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Articles » Gear Reviews » Fishing Reels » Best Surf Fishing Reels: Catch What Lies Beyond the Surf

Best Surf Fishing Reels: Catch What Lies Beyond the Surf

Updated on December 25, 2018 by Surf Fishing Expert Sean Woodburn

As an angler, the reel is one of the most important pieces of gear you have.

It has to perform at its best under extreme conditions. Water, friction, and extraordinary force are just a few examples of why you need a reel that can hold up to whatever you throw at it.

Top Surf Fishing Reels

Man surf fishing at sunset
Sunset surf fishing is one of my favorites. The colors of the sky can be breathtaking.

If your reel does not perform as well as it should, or you are not familiar with the particular reel you are using, this could turn into a nightmare on the water.

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Remember, you can have the best reel on the market, but if you don’t pair it with a quality surf rod and high-quality fishing line…you’re short-changing yourself.

Before we get into the specific reels, let’s discuss the rules for picking the best surf fishing reel.


Sean Woodburn’s Rules for Surf Fishing Reels

Rule #1: Match the reel to the task

You may or may not need a long cast reel. You will have lots of options that you may or may not need. So what you need to do is look at where you’re fishing, what you’re fishing for, how you’re fishing, and make decisions based on this.

There are some places where you might want a long cast reel. There are some places where you don’t because there are issues of durability that are better met by other types of reels.

True long cast reels have some features that make them a little more vulnerable, and I’ll get into that in a minute. Sometimes you just need a solid saltwater spinning reel to be a workhorse for non-long casting activities.

Rule #2: A good drag is way more important than extra yards.

If you’re not a seasoned long caster, rest assured. There’s a lot of fish to be had out there at 300 feet and there’s not a reel out there that won’t cast 300 feet with the right rod and a little bit of technique.

So before you spend all that money on an expensive long spool reel, which is what a long caster is, it’d be better to go with a reel with a conventional spool and a great drag.

Rule #3: Durability is way, way, way more important than extra yards.

Having a reel that breaks in the middle is horrible…and I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen spools fly off. I’ve seen handles break. I’ve seen it all.

Having that stuff happened because you brought a $40 Walmart special…It’s just a bad idea.

Rule #4: Don’t buy too large of a reel.

This rule is more of an observation. Very, very, very few fish actually run a hundred yards. So if you had 100 to 150 yards to your likely casting distance under actual fishing conditions, then you will have more reel than you probably need.

For example, all the guys  700 feet to 900 feet (pushing a thousand feet), are all still fishing one- third or even one-half of our tournament casting distances. This is because the rigs for fishing aren’t just as simple aerodynamics sinker.

You know, there are few rigs out there that will cast like those anchors. One or two exceptions might be metal spoons and that sort of thing.


Surf Reels to Consider

Akios made in Britain and is a superb long cast reel, especially for common surf weights. The things that give you distance are basically geometry, line lay, and also weight, most of the good surf reels are gonna come in, right at around 600 grams or so, which is why by the way, the Stradic does so well.

The Akios has at least a couple of models out there that are really superb long casters that are available in the US now.

Another one that is available and it’s moderately priced. Penn has historically made reels for the European and the UK market and hasn’t brought the long cast reels here. So they have the Penn Conflict long cast, that is worth taking a look at. That’s a nice reel.

If you want to spend crazy money and you want to get the very, very best, you start looking at Shimano Aero Technium.

The old Aero Technium, which has been discontinued, might’ve been the best long caster on the planet.

Shimano Aero Technium 12000 XTB Magnesium Longcast Surfcasting Saltwater Fishing Reel, ARTC12000XTBMGS
  • Gear ratio: 4.3:1, Ballbearing: 8 and 1 S ARB
  • Lineretrieve per crank: 47.20 inch
  • Linecapacity lb/yds: 12/525, 16/385, 20/275

Diawa Basia is another one that is worth looking at. You won’t find long casters using Stella’s. What do you get when you get a Stella? Stella is built like a Rolex. It’s just a beautiful thing to hold every millimeter of that thing is, is beautifully polished. Perfect. They’re smooth.

