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Best Saltwater Reels

Updated November 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 20 Models Considered
  • 7 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 324 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best saltwater reels

    Last Updated November 2018

    A high-quality saltwater reel is an investment that will give you years of use in fishing conditions that can often be tough on bearings and gear mechanisms. With practice, a good saltwater reel will become an extension of your hand – an invaluable part of your tackle that you’ll use without even thinking about it.

    Choice is vast, however, which is great when you know exactly what you’re looking for. But if you’re a novice angler, the various configurations and materials can be confusing. How do you find the best saltwater reel for your marine needs?

    At BestReviews, we aim to answer all your purchasing questions with our in-depth product research, so you can make the most educated shopping decisions. Keep reading our shopping guide for everything you need to know about saltwater reels before you buy.

    Types of saltwater reels

    Saltwater fishing reels come in two basic types: spinning and baitcasting. Spinning reels have the spool on the front, with the gears and winding handle behind. They sit in line with the fishing rod. Baitcasting reels sit at 90° to the rod, with the gears and winding handle on one end. You might see saltwater reels described as “offshore” or “surfcasting,” though these descriptions can be applied to either type. There are also trolling reels, which are similar to baitcasters.

    Saltwater fishing reels have to put up with a pretty tough environment. Although steel is strong, it’s prone to corrosion. Steel is sometimes used on budget saltwater reels, but it’s not ideal. High-quality saltwater reels feature reel bodies and spools made from aluminum, graphite (also called bakelite), or carbon fiber. Each is light, very durable, and highly resistant to salt water. Gears on saltwater fishing reels are either bronze alloy or stainless steel, and they are often sealed for additional protection.

    Most saltwater reels are switchable from right- to left-handed, but if you’re a leftie, it’s always a good idea to check.

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    Choosing a saltwater reel

    The type of saltwater reel that’s best for you depends on the fish you want to catch and how you’re going to catch them. Catching small fish off a pier can be great fun, but you can’t use the same tackle to fish for marlin off the coast of Hawaii.

    Many people start with saltwater spinning reels because you can spin from anywhere – shore or boat. Spinning reels are easier to cast, and they can cast lighter lures or baits than baitcasters. Although heavy-duty spinning reels do exist, they tend to be smaller and lighter than baitcasting reels, so the species you’re fishing for will have to be smaller as well. But a good spinning reel usually makes a better all-rounder than a baitcaster.

    Saltwater baitcasting reels are usually larger. They aren’t so easy to cast, but distance is not an issue when fishing from a boat. With practice, baitcasting reels can cast heavy lures farther than spinning reels, so they are good for surfcasting. They can also carry more line of a greater weight, which is the optimum choice for big game fishing. However, baitcasting reels are prone to backlash, causing line tangles. Good models have spool brakes to reduce the problem.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    A leader is a relatively short length of line between your main line and the bait or lure. It’s usually tougher than the main line so fish can’t bite through it. Fluorocarbon leader lines are common, though big game anglers will often use stainless steel wire.

    Features to consider for saltwater reels

    Reel capacity

    Any good manufacturer will give you comparisons for the amount of fishing line your saltwater reel will take at different weights. Sometimes the yards per pound is marked on the reel body.

    If you’re fishing off a pier or on a boat close to shore, you’re unlikely to hook a monster, so low-poundage line is fine, and you’ll get plenty on the spool of a modest-sized reel. If you’re trolling (fishing deep waters from a boat) or big game fishing, you need lots of high-poundage line, and you’re just not going to be able to wind enough onto a small reel.

    The type of fishing line also has an impact because thickness varies considerably. One saltwater reel we looked at would take over 2,000 yards of 80-pound braid but less than 600 yards of 80-pound monofilament, for example.

    Winding ratio

    Most saltwater reels are either low ratio (4:1 or less) or high ratio (6:1 or better). A 4:1 ratio means that one turn of the handle rotates the spool four times.

    High-speed reels give a fast retrieve for lures and baits. A popular technique called jigging demands a fast reel. Low-speed reels are generally more robust, which is an advantage when taking on big game fish. Twin-speed saltwater reels are available, although we were unable to find a spinning reel with this feature.

    Bearings

    Good-quality bearings keep things running smoothly. For saltwater reels, the more bearings, the better because they spread the load and wear more evenly. Sealed bearings are best. Though not indestructible, they last much longer.

    Line counter/alarm

    Trolling takes up a lot of line, and in deep waters your spool can run out surprisingly quickly. High-quality saltwater trolling reels have line counters so you’ve got a quick visual reference. A few have alarms to tell you when the line is running out.

    Fishing rod

    Saltwater fishing rods are usually designed with a maximum line weight, and that impacts on the saltwater reel you can use. It’s not a good idea to try to pair a lightweight spinning rod with a heavy-duty trolling reel. Hook into a sizable fish, and the rod could break.

