The budget minded angler seemingly always has one question, “what is the best value baitcasting reel for $100?”. After comparing and researching 9 different reels that meet this $100 price point, using 6 of them, narrowing it down to the top 3 picks and extensively testing them to their limits, we have determined that the Abu Garcia Revo X is the best $100 reel for most people. Factoring in performance, drag, reliability and durability, the Revo X is the best all around reel for $100.
The baitcasting reel is arguably the most important tool in any anglers arsenal. With bass fishing growing exponentially, this creates a competitive market amongst reel manufacturers vying for your dollar. This is both a positive and a negative thing for us as the consumers. It’s good because we have options, plenty of options in fact, however, it is also bad because the consumer can be overwhelmed by the amount of options and unsure where their hard earned cash should go.
Enter First Cast Reviews to save the day! In the following text, we will give you our take on the best 100$ price point reel for most people. We will cover options for certain techniques and our pick for the best all around choice for you.
Top Pick: Abu Garcia Revo X
The Abu Garcia Revo X has been hugely popular amongst the budget angler and tournament angler alike. Combining Abu’s consistency, large manufacturing power, and solid engineering, the Revo X has been a hit at the $99 price point. This reel is not the best reel available on the market today, but for the price it boasts some noteworthy features. Not too long ago, an eight bearing system would put you easily into the $150 category, but with the flooding of budget anglers into the bass fishing market, a necessity for affordable and durable reels has driven prices down while still providing a good product overall. Although the Revo X was our choice as the best reel for most anglers at the $100 price, there are others worth mentioning as well.
First Runner Up: Shimano SLX
Our first runner up was the Shimano SLX. With an unbeatable reputation like Shimano, it would be tough to not give the SLX the first runner up. Quite frankly, depending on your application, this reel could boast better for you, however, when taking all factors into consideration, it simply did not hold up to the drag stopping power of the Abu Revo X which we will cover in more detail later in this article. That being said, the reel does feature a four bearing system and Shimano’s popular Hagane body.
Second Runner Up: Lew’s Speed Spool LFS
The second runner up was the Lew’s Speed Spool LFS. A popular name somewhat unfamiliar in the industry just 10 years ago, Lew’s has solidified its reputation as a force to be reckoned with. A 10 bearing system and precision cut Hamai solid brass gears give the reel both enhanced smoothness and durability. A one-piece aluminum frame gives the reel both a solid feel and fits comfortably in the hand for ease of use both day in and out.
Table of Contents
What To Look For In A Budget Reel
How We Picked and Tested the Contestants
Our Top Pick
The First Runner-Up
The Second Runner-Up
What To Look For In A Budget Reel
There are a few characteristics or features to look into when considering buying a baitcasting reel. The four most important considerations are:
- Braking system
- Frame Construction
- Ball Bearing System
- Drag System
- Braking System: Even pro’s get backlashes and with a good braking system, this plaguing problem can be avoided to the best extent practicable. On the market today, most reels will use either a centrifugal braking system or magnetic. Centrifugal brakes utilize a series of pins and brakes on the inside of the reel that require manual adjustments. Think of it as you,spinning around. If your arms are out, you will spin slower and if you bring your arms in you will spin faster, this principle applies here but onto the spool, i.e. a friction-based braking system. Magnetic braking systems typically have an adjustment point on the outside of the frame for quick “on-the-fly” adjustments by the angler and utilize magnets to either increase or decrease the rate of rotation of the spool. As the industry expands, most companies have abandoned the seemingly rudimentary centrifugal braking system for the more advanced and user friendly magnetic braking systems.
- Frame construction: Most reels are graphite or aluminum with some high end reels utilizing a magnesium frame for increased weight reduction. For all intents and purposes we will focus on the majority of reels which are aluminum or graphite with graphite being cheaper and less durable than aluminum. Most companies will advertise the graphite frame as either carbon composite or just composite, however, it is important to know your market lingo, and know what you are getting. The verbage always mentions lightweight when referring to composite frames, however, in reality they are really no lighter than aluminum but rather are just simply cheaper to manufacture.
