What fishing reel is the best?
It’s a easy question that unfortunately doesn’t have a simple answer. I can already hear the Shimano fans shouting STELLA! Daiwa fans yelling SALTIGA! and the Penn men screaming TORQUE! Although you have to admit that if anyone is going to do any screaming, it would have to be a STELLA… Yes I’m a Shimano fan, but don’t worry I will try and be as objective as possible! Even if I wanted to be bias, stats don’t lie (although websites do) and I can only report on what I see.
I once asked a wine maker what the best wine was, and she said: “The best wine is the one that tastes the best to you”. In almost the same words, I can answer my own question by saying that the best reel is probably the one that is the best for you and your needs. In saying that, I mean the best for your application, and that’s where it gets a bit more complicated…
Lets do the simple WHAT, WHERE and HOW… What fish do you want to catch? Where do you plan on catching these fish? How do you plan on catching these fish? For this particular exercise, lets say I want to catch medium sized edibles that frequent estuaries and shallow bays. I will mainly be throwing lures but would also like to do bait fishing from time to time. The reel I’m looking for must therefor be light and easy to handle, have a capable drag, a fast retrieve, good line capacity and have some resistance to salt water . I would therefor go for a spinning reel of medium size. But which one… there are so many?
In South Africa we have three main brands when it comes to fishing equipment, Daiwa, Penn and Shimano. All these brands manufacture basically two main types of reels, fixed spool or spinning reels and conventional or multiplier reels. Most of these reels differ in prices from R500 to more than R15 000.00, each! We will be looking at everything medium, medium reels that is medium priced. Remember just because a reel is more expensive doesn’t necessarily garentee that you will catch more fish. The fish don’t care!
Deciding what type of reel you want is the easy part! Its picking up the right BRAND of reel that makes things foggy. Believe me, a debate over the best tackle brand can get more fiery than a Bulls vs Stormers debate at 3am!
I tried to come up with some sort of formula that will level the playing field and show us which reels are the best out there compared to others of the same size. I call it… the Tackle Choice Matrix (TCM)… can I get a drum solo? Slow clap? No one? Ok, lets move on swiftly…
There is no use trying to compare a Saragosa SW 10 000 with a Sahara FI 1000. Neither does it help to compare a Shimano 5000 with a Penn 5000. There is no set size standard and each brand has its own system. However you have to compare apples with apples and a medium 5000 sized Shimano is sort of the same size as a 3000/3500 Daiwa and a 3500/4000 Penn.
There are basically 5 main primary/specification factors to consider when making a reel choice. Most of the information is available on various websites or on reel boxes and can easily be obtained. They are:
- Drag – Smoothness is actually more important than actual drag strength. But it also doesn’t help if you cant turn a fish around when his heading for some structure. The higher the better. Although I think at some point it doesn’t matter any more, I don’t think you really need more than 20lbs of drag in a medium spinning reel.
- Line Capacity – The more the better. Again I feel that at some point its not relevant any more. I honestly don’t think you need more than 220-250 yards, but you never know…
- Bearings – I’m not technical at all, but the way I understand it, the more bearings the smoother a reel feels when reeling. Therefore the more the better.
- Gear ratio – The higher the ratio the quicker you will retrieve your end tackle. Because I will be throwing lures from time to time I would like a higher gear ratio. Some might prefer more torque and a lower gear ratio. Usually you get lower ratios in bigger reels.
- Weight – Throwing lures all day with a heavy reel is taxing. The less/lighter the reel the better.
For the purpose of the calculation I decided to give each of the 5 factors a equal weight of 20% out of a total of 100%. Sure, certain factors might be more important than others to you. So you can tweak it to YOUR requirements and help you make a better decision for YOUR needs. The amount of bearings for instance might not be that big a factor to you and you would prefer a stronger drag system (so you will lower the factor of the bearings to 10% and raise the factor of the drag to 30%).
After I established the weight that each of the 5 main factors should carry, I completed the ratings for each individual reel. This info was supplied from the various brands websites. It is a known fact that tackle manufacturers don’t always tell the whole truth, but for this exercise though I accepted that all info was 100% correct.
I took all the individual reels rating and added them up to get a total for each of the 5 factor lines. Then I made a simple calculation by taking the rating for each individual reel and divided the rating with the total of each line. I then multiplied the answer with the weight it carries to determine a TCM score for each individual reels rating. For example the Fin Nor Lethal LT40 has a 23lb drag rating and will therefor have a 3.28 (23/140.20 x 20%) TCM score for its drag compared to the other reels (see below table).
If you then add up all the TCM scores for each reels column you will quickly see which reels are more superior. Keep in mind that the TCM score for weight has to be deducted because less is more.
Have a look at the below table for reels that cost R1500 or less:
Drag – The Okuma Azores Z40S has the biggest drag of 28lbs and a 3.99 TCM score compared to the other reels.
Line Capacity – The Fin Nor LT40 has the highest line capacity and scores 4.24. This is quite significant if you compare it to the Penn Battle2. Usually with more line capacity comes more weight since the spool has to be bigger. But the Fin Nor is 365g compared to the Penn Battle2 that weighs 363g but only have an capacity of 20lb/185y.
Bearings – It’s a draw between the Lethal and the Azores. They score 3.5 each.
Gear Ratio – There is a couple of reals with a 6.2 ratio.
Weight – Both the Shimanos are winners with weights of 301g each and a score of -2.58.
The winner and most superior reel is the Okuma Azores with a total TCM score of 10.84. Fin Nor is a close second on 10.44, followed by the Shimanos, Daiwa and then the Penns. You might argue that the Penn reel are smaller than the other reels but if you look at their weight they seem to be in the correct category.
