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Gear Review: The Zebco 33 is a Timeless Fishing Reel

My earliest fishing memories are from a 12-foot Lund with my sister and my dad. It wasn’t a comfortable boat to fish from. There was no flat bottom, you were always tripping over the anchor (the front was the worst), and the flat wooden benches were uncomfortable after about five minutes. The last thing my dad wanted to deal with on top of everything else was a snarl in the reel, so our boat was stocked with the same reel that millions of boats still carry to this day: the Zebco 33.

Any time I see the Zebco 33 fishing reel, I’m reminded of learning to fish. It allowed me to focus on technique, rather than the reel itself. It made it easier for me to learn to jig, set the hook, and of course, cast. What I find interesting about this reel is that there is no need to “graduate” from it. Several members of my family have been using them for 20 years and have no interest in using anything else.

The reason is apparent: they’re reliable and easy to use. You can fish all day without a single bird’s nest or any issue whatsoever. You push a button, toss the rod, and you’re in business. They work so well in fact that they fade into the background because nothing ever goes wrong. It makes it all too easy to underestimate just how perfect the design is. What’s great is that they’ve decided to improve the design even further.

The new Zebco 33 has two improvements worth mentioning. First, they’ve added a T-ring that makes it nearly impossible for the line to get tangled in the pick-up pin. This just makes a perfect retrieval system even more perfecter (it’s a word). Second, they’ve increased the gear ratio from 3.3:1 to 3.6:1. If you’re casting spoons, this means that you can cover more water with less effort.

I also have to mention just how darn affordable the Zebco 33 is. It removes barriers and makes fishing available to everyone, regardless of how much money they have in their pocket. It makes it hard to come up with an argument not to buy one. There is one bad thing about the Zebco 33 that I’ll close with: if you get skunked you can’t blame it on the reel.

Article updated Dec. 7, 2023

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