Best Fishing Reels for Any Situation – Reviews and Buying Guide

Do you need a reel, but aren’t sure where to begin?

We’ve got you covered!

Here is a comprehensive list of the top fishing reels that are suitable for all types of water, saltwater, and freshwater. We’ve compiled an unparalleled resource that combines field testing and extensive comparison to help you make the right choice for your needs.

Best Freshwater Fishing Reels

  • Cadence CS8-3000 Spinning Reel
  • Cadence CS8-1001 – Ultralight Spinning Reel
  • Shimano Curado K CU200HGK – Baitcasting Reel
  • Zebco Bullet – Spincasting Reel
  • Shimano Tekota 300LC – Freshwater Trolling Reel
  • Cadence CC4 Spinning Combo- Rod and Reel Combo

Best Saltwater Fishing Reels

  • Penn Fathom Lever Drag Size 30, – Conventional Reel
  • Penn Battle II 3000 Surf Fishing Reel
  • Shimano Curado K CU200HGK – Inshore Baitcasting Reel
  • Shimano Ultegra ULT4000XGFB – Inshore Spinning Reel
  • Penn Battle II Spinning Fishing Rod & Reel Combo – Saltwater Rod & Reel Combo

Best Specialty Fishing Reels

  • Galvan Torque #5 Fly Fishing Reel
  • 13 Fishing Black Betty 6061 – Ice Fishing Reel
  • Shakespeare Ugly Stik Dock Runner Spinning Combo Rod & Reel Combo for Kids

Best Freshwater Fishing Reels

Best spinning reel

Spinning reels allow for easy casting in the wind, particularly with their lightweight design. They are popular with novice and expert anglers who want to catch everything from pike to panfish.

Cadence CS8-3000

CS8 Spinning Reel,Cadence Ultralight Fast Speed Premium Magnesium Frame Fishing Reel with 10 Low Torque Bearings Super Smooth Powerful Fishing Reel with 36 LBs Max Drag & 6.2:1 Spinning Reel

Maximum drag:19 lb.

The ratio of gears: 6.2:1 (35″ per turn)

Line capacity:10/150

Bearings 9 + 1 roller bearing

Weight: 7.4 oz.

The CS8 series offers high-end performance at a lower price than you would expect. These reels can be used as serious competitors to established brands like Penn and Shimano.

The drag of the CS8-3000’s drag is outstanding. It uses a series of carbon fiber discs to create tension. The maximum setting of the CS8-3000 is controlled by a knob at the end. It can fight largemouth and walleye, and for those who are more experienced, pike and muskies when you run strong braided lines.

A 6.2:1 gear ratio, which picks up 35 inches per crank, means that even large fish won’t be able to outrun your retrieve. This is a great reason to choose CS8-3000.

Pros

  • Great value for the money
  • Excellent drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Excellent casting
  • Silky-smooth operation

Cons

  • N/A

Take a look at our buying guide, as well as our reviews of our favorite products:

Best spinning reels

Ultralight spinning reel

Ultralight fishing is a great way to catch small fish and increases the challenge. However, it requires very light lines. Only spinning reels can reliably cast mono of 2- to 4-pound weight without tangles.

Cadence CS8-1000

CS8 Spinning Reel,Cadence Ultralight Fast Speed Premium Magnesium Frame Fishing Reel with 10 Low Torque Bearings Super Smooth Powerful Fishing Reel with 36 LBs Max Drag & 6.2:1 Spinning Reel

Maximum drag:11 lb

Gear ratio:5.2:1

Line capacity:6 lb./110 yards

Bearings 9 + 1 roller bearing

Cadence’s reel is one of very few that makes it onto our list more than once.

The CS8-1000 runs extremely smooth and is built to a high standard. Cadence packed this ultralight full of high-quality components. It’s an excellent choice for the price and can compete with the most expensive options. It fishes just like a higher-end reel and offers the same performance as high-end options.

This drag is amazing. It uses a carbon fiber brake system that is smooth and efficient, even at lower settings. The CS-8 is a great reel for medium prices. Casting is also excellent.

