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Updated May 5, 2023 10:47 AM
Spincast reels—also known as “push button” or “closed face” reels—get a bad rap. That’s largely the result of the fact that, unlike most “serious” tackle like spinning reels or baitcasting reels, many of them come in cellophane-coated packages that require a staple remover to fully unravel it. Their image isn’t bolstered by the fact that some of them come adorned with various cartoon characters and Barbie, although that clearly helps their sales numbers.
What these reels have going for them, however, is nostalgia. Just about every freshwater angler caught his or her first fish on spincasting gear, and whether it was a finger-length bluegill, a stocked hatchery trout, or a small bass, that’s a special moment. Fortunately, manufacturers haven’t left their development in the dust, and while you may need to search a little to find one that’ll serve your needs, there are a surprising number of quality products out there.
Not every manufacturer has remained in this realm, but enough have so that there’s a fair amount of competition, both in terms of price and features.
How We Picked the Best Spincast Reels
When making my selections, I opted for reels that relied more on their internal quality than flashy graphics to get anglers’ attention. Each of these reels is a serious fishing tool and will perform well on the water. Learning the nuts and bolts of a reel will help you make the best choice. Here are the criteria I based my selections on:
- Construction: What type of materials is this reel made out of? Spincasters get a bad rap for being “junkie” or “toys.” With that in mind, I looked for reels made out of solid material and ones that have good corrosion resistance.
- Durability: Can this reel withstand the elements and how I fish? Anglers need fishing reels that can not only survive the elements they fish in but also thrive in them. I chose reels that can excel in tough conditions and can still take a beating when the kids pick up the rod.
- Brand: Has this manufacturer proven themselves over the years? I also based my selections on brand and reputation. A known brand is popular for a reason, and that’s because they make quality gear. My picks come from all reputable companies.
- Price: Is this reel worth it? I also considered price when making my selections. I wanted to make sure the reel matched the price, and these picks all do.
Best Spincast Reels: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Zebco 33
- Weight: 8.5 ounces
- Line Capacity: 120 yards of 10 lb. test
- Gear Ratio: 4.1:1
- Two colors available
- Reasonable price point
- Widely available
Zebco has taken this longtime proven winner and repeatedly made it into a more technologically advanced platform, with all sorts of features found in more expensive reels. These include a highly adjustable drag, all-metal gears, a lightweight graphite frame, and anti-reverse. The Zebco 33 even has a handle that can be switched from one side of the reel to the other in case your child or intended recipient needs it switched—critical for youngsters whose hand preference may still be developing.
This is a reel that the spincasting empire has been built upon, and you can’t go wrong with it. If for some reason you do, or the recipient turns out to prefer a different type of tackle or outgrows it, the investment is minimal. It can be passed down to the next generation. It’s not fancy, but it’s more than functional, and each new owner continues an enduring history and significance.
Best for Crappie: Daiwa Underspin US XD
- Weight: 5.5 ounces, 9.2 ounces, 10.8 ounces
- Line Capacity: 4/85, 8/75, 12/100
- Gear Ratio: 4.1:1 and 4.3:1
- Soft-touch handle knob
- Both left and right handed retrieve
- Reasonably priced
- It might be better off just getting a spinning reel
The Underspin US XD is an outlier in the world of “push button” reels as it doesn’t have a button at all. Instead, it has a trigger that you grip with your finger and let go to make the cast happen. Crappie fanatics have been mounting underspin reels on spinning—or fly—rods forever, taking advantage of the reel’s ability to toss lightweight baits and their jigging performance. It’s a great tool for skipping one of the best crappie lures under overhanging cover and making short pitch casts, but it can also bomb a lure out a country mile.
Daiwa has crammed many features into the three different sizes of this low-slung reel, including remarkably rugged metal gearing and a high-quality drag. The two larger versions of the Underspin have the drag mechanism in the rear, and the smallest model has a front drag. This Daiwa reel has the same housing as a traditional above-the-rod spincasting reel, but the positioning and trigger mechanism will make some love it and others hate it. Daiwa has held most of the space in this distinct category for decades, so there must be some strong advocates.
Best for Bass Fishing: Abu-Garcia Max Pro
- Weight: 8.4 ounces
- Line Capacity: 8/110
- Gear Ratio: 3.6:1
- 4 Ball Bearings
- Multi-Disc Drag System
- Sharp appearance
This professional-looking reel takes basic spincasting to the next level. It’s something that can be used on larger species for children (and adult beginners) who’ve graduated from panfish and want to target much larger and stronger species like bass.
