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Best Surf Fishing Reels Review: Our Top Picks for 2021

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Fishing from the beach or pier demands exceptional equipment, and from surf rods designed for super-long casting to reels that bring the fight to the fish, you need tough, durable, dependable tackle.

But while surfcasting reels share a lot of things in common with any spinning reel, they’re subtly different in terms of their drag systems, saltwater seals, and details like capacity markers. And if you’re new to surf fishing, you may not know where to start. We’re here to help, and below, you’ll find complete reviews of some of our favorites, as well as a buying guide to help you make the right choice.

Quick glance at the best surf fishing reels for 2021:

Related: Best Surf Fishing Rod and Reel Combos

Best Surf Fishing Reels Reviewed

Penn Slammer III - Our Pick!

PENN 1403983 Slammer III Spinning

Amazon 

Sizes: 3500, 4500, 5500, 6500, 7500, 8500, 10500

Maximum drag: 30 lbs. (3500 and 4500), 40 lbs. (5500 and 6500), 50 lbs. (7500 and 8500), 60 lbs. (10500)

Line capacity: 3500 6/360 (mono)

4500 10/320 (mono)

5500 12/330 (mono)

 6500 15/345 (mono)

 7500 20/330 (mono)

 8500 30/330 (mono)

 10500 40/360 (mono)

Bearings:

Gear ratio: 6.2:1 (3500 and 4500), 5.6:1 (5500 and 6500), 4.7:1 (7500), 5.3:1 (8500), 4.2:1 (10500)

Weight: 13.9oz.(3500), 14.7 oz. (4500), 22.4 oz. (5500), 24.3 oz. (6500), 29.2 oz. (7500), 31.3 oz. (8500), 43.1 oz. (10500)

Penn’s Slammer III is a serious spinning reel, and in the larger sizes, it’ll serve you well for trolling for pelagic species like tuna and shark.

But in the smaller sizes, it’s an incredibly good surfcasting reel, offering uncompromising performance.

Yes, you guessed it: The Slammer III runs the HT-100 drag system, which I frankly feel is the best on the water at the moment. Sealed against salt, ultra-durable, and providing fight-winning friction, it simply sets the standard all other systems need to meet.

The Slammer III, however, increases drag strength substantially over other Penn reels of similar size, helping you win hard fights against tough fish. From the shore, this reel is a game-changer against big reds, stripers, and even respectable sharks.

In fact, if big fish were my target from the beach, this is the reel I’d want on my rod.

In the sizes I’d choose for surfcasting, retrieval rates are solid. 37, 40, and 39 inches are what you can expect from the gear ratio and spool size of the 3500, 4500, and 5500, and these are numbers that pretty much guarantee tight lines.

As I mentioned above, I’m pretty sure that the Slammer III runs the same size spool as the Spinfisher VI, and that guarantees plenty of line as well as at-a-glance line capacity markers.

Casting is silky smooth and long distances are this reel’s strong suit.

For beach anglers looking for a top-notch fighter, the Slammer III is as good as it gets.

Pros:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Superior drag system that’s sealed
  • Good gear ratios and spool sizes mean good retrieval speeds
  • Excellent casting
  • Good capacity
  • Strong drag maximums

Cons:

  • ???

Penn Spinfisher VI

PENN 1481262 Spinfisher VI Spinning Saltwater Reel, 4500 Reel Size, 6.2: 1 Gear Ratio, 40' Retrieve Rate, 6 Bearings, Ambidextrous

Amazon 

Sizes: 3500, 4500, 5500, 6500, 7500, 9500, 10500

Maximum drag: 15 lbs. (3500), 20 lbs. (4500), 25 lbs. (5500), 30lbs. (6500), 35 lbs. (7500), 45 lbs. (9500), 50 lbs. (10500)

Line capacity: 3500 8/285 (mono)

4500 10/320 (mono)

5500 12/330 (mono)

 6500 15/345 (mono)

 7500 20/330 (mono)

 9500 30/350 (mono)

 10500 50/255 (mono)

Bearings:

Gear ratio: 6.2:1 (3500 and 4500), 5.6:1 (5500 and 6500), 4.7:1 (7500 and 9500), 4.2:1 (10500)

Weight: 12.1oz.(3500), 12.5 oz. (4500), 18.5 oz. (5500), 22.3 oz. (6500), 26.5 oz. (7500), 37.1 oz. (9500), 38.6 oz. (10500)

Penn is a dominant name in saltwater fishing, and it’s hard to go wrong by choosing one of their reels for surf fishing.

