As anglers, we all understand the importance of having quality gear. The case could be made that no matter what you’re chasing, your chances of success can depend greatly on that gear's ability to perform - and perform well.
Perhaps none is more important than when fishing for salmon. Too often, I witness utter disappointment when anglers underestimate the brute force these fish are capable of, whether in vast open water or the rivers they run during the spawning period. Salmon can punish even the best of us, and having the gear to handle them can help ease some of that punishment.
Taking the brunt of that punishment is your reel. Big, powerful head shakes and long, drag screaming runs: without the right reel, salmon are a fish that will make quick work of every other piece of equipment. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune to gear up, and we’re here to help with our picks for the best salmon reels in 2023, including some budget friendly options that will get the job done.
Quick glance at the best salmon reels:
- Shimano Sustain FJ - Best Spinning Reel for Salmon
- Pflueger President XT - Budget Spinning Reel
- Shimano Curado DC 200 - Best Casting Reel for Salmon
- Abu Garcia Revo X - Budget Casting Reel
- Shimano Tekota A Levelwind - Best Trolling Reel for Salmon
- Okuma Magda Linecounter - Budget Trolling Reel
- Sage Spectrum Fly Reel - Best Fly Reel for Salmon
- Orvis ClearWater - Budget Fly Reel
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Best Salmon Reels Reviewed
- 1.1 Shimano Sustain FJ - Best Spinning Reel for Salmon
- 1.2 Pflueger President XT - Budget Spinning Reel
- 1.3 Shimano Curado DC 200 - Best Casting Reel for Salmon
- 1.4 Abu Garcia Revo X - Budget Casting Reel
- 1.5 Shimano Tekota A Levelwind - Best Trolling Reel for Salmon
- 1.6 Okuma Magda Linecounter - Budget Trolling Reel
- 1.7 Sage Spectrum Fly Reel - Best Fly Reel for Salmon
- 1.8 Orvis ClearWater - Budget Fly Reel
- 2 Selecting The Best Reel For Salmon Fishing
- 3 Final Thoughts
Best Salmon Reels Reviewed
Shimano Sustain FJ - Best Spinning Reel for Salmon
Weight: 7.4oz, 9.3oz, and 9.5oz
Line Capacity: 8/140, 8/170, 10/200, and 12/195
Bearings: 9 total
Gear Ratio: 6:1 and 6.2:1
Spinning reels are by far the most versatile reels when it comes to salmon fishing in rivers, capable of fishing multiple techniques suitable to any river fishing scenario, whether you’re fishing off a pier right at the river mouth or chasing fish that have pushed upstream.
Shimano is well known in the fishing world for good reason: they know how to make a great reel. From entry level reels to high-end options, the care put into their precision equipment is obvious.
The Sustain FJ is without a doubt one of their best, and while its price may have you wondering if it’s necessary, it’s the perfect example of a reel that gives you more than what you pay for.
Depending on the water being fished, the 4000 and 5000 sizes are the best options, but regardless of which one you choose, there is a reel size to cover any salmon, in any water. The ultra-smooth cross carbon drag won’t bind up and retains its smoothness, even in the toughest conditions, thanks to the X-protect water-resistant technology that keeps moisture away from gears and bearings.
With a MGL rotor for smooth, easy startup, and a long stroke spool for increased casting distance, the aluminum body reduces reel flex when under the load of a big, powerful salmon.
- Ultra-smooth cross-carbon drag system
- 1 piece titanium bail
- Light and strong aluminum body
- Long strong spool for improved casting distance
- On the higher end of mid-range priced reels
Pflueger President XT - Budget Spinning Reel
Weight: 5.6oz, 6.6oz, 7.6oz, 9.1oz, and 10.1oz
Line Capacity: 4/100, 4/110, 6/145 8/185 and 14/280
Bearings: 7 total and 10 total
Gear Ratio: 5.2: and 6.2:1
If you’re looking for an entry-level reel, there are a few things you might expect to sacrifice, like size, weight, line capacity, etc. When it comes to salmon fishing, those are factors that should always be taken into careful consideration.
What the Pflueger President XT doesn't sacrifice is strength and durability. This reel is a work horse and will stand up to an incredible amount of punishment. Despite being heavier than more expensive reels, the President XT uses an aluminum main shaft, aluminum gears, and a carbon handle for precise balance and comfort for those long days on the water.
With stainless steel, corrosion-resistant bearings and a sealed drag system, the larger size version of this reel will handle salmon day in and day out without fail, and the line capacity is more than enough when those big salmon decide to take long line peeling runs.
