Shimano has been a legendary name in the fishing reel game for decades – and for good reason – they manufacture some of the best spinning reels on the market and offer a solid selection at nearly every price point.
Head down to your nearest fishing spot and take a quick look at what brand spinning reels people are using. In all likelihood, you’re going to find the Shimano brand etched onto the majority of their reels.
As Shimano makes a wide selection of different spinning reels, selecting the ideal one for your needs can be a tricky task. I’ll break down the best Shimano spinning reels for various use cases, price points, and different features.
Quick Answer: 8 Best Shimano Spinning Reels
- Best Overall: Shimano Vanford F
- Best Inshore Reel: Shimano Stradic FL
- Best Offshore Reel: Shimano Stella SW C
- Also Consider: Shimano Saragosa SW A
- Best Bass/Freshwater Spinning Reel: Shimano Stella FJ
- Best Surf Casting Reel: Shimano Ultegra XTD Surf Reel
- Best Value: Shimano Sedona Fi
- Budget Pick: Shimano Sienna FG
You’re probably already aware of Shimano’s outsized presence in the fishing reel market, but you may not know just how many modern fishing innovations are due to the brilliant work of Shimano’s fishing department.
The Shimano brand has been around for just over 100 years founded all the way back in 1921. Back then the brand was focused on manufacturing bicycle parts, which it still does to this day. In 1970, the fishing tackle division was founded, with the purpose of promoting public health through outdoor activity.
Within a short period of time, Shimano reels became synonymous with Japanese quality and innovation. Many of the innovations developed by Shimano’s engineers and designers are still used in their reels to this day.
Some of the innovations developed by Shimano over the years are:
- Hagane gearing. This process uses cold forging to produce a gear that is exceptionally strong, durable, and precise. It protects the internals from damage and reduces flex and distortion.
- Micro module gears. These gears use state-of-the-art teeth, and feature sound-reducing and vibration-reducing designs based on advanced analysis.
- X-Ship. X-Ship increases gear durability by supporting the pinion gear at both ends of the bearings. This results in a gear that won’t budge no matter how much stress or load it’s under.
- X-Shield. X-Shield takes water-resistance to the next level, with sealing gaskets in 12 critical locations throughout the reel body. This ensures the reel can hold up to the toughest offshore conditions.
- X-Drag. This advancement repositions the reel handle closer to the body of the reel. This results in increased leverage, rigidity, and torque.
Best Overall: Shimano Vanford F
Descended from a rich pedigree of high-performance reels, the Shimano Vanford replaces the legendary Stradic CI4+. It boasts many of the same features as its beloved predecessor but is constructed from a high-end carbon that’s 2.5 times more rigid than the original while being significantly lighter and smaller.
The reel features a super-responsive MagnumLite rotor for unprecedented light rotation. The rotor profile is now asymmetrical – which creates up to 48% less rotational inertia than traditional rotors. This results in a reel that’s extraordinarily sensitive to the lightest touch.
Equally at home in saltwater as it is in fresh, the Vanford is as close to a do-it-all reel as you can get. X-protect technology and water channeling construction ensure this reel is at home fishing both saltwater flats and freshwater lakes.
Like Shimano’s higher-end models, the reel features exceptional cold-forged Hagane gearing. This gives you incredibly smooth operation while being highly durable and damage-resistant. Silentdrive and MicroModule Gear II technology combine to produce a butter-smooth operation with minimal vibration.
Shimano offers the reel in a variety of different sizes, with either 6+1 or 7+1 ball bearings.
- Available in sizes: 500, 1000, 2500, 4000, and 5000
- Highly versatile reel is at home in both fresh and saltwater
- Features Hagane gearing, MagnumLite rotor, and silentdrive
- Rock-solid, lightweight high-carbon CI4+ construction
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Best Inshore Reel: Shimano Stradic FL
One of the great things about Shimano is the constant improvements and iterations they apply to their spinning reels. The Stradic FL is the perfect example of this.
