Currently set to Index
Currently set to Follow

Best Saltwater Rod and Reel Combos Reviewed

If you’re anything like us, the pull of the salt has you by the heartstrings. And if you need a new rod and reel, a great combo can get you on the water quickly.

At their best, combos offer excellent reels matched to equally nice rods, but it can be hard to know which of the many options are worth the money–and which one might be right for you.

Confused about saltwater combos, or just looking for a new rig?

Keep reading!

Best Spinning Combos for Surf Fishing

Daiwa D-Wave ComboBest Budget Spinning Combo

Maximum drag: N/A

Gear ratio: N/A

Capacity: 14/410, 17/310, 20/240

Material: N/A

Weight: N/A

Bearings: 1

Length: 9’

Action/power: medium/moderate fast

Material: fiberglass

Handle: continuous EVA foam

Guides: stainless steel with aluminum oxide inserts

Line weight: 12 to 30 lbs.

Lure size: 1 to 5 oz.

Pieces: 2

Daiwa’s a trusted name among saltwater anglers, and their Saltist reels have earned a reputation among sailfish enthusiasts that’s second to none. But it’s nice to know they also offer surf fishing gear, especially at an excellent price.

The Daiwa D-Wave combo matches a nice surf-casting rod with a big spinning reel. The rod is 9 feet long, and its fiberglass blank is more than a nod in the direction of durability. It loads pretty well, allowing you to cast 1- to 5-ounce lures over the shallows and past the breakers.

Medium power with a moderately fast action, this rod has the backbone you need for stripers, reds, and sharks, while still allowing you to feel the strike of a croaker or flounder. That makes it a great all-arounder for the beach, covering pretty much all of your fishing bases.

Daiwa’s not talking a lot about this reel, and at this price point, you can’t expect miracles. Capacity is excellent, and the drag supplies ample tension for the line weights for which it’s rated.

It casts pretty well and handles windy mornings like a champ.

Overall, Daiwa delivers a nice combo at an incredible price, and anglers on a budget should definitely give this option a look.

Pros:

  • Awesome price!
  • Nice rod
  • Good blank: loads well and provides plenty of casting distance
  • Great all-arounder

Cons:

  • Don’t expect a miraculous reel for this price

Penn Battle II Combo Best Spinning Combo for Surf Fishing

Maximum drag: 25 lbs. maximum

Gear ratio: 5.6:1 (41” RPT)

Capacity: 15/335, 20/230, 25/210

Material: aluminum

Weight: 22.10

Bearings: 5 + 1 

Length: 9’

Action/power: medium-heavy/moderate fast

Material: graphite composite

Handle: continuous EVA foam

Guides: 5 + 1 stainless steel with aluminum oxide inserts

Line weight: 15 to 30 lbs.

Lure size: N/A

Pieces: 2

If there’s a more trusted name in saltwater angling than Penn, I don’t know what it is. And if you make a pass down the beach in the morning or evening, you’ll find plenty of Penn reels in the hands of surf casters.

The Penn Battle II combo is an easy choice, combining the excellence of a name-brand reel with a solid rod. That rod is 9-feet long, loads well, and casts far. Made from graphite composite, it’s a bit stiffer and lighter than alternatives, two attributes we’re sure you’ll appreciate.

Especially for those of you who hold your rod a lot, this option is an excellent choice.

With a medium-heavy blank and great sensitivity, this rod is designed for big fish like sharks. It provides plenty of control, and you’ll feel the rod’s strength about 1/3rd from the tip. There’s plenty there to fight big reds, massive stripers, and aggressive sharks.

The Battle II reel is awesome, and it’s one of my favorites for the salt. With 25 pounds of smooth drag, you can apply the tension you need for nasty fights. It also provides plenty of capacity, and you won’t need to worry about stripping and cutting line.

The reel also picks up a blazing 41 inches per crank, allowing you to run crankbaits like lightning or keep a tight line with the fastest brutes out there.

Penn’s Battle II combo is an easy choice for our top pick.

