Best Conventional Reels for 2021 – Buyers Guide
Best Conventional Reels – Conventional reels are baitcasters with steroids. They’re designed to catch large fish and fight tough predators. They’re made for big things with easy-to-access drags and large spools.
Do you have any questions about traditional reels and whether they are better for offshore or Great Lakes trolling? Do you want to find out which models work best for your needs? Continue reading!
Here is a quick look at the top conventional reels.
- Penn Fathom Lever Drag —Our Choice
- Daiwa Saltist Levelwind Count
- Penn Squall LevelWind
- Piscifun Salis-X
- Shimano Tekota
6 Best Conventional Reels
Penn Fathom Lever Drag –Our Choice
|Ratio of gears(15, 25, 30, and 30) 5.3.1 (40); 4.8.1 (30HS and 60); 7:1|
RPT15 (27″); 25 and 30 (36)”; 40 (40″), 40HS and 60 (60%)
Capacity15 — 12/355, 15/305, 20/200
25 — 20/325. 25/235. 30/240
30 — 20/435. 30, 325., and 40/250.
40 — 30/410;40/315;50/235
60 — 40/480;50/355;60/315
Maximum drag:15 (20 lb. ); 30 (33 pounds. ); 30 (33 lbs.
Weight:15 — 15.1 oz.
25 — 19.4 oz.
30 — 19.8 oz.
40 — 24.7 oz.
60 — 27.3 oz.
Penn is probably the most trusted name offshore angling. The Fathom Lever Drag series offers everything you would expect from a top-flight reel.
Fathom series has a solid-metal frame and stainless steel gearing. These reels are tough enough to catch big fish. These reels don’t come lightweight but they do have a cost.
Expect bombproof durability, unrivaled stiffness, and plenty of cranking power. The excellent retrieval rates of the Fathom’s stainless bearings and gears are evident, with three gear ratios available. It will be easy to keep your line tight. This is an important consideration but it is essential for places that require a barbless hook.
You will find line capacity rings on the spool to keep you informed at a glance.
The Fathom series features a very durable drag system. The Fathom series weighs in at 20 pounds for the smallest size and 40 pounds for the 40-60 series. This system is extremely durable and will not slip or be bound even at high settings. The thumb lever can be found near the crank. It allows drag adjustments to be made in real time.
Penn knows that you can’t always control what bites what you’re throwing, and to help ensure you catch what you hook, they’ve built in a dog-paw anti-reverse–essentially a ratcheting clutch that locks-up quickly.
As I mentioned, Fathom and Cranking power are great.
This reel has no wind level, which is a benefit for durability but a chore if fishing mono braid. The Fathom has a clicker but no line counter so I would look elsewhere if precision trolling was required.
The Penn Fathom Lever Drag with braid is an excellent option for offshore fishing.
Avet LX 6.0
|Ratio of gears6.0:1|
Capacity25/350- 30/300- 40/220
Maximum drag:20 lbs.
An Avet is an essential accessory for any reel. This reel is also available in a lower ratio of 4.6:1, but that’s too slow for most anglers. The LX 6.0 is the real star of the show, and a single glance will reveal why.
The Avet’s aluminum body is solid and machined-aluminum. This unit is a one-piece unit and there is no competition. Dollar for dollar, it’s probably the best on market. It’s extremely strong and unbeatable stiff. There is no room for improvement.
Avet, like Penn’s Fathom has decided to use stainless steel gears. You can expect great power and smoothness just like the Fathom. This is a tie.
The Avet is the middle of the pack in terms of its capacity. The Fathom, which is larger than the Penn 30, offers a single size. Sailfish enthusiasts love the Avet, a well-respected reel. It is a trusted reel that keeps many pros in the game.
This is a great statement.
Avet’s drag is lighter than others, likely due to its reputation for being a reel that can be used for everything. It is easy to set and adjust, even after a strike, and has a great grip.
The LX6.0 reel is huge for its size. It can pull up 46 inches per turn and is almost as fast as the Saltist.
This reel is truly remarkable. The Penn Fathom is my favorite, with its wide selection of sizes and faster options. However, you won’t feel deprived if you go for the Avet!