Pros

  • Great value for the money
  • Operation super-smooth
  • Amazing capacity
  • Very high quality, excellent drag system
  • Casting is great

Cons

  • N/A

Take a look at our buying guide, as well as our reviews of our favorite products:

Ultralight spinning reels:

Best Baitcasting Reel

Baitcasting reels can be used for monolines that are over 10 pounds in diameter. This allows for precise casting and powerful line handling. These reels are ideal for largemouth bass fish, as they have very sensitive and strong drag systems.

Shimano Curado K CU200HGK

Shimano Curado 200K XG Lowprofile Freshwater Fishing Reel

Maximum drag:11 lb

Gear ratio:7.4:1 (31″ RPT).

Capacity8/180, 10/155, and 14/110 (mono).

Materialgraphite

Weight:7.6 oz.

Bearings7

The reels of Shimano are legendary. The Curado K Series is one of the most popular. There are many anglers I know who have ditched Chronarchs in favor of the Curado K Series – it’s that good!

The buttery smooth reels that Shimano makes are a major reason for their reputation on the water. The Curado K, however, is a significant improvement in this area. It has fine-grained adjustments to the spool control knob and is in a class of its own. Its performance is impressive, and I don’t exaggerate.

This results in some of my favorite casting and a lot more line. Curado K’s drag is also excellent. It makes full use of SVS Infinity, which allows for precise micro-adjustments.

It is no surprise that the Curado K reel will last for many years.

Pros

  • Amazing casting
  • Extraordinary drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Incredible durability

Cons

  • Not especially light

Take a look at our buying guide, as well as our reviews of our favorite products:

Best Baitcasting Reels

Best Spincasting Reel

The shroud protects your line and makes it easier to cast. Because they are so easy to use, they are a great choice for beginners.

Zebco Bullet

Zebco Bullet Spincast Fishing Reel, Size 30 Reel, Fast 29.6 Inches Per Turn, GripEm All-Weather Handle Knobs, Pre-Spooled with 10-Pound Zebco Fishing Line, Black (2017)

Maximum drag:10 lbs.

Gear Ratio5.1:1 (29.6″) RPT

Capacity(yards/test 90/10

Material Aluminum

Weight:13.9 oz.

Bearings9 (8 + clutch).

One complaint that spin casting reels have is their slow retrieval rate. This may not seem like a problem but it can make it difficult to keep a tight line if there is a big run at your boat.

The exception is Zebco’s Bullet. It is geared to 5.1:1 and has a large spool. This reel retrieves just as fast as high-end spinning and baitcasting gears.

The Bullet has an aluminum cover with the very good build quality. The Bullet feels solid in your hand and the crank and knobs at its tips feel great. It’s easy to set the drag and it works well. We would fish this for bass in an instant.

Casting is great, especially when using the quality line. With nine–that’s right nine–bearings this reel is smooth and smooth. The gears are made from solid brass and have great durability. The Bullet’s spool oscillates like spinning reels. This improves how the line lay, which results in better casting and fewer problems.

Pros

  • High-quality build
  • Speedy blistering
  • Very, very smooth
  • Nice drag
  • Cast well
  • Amazing durability
  • Oscillating pool
  • Anti-reverse instant

Cons

  • A spin casting reel is expensive

Take a look at our buying guide, as well as our reviews of our favorite products:

Best Spincasting Reels

Best trolling reel for freshwater

Walleye fishing requires a powerful reel with a high capacity that is reliable and precise.

Shimano Tekota 300LC

Maximum drag18 lbs.

Gear ratio: 4.2:1 25″ per turn

Capacity12/275,14/220 and 16/185

MaterialAluminum and graphite

Weight:14.3 oz.

Bearings3 + 1

You can see Shimano’s Tekota if you spend a day trolling for walleye in the Great Lakes. The Tekota is a popular choice for serious anglers because it delivers the performance that modern trolling requires.

The capacity is impressive and dwarfs comparable spinning reels. The Tekota 300LC can run over 500 yards of a 6-pound nylon line.

This is good news for mono enthusiasts, as well as many fishermen who troll. You can still get huge lengths of monoline by using an 8-pound test, and the Tekota’s level wind will distribute your mono throughout the spool.

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The 300LC has an easy-to-use, accurate line counter that allows anglers to precisely control their depth. This is a huge advantage if trolling is your preferred method.

