June 04, 2021
Bass anglers across the country depend on spinning gear for their finesse-fishing chores. Spinning rods and reels are by design uniquely qualified to handle light lines and petite bait weights.
The popularity of Japanese-refined techniques, such as drop-shotting, spy-baiting, Neko-rigging and flick-shaking, has led to a legion of finesse-fishing enthusiasts who rely on spinning gear to catch tight-lipped bass.
Spinning combos have several subtle mechanical advantages over baitcasting gear. First and foremost, right-handed anglers can cast and work baits with their dominant hand when using spinning gear, unlike baitcasting combos which are typically held in the left hand. This gives spin-fishing anglers the ability to paint precise presentations that attract the attention of pressured bass.
Fans of finesse techniques will be happy to know that rod and reel manufacturers introduced some fantastic spinning gear for 2021, and with a few notable exceptions, affordability seems to be the dominant theme.
Last winter, the Game & Fish Tackle Test Team hit eight bass waters in Florida to evaluate many of these new offerings in real-world conditions. Days of testing, followed by weeks of in-depth analysis, provided valuable insight into this year’s lineup of spinning rods and reels. The following report details what we learned and highlights some of the best new spinning gear available.
Tackle Test 2021: Best Spinning Reels
Editor’s Choice: ABU GARCIA ZENON
Billed as the world’s lightest spinning reel, the 20-series Abu Garcia Zenon, at just 4.9 ounces, is a true marvel of modern reel engineering and impressed testers across the board. Design engineers focused on minimalization when building the Zenon. That is, each component was shrunk, and any extra material was eliminated to reduce weight while remaining strong.
At first blush you’ll notice the diminutive gear box, one seemingly too small to house anything of any significance. However, our Zenon’s transmission proved itself solid. Turning on 11 bearings, the Zenon is icy smooth with a robust drag. The highly skeletonized rotor with its narrow center of gravity spins with reduced inertia, leading to impeccable balance when this reel is spun up quickly. This allows you to fish longer with considerably less fatigue.
A 6.2:1 gear ratio picks up line quickly, an attribute that won’t be lost on those who fish morsel-sized baits deep. The drag starts and stops without any chirping—that abrupt jerk less-sophisticated drags experience when beginning to pay out line or when stopping—which minimizes breakoffs when fishing finesse baits on light lines. The Zenon carries an impressive 185-yard payload of 6-pound test. ($499; abugarcia.com)
- Bottom Line: The unconscionably light but highly capable Abu Garcia Zenon will appeal to anglers who want to deploy the most sophisticated gear for fishing finesse baits on wispy lines—and are willing to pay for it.
Great Buy: DAIWA TATULA LT3000-CXH
Some of the best rods and reels in the bass game are designed and made by Daiwa. While the Tatula LT3000-CXH reel has a bland appearance that anglers may overlook on shelves, it won our Great Buy award hands-down with its tremendous on-the-water performance.
This Tatula is clad in all black and features a body made from Zaion, a high-density carbon material. It keeps the weight down, and the Air Rotor further lightens the build. With a 6.2:1 gear ratio, the LT3000 is fast, inhaling line at 36.8 inches per turn. A rugged bail and stout drag (22 pounds max) manage line duties flawlessly, while the deep-cut spool holds 160 yards of 8-pound monofilament.
The LT3000 is ergonomically thoughtful, with a rounded flange on the stem making for a comfortable reel-to-hand interface. The one-piece, gently bowed handle is art-deco mastery, and its thin paddle glues to the fingers for effortless spinning.
We fished a wide variety of bait weights on the LT3000 seamlessly. Its tapered spool accommodates a nice range of clear and super lines. We fished down to 6-pound and up to 15-pound fluorocarbon, as well as 20-pound braid, with no problems or hangups. With seven total ball bearings, the LT3000 is as smooth a spinner as you’ll find, and fishing it all day is a treat. ($189; daiwa.com)
- Bottom Line: The Tatula LT3000-CXH, with its robust build, versatility and affordable price, will provide years of trouble-free service.
HOW WE TESTED
The Game & Fish Tackle Test utilized a comprehensive scoring system to evaluate each rod and reel across numerous criteria. Scores are tallied after each day on the water. Once all the numbers are crunched (and after some heated debate), winners in each category are crowned. The Editor’s Choice award is bestowed upon the product in each category with the best overall score, while the Great Buy goes to the products that represent the greatest value.
Test rods were equipped with Abu Garcia Revo X (REVO2X20) spinning reels with a 6.2:1 retrieve ratio for an apples-to-apples comparison. Test reels were paired with multiple rods having various actions for an across-the-board evaluation. Reels were fished with both braided line (Berkley x9) and fluorocarbon (Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon).
TACKLE TEST SCORECARD
HOW THEY WERE SCORED
Products were scored from 60 to 100 in 10 categories. Those scores were then averaged for a maximum potential overall score of 100.