The reel features the latest and greatest goodies from Shimano, including cold-forged Hagane gearing, MicroModule Gear II with silentdrive, and X-Ship pinion gear support system to ensure perfect gear mesh at all times. X-Protect water-repellent coating along with water channeling ensure a lifetime of performance while preventing saltwater penetration in key areas.
These features make it an ideal inshore reel, as well as being more than capable of handling any freshwater species. The 6+1 bearing system features six shielded stainless steel ball bearings plus a super stopper II anti-reverse roller bearing, which combine to provide ultra-smooth rotation.
The reel is offered in a range of sizes (1000, 2500, 3000, 4000, and 5000), with sizes 3000 and up featuring the highly customizable Cross Carbon Drag system.
- Ideal reel for a wide variety of inshore species
- Hagane gears provide extraordinarily smooth operation
- Excellent Cross Carbon Drag system (on sizes 3000 and up)
- 6+1 shielded stainless steel ball bearings
- X-Ship pinion gear enhances casting performance and durability under stress
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Best Offshore Reel: Shimano Stella SW C
The crown jewel in Shimano’s impressive lineup, the Stella is as good as it gets in terms of performance, durability, and raw power. It’s the cream of the crop when it comes to serious offshore reels, providing the stiffness, torque, and drag needed to haul up monster fish from the depths.
Shimano’s packed the reel with just about every one of their latest innovations, so you’ll be light years ahead of the competition. The all-metal Hagane body is extraordinarily rigid, giving you the backbone needed to handle serious offshore battles.
Like other high-end Shimano reels, the cold-forged Hagane gearing provides incredible durability and smoothness. An impressive 13+1 bearing system with S-ARB stainless steel ball bearings provide a silky smooth retrieve, even when it’s under heavy load.
Infinity drive technology optimizes winding torque by 26%, while silent drive tech completely eliminates winding noise.
One of the most impressive features is the all-new Heatsink drag system, which actively transfers heat away from the spool during heavy runs, which reduces the spool temperature by up to 100°F. This allows the excellent X-Tough Drag system to work flawlessly. The max drag ranges between 24 and 55 pounds, depending on the reel size.
If you’re looking for a serious saltwater spinning reel that can handle tuna, marlin, sharks, and other giants, you’ll have a tough time beating this gorgeous reel.
- Rigid Hagane body eliminates flex and increases cranking efficiency
- Impressive 13+1 S-ARB stainless steel ball bearings
- All new heat sink technology actively transfers away heat from the spool
- Infinity drive system improves winding torque
- IPX8 certified waterproof
- X-protect and X-shield guard your reel from the harsh saltwater environment
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Also Consider: Shimano Saragosa SW A
Featuring many of the same cutting-edge innovations as the flagship Stella model, but a more reasonable price point, the Saragosa makes an excellent option for those looking for an offshore spinning reel. It features a lightweight and flex-free Hagane body that won’t flex under immense loads – which is exactly what you need when fishing for large offshore game fish.
IPX8 waterproofing provides long-lasting durability without sacrificing performance, while the X-protect, water channeling, and labyrinth construction provide high-level water resistance no matter how rugged the conditions get out on the water. Infinity drive improves winding torque by 30%, resulting in an incredibly smooth and quick retrieve.
Like its big brother, the Saragosa features exceptional cold-forged Hagane Gears – giving you precision meshed gears with incredibly tight tolerances – virtually eliminating flex. 5+1 or 6+1 S-ARB shielded anti-rust ball bearings provide smooth operation, while the X-Tough cross carbon drag system gives you the muscle needed to take down the meanest bluewater predators.
- Ideal offshore saltwater reel
- IPX8 waterproof with sealed bearings
- Powerful X-Tough drag system
- Hagane body and gearing
- Infinity drive greatly improves winding torque
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Best Bass/Freshwater Spinning Reel: Shimano Stella FJ
While it certainly ain’t cheap, if you’re looking for the best of the best freshwater/bass reel, you’ll have a tough time beating the state-of-the-art Shimano Stella FJ. It’s packed with many of the unique features that make Shimano’s reels really stand out from the crowd.
