Best Ultralight Spinning Reels

Geoff Stadnyk in Fishing Reels on

Fishing is all about feel. Of course, it’s all about beer too. And it’s also all about walking along the river bank or heading out full throttle in your shiny bass boat to the far-off lily pads. And it’s also about friendship, and also solitude. That is to say, fishing is about a lot of things, but what brings you back day in and day out, is the feel.

The first time I fished a dock for bluegill, I had a medium-heavy rod and reel and felt nothing, not even a nibble. The next time I did what everyone else was doing and got out the ultralight gear. The change in the feel of it all was night and day. The lure drifted lightly through the water, and I felt every bite.

Like me that dock day, if you’re looking to fish small, if you want to feel it all, the cast, the lure drag, the delicate presentation, and the slightest little nibble on the end of your line, you should consider fishing an ultralight spinning setup.

And if you’re considering an ultralight spinning reel setup, the first thing you’ll want to look at is a quality reel.

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What reel sizes are considered ultralight?

Most reel manufacturers offer reel sizes in the categories of small (500-2000), medium(3000), and large(4000+).

Although “ultralight” is a category often glossed over and undefined precisely, you’ll really want to consider only those reel sizes in the 500 to 2000. Depending on the reel manufacturer, that can also read as 5 to 20.

What are the benefits of using an ultralight reel?

The most obvious benefit to using the smallest spinning reel is the ability to catch small, and the fun you have when you do.

If your local fishing hole is full of small bass or panfish and you’re looking to get the adrenaline pumping like you would if you were fishing for a grouper, throw an ultralight reel on an ultralight rod and watch the setup bend over and pull with every bite.

Ultralights aren’t just great for small fish, though, but large fish as well. Anytime the fish you’re presenting to needs a delicate presentation with just the lightest touch, turning to an ultralight spinning setup will increase hookups.

Another excellent use for the ultralight spinning reel and rod combination comes when hiking or traveling. The compact reel and short rod are easy to pack and light enough to carry on any adventure.

That size also means ultralights are great for children, anglers with impairments, anglers with smaller hands, or anglers just looking for a small setup. Throwing around a heavy reel all day can leave a setup feeling unbalanced. Often, a small setup will result in more hookups thanks only in part to more hours on the water.

Finally, an often overlooked benefit of the ultralight setup is that you’ll become a better fisherman. Spooling an ultralight reel with 2-pound test and throwing out a crappie jig will have you feeling everything. The feedback is phenomenal, and the spooky fish will let you know precisely what you’re doing right and wrong in your retrieves.

Fisherman with ultralight spinning reel on the water

How to choose an ultralight reel Size

Weight

By their nature, most ultralight spinning reels are lightweight. When looking for a great one, though, it can be hard to judge what you’re getting based on just a picture. The size and weights of the reels tend to blur together, and there are no hard set guidelines for a manufacturer when it comes to reel size.

To keep it simple, you’ll want to look for reels around 8 ounces or smaller. That weight should pair comfortably and feel in balance with any ultralight spinning rod you throw it on.

Line Capacity

Most ultralight reels will spool lines in the 2 to 6-pound test range and just won’t work properly with anything much bigger. One of the drawbacks of an ultralight spinning setup is that they just don’t cast for miles with such a light line and generally light lures. However, that does mean that you won’t really need to worry about line capacity.

However, one thing to consider is how to spool that line when you do put it on. With such a small spool, it won’t cast as well if you don’t throw enough line on. And if you throw too much line on it, you’ll lose it over the spool. So a good rule of thumb on an ultralight reel is to leave about an eighth of an inch of room on your spool. That’ll give you enough line to cast some distance and keep it shallow enough to leave the birds nests in the trees.

Gear Ratio

Your reel’s gear ratio determines how quickly your spinning reel will pick line up off the water when retrieving. Whether you’re pulling your line in for another cast, setting your hook, or dragging that rig through the shallow water to entice a strike from a lazy crappie, gear ratio is huge.

The small nature of the ultralight reel means the gear ratios in them are notoriously on the slow side. Many anglers don’t mind this because a slow gear ratio provides more power to the reel. In my opinion, though, an ultra-light setup isn’t about power, and you can always slow down a retrieve. With that in mind, if you can find a solid reel retrieving 6:1, go for it, though most guys will be happy in that 5:1 range.

Drag Rating

In most cases, the general rule for drag rating is to keep it at about 25 percent of the line weight you are using. Since when ultralight fishing, you won’t be using line over 8 pounds (on the super heavy side), anything with a drag rating of about 2 pounds should work just fine.

With such a low rating, what you’ll really want to consider is finding the smoothest system possible.

What kind of fish can you catch (or not) with an ultralight reel?

Trout, crappie, bluegill, other panfish species, yellow perch, and sometimes bass are all among the most commonly targeted fish when using an ultralight setup.

Any fish that prefers a delicate presentation can be caught with an ultralight spinning reel and rod. Keep in mind, though, that the larger the species, the more likely you’ll experience line or equipment failure or even death of the fish due to a long fight and overexertion.

