Imagine a spinning reel giving in just when you’re reeling in that meaty marlin you’ve been pursuing for hours. As an angling enthusiast, I dare say that there are very few things as disappointing in life. So how do you find the best reels for saltwater fishing in a market flooded with products so diverse as to confuse even the most seasoned anglers?
It does not help that many profit-driven companies are flooding the market with inferior products that cannot withstand harsh saltwater-fishing conditions. Most of the products advertised as the best saltwater spinning reels are not even robust enough to handle large-game fishing, which we assume is what you are after.
But not all products fall short of our expectations. Thankfully, some brands still try to maintain, and even raise, the bar. A considerable percentage of them have been producing the best saltwater spinning reels for decades, but some are new names that set on edging out the industry’s Goliaths.
We understand that in your quest for the best saltwater fishing reel, you will face a mind-boggling number of options. So, driven by our passion for saltwater fishing, and our love for fish, we have compiled a list of five of the best saltwater spinning reels on the market. We even took the liberty of ranking them chronologically from the best going down.
The Selection Criterion
There are several things that you need to consider if you want to end up the best saltwater fishing reel. Most of these factors may seem inconsequential, but ignoring them may have far-reaching consequences. We have used the same criterion listed below to select our top-five seawater spinning reels.
It is only logical that you would go for the most affordable product. However, our quest for a bargain should not compromise our desire for quality or safety. It is essential to look for a product that provides a balance between value and efficiency.
You do not want a heavy spinning reel if you plan to cast all day. Even a few more ounces will significantly test your endurance. You are better off keeping it light both inshore and offshore. Fortunately, some of the best saltwater spinning reels employ light-weight architecture.
Most novice anglers get hung up on the amount of drag a spinning reel can handle. Buying a spinning reel with the ‘maximum drag’ does you no good as it only takes a bite at your resilience. Most adults can manage about 17 pounds of drag, which is enough for all but the most massive beasts in the sea.
The devil is always in the details. It is advisable to know what is inside your reel. The number of bearings in the gear and the quality of spool construction largely affect the reel’s performance.
Materials such as Aluminum, carbon fiber, titanium, and stainless steel are used in the construction of the best fishing reels for saltwater. Some hybrid reels combine several materials for better protection. Despite the material used, it is essential for a reel to sport an added layer of anti-corrosion coating.
Buying for the season may seem wise at first until you realize that the reduced cost affects performance. High-quality reels last for a longer time and always all come with the necessary drag. So if you can afford it, always go for the best saltwater spinning reels as it saves you money in the long run.
A beefier rivet on the inside of spinning reel knob is less likely to loosen with time or break under pressure.
The best reels for saltwater fishing offer protective coating. Sealed reels provide better corrosion protection and tend to last longer under abrasive salty water conditions.
All the bells and whistles are of no use if the reel does not feel right in your hands. Unless you are shopping online, you should take the spinning reel for a light test drive before you pay it. The best saltwater fishing reel is one that suits your body weight, size, and height.
Deeper spools (ones with greater distance from lip to arbor) increase both capacity and castability. The best saltwater spinning reels feature wider spools which improve stability and drag system alignment.
What type of fish are you likely to catch in your fishing conditions? Some reels are better suited for a certain kind of fish than others.
2018’s Best Saltwater Spinning Reels
We fished for the best saltwater spinning reels and then went catching with them. And after endless tests, and lots of fun, we had our winners:
1: KastKing Kodiak Saltwater Spinning Reel
The KastKing Kodiak spinning reel was borne more out of passion than enterprise. It was designed and developed by a bunch of students with a desired to produce the best saltwater fishing reel in the world. To ensure that they efficiently balanced quality with value, they eliminated shelving costs by vending their productions exclusively on their website.
The KastKing, named after salmon-hunting Alaskan bears, is available in four flavors: the 2000, the 3000, the 4000, and the 5000. All models offer a max drag of 39.5 pounds and a line capacity of 200 yards of 20 lbs braid. They also feature a 5:2:1 gear ratio and 10+1 ball bearings. However, weight and ruggedness increases as you move up the ladder, and so does price.