- Precise balance and comfort
- Corrosion-resistant stainless bearings
- Smooth sealed drag system
- 10 bearing system on larger sizes
- Larger size reels are heavy
- Line can sometimes get caught in bail
Shimano Curado DC 200 - Best Casting Reel for Salmon
Line Capacity: 10/155
Bearings: 7 total
Gear Ratio: 7.4:1 and 8.5:1
Whether you’re casting lures, float fishing, or drift fishing, a casting reel is the best way to coral big salmon in big water. Fishing smaller Great Lakes tributaries or the big rivers of the west coast, more professional guides and amateur salmon anglers are turning to casting reels as a go-to multi-technique reel because of their ability to handle these powerful fish.
A favorite for many of those anglers, and our top choice, is the Shimano Curado DC 200. Shimano knows how to put together high-quality reels at reasonable prices, and the Curado DC 200 is no exception.
Designed to easily present the larger tackle needed when salmon fishing, this reel features 40% more line capacity than the regular Curado, ideal for those long casts and drifts, or when salmon make powerful runs.
You don’t have to have years of experience to fish with this reel either, as the Curado DC 200 is one of the easiest casting reels to use, thanks to its multi-setting digital control braking system that maximizes casting distance while helping to reduce backlash.
The incredibly smooth, friction-free spool and cross carbon drag system come together in a package that is lightweight without sacrificing strength. The result is a reel that will turn even the biggest salmon.
- Low-profile design is lightweight and comfortable
- Multi-setting digital control braking system
- Super Free Spool for long casts and friction-free drifts
- Shielded bearings block debris and keep reel running smooth
- Not suitable for light terminal tackle
Abu Garcia Revo X - Budget Casting Reel
Line Capacity: 10/175, 12/145, 15/100
Bearings: 8 total
Gear Ratio: 5.4:1, 6.6:1, and 7.3:1
The Abu Garcia Revo X specs aren’t just comparable, but sometimes better than high-end casting reels, and that is one of the reasons it made this list. It’s a reel that provides many of the features, at a fraction of the cost.
With up to 30lb of drag, the Carbon Matrix hybrid system is super smooth, doesn’t bind up and provides more power than most comparable casting reels, meaning there isn’t a salmon this reel can’t handle.
The combination of the alloy frame construction and brass gear design make the Revo X lightweight without sacrificing strength and durability, while the dura clutch design and magnetic braking system provide smooth, friction-free casting and free-spool drifting.
If you're looking for an entry-level casting reel that can compete with the high end ones, and do so for years to come, it’s hard to beat the Revo X.
- High quality at a reasonable price
- Super smooth and strong carbon drag system
- Compact and lightweight
- Lube port for easy oiling
- Brass gears can get noisy
Shimano Tekota A Levelwind - Best Trolling Reel for Salmon
Weight: 15.5oz to 30.7oz
Line Capacity: 12/440 up to 50/315 (reel size dependant)
Bearings: 4 total
Gear Ratio: 3.9:1 and 6.2:1
From the vast open waters of the Pacific ocean, to the depths of the Great Lakes, trolling is one of the most popular and exciting ways to catch salmon in their spring and summer haunts, before their annual migration begins.
Shimano has built a legacy in the trolling reel market with the Tekota A Levelwind line-up of reels, and they remain one of the most popular trolling reels around when it comes to downrigging deep water.
With the new line of Tekota reels, Shimano has done a complete overhaul to improve on the already great features, using their S-Compact Body design to make a more compact and comfortable reel without sacrificing the strength and durability that makes them so popular. Combine that with a Cross Carbon Drag system with CoreProtect, and you’ve got a reel that has the same stopping power as previous generations, with better corrosion protection, making it well suited for both fresh and saltwater.
Available with or without a line counter, the larger size reels may be overkill for salmon, but the Tenkota A line up has a reel to cover any of your trolling needs.
- S-compact body design for in-hand comfort
- 20% smaller than previous generations
- Available with or without a line counter
- Strong and durable Cross Carbon drag system
- Line counter can be inaccurate
Okuma Magda Linecounter - Budget Trolling Reel
Weight: 12.5oz to 17.4oz
Line Capacity: 12/290 to 25/430
Gear Ratio: 4:1 and 5.5:1
The Okuma Magda Linecounter reels are wildly popular trolling reels in the Great Lakes region, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t suitable anywhere you’re trolling for salmon. Typically, trolling in the Great Lakes means having several lines out at once, and the Magda allows guides and amateur salmon anglers alike to have an arsenal of reels without breaking the bank.
Okuma is well-known for producing quality fishing reels at budget friendly prices and that continues with the Magda line of trolling reels. With durable brass gears and a graphite spool, this reel also features lightweight and corrosion free frame and side plates.
With a mechanical line counter system that is extremely accurate, the Magda strips away all of the fancy bells and whistles that can make trolling reels so expensive and saves you money without sacrificing an ounce of quality - a reel that goes back to the basics but can be counted on for years of fishing.