Pros:

  • Great rod and reel combo
  • Great blank: loads and casts well
  • Great strength
  • Great sensitivity
  • Awesome reel
  • Very fast
  • Very good capacity
  • Excellent drag

Cons:

  • N/A

Shakespeare Ugly Stik BigwaterMost Durable Spinning Combo 

Maximum drag: N/A 

Gear ratio: N/A

Capacity: 17/310, 20/250, 25/200

Material: N/A

Weight: N/A

Bearings: 2

Length: 10’

Action/power: medium-heavy/moderate fast

Material: fiberglass

Handle: continuous EVA foam

Guides: 5 + 1 Ugly Tuff stainless steel 

Line weight: 15 to 30 lbs.

Lure size: 1 to 5 oz.

Pieces: 2

Shakespeare’s Ugly Stik Bigwater showcases this manufacturer’s continued attention to durability, and if you’ve ever broken a surf rod, you’ll know why this matters!

The Bigwater combo features a 10’ Stik with medium-heavy power and the usual moderately fast action. Shakespeare’s fiberglass blanks are unrivaled for their durability, and the Bigwater is no exception. If you regularly put your beach rod to the test, this might be the best option for you.

Strong enough to muscle a big shark, and sensitive enough to feel a light strike, you’ll have the power you need to tilt the odds in your favor, and you’ll never need to worry about whether your rod can take it!

The stainless Ugly Tuff guides on the Bigwater are better than they look, and I’ve put these to the test repeatedly. Suffice it to say that they work very, very well.

Shakespeare’s not talking about the reel, and it’s clear that the rod is the star of this combo. That said, this is a quality product with plenty of drag, lots of line capacity, and predictable casting in even the worst wind.

If you’re rough on your rods, I’d give the Stik a close look.

Pros:

  • Nice price!
  • Ultra-tough rod
  • Good blank: loads well and provides plenty of casting distance
  • Great for big fish: lots of power
  • Excellent guides

Cons:

  • Don’t expect a miraculous reel for this price

Best Spinning Combos for Inshore Fishing

Penn Battle II ComboBest Spinning Combo for Inshore Fishing

Maximum drag: 15 lbs. maximum

Gear ratio: 6.2:1 (37” RPT)

Capacity: 8/270, 10/220, 12/165

Material: aluminum

Weight: 12.8

Bearings: 5 + 1 

Length: 7’

Action/power: medium/extra fast

Material: graphite fiberglass composite

Handle: continuous cork

Guides: 7 + 1 stainless steel with aluminum oxide inserts

Line weight: 10 to 17 lbs.

Lure size: N/A

Pieces: 2

Penn offers the awesome Battle II combo for inshore as well as beach fishing, and it’s just as good on mudflats and grassy shallows as it is on the beach–and maybe better!

The 7-foot rod Penn supplies for inshore fishing is composed of a graphite core wrapped in fiberglass. Strong, sensitive, and tough, it’s a great rod for everything from specks to flounder, reds to croaker. 

It’s got the sensitivity you need for the little guys, and the power you want to control the big ones.

Guide quality is excellent on this rod, too, and it casts well with standard-sized spoons as well as slip floats and live bait.

Of course, the Battle II reel is a winner, and in this case, it’s sized for inshore applications. Expect a maximum drag of 15 pounds, supplying plenty of smooth tension in a fight. Capacity is superb, and with a 37-inch retrieve per crank, you can work topwater lures and crankbaits like a pro and never once worry about keeping a tight line.

Pros:

  • Outstanding rod and reel combo
  • Excellent blank with plenty of strength and sensitivity
  • Excellent guides
  • Awesome reel
  • Very fast
  • Great capacity
  • Excellent drag

Cons:

  • N/A

Shakespeare Ugly Stik BigwaterToughest Inshore Spinning Combo

Maximum drag: N/A 

Gear ratio: N/A

Capacity: 12/280, 14/215, 17/195

Material: N/A

Weight: N/A

Bearings: 2

Length: 7’

Action/power: medium/moderate fast

Material: fiberglass

Handle: continuous EVA foam

Guides: Ugly Tuff stainless steel 

Line weight: 10 to 25 lbs.

Lure size: 1 to 5 oz.

Pieces: 2

If tough is what you need, Shakespeare’s got you covered inshore with the Bigwater.