Interestingly the Shimano Nasci and Sahara seems to be exactly the same reels. They have the exact same ratings and score exactly the same. I couldn’t understand this, but when I noticed that the Nasci was more expensive I knew there must be some other difference. After I dug a little deeper I discovered that the Nasci has stainless steel ball bearings and core protect. This makes the Nasci a better buy if you plan on fishing in estuaries since it is better protected against salt water.
That brings us to the 2 part of the Tackle Choice Matrix. The Secondary Factors to consider.
Unfortunately choosing a reel by only looking at the primary factors doesn’t give you the full picture. There are other “less” important secondary factors to consider. They are more difficult to score because they are not exactly measurable and will more or less depend on personal preference. Which is fine, because after all, its your money doing the buying. The 5 secondary factors are:
*Brand – The main brands that we know are Shimano, Daiwa and Penn. But there are also other brands like Abu Garcia, Fin Nor, Okuma and many others. Here you have to give the reels a score out of 10 for each brand. You might have more confidence in certain brands and dislike others. This is personal choice and you can therefor score your brands according to your preferences.
* Built – These days you don’t really get poorly built reels, they are all relatively well built and robust. However there are several additional things to consider:
- Where was the reel actually manufactured? Most of the Shimano products tend to be made in either Malaysia or Japan. Most of Penn gets manufactured in China.
- How is the reel sealed and and is it saltwater resistant.
- What is the bearings made of?
- Does it have a line clipper?
- What is the drag material made of. You basically get 2 types, felt and carbon. Felt is so 1995!
- Does it have a screw in handle (which is better) and what shape and is the handle knob (T-shape, Small Egg, Paddle) and what material is it made of?
- What is the spool design and does it allow for easy casting and limit wind knots?
- What is the frame constructed of, is it plastic, metal or some other material?
- Does it have anti reverse?
- Does it have a strong bail arm and is it manual or automatic?
Taking all listed into consideration here I gave the reels a mark out of 10.
*Feel – If you have an idea of what reels you want, go to a tackle shop and physically pick up some reels to get a “feel” for them. Some reels just feel more solid than others. Here I also scored the reels out of 10.
*Look – There is no such thing as an ugly reel! Apart from maybe the Zeebaas range, Yuck, they might be tough but they are not pretty… The overall look is important. You do not want to go fishing with something your to afraid to take out because of the comments you might get from your fishing buddy’s. Its bad for confidence.
When it comes to colour the current fashion is black and gold, which looks OK. My personal preference is silver with another colour or black and blue. The Shimano Symetre FL is green, which is not ideal.
*Price – Can you really put a price on a amazing piece of equipment? Not in my opinion! But in pressing times its a factor that you have to consider and might be more (or less) important to others. You can’t get around price, it is what it is. The price factor gets deducted, because less is more!
For the purpose of this explanation I gave the same weight of 20% for each of the 5 secondary factors and calculated the TCM score as explained above. Have a look at the below table:
Brand – Personally I am a big Shimano fan and have never had any problems with my Shimmis and therefore have high confidence in them. I score them a 8 out of 10, giving them a TCM score of 3.64.
From bad experiences in the past relating to bad service and waiting for parts that never arrived I have almost no confidence in Penn. However I have heard good things from them lately and score them a 6 alongside Daiwa. I don’t know much about Fin Nor and Okuma and therefore they score an average 5.
Built – It’s a draw between a couple of reels.
Feel – The Azores feels really solid and has a winning TCM score of 3.59.
Look – For me the Sahara and Nasci are the better looking reels and score at 3.26 each.
Price – The Feirce2 wins with -2.12 with the Azores on its heels with -2.15
The Azores again outscores the other reels with 9.91 followed by the Sahara with 9.45 and the Nasci with 9.40. Keep in mind the Shimano reels scored big with Brand and Look and the total score could have been a lot different if YOU scored the secondary factors differently.
After the Primary and Secondary totals have been determined, I then ad the two totals together to get a TCM TOTAL SCORE. I also took the total Primary TCM Score and divided it with the actual price to get a Price/Performance%.
The reel with the highest TCM Total Score is obviously the winner. In this case the Okuma Azores Z40S is the most superior reel. I was quite surprised and would never even have looked at the Okuma Azores until now, its actually a awesome reel. The Sahara FI is second followed by the Fin Nor in third.
The Price/Performance % is interesting because it compares the totals of the measurables. The total of the Primary Factors is divided by the actual price of the reel to give you an percentage. The higher this percentage is the better value for money you get. Again the Azores outscores every one with 117% followed by the Fin Nor LT40 on 87% and the Sahara on 86%.
So after all that… The best reel you can buy for a R1500 is the OKUMA AZORES Z40S (and it actually costs less than R1000)!
But what if some factors are more important to you than others? Fair question! Look at the table below:
Here we decide that the actual reel weight is the most important Primary Factor at 30%. We also want a smooth reel that’s fast and therefor Bearings and Gear ratio comes in at 20% each. Drag and Line Cap isn’t that important and carries a weight of 15% each.
For the secondary factors money isn’t an issue and is removed from the equation completely. Brand is very important at 40% and the rest is shared between Built, Feel and Look at 20% each.
Now we have different outcome and the winner is the Nasci with 22.95 followed by the Azores and the Fin Nor Lethal. The Azores is still the best value for money with a 83% price/performance %.
A Last Word:
The TCM is not an exact science. I tried to get a method to level the playing filed and compare different reels of the same size. It is open for discussion and debate. Even if you don’t agree with some things at least now you have a table for comparison!
In TCM – Brand vs Brand I will compare different reels of the same brand with each other and then against other brands to see which reels are the more superior in the medium spinning class.
Have a good one!