- Bearing System: Ball bearings are something anglers can get “hooked” on but in all reality, more bearings does not equal a smoother reel. What one wants to look for is what type of bearings are being utilized and understanding the different industry acronyms. One popular acronym is CRBB or corrosion resistant ball bearing. This is often used to describe stainless steel ball bearings as they naturally are resistant to corrosion. Different companies will use different acronyms, but bet on when you see a C and an R in the acronym they are talking about corrosion resistant or stainless bearings. Probably more important to the longevity of the bearing is whether the bearing is sealed or shielded. The better bearing will be sealed while the shielded or double shielded bearing will be good but not as good as the sealed. Some factors can affect this claim such as bearing rotation speed and operating temperature, however, for the fishing application, sealed will always be the best option. It will do a better job of keeping dirt and debris out of the bearing, equating to increased smoothness and life of the bearing.
- Drag System: A smooth drag is important, especially when fighting big fish on treble hook baits or light line as an example. Regardless of materials utilized, the drag works the same way in all reels. A series of washers or disks of varying composition are stacked and attached to the spool. When a fish runs, the washers slow the rotation of the spool by applying pressure and using the power of friction to slow the movement of the spool. When looking for a solid reel, look for carbon fiber drag washers. Some companies will tout “composite” materials but these do not hold up as well as the carbon fiber for both durability and smoothness. An ideal drag has a smooth start-up and will not stick or jerk; if it does, this will be the best chance of breaking the line and losing a fish. Most companies do not explicitly outline their drag washer material so, some investigation on your part will be required. Additionally, if you find a reel that you like but does not have carbon fiber drag washers, after-market kits are available online. These are also a good option for older reels that could use some new drag washers.
How We Picked and Tested the Contestants
Our first stop was to look at all major manufacturers and research all reels that met the main criteria of listing at that $100 price mark. We narrowed it down to the nine best options from nine of the top players in the reel game. After research with industry experts, we narrowed it down to three of the top contenders and did extensive on the water testing. Testing included use and abuse over a year to include use under every possible circumstance we could come up against as anglers and under every type of weather we may face in our time on the water. Testing the reels over such a long duration also allowed us to speak to the durability and how the reel holds up performance-wise over time.
The reels we chose to test could all be considered great for general purpose fishing and at a price considered affordable by most. Although there may be “better” reels at higher price points, the value proposition is not higher than the ones within this guide. Ultimately, after some deliberation, we narrowed down our specifications to the following list of features ordered in no particular order.
Despite being considered “value” reels, we wanted to ensure solid construction and for the value, a reel that would be durable over time of prolonged use. Many may think that a $100 reel wouldn’t last more than a season, but we are here to say that there are value reels on the market that would exceed your expectations. We looked at the construction material and the durability of said material over the course of a year to attest to the longevity to be expected out of each reel over prolonged use.
As aforementioned, there are a few types of braking systems, however, in this test, all the reels that were tested most utilized magnetic braking systems which brings a level playing field to the comparisons aside from the SLX which uses a centrifugal braking system. Braking systems are meant to be utilized to prevent or help prevent backlashes and are able to be adjusted to the angler and the particular technique (i.e. long casts, precision casts, flipping, skipping etc.). Smoothness, ease of adjustment, and consistency were considered during testing.
Ball Bearing System:
The three reels tested had varying ball bearing systems, however, the smoothness during casting is what we focused on. As we previously mentioned, more bearings does not equal a smoother or longer casting reel. Only after thousands of casts with each could an accurate rating be assigned.
Aside from comparing our own maximum drag tested versus the manufacturers claims, the only other way to accurately test the drag on each reel was to use them enough to hook big fish and test it on the water under real conditions; which is exactly what we did. The most important characteristic of a good drag system is a smooth start-up (not jerky) and consistency as the line is peeled off the spool. These results were noted and considered in the decision making process for this article.
As with any product, one of the biggest considerations is the warranty associated with it. Every model of reel will have a bad egg in the batch and IF the product needs to be warrantied out for manufacturer defect, having the peace of mind knowing that it will be taken care of by the manufacturer will absolutely influence how you spend your money. One year limited warranty, two year limited warranty, limited lifetime warranty, all of these are important to know when purchasing a reel.
Often when we talk about the weight of a reel it is typically associated with high end reels that come in at lighter than air 5oz and less weights, but when considering the budget reel, a lower quality of materials will increase weight. In the budget reel market, we want a reel that is still a comfortable and manageable weight for all day use without creating fatigue.