Its aluminum build gives it the much-needed brutishness to handle harsh ocean conditions while still keeping the weight light: the heaviest KastKing model weighs a mere 12.38 Oz. Built to fight the biggest saltwater trophy fish, it comes with fortified brass gears, 15% thicker stainless steel shaft, and a carbon fiber drag system.
The 10+1 shielded stainless steel ball bearings make for a very competitive level of smoothness. It is one of the best fishing reels for saltwater conditions thanks to a new unique-design rotor structure and aluminum spool for enhanced corrosion protection.
- Drag-enhancing carbon-fiber system
- 10+1 stainless steel bearings for extra smoothness
- Fortified brass and thicker steel shaft for toughness
- Watertight rotor structure and aluminum spool
2: Okuma Cedros Spinning Reel
It is not easy to offer a low price tag in a segment where material quality is paramount to the overall performance of the product, but somehow the Cedros spinning reel pulls it off. It is a rugged, high-speed saltwater spinning reel available in 6 models: CJ30S, CJ40S, CJ45S, CJ55S, CJ65S, and CJ80S.
Like its siblings, the Cedros has a high gear ratio which makes it ideal for vertical jigging and other fishing techniques that require a quick retrieve. It also features Okuma’s proprietary Dual Force Drag System that yields up to 33 pounds of drag to effortlessly stop fish in their tracks. Additionally, it includes a highly-rated quick-set anti-reverse mechanism that put even the best saltwater spinning reels to shame.
The Cedros saltwater reel employs the High-Density Gearing II technology to provide corrosion resistance without much sacrifice on the brass gearing. The patented Elliptical Oscillating System is the soul of Okuma’s best saltwater spinning reel. It eliminates spool jumping and provides a smooth spool stroke and excellent line lay.
The Cedros is sculpted in a rigid diecast aluminum frame and side plate. It also offers two-tone anodized ported spools and a customized blue anodized machined aluminum handle. All these are backed by a 1-year comprehensive manufacturer warranty.
- A full aluminum build
- A High Density Gearing II technology
- An Elliptical Oscillating System
- A high gear ratio
- A Dual Force Drag System
3: Shimano Baitrunner D Spinning Reel
The Shimano Baitrunner D is best for, but not limited to, fishing with live bait on the deck of a boat. The Baitrunner D is undisputedly the best Shimano spinning reel for fishing the surf, lagoon, pier, or jetty. It comes with a legendary drivetrain, excellent castability, and an auto-return Baitrunner feature. Graciously, the Shimano Baitrunner D packs seven of the newest tech features but still fall in the comparably low $100 price range.
Baitrunner D models include the BTGR400D, the BTR6000D, the BTR8000D, and the BTR12000D. Line capacity starts at 8 lb mono/15 lb braid in the base specification and runs to 20 lb mono/80 lb braid in the top-most trim. The maximum 20 pounds of drag resistance is more than sufficient for reeling in a jack or tuna in the 20-50 lb range.
The highlight of the Baitrunner is the patented Baitrunner feature. Simply put, the mechanism allows live bait to swim freely until a certain pre-set line resistance is felt, after which it automatically returns the spool to full gear.
The Super Stopper II anti-reverse system dedicates one bearing to the sole task of preventing any back play. The Shimano Baitrunner D uses anti-rust SA-RB bearings and employs a Dyna-Balance system to prevent the spool from wobbling or vibrating during a retrieve. We should also mention that the spool is made of cold-forged aluminum which is more rugged than die-cast aluminum.
A Varispeed technology maintains a consistent spool rotation, and a smoothness-enhancing Fluid II technology seals its position as the best Shimano spinning reel.
- Super-Stopper II anti-reverse
- Varispeed tech for consistency
- SA-RB anti-rust ball bearings
- Cold-forged aluminum spool
- Dyna-Balance mechanism
- The Baitrunner Feature
4. PENN Slammer III Spinning
The Penn Slammer saltwater spinning reel won the Best of Show at the iCast 2016 in the saltwater reel category, and for a good reason. The Slammer III is a product of Penn, a subsidiary of the Pure Fishing company which is responsible for the production of the best saltwater spinning reels since 1932.
The Slammer III is made available in eight size-oriented models starting from the base 3500 to the top 10500 trim. The entry-level Slammer III 3500 offers more than most upper trims from other brands. It provides 10 lbs of drag and a 37″ retrieve rate. Upgrading to the monster 10500 earns you 60 lbs of drag and a retrieve rate of 43″. All offerings come with 6+1 stainless steel bearing are characterized by a full metallic body, side plate, and rotor.
Penn’s engineers believe that the best saltwater spinning reels are the most rugged. They take pride in a product that can withstand all kinds of conditions and treatment. The reel’s IPX6-sealed spool and body means that you can dunk or drop the reel in sand without exposing the internals to corrosive elements.
Additionally, the Slammer III utilizes a CNC (a computer-controlled subtractive manufacturing process) gear technology, six stainless steel ball bearings, and internal CNC brass gears. A standard Dura-Drag system enables it to effortlessly handle heavy duty fishing while an advanced anti-drag mechanism keeps the line from turning backward.
Anglers also get a choice of two handle knobs: aluminum for hotter conditions and an EVA knob for those who fish in colder climates.
- CNC Gear technology
- A full-metallic build
- 2 handle knobs
- 6+1 stainless steel bearing system
- A Sealed Slammer® drag system with Dura-Drag
- IPX6 Sealed body and spool design
5: Okuma Azores Saltwater Spinning Reel
The Okuma Azores spinning reel is proof that with enough creativity and ingenuity, a new product can outdo even giants. It was introduced just in time for the 2016 model year but has already sold more than more established brands.
On the outside, it is well built with machined aluminum frames, side plates, and rotors; and a durable corrosion resistant coating. Okuma claims that what makes the Azores the best saltwater fishing reel is its inner beauty. It is what we cannot see that gives the Azores its shine: a Mechanical Stabilization System (MSS). The system features a three-piece carbon fiber construction process that minimizes the risk of corrosion and electrolysis for lesser materials inside the gearbox.
No matter what your favorite gamefish or style of fishing is, the Azores has you covered. It offers a choice of five trim levels: the Z-40S, the Z-55S, the Z-65S, the Z80S, and the Z-90S. The first two trims get a 5:8:1 gear ration which falls to 5:4:1 in the other trims.
A Dual Function Drag (DFD) with standard precision rotary adjustment control promises anglers gamefish-stopping drag levels of 28-29 pounds for the smallest first two trims. The larger three models max out at an incredible 44 lbs of drag. Line retrieval starts at 34.8 inches for the Z-40S and extends to 46 inches for the Z-90S. All models include 6 + 1 stainless steel ball bearings.
Okuma’s Dual-force Drag system stops fish in their tracks while a 6-mm stainless steel spool shaft increases stability and drag system alignment. A die-cast aluminum architecture ensures ruggedness without compromising on lightness.
- Precision Dual Force Drag System
- Oversized spool shaft
- 6HPB + 1RB corrosion-resistant stainless steel bearings
- Rigid die-cast aluminum body, side plate and rotor
- Corrosion resistace
- Drag adjustment
- Carbon Mechanical Stabilizing System
- Hydro Block water tight drag seal
There are several products that we were tempted to add to our best saltwater spinning reels. However, in our opinion, the best reels for saltwater fishing are only those that satisfy all the requirements listed in the Criterion section. Our experts agree that the Kastking Kodiak is the best saltwater fishing reel because of its blend of value with quality. The Okuma products are considered some of the best fishing reels for saltwater hunting due to their advanced anti-corrosion mechanism. The Shimano Baitrunner’s specialized Baitrunner Feature earns it a spot on our list of best saltwater spinning reels. And the Penn Slammer III stands out for its comprehensive range of equipment.