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Angler’s Gear is all about the complete fishing experience from the smallest trout to large, pelagic fish. Day and day out, however, most people are not going to be chasing blue marlin, big eye tuna or other huge species. Most are much more likely to fish smaller waters and considerably smaller fish.
There is one style of fishing that Angler’s Gear enjoys above all others, and that is ultralight fishing.
Ultralight fishing means using the absolute lightest standard fishing gear made. The rod, reel and lures are all matched together and normally the spinning reel is the reel of choice as these reels can be designed for this particular style of fishing.
Most anglers imagine catching the larger species as we have discussed above – taking heavy rods and substantial reels to battle monsters. The better angler also knows there is an equally tough fight available when a fish is on the end of an ultralight setup – even in saltwater.
Part of the attraction is the rise of the finesse phenomenon of largemouth bass and some trout anglers. The smaller lures and lighter lines are ideal for fish under heavy pressure from anglers. The other attraction are the panfish and crappie that many also enjoy for sport and table fare.
No matter the reason for it, if you are interested in starting ultralight fishing, there is gear you will need. The first place to start is the reel.
Ultralight reel sizes
Ultralight reels are normally the lower numbers in reel manufacturing terminology. This means reels with 10, 100 or 1000 are the ultralight line of reels. There are some that may use a 2 instead, but these reels push into the light range and are on the upper end of the ultralight.
Ultralight line options
Ultralight lines, monofilament, fluorocarbon or braid, come in three line weights: 2, 4 and 6 lb. test. The vast majority of anglers spool their ultralight reels with the 4 lb. test line.
Shimano makes a variety of reel types with different names. The name does not designate the reel by size, like we discussed above. Shimano ultralight spinning reels will be labeled as 1000 or 2000 with the 1000’s being the true ultralight models.
It helps to understand a bit of the basic information when it comes to matching reels and rods to one another, but the number one thing to remember is drag is the most important and critical element of the ultralight fishing experience.
All fishing reels have a drag system, normally two plates that restrict the flow of line off of the spool. This tires the fish and makes landing them much easier.
Remember: With ultralight fishing, you are using some of the lightest possible line commercially available. Even a small fish will have little to no problems breaking the line if the drag is too tight at the initial strike and hookset. You need a reel’s drag to be smooth, not hang and durable for fight after fight.
It is a recommendation to start with your drag light to medium light pressure until a fish is on the line. You can adjust the drag tighter as needed. Meanwhile, use your skills in fighting the fish, the rod and angles, to wear the fish down over time.
Fish do not recognize you are using ultralight gear, Shimano or otherwise. Therefore, it is important for the reel to have certain characteristics to match that possibility yet maintain the ultralight qualities anglers are seeking. Shimano has found the perfect balance of weight and strength with its HAGANE technology.
The interior workings of the reel are equally important for the overall effectiveness. Those parts are carefully machined with computer software for the maximum tolerances available. This means each action of the reel from the opening of the bail to the retrieve is as smooth as can be – something Shimano fans have come to expect from their reels.
It is one of the first things that Angler’s Gear does when looking at Shimano ultralight reels for this particular review. The bail should move with little resistance and snap closed when the handle begins to turn. (Note: We do this for test purposes only. Angler’s Gear recommends closing the bail with your hand before retrieving line. This protects the lifetime of the reel.)
There is a great deal of talk about the number of bearings in reels with higher-end reels containing more of them. This is mostly to sell reels. It is not the number of bearings that matter, but the quality of the raw materials used to make those bearings that matter the most. Shimano has taken great care to ensure nothing but the highest quality in their bearings in all lines of their reels from the ultralights up to the bigger pelagic models.
No matter the brand, you are going to hear about how their materials are top notch. It is rare this is not the case.
Pick up one of the different lines of Shimano ultralight spinning reels. You can turn the crank, open the bail and turn the handle a few times. You may think there is a better feel to a more expensive reel. In Shimano, however, that difference is extremely minute
There are Shimano ultralight spinning reels to meet all budgets, with the lower end Shimano line reels doing a perfectly fine job of landing their share of fish with regularity. There are also plenty of reels in the mid price range that also do the job. Lastly, there are the reels that command premium prices. We have them listed as well.