- Amazing body, one of the best in business
- Smooth cranking and great gear ratio. Excellent retrieval rates.
- Amazing drag, even though it’s relatively light
- Excellent capacity
- Outstanding durability
- Mono is more efficient than mono with no wind level
- Without a line counter, precision trolling can be hard.
- There are no sizes
Daiwa Saltist Levelwind Count
|Ratio of gears(20-30): 6.1-1; 40-50: 6.4-1|
RPT20 and 30 (35″);40 and 50 (47.2″)
Capacity20 — 12/420, 14/350, 20/210
30 — 14/490. 20/295. 25/230.
40 — 25/400, 30/270, 40/240
50 — 30/350; 40/310; 50/220
Maximum drag:20 and 30 (15.4 lbs. ); 40 and 50 (15.4 lbs.
Bearings4 + 1
Weight:20 — 18.5 oz.
30 — 19.4 oz.
40 — 23.1 oz.
50 — 24 oz.
While Daiwa’s traditional reels are strong performers, the Saltist Levelwind is our favorite. It was originally designed to answer anglers’ requests for a smaller reel with fast gearing and a high wind. This reel is a great choice for precision trolling and casting for smaller fish.
Daiwa is a master at reels, and the Saltist can show it. It’s made from solid aluminum and is an all-metal tribute to the need for rigidity and durability. These reels have shown that they can withstand salt season after season. Solid metal is stiffer than aluminum.
These reels aren’t big, even at the largest sizes. The biggest one is probably mid-range for a Penn Fathom. You shouldn’t expect to have miles of line on even the largest spools. Despite this, these reels have plenty of room for even the largest, most distant running fish.
But that’s not what the Saltist was created for. Instead, think bull reds. Monster blues. Lake trout Wahoo.
You shouldn’t expect to find a lot of drag settings. Also, unlike Penn’s Squall you will only have two choices in the series: 15.5 pounds and 24 pounds. These numbers are reasonable given the reel’s capabilities. You wouldn’t push the Daiwa past 60 or 80 pounds mono, since the drag isn’t built to keep up.
It is not a good choice to use a heavier braid like the Squall. This will make the drag fall behind very quickly.
Although the Saltist’s solid brass gearing has plenty of power, its retrieval rate is what really makes it stand out. The retrieval rates of 35 and 47.2 inches, while not astonishingly high for reels this small (6.1% and 6.4%1, are jaw-dropping.
The reel’s speed is probably a major reason for its popularity. If you want to catch fish quickly, burn lures or keep your line tight when fighting hard, the Saltist is the right choice.
The spool release must be manually engaged; turning the crank will not engage the spool.
The reel comes with a line counter and line wind, as well as a clicker. This reel can cast precision trolling for all sizes of fish and also performs casting applications.
Penn Squall LevelWind
|Ratio of gears(15, 20, and 30) 4.9.1(50) 4.0.1|
RPT15 and 20 (28″); 30 (35″); 50 (42)
Capacity15 — 15/320–17/280 -20/220
20 — 17/415, 20/315, 25/290
30 — 25/455. 30,/370 40/285
50 — 40/435.50/320.60/285
Maximum drag:15 and 20 (15 lbs. ); 30 and 50 (20 Pounds.
Bearings2 + 1
Weight:15 — 16.2 oz.
20/20LC — 16.9/17.8 oz.
30 — 20.9 oz.
50 — 24.6 oz.
The Penn’s Squall LevelWind series of conventional reels is a great choice for those who fish monofilament and for those who intend to cast. You can choose from a range of sizes, and you can have a line counter. It is an excellent choice when precision trolling is your goal.
The body of the Squall is made from graphite, but don’t be discouraged! Graphite may not be as rigid as aluminum but it can withstand years of abuse. It compensates for its lack of rigidity by allowing for weight savings. This allows graphite to be weighed in a small package.
The Squall has proven that graphite can be used as body material in conventional reels. If weight is important to you, it’ll be a great resource.
There are four sizes. They all have large spools. The squalls are bigger than the Penn Fathom and can hold more line that the Shimano Tekota. For every ounce, you get one ounce of line. The line capacity rings and graphite body provide plenty of line.