And their Spinfisher VI, a reel we've reviewed at length before, sets the bar insanely high.

Check out our Penn Spinfisher VI Review

Let’s start with the incredibly capable HT-100 drag system. Set with sensible maximums to match each size of reel, you won’t be undergunned in a hard fight.

But the real magic is in the fiberglass discs laminated in carbon fiber fabric. Not only do these create plenty of friction and direct pressure on the spool, but this material combination resists wear much better than more common oiled-felt systems. Lighter, stronger, and more durable, the HT-100 is simply better tech.

If that weren’t enough, experts report that the HT-100 system reduces friction slightly as it gets hotter. In practice, this means that hard-running fish won’t create as much heat on your line, reducing potential line failure, and your drag will ease up naturally as the line is taken farther and farther.

On the smaller reels - the 2500, 3500, 4500, and 5500 - Penn has chosen an aluminum main gear and a brass pinion gear. This combination saves weight, resists corrosion, and allows for precision machining of the gear teeth, especially on the pinion gear.

For the 6500, 7500, 9500, and 10500, the main and pinion gears are brass. Easier to machine than aluminum, the teeth on these models are very fine, meshing together with incredible precision. The result is a very smooth, very connected feel that’s sure to impress.

Gear ratios and spool sizes are well matched to produce fast retrieval speeds, and you’ll find capacity markers in contrasting black against the gold that let you know at a glance how much line you have left.

I’m pretty sure that the Spinfisher VI and Slammer III run the same size spool, and while not as capacious as some of the others on our list, you certainly won’t be outclassed with this reel.

The smallest two reels run a 6.2:1 ratio, producing retrieval rates of 37 and 40 inches per turn, respectively. Those are identical numbers - and as far as I can tell, identical spools - to the Slammer III.

The next two larger reels run a 5.6:1 ratio. Matched to their larger spools, that’s good for 39 and 42 inches per turn, again matching the Slammer III pace for pace.

The 7500 and 9500 offer a gear ratio of 4.7:1, pulling in 38 and 40 inches of line per turn. There’s no competition for the Slammer III’s 8500HS with its blazing gearing, but again, these reels are producing more than respectable numbers.

And finally, the big 10500 runs a 4.2:1 for 43 inches per turn, duplicating the largest Slammer III inch for inch.

And as you’d expect, this high-quality spinning reel casts like a dream, bucking the wind and ensuring that your lures and bait reach the hot spots you’re targeting.

Is Penn’s Spinfisher VI the best surfcasting reel out there?

If it’s not, it’s darn close!

Pros:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Superior drag system that’s sealed
  • Good gear ratios and spool sizes mean excellent retrieval speeds
  • Excellent casting
  • Good capacity

Cons:

  • ???

Penn Battle III

PENN Fishing PENN Battle II & III Spinning Fishing Reel (All Models & Sizes), Black Gold, 2500 (BTLIII2500)

Amazon 

Sizes: 1000, 2000, 2500, 3000, 4000

Maximum drag: 9 lbs. (1000), 10 lbs. (2000), 12 lbs (2500), 15 lbs. (3000 and 4000)

Line capacity: 1000 275/2 135/4 105/6 (mono

2000 240/4 180/6 125/8

2500 255/6 175/8 140/10

3000 200/8 165/10 120/12

4000 270/8 220/10 165/12

Bearings:

Gear ratio: 5.2:1 (1000); 6.2:1 (2000, 2500, 3000, and 4000)

Weight: 7.8 oz. (1000), 9.4 oz. (2000), 9.7 oz. (2500), 11.6 oz. (3000), 12.2 oz. (4000)

The Penn Battle series has been a favorite of mine since I first fished one, and the Battle III is still among my favorite surfcasting reels.

Let’s take a closer look at why that is.

The Battle III runs the same incredible HT-100 drag system that’s at the heart of the Spinfisher, and from super smooth release to ultra-durability to line-protecting let-off as line really starts to be taken out, there’s probably no better option on the market.

Each size of the Battle III is paired to an appropriate drag maximum, and while really large sizes aren’t available in the lineup, I wouldn’t feel at a disadvantage on any red, snook, or blue out there.

Spool sizes are more than adequate, holding plenty of line. And as a nice touch, you’ll find capacity indicators marked in gold against the black spool. Reels like the Daiwa Saltist pack a bigger spool than the Battle III, and if you really need the extra capacity, they may be better choices.

The smaller spool on the Battle III also gives up ground on retrieval, and you can definitely see the difference between it and the Spinfisher VI. From 22 inches per turn to a maximum of 37 with the 4000, the Spinfisher is simply much faster, and if I were chasing sailfish or other speed demons, that would certainly be my preference.