Angler’s Gear tried to pick a variety of Shimano ultralight reels to review from the high end to the reasonably priced. There is a reel on here for everyone interested in starting ultralight tackle fishing. In fact, be sure to check the other pieces Angler’s Gear has done on trout lures – each of these reels will match perfectly for casting those lures.
Shimano Stella FJ Ultralight Spinning Reel 1000
We are going to lead with the flagship. The Shimano Stella is the best ultralight spinning reel on the entire market, and there is not a single model or brand that can come close to it. If you are dead serious on ultralight fishing and are not limited by a budget, this is the reel to select. This reel takes monofilament or braid equally well.
The features do not do the reel justice. The only way to appreciate the Stella FJ is to use it. The reel makes almost no noise with the drive train. It has a completely sealed cross carbon drag, 12 bearing and a two-speed oscillation system. Rounding out the reel: a metal body, one piece bail, light roto and forged, not stamped, HAGANE gear.
Believe it or not, the reel is rated for saltwater. There are some species of saltwater fish that take well to ultralight fishing – bonefish comes to mind.
Shimano Stradic FL 1000
The next reel in the list is the Stradic FL. It is considerably less expensive than the Stella, but the features of the reel are shockingly close to it. So close in fact, we could not tell much of a difference when we were testing them.
The Stradic ultralight reel is the lightest model – coming in at less than a pound. The reel continues to use the same HAGANE technology of the higher end model. This includes the body and gears, again forged, and almost indestructible.
Most ultralight spinning reels are not known for being tough, but the Stradic FL packs up to seven pounds of drag, a substantial amount for a small reel. The 6.0:1 retrieve ratio brings in almost three full feet of line per full turn – faster than many in the same category.
Like the Shimano flagship ultralight Stella FJ, the Stradic can handle some saltwater.
The Sedona is more on the lower, budget end of the Shimano line but still has the HAGANE technology. This means a quality Shimano ultralight spinning reel that does not command a huge pricetag.
The Sedona 1000 FL is a bit heavier by less than an ounce than its more expensive counterparts but takes well to casting light jigs and lures all day long.
The Sedona’s gear ratio is lower at 5.0:1 but still brings in over two full feet of line per full turn. The reel has the carbon drag also maxing out at seven pounds. This is more than enough power for a small reel.
The reel has small number of bearings – three – but this was done purposefully. It creates a budget model but with many of the same features of the more expensive models. You still get the HAGANE technology of the more expensive models, and the reel retrieves as smooth if not more smoothly than similar models with eight ball bearings.
Shimano reduced the number of ball bearings to a bare minimum of 3 + 1 in order to create a lightweight reel that is more budget friendly than their other models. However, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the resulting action is not smooth. The superior Shimano hagane technology still manages to create a smoother line retrieval action with 3 ball bearings than many other models with 8.
Shimano Spirex FG
This is the smallest of the Shimano line if not the majority of ultralight reels on the market. It is a workhorse in spite of that fact.
The reel has the QuickFire II casting system, meaning the angler can open the bail and cast with only one hand. The mechanism does not affect any of the function, aesthetics or the balance of the reel. If anything, the system gives the reel a futuristic look.
There are five ball bearings, 6.2:1 gear ratio and a spool that fires line better than most. This reel can take 200 yards of 2 lb. test line or up to 10 lb. test for those who need to muscle fish out of deep cover.
For the angler on a true budget, this is the reel of choice.
Shimano Sahara Fl
We are going to round out the list of Shimano ultralight spinning reels with another mid-ground model in the Sahara. There is no need to take out a loan to buy it, and the reel offers a lifetime of quality service.
Like the other models we have seen thusfar, the reel offers seven pounds of drag, an ergonomic handle and smooth gears that make the reel feel like silk.
Like most of Shimano’s line. The Sahara has cold forged gears and like all forged products, built to last.
It is not recommended to use the Sahara in the saltwater, but for streams and ponds, you can expect a lifetime of service.
Angler’s Gear believes it is important to remain on the forefront of what is new and hot in the fishing world, but we are always wanting to hear from you. Is there a product or line you would like us to review? If you like it, chances are another will. Let us know in the comment section or with an email.
We will see you on the water!