- CONTROLS: The efficiency and ease of operation of mechanical features.
- DURABILITY: Products receive a median score of 80 unless they fail during testing.
- APPLICABILITY: The degree to which a product is representative of its intended purpose.
- ERGONOMICS: The efficiency and comfort of the product’s man-to-machine interfaces.
- FISHABILITY: How well the product performs under real-world conditions.
- BUILD MATERIALS: The overall quality of the materials and components used in the product.
- CONSTRUCTION: The overall fit-and-finish and build quality.
- AESTHETICS: The degree to which the product is appealing to the eye.
- INNOVATION: The degree to which the product goes above and beyond the "norm" and offers innovative design and/or mechanical features. Products receive a median score of 80 unless they are outstanding or deficient in this category.
- VALUE: The perceived value of the product with regard to its price.
OTHER REELS TESTED
Abu Garcia Revo Ike
Designed with input from bass tour pro Mike Iaconelli, and carrying his nickname, the Ike is a high-end spinning reel with much to like. The IM-C6 carbon frame is light while remaining stiff. Oversized CNC-machined main gears and nine stainless steel bearings keep the reel turning smoothly. Testers felt the Ike was a good generalist spinning reel, one that did everything well without any distractions.
$244 | abugarcia.com
Abu Garcia Zata 30
The Zata, with its olive-drab finish, is a well-disguised performance machine. It has 11 bearings to keep the internals aligned and turning like a watch. A thoughtfully machined spool lip allows line to flow off the reel almost friction-free for long casts. Stainless steel components are used throughout the build for additional corrosion resistance.
$174 | abugarcia.com
Daiwa Kage MQ LT2500D-XH
The Kage (Japanese for “in the shadows”) features a monocoque high-density carbon body that lightens the assembly. The monocoque design supports the load on the frame’s outer shell. This leaves substantially more interior space for larger, stouter gears. With a 6.2:1 gear ratio, the Kage MQ gobbled line at 34.5 inches per turn. Additionally, the MQ had the best drag in the field.
$339 | daiwa.com
The Procyon features an all-aluminum frame that eliminates flex. That design, along with large main gearing and a corrosion-resistant finish, makes this model a great all-purpose spinning reel. We loved the drag, which is strong and smooth enough to handle almost any inshore saltwater fish including redfish and snook. With its generous payload capacity (240 yards of 8-pound test) the 2500-XH will find its way onto many inshore- and bass-boat decks alike.
$179 | daiwa.com
Lew’s Custom Pro Speed Spin TLC1000
The Pro Speed Spin is a 1000-series reel with a 5.2:1 gear ratio and 90-yard/6-pound-test capacity. Testers agreed it is best suited for the smallest of bait presentations. The reel is loaded with features, like 12 stainless ball bearings, a stainless steel main shaft, Winn Dri-Tac handle and sealed carbon drag. Given its size, the TLC1000 could be fished down to 4-pound-test clear lines without any fuss.
$129 | lews.com
Quantum Accurist 30
The Accurist is an entry-level offering from Quantum, and it was the second least-expensive reel we tested. It has a 5.2:1 retrieve ratio, fast enough for fishing all but the most quickly cadenced lures. We liked the corrosion control on the Accurist, which makes this reel a good candidate for crossover use.
$79 | quantumfishing.com
Shimano Vanford 2500HG
The Vanford is the latest spinning reel from Shimano, and it has all of the top-shelf features found on other Shimano models. A cold-forged main gear is at the heart of this reel, one that is arguably the strongest in the business. Shimano’s corrosion protection is second to none, allowing this reel to be used in both freshwater and saltwater.
$229 | fish.shimano.com
Ugly Stik Ugly Tuff SP30
The design mantra on the Ugly Tuff was ruggedness, no doubt. It’s built like a tank. The Ugly Tuff spinner does exactly what it was designed to—cast and retrieve line in an almost indestructible manner. With a 6.2:1 gear ratio, the Ugly Tuff is plenty fast for all baits, and it has a decent drag. And yes, we double-dare anyone to break this reel.
$54 | purefishing.com
THE TACKLE TEST TEAM
- Dr. Todd A. Kuhn is Game & Fish’s South region editor. He holds a Ph.D. in environmental engineering and has 18 U.S. patents for outdoor gear. He’s been fishing for more than 50 years.
- Capt. Jamie Harris, a fishing tackle gearhead in the truest sense, has been fishing for more than 40 years and guiding for 20 years. He is considered a master of Florida’s St. John’s River and Mosquito Lagoon.
- Ken Duke is a regular contributor to Game & Fish and is the managing editor of Fishing Tackle Retailer. He has authored several books on bass fishing, and his work has appeared in more than 50 publications.
- Lee Sisson is a living legend in the bass fishing world. Working with Bagley Bait Company in the 1970s and ’80s, he created the first deep-diving crankbaits. Sisson qualified for and fished a season on the Bassmaster Elite Series at the age of 62.