The Tekota can be set to 4.2:1. It’s built with solid bronze gears and has plenty of power, so you can turn even the largest walleye heads and keep her where she wants to be. Although a 25-inch retrieve per turn is not impressive, it is enough to maintain a tight line.

This reel is tough to beat for walleye anglers!

Pros

  • Excellent, lightweight body
  • Walleye have a huge potential
  • Smooth, powerful cranking
  • All-metal gearing
  • Effective level wind
  • Accurate line counter
  • Nice drag

Cons

  • Although the 4.2:1 gear ratio maybe a little too slow for walleye fishing, it is still sufficient.

Freshwater: Best Rod and Reel Combo

A combo is a great way to speed up your time on the water, but you don’t know which reel to use. They offer great rods and reels, so you can leave the selection of the right paring to professionals.

Cadence CC4 Spinning Combo

Cadence CC4 Spinning Combo Lightweight with 24-Ton 2-Piece Graphite Rod Strong Carbon Composite Frame & Side Plates Ergonomic EVA Handle Knob Reel & Rod Combo(CC4-1000-56UL)

Maximum drag13 lbs

Gear ratio:6.2:1 (32″) RPT

Capacity6/160

MaterialCarbon composite

Weight:8.3 oz.

Bearings7 + 1

Cadence’s C4 reels offer great value for money. This combo includes a rod and reel that will make you smile!

The 2000 series is recommended for medium-light fishing, including panfish, trout, and walleye. It also works well for finesse techniques such as bass.

Cadence has a great drag system and a maximum setting of 13 pounds. This reel is perfect for walleye and bass but also works well for panfish of any size.

This combo is very affordable and holds a lot of lines.

Pros

  • Great all-arounder for freshwater
  • Beautiful rod
  • Good drag
  • Amazing capacity

Cons

  • It’s not as smooth as the more expensive options

Best Saltwater Fishing Reels

Best Conventional Reel

Conventional reels were designed to handle large fish such as marlin, grouper, and shark. They are used primarily for offshore fishing and are generally bigger and stronger than other types of reels.

Penn Fathom Lever Drag Size 30

PENN Fathom Lever Drag

Maximum drag:33 lbs.

Gear ratio:5.3:1 (36″) RPT

Capacity20/435, 30/325, and 40/250

MaterialAluminum

Weight:19.8 oz.

Bearings5

Penn is probably the most trusted name offshore angling. The Fathom Lever Drag series offers everything you would expect from a top-flight reel.

The Fathom series features a solid metal body with stainless steel gearing. This gives it the strength and durability that big fish require. These reels are not lightweight, but all that metal comes with a price.

However, you can expect bomb-proof durability, unrivaled stiffness, and plenty of cranking power. The excellent retrieval rates of the Fathom’s stainless bearing and gears are a testament to their quality. It will be easy to keep your line tight. This is an important consideration but it is necessary for areas where the law requires you to use a barbless hook.

You’ll also find outstanding capacity on the spool. Line capacity rings are placed on the spool to keep you informed at a glance.

The Fathom series features an extraordinary, durable drag system that is powerful and can withstand hard battles. You will not feel any slipping or binding even in high settings.

I’m impressed!

Pros

  • Amazing body–very strong, stiff
  • Excellent retrieval rates, smooth cranking, the excellent gear ratio, and smooth cranking
  • Amazing drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Excellent durability

Cons

  • N/A

Take a look at our buying guide, as well as our reviews of our favorite products:

Best Conventional Reels

Best Surf Fishing Reel

A reel capable of casting a country mile, delivering a sharp hookset and muscle a large redfish, striper or shark is essential for surf fishing. The best reels combine great power with powerful drags.

Penn Battle II 3000

Maximum drag:15 lbs.

The ratio of gears: 6.2:1 (35″ per turn)

Line capacity:200/8, 165/10 and 120/12

MaterialAluminum

Weight: 12.3 oz.

Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing

Penn reels are a legend among saltwater anglers. The Battle II is a testimony to their concern for fishermen who require a large spinning reel for surfing.

