Currently set to Index
Currently set to Follow

Best Line Counter Reels Reviewed In 2022: Precision Trolling

Written by: John B
Last Updated:
SHARE: 

Modern precision trolling isn’t guesswork. It depends on precise knowledge of how much line you’re trailing and an exact measure of your boat’s speed.

That precision allows you to target the exact depths where the fish you’re after are feeding, and the results can be truly amazing. But it’s also fairly complicated and requires specialized tackle like trolling rods, planer boards, and line counter reels.

If you’re looking to improve your trolling game for walleye, lake trout, steelhead, or salmon, we’re here to help. Below, you’ll find comprehensive reviews of the best line counter reels on the market, as well as a complete buying guide to get you up to speed quickly.

Quick glance at the best line counter reels:

Related:

Best Line Counter Reels Reviewed

Penn Squall II Line Counter - Best Overall Line Counter Reel

PENN Squall II Line Counter Levelwind Reel

Bass Pro

Gear ratio: 4.9:1

IPT: 28” (20) and 35” (30)

Capacity: (20) 20/315 (mono)

(30) 30/355 (mono)

Maximum drag: 33 lbs.

Levelwind: yes

Bearings: 3 + 1

Weight: 18.7 oz. (20) and 22.3 (30)

Left-hand models available: no

Penn knows fishing, and their reels are perennial favorites of ours for their dependable durability and outstanding performance.

The Squall II Line Counter is no exception, and from the rigid graphite body to a great drag and a capcious spool, you’re not going to be disappointed by these reels - unless you’re left-handed!

Available in two sizes, both run gear ratios of 4.9:1 on a marine-grade bronze alloy main gear and stainless steel pinion gear. That provides plenty of fight-winning torque as well as smooth performance. 

The large, single power knob crank is well-designed and stiff, too.

The 20-size Squall II picks up 28 inches of line per crank, while the 30 grabs 38 inches with the same amount of work. For salmon, the 30 would be my choice, especially if I’m limited to barbless hooks.

Capacity is excellent, far outstripping the competitors on our shortlist, and like most Penn reels, you’ll find easy-to-read capacity markers on the inside of the spool.

Penn uses what it calls an HT-100 drag system in these reels, essentially a carbon fiber fabric laminated on fiberglass discs. Not only does this deliver smooth, reliable performance on par with Shimano and Daiwa, but as it heats up, it also reduces friction slightly, helping to compensate for the less and less line on your spool.

The line counter works as well as line counters do, putting it on the same footing as the Tekota A, but for my money, the Penn is simply too good for roughly $100 less than the Shimano.

Pros:

  • Excellent drag
  • Very fast
  • Rigid, compact body
  • Good line counter

Cons:

  • ???

Okuma Cold Water Linecounter - Best Budget Line Counter Reel

Okuma Cold Water Linecounter Trolling Reel CW-303D

Amazon 

Gear ratio: 5.1:1 (15 and 20) and 4.2:1 (30 and 45)

IPT: 23” (15 and 20), 24” (30), and 26” (45)

Capacity:(15) 10/330 12/290 14/240 (mono)

(20) 15/510 20/420 25/310 (mono)

(30) 15/510 20/420 25/310 (mono)

(45) 20/580 25/430 30/330 (mono)

Maximum drag: 18 lbs. (15 and 20); 20 lbs (35 and 40)

Levelwind: yes

Bearings: 2 + 1

Weight: 14.6 oz. (15), 15 oz. (20), 20 oz. (35), and 21.7 oz. (45)

Left-hand models available: yes

I think it’s fair to say that the Okuma Cold Water series is a step up from the Magda Pro in some respects, with only a modest increase in price. That makes these reels a very, very good buy. Just the addition of a level wind sets this above the Magda Pro, and for a budget-friendly trolling reel, look no further.

The drag is pretty good on these reels, offering smoother performance than the Magda Pro but falling well behind Shimano quality - a reality of pricing. The smaller two sizes offer a maximum of 18 pounds, while the larger two can generate 20 pounds of resistance, numbers that are fine in my book, even with big fish.