They’re also tough. It’s a good fishing reel. But the question, you know is what are you getting for that extra money? Smooth drag, super smoothness, all that stuff, man. You can take a lot of reels that are in $100 to $200 range, spend $20 on some carbontex washers on them and turn a good reel to GREAT.

Akios makes some super tuned reels. Rocket reels. There are some people out there doing great tournament ready reels, but that it’s not worth the money is what I’m getting at.

If you’re thinking of going for a super tuned reel, you should have a think about getting a custom built reel before you spend $450.  And it’ll probably be better than, than the, seven HD super tuned. That’s the one with the red frame.

The Daiwa M7HG Mag is one that’s got both systems and is so bombproof.


Spinning Reel vs Conventional Reel

Spinning reel wins with ease of use. Although anyone can learn to control a bait caster in just a session with someone that knows what they’re doing…that’s also the downfall because without having a coach you can learn bad habits or not develop confidence. Spinning reels are pretty straightforward right out the gate.

best surf fishing reels
Pick a reel and master it. Don’t worry about having too many different ones until the situation calls for them.

When to Use Braided Line

Surf fishermen rarely use braid on conventional reels. It’s uncommon and I’ll tell you why. If you try to stop that thing with your thumb, if your thumb catch has slipped, if your leather has slipped, whatever we’re using to keep from burning your thumb, and it can happen with even mono, man, that braid will cut you to the bone.

And so we don’t like to use it.

You lay your thumb on that thing and, it’s going to be, really rude awakening. So spinning reels are absolutely superior with braid.

A longer distance is kind of a myth with spinning reels, people that don’t know how to cast, you get long distance with them because they don’t know how to control their conventional reel. Spinning reels are superior with long distances for lighter weights, say under 50 grams.

Once you start getting above 50 grams, you’ll find if you look up all of the records that, that they’re pretty much held by conventional reels, a so-called baitcasting type of reel. But if you’re casting below 50 grams or even below 100 grams for, for most people, they will get better distance saying say 75 grams and blows what I would write about.

The conventional reels, outcast them consistently. Also, spinning wheels don’t have greater line capacity. In fact, most reels that are specialty reels for braid come with shallow spool, so that’s not putting 600 yards of line on a reel that you don’t need. And a lot of the really high-end carp reels, for example, or high-end surf reels that are designed for brain have a shallower spool.

Otherwise, they’re kind of neck and neck. They make big spinning reels and make big conventional reels. I wouldn’t say either one has an advantage with line capacity. However, if you want to use braid, definitely on the spinning wheel.

Just FYI, we also avoid having braid on boat reels. Most people that have decided that they need to use it, they’re using maybe a small reel and want more capacity. Whatever they use, they put a mono topshop because if you try to grab that braid, it’ll cut through your glove.

If you’re dealing with a feisty, even at 30, 40 pounds sailfish that’s real feisty or whatever. And you grabbed that braid, you know, it’ll cut you to the bone.


Surf Fishing Reel Brakes

One type of brake is not better than another. They have different applications and tension knobs.

Oh my gosh, don’t use the tension knob to stop backlash.

What most people will do when they use the tension knob is they put whatever weight they’re gonna cast and then they back it off, loosen it until their weight starts to drop. And that’s probably a good place for them to start. It does help prevent backlashes, but it’s not a break.

All it does is make sure that the reel doesn’t start out too fast. As we become more and more adept, you’d be amazed at what you’re casting. You’ll have the tension knob off. You’ll be using it to control side to side motion. We want it to spin as freely as possible.

Centrifical Brakes

There are lots of ways those things are put together. The old Abu Ambassadors had two break boxes in him that a lot of the current ones have six break box in them, which blocks you use, make a difference as they spin against the rim that they create, drag on it.

It has to do with how much friction there is, and then some of the sophisticated things that Daiwa and Shima, in particular, have been doing with air aerodynamic things in the reel are pretty amazing. But sticking to centrifical breaking or centrifugal is our British friends call it, is an effective way. Those Daiwas SLH and SLX series tune properly and are extremely controllable, same with the Penn Squall.

Magnetic Brakes

Mags do one of two things for us, they either give us a little bit more break so we set those breaks up a little bit light, but turn the mag all the way up and that gives us a little bit more control.