This combo sports a 7-foot Stik made from their legendary fiberglass. For monster reds, sharks, and anything else that puts tackle to the test, this is the rod I’d want in my hands. Offering medium power, there’s more fight in this rod than in any inshore fish, and control won’t be a problem. The usual clear tip provides plenty of sensitivity, too.

Guide quality is fantastic, and you won’t need to worry about your line.

As with the surf-casting version, Shakespeare’s keeping the details of this reel pretty close to their chest, and at this price, we’re not surprised. Acceptable casting and monstrous capacity are the order of the day, but refinement and smoothness are not its forte.

Pros:

  • Nice price!
  • Ultra-tough rod
  • Good blank: casts well and offers plenty of sensitivity
  • Great for big fish: lots of power
  • Excellent guides

Cons:

  • Don’t expect a miraculous reel for this price

Conventional Combos

Penn Squall Level Wind ComboBest Conventional Combo

Maximum drag: 15 lbs. 

Gear ratio: 4.9:1 (28” RPT)

Capacity: 17/415, 20/315, 25/290

Material: graphite

Weight: 16.9 oz.

Bearings: 2 + 1

Length: 6’ 

Action/power: medium/moderate fast

Material: graphite

Handle: continuous EVA foam

Guides: 6 + 1 stainless steel with aluminum oxide inserts

Line weight: 20 to 50 lbs.

Lure size: N/A

Pieces: 2

Penn pretty much dominated the conventional combo world, and the Squall Level Wind pairing goes a long way toward explaining why.

This 6-foot graphite rod is strong enough for big fish like sailfish, marlin, sharks, and tuna, and it’s rated for heavy mono and steel-like braid. The backbone of this rod will appear quickly, and soon after the tip starts to dip, you’ll find the real strength it has to offer.

Six high-quality guides, plus the tip, help distribute the load and pamper your line, and while not ideal for big knots, that’s just not something you can expect anywhere near this price-point.

Penn’s first-rate Squall level Wind reel sits atop this rod, offering a smooth, powerful drag and enviable capacity. Easily up to the task of tiring big fish, it also helps distribute mono over your spool, relieving you of the task of using your thumb as an impromptu guide.

For anglers who hate that task, this is an awesome choice.

Overall, the Squall combo provides the best quality, highest performance conventional option on the market.

Pros:

  • Great combo for saltwater trolling!
  • Strong blank with plenty of strength for big fish
  • Excellent guides
  • Awesome reel
  • Great drag
  • Tons of capacity

Cons:

  • N/A

Penn Ware Level Wind ComboBest Budget Conventional Combo

Maximum drag: 15 lbs. 

Gear ratio: 5.1:1 (29” RPT)

Capacity: 15/475, 20/315, 25/290

Material: graphite

Weight: 18.6 oz.

Bearings: 2 + 1

Length: 6’ 6”

Action/power: medium/moderate fast

Material: tubular fiberglass

Handle: continuous EVA foam

Guides: 6 + 1 stainless steel with aluminum oxide inserts

Line weight: 20 to 40 lbs.

Lure size: N/A

Pieces:

For anglers who need to watch every penny, Penn’s Ware combo is a nice alternative to the Squall. Absolutely capable, it’s about a third less money, putting it within reach of most saltwater fishermen.

This combo offers a tough, 6-foot, 6-inch tubular fiberglass rod with enough backbone for big fish and bad fights. High-quality guides protect your line well while keeping stress distributed over the rod’s length.

Like the Squall, don’t anticipate roller guides–that’s not going to happen at this price point!

Penn’s well-respect Ware reel sits atop this rod, and there’s a lot to like about it. The drag is powerful, easy-to-use, and smooth, and it matched the capacity of the Squall. In terms of speed, it edges the more expensive reel, offering an inch more retrieve per crank.

And like its brother, it comes equipped with a level wind to keep mono flat and even on the spool, making it a great choice for anglers who hate using their thumb for this task.

While not quite as well-built as the Squall combo, the Ware offers great performance for the price.

Pros:

  • Great combo for saltwater trolling!
  • Strong blank with plenty of strength for big fish
  • Excellent guides
  • Excellent reel
  • Great drag
  • Tons of capacity

Cons:

  • Not quite as high-quality as the Squall combo

What We Consider When Selecting a Rod and Reel Combo

Rods

Power

Power describes how much force is required to bend a rod. Together with its action, a rod’s power tells you a lot about how it will perform.

