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When you think of saltwater – you think of open seas, and that means big catch. Fishing for big catch will require careful selection of tackle, including an appropriate spinning reel. You’ll need to think of the considerably larger size of the fish (in comparison with freshwater/inshore species), the fact that saltwater is corrosive, the expanse of the water, and the possibility of damaging debris such as reef and rock.
For a newbie, making the connection between these considerations and the features to look for in a spinning reel can be hard – believe me, I’ve been there. To help you out, I’ve laid out this guide which discusses the features you must focus on to single out the best saltwater spinning reel for yourself.
Best Saltwater Spinning Reels Comparison
Van Staal VM275
25/425 [mono]; 80/400 [braid]
Okuma Azores Z-80s
PENN Spinfisher V 10500
Shimano Saragosa SW 25000
Okuma Cedros High Speed CJ-80S
Considerations for picking a saltwater spinning reel:
Bigger, tougher fish:
Saltwater fish species (redfish, striped bass, Pacific halibut, king salmon, and bluefish) tend to be bigger than the ones you’ll find in freshwater, and they also put up more of a struggle before they’re caught. This is, without a doubt, exhilarating but it also requires you to select a spinning reel that is more robust and durable (and expensive) than what you’d typically get for freshwater applications.
Corrosive nature of saltwater:
Even though saltwater can’t harm aluminum by itself, it can be a major facilitator for galvanic corrosion in the presence of other metals – this can be devastating for the insides of a spinning reel (normally made from multiple metals) if saltwater is able to make its way inside.
The salt deposits will cause the delicate components to jam up, ultimately leading to failure of the reel and compelling you to open it up, and clean and oil its insides.
Where will you be fishing?
If you’ll be fishing out in the open ocean / sea, you may require lots of line so your bait can reach the parts of the water which are teeming with fish. This in turn will restrict you to reels with larger spool sizes.
However, if you’ll be fishing in estuaries / back bays, you can get by with a relatively smaller sized reel since it won’t require as much line.
Features of a good saltwater spinning reel:
Spinning reels are made using an assortment of materials including aluminum, graphite, magnesium and carbon fiber; the smarter choice for saltwater would appear to be a corrosion resistant material such as carbon fiber or graphite, but most manufacturers tend to go for aluminum.
This is because aluminum is a lot sturdier when it comes to handling the forces exerted by a powerful fish when it is fighting against your drag. To deal with its corrosion prone nature, manufactures apply corrosion resistant coatings to the body.
Top saltwater spinning reels will have a one-piece aluminum frame to maximize structural integrity and minimize junctions from where water can seep through.
Waterproofing / protection:
Although periodic saltwater maintenance is recommended for all saltwater spinning reels, the frequency with which it is required can be considerably lessened if the frame of the reel has been made watertight.
Besides this, it goes without saying that the internal components of a saltwater spinning reel must be made from a corrosion resistant material / given corrosion resistant coats to extend the lifetime of the reel.
As mentioned before, you can expect bigger fish in saltwater, so your reel must be able to pack suitably heavy line – a reasonable estimate is 15 to 30 lbs. mono. And unless you’re fishing in a diversion channel, you’ll also need plenty of yardage – products with a line capacity ranging from 200 to 500 yards are available in the market.
A spool that can handle this kind of line has to be pretty oversized, meaning that the reel itself will be a bit heavy (not to mention expensive).
If you’ll be fishing in rocky waters, you’ll have to switch to braided line since mono line is more vulnerable to fraying because of its stretchy nature. While braided line is more durable, it is also a lot smoother and thinner than its mono counterpart, which unfortunately makes it prone to slippage.
Braided line will require the spool to be tied to an oval / elliptical oscillation system that ensures even laying of the line without slipping.
Smaller gear ratios (4.2:1 to 5.5:1) is recommended for saltwater applications because they yield high torque output, and this is a priority when you want to reel in heavy fighting fish. You needn’t be worried that this could slow things down, since the oversized spool typical of saltwater reels ensures a higher line retrieval rate in spite of the sluggish gear ratio.
Ball bearings are integrated into the reel’s spool and drag system to ensure smooth operation. When you’re going for bigger game, you should try to get a reel with as many ball bearings as your budget allows (a sensible starting point is 6 to 8 stainless steel ball bearings).