Beach surfcasting ultralight spinning reel and rod in tropical sea

Do you need a specific kind of ultralight reel for saltwater fishing?

Saltwater fishing can be tough on even heavy fishing equipment. If looking to purchase an ultralight reel for the salt, try and find one that has a larger spool size (for ultralight, that means size 20 or 2000), is corrosion-resistant, well built, and has a drag rating on the higher end of the ultralight range.

Can left-handed people use ultralight reels?

Most ultralight spinning reels manufactured today come with reversible handles!

Conclusion

There’s a reason that deep-sea anglers fish with the thinnest, tightest braid they can find, and that’s the same reason bass fishermen going for the big boys throw lures with a casting rod.

Whatever kind of fishing you’re doing, it all comes down to the feel at the end of the day.

If you’re looking to catch small fish and feel it all, even get the adrenaline pumping. If you want to feel the cast, the lure drag, and become a better fisherman overall, an ultralight reel is the way to go.

Product Reviews

Best Budget

Offering one of the smallest size reels on the market at 500, KastKing's Centron is the top choice in affordable ultralight spin fishing reels. An aluminum graphite composition, an excellent drag rating, and a smooth performance will have you feeling like a pro, even on a budget.

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Although Kastking has spared the expense on this one, they’re not sparing the performance. With a CNC machined aluminum spool and a patented launch tip, KastKing has delivered a balanced reel that you can expect to cast like a dream.

Add in its lightweight maneuverability at a reel size of only 500, and you can expect to be skipping lures under docks or hauling in fish through the ice with this one.

Although this reel is downright tiny, kastKing has also managed to fit in 9 bearings and one instant stop reverse bearing. That means it will feel as smooth as a more expensive counterpart.

Keep in mind that affordability comes with some downsides. The reel is well built for the price, but some components, like the drag knob and drag linkage, may not last as long as those found on a more expensive counterpart.

What We Like
Versatility - The mostly aluminum build and interchangeable left to right handle mean this is a reel that can be used in many different situations.
Size - At size 500, this reel has a diameter of 4 inches and only weighs 6.9 ounces. This one is truly ultralight.
Price - This reel is cheap! And considering the performance, that's not a bad thing.
Looks - The finish on this reel will keep you going back to it. The KastKing Centrons spool is well-balanced CNC'd aluminum, and the reel is finished with striking blue highlights.
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Components - As always, sometimes a value price means value components. Don't expect this reel to cast as smoothly as it does right out of the box season after season.

Best Premium

The Pflueger Supreme XT offers everything its name would lead you to believe in the smallest package possible. Even at size 2500, this reel only weighs 8 ounces, and every ounce was built to provide a premium ultralight experience.

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With a light as a feather design, the Pflueger Supreme XT 25 is an ultralight angler’s dream.

The magnesium body and carbon handle offer reliable day in day out fishing, and sealed carbon washers ensure you’ll get a powerful drag that performs smoothly and reliably even under extreme pressure.

Not only does the reel pull in fish with ease, but with a packed-in 10 stainless steel bearings, you can count on this little reel to cast light lures far.

Add on a braid-ready spool and slow oscillation gearing, and this reel is ready to give reliable ultralight success over and over again.

What We Like
Looks - This reel's gold finish will have you thinking you've come in first place.
Weight - At half a pound for a 2500, this thing will definitely outperform its lightweight.
Drag System - Sealed Carbon washers will give you reliable drag for even larger fish.
Braid Ready Spool - A braid ready spool means you won't be wasting any room on this one.
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Price - This reel is significantly more expensive than a lot of competitors.

Best Lightweight Ultralight

A complete carbon fiber frame on the Piscifun Carbon X takes ultralight angling to new depths. The 500 series reel weighs in at only 5.1 ounces, and even their 300 tips the scale at only 8 ounces. Add in a best-in-class drag rating, a Superhero fast retrieve, and silver tongue smoothness, and purchasing this reel is a real no-brainer.

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Piscifcun has turned ultralight fishing into featherlight fishing with the carbon x series. Featuring a 500 class reel that weighs only 5 ounces and a 3000 class that weighs only 8, this reel series is one serious ultralight anglers need to take a look at.

The Carbon X’s carbon frame, rotor, and cover mean that Piscifun can pack all of the punches into an oversized ultralight 3000. The 3000 features 6.2:1 high-speed gearing, 11 corrosion-resistant bearings, and triple premium carbon washers. That all means the reel not only feels light, it also performs. And with a CNC machined braid-ready spool and direct screw-in handle, this reel is ready to go out of the box.

What We Like
Weight - At just over 5 ounces, the 500 series reel is about as light as they come.
Versatile Build - The all-carbon body on this thing makes it durable and versatile enough to use in the salt.
Gear Ratio - The 6.2:1 gear ratio will mean you won't miss any of those light bites.
Braid Ready Spool - On a small reel, you need all the space you can get.
Looks - The all-black Carbon build on this reel would have Johnny Cash blushing. This thing looks like it means business.
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Size - The small size of this reel may have the bail hitting some anglers' knuckles on retrieves.

