Shimano Sahara FJ – The New Best Trout Reel Under $100?

For all the praise premium price reels like the Stradic and Vanford get, most of us fish with reels that cost under $100, it is likely the most competitive segment of the market.

Earlier this year Shimano refreshed the Sahara line-up and released the FJ. The FJ represents a nice improvement over the older Sahara FI and its cheaper variation the Sedona FI. Like most cheaper Shimano’s the Sahara FJ is made in Malaysia.

Shimano rarely makes bad reels, but the old Sahara was just a little on the heavy side and lacked anything special to differentiate it from the crowd. Since around 2017 Daiwa had dominated budget ultralight reels with their Regal family of reels ( Daiwa Revros, Regal, Exceller, and Legalis).

The old Sahara was a bit heavy, and the Pflueger president, while a fine reel when new rarely lasts for more than a few years of heavy use before wear and tear starts to show.

The Sahara FJ has shaken things up, keep reading to find out how.

Ball Bearings and Smoothness.

The Sahara FJ features 4+1 ball bearings, this is not as many as some reels, but at least the reels are where they count. The bearings are also of high quality, so if maintained they should remain smooth for years to come.

The Sahara feels to be one of the smoothest reels on the market, due to the lack of an oscillation worm drive it actually feels smoother than the Stradic and Vanford, reels that cost nearly twice as much.

The very rigid frame, also means there is minimal flex even when fish are fought under pressure. This allows the gears to remain in good allowance even when under pressure.

Shimano Sahara FJ

Gearing and internals

Most of the improvements to the Sahara occurred beneath the frame.

The entire main gear of the Sahara is now a coated machined aluminum. The same design of main gear as found in the Vanford and many other reels within the $200 price bracket.

This is a noticeable upgrade over the older Sahara FI, which had a hybrid zinc and machined aluminum main gear.

The main locomotive gear is still zinc alloy, but this gear is large and receives relatively little wear, so I doubt it will be an issue.


The Sahara FJ has a carbon frame that is extremely rigid. It has enough strength to be suitable for even the largest, and hardest fighting of trout such as steelhead.


The Sahara comes with a high-quality felt drag that offers up to 7lb of pressure in the 1000 size. I personally prefer to use felt drags due to their smoothness when ultralight fishing.

There is no need for a carbon drag when fishing for trout.

Line lay

I have no complaints regarding the line lay. While it is not quite as good as the line lay found on the more premium reels it is still perfectly usable.


Shimano has upgraded the handle with the FJ, it is now a screw-in design, and the fixed plastic knob has been replaced by a serviceable rubberized design that feels much nicer in the hand.

Sizes and weight

Gear RatioLine Per CrankWeightLine CapacityDrag
SH500FJ5.0:12762/190, 4/100, 6/607
SH1000FJ5.0:1267.22/270, 4/160, 6/1107
SH2500FJ5.6:1298.58/140, 10/12020
SHC3000HGFJ6.2:1368.56/230, 8/170, 10/14020

The 500 size is very lightweight, but is quite a small reel. . It even weighs less than the Pflueger President 20x, and it is a much better designed reel. Although the President is cheaper. It could be a good option for ice fishing.

The 1000 size is well suited for general trout fishing. It is ever so slightly heavier than the comparable size Daiwa reels.

The 2500 and the 3000 size reels are quite similar, the main difference is the gear ratio and the size of the spool. The 3000HGFJ has a much faster retrieve, so I personally will recommend the 2500 for steelhead fishing.

Sahara FJ Vs Daiwa Regal

These two reels are very similar, the Shimano is the better-built reel, but the Daiwa is cheaper and lighter. They are both excellent trout reels for under $100

In the hand, both of these reels feel extremely smooth.

Internally the Shimano has better gears (Machined cut aluminum vs cast alloy) – Better tolerances, more durable. The Shimano also has a more rigid frame, which will flex less when under pressure. This is not really an issue when trout fishing, but is certainly a deciding factor when selecting a reel for harder fighting fish such as steelhead.

One final area where the Regal does better is that the main locomotive gear turns on a bearing, while the Shimano is installed directly on the frame. It will unlikely cause issues.

Sahara FJ vs Sharha FI

The FJ is a greatly improved reel. It includes a fully machined main gear, a higher quality handle including a rubberized serviceable knob and at the same time it weighs less.


Thank you for reading my review of the Shimano Sahara FJ, I feel it is an improvement over the older model and is now one of the best reels for ultralight fishing for under $100.

For other recommendations check my reel buyer’s guide here.

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