- Lightweight, corrosion-proof frame, spool and side plates
- Accurate mechanical line counter
- 16 point anti-reverse system for improved hook-sets
- Machine cut durable brass gears
- Free-spool lever can sometimes jam
Sage Spectrum Fly Reel - Best Fly Reel for Salmon
Weight: 3.8oz, 4.2oz, 6oz, and 7.2oz
Backing Capacity: 20/100, 20/200, 30/200
Line Weight: 3/4 5/6 7/8 and 9/10
There isn’t a fly angler around that isn’t familiar with the Sage brand, and that's because they're one of the top producers of high-quality, long-lasting fly fishing equipment.
The Sage Spectrum Fly Reel is a super lightweight, large arbor reel that can easily handle any type of salmon you might be after. Whether you’re a spey caster, use a switch rod, or prefer single hand casting, there is a Spectrum to cover you.
Cold forged, tempered, and anodized aerospace-grade aluminum makes this reel ultra-light yet strong. In addition to the great line capacity, the Spectrum features a concave spool surface and an upsized hub that provide both high drag efficiency and coil-less line flow, making it easy to use and capable of handling even the biggest salmon.
- Super lightweight
- Large arbor design is ideal for salmon fishing
- Sealed carbon drag system
- Ergonomic and comfortable handle
- Hard to find any cons to using this outstanding reel
Orvis ClearWater - Budget Fly Reel
Weight: 5.5oz and 6.3oz
Backing Capacity: 20/100 and 20/200
Line Weight: 4/5/6 and 7/8/9
Orvis is another company that is no stranger to manufacturing high quality fly, and the Clearwater is a reel that delivers on that quality at an affordable price - the perfect reel for someone just getting into fly fishing for salmon of any type.
The Clearwater features an inline carbon to stainless stacked drag system that is strong and durable, able to handle salmon from coast to coast, whether that's hot Atlantics in the east or chunky Kings in the west. The positive-click drag knob makes drag adjustments easy, even mid-fight.
The diecast frame and anodized finish results in a reel that is lightweight and able to withstand the elements for countless hours of fishing without fail. Whether used single-handed or switch, paired with the right rod, this reel will not disappoint.
- Heavy duty diecast frame and anodized finish
- Stainless steel stacked inline drag system
- Easy to adjust drag knob
- Large arbor design
- Reel can freeze up in cold weather conditions
Selecting The Best Reel For Salmon Fishing
Whether you’re looking for a technique-specific reel or one that you can use to cover a few, your options can be somewhat overwhelming. Whichever one you need, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when choosing the best reel for salmon fishing.
Drag and Gear Ratio
There is no more important factor when it comes to choosing the right salmon reel than the drag. The brute force of these fish can make quick work of an inferior drag system and you can be left wondering what just happened as the fish makes a b-line back towards the ocean.
What you need to look for isn’t always the strongest drag (although it helps if they’re strong) but instead the smoothest and most consistent - a drag that isn’t going to loosen or tighten on its own under the pressure of a hot fish, a more common problem than most anglers realize.
As quickly as a salmon can take off away from you, it can come screaming back, and it’s important to be able to pick up line as quickly as possible to catch up. That’s where gear ratio comes into play. The higher that gear ratio, the quicker the reel is going to pick up the line and the better chance you’ll have at keeping pressure on a fish coming back at you.
Whether you’re fishing in a river or out in the open water, a salmon can easily strip off 100 yards of line in a single run. Line capacity is typically something related directly to the size of the reel, and the right size reel is related to the body of water being fished. It is entirely possible to go too big, so bigger isn’t necessarily better. With that being said, when fishing rivers, a reel that will hold 150 yards of 10 pound test line is the bare minimum for salmon.
Salmon reels don’t necessarily have to be overly expensive and there are plenty of entry-level reels that are high quality. What you should keep in mind when factoring in the price of the reel are the sacrifices you may be making with a cheaper reel.
Lower cost reels are that way mainly because of the material used to make them. While these reels can have just as good, and sometimes better drag and gear systems, they will often sacrifice other areas like the body construction and overall protection, making the reel heavier and more susceptible to the elements. You can counteract this by balancing the reel on the rod properly, and with regular maintenance. A little patience and care can go a long way in making a less expensive reel just as reliable and long lasting as higher end models.
Salmon are some of the strongest, hardest-fighting fish in fresh or saltwater, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that quality gear is necessary for success. If there is one thing that should be of the best possible quality, it’s the reel. Not only will it take a good chunk of the punishment a salmon can dish out, it needs the strength to be able to control their often underestimated power.
We hope we were able to help you narrow down your choices for the best salmon reel and ultimately help you decide which one best suits your needs. Leave us a comment and let us know!