Best Overall

The Pflueger President is a tried and trusted model, and at 7 ounces, this ultralight reel delivers everything you'd expect in an ultralight package. With 10 bearings and a sealed drag system, Pflueger offers components on this reel most anglers would expect to pay a lot more for. The reviews have been in for a while on this one, and it's a sure bet.

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The Pflueger President is a true fisherman’s reel with specs that far outweigh its affordable price and its 7-ounce ultralight weight. The 10 bearing setup and sealed drag system mean this reel is smooth on its cast and retrieves.

The President also comes braid-ready. Pair that with corrosion-resistant bearings, and this reel has the versatility an ultralight fishing generalist will love.

Keep in mind that although this reel has a few higher-end features, it may not last as long as its more expensive counterparts.

What We Like
10 Bearing - In general more bearings means a smoother reel. We think you'll appreciate how quiet and smooth this reel is.
Braid Ready - Serious ultralight fishermen know that fitting plenty of line on a small spool can be a pain. You'll appreciate this thing being braid-ready.
Size - A light, agile reel is perfect for flinging lures in those hard-to-reach spots. At 7 ounces, this thing is as light as they come.
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Build Quality - Although this reel is as smooth as butter out of the box, it may not last you more than a season or two, thanks to a few lower-quality components. So keep an eye on the gears of this one.
Gear Ratio - At 5.2:1, the gear ratio on this reel is just slightly slower than its competitors.

Best Saltwater

The Quantum Smoke is a premium ultralight saltwater reel that's durable, performance-first build puts its way ahead of the game. Thanks to anti-corrosion bearings and "saltguard" protection, anglers can expect this one to perform in the elements time and time again.

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The Quantum Smoke 2500 is a beautifully constructed and looking reel that was designed from the ground up with ultralight saltwater angling in mind. The featured SCR anti-corrosion alloy frame, all-around saltguard protection, and 12 anti-corrosion bearings make this thing durable enough for the wettest spraying saltwater conditions out there.

Beyond its durability, you’ll love how smooth this operator is. With the 12 bearings, a 6.0:1 gear ratio, an 18 pound soft as silk max drag, and over 30 inches of line returned, this one will be as enjoyable to cast and retrieve as it is to just look at.

Keep in mind when purchasing this that you’re putting a ring on it. Quantum protects all of their gear for up to 5 years from defects in workmanship and/or materials.

What We Like
Durability - With anti-corrosion bearings, an indestructible bail, and aluminum unibody, you can fish this in freshwater or saltwater all day long without a worry.
Looks - This reel is… Gorgeous.
Drag System - The CSC 2.0 drag on this with an 18-pound max drag rating will have your fights absolutely dialed.
Retrieve - With a 6.0:1 Gear ratio and 32 inches of line returned per handle rotation, this thing basically has a turbo in it.
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Warranty - Quantum Reels come with a 5-year warranty.

Also Recommended

At only 8 ounces but housing a ton of features, the sleek and smooth Ceymar is an ultralight and ultra-small reel that packs a big punch. With a felt drag system offering a whopping 5 pounds of max drag and precision machined bearings, this is a reel you'll love to cast and retrieve all day.

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Okuma threw everything but their kitchen sink at the ultralight Ceymar, resulting in an 8-ounce reel that feels small for its size but delivers all the quality you’d expect from one of the biggest names in the fishing game.

With a powerful multi-disc drag system 8 bearing setup, quick-set anti-reverse, and precision cut brass pinion gear, this great-looking little reel will be a blast to cast and retrieve all day long.

Underneath all the neat features on this reel, Okuma delivers with a machined aluminum spool, solid aluminum bail, forged aluminum handle, and corrosion-resistant “blade” designed body, meaning this thing isn’t just fun to cast, it will be fun to cast for days to come.

Keep in mind when purchasing the Ceymar in size 10 that it’ll feel like a size 5.

What We Like
Weight - At under 8 ounces, this reel is super lightweight. You might even call it ultralight.
Drag - You'll love the silky smooth drag on this reel.
Design - This reel looks the part. With a 2 tone machined aluminum spool and baffled synthetic "blade body design," It's sleek and tough-looking in all the right places.
Know Before Buying
Size - This reel runs a bit small. A size 1000 on this reel is actually about a 500.
Gear Ratio - The 5.0:1 gear ratio on this reel is a bit slower than comparable reels.
Geoff Stadnyk

Geoff started fishing as a child in the gorgeous lakes of Mammoth, while on family vacations. His fishing experience includes the use of fly rod and reel. Guided trips along the Madison and Gallatin rivers in Montana, the Frying Pan and Animus in Colorado, and the Deschutes river in Oregon have all paid off and helped make Geoff the angler and writer that he is today.

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