As you would expect, the drag is activated with the knob at the end of your spool. Carbon fiber is the heart of this system, and it holds and releases well. This Penn is my first choice if I was looking for a large spinning rod to handle salt.

The spool is large and holds a lot of lines. It cranks smoothly.

The Battle II line-up is equipped with an instant anti-reverse bearing that locks up quickly, encouraging strong hooksets.

Pros

  • Excellent drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Amazing casting
  • Silky-smooth operation
  • Amazing anti-reverse

Cons

  • N/A

Best Inshore Baitcasting reel

A baitcasting reel is the best choice for anglers who like to fish inshore.

Shimano Curado K CU200HGK

Shimano Curado 200K XG Lowprofile Freshwater Fishing Reel

Maximum drag:11 lbs.

Gear ratio:7.4:1 (31″ RPT).

Capacity8/180, 10/155, and 14/110 (mono).

Materialgraphite

Weight:7.6 oz.

Bearings7

If you are looking for an inshore fishing reel, the Curado K is a great choice.

This reel is a great choice for strippers, reds, specks, and snook. This reel is all about inshore fishing. It combines incredible casting with a great drag system and lots of lines.

The drag is smooth and strong enough to handle big fish. I usually use a 12- to 14-pound mono reel with this reel in salt. When necessary, I will add a heavier braid. It provides enough tension to catch big fish and is easy to adjust on the fly.

This reel has a superior capacity and is a pleasure to use.

Pros

  • Amazing casting
  • Excellent drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Incredible durability

Cons

  • Not especially light

Best Inshore Spinning Reel

A large spinning reel is the best choice for inshore fishing if you can’t stomach a baitcasting rod or you know that you’ll be casting in strong wind.

Shimano Ultegra ULT4000XGFB

SHIMANO Ultegra Spinning Fishing Reel

Maximum drag:24 lb.

The ratio of gears: 6.2:1 (39″ per turn)

Line capacity:8/240, 9/200, and 12/160

Material

Weight: N/A

Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing

Many anglers use a spinning reel to cast in the wind.

Ultegra’s drag feels strong and smooth, which is exactly what you need when you catch a big red or snook. The Hagane all-metal gearing from Shimano makes cranking easy. A waterproofing seal has been added to the gearing as a reminder to saltwater anglers worried about corrosion.

This reel has a great line capacity and would be my first choice if I was looking for a spinning reel to use in salt marshes or mudflats.

Pros

  • Excellent drag
  • Amazing capacity
  • Casting in the wind is excellent
  • Silky-smooth operation

Cons

  • N/A

Take a look at our buying guide, as well as our reviews of our favorite products:

Best Inshore Spinning Reels

Saltwater: Best Rod and Reel Combo

A combo that includes a rod and reel may be the best choice for you if you want to get out on the water, rather than worrying about choosing the reel.

Penn Battle II Spinning Fishing Rod & Reel Combo

PENN BTLII4000701M Battle II 4000 Spinning Reel Combo, Inshore, 7 Feet, Medium Power

Maximum drag:15 lbs.

The ratio of gears: 6.2:1 (37″ per turn)

Line capacity:8/270, 10/220 and 12/165

Material Aluminum

Weight: 12.8 oz.

Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing

Penn’s Battle II reels make excellent spinning options for saltwater species such as redfish and striper. This reel is 4000-sized and comes with a Penn medium-power rod.

Penn’s carbon fiber drag is a great example of what it can do in Battle II. It’s strong and smooth enough to withstand real brutes. It has a great capacity and, when combined with the rod, you can be prepared for long runs and bruising fights.

The Battle II line-up is equipped with an instant anti-reverse bearing that locks up quickly, encouraging strong hooksets.

Pros

  • Excellent drag
  • Amazing capacity
  • Excellent casting
  • Silky-smooth operation
  • Amazing anti-reverse

Cons

  • Transit can cause damage to the rod

Best Specialty Fishing Reels

Best Fly Fishing Reel

Fly anglers need very specific in-line reels. They must be robust. To help them fight trout and bass with light tackle, they need a strong, adjustable drag.

Galvan Torque #5

Check the Price

Width of the spool.9″

Capacity5wt./125, and 6wt./100

Material Aluminum

Weight: 4.8 oz.