Like Zebco, Abu-Garcia continues to offer multiple models of spincasting reels with various features. Not as an afterthought but as a serious part of their overall lineup. That means you don’t need to choose between a baseline model or an advanced reel. This will handle a variety of situations for children and beginning adults alike. It can serve many purposes, in freshwater and saltwater, and it bridges generations. There’s no need to discard it when you become a “serious” angler.
Best for Beginners: Ugly Stik Ugly Tuff
- Weight: 9.9 ounces, 12.6 ounces, 21 ounces
- Line Capacity: 6/90, 12/100, 20/145
- Gear Ratio: 3.2:1, 3.5:1, 3.8:1
- Extremely durable
- Larger sizes than most spincast reels
- Three stainless steel ball bearings
- Heavier components and construction may result in fatigue
Shakespeare, a legendary name in the fishing tackle business, beefed up everything about the three models of spincasting reels in this stalwart series. From the instant anti-reverse to the heavy-duty drags to the three stainless steel ball bearings. The reel is made to take a brutal beating and still perform at the highest possible level.
Anyone who remembers the Ugly Stik rod ads of a generation ago knows that this is a brand that made its mark built not only on performance but also on reliability under extreme stress. That made their legacy products some of the best-selling in fishing history. This reel continues in that lineage admirably, and if treated even halfway decently, it should survive a nuclear apocalypse and, like these best kids fishing poles, it’s great for young anglers.
Best for Tournament Use: Zebco Bullet
- Weight: 13.9 ounces
- Line Capacity: 10/90
- Gear Ratio: 5.1:1
- Fastest in-class gear ratio
- 9 total bearings
- Slip-resistant knobs
This very fast and very durable reel is made for species beyond small and simple panfish. With nine total bearings, an all-metal construction, and solid brass gears—it can handle bigger and meaner fish. All of these premium components add up to a tool that’s ready for big bass – whether you’re introducing a child to their first tournament or taking it out for your own specialized needs.
Purists may laugh, but closed-face reels may have a place in tournament competition. Indeed, past Bassmaster Classic winner Woo Daves often used them, specifically for skipping soft plastic lures under boat docks and duck blinds. Many earlier products may not have had the heft to extract a big bass from heavy cover, but this reel is up to the task. Try it in places where you’ve historically used a beefed-up spinning reel or a winch-like baitcasting reel, and you may move forward without skipping a beat.
What to Consider When Choosing a Spincast Reel
Make sure you understand exactly what a spincast reel is before you buy one. Spincasters operate differently than spinning or baitcasting reels, and are often viewed as starter reels because of their easy-to-use nature. But modern models with upgraded components perform just as well as their revolving and stationary spool counterparts in a variety of fishing situations.
Determine what type of angling you plan to do. Are you looking to get someone into fishing? Are you planning to pursue bass? Fish competitively? Do you need to make a long cast? All of these questions will point you in the right direction when it comes time to make a decision on a reel. You couldn’t chase tuna with a spincaster, but they can handle many freshwater applications. If you’re after panfish, perch, trout, and bass, a spincast reel will work swimmingly.
You should also consider your fishing style when buying a reel. Will you be burning baits back to the boat? Throwing topwaters? Finesse fishing? Maybe just fishing for bluegills from the dock? This thought process will also help you consider gear ratio and drag—two crucial elements in a fishing reel. Each situation is different, but there is probably a spincasting reel that can handle it.
Q: What is the fastest spincast reel?
The Zebco Bullet has a 5.1:1 gear ratio, which due to spool size is actually faster than some 6:1 reels. It picks up 29.6 inches of line per turn of the handle.
Q: Which Zebco 33 is the best?
The Zebco 33 Platinum is the most advanced model in the series. It has 4 stainless steel bearings and an all-metal body, which is why it costs more than some other Zebco 33 reels.
Q: Do pro fishermen use spincast reels?
Many pro fishermen started off with spincast reels, but few use them in competition. There are a few occasions where they excel for certain presentations, like skipping a lure without tangling or backlashing.
Final Thoughts on the Best Spincast Reels
There is a surprisingly vibrant and varied market for spincast reels, which means they’re not necessarily “starter” reels anymore. Just as with other types of tackle, there are specific reels for specific purposes, and many of them are closer to Swiss timepieces than to toys. Continue to think of them as “kids gear” at your own peril, although they remain the best way to bring a youngster into the sport.
Why Trust Us
For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.