Solid brass gears are smooth and produce plenty of torque for every crank. The retrieval rates for each size are excellent, and although they may not be as fast or large as the Fathoms, they are more than enough to maintain a tight line. Squall LevelWind’s instant antireverse bearing works well and is strong.
Here is where the Fathom shines: casting, running monofilament mainline and precision trolling.
One is included with the Squall LevelWind. This helps to distribute line throughout the reel. This is especially important for mono-fishing anglers.
The 20 series can be ordered with a line count. This makes it an excellent choice for precision trolling. It’s a reliable clicker and an excellent choice when bottom fishing.
This Squall’s drag system is controlled by the typical star-shaped knob behind the crank. Although it isn’t as powerful as the Fathom’s drag system, it’s sufficient for most anglers. It can withstand any setting without binding or slipping and is as strong as the Fathom. It’s meant for lighter lines and is clearly made around mono, so it’s not a good idea to run heavy braid. You’ll soon outstrip its drag.
It’s better if you are looking for real monsters and can live with the lack of line counter and level wind on the Fathom.
The Squall LevelWind is an excellent reel and an ideal choice for precision trollers or anglers who cast.
Piscifun Salis for X
|Ratio of gears6.2.1|
RPT3000 (39″) and 5 000 (49″)
Capacity3000 — 24/330
5000 — 30/490
Maximum drag:3000 (26 pounds. ; 5000 (37 pounds).
Bearings6 + 1
Weight:3000 –25.7 oz.
5000 — 35.6 oz.
The downside to conventional reels is their high price. Many of the lower-priced options are just not up to par. We’re talking about KastKing Rover. They’re not made to last with their pathetic capacities, light drags and questionable parts.
Although the exception is the Piscifun Salis X Series, you need to ask the right question: “How does it compare with the Shimano Penn or Daiwa reels in terms performance?”
Let’s see what happens.
Like Penn Squall, the Salis X offers anglers a graphite frame. Although not as rigid as steel or aluminum, there may be some play in the body. This will take time and hard fighting. The sheer weight of these reels probably drove Piscifun to this material. They still weigh 25.7 and 35.6 lbs, despite the reductions in graphite.
These are not lightweight reels, it is obvious.
You can expect solid brass gearing that is reliable smooth and powerful. The Hamai teeth are very strong and hold up under stress.
You’ve come to the right place if you are looking for a fast reel at an affordable price. The retrieval rates for different sizes will amaze you. The Salis X 3000 is approximately the same size as a Squall 20 but it is 10 ounces larger! However, it can pick up 39 inches of line per turn compared to the Penn’s 28,
This is impressive by any standard, and it’s closing the gap with the lightning fast Daiwa at half the price!
Although the drag on the Salis X may not be its strongest feature, it is strong enough. You shouldn’t expect the same precision and refinement as reels costing three to four times as much. The maximum weights of the reels are 26 and 37 pounds respectively. If you do your job well, there is plenty of power to catch big fish.
This is partly due to the reels’ excellent capacity, which is almost the same as the Penn Fathom!
This reel comes with a clicker and a level wind, but no line counter. I would use it for precision trolling.
What’s the verdict?
Surprisingly, the Salis X can keep up with more expensive rivals and still delivers a lot of performance. If you are looking for a conventional reel with a low price that will not let you down, then look no further.
|Ratio of gears4.2:1|
RPT25″ per Turn (300, 500 and 600 series), or 33″ per Turn (700 series)
Capacity300 — 12/275- 14/220- 16/185
500 — 12/440.14/340.16/285
600 — 16/390; 20/300,25/240
700 — 25/410/350/40/290
800 — 25/530/450/40/370
Maximum drag: 18 lbs. (300, 500, 600 series) – 24 pounds. Maximum 700 and 800 series
Bearings3 + 1
Weight:300/300LC — 13.3/14.3 oz.
500/500LC — 15.3 oz.
600/600LC — 16 oz.
700/700LC — 28.8/29.8 oz.
800/800LC — 30/31 oz.
The Tekota series by Shimano is remarkable, which explains why the company is so popular in the fishing industry. This makes it a popular choice for anglers who fish in all types of fishing, including the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico.