The gears of the Cold Water series are machined brass, providing satisfyingly smooth cranking and plenty of torque, and the crank handles and arms are well designed to provide plenty of torque to those teeth. I wouldn’t feel outgunned with this reel, even fighting a nasty steelhead.

Capacity is identical to the Magda Pro, and I’d guess that they run the same spools. That’s fine, and you’ll find plenty of line on these reels.

Speed, too, is identical - size for size - to the Magda Pro, despite small differences in gearing, and these reels are fast enough for most situations. They’re not competitive with the blistering Shimano, but then neither is their price.

The line counters on these reels occasionally experience problems with accuracy but overall perform well.

For anglers watching their pennies, this is probably the reel to pick.

Pros:

  • Great price!
  • Good drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Brass gears

Cons:

  • The line counter can be finicky

Shimano Tekota A 500 Line Counter - Best Line Counter Reel for Walleye

Shimano Tekota A 500 Line Counter

Bass Pro

Gear ratio: 6.3:1

IPT: 38”

Capacity: 16/390, 20/300, 25/240

Maximum drag: 24 lbs.

Levelwind: yes

Bearings: 3 + 1

Weight: 16.4 oz.

Left-hand models available: yes

Reviewing Shimano reels is pretty easy, as in many cases, they set the bar of excellence that every other manufacturer tries to reach.

This latest generation of Tekotas replaces the models of old with an all-new redesign, including a new rigid S-compact body and all new guts.

Let’s take a closer look.

The more compact body is a nice touch, and it still offers the rock-solid rigidity that made this reel popular. You’ll find that strength and durability are confidence-inspiring when you’ve got a big salmon on the line but the reel has shed a lot of its bulk.

The drag is Shimano awesome, as you’d expect, providing very smooth, very reliable performance. With a maximum of 24 pounds, you’ve got a lot of drag to work with, too, allowing very heavy braided line if you wish.

Powered by a 6.3:1 gear ratio, the Tekota A 500 is lightning-fast, picking up 38 inches of line per crank. If you’re fishing in the Pacific for salmon and running a barbless hook, you’ll know how important keeping a tight line is, and this Tekota will help tilt the odds in your favor.

The line counter is generally very good and easy to read, with new anti-fog covers being easy to get and simple to install.

The only thing not to love about this reel is the small spool size, a nod to the need to keep this reel compact. In the real world, I just don’t see this as a problem.

Overall, this is a very hard reel to beat for precision trolling.

Pros:

  • Excellent drag
  • Blazing speed
  • Rigid, compact body
  • Good line counter

Cons:

  • ???

KastKing ReKon 20

KastKing ReKon Level Wind Trolling/Jigging Fishing Reel,Round Conventional Baitcasting Reels,Size 20,Right Handed

Amazon 

Gear ratio: 5.3:1

IPT: 30.1”

Capacity: 20/420, 25/330 (mono)

Maximum drag: 30 lbs.

Levelwind: yes

Bearings: 3

Weight: 17 oz.

Left-hand models available: yes

KastKing is well known for reasonably-priced reels that deliver the performance of much more expensive competitors. And from excellent spinning reels like the Skarky III to dependable baitcasters like the Zephyr, KastKing is proving that they know what anglers need.

So how does the ReKon stack up?

We like the reel a lot, but if you’re in the market for a line counter, there are better options.

Let’s start with the good.

For a budget-friendly reel, KastKing packs the ReKon 20 with great tech and materials. The drag system uses carbon fiber washers that deliver smooth, predictable performance across their drag settings. The 30-pound maximum allows you to run heavy braid, increasing capacity and test strength when you’re fighting big fish like tuna, grouper, shark, blue catfish, or lake trout.

KastKing includes a line clicker function, a perfect pairing with a line counter that’s just ideal for using planing boards.