With butter-smooth gearing, the reel offers unparalleled smoothness, along with whisper-quiet operation that won’t give away your position. Advanced MicroModule Gear II technology features gear surfaces with extraordinary close meshing – increasing durability, winding power, and minimizing flex.
The 12+1 S-ARB bearings provide liquid-smooth operation, while the rock-solid Rigid Support Drag assembly gives you an exceptional range of drag settings. X-Protect provides excellent corrosion-resistance, increasing water resistance by a factor of 5.
Shimano offers the reel in five sizes ranging from 1000 up to 5000, so you can easily find the ideal one for your fishing needs. While the reel is primarily intended for freshwater use, it can also be used in saltwater with some basic maintenance.
- One of the smoothest spinning reels on the market
- Whisper-quiet operation
- State-of-the-art micro module II gearing
- 12+1 S-ARB ball bearings provide a liquid-smooth retrieve
- X-Protect increases water resistance by a factor of 5
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Best Surf Casting Reel: Shimano Ultegra XTD Surf Reel
Ideal for the serious surf caster, the Ultegra XTD is optimized for maximum casting distance, without sacrificing power or control when landing your fish. Slow oscillation (5500 model) or super slow oscillation (14000 model) give you the distance needed to deliver free-running ultra-long casts into the surf.
The inline spool position means the spool is aligned completely parallel with the rod, which allows the line to flow freely from the spool to the first guide. This helps minimize friction, which further increases casting distance. A new spool lip design reduces backlashes and knots, while also helping with casting efficiency.
The G-Free body design shifts the reel’s center of gravity closer to the rod. This helps to reduce fatigue and increases comfort when casting. Instant drag on the front drag knob enables quick adjustments – allowing you to switch from your current drag setting to free spool in a quick half-turn.
Both models (size 5500 and 14000) come with a spare spool and 3 line spacers, so you can have multiple line setups at your fingertips.
- Purpose-built for the serious surf caste
- Slow oscillation (5500) and super slow oscillation (14000) increase casting distance
- Inline spool position
- X-Ship technology for maximum gear durability
- Includes spare spool and 3 line-reduction spacers
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Best Value: Shimano Sedona Fi
If you’re looking for high-end performance Shimano performance without breaking the bank, then look no further, the Sedona is the reel for you. It features many of the cutting-edge advancements of higher-priced Shimano spinning reels, but at a price point that anyone can afford.
Hagane cold-forged gears give the reel a major step up from other reels at this price point, while the G-Free body shift’s the reel’s center of gravity closer to the rod. This reduces fatigue and increases comfort while casting and jigging.
Double-anodized machine cut spools offer increased line capacity while keeping the overall reel footprint to a minimum. The propulsion line management system helps to increase casting distance while preventing backlashes and wind knots from forming.
A 3+1 ball bearing system gives you smooth, trouble-free operation, while the drag system is surprisingly good.
Shimano offers the reel in a wide variety of sizes, so you can find an ideal reel for everything from light freshwater panfish to heavy-duty offshore species.
- Impressive performance at an affordable price point
- Hagane cold-forged gears
- G-Free body shifts the reel’s center of gravity closer to the rod
- 3+1 bearing system
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Budget Pick: Shimano Sienna FG
Sometimes you don’t need all the bells and whistles, and just want a simple reel that will get the job done. This is where the Sienna excels.
You don’t often find quality reels in the low-end category – but this reel is a diamond in the rough. It incorporates Shimano’s excellent propulsion line management system, which increases casting distance and efficiency.
Super Stopper II provides instant anti-reverse with no backplay, while its ample line capacity ensures you can handle just about anything that comes your way. 3+1 ball bearings offer surprisingly smooth operation, giving the feel of a much pricier reel.
The Sienna makes a great little panfish and bass reel and is actually one of the best size 500 reels on the market.