Naturally, one of the most important attributes to consider when choosing a reel is the performance which is part encompasses many of the aforementioned characteristics we focused on in our process of choosing and testing the contestants. Is the reel smooth? Quiet? How does the performance hold up over extended abuse? With such a long test period, we were able to speak to the performance of each reel over time which is imperative on choosing the right reel for you. Many reels out of the box feel great but under a little use, can quickly go downhill performance-wise which is what we wanted to be able to accurately identify and call-out in our review.
Our Top Pick: Abu Garcia Revo X
Overall, under the greatest variety of circumstances, the top pick is the Abu Garcia Revo X. Abu has been hit and miss in the past. Most anglers know of the Gen 3 flops, especially coming off of the reliability of the Gen 2’s; however, the Revo X Gen 4 is not a flop. An X2 Craftic alloy frame boasts both strength and reduced weight while seven stainless steel HPCR (high performance corrosion resistant) bearings plus a roller bearing for long casts and smooth retrieves. Additionally, and far surpassing any of the competition is the Carbon Matrix hybrid drag system which boasts an impressive 18lb of max drag; however, more importantly, the drag was not jerky and was consistently smooth throughout a range of drag tightnesses.
Though the heaviest contender, at 7.9oz, the reel doesn’t feel overly heavy in the hand. The ergonomic design of the frame palms nicely in the hand and is comfortable for all day use. Whether power or finesse fishing the reel performed excellently. After extended use, we tended to gravitate to using this reel for more power applications, simply due to the weight and it feels a little beefier. Flipping and pitching is where we utilized the reel the most. The great drag stopping power and oversized knobs were great when trying to wrestle bigs out of the thick stuff.
The Abu MagTrax braking system is a magnetic braking system that is typically sought after by anglers today. Generally speaking, budget minded anglers may use one reel for multiple purposes and “on-the-fly” adjustments are extremely important. Abu’s braking system makes this as easy as the turn of a dial on the side plate. Quick or minor adjustments were easily performed on the water as we switched between baits or techniques which can’t be said about every reel in this review.
One flaw worth mentioning is the chance of the reels anti-reverse failing under extremely cold conditions. If you get hung up and are jerking on the bait trying to get it free, the reel did ONE time kick into free spool, resulting in the mother of all backlashes. The problem is using grease on the anti-reverse bearing instead of a light coating of oil. This was observed in most of the reels tested at one point or more. A simple cleaning and removal of the grease from the AR bearing and adding a light coat of oil will fix the issue.
The First Runner-Up: Shimano SLX
Shimano has long been one of, if not the top dog in the fishing reel scene. With nearly 50 years of experience, it’s no wonder they have such a huge cult following. Typically focusing on higher end reels, the SLX was a fresh look for sore eyes that wanted the reliability of the Shimano name but without the typical price tag. A smaller profile reel than the Caenen but with the same line capacity, the SLX has been hugely popular in the budget scene since its launch.
Utilizing the Shimano Hagane frame which gives the reel rigidity and reduced weight, the reel palms nicely and at 6.9oz is the lightest reel in the group we tested. The reel utilizes Shimano’s Variable Braking System (VBS) which is a centrifugal braking system, and being the inventors of the centrifugal braking system, it works exceptionally well. Not as user friendly as a side adjustment that one finds with magnetic braking systems, but equally as effective. The reel also boasts an estimated 11-12lb of drag, their “Super Free Spool” technology which uses a ball bearing to support the pinion gear, keeping the spool shaft and pinion gear in alignment and virtually eliminating any friction or drag during casts. This was noticed and appreciated especially in lighter weight lure casting. Included in the reel is only a 3+1 ball bearing system but as aforementioned, it is not the number of bearings but quality that are important.
We found in testing that this reel excelled in more finesse applications. The drag was very smooth and the reel casts lighter lures exceptionally well. Tactics such as finesse cranking, jerkbaiting, finesse swimbait, etc., the reel performed wonderfully. Very smooth casts and retrieves and only did not beat out the Revo X for the top spot based on a smaller subset of applications where we felt the reel truly excelled by our standards.
As aforementioned, the VBS system is not nearly as user friendly as magnetic braking systems which is why Shimano released the SLX XT featuring the SVS Infinity braking system found in much higher end reels such as the Metanium. Though the VBS does do its intended job and does it well, the simple lack of user friendliness was a hit against the reel for this review. As mentioned, quick adjustments are important and anytime you have to remove the side plate to make an adjustment, its just not as easy on the user.