The ReKon features solid brass main gears and worm shafts, mating these with a stainless steel pinion gear. The result is a reel that’s very corrosion-resistant, very smooth, and very high-torque.

These gears run a ratio of 5.3:1, and while far from blisteringly fast, in conjunction with the spool, they pick up just a touch more than 30 inches of line with each crank. That’s fast enough for most species, and I wouldn’t feel seriously undergunned with this reel in a tough fight.

The ReKon 20 wears a big, comfortable, round knob on the handle, a really nice touch that you’ll appreciate when it comes time to crank like mad or lose your trophy.

Capacity is excellent, offering 330 yards of 25-pound test mono. That’s a lot in a reel this size, and if you choose to spool braid, capacity will leap upward.

But as you’d expect at this price point, something’s got to give, and it’s time for the things we’re not crazy about.

If you’re looking for a line counter reel, you’re interested in precision trolling. Guesswork or eyeballing rod lengths of line behind your boat aren’t what you’re interested in.

Unfortunately, that’s likely where you’ll end up, as the line counter on these reels tends to fail pretty quickly. From skipping to just plain failure, the line counter these reels wear is just not nearly as good as it needs to be.

That’s a shame, because the reel itself is a great buy at a fantastic price.

Overall, we can recommend the ReKon 20, just not as a line counter.

Pros:

  • Great price!
  • Very good drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Brass and stainless steel gears
  • OK speed

Cons:

  • The line counter fails quickly!

Okuma Magda Pro Line Counter

Okuma Magda Pro Line Counter

FishUSA

Gear ratio: 5.1:1 (15 and 20) and 4.0:1 (30 and 45)

IPT: 23” (15 and 20), 24” (30), and 26” (45)

Capacity: (15) 10/330 12/290 14/240 (mono)

(20) 15/510 20/420 25/310 (mono)

(30) 15/510 20/420 25/310 (mono)

(45) 20/580 25/430 30/330 (mono)

Maximum drag: 15 lbs. (15 and 20), 17 lbs. (30), and 18 lbs. (45)

Levelwind: no

Bearings: 2

Weight: 12.6 oz. (15), 13.2 oz. (20), 16.5 oz. (35), and 17.4 oz. (45)

Left-hand models available: yes

Like KastKing, Okuma has built a reputation for budget-friendly performance. I own and fish several of their reels, have been nothing but impressed, and can report that I’m far from alone.

For anglers on a tight budget, the Magda Pro Line Counter series is a great buy, provided you can do without a levelwind. 

Let’s get into the details.

These reels are available in sizes that range from models perfect for trolling for walleye to reels that would be more at home for steelhead and lake trout.

The 15 has a standard double paddle handle, but the larger sizes sport a large, single knob that allows for greater power on the crank. The gearing in every Magda Pro Line Counter is machined from solid brass, providing a smooth feel and plenty of torque even when you’ve got the fish of a lifetime on your line.

The smaller two models, the 15 and 20, run a 5.1:1 gear ratio while the 30 and 45 are powered by gears running a 4.0:1 ratio. Spool size is about equal with the KastKing ReKon, and as you’d expect, the faster gear ratio on the KastKing delivers higher speed. 

The Okumas are still respectable, picking up 23, 23, and 26 inches of line per crank depending on the size, but that’s a tad slow for large, fast swimming fish.

The Magda Pro Line Counter series runs a carbon fiber drag system that’s smooth and reassuring, though I’d like to see maximum settings that are a bit higher than the teens for heavy braid and big fish.

That said, 50-pound line is no joke, and these reels will take a hard fight, no question.

Just as with the KastKing, this price point demands compromises, and the line counter is where you’ll find them.

Overall, it works better than the ReKon’s, and it won’t crap out on you on your first day on the water. But it can be finicky, sometimes sticks, and the reset button doesn’t always do its job - so check before you put your line back in the water.

Overall, this is an affordable, quality reel with a line counter that’s reliable enough to recommend.