The Tekota’s body, unlike other Shimano’s high-end reels is more subtle. It combines graphite with aluminum to keep it light, and the bright gold trim that’s a trademark of the company is omitted.
Yes, that dreaded “g” word. The Tekota does not come with an all metal body. Instead, it uses graphite reinforced by aluminum on the sideplate opposite the crank. All other parts are solid metal.
Although it may not be ideal, this does help to reduce weight. The Tekota proved to be more stiff than a shot Jim Beam in the real world. You can expect no flex when you have a brute at the other end. This is a clear indication that Shimano has mastered graphite addition.
The reels of the Tekota series are light for their size.
The Tekota comes in five sizes, all with the same ratio of 4.2 to 1. The smaller models have a 25-inch-per-turn retrieve. On the 700 and 800, there will be 33 inches of line collected on the spool each turn. Your line is evenly distributed by the level wind. Casting is possible in reverse.
Unfortunately, even though Shimano has made a reel smaller and lighter than other competitors, its capacity is limited. The 600 series holds only 300 yards of mono 20-pound weight, which is far less than Penn. It’s not a deal-breaker, though it is something I should think about.
These aren’t numbers you can be proud of, but they do enough to keep the line slick. Although I don’t know why Shimano doesn’t have a higher gear ratio for these reels I believe it’s because…well…good enough.
Four bearings on the Tekota are enough to keep it running smoothly, one for anti-reverse. Although the crank may not be smooth, it spins well and transmits torque well. The Tekota’s gearing will give you plenty of power, which will allow you to muscle large fish when necessary.
The drag system of the Tekota is also excellent. Available in two weights–corresponding to the size of the reel, of course–it’s confidence-inspiring, smooth, and reliable. It’s easy to set thanks to the standard star-shaped knob.
This reel series has a clicker as well as a mechanical line count. This reel series is accurate and simple to use, making it a must-have item for accurate trolling.
The Tekota Series is an excellent choice for anglers who need precise trolling, provided you are able to accept the gear-ratio.
Basics of a conventional reel
The mechanical heart of conventional reels is shared with baitcasters.
Because they share the same mechanism, a spinning spool can travel free in the same direction of the line. This allows for stronger, more direct gearing and drag system. You’ll also find the basic controls that you would expect from a baitcaster: a spool tensioning and release knob, a drag knob and a crank.
An indicator marking is located on the inside of the spool that shows how much line remains.
However, this is where the similarities end.
Casting is not something that conventional reels are designed for. They will fall behind comparable spinning or baitcasting reels in this regard. They are instead focused on power, drag and capacity.
They’re built to fight.
This design imperative starts with a spool that can hold a large amount of line for the size of reel. You can see how bad the fights can get by looking at the marks on some spools.
Many boats have two-speed gearing, which allows for very fast retrievals from the bottom.
You’ll also find a clicker on many of them, which sounds off when a fish takes line from the spool. This is essential to detect a bite or if you have a lot of line.
These reels can be controlled by either the standard, star-shaped knob or the thumb handle.
This reel features a drag lever. This is not the spool release!
This reel has the star-shaped drag control. You can see the spool release lever.
How to Choose the Best Conventional Reel
Conventional reels have a higher power than spinning or baitcasting options. Because they will be used against potentially large fish, they are built differently and may require some additional features.
RPT and gear ratio
When reeling conventionally, it is important to take into account the gear ratio (retrieve per turn) and RPT.
You must match the ratios of your baitcasting rods to catch bass. Speed is still a benefit for big surf-casting reels.
For large tunas, however, spinning reels or baitcasting that is fast will not work. Tuna can swim 47 miles an hour and you will struggle to keep a tight tying line if the fish turns towards you and makes a hard turn.
The best traditional reels have gear ratios that are large enough to produce incredible speed, so “too fast” is not something to be concerned about.
For smaller reels, I prefer to see 24″ RPT. A decent mid-sized reel should average 36 inches per crank. Larger reels will average around 45 inches.
Offshore fishing can lead to serious fights.
When you’re tying into sharks 8 feet long, 400 pound groupers or 300 pound tarpons, you need a drag system that can securely hold your heavy line. These drag systems will not be able to withstand the test of time and your finesse.
