Penn, Shimano, and Daiwa are the heavy-hitting brands when it comes to spinning reels; these are almost certainly going to be among the ones you choose from when shopping for a new reel.  But what should you know about each brand? What should you check for in general? Here are a few tips.

shimano stella penn torque daiwa saltiga

Today's top models include the Shimano Stella, Penn Torque, and Daiwa Saltiga. These spinners cost big bucks, but offer high performance and longevity.

Penn Reels' top-end Torque, though very expensive, maintains the legendary Penn tank-like stature and can go head-to-head with any reel on the planet. Mid-range Penn models are relatively light, have excellent drag systems, and reasonable price tags, but they’re not as hardy as they once were. Inexpensive models in the line-up should only be purchased for light duty use, and you should expect their life-span to be limited.

Shimano fishing reels include a huge range of quality, with top-end models that are shockingly expensive. But you get what you pay for — these spinners feel like an extension of your body and hold up with hard use. Mid-range models like the Stratic offer better longevity and performance than many spinning reels at the top of other manufacturer’s line-ups and offer superb bang for the buck. Even their lower-end models are well-built and tend to last for years.

Daiwa spinning reels vary quite a bit; their high-end Saltiga is the most expensive reel mentioned here, and its quality is on par with its competitors; some guys feel it’s the best spinning reel around. But many of the lower-end Daiwa reels will prove disappointing if given hard duty.

Spinning Reel Shopping Tips:

1. Check how many ball-bearings a reel has — more equals smoother. Low-end reels have a few, mid-range reels usually have four or five, and top-end reels may have a dozen or more.

2. The higher the gear ratio, the more line you retrieve with every rotation of the handle.

3. Check maximum drag rating, to see if a reel can handle the type of fish you’re going after. Remember that drag setting should equal about one-third of a line’s stated pound-test.

4. Frame and spool construction are critical; aluminum flexes the least and lasts the longest, but weighs more than graphite.

5. If you fish with bait and sit your rod in a holder, look for spinning reels with a freespool function, made popular by the Shimano Baitrunner.

Check out the World's Best Fishing Rod, and the Best Conventional Reel.

For more information on spinning reels, see Fishing Reel Maintenance Tips.