Pros:

  • Great price!
  • Good drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Brass gears

Cons:

  • The line counter can be finicky
  • The drag could have heavier maximums

Daiwa Sealine SG-3B Line Counter

Daiwa Sealine SG-3B Line Counter Reel

FishUSA

Gear ratio: 5.1:1 (17), 4.2:1 (27 and 47), and 6:1.1 (57)

IPT: 24.8” (17), 24.4” (27 and 47), and 42.9” (57)

Capacity: (17) 10/290 12/250 14/200 (mono)

(27) 12/450 14/30 20/210 (mono)

(47) 14/480 20/280 25/230 (mono)

(57) 20/580 25/430 30/330 (mono)

Maximum drag: 15.4 lbs. (17, 27, and 47) and 20 lbs. (57)

Levelwind: yes

Bearings: 3

Weight: 16.2 oz. (17), 15.7 oz. (27), 17.5 oz. (47), and 19.6 oz. (57)

Left-hand models available: yes

Daiwa has a well-earned reputation for outstanding quality, and the Sealine SG series of line counter reels is yet another example of what this company can deliver.

A once-piece graphite body sheds weight like a UFC champion while retaining reassuring rigidity, and the carbon fiber drag system in this reel is every bit up to the challenge laid down by Shimano.

Available in two maximums, 15.4 pounds for the smaller models and 20 pounds for the beast-taming 57, you’ll find these drags produce smooth, reliable resistance with plenty of muscle for big fish.

Daiwa’s helical-cut gears more than pull their weight, and they deliver plenty of torque for anything from muskie to grouper, especially in the 57. Gear ratios vary by size, as you’d expect, picking up plenty of line at a rate that’s roughly even with the Okumas, until you step up to the biggest size in this lineup. 

When you do, you’ll find salmon-taming speed with an incredible 42.9 inches of retrieve per turn of the handle.

Handle designs vary quite a bit in the Sealine series, with double-paddle models, single-paddle counter-balanced handles, and power handles co-existing at all but the ends of the size spectrum. Whatever your choice, they provide a good grip and plenty of cranking torque. 

Daiwa’s line counter depends on a direct-drive system, and like all line counters,they can be finicky.

For the price, this is an excellent reel, closing most of the performance gap with the more expensive Shimano. And if you need a large, powerful, fast trolling reel, the Daiwa Sealine SG 57 is as good as it gets.

Pros:

  • Excellent drag
  • Blazing speed on the largest model
  • Rigid, compact body
  • Good line counter

Cons:

  • ???

What We Consider When Selecting a Trolling Reel with a Line Counter

Gear ratio and IPT

A reel’s gear ratio is nothing more than a measure of how many turns of the spool one turn of the cranking handle creates. 

For instance, a gear ratio of 5.0:1 means that each turn of the crank spins the spool five times.

Gear ratio and spool size work together, delivering IPT or “inches per turn,” a reliable metric of how fast or slow a reel is.

Reel speed matters for one reason when trolling: when a fast fish like a salmon decides to run straight at you, you mustkeep your line tight or risk your hook coming loose. And on the west coast, salmon anglers aren’t allowed to run barbed hooks, making this even more essential.

But it’s not just a problem for salmon; a big walleye, monster lake trout, or massive muskie can do the same thing, and you better be able to keep up with it!

That’s why we detail the retrieval speed of each reel on our shortlist.

Drag

Drag quality makes or breaks a reel, as this mechanism is essential for protecting your line from sudden shock and tiring a fighting fish.

The drag on a conventional reel places direct pressure on the spool, making it harder to turn. Typically, you set your drag to roughly ⅓ of the test strength of your line to protect it, allowing the drag to function as a high-tech braking system for any sudden surge of power from your fish.

But the drag also makes the fish work harder during the fight, and it'll need to use more energy to run with your line.

To perform these tasks well, your drag should provide a smooth, reliable release with no sudden starts and stops.

Capacity

Capacity matters, but it’s not a deal-breaker for most telling situations.