Instead, think about reasonable maximums and how the drag holds at 50-80% of those numbers.
Consider the drag control.
There are two options: either the thumb lever, or the star-shaped knob. It is up to you which one you prefer, but the thumb levers are easier to use during fights.
A big, conventional reel is unnecessary if you are fishing small specks in 20 feet of water off the Intercoastal. If you are fishing off Grand Isle and hook a 300-pound tarpon you will need plenty of line.
When the last inch of line is removed from your spool, you can expect to feel your heart sink.
You’ll need the strongest, most durable reels available to you for serious offshore fishing. They should also have a lot of braid, so you can carry a lot of line. While you should always size your reel according to the fish you are after, offshore fishing requires more line than inshore.
It is important to remember that absolute numbers do not tell the entire story.
Instead, you can compare reel to reel, and size to size, in order to identify the models and brands that pack the biggest punch.
Note: All reviews list monofilament capacities in yards per weight.
Stress can cause reels of grouper and monster tuna, as well as sharks and lake trout, to be under a lot of pressure.
Remember that your reel is your rod’s anchor. While this can be mitigated by your rod’s power and action, line stretch and your drag, every big fight is a test of each component of your reel from the teeth on your gears to the drag discs to the frame that holds it all together.
Most offshore anglers prefer a solid metal body. It is stronger, more rigid, and longer-lasting than graphite. Graphite can cut weight as well as a college wrestler but it cannot offer the same stiffness and durability as machined aluminum.
Standard reels will not accept plastic gears. They will break and deform under the load they are required to support. Solid brass and stainless are better choices.
Each reel in this list is equipped with a sealed module to protect the gears and bearings against saltwater intrusion. These are great features for rods for freshwater but they are essential for offshore applications.
Modern precision trolling requires you to know how much line you are dragging. Proper use of a downrigger requires careful accounting of each foot.
On reels that are made for this purpose, a line counter might be available.
You can also use metered line as a stopgap. Many anglers use metered lines. If precision trolling is your preferred technique, you will appreciate a line count.
Garry Brummett explains that level wind reels have a moving guide. This guides the line from the reel to the worm shaft. The pawl runs across the reel’s front and back. As the line is being pulled, the moving line guide evenly distributes it. It ensures that there is no accumulation of line in any one spot. The line guide on conventional open-style reels is absent and it is up to the angler to distribute the line back onto their spool.
Mono is particularly prone to get stuck on the reel. Avoid this. As you retrieve the line, your thumb will direct it with your thumb. This will help to distribute the material along the entire length of the spool.
If you do, then bunching can affect casting. Depending on the application, this may not be a problem. However, in extreme cases it can cause the body to lock the spool.
Braid is smooth and self-distributing. A level breeze is not necessary if this is your main line.
Level winds can burst and are delicate. Brummett warns that level winds can burst and are fragile. This applies to all manufacturers. Any manufacturer can fail at any level. It is just part of the design. A very small pawl crosses a small gear. When you’re fighting large fish with 15-20 pounds of drag, a lot of pressure is put on the line guide system. We add salt and sand to the mix, and we may not clean and lubricate our reels as often as we should. All these factors increase the likelihood of a reel breaking down. This is not the case with conventional open-faced reels.
Do you require a wind-reel with a level?
If you are running mono main-line frequently, it might be worth it.
Our Pick — The Penn Fathom Lever Drag
Penn is still my favourite manufacturer of traditional reels, though Avet and Daiwa are close.
The Fathom is our favorite choice and a long-standing favorite among offshore anglers. There are many sizes available to match the size of the fish you are chasing. Each model offers exceptional capacity, speed, strong drag, and confidence-inspiring gears. This reel has a strong, rigid body that will last a lifetime. Charter captains want to give their clients the best possible experience.
Dedicated precision trollers may want to look at other options or run metered lines, and be careful with trolling depths. You might switch to wind options if you don’t like mono main lines.
The Avet LX6.0 is also worth mentioning. If you can live with slower retrieves and a smaller body than the Fathom40HS, the Avet is the right size.
No matter what reel you prefer, any of our reels will keep the lines in the fight. These reels will provide the performance offshore anglers need to unleash their adrenaline.