The Diawa HG Mag millionaire is a great example and you can use the mag in conjunction with the centrifugal brake. Where we use mags alone is usually in either tournament casting or with a very experienced caster.

Someone who’s using mags alone is usually someone who has a lot of skill and they’re doing things like using different viscosity oil in their bearings. Even in ceramic bearings, which don’t need oil, they’ll use different grades of oil to, to slow the reel depending on things like temperature, how far they’re casting a lot of that.

That’s really sophisticated stuff.

So, the two reels that I mentioned earlier, the Diawa and the Abu Mag elite both have both types and they’re very easy to tune. It’s one of the reasons I love him so much because you can get a lot of performance out of those types of things pretty easily.


Fishing Line Diameter Matters

It’s a myth to believe that you don’t really lose distance on a conventional reel. That’s not true man. Even a few thousandths make an enormous distance difference when casting. And I can direct you to some Youtube channels where guys have tested, say 20 versus 28 thousandths of a millimeter.

Three-thousandths of a millimeter can make a five to seven percent difference in the distance of a cast going down to 18 thousandths is what we use for 7.5  gram. It’s double from 25 thousandths. So with a quarter of an ounce, that’s just something to be aware of. That’s something to be aware of.

The Best Braid to Mono Knot

There is only one not to use to tie your braid to your mono because you’re going to have a mono top shot. No matter what and that’s called the FG knot. You’ll see people talk about other knots and they don’t understand knots.

I have a knot testing machine so I’ve tested them and I’ve tested everything against everything. And the FG is, is absolutely the superior knot for mono to braid connection. When another knot breaks…the FG stays.

If you think I’m wrong, send me your knot and I’ll test it for you.

best surf fishing spinning reels
Don’t let a bad reel get in the way of a great fishing day!

How to Care for Your Surf Fishing Reel

To ensure the longevity of your reel, make sure you give it a good clean after every saltwater, brackish water or dirty freshwater fishing trip.

The easiest way to clean a reel is to give it a gentle rinse with fresh water. Every now and then it pays to remove the spool and handle and give any moving parts a little oil. A little bit of TLC can go a long way to extending a reel’s life.

Avoid opening any reel casings as they’re tightly packed with small washers, springs, and cogs and losing one can be painful. Leave this to a registered technician.


Surf Fishing Reel Buyer’s Checklist

  • What type of fish will you be going after? This is important to know to decide which size reel and line will best suit you.
  • What type of conditions do you expect to be fishing in? If you plan to be primarily in saltwater, you will want to make sure the reel you choose is ‘watertight” to prevent corrosion from the bearings to prolong the life of your reel.
  • What Is your skill and experience level? This is important in deciding the difference between a conventional and a spinning reel, in part because of the ease of use of the spinning reel.
  • What is your budget? There are many reels out there that are budget friendly without necessarily sacrificing quality.
best spinning surf fishing reels
Enjoy the day fishing, not untangling your reel

Best Surf Fishing Reels Reviews

Best Saltwater Spinning Reel

Shimano Stradric Ci4+ 4000

Sale
Shimano Stradic Ci4+ 4000 FB Spinning Fishing Reel With Front Drag, STCI44000FB
  • Gear Ratio: 4.8:1, Weight: 8.10 ounce, Max. drag...
  • Mono Line Capacity (lbs/yd): 8/240, 10/200, 12/160
  • PowerPro Line Capacity (lbs/yd): 15/280, 30/170,...

That is one of the best reels ever made at any price.

There are a lot of reels out there and I’ve tried pretty much all of them. I buy what I want and I get the reels that I want. There are a lot of reels that cost three times as much that I would not trade this reel for.

I cast the size 4000 a lot. It is the dominant reel in single-handed seven-point, five-gram international plug competition.

So the guys that are casting 85, 86, 87 meters with a quarter of an ounce and the plug they cast, by the way, it’s plastic. It’s huge. It’s about as aerodynamic as a parachute.

This is the dominant reel.

It’s a wonderful, wonderfully reel.

It might seem expensive depending on features but for what you get…let’s just say…I would own it before I owned a Stella.

See Prices >


Best All-Around Saltwater Spinning Reel

Penn Battle II

Sale
Penn 1338218 Battle II Spinning Reel, 3000
  • Durable, high-range spinning reel ideal for...
  • Full metal body, sideplate, and rotor and...
  • HT-100 carbon fiber drag system provides powerful...

