This is our guide to explain how each fishing reel and product in general achieved the score that it did. Breaking down the pros and cons of every product in a comparable quantitative method can be difficult, especially when the products are extremely different.
A good example of this, and something that I will continue to use throughout this guide would be the difference between a $50 panfish reel and a $1000 electric game-fishing reel. How could the small, cheap reel ever compare to the heavy duty option?
Well, it certainly can and it all comes down to purpose.
The scoring method is all based on the intended purpose of each product. If the small reel is absolutely perfect for catching panfish, then it can get a higher score than the $1000 alternative that is overpriced and doesn’t have the same features of more similar alternatives.
Each product is scored based on 3 primary metrics – performance, durability, and value for money. The average of these is then used as the overall score.
All metrics are scored out of 5.
Each product cannot be scored on their own, they are scored comparatively to alternate products with the same purpose. For example, all ultralight spinning reels will be scored at one time so that the features and current cost can be taken into consideration.
Let’s dive into the individual metrics.
The performance score is how well does this reel fulfill its primary purpose on the water. Does it have all of the features and optional extras that you need to catch the target species.
If the max drag is lower than the size of the fish you are targetting, then it can’t get a high performance score.
In the above panfish reel vs electric reel case study, the panfish reel could get a 5/5 as long as it has sufficient line capacity, drag, and retrieve rate so that you have the highest chance of reeling in a bluegill every time. But the electric reel on the other hand would need a high quality LED screen that is visible in direct sunlight with automatic retrieve options, and depth display.
The purpose of these reels is very different so the features they require to achieve a full performance score is different.
Another example would be surf rods – the main purpose of a surf rod is to cast your bait out past the breaking waves into the environment of the target species, so the casting distance would have a larger impact on its performance score compared to a boat or trolling rod.
1/5 – In the unlikely event that a fish strikes your hook, it is almost impossible that you will land that fish. Think of landing a marlin with a kids reel.
2/5 – Typically an entry level reel without any features. Just a spool with a handle. Sure, you can catch fish with it but you will be spending more time going home empty handed.
3/5 – A solid reel that will do the job. It doesn’t have all of the features, but a savvy angler doesn’t need them anyway.
4/5 – A great reel that you shouldn’t have any issues in buying. It has some features but not everything. It will perform well under all conditions, but it doesn’t have all of the latest technology that you couldn’t understand anyway.
5/5 – Every time a fish strikes the hook you have as high a probability of landing that fish as possible. It must also have sufficient features to maximize the ability to put your bait in desirable locations. This reel has all of the bells and whistles.
Durability refers to how long the product will continue functioning. This is both the materials of construction, the quality of the construction, and the servicing requirements.
A good example of this is the difference between drag washers. Oil felt drag washers perform just as well as HT-100 but they deteriorate over time, so a reel that requires servicing to replace the oil felt drag washers cannot score as highly as HT-100.
Another example is saltwater resistance. This again comes down to purpose – a reel designed for freshwater fishing won’t be punished because it doesn’t have the saltwater resistance components. It is suited to its purpose.
When it comes to saltwater resistance, shielded ball bearings get a lower score than sealed ball bearings.
There are also bonus points for manufacturers warranty – some of Shimano’s reels have 10 year warranties, which really gives confidence in the long term durability of that particular product.
1/5 – This reel will break the first time you use it. Heavy on plastic and low on effort.
2/5 – An entry level reel without any bells and whistles. It won’t break straight away, but you will notice a degradation in performance over time. Next time you open it up you might find sand present.
3/5 – While this reel may still perform well today, it might not in 2 years time. A reel with oil felt drag washers and shielded ball bearings falls into this category.
4/5 – High quality reels that will last for years to come. High quality components and manufactured well. Any servicing is just a flush a freshwater. You can’t go wrong with this reel.
5/5 – Made from the highest quality components, precision cut gears, 10 year manufacturers warranty, and no servicing required. This is a reel that you can fully submerge in sandy, salty water and still catch fish. It can also handle bumps and drops – Charter fisherman should focus on 5 star options.
Value for Money Score
The final aspect of the scoring system is the price, or more specifically the value for money. The most expensive reel available can still be good value for money if it comes with superior performance and will last for a lifetime. In the same way, the cheapest reel can be poor value for money if you only get one cast before it breaks.
Value for money is really a comparison against the closest alternative products, both by the same manufacturer and other brands.
It can really be summarized as – Do the features justify the price?
1/5 – Extremely overpriced for the features present. Also has a low expected life which really increased the cost per use. Buying this product would be throwing money away.
2/5 – Overpriced for the features included. Difficult to justify buying this product unless it goes on sale. Start looking for lower priced alternatives that have the same or similar features.
3/5 – Similar priced to competitor options. You aren’t getting ripped off and aren’t getting a deal. This product is suitable priced.
4/5 – A great deal. Cheaply priced compared to alternative brands. You can happily click the buy button on this product.
5/5 – An absolute bargain. Regardless of whether it has all of the bells and whistles, this product’s price is significantly lower than the comparable alternatives.
And finally the average of the 3 scores in performance, durability, and value for money is used to give the overall score of each product reviewed.