The Second Runner-Up: Lews Speed Spool LFS
The Lews Speed Spool LFS was the final reel that we extensively tested. Lews has gained an enormous following in the past 10 years or so despite being in business for much longer. The Speed Spool LFS is a great reel for $100 and has some great features worth noting such as a solid one piece aluminum frame (great durability and rigidity), and precision cut Hamai one piece brass gearing. The reel is also advertised to have 15lbs of max drag and a similar design to the “Super Free Spool” of Shimano, that uses a bearing to support the pinion gear, giving the reel superior castability. The reel also includes a 10 bearing system that are both stainless and double shielded for superior durability. Additionally, at 7.2oz, the reel is a comfortable weight for all day enjoyment.
We found this reel to be another reel that excelled in both finesse tactics and any sort of reaction bait fishing in that 5/8oz range or less. The reel casts great and the externally adjustable magnetic control system (MCS) was easy to dial in dependent on bait, technique and weight. Though more similar to the SLX in terms of line capacity, the 34mm spool started up very smoothly and allowed for some great bomb casts when getting your bait away from the boat was key.
The reason the reel by our standards came in third was the previously mentioned issue of the anti-reverse failing in coldweather. This was a common problem with every Speed Spool LFS that we tested under these conditions. In the low 40s and colder is when we noticed the issue. Before doing some research and calling up Lews, the issue persisted, however, Lews offered to fix the problem, no charge and no questions. Fortunately we live close enough to their HQ that we can drop off issues like this in person and avoid shipping, but regardless, Lews has outstanding customer service and has always taken ownership of issues like this.
Honorable Mention: Daiwa Fuego
A reel that many of you are probably wondering why it wasn’t included in the article, is the Daiwa Fuego. Comparatively it is a reel that fits into this category but is now retailing for $110. Though $10 more than the price point set by this article, we found it worthwhile mentioning as a (slightly) more expensive option to the above mentioned reels. The Fuego CT is essentially the Daiwa Tatula CT but without their T-Wing system. It incorporates the same one piece aluminum frame, the same Magforce Z braking system, and the UTD (Ultimate Tournament Drag) which advertises 13.2lbs of max drag stopping power and all for $20 less than the Tatula CT. We personally enjoy the T-Wing system on our other Daiwa reels, but don’t feel it’s worth the $20 price increase in most situations.
13 Fishing Origin C: 13 Fishing is a relatively new competitor to the scene in the fishing industry. The Origin C performs well out of the box but has had a poor track record of consistency amongst its users. In our personal experience, one reel performed great and another did not. This inconsistency along with the sideplate having to be fully removed to access the cast control system (similar to the SLX) kept this reel from making the cut.
Ardent Apex Tournament: The Apex tournament was a worthy adversary to say the least. On paper the reel appears a great buy and online reviews are fairly good. We haven’t been able to use it and weren’t able to talk to anyone who had outside of the company. Until then, we will remain neutral.
Daiwa CG80: Compared to most of Daiwa’s higher end reel, the CG80 feels cheap and a little clunky. Definitely not up to Daiwa’s higher end standards.
Pflueger Supreme: A good reel overall. Did not handle lighter baits as well and like some others, have seen some reviews of some bad eggs. No word on Pflueger warrantying these issues.
Piscifun Alijoz Size 300: This could be used in bass fishing for swimbait applications but just isn’t up to the quality set forth by other larger industry names. Reviews online are relatively good but based on the lack of grammar, would take these with a grain of salt.
Quantum Accurist: Quantum seemed to gain some ground amongst industry giants like Shimano and Daiwa and with poster child Kevin Van Dam leaving for Lews, Quantum faces an uphill battle. The Accurist is a good reel and the reel is a great performer but just didn’t meet the standard set by Shimano, Lews and Abu.
In summary, all the reels we tested are GREAT values for the money, and honestly, a lot of what you buy could be chalked up to the brand loyalty/preference you have. We personally do not have any specific brand preference and rather find ourselves fishing what best suits us for specific applications. By the standards we set forth, the Abu Garcia Revo X was able to narrowly take the top spot and only because of its versatility across all applications and on-the-fly braking adjustments. Both the SLX and the LFS are very solid reels and narrowly missed the mark of the top spot for the aforementioned reasons.