- Highly affordable reel performs above its weight class
- Propulsion line management system and super stopper II
- Excellent line capacity
- Solid and smooth 3+1 ball bearing system
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How to pick the right Shimano spinning reel
Shimano offers spinning reels for just about every price point and use case, so narrowing it down to just one can be a tricky task. This is especially true if your new to fishing and don’t have a solid grasp on all the jargon and marketing terminology.
Keep in mind there isn’t a single ‘best’ reel for everyone.
Think of it like buying a vehicle – you wouldn’t buy a one-ton pickup truck if all you’re doing is taking the kids to soccer practice. The same goes for spinning reels. You’ll want to match the size, power, drag, and features to the fishing you’re planning on doing.
Let’s take a look at some of the key features to consider when narrowing down your reel selection.
The first thing you’ll want to consider is what size reel you’ll need.
Larger reels will feature more line capacity, higher max drags, and more ball bearings. If you’re after large offshore species, you’ll need a significantly larger reel size than if you were targeting freshwater panfish.
Reel sizes are normally rated in a number between 1000 and 25000+. Size 1000 reels are generally ideal for targeting small fish like bluegill, perch, and crappie, while size 25000 provides the muscle needed to tackle bluewater beasts like tuna, marlin, and wahoo.
A reel’s gear ratio refers to how many times the bail rotates around the spool for one turn of the reel handle. So for example, a reel with a 4:1 gear ratio means the bail will rotate around the spool four times for each complete rotation of the handle.
For spinning reels, a 4:1 ratio is considered a slow reel, 5:1 is medium, while a 6:1 ratio is considered a high speed retrieve.
You might be wondering why you would opt for a slow retrieve over a fast one. Well, a reel with a slow retrieve also has more torque, which increases its ability to crank in large, hard-charging fish.
Drag refers to the level of resistance your reel applies to the fishing line when under stress. Max drag is the maximum amount of drag that can be applied to your line by a given reel (although the actual maximum is often lower than the stated one).
Max drag is typically highly correlated to reel size. Larger reels will feature higher max drags, as this is needed to fight bigger fish.
For smaller panfish, bass, and trout, a 7-pound max drag should be more than sufficient. If you’re after larger freshwater game, like pike, musky, or big cats, 15 to 20 pounds of max drag will get the job done nicely. Larger offshore species will require the highest max drags – with 50+ max drags commonly used by many anglers.
Reels used primarily for trolling will also require more max drag than ones for casting or jigging.
Another important feature to keep in mind is a reel’s line capacity. You want to tailor your reel to your target species and fishing environment.
So, if you’re fishing in shallow freshwater environments, you’ll need much less line capacity than if you were offshore trolling for Mahi-Mahi.
Line capacity is typically given in an ‘X/Y’ number rating. The X number refers to the line’s pound test, while the Y number refers to the length of line in yards that the spool will hold for that line.
So for example, a reel rated to 8/240 could hold 240 yards of 8-pound test line. As you might expect, as you increase the line test, the line capacity decreases. So, the same reel might hold 10/200 and 12/170.
Whenever your fishing in saltwater environments, good waterproofing, and corrosion resistance become a must. Look for a high IPX rating to indicate a level of waterproofing.
For saltwater fishing, IPX 5, 6, and 7 are all sufficient, but if you’re looking for the best you’ll want to go with an IPX8 rated reel.
Shimano offers several corrosion-resistant technologies in their spinning reels, so be on the lookout for reels featuring X-Ship and X-Protect.
We all want the latest and greatest fishing reel, but if you want the best, you’ve gotta be prepared to pay for it. Top-of-the-line Shimano spinning reels like Stella FJ and the Stella SWC can set you back over $1000, but you’ll be getting an absolute unit of a reel that performs like a fine Swiss timepiece.
Of course, if you’re just looking for a solid performing reel that’ll get the job done for a reasonable price, Shimano’s got you covered as well. In my opinion, they manufacture the best value reels on the market, so you can still get a really solid reel for a respectable price.