A rod’s power is determined by the material from which it’s constructed and the amount of that material present in cross-section (taper). It’s also affected by the length of the rod, with shorter lengths of the same material and taper being stiffer than longer lengths.

Ultralight

Ultralight rods are designed to provide the ultimate in sensitivity and excitement, increasing the feel of small fish on your line. Designed primarily for panfish species like sunfish, bluegill, crappie, and perch, they can also be used by experienced anglers to catch large- and small-mouth bass and trout.

Ultralight rods will bend easily under even modest weights, providing very little control should you hook a large fish. This can lead to an intense test of an angler’s skills with anything larger than a panfish.

But don’t get the wrong idea–ultralight rods are still plenty strong!

Ultralight rods are typically matched to tiny spinning reels, lines in the neighborhood of 2 to 8 pounds, and very light lures (typically as light as 1/32 of an ounce).

We recommend ultralight rods for:

  • Panfish of all kinds
  • Small- and -largemouth bass in the hands of experienced anglers
  • Trout in the hands of experienced anglers
Light

Light rods are a step-up in power from ultralight. This makes them an excellent choice for panfish, but also allows them to handle small-mouth and trout–and the currents they’re known to prefer!

Probably a better all-around choice than ultralights for less experienced anglers, they provide more control over struggling fish while still offering the sensitivity to detect nibbling panfish.

Light rods usually work best with line between 4 and 8 pounds and are almost always paired with small spinning reels. Typical lure weights vary, but a range between 1/32 and ¼ ounces is common. 

We recommend light rods for:

  • Panfish of all kinds
  • Smallmouth bass and trout
Medium-light

Medium-light rods are the sweet spot in power, allowing you to fish many different techniques and species well.

From crappie to perch, bluegill to trout, you’ve got the power to wrestle even the biggest of these species with authority, current or no current. And with good technique, experienced anglers can tackle walleye, too.

And as a finesse rod for largemouth applications like weightless senkos and drop shotting, it’s very hard to beat.

Medium-light rods are often paired with light- to medium-sized spinning reels, but you’ll find baitcasting rods with this power rating, too. Typical line weights run from 4 to 10 pounds, with lure weights in the 1/16 to 5/16 ounce neighborhood.

We recommend medium-light rods for:

  • Panfish of all kinds
  • Smallmouth bass and trout
  • Finesse techniques for largemouth
  • Walleye in the hands of experienced anglers
Medium

Medium-powered rods are a common sight in both salt- and fresh-water, as they have the strength and backbone to muscle substantial fish. Indeed, in shorter lengths and tough material like fiberglass, you’ll find anglers using them to troll for tuna, wahoos, sailfish, sharks, and other large species.

Medium rods are great for a variety of applications, from running crankbaits and jerkbaits, to yo-yoing swimbaits off the bottom. Great with live bait, too, there’s not much they can’t do–making them an extremely popular all-around choice.

They also provide the backbone you need to muscle larger, stronger fish like red drum, largemouth, walleye, and striped bass–pretty much any species that maxes out around 20 pounds.

Popular line weights range from 6 to 12 pounds or so, with lures between ¼ and ¾ ounces being common.

We recommend medium rods for:

  • Inshore fishing
  • Surf casting
  • Freshwater species like walleye
  • Treble-hooked largemouth bass techniques like crankbaits and jerkbaits
Medium-heavy

Medium-heavy rods have serious power, allowing anglers to muscle massive fish and drive single hooks firmly home. Very stiff, they’re often used by largemouth anglers for techniques that demand a firm hookset like worms and other soft plastics.

When composed of fiberglass, they can be very, very tough, making them a popular choice offshore, as well as for anglers chasing freshwater species like pike, lake trout, and steelhead.

And when tapered just right, bass anglers who like crankbaits–and who doesn’t?–find that they provide just enough cushion to keep those treble hooks where they belong.

This is also a popular power for surf fishing and inshore applications, especially when larger species are the target. From giant rays to big sharks, you’ll have the backbone to turn the fight to your advantage.