Galvan’s Torque series fly reels are a favorite in every head-to-head contest.

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The drag knob on this reel spins four times before it slows down. This allows for fine adjustments. It is also extremely smooth, consistent, reliable, and consistent. It can be sealed against the elements and is fine in salt!

Although it is not the lightest fly reel, it is one of the most durable and has a large spool.

This is my pick for the #5 rod.

Pros

  • Very durable
  • Sealed drag
  • Amazing drag
  • Excellent capacity and deep spool
  • High-quality build quality

Cons

  • N/A

Take a look at our buying guide, as well as our reviews of our favorite products:

Best Fly Fishing Reels

Best Ice Fishing Reel

An ice reel is an in-line spool with enough line to allow for deep jigging. As cold water makes the fish slow, strong drags are not necessary.

13 Fishing Black Betty 6061

13 FISHING Black Betty 6061 Hardwater Inline Ice Fishing Reel

Maximum drag: N/A

Gear ratio:2.7:1 (18″) RPT

Capacity (approximately): (mono) 2#/270 yards, 4#/190 yards, 6#/120 yards

MaterialAluminum

Weight: N/A

Bearings5

The Black Betty straight-line reel from 13 Fishing is the talk in the ice fishing world. We reviewed the 6061 and were just as impressed.

The 6061 is made from aluminum and is extremely durable. The 6061 can hold up to 2 lbs of monofilament and more. Similar to the Eagle Claw it also offers a free spool to aid your jigs in their descents. The spool’s smoothness and bearings are impressive. It will drop 1/32 ounces of jigs without any trouble.

Pros

  • Good gear ratio for deep jigging
  • Drop jigs with a free spool button
  • Excellent capacity

Cons

  • Not cheap

Take a look at our buying guide, as well as our reviews of our favorite products:

Best Ice Fishing Reels

Best Rod and Reel Combination for Kids

Many combos for kids are toys that will appeal to young anglers. We have the right rod and reel for you if your child is a beginner.

Shakespeare Ugly Stik Dock Runner Spinning Combo

Shakespeare Ugly Stik Dock Runner Spinning Combo Red, 3'6'

Maximum drag: N/A

The ratio of gears?N/A

Line capacity:4/190, 6/140 and 8/110

MaterialN/A

Weight: N/A

Bearings1

Shakespeare’s Ugly Dock Runner is a rod, not a toy. This is a great choice for young anglers who want to fish seriously, as well as parents who also love fishing.

This combo includes a nice rod and a decent reel. Kids will have no trouble casting or fighting panfish such as bluegill, crappie, or perch.

The price is reasonable, and Shakespeare doesn’t talk much about the details.

Pros

  • Capacity:
  • Panfish will be able to withstand the drag.
  • Reasonably smooth

Cons

  • The overall quality is just okay, as you would expect for this price.

Take a look at our buying guide, as well as our reviews of our favorite products:

Best Fishing Rod and Reel Combination for Kids

How to Select an Outstanding Spinning Reel

Drag

The drag is what I first look at when looking at any reel.

First, I evaluate where it is. The best drag systems are situated directly over the area they will be working. Therefore, drag knobs are often located at the end of the spool.

While some spinning reels may have dials located elsewhere, these require a more complex mechanism that doesn’t work as well as does not last as long.

Second, I look closely at the maximum setting to see if it slips at this weight. I want to find a maximum setting for spinning reels that is appropriate for the size and weight I am after. I do this by stringing some strong lines and testing the drag with a weight.

This is about evaluating the drag’s quality, not testing the maximum. I won’t set the drag that high.

I then spool up some medium-weight line, adjust the drag to about a third, and see how easily it lets me take the line. I like a steady, smooth release, no jerking, catching, or slipping.

Ratio of gears

The reel’s gear ratio is the relationship between the crank, the spool, and the crank. It tells you how many turns the crank makes. A gear ratio of 5.2 to 1 means that one crank turn spins the spool 52.2 times.

This is important for two reasons.

Some lures require a slow, medium, or fast retrieve. A reel’s gear ratio should be matched to the intended purpose of the reel to improve action. A fast reel with a gear ratio greater than 5.2:1 is ideal for topwater lures and shallow crankbaits.