Big fish can put up quite a fight when you’re reeling them in, which can produce jerks in the reel’s transmission system if it isn’t adequately smooth – this in turn can lead to lost catch, and I can tell you from experience that it is very frustrating when you lose a big one.
Saltwater fish require strong drag to control and pull back in: where freshwater reels can get by with 20 to 25 lbs. of drag, you’ll need a lot more than that for saltwater applications. 40 lbs. is a reasonable starting point for most applications.
If you want the drag system to be able to take a decent amount of punishment, you should go for a reel with Carbon Fiber drag washers instead of felt ones. These won’t burn out as quickly and are in fact the preferred choice when it comes to higher drag settings.
Fortunately, even if you have to get a reel with felt washers by default – you could always replace them with aftermarket CF ones.
Top Saltwater Spinning Reel Reviews
Van Staal VM275 Spinning Reel
- Gear Ratio: 4.4:1
- Bearing Count: 7 + 1
- Line Retrieve (IPT): 42
With its aircraft grade aluminum and stainless steel body, the VM275 aka ‘Leviathan Killer’, is geared towards traditional anglers partial to big catch in the deep sea.
It is an unashamedly big and powerful reel that utilizes a huge 3’’ diameter spool in conjunction with hardened stainless steel gears and 7 ball bearings to ensure powerful and long distance casting.
Each part of the reel is water-sealed to minimize maintenance issues which plague saltwater reels in general – even the drag system has been uniquely engineered to be waterproof so you can expect smooth performance for a long time.
Thanks to the 4.4:1 gear ratio and the oversized spool, you can enjoy both power and speed when it comes to reeling in the catch – the line retrieval is rated for 42 inches / turn. Furthermore, the VM275’s manual-throw bail eliminates any chances of accidental bail closures that could lead to you losing potentially expensive bait during a hard cast.
The reel uses stacked carbon drag washers, to output a powerful 45 lbs. of top drag, more than sufficient for catching large sized tuna and marlin.
It goes without saying the VM275 is an expensive reel. It is slightly disappointing, then, that the reel performs in an almost awkwardly tight manner (perhaps something to do with its rigid metal construction). All in all, if you’re looking for a reel that can serve you year in and year out in the rough sea, this is it – but if your priority is maneuverability and ease of use, you may want to pass on this one.
- Extremely durable, waterproof construction.
- Drag system is watertight to a degree few competitors can achieve.
- Powerful casting and drag.
- Designed to catch extra big saltwater fish.
- Tight, almost uncomfortable performance.
Okuma Azores Z-80s Saltwater Spinning Reel
- Gear Ratio: 5.4:1
- Bearing Count: 6 + 1
- Line Retrieve (IPT): 46
Sporting a rigid, die-cast aluminum body, and a precision cut brass pinion gear backed by 6 high precision stainless steel bearings, the Azores Z-80s from Okuma offers smooth, dependable saltwater performance at a balanced price point.
The most prominent feature it has got going for it is its Dual Force Drag system which offers exceptional heat dissipation and smoothness, and allowing it to sustain a much higher drag force than is expected from reels in its tier (45 lbs.). The drag system utilizes both felt and carbonite drag washers, so you can expect it to perform for a prolonged time.
The reel’s 5.4:1 gear mechanism is able to yield the kind of horsepower needed to bring home big fish, as several anglers have mentioned in their feedback. The spool may not be the biggest you’ll find in saltwater reels, but it can still manage a brisk 46 inches per turn of line retrieval – only flipside is that the line capacity is a bit more restrictive (at around 260 yards of 25 lbs. mono).
Also worth noting is the carbon fiber mechanical stabilization system, which ensures jitter free performance without succumbing to electrolysis in saltwater. The manufacturer has thrown in a redundant anti-reverse system that uses a ratchet system in addition to the standard one-way bearing, so there won’t be any traces of back-play in the handle.
Speaking of saltwater damage, the aluminum body as well as the gears have been given a corrosion resistant coating. The drag has also been waterproofed to keep the reel operating buttery smooth even after it has been sprayed with seawater a couple times.
That being said, you should note that the frame itself is not waterproof, which means you will have to clean the reel up periodically. There have been no major complaints about this product from consumers, and it even comes with a 1 year warranty to back up the manufacturer’s claims – impressive for such an affordable price.
- Balanced price.
- Powerful and durable dual force drag system.
- Robust, corrosion-resistant construction.
- Smooth casting experience.
- Not watertight.
- Somewhat limited line capacity.
PENN Spinfisher V 10500 Spinning Reel
- Gear Ratio: 4.2:1
- Bearing Count: 5 + 1
- Line Retrieve (IPT): 42
The Spinfisher V 10500 Spinning Reel is an economically priced water-resistant reel suited for anglers who’ll be fishing in turbulent saltwater where spraying and soaking of tackle is a distinct possibility.
The first thing that will catch your eye with this reel is its massively oversized spool, capable of holding a whopping 580 yards of 80 lbs. braid or 255 yards of 50 lbs. mono line, making it perfect for situations requiring long distance casting. To handle this kind of hardware, the manufacturer had to bolster the stainless steel mainshaft with a triple-support mechanical design!
In terms of core performance, the high-torque 4.2:1 gear system and beefy spool combine to yield 40 lbs. of maximum drag and 42 inches per turn of line retrieval – figures that you would pretty much expect from a decent saltwater spinning reel. The Sealed HT-100 Slammer Drag System, comprised of 3 HT washers, is more than up for putting the brakes on an evasive fish.
While the 5 stainless steel bearing count is a bit stingy, it nevertheless yields an adequately smooth angling experience as per feedback from users. A redundant anti-reverse system, incorporating both a one-way bearing and a backup ratchet, does away with any potential back-play problems.
It is also worth noting that the reel is available in separate baitfeeding, bail less and long-cast versions to give you more freedom of choice.
While the majority of users have been quite pleased with this reel’s performance, some have experienced trouble with the baitfeeding version which engaged randomly, resulting in excessive line release and even in lost catch. These issues are only affecting a small percentage of anglers, indicative of quality control problems.
Some anglers have also had issues with sudden jams, which points to imperfect waterproofing – but, at this price point, decent water resistance is indeed the best you can get, and the Spinfisher V certainly has that going.
QC issues aside though, one thing that is an inherent issue with this reel is the excessive bulk of its tough aluminum / stainless steel construction – it weighs around 40 ounces, which is a lot heavier than the market average and can make it difficult to manage in quick-reflex scenarios.
In spite of the criticism, this one has my vote for being one of the best saltwater spinning reels for the money because of its durable construction, strong core operation and enormous line capacity.
- Reasonably priced.
- Sturdy construction.
- Very generous line capacity.
- Decent core performance.
- Choice of live feeding, bail less and long cast versions.
- QC problems.
- Not water resistant.
- Much heavier than industry average.
Shimano Saragosa SW 25000 Saltwater Spinning Reel
- Gear Ratio: 4.4:1
- Bearing Count: 6 + 1
- Line Retrieve (IPT): 45
The Shimano Saragosa 25000 promises to be a reel that can give you the extra oomph needed for fishing big saltwater game like tuna, while also staying easy on the pocket (comparatively speaking).
Featuring a proprietary Hagane body and gear construction that minimizes flexing and deformation even under heavy stress, the reel’s cold-forged aluminum body guarantees smooth performance for a very long time. The aluminum spool has also been cold-forged to ensure superior durability as compared to die-casting techniques.
The pinion gear is supported by means of two shielded bearings so accurate alignment between it and the drive gear can be achieved, even under heavy duress. Furthermore, the bearings serve to eliminate any friction between the gear and the spool shaft so you get to enjoy smooth and long distance casting.
Every part of the reel has been made water-resistant: a body gasket seal ensures that water doesn’t seep into the reel’s inner mechanisms, and the bearings (including the anti-rev bearing) have all been given corrosion resistant coatings. The drag system has been made waterproof so you don’t have to deal with jerky performance after the reel has been soaked in the surf a few times.
The X-Tough Drag system utilizes cross carbon drag washers to sustain the kind of drag force exerted by heavy game in saltwater. It can handle as much as 44 lbs. of drag and together with the powerful 4.2:1 gear ratio, it should make short work of reeling in tough fish. Thanks to the Super Stopper II anti-reverse system with its one-way roller bearing, back play is completely eliminated.
The spool allows you to store a tremendous amount of line – whether you’re using mono (30 lbs. / 360 yards max.) or braid (100 lbs. / 440 yards max.), so you can go in deep looking for massive sea fish.
The manufacturer has attempted to create a product that yields smooth and efficient saltwater performance for as long as possible. Going by its strong feature set and the positive response it has garnered from seasoned anglers, it seems they have succeeded.
Indeed, the only critical aspect of this reel is that it weighs a hefty 34.2 ounces, which could make using it for repeated casts quite a chore. Then again, this is to be expected from a product intended for big-game saltwater fishing applications.
- Relatively inexpensive for a high-performance saltwater reel.
- Extremely durable construction that can handle high stress.
- Thorough waterproofing ensures extended performance.
- Smooth and energetic casting and reeling.
- Can hold a huge amount of line.
- Still not affordable for casual saltwater anglers.
Okuma Cedros High Speed CJ-80S Saltwater Spinning Reel
- Gear Ratio: 5.7:1
- Bearing Count: 4 + 1
- Line Retrieve (IPT): 46
If you’re interested in fast, reflexive and high-endurance saltwater jigging for species such snapper, jack and tuna, the Okuma Cedros High Speed reel, with its customized jigging handle and sturdy, lightweight construction, is definitely worth a look.
It combines a brisk 5.7:1 drive system with a rigid yet (relatively) compact aluminum build to give both ample power and speed, crucial requisites for saltwater jig fishing applications. Thanks to Okuma’s signature Dual Force Drag mechanism in the reel, you get consistent, smooth and balanced performance, whether you’re casting the line or reeling it back in against an agitated tuna.
4 high precision bearings ease friction in the system and ensure efficient casting. Because of its compact design, the reel is able to handle a mediocre 33 lbs. of drag: this isn’t something I would normally recommend for saltwater fishing, but is a compromise you have to make if you want a specialized jigging reel on a strict budget.
As expected from a saltwater reel, the body as well as critical inner parts have been given corrosion resistant coatings – even the custom aluminum handle knob has been anodized for longer life. The drag system has been sealed to ensure its smooth operation even after the reel has been exposed to saltwater.
The line’s spool is rated for 260 yards of 25 lbs. mono line tops, but anglers have been able to pair it with higher rated braided lines and even push it past its maximum drag limit – this speaks volumes about the overall design quality of this product. The high speed gear ratio is able to reel the line at a swift rate of 46 inches per turn of the handle.
From a reel this cheap this should be expected, but you should know that this reel lacks carbon drag washers and uses cheaper felt ones, so you may have to upgrade to carbon on your own after a while.
Most users are content with the way this reel performs, but there have been complaints about random seizures after a couple of uses – again, this is expected for a non-waterproof reel that is exposed to saltwater and isn’t cleaned thoroughly after.
Some users have also reported that they did not receive the reel with its customized jigging handle and that indicates poor quality assurance typical of lower-end Chinese products.
- Customized design for saltwater jigging applications.
- Lightweight, sturdy construction.
- Robust and smooth casting and drag.
- Drag washers aren’t durable and drag has a stingy upper limit.
- Frame is not watertight.
- QC issues.
Now that you’ve read the guide as well as the reviews accompanying it, you’ll understand that the question of what is the best spinning reel for saltwater fishing has an answer subjective to how big you’re willing to go and how much you’re willing to spend.
If you’re uncompromising about performance and don’t have a problem with burning some cash, the Shimano Saragosa reel I’ve reviewed is one of the best offerings you can get – but if you’re bound by a stricter budget and can put up with a few minor issues, you should go for the Penn Spinfisher V 10500.
The reel yields long-lasting, smooth and efficient castability, and has a decent proprietary drag system to back it up when a big fish catches your bait. It packs a massive spool that puts even its significantly pricier competitors to shame in terms of line capacity, and it’s available in three different variations to match your fishing style.
It isn’t waterproof – but it is definitely able to stand its ground in the water (no pun intended), and that’s the best you can get from a budget saltwater reel. The only major snag with this reel is its weight – but this can in fact become an advantage when you’re fishing larger species, by enhancing stability!