Bearings will determine how smooth a reel will be. You need to try different reels in the store and see for yourself.
If you pick up a reel w/ 4 or 5 ball bearings and it feels as smooth as one with 8 and costs $50 less, you have to determine if the cost is worth it. I would reccomend 4 ball bearing minimum. Keep in mind beaings can be made out of cheaper material.
You also need to choose a reel for the type of fishing you are doing. What I mean by this is gear ratio. The higher the ratio
the faster the reel will bring in line. Downside: the higher the number the less torque the reel will have. For most light
freshwater applications (say a 7′ medium fast spinning rod with 6-10 lb test line) a gear ratio of between 4:1 and 6:1 will be fine. I know customers who have purchased the 7.2:1 gear ratio on reels and use them for a real fast bait retrieve while fishing for bass with spinner baits or top water baits.
In regards to the drag system and ball bearings, even if a reel has 8 or 9 ball bearings if the drag sytem is poor, the reel isn’t worth much. You’ll have a choice of front or rear drag. While rear drag reels are easier to adjust, they don’t have the “guts” of a front drag reel.
Front drag reels usually have larger multiple washers (usually teflon) than rear drag reels.
When all is said and done you should find a very good reel with at least 4 ball bearings, a 4:1 gear ratio for more power or a 6:5 to a 7:2 gear ratio for faster retrieve rate and preferably front drag (spinning reel) for under $100. You can find some very nice Shimano reels for $75.00 to $90.00 that would fit this bill nicely. The Shimano Sahara spinning reel is very smooth and it comes in various sizes for different fishing applications.
If you can afford to pay for a good spinning reel then shell out a few more dollars and get one with as many bearings as there are available. Bearings that are sealed and corrosion resistant will last longer. The frame material should be considered as well in your planning. Graphite framed reels can break below where they are attached to rod. An aluminum framed reel will last longer and be more durable. The difference in strength far surpasses any weight savings from graphite.
Ball bearings help a piece of machinery move more smoothly. In a reel there are generally several little balls captured between two concentric circular parts, one circle connected to the body of the reel and the other to the part which turns (the handle, for example). As the handle turns, the little balls roll and let the handle turn more easily. Old or cheap reels which don’t have bearings rely on grease to keep turning smoothly, and they can stick or jam, especialy with heavy use or when pulling on a big fish.
More bearings help these parts move more smoothly, especially under the pressure of winding against a heavy fish. However, as long as the ball bearings are there, a difference of one or two probably won’t make much of a difference. Please keep in mind also that there can be ball bearings in the handle assemble that count in the total of bearings that are built in the reel. They are not always in the body of the reel. So again, the more ball bearings the better.
For wide spool technology and longer casts the US Reels are the best fishing reels. US Reel company has gone through new ownership and these reels may not be available for too long until someone else buys the company. If you are a big fan of these reels, like I am, get them today before they are all gone. Call Jeff at 414-587-2968 for models available or if you have any questions.