You should also care about the gear ratio because it shows you how fast it picks up lines. A medium to fast ratio is important, regardless of whether you are jigging deep and casting far out to cover the water.

Smooth operation

A reel of high quality should have a tight bail, a crank that spins freely, and a drag knob that adjusts the setting. To encourage solid hooksets, the anti-reverse system should also lock up quickly.

Capacity

It is important to have a line capacity.

A properly filled spool will ensure that you don’t cast your line too far. Over a day of fishing, however, you may need to cut the line to either reduce abrasion or recover from a poor cast.

Your reel should have enough line to last you the entire day without having to re-spool.

I will be reporting line capacity using monofilament weights. You can change to braid to get more line on your reel or increase the weight to a mono equivalent of 4 or 6 pounds.

When I decided to use my ultralight for big-bass, I did exactly that!

What to Look for When Choosing a Great Baitcasting Reel

Durability

Baitcasting reels are often expensive, and it is frustrating to have expensive tackle stop working after just one season.

We recommend reels that are durable and make the most of your money. We don’t have any vested interests in manufacturers, but we tell the truth about all products, good and bad. Three names are worth mentioning: Shimano, Daiwa, and Lews.

These reels are some of my favorite reels. If you have a good conversation with other anglers, there’s a chance you’ll spot these reels on their rods.

Great drag

An awesome drag is your friend when you are fighting a monster. Smooth and strong are your best friends, whether you’re running crankbaits or helping to catch fish.

You might want to keep your drag weight at 3-4 pounds when crank baiting. Smooth performance is what you want, with just a little bit of giving to keep you from ripping treble hooks free, especially if your rod is not made of glass.

You will need to increase your drag setting if you want to make long-distance hooksets or drag bass out of heavy covers. In these cases, slippage is not an option. However, opinions differ on how much drug should be used.

Many anglers recommend that you set your drag at 1/3 of your line’s breaking strength. This gives you enough power to turn big fish and protects your rod and line.

Others disagree. They claim that they bought super lines for their maximum capacity and will set the drag at the maximum when fishing heavy cover. They rely on the rod, line, knot, and rod to hold them together. The idea is to drag bass away from the bad stuff.

Who is right?

Both camps have good reasons to do what they are doing. You won’t need more drag than 6-10 pounds.

Do you really need all the torque that your truck can provide?

Amazing casting

A good baitcasting reel should have a spool that defies physics. The spool should spin as easily as possible and have slick surfaces that allow the line to pass through. To make long casts, it is important to have the right design of the level wind (the part that guides the line onto the spool).
The smooth operation of the “T-wing” by Daiwa is well-known in fishing circles. However, other top manufacturers also have their own designs.

Long casts can be dangerous if they result in bird nesting backlash. Many rods with higher ends have magnetic brake systems. They apply more pressure to the reel as it slows down, preventing the reel from feeding too much line.

These systems, when designed and implemented by the best, can help you cast light lures and work in the wind to launch your crankbaits into the next county.

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Ratio of gears

The gear ratio is the number of revolutions that one crank of a handle produces on the spool. A gear ratio of 7.5 to 1 means that one turn of your handle spins the spool 75% of the time. The faster the retrieve, the higher the ratio. This speed can also be represented by the number IPT (inches per turn), which is 31. This would mean that each turn of the handle picks up 31 inches of line.

Although speed is not always better than slow it can offer more flexibility. It is easier to slow down than speed up your retrieve. With a little practice, you can adjust your natural cadence to meet the requirements of slower presentations.

There are many ratios available for the reels we chose, but we have chosen to highlight what we believe is the best 7-speed speed. Although it is not the best choice for deep divers and crankbaits, it allows you to pick up a lot more slack quickly and is ideal for soft plastics or jigs.

Capacity

Capacity is not something to be proud of, especially if it’s necessary to strip and cut lines while you fish.

Although the reels we chose are quite similar, there are some standouts. There are tradeoffs, however, as a larger reel will usually require a larger spool.

We list capacities such as 12/120 in mono-diameter equivalents and feet.

Weight and “Palmability”.

A good reel should be lightweight and comfortable. Ideal reels should be lightweight enough to disappear on your rod and in the palm of your hand.

