. However, for ice fishing (no casting required) these are a great choice.
My Top Picks
I've narrowed down my picks for the current top ultralight spinning reels on the market to three: Best Under $60, Best Value, and Best Overall. These spinning reels feel small, but cast and fish as well as or better than reels that weigh much more.
Best Ultralight Reel Under $60: Shimano Sedona
Technically the Shimano Sedona doesn't quite fit in the new class of ultralight reels. Then again, almost all of the new class of ultralight reels are going to be a bit more expensive. If you are looking for a lightweight, reliable spinning reel, the Shimano Sedona is the perfect place to start. It has a modestly low weight, and includes many of Shimano's leading features like the Propulsion Line Management System and Dyna-Balance, meaning you won't be sacrificing performance.
Back when I worked at the fishing shop, I would often have customers looking for the best spinning rod and reel set-up for $100. My go-to reel was always the Sedona, and I could usually find a decent rod to pair with it and still squeeze in under budget. We sold more Sedonas than any other spinning reel by a substantial margin.
My oldest Sedona reel is going on 14 years of use this summer and still functions like new.
Budget Friendly- Shimano Sedona
Best Value Ultralight Spinning Reel: Okuma Helios
When it comes to packing all the highest end features and materials into the most affordable ultralight spinning reel package, Okuma's Helios is a pretty clear winner. The first time I held this reel I was blown away. The carbon frame provides a rock-solid base while coming in at a mere 7.1 oz for the 20 series reel. The carbon frame, fast-drying ported rotor (the part that spins around the spool) and stainless steel bearings also protect against corrosion, making it more than ready for many seasons of backcountry use. The only drawback of the reel is the drag. At 13 lb of drag, the Helios line is slowly falling behind some of the more expensive ultralight reels that have entered the market, but for the price, its still can't be beat.
Best Bang for the Buck- Okuma Helios
The Winner (Best Ultralight Spinning Reel): Shimano CI4
If cost is no matter, it doesn't get any better than the Shimano CI4. When it comes to line capacity, drag power, durability, and overall weight, the CI4 is the best of the best. Their large spool diameter means rocket casts, tangle-free line management, and quick retrieve speeds. The new Magumlite rotor leads to a near effortless line-pick-up. The 3000 size can pack on a massive 230yds of 6lb test, has 20lb of max front drag, and still weighs a mere 6.7 oz.
Want to go even lighter? Size down to the 1000 size and you're looking at a 5.6oz spinning reel.
While most spinning reel manufacturers cut features and quality to create a lighter-weight reel, Shimano has managed to pack all of their highest-end spinning reel features into the lightest possible package.
They also finally replaced the silly foam knob handle with a more traditional rubber grip paddle-style handle, which is a huge improvement, especially if the reel gets wet.
The Shimano CI4 is my go-to ultralight and backpacking spinning reel.
The Best of the Best- Shimano CI4
I Want to Hear From You!
I would love to hear your feedback. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section below, I'd be glad to help! If you found this article helpful, do me a huge favor and Share using the Facebook or Pinterest links at the top of the page. Best yet, if this helped you catch some fish recently, send me a picture using the 'Contact the Author' link at the top of the page and I'll feature you and your catch in an upcoming post! Thank you!
mike on September 04, 2018:
Thanks for your article. Ive never really used ultalight gear, but I want to try it out for the sport and fun of trying to bring in larger trout. recently I caught a 5 pound trout using 4plb test on a medium rod. My objective is to use ultralight rod and 2 to 4 lb test to try and catch larger trout.
I bought a Daiwa Presso 7' ultra light rod and now Im wondering what features to look for in a spinning reel...I will not be back packing. I will fish from the bank trying to catch larget rout like I said.
So I thought maybe you could tell me what features I should look for in a spinning reel. I would like to keep the price to $100 or less.
A couple of questions I have is about drag weight? What min drag weight should I look for in the reel? 2)I heard using an ultra light reel the spool is smaller diameter that leads to more birds nests or line twists etc, so a person told me maybe go up to the next size, 2500?
I have pflueger president XT on one of my other rods now and like that. But I thought if u had time and if u wanted you could guide me in a choice of reel to match my goal of fishing for larger fish on smaller tackle for the sport.
huntnfish (author) from Washington on July 24, 2017:
I have a couple related articles for ultralight and backpacking spinning rods, you can check them out here https://hubpages.com/fishing/Best-Ultralight-Spinn... and here https://hubpages.com/fishing/Best-Backpacking-Fish...
However, that 4 piece Croix you have is already about as good as it gets for backpacking spinning rods, they are always my top recommendation. They do make an "ultralight" 5'6" version, which is one size down in weight from what you currently have (3.5oz to 2.7oz).
While there are better ultralight spinning rods out there if you're willing to use a 2 piece or 1 piece rod (G.Loomis Trout and Panfish series rods are amazing), there isn't a better 4 piece than what you already have anywhere on the market. I'd just stick with what you've got.
Depending on what type of fishing you do, the ultimate space and weight saving fishing solution is a Tenkara fishing rod. They work great for smaller rivers and streams, and even do alright at small lakes and ponds depending on the geography. Its basically a really nice telescoping fly fishing rod with no reel. Everything you need fits in your pocket, no joke. Super light and really fun to fish with. If you're interested, check out the last bit of my article here https://hubpages.com/fishing/Telescopic-Fishing-Ro...
Justin Rubaloff on July 23, 2017:
My setup for the last 10 years has been a 6.4 oz Okuma Aveon reel and a 3.0 oz St. Croix 6' 4-piece Premier traveler rod.
I was happy to see your recommended Shimano CI4+ 1000 shaves almost a whole ounce off.
Do you have any recommendations for ultralight rods for backpacking?
Thanks for the article