Typical line weights run from 10 to 20 or more pounds, and you should expect to cast lures no lighter than ⅜ of an ounce.

We recommend medium-heavy rods for:

  • Inshore fishing
  • Surf casting
  • Large freshwater species like pike and lake trout
  • Treble-hooked largemouth bass techniques like crankbaits and jerkbaits
Heavy

Heavy rods are as stiff and strong as they come, and they’re designed for the largest, meanest fish out there, or to provide an instant, powerful hookset on largemouth bass.

Expect backbone like steel, incredible control in a fight, and strength that just won’t quit.

In shorter lengths, heavy rods are a good choice for shark, grouper, tarpon, and other massive saltwater species. They’re also popular for lake trout and trophy pike.

In longer lengths, they’re a common choice for a variety of largemouth applications like flipping and pitching, as well as worm fishing with single hooks. Expect instantaneous hooksets, especially with braided line.

Heavy rods are typically built for line above 12 pounds, though lure size varies with the specific application.

 We recommend heavy rods for:

  • Offshore fishing
  • Freshwater species like lake trout
  • Single-hooked largemouth bass techniques like flipping, pitching, and worming

Action

A rod’s action describes where along its length it will begin to bend under load. Fast action rods are stiff for most of their length, bending near the tip. By contrast, slow action rods begin to give closer to the handle and reel seat, curving over a much greater percentage of their length.

Extra-fast and fast

Extra-fast and fast rods–of whatever power–preserve stiffness through most of the length of the rod. This provides better sensitivity at the tip, improves hookset, and allows anglers to impart better action to most lures.

Moderate fast

Moderate fast rods allow a bit more flex than faster options, offering some cushion for hooksets–often a desirable trait with crankbaits and jerkbaits. This can prevent anglers from snatching a sharp treble-hook clear of a fish’s mouth, and it still provides plenty of sensitivity at the tip.

Moderate

Moderate rods allow a nearly parabolic arc, bending the rod over most of its length. That often contributes to toughness, while preserving enough strength to muscle big fish. And while not ideal for hooksets for applications like soft baits, for treble-hooked lures and situations where durability is a priority, this can be a good choice.

Slow

Slow rods are usually composed of forgiving fiberglass, and they’re designed to bend along almost all of their length. Sometimes chosen for their performance with crankbaits, they offer a cushioned hookset that lets a lure hang in the mouth of a fish for just a second, improving connections.

describing power and action

Guides

Guide quality is essential on most rods, especially as you move up in power. 

Guides have two main purposes: they protect your line from friction, and they distribute force over the length of the blank. In both cases, more is almost always better than fewer, as more points of contact reduce the stress at any one point on both line and rod. (On spinning reels, they also help channel line from the spool, which is why you’ll find a large “stripper guide” nearest the reel on most spinning rods.)

Typically, you want one guide per foot of the rod, plus one.

There are some notable exceptions to this rule, namely surfcasting rods and fly rods. 

When surf casting, more guides can reduce casting distance–perhaps the most important job the rod has. As a result, you’ll find fewer guides on rods designed for surf fishing.

Fly fishing rods typically have pretty rudimentary guides. That’s because fly line isn’t at all like conventional line, and it’s just not subject to the same stresses.

But for most rods, most of the time, guide quality is not a point for compromise.

Guide material

Guides are attached to your rod via feet, and they’re secured with adhesives and some form of wrapping.

Three things are important here:

  • the guides need to be securely attached,
  • the guides need to be strong enough to take some abuse, and
  • the guides need to be corrosion resistant.

A common material for quality guides is stainless steel. It’s strong, it’s rugged, and it resists corrosion.

video demonstrating how fragile line really is and how quality guides can be tested

Blank Material

Modern fishing rods can be made from a variety of materials, including carbon fiber, graphite, and fiberglass. Some feature composite construction, using more than one material in the blank that provides their backbone.

Graphite

Graphite is a common blank material, providing strength, stiffness, and light weight in a single package. Usually described with the word “modulus,” fishing blanks that have higher modulus numbers are–diameter to diameter–stiffer than those with lower numbers.

Graphite also provides excellent sensitivity, a hallmark of high stiffness.