In each review, we’ll discuss comfort and weight.

Bearings

Baitcasting reels have an important bearing count, but the standard is only one roller bearing per spool. Retrieving is as easy as climbing icy stairs because the rest of the bearings are hidden in the internals.

Although it is not a rule of thumb, more is always better. There are exceptions to the rule, but more is better. The 13 Fishing Concept A illustrates that less can be greater.

How to Select an Outstanding Conventional Reel

Conventional reels can be a lot more difficult than spinning or baitcasting options. Because they will be fighting against large fish, they are built differently and may require some additional features.

RPT and gear ratio

You might not realize how important the gear ratio and RPT (retrieve every turn) are on a reel with a conventional reel.

Yes, you need to match the gear ratios of your baitcasting reels for bass. Big surf-casting reels, however, can still benefit from speed.

It’s true.

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.

Drag

Offshore fishing can lead to serious fighting.

A drag system that can hold your heavy line securely is essential when you are tying into a shark 8 feet in length, a grouper 400 pounds, or a tarpon 300 pounds. These drag systems won’t be able to hold down a line with a single digit of finesse.

Instead, think about acceptable maximums and how the drag holds or releases at 50% to 80 percent of that number.

Drag control is also important.

There are two options: the thumb lever or the standard star-shaped knob. It is up to you which one is best for you. However, the thumb levers can be a little easier to use during combat.

Capacity

A big, conventional reel is unnecessary if you are fishing 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 lines.

If you do, your heart will drop as the last few feet are taken from your spool.

You’ll need the strongest, most durable reels available to you for serious offshore fishing. They should also have a lot of braids, so you can carry a lot of lines. 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, compare reel to reel and size to size, to find the brands and models that pack the most punch.

Note: All reviews list monofilament capacities in yards per weight.

Construction

A reel can be put under tremendous stress by monster tuna, grouper, and sharks, as well as lake trout and sharks.

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.

A solid metal body is preferred by most offshore anglers. It is stronger, more rigid, and more resistant than graphite. Graphite can cut weight as well as a college wrestler but it cannot offer the same stiffness and durability as machined aluminum.

Plastic gears are not allowed in standard reels. They will break and deform under any load they are required to support. Solid brass and stainless steel are better options.

Every reel on this list has a sealed module that protects the bearings and gears from saltwater intrusion. These are great features for rods for freshwater but they’re crucial for offshore applications.

Line Counter

Modern precision trolling requires you to know how many lines you are dragging. Proper use of a downrigger requires careful accounting of each foot.

This technique might be offered by reels that have a line counter to keep track of each foot that leaves the reel.

You can use the metered line as an emergency stop-gap technique, and many anglers do. If precision trolling is your preferred technique, you will appreciate a line count.

Wind at a level

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 and back and forth. The moving line guide distributes the line evenly onto the reel as it is being retrieved. It also ensures that there are no large accumulations of line on any particular spot. The line distribution onto the spool of conventional open-style reels is up to the angler.

Mono is especially prone to bunching and must be avoided. As you retrieve the line, your thumb will direct it with your thumb. This will help to distribute it 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 spool to become stuck by direct contact with its body.

Braid is flat and self-distributing well. If this is your mainline, then a level wind might not be necessary.

Level winds can also be a delicate component that often breaks. Brummett warns that level winds are a fragile component and often break. This does not apply to any manufacturer. Failure is possible for all level winds, regardless of the manufacturer. It is just part of the design. A very small pawl crosses an equally small gear. The line guide system will be under tremendous pressure when fighting large fish with 15-20 pounds of drag. We add salt and sand to the mix, and we may not clean and lubricate our reels as often as we should. These factors all increase the chance of a reel failing. Failures of open-faced conventional reels are rare.

Do you need a level wind-reel?

It might be worthwhile if you run mono main-line regularly.

Last Thoughts

We hope you find this article helpful and that it helps you get on the water with the fish.

We would love to hear your comments, so please leave one below!

Lewis Mark is a vastly experienced fly fisher. His encyclopedic knowledge of fly tying has led to start blog on fishing. He also review Fishing equipment based on his knowledge and experience.