Best Shimano Spinning Reels: 2021 Comparison – Saltwater & Fresh

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My apologies for the title. I’m not a fan of using the term “best” or defining something as “best” when it comes to spinning reels.

Stating what best is as easy as it is subjective. Proving best using scientific rigor is a completely different undertaking, involving countless hours of rigorous field testing.

“Best” is also circumstantial or based on application. A Stella SW is one of the best reels ever made but not the best for targeting brook trout. In short, defining “best” can be problematic.

The Stella SW is the flagship spinning reel from the Shimano stables. There would be few, if any, spin reel experts that wouldn’t have the Stella listed in their top 3 offshore spinning reels. 

Many will refer to the Shimano Stella, not as merely the best Shimano, but the best there is.

I want to get readers away from the notion of “best shimano spinning reels” and focus more on identifying the best option for you.

In the following article, we’ll take a look at 4 of Shimano’s best offerings. 

We’ll look at the budget-driven Sedona FI, the Stradic, the newest incarnation of the Stradic, the Vanford, and the famous Stella SW.

Before we get started on the specific models, we’ll have a quick look at how good Shimano reels are. Are they as good as everyone says?

How Good Are Shimano Reels?

They’re good. They’re really good. I could leave it at that and attract little controversy. However, a touch more explanation is warranted here. Indeed, a book could be written about the finer details.

In practical terms, such a question is best answered by saying that you are highly unlikely to go wrong purchasing a Shimano spinning reel. 

Shimano is a phenomenal, iconic brand. You’re rarely rewarded with such industry prestige for flogging dud products.

Shimano is more than a marketing masterpiece, it’s a quality product. 

While not beyond criticism, they still produce spinning reels worthy of cradle to grave brand loyalty.

In terms of brand identity, when I think of Shimano, I don’t immediately think fishing, per se. I immediately think of beautifully machined metals and precision machinery components. 

Their presence in professional cycling adds to this vision.

Interestingly, and comparatively, when I think of Daiwa, I think of fishing reels and everything fishing. 

When I think of Penn, the very first image that comes to me is their icon Penn international game reels of the ’70s and ’80s.

The market image Shimano project is of high tech, engineered precision, and prestige. In many respects, they live up to it.

By and large, their spinning reel componentry is of very high quality and sourced from within Japan. Their spin reel creations are usually advanced designs with a solid grounding in tradition. 

In that regard, there’s intrinsic Japanese culture woven into the company fabric.

But like any global corporate giant, they are just as prone to marketing rubbish as any other manufacturer.

Beware of falling victim to fancy componentry names, and systems such as “Hagane” 

Importantly, on a more positive note, when Shimano errors, defects, or poor decisions make their way to the retail shelves, they are known for addressing the problem. 

Maybe not admitting the problem, but addressing it, nonetheless.

In my opinion, this is more about saving face than customer focus. Regardless, the outcome is the same – problems are addressed.

I find it intriguing and even compelling that Shimano uses top-quality components throughout its spin reel arsenal.

Their entry-level, affordable models, while spartan in features, are often constructed with similar engineering principles (cost-driven corner-cutting notwithstanding) with high-quality components.

Shimano, Daiwa, and close neighbor Taiwanese Okuma are big industry players that run their own show. 

Fortunately, they’ve not been consumed by the machinations of soulless global corporatism, such as Penn and, sadly, Van Staal.

I’m a Van Staal fan; I’m also a Penn and Quantum fan. 

However, I am concerned that a lack of self-determination due to ownership by a corporate overlord can, does, and will result in quality and innovation issues.

I suspect that Shimano, and for that matter, Daiwa and Okuma, will continue to achieve top spinning reel billing simply because they control their own destiny. 

Some Shimano fans lament that some construction is carried out in Malaysia, potentially compromising the higher quality associated with Japanese manufacturing.

Best Shimano Spinning Reels – 2021 Reviews

As I mentioned in the intro, we’d look at 4 Shimano reels. I’ve chosen iconic Shimano brands, not necessarily “the best”, whatever that is.

The reels of choice today are the Sedona FI series, the Shimano Stradic FL, the new Vanford, and the flagship Stella SW.

Here are the Best Shimano Reels in 2021: 

Last update on 2021-03-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Yes, I’m aware that Vanford takes the place of the Stradic Ci4+. That’s why it’s worth a look. People are still surprised about the rebrand.

Keep in mind that these reviews are by no means exhaustive. Let’s call it a buyers guide highlighting quality, applications, and features.

Firstly, a brief note about the Stradic Ci4+, the Shimano Stradic FL, and the Vanford.