But graphite’s weakness is brittleness, and when pushed too far, it tends to crack and break.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is older rod technology, but that doesn’t mean it’s not excellent rod tech.

Fiberglass rods tend to be heavy, just like fiberglass boats, and inch to inch, foot to foot, they’ll weigh more than the other options. That said, fiberglass blanks can be very flexible and amazingly tough at the same time. They can also be extremely rigid in short, tubular lengths, making them an ideal option for offshore trolling rods.

Where fiberglass doesn’t shine is sensitivity or fast actions (except in very short lengths). It’s just not as stiff as other options.

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is space-age tech, taking everything good about graphite and raising it up a level. Extremely stiff, amazingly strong, and surprisingly light, it’s a great choice for blank material.

Carbon fiber is sensitive to impacts, and a hard whack on a piling or boat can damage your rod.

It’s also extremely expensive, as you’d expect!

Composites

Some rod manufacturers combine materials in an effort to wring the best from each of them. One common example is a graphite core–providing stiffness and strength–around which fiberglass is then wrapped–offering flexibility and toughness.

When done well, these composite rods perform very well.

Length

Rod length matters.

Generally speaking, the longer the rod, the further it will cast. And generally speaking, the shorter the rod, the more accurately it will cast.

A good place to start is 6’6” to 7’. That’s the sweet spot of distance and accuracy: any shorter, and you’ll lose range; any longer and accuracy will suffer.

Handle

Much about which handle to choose is a personal decision, and what’s comfortable to me may be misery for you. There are two primary handle materials you’ll find on rods: cork and EVA foam.

Cork

Cork is a natural material that’s warm to the touch and just soft enough to provide a firm, comfortable grip. Premium-grade cork is attractive, too, and though not as durable as synthetics, it can take a beating.

EVA foam

EVA foam is a synthetic material that provides a soft grip. A bit colder to the touch than cork, it’s generally more inexpensive and durable.

Spinning Reels

Drag

The first thing I look at on any reel is the drag.

First, I assess where it is. The best drag systems are located directly over where they’ll be working, and as a result, the drag knobs are usually located on the end of the spool.

Some spinning reels have dials positioned elsewhere, but these rely on a more complicated mechanism and tend not to work as well or last as long.

Second, I take a hard look at the maximum setting and assess whether or not it slips at that weight. For spinning reels, I’m looking for a maximum setting that matches the size and weight of the species I’m after, and by stringing some strong line on and testing the drag with a weight, I can get a sense of whether the drag can hold.

This is more about assessing the quality of the drag than testing that maximum: I’m never going to set the drag that high!

Finally, I like to spool-up some medium-weight line for that reel, set the drag to roughly a third of that, and then see how smoothly it allows me to take line. What I want to feel is a constant, smooth release–no jerking, catching, or slipping.

Gear ratio

A reel’s gear ratio describes the relationship between the crank and the spool: how many turns of the spool does one revolution of the crank create? For instance, a gear ratio of 5.2:1 means that one turn of the crank spins the spool 5.2 times.

This matters for two reasons.

For some lures, a slow, medium, or fast retrieve is ideal, and matching a reel’s gear ratio to its intended use can improve action. For instance, shallow crankbaits and topwater lures tend to work best with a fast reel, defined by a gear ratio higher than 5.2:1.

The second reason you care about gear ratio is that it tells you how quickly it picks up line. And whether you’re jigging deep or casting far to cover water, you’ll appreciate a medium to fast gear ratio.

Smooth operation

On any quality reel, the bail should close firmly, the crank should spin freely, and the drag knob should reliably adjust the setting. The anti-reverse system, too, should lock-up quickly to encourage solid hooksets.

Capacity

Line capacity matters.

On a properly filled spool, you won’t outcast the line on your reel. But over a day’s fishing, you might need to cut line–whether to mitigate abrasion, recover from a really poor cast, or release a deep snag.

Your reel needs to hold enough line to see you through the day without needing to re-spool.

I’ll be reporting line capacity in monofilament weights. Keep in mind that you can switch to braid and either get far more line on the reel or step-up in weight to a 4- or 6-pound mono equivalent diameter.

I’ve done just that when I decided to use my ultralight for big bass!