    Popping is a popular saltwater fishing method using a popper lure, which mimics an injured fish. It’s most often used for catching pelagic species, which include mackerel, wahoo, tarpon, and barracuda – oh, and the great white shark.

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    Prices for saltwater reels

    You can buy a cheap saltwater spinning reel made of steel and graphite for as little as $20. If you’re only going to use it a few times a year, and for modest fish, an inexpensive reel should be fine if you take care of it.

    If you’re going fishing on a regular basis, then you’ll want to choose a saltwater reel more specific to species and method. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank, though. Good saltwater spinning reels can be found for $50 to $60. Baitcasters tend to be a bit more expensive, but $100 will still get you an excellent reel from a recognized brand. If you like a variety of saltwater fishing, buying one of each type of reel is still reasonably affordable.

    If you’re looking for a trolling reel with a line counter, a two-speed saltwater reel, or a large reel for big game fishing, you’ll pay considerably more. There’s a lot of choice, so the best approach is to decide on your ideal specifications, then look at what’s available. Most anglers will find what they need for between $300 and $600.

    At the top end are twin-speed saltwater reels with the main frame and side plates machined from solid aluminum. These are then further protected by an anodized coating. They are beautiful pieces of engineering but are meant for very keen anglers. Prices run from around $1,000 to over $4,000.

    EXPERT TIP

    Depending on the type of fishing you do, you may want to wear gloves. Special saltwater fishing gloves are available to protect your hands and improve your grip.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Tips

    • Salt water is highly corrosive, so it’s important to clean your reel after each trip. Use a running tap to give it a good rinse, not a pressure washer. The latter can force dirt and salt farther into the mechanism rather than rinsing it away. It’s a good idea to check drag and other parts of the saltwater reel that are easily accessible. Your owner’s manual should give you instructions. Taking care of your saltwater reel will dramatically extend its life.

    • Small knobs and handles can be uncomfortable if you’re using them for long periods, particularly if you have large hands. The solution is a power knob or handle, lightweight, easy-to-grip alternatives that are available for most saltwater reels.

    • It’s important to load line onto your saltwater reel properly so it will flow off smoothly and without tangles. A bail arm or guide usually ensures line is loaded evenly, but you need to keep some tension in the line. Spooling machines or winders are available – or you can get the help of a patient friend!

    The type of line you use in your saltwater reel has a big impact on reel capacity. Braided line is around half the diameter of monofilament, for example.

    FAQ

    Q. Can I use my freshwater reel for saltwater fishing?

    A. You could, but there are good reasons not to. One problem is that saltwater fishing frequently uses stronger line, so you will have to load an extra spool. If you’ve got a small freshwater reel, you may not be able to get enough line on it. However, the main problem is the environment. Salt will eat into the mechanism of a freshwater reel, corroding gears and other moving parts. Saltwater reels usually have sealed gearboxes and bearings to keep sea water out. You can rinse your reel after use, but if you use a freshwater reel in salt water regularly, damage is inevitable.

    Q. What is drag, and how do I set it on a saltwater reel?

    A. If you didn’t have drag on your saltwater reel, the sudden impact of a large fish could break the line. Drag allows for line to be pulled off your reel when a fish takes the bait. Drag is variable, so you can set it to best suit the type of fishing you’re doing.

    On saltwater baitcasting reels, the drag lever is usually star-shaped and is on the end of the reel near the winding handle. On saltwater spinning reels, the drag lever is right on the front. In both cases, you turn clockwise to tighten or increase drag and counterclockwise to loosen or decrease drag.

    To test the amount of drag, just pull on the line. But be careful with braided line. It’s sharp and can cut you if you pull too hard. Use pliers or something similar to grip it before pulling.

    Q. What is the best line for saltwater fishing?

    A. Braided line is the most popular saltwater fishing line. Braided line is strong, resistant to both salt water and UV rays, and doesn't stretch like monofilament. It has great sensitivity, but that can take a while to get used to. It’s also comparatively expensive.

    Monofilament is the line almost everyone starts out with, whether freshwater or saltwater fishing. It has give, or stretch, that a lot of anglers like. It is quite thick – so you’ll get less on your reel than you will with braided line – and it’s more prone to UV damage. However, it’s cheap, easy to use, and great for casting.

    Fluorocarbon is also very sensitive, strong, and resistant to UV damage, but it’s main benefit is that it’s almost invisible in clear water. This is a feature that’s usually of more value to freshwater anglers than saltwater anglers, however.

    Most people who are new to saltwater angling will find monofilament line a good place to start. Many will migrate to braided line after they’ve gained some experience.

    The team that worked on this review
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