Shimano Stradic Ci4+

It’s important to clarify that the Ci4 has been superseded with the Vanford taking its place. While there are upgrades, sure, some may question the need for a re-name, and therefore a complete rebrand.

It’s difficult at times to see into the motivations of big manufacturers. It’s even more puzzling when a significant identity change befalls a reel brand that was so successful and iconic.

You can still get the Stradic C14+ from a few select stores online (see image below)

The Stradic Ci4 takes its name from the technology that constitutes the body, side plate, and rotor. C, being carbon, I, being injection, and 4 being the electron count for carbon.

In many respects, it’s a gimmicky name that reflects a Shimano technology that is now dated. 

While this technology is still in use, it is understandable that Shimano may wish to rebrand into a more current, more lasting trend.

The most likely scenario, however, is that Shimano was looking for greater separation between the Stradic FL and the Stradic Ci4.

The Stradic Ci4 is now replaced by the Vanford. You will still find Ci4 models available at local tackle stores, and you’ll no doubt get a decent price relative to pre-Vanford while stocks last.

The Stradic community now has the popular Shimano Stradic FL and the Vanford. 

There are subtle differences between the two, and now, thanks to the name change, Shimano and Stradic fans and hopefuls see a clear delineation between the strands of the Stradic bloodline.

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Shimano Stradic FL

In 2019 the FL hit the shelves to huge expectation. A large fan base was ready to snap the early orders, particularly after the 2019 ICAST awarded the FL the best saltwater spinning reel.

There are only 5 models in the series which might seem a little light. However, the Stradic FL series’s capacity, particularly the 4000 and 5000, provides access to a huge range of fishing applications.

The 1000 delivers refined finesse performance. There’s 3 kg of drag supported by a long stroke spool that holds 95 yards of 10-pound braid. 

At a mere 185 grams, you can cast the lightest of spinners and soft plastics all-day fatigue-free.

The 2500 opens the field significantly and will appeal to inshore saltwater fishing anglers and bass pros in the fresh.

The 2500 packs a whopping 9kg of drag. You can pack 150 yards of 10-pound braid, which is a huge amount for close-quarters fishing.

The 6.0 gear ratio is perfectly neutral, suiting the flippers and pitchers without compromising the crankers.

The 2500 is an inshore sports master. At 220 grams, it will suit the relentless caster, looking for sports action in saltwater and the fresh. The 2500 punches well above its particularly light weight.

The 3000 is a little heavier but barely. Holding 280 yards of 15 pounds, and sporting 9kg of max drag, the 3000 is a genuine inshore allrounder. 

Thanks to water ingress mitigation, the 3000 has plenty of scope for exploring lighter targets in the surf.

The Hagane body is simply a fancy name for the alloy or magnesium construction. The rigidity of the metal body keeps the micro-module gear system in perfect mesh.

It’s this combination that allows the Shimano Stradic FL to punch well above its weight. 

While a benefit right through the series, this twist and torsion-free body increase the target range of the smaller reels in particular.

Many anglers may well size down, with those thinking of a 3000 purchase, perhaps going for less weight but still covering their applications with the 2500.

The 4000 and 5000 open anglers to the surf and several applications on the rocks, offshore, and nearshore.

Both offer 11 kg of max drag, which is significant for reels of this size and power. I couldn’t think of a better day than casting my 4000 FL at big bluefish in a surf gutter. 

Given the water ingress protection, it’s a great reel to fish the surf and break walls on a rainy day.

Surf anglers will love the long-stroke spool. Rigged with a metal slice, you can cast a country mile, hitting the feeding bluefish school well past the shore break.

For those sports anglers hunting a larger class of pelagic, near and offshore, the 5000 delivers an exceptional fishing experience.

With 11 kg of drag and 220 yards of 20-pound braid on board, you can cast stick baits and poppers for the likes of trevally. 

The 5000 has enough power to pull a moderate-sized hook-up away from their snag-ridden reef-side home.

The crank is incredibly light. Smack the handle, and it turns unassisted for a surprising number of revolutions. The mesh is beautifully quiet without a fraction of unwanted movement.

Durability has increased significantly as the X-protect system keeps casual water at bay. 

For the inevitable moments, where the water does get in; corrosion-resistant bearings fight off the rot, while shields keep out the dust and sand.

The longer spool makes the FL seem a little bigger, but placed in your hand, the reel is quite compact, and the weight is kept to an absolute minimum.

This is no shrinking flower, however. The metal body houses strong gears cut to a fine tolerance for a beautifully smooth crank. 

6 bearings support critical moving parts creating excellent stability. The drive gear is larger, so more of your wrist power hit the fish in the mouth.