Baitcasting Reels

Durability

Baitcasting reels tend to be pricey, and nothing is more frustrating on the water than an expensive piece of tackle that stops working after a single season.

The reels we’ll recommend have a well-earned reputation for durability, making the most of your money. And while we’re not beholden to any manufacturers–we tell the truth, good or bad, about every product–three names are worth remembering: Daiwa, Shimano, and Lews.

These three manufacturers are producing some of the best reels I’ve ever used, and if you stop and have a chat on the water with your fellow anglers, chances are, you’ll see these reels on their rods.

Great drag

When you’re fighting a real monster, an awesome drag is your best friend. And from cushioning hooksets when running a crankbait, to assisting your line with a fish that would otherwise break it, you want smooth and strong to be your watchwords.

For instance, when fishing crankbaits, you may want your drag at a modest 3 to 4 pounds. You’re looking for smooth performance–just a touch of give to prevent you from ripping treble hooks free, especially if you’re not using a glass rod. 

But if you’re trying to ensure long-distance hooksets, or dragging bass out of heavy cover, you’ll want to increase your drag settings. No slippage is the name of the game in these situations, though opinions are divided about how much drag is enough.

Many anglers advise that the ⅓ rule always applies: set your drag to ⅓ of the breaking strength of your line. That gives you plenty of power to torque big fish while still protecting your line and rod.

But others don’t agree. Essentially, they argue that they bought high-dollar superlines to use them to their capacity, and when fishing heavy cover, they’ll set the drag to the maximum. At that point, they’re relying on the line, knot, and rod as a solid connection, and the idea is to drag bass from the nasty stuff.

Who’s right? 

Well, both camps have solid reasons for what they’re doing. But generally, you won’t need more than 6 to 10 pounds of drag.

But do you need all the torque your truck can deliver?

Awesome casting

A good baitcasting reel has a spool that tries to defy physics. It should spin as freely as mechanically possible, and be paired with slick surfaces for the line to run through, as well. In fact, the proper design of the level wind (the piece that guides the line on and off the spool) is essential to long casts.

Daiwa’s “T-wing” is famous in fishing circles for its smooth function, but other top manufacturers have their own proprietary designs.

But long casts are useless if they end in bird’s nesting backlash. To help prevent this, many higher-end rods feature magnetic braking systems that apply more pressure as the spool slows, keeping the reel from feeding more line than needed.

When designed and executed by the best, these systems help you cast light lures, work in the wind, and launch your crankbaits into the next county.

Gear ratio

Gear ratio describes how many revolutions of the spool one crank of the handle generates. For instance, a gear ratio of 7.5:1 indicates that one turn of the handle spins the spool 7.5 times. The higher the ratio, the faster the retrieve. This speed is also represented by the number of inches per turn or retrieve per turn (IPT or RPT), for example, 31”. In this case, that would mean that every turn of the handle picks up 31 inches of line.

Fast isn’t always better than slow, but it does offer a bit more versatility. It’s easier to slow your retrieve than to speed it up, and with a little practice, you can ease your natural cadence to match the needs of slower presentations.

However, speed does matter when you’re fighting a fish that runs straight for you!

It’s critical that you keep your line tight, and a fast reel really helps you do that.

Capacity

Capacity isn’t something to sneer at, especially if you need to strip and cut line while you’re fishing.

The reels we’ve selected are fairly even on this front, though there are standouts. Of course, a larger spool typically translates into a bigger reel, so there are trade-offs.

The capacities we list, for example, 12/120, are measured in mono diameter equivalents and feet.

Weight and “Palmability”

Weight and comfort are critical elements of a good reel. Ideally, your reel pretty much disappears on your rod and in your hand, and a few ounces count.

We’ll note weight and discuss comfort in each of our reviews.

Bearings

Bearing count matters with baitcasting reels, though the standard is just one roller bearing for the spool. The rest are in the innards, making retrieves as slick as icy stairs.

While not an iron-clad rule, more is better.

Final Thoughts

We hope that these reviews have helped you make the right choice for you, getting you into the action sooner!

If you have any comments or questions, we’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on reddit
Reddit
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on pinterest
Pinterest

Leave a Comment