The Zebco 33 Spincast is the old stand-by. A reel that all of use probably used at one time or another. These are fantastic rod and reel combos that are inexpensive, work well and something that will last.
- Good Value
- Build Quality
- Drag control was excellent
- The “bite alert” is a little gimmicky
Words like “classic” and “iconic” sometimes get thrown around a little too freely. Especially by reviewers such as myself, when we start waxing poetic about gear that’s been around since we were kids.
I’m tempted to use those words to describe the Zebco 33 Spincast Reel, which was first introduced in 1954. If you try to picture a spincast reel in your head, chances are you’re imagining something that looks a lot like the Zebco 33. To say that this make and model has stood the test of time would be an understatement.
That’s all well and good, but the real question is, how does the Zebco 33 hold up today? Is it really the great fishing reel we all remember, or are we just seeing it through the rose-tinted lens of nostalgia?
As you could probably have guessed, I bought one to find out.
Zebco 33 Spincast Reel: First Impressions
One of the first things that I’m struck by upon opening up the packaging is how little the Zebco 33 appears to have changed. It’s not identical, of course. I’ve owned a few of these over the years, and the design has certainly evolved to look a bit more modern.
Today’s Zebco is a little sleeker and more rounded-off than the original model, which looked a bit like an old-fashioned pencil sharpener mounted on top of a fishing rod. But the basic design, with its stainless steel outer cover and smooth push-button release have changed very little.
The version of the Zebco 33 Spincast reel that I purchased came as a combo with a 6-foot graphite casting rod. The rod seems solid enough—it’s a pretty basic 2-piece fiberglass rod with 5 guides including the tip—and the reel comes spooled with 10-pound test monofilament line. It’s basically ready to fish right out of the package.
New and Improved
Having touched on how the Zebco 33 is very much the same, let’s have a look at how it’s changed. The current iteration of this reel actually has some unique features and a couple of significant improvements compared to the older models.
One noteworthy change is an increased gear ratio from 3.6:1 to 4.1:1. The gear ratio in a fishing reel essentially controls how much line is reeled in with each turn of the handle, so the higher the gear ratio, the faster you can retrieve your bait or lure. At the end of the day, 4.1:1 is still a pretty low gear ratio compared to higher-end reels, but it does make the new Zebco 33 a little more sprightly than previous versions.
Also worth noting is that the folks at Zebco have added a T-ring to the reel design, which helps keep the line from getting tangled in the pick-up pin. Basically, it means smoother casting, with less likelihood of snags and tangles in the reel.
Zebco’s “Bite Alert” technology is another new-ish feature worth mentioning. It makes an audible click to let you know when a fish has taken the bait. The newest Zebco 33 Spincast reels aren’t the first reels in their lineup to have this feature, but it’s definitely something my childhood Zebcos didn’t have.
Another Largemouth Caught On A Senko Worm
Strength and Durability
One of the big selling points of Zebco 33 Spincast Reels has always been their durability. These are reels that are meant to give you years of reliable service, and a lot of that comes down to their simple, straightforward design and tough materials.
The frame is lightweight graphite, and the covers are stainless steel. Inside you’ll find all-metal gears and smooth ceramic pick-up pins. It’s designed to resist rust and corrosion, and to take a beating.
That’s why the Zebco 33 has always been—and remains—a great reel for kids to learn to fish with. They can dunk it in the water, drop it on the concrete boat ramp, and put it through all manner of punishment, and the Zebco 33 continues to perform.
I’ll admit that not all Zebco reels have always been great. They definitely seem to have had some quality control issues at times, and a lot of folks will tell you that their reels simply aren’t as good as they used to be. I get that argument, but for my money, the newer Zebco 33 Spincast Reels are much more well-built than some of the previous generations.
Ease of Use
The push-button design of the Zebco 33 essentially combines the best aspects of a spinning reel and a baitcasting reel (hence the name “Spincasting”). These reels have been often imitated over the years, and that has a lot to do with how easy they are to use.
Pretty much anyone can pick one of these up and start fishing with it. Granted, most experienced anglers eventually graduate to more advanced spinning or baitcasting reels, but I have a lot of respect for any product that’s as easy and intuitive as this one.
You basically press that button with your thumb, wind up, and release the button as you make your cast to let the line out. With a simple turn of the reel, the bail closes, and you can either retrieve your bait or let it sit. There’s virtually no learning curve to the Zebco 33, and it makes fishing fun and easy for relative newcomers.
The current models of the Zebco 33 are smooth-casting, and the retrieve is also smooth and (unlike some spincasters) virtually noise-free. The Zebco 33 also has an effective dial-adjustable drag, and the handles are reversible for right-handed or left-handed use.
Final Thoughts on the Zebco 33
I bought this reel for two reasons: to find out if it’s as good as I remember from when I was a kid, and to give it to my own kids so they could learn to fish with it. I’ve put it to the test and so have they, and we stand behind our purchase.
I will say that, like any reel, you’ll want to take care of the Zebco 33 if you really want it to last. Oil the gears at the start of a new season, and clean it out occasionally in case grains of sand or other debris get in there and impede the performance. If your reel goes for a swim, open it up to let it dry fully. I’m not sure what kind of fishing line comes spooled on these reels, but I decided to re-spool it with my own preferred line. It handles most 6 to 12-pound test lines pretty well.
One feature I didn’t expect to like was the built-in Bite Alert, but I’ve warmed up to it. The ‘click’ is great for alerting kids to a bite in the event that their attention strays (as it so often does) and I even find that it allows me to set the rod down without worrying about missing too many bites.
As a rod-and-reel combo, the Zebco 33 usually goes for around $40, but you can often find them on sale for significantly less. Even at full price, I’d call this a solid buy. The Zebco 33 Spincast is a simple, reiliable, budget-friendly fishing reel that has clearly stood the test of time.
Erin Channing is a budding writer, soon to be wife and all around fun seeker! No cats, no dogs, just a few fish and a pet parakeet named Jelly. You can find Erika’s reviews and stories on several websites sites including Hardwork Theory, Medium, Little Miss Spider and more. New to camping and backpacking, she brings a fresh perspective to everything outdoors.