The Shimano Stradic FL is one of the best Shimano spinning reels on the market, and the 10-year warranty tells you that Shimano stands by the quality of construction and componentry.

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Shimano Stella SW – #1 Best Shimano Spinning Reel

The Stella SW is Shimano’s flagship spinning reel. It’s an offshore masterpiece and priced accordingly. 

Many purists will argue that the aspirational price point is hard to justify compared to other top-shelf models in the Shimano stables that are two-thirds less the price.

This is a debate we’ll not enter here. If you were to take the Stella apart, putting each component and function under the microscope, you’d certainly find flaws and room for improvement. 

This is a fact, and plenty of reel boffins have been through the Stella with a fine-tooth comb.

Suffice to say, some reel aficionados concerned about the finer details of spinning reels suggest Shimano could do better, considering the price they’re asking.

Having said that, the very same enthusiasts will still give the latest Shimano Stella SW a high podium finish when compared with any other reel on the market.

Without a doubt, the Shimano Stella SW sits at the pinnacle of offshore spinning reels. By and large, Daiwa’s Saltiga is its only true peer.

The Stella is an offshore spinning reel. However, such is the drag capacity, strength, sealing, and waterproofing; the Stella is a brilliant land-based game reel.

Surf and rock anglers with impressive fishing budgets have open access from these locations. 

If you happen to hook a sailfish from a pier, you’d be well placed for a fair battle if you’re strapped to a Stella.

If I were chasing bridge monsters such as grouper, I’d feel very confident knowing my large Stella could handle the ridiculous weight and power of these fish.

The Stella is replete with Shimano’s leading spinning reel technology. 

A quick glance at the list reveals the word “rigid” appearing frequently – X-Rigid gear, X-rigid handle, X-rigid bail, X-rigid rotor, and rigid support drag.

The theme is pretty clear; the Stella is built to eliminate twist, torsion, and movement under the most extreme loads. And this it does.

The conventional or overhead reel has long been the offshore light game and game reel of choice. 

Spool capacity was a big factor, but more than this, it took many years for spinning reel construction to address strength limitations inherent in the spin reel shape and action.

The Stella is a poster-boy of advancement in spin reel strength and stability. A couple of decades back, tackling the biggest of dogtooth and yellowfin with a spinning reel was a fool’s errand. 

Many will argue it still is.

This strength has been critical for the facilitation of the insane drag capacities built into the Stella. 

There are 62 pounds of max drag inside the 20,000. It’s pretty pointless sticking maximum drag to some ocean monster if the body, rotor, and pinion contort to the point of disintegration.

There are 13 bearings inside supporting every moving and rotating function. The main shaft spool support is strengthened. The drag system is designed to dissipate heat, keeping washers cooler and spools cooler. 

The drag system is also completely waterproof.

In short, tolerances in every function and component are maxed out for dealing with prodigious, weight strength, and power.

There are 10 models in the range, so you can choose a Stella that is refined perfectly for your target and application.

It should be noted that purchasing a Stella delivers access to Shimano VIP service and support. This includes service priority, lube discounts, and priority shipping.

While that’s all very elite and inclusive, I think I’d rather they invest the cash in changing the ridiculous plastic cowling on the rear of the body. 

This silly inclusion is an example of Shimano’s inexplicable brain farts. 

Regardless of minor flaws, obvious and subtle, the Stella is a phenomenal offshore spin reel and easily in the top three offshore spin reels on the market.

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Shimano Vanford – Best Shimano Spinning Reel for Bass

The Shimano Vanford has some big shoes to fill. A quick look at the specs suggests it will do this easily, due to some pretty cool upgrades from the Ci4.

The Vanford is sold predominantly as an inshore fishing reel. And with only a small model range in the series, it still dominates the lion’s share of inshore applications.

Like its cousin, the Shimano Stradic FL, the Vanford is by no means limited to inshore fishing and has some surf credentials and serious sports capability.

I’m convinced the Stradic Ci4 became Vanford to create some separation between the Ci4 and the FL. This has been achieved with the name change…but what’s in a name?

The Vanford and the FL are remarkably similar. In fact, if you want to know about the Vanford, just scroll up and check out the info above.

Key capacities are virtually identical except fo subtle ratio differences in some models. However, the Vanford gets a few more features.

Firstly, the Vanford has one extra bearing. I defy anybody to feel the difference, but in theory, stability is improved.

The Vanford also has the Ci4 body of its predecessor, which the FL does not have. 

I’m not sure rigidity is improved noticeably, however, there is a weight drop when compared with the FL.

The Vanford also receives the MGL rotor. Again, there is a weight saving here, but the main benefit lies in the lightness of the crank, reorientation of the bail arm mechanism, and the asymmetrical rotor profile.

Essentially, the aim was to provide savings in rotation inertia, increasing sensitivity, therefore feel. 

Yes, you can feel a difference between the Vanford and the FL, but many will have to squint and hold their tongue a funny way to feel the full benefit.

In my book, these are refinements as opposed to significant upgrades. However, those who seek the lightest crank in the lightest possible reel will be impressed.

Proficient castors who focus on presenting a balanced rig are the ones most likely to get the most from the long-stroke spool. It’s a nice addition, which also adds to the already beautiful aesthetic.

Sealing standards have now hit IPX 8. This will impress all of those destined to splash up there Vanford, and fish the rainy days. 

X-protect has the benefit of not adding friction, therefore maintaining its phenomenally light crank.

The Shimano Vanford is a beautifully crafted, strong, and responsive spinning reel. 

Expensive, yes. Too expensive, arguably. However, in terms of fishing experience and durability, the Vanford has picked up where the Ci4 left off. 

All be it, with a few more useful bells and whistles.

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Shimano Sedona FI – Best Budget Shimano Spinning Reel

If you’re looking for a feature-laden Shimano spinning reel, the Sedona FI may leave you a little wanting. 

However, should your budget be tight, yet you don’t want to skimp on reasonable quality basics, then it’s difficult to beat the Shimano Sedona.

The entry-level Sedona shows a level of Shimano’s consistency through the price categories. 

While features diminish as the price drops, the quality of construction and componentry is reasonably consistent – for better or worse.

The spool capacities are pretty light relative to a Penn of a similar price point. 

However, strong drag ensures the Sedona can access a huge range of fishing applications and some pretty big fish.

My only question is the plastic body. Is the body structure strong enough to handle maxed drags battling larger fish? Unfortunately, I have to say I don’t know.

I anticipate that the 8000 is better placed to manage to bite off more than it can chew, thanks to carbon washers in the drag system. For me, a question mark lies over the smaller sizes.

I shouldn’t complain about felt washer (smaller models), particularly considering it’s a budget model. 

They perform adequately. However, I feel felt washers are an anachronism in a modern spinning reel. It feels like manufacturer penny-pinching.

Starting at size 500, the Sedona tops out with the 8000. This delivers access to the diminutive fish from babbling mountain brooks to moderate-sized pelagic species from the blue water.

There’s no sealing, waterproofing, or any real water resistance, for that matter. In that regard, the Sedona is best kept dry and well away from sand, sandy slurry, or saltwater splashes.

In the absence of sealing and corrosion resistance features, longevity will be determined by you. 

If you have a regular and thorough cleaning/maintenance routine, you can expect to get quite a few seasons from your Sedona, provided you don’t regularly target surf dwelling sharks with the 500.

Features you might find surprising include a uniform line lay. This goes some way to enhancing ordinary casting manners. However, spare shims should be supplied. 

I’m thinking that not all anglers will have the same spool uniformity straight out of the box. The bearings, while only 3 of them, are quality shielded bearings. 

The crank feels pretty light, and the gears smooth enough. The gears will operate at peak for quite some years.

They’re quality cold forged and a bonus in a reel at this price point. Keep them lubed, and happy days for many seasons. 

Matched with the refined, hard-wearing brass pinion gear, it’s a duo that puts Shimano ahead when it comes to solid basics in entry-level kit.

Despite the flashy marketing blurbs, the Shimano Sedona doesn’t really pretend to be anything more than entry-level. 

But it’s honest entry-level and priced accordingly. 

Moreover, considering the gears, pinions, and bearings’ reliability, you’ll search for a long time to find a budget shimano spinning reel for the same price. Just keep it dry.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why Did Shimano End The Stradic CI4+ Reel?

Shimano has ended the Stradic Ci4+ reel in favor of the new and improved Vanford spinning reel. 

However, they have done their best to keep fans satisfied by making the Vanford even better by adding features and providing a better performance than the stradic.

A number of Shimano’s latest high-end technologies have gone into the development of the Shimano Vanford.
 
Consequently, the reel runs incredibly smooth and fast.
 
Having said all that, I still believe a marketing/branding decision would be the primary reason for the termination of the Stradic.

Where are Shimano Reels Made? 

Japan is the primary manufacturer and supplier of Shimano reels. Yet, some construction occurs in Malaysia.

There is a perception of construction outside of Japan as being of lower quality, simply because it’s not Japanese but the evidence is a little questionable..

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