And it definitely takes a back seat to speed and drag performance.

Construction

Lake trout, muskie, and salmon will place enormous stress on your spool and reel body, testing both strength and rigidity.

Keep in mind that the reel acts as your line’s anchor to your rod, and though mitigated by the rod’s action and power, line stretch, and your drag, each big fight is a test of every component comprising your reel, from the teeth on the gears to the discs in the drag to the frame that holds everything together.

Most offshore anglers prefer a solid metal body. It’s simply stronger, stiffer, and more durable than graphite. Graphite cuts weight as effectively as a college wrestler, but it just can’t offer the absolute stiffness or durability of machined aluminum.

But salmon, walleye, and most Big Lakes fishing aren’t going to be as hard on a reel as pelagic species like tuna, grouper, and shark.

That’s why graphite is increasingly the material of choice for precision trolling.

Line counter

Modern precision trolling requires that you know exactly how much line you’re dragging, and the proper use of a downrigger demands a careful accounting of every foot.

Reels that are purpose-built for this technique may offer a line counter that keeps track of every foot that leaves the reel.

Of course, you can run metered line as a stop-gap, and plenty of anglers do. But you’ll appreciate a line counter if precision trolling is your go-to technique.

The general problem for line counters is reliable performance. Cheaper models tend to skip numbers, fail altogether, or not reliably reset.

And to make things even worse, they’re pretty fragile.

The best line counters on our shortlist are worn by Shimano, Daiwa, and Penn reels, and this is definitely a case of you get what you pay for.

Levelwind

As Garry Brummett explains, “Level wind reels feature a moving line guide that sports a pawl which runs back and forth across the front of the reel upon a worm shaft. As line is retrieved back onto the reel, the moving line guide ensures that the line is evenly distributed onto the spool, from side to side, without any large build-ups of line in any one spot on the spool. Open style conventional reels have no line guide and the distribution of the line back onto the spool is the responsibility of the angler.”

Mono is particularly prone to bunching on the reel, and care must be taken to avoid this. You’ll need to direct the line with your thumb as you retrieve, helping to disperse it along the full length of the spool.

If you don’t, bunching will impair casting--which may not matter, depending on your application--but in extreme cases, it can lock the spool via direct contact with the body.

Braid tends to lay flat, self-distributing well, so if this is your preferred main line, a level wind may not be something you need.

Finally, level winds are a fragile component and often break. As Brummett warns, “On a final note, as a repair shop owner, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the level wind feature is at the top of the repair parade of reels we see each year. This is exclusive of manufacturer. All level winds from all manufacturers are susceptible to failure. It’s just the nature of the designs. A very small pawl runs across an equally small worm gear. When fighting a large fish with 15-20 pounds of drag, the line guide system is under a tremendous amount of pressure. Then we throw in some salt and some sand, and maybe we don’t clean and lube the reel like we know we should. All of these factors can increase the potential for a failure. Open faced conventional reels know no such failure.”

Should you use a level wind reel?

If you regularly run mono main-line, it’s worth it.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re chasing walleye on the Great Lakes or trolling for salmon in the Pacific, there’s a reel for you on our shortlist.

For walleye fanatics, it’s almost impossible to beat the smooth, reliable performance of the Shimano Tekota 500. Fast enough for the walleye of a lifetime and equipped with more than enough monster-taming drag, the redesigned Tekota A is ideal if a large capacity spool is something you can skip.

For larger fish like salmon and lake trout, I’d reach for Penn’s Squall II. With capacity to spare, an excellent drag, and plenty of torque for hard fights, the larger size would be my pick when the fish are big and mean.

And anglers on a budget aren’t left out in the cold. Okuma’s Cold Water series won’t break the bank, but they will deliver performance that’ll keep a smile on your face.

Whichever you choose, you’ll be happy with your purchase.

As always, we’re here to field your comments and answer your questions, so please leave a comment below.

About The Author
John B
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.
Comments
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram