Best Fishing Reels For Small Rivers, Streams, Ponds & Kids

To properly fish small rivers, streams and ponds you need to cast small and light lures with a sensitive ultralight fishing rod. There is no need for casting lures for long distances. Small spinning reels excel at at casting the smaller and lighter lures that are best for small streams and ponds. A larger reel won’t cast as well on a smaller ultralight rod.  The small reels reviewed in this article are strong for their size and engineered to last for years. You can’t go wrong with any of these reels whether you’re fishing for trout, panfish or bass. The best part is that they’re also perfect for kids. So no need to buy a separate reel for kids when fishing small bodies of water.

Many children are eager to fish but are let down by their equipment and eventually lose interest. Don’t let that happen. Give your boy or girl the best fishing experience by choosing the most appropriate fishing reel. Choosing the most appropriate reel for a kid will help them focus on having fun catching fish instead of feeling frustrated and let down by their equipment.

Five Qualities of a Good Freshwater Spinning Reel

There are five qualities a spinning reel must have in order to be useful on a small body of water

  1. Lightweight
  2. Small
  3. Smooth
  4. Easy to use
  5. Dependable
Okuma Avenger spinning reel.

The Okuma Avenger spinning reel is inexpensive but reliable and tough. Worth three times the price.

The Lowdown on Cheap Reels

The fact is that the cheapest rock bottom reels are likely to disappoint you and your child. The reason is because they are heavier. Heavy reels are harder for kids to comfortably cast. This makes them more difficult to use and can make their wrists sore. Discount reels are also prone to causing epic line knots and are unreliable.

There’s no bigger downer than seeing a kid become frustrated because they can’t cast.  And for grownups and kids alike it’s a pain to spend half the time on the water picking out wind knots. Every angler deserves a reel that helps them spend more time fishing and less time fixing a reel. The good news is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to outfit a kid for a day of fishing.

Pflueger President Spinning Reel

The Pflueger President costs $49 – $59, on the high end of inexpensive. It easily compares with reels costing over $100. High end smoothness and toughness at a reasonable price.

Good (& Inexpensive) Fishing Reels

Spinning reel technology has greatly progressed over the past ten years. The technological benefits have trickled down to many of the affordable fishing reels. The trick is to know which brands and models are the best. I’m going to list a few models and explain why they are great for children. I highly recommend the following spinning reels and will explain why you’ll be making a good choice by picking any one of them.

Top Brand Name Spinning Reels

A brand name is meaningful in fishing because years of research have gone into many of their designs. A well balanced and precision engineered reel will feel light in the hand and be easy to use. The best fishing reels are light, have a good balance in the hand, have a smooth cranking action, and offer trouble-free performance. Here are some of the best brands of spinning reels for kids that I have personal experience sharing with children:

  1. Pflueger
  2. Shimano
  3. Okuma
  4. Abu Garcia
  5. Cabelas

There are many brands that offer a good value, but I’m going to review the above name brands, including the Cabelas house brand. Once you read the reviews you’ll be better informed on how to make the best choice.

Cabelas Fish Eagle line of fishing reels are inexpensive but remarkably long lasting and dependable. A solid choice for anglers on a tight budget.

Do Ball Bearings Matter?

Many spinning reels advertise the amount of ball bearings a spinning reel has. The idea is that the more ball bearings in a spinning reel the smoother it will be. But that’s not the case. The amount of ball bearings in a spinning reel does not matter much.  I’ll give you an example.

Shimano’s mid-high end reel, the Symetre, costs $99.99 but it only has five ball bearings. The $30 Okuma Avenger AV15a spinning reel contains seven ball bearings. I own both reels and can tell you that the Symetre reel is by far the smoother of the two reels. Not only that, but the Symetre reel is among the most dependable reels you can purchase. There’s simply no comparison between the two, even though the cheaper reel costs a third of what the Symetre costs.

When purchasing a spinning reel, make sure that the reel has a minimum of at least two ball bearings. Reels with just a single ball bearing are likely to be undependable. They will be undependable not because of their lack of ball bearings but because reels that have less than two ball bearings tend to skimp on quality.

So the rule for choosing a spinning reel for children is don’t let the amount of ball bearings in a reel be the deciding factor. Weight and smoothness are more important!

How Much to Spend on a Freshwater Reel?

The better reels are going to give you less trouble and will be the easiest to use.  That said, no matter how much you pay, kids are going to figure out a way to cast a massive birds nest. Nevertheless, the reels I’ve listed here, from inexpensive on up, will likely provide you with years of dependable and trouble-free use.

Shimano Catana

The Shimano Catana is a new moderately priced reel featuring a strong drag and a smooth action.

And don’t let the size of these reels concern you. Every single one of them are capable of handling most anything you’re likely to catch in freshwater. My 1500 size Shimano reel that I purchased eight years ago is still in peak condition, despite minimal care and dunking it in water several.  My daughter and I have landed countless trout, small mouth bass, largemouth bass, blue gills and even a carp with it.

What I’ve done is listed reels that I have used and have experience with. The following reels are dependable, light, and easy for a kid to use.  The second row lists the weight of the reel. Most reels that weight approximately 7 ounces will be just fine for the average adult or child from age 10 and up. For a smaller kid or for casting tiny lures on a smaller ultralight rod (4.5 feet  to 5’9″), the smaller reels in the 6 ounce size will work just great.  The line capacity is listed to help you compare how big the reel is. Line capacity is listed according to how much 6 pound test the reel can hold. An angler with experience will likely be using four pound test line for casting light lures, but listing the six pound test capacity is just so you can get an idea of the size.

Top Freshwater Reels for Ponds & Streams

 Brand Name & Model  Weight (ounces)  Capacity (lb/yd)  Price
Cabelas Fish Eagle FE2000X  6.8 6/110  $29.99
 Shimano Sienna FE 1000FE  7.4  6/110  $29.99
 Okuma Avenger AV-10b  6.0  6/70  $39.99
 Abu Garcia Pro Max SP5  6.4  6/60  $49.99
 Abu Garcia Pro Max SP10  7.1  6/110  $49.99
 Pflueger President 6920X  5.9  6/60  $49.99
 Pflueger President 6925X  7.2  6/90  $59.99
 Shimano Sahara SH 500FE  6.2  6/60  $79.99
 Shimano Sahara SH 1000FE  7.4  6/110  $79.99
 Shimano Symetre 500FL  6.1  6/90  $99.99


Small Fishing Reels for Kids

Small reels are limited in their ability to cast for distance.  But that doesn’t make a difference in small rivers, streams and ponds. Ultralight spinning reels are perfect for using on a small stream or pond, especially on a windless day.

Four pound test is not a good line weight (pound test) for a kid. Ultra-thin fishing line is difficult to control, especially in a breeze. Always spool a kid’s spinning reel with six pound test. If you spool it with a thicker line, like 8 pound test, it’s going to be too hard for them to cast a lure more than a couple feet. Six pound test is the ideal weight for a kid’s spinning reel. 

Cabelas Fish Eagle Spinning Reel

Cabelas is an outdoor sports store and this fishing reel is manufactured by a name brand manufacturer and labeled with their house name. I bought it while on vacation for a fast and cheap fishing outfit to Cape Cod. Wow was I surprised! This reel has lasted me for several years. It scores big for reliability and toughness. While other reels have fallen apart on me this one has lasted for years and years and never complains.

Shimano Spinning Reels Review

Shimano manufactures smooth and tough spinning reels. They don’t play the ball bearing game. Many of their reels typically feature less ball bearings than their similarly priced competitors. But don’t let that stop you from considering a Shimano reel.  Most of their reels are engineered to feel well balanced in your hand, to provide a smoothness in the reeling action and a strong drag. If I were to describe Shimano reels I would characterize it as smooth.

Shimano reels are trustworthy to be well engineered and their newest models, the Sienna FE and the Catana spinning reels are no exception. The Sienna FE has been redesigned to provide a more balanced feel in the hand which helps prevent fatigue in the hands, wrists and shoulder. This is good for adults and children.

I’m not sure but it looks like the Symetre reel is out of production. Grab one on sale wherever you can find it. I have four different sizes of the Symetre reel and love every one.  The smallest Symetre I own, the 1500, is my freshwater reel of choice. That said, I have been strongly impressed by Shimano’s budget priced Sienna reel.

Okuma Avenger

Okuma is well known for their saltwater reels. Saltwater fishing demands extreme durability and power from equipment and Okuma delivers. So it’s not surprising that the little Okuma Avenger delivers so much in a tiny package. Although it might feel light don’t be fooled. The Okuma Avenger is a tank and can take a beating. I have dropped this on rocks and beaches countless of times and reeled in trout of all sizes with it. The Okuma Avenger is a premium spinning reel at a budget price of about $39. I strongly recommend this reel.

Pflueger President

The Pflueger President is a little reel that feels balanced in the hand and yet is gorilla tough. You can tell the reel is a President because it features a genuine wooden knob on the handle.  Out of all the light spinning reels in this roundup I would say this President is the only one that is equal to the Shimano in smoothness and reliability. It costs $49.99 but in my opinion it functions as well as any other reel costing $100 or more.  You can’t help but feel confident and comfortable when using this reel, which makes it an excellent choice for a kid as well as an adult.  Yes, the Shimano Symetre is my favorite reel but I have to say that at half the price the Pflueger President performs every bit as well and I never miss the Shimano while using it.

Abu Garcia Freshwater Reel

Abu Garcia is a hundred year old company founded almost a hundred years ago in Sweden. It is a well regarded global fishing equipment brand. I have used Abu Garcia reels and have been pleased by the value per cost of the equipment.  My Abu Garcia reels have never let me down but for whatever reason they’re not reels I get excited about, unlike with the Shimano or Pflueger reels. Give them a try and see for yourself.


Disclosure: This article may contain Amazon affiliate links. I receive a commission from products purchased at through my links at no extra cost to you. Reviews on reflect my actual testing and opinion of the products reviewed.
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