But let’s face facts. The Spinfisher is an all-around that can handle both trolling and surfcasting, and the larger frames and spools, as well as higher gearing, are built around that versatility.

By contrast, the Battle III is a surfcasting and inshore reel that’s smaller, and that means that it’ll both hold less line and pull it back in a little slower. But it’s also lighter and more balanced for inshore rods, and I think it fits a bit more comfortably on most surfcasting rods too - though you may disagree.

Casting is excellent with the Battle III, and whether you’re facing a stiff wind or a high tide that makes a long cast necessary, you can count on this reel to deliver.

As a pure surfcasting reel, the Battle III has proven its mettle time and time again, and I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Pros:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Superior drag system that’s sealed
  • Good gear ratios and spool sizes mean good retrieval speeds
  • Excellent casting

Cons:

  • Not as fast as the Spinfisher VI
  • Can’t hold as much line as the Daiwa Saltist

Daiwa Saltist

Daiwa Saltist 5.3:1 Gear Spinning Reel, 48.70'/33lb/33 lb

Amazon 

Sizes: 2500, 3000, 4000, 4500, 5000, 6500, 8000

Maximum drag: 15.4 lbs. (2500 and 3000), 17.6 lbs. (4000), 22 lbs. (4500 and 5000), 33 lbs. (6500 and 8000)

Line capacity: 2500 6/210, 8/170, 10/140 (mono)

3000 8/240, 10/200, 12/170

4000 10/300, 12/260, 14/210

4500 14/350, 17/280, 20/210

5000 14/470, 17/380, 20/280

6500 20/370, 25/310, 30/260

8000 20/550, 25/440, 30/370

Bearings: 8 + 1

Gear ratio: 5.6:1 (2500 and 3000), 5.7:1 (4000, 4500, and 5000), 5.3:1 (6500 and 8000)

Weight: 9.5 oz.(2500), 10.8 oz. (3000), 15 oz.(4000), 22.2 oz. (4500), 22.9 oz. (5000), 29.6 oz. (6000), 30 oz. (8000)

Daiwa’s Saltist is legendary among surfcasters, and in the smaller sizes that are svelte enough not to affect the balance and casting of your rod, they’re simply outstanding choices for working the beach or pier.

That’s not to say that the larger sizes aren’t excellent as well, but as with the larger Penn Slammers, they’re probably better choices for spinning-reel enthusiasts who are fishing on or offshore.

The Saltist lineup features an excellent sealed drag that uses carbon fiber disks to apply pressure to the spool. As you’d expect from an industry leader, the maximums are well matched to the reel sizes, and performance is smooth and dependable.

I’d still prefer Penn’s HT-100 overall, but Daiwa’s Waterproof Carbon ATD Drag System isn’t going to disappoint anyone.

The Saltist sports a big spool, easily holding more line than the Penn reels on our list. That, and proper gearing, yield lightning-fast retrieval rates, with the 4500 size pulling in 43 inches of line per turn, just killing the Penn on this front.

If you need a fast surfcasting reel, the Daiwa Saltist is a very, very good option for you.

Casting is smooth and reassuring, even in a stiff breeze, and there’s just nothing bad to say about this awesome reel.

Pros:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Excellent drag system that’s sealed
  • Excellent gear ratios and huge spool sizes mean outstanding retrieval speeds
  • Excellent casting
  • Excellent capacity
  • Strong drag maximums

Cons:

  • ???

KastKing Sharky III

KastKing Sharky III Spinning Fishing Reel,Size 5000

Amazon 

Sizes: 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000

Maximum drag: 33 lbs (1000, 2000, and 3000), 39.5 lbs. (4000 and 5000)

Line capacity: 1000 6/200 8/170 (mono)

2000 6/220 8/190

3000 8/220 10/175

4000 10/220 12/200

5000 12/220 14/190

Bearings: 10 + 1

Gear ratio: 5.2:1

Weight: 7.4 oz.(1000), 9.1 oz. (2000), 9.2 oz.(3000), 10.2 oz. (4000), 10.6 oz. (5000)

Not every angler - perhaps not even most anglers - can afford to throw down several hundred dollars on a reel, but that doesn’t mean that excellent options aren’t available at far more modest price points.

Enter KastKing’s Sharky III, a budget surfcasting reel that will put a smile on your face as you fight everything from flounder, to blues, to reds, specks, and snook.

The Sharky III runs a triple carbon fiber disc drag system, and it’s sealed against water and sand intrusion. While perhaps not as silky as the Daiwa or Penn offerings on our list, it’s reliably smooth and plenty strong, allowing you to run heavy braid should you wish.

That makes this ultra-light reel a real winner in my book, and just take a look at those weight numbers! Even the big 5000 comes in at just over 10 ounces.

But that’s not due to a lot of cheap plastic: KastKing runs an oversized stainless-steel main shaft and precision mesh manganese brass pinion gears. Again, don’t expect Shimano Hagane level smoothness, but these reels have plenty of fight in them.

The Sharky III is running a spool that’s roughly the same size as the Penn’s on our list - and that’s just fine by me - but the gearing is relatively anemic, and this is the slowest of the reels we’re reviewing. Expect just 31.8 IPT on the 4000, making it much, much slower than the competition.

But let’s face it, at this price point, head-to-head comparisons are going to favor reels that cost three, four, or even five times as much.

Does that make the Sharky III a bad buy?

Not by a long shot!

Pros:

  • Inexpensive!
  • Very, very light
  • Good build quality
  • Good drag system that’s sealed
  • Good capacity
  • Excellent casting
  • Very strong drag maximums

Cons:

  • Not as smooth as its high-end competitors
  • Not as fast as the other reels on our list

What We Look for When Buying a Surfcasting Reel

Smooth, long casts

Long casts are the name of the game from the beach, and you need a reel that lets line slide off the spool like it was greased.

And while baitcasting reels are generally superior in this regard, windy beaches and baitcasters are a recipe for frustration. By design, they just can’t cast into heavy wind as well, and spinning reels are the preferred choice of nearly every surcasting angler.

A good reel, when properly loaded to within about ⅛ inch from the edge of the spool, should cast like a dream, allowing you to hit the spots where the fish are congregating.

If you need a refresher on how this is done, check out this video:

Excellent drag

Drag does two things: it protects your line from sudden shocks by providing a bit of “give” that cushions your line, and it tires a hard-fighting fish as it runs.

Excellent drag systems are easy to set and adjust and let line out in a consistently smooth pull that never stops or hesitates. A drag that “freezes” like that can expose your line to sudden stress and inevitable failure.

Typically, drag systems work best in the mid-range of their maximum, that is, somewhere between their minimum and maximum settings. 

Ideally, you set your drag to approximately ⅓ the test strength of your line, and that should provide the cushion and fighting assistance you need.

Modern drag systems are typically made from carbon fiber discs that provide more friction and longer service lives than the old oiled felt alternatives, and the reels we’ve reviewed have what it takes to win the fights you’ll cherish.

Retrieval rates: gear ratios and spool sizes

How quickly a reel picks up line is a combination of two factors. The first is the gear ratio, a measure of how many turns of the spool one turn of the handle produces.

For instance, a gear ratio of 5.2:1 means that one turn of the handle spins the spool 5.2 times.

The second factor affecting retrieval rate is the size of the spool. Obviously, a bigger spool spun an equal amount of times will pick up more line than a smaller one.

Big spools plus high gear ratios make reels quick, and this matters when you're fighting big, lighting-fast fish. As they make a run at you, your line will tend to go lax. And when it does, pressure on the hook will relax, too, giving the fish a chance to throw it.

You want to keep that line tight - and that hook buried hard - and faster reels are better able to accomplish this.

Capacity

When long casts are the order of the day, and you might hook a fish 50 yards from shore, you need plenty of line for that fight.

For surfcasting, large capacities are important, but don’t forget that larger spool sizes tend to increase the overall size and weight of a reel, and really large, heavy reels can quickly unbalance your rod.

When that happens, casting distance can suffer, so don’t go for the largest size you can just to maximize capacity.

We’ve listed capacities for each reel for nylon monofilament. If you need more line on your reel, consider switching to braid with a mono leader.

Our Pick: Penn’s Slammer III - The Best Surf Fishing Reel!

The competition on this list is fierce, and an argument could easily be made for the excellent Spinfisher VI or the Daiwa Saltist. And there’s no question that both would impress.

We went with the Slammer III because it best combines the features we’re looking for in a great surf fishing reel. Available in sizes that let you fight everything from snook to shark, there’s a size in the Slammer line-up that’s just perfect for your needs.

And the awesome HT-100 drag system is just incredible, pulling ahead of the likes of Shimano and Daiwa as far as I’m concerned.

And while the Saltist might pull ahead in capacity and speed, for me, the drag on the Slammer III is just that good.

This is a tough call, and I can easily see another angler picking the Daiwa over the Penn.

As always, we’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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