The Penn Battle II 3000 is a popular reel among anglers for its durability, quality, and reasonable cost.

The Penn Battle II is one of the greatest reels ever made.

It’s not a long caster, but it’s durable. It’s really, really durable.

I put it up there with the Diawa BG. Phenomenal reel.

Probably one of the best jetty reels. Jetty reels have got to be tough. It’s a really, really good one for that sort of thing.

If you need a reel that’s going to show up for your day in and day out, then add this one to your gear stash. It won’t let you down.

See Prices >


Best Long Cast Spinning Reel

Diawa SS Tournament

Daiwa SS Tournament 5.1:1 Long Cast Whisker Spinning Reel - SS1300
  • Super smooth drag
  • Lifetime bail spring
  • Long cast machined spool

This is my first choice and best bang for the buck long casting reel. Again, a reel that, that I buy, I have a dozen of them. I’ve had them for years.

It was originally designed as long casting reel and some say it’s a little bit outdated now, but it’s indestructible and they can be had for their four sizes available in the US. I’ve caught anything from a trout to a damn sailfish on it. It is a fantastic reel.

It was one of the first reels that had long casting geometry. What that means is that it has a longer spool. It’s usually a little bit shallower. And the line lay is superb.

Line lay and geometry are what give you long casting spinning reels.

And the Diawa was one of the first to do it and they still make it. It’s kind of like the Z-series. They tried to discontinue it and people raised all kinds of grief over it because it was, it was just too good to let go.

The only downside that I know of on that reel is an absolute non-issue. It’s really neat when you have a reel that has a perfect anti-reverse bearing in it. So the handle cannot spin backward. Even a micron, it just won’t spin backward…feels good. It’s kind of sexy.

It’s usually on reels with a fair number of bearings and so they feel good, but here’s a truth about those…

It makes no difference.

I don’t think I’ve ever caught so many bonefish on those Diawas… I couldn’t even tell you. I’ve never lost a fish because my reel handles spun backward even a fraction of an inch. The other thing is that sometimes those anti-reversed bearings, instead of having anti-reverse pull, sometimes those anti-reverse bearings are the only thing keeping that handle from spinning backward and those things will fail.

So having a, having a little bit heavier hardware inside to keep the reel from spinning the handle backward such as on the Z-series or on this reel counts a lot so that reel is still used by the way in the competition.

This reel has had lots and lots of records in the past and it’s still being used. It’s still out there and it’s been around for 30 years, so it’s a neat one.

See Prices >


Best Conventional Non-Mag Reel

Diawa Sealine-X

Sale
Daiwa Sealine-X SHA Conventional Saltwater Reel SL-X50SHA 6.1:1 High Speed
  • Free-Floating Spool, separates the spool from the...
  • 3 Bearing System (3CRBB), Massive, six-element...
  • Tough marine bronze and stainless steel gears

For Non-Mag reels, the SLH, the Diawa Sealine or the SLX are virtually identical. The SLX came out a little later.

It has a few more bearings, a little more bells, and whistles, but those are two of the best non-mag grills you can buy without a doubt.

Another one that I would add to the list is the Diawa HG Tournament classic. They have been out of production, but they’re out there. They’re out there. It’s a very, very, very forgiving, non-mag reel and definitely worth taking a look at too.

See Prices >


Best Conventional Mag Reel

Daiwa M7HTMAG Millionaire Surf Cast Reel

Sale
Daiwa M7HTMAG Millionaire Surf Cast Reel (5.8:1 Gear Ratio)
  • Made using the highest quality components
  • Used by professional fishermen worldwide
  • Tested for durability and quality

The two best very best mag reels on the market in my opinion, for people who aren’t spending several days a week casting is the Abu 6500 Mag Elite and the Diawa 7 M7HTMAG Millionaire.

That reel is Sean proof, idiot proof whatever you, if you turn it has both centrifugal brakes and magnetic, control as does the mag elite. Both of them you can tune the centrifugal brakes to your casting ability or your conditions.

Windy days want to put a little more break on the reel then on calm days, just as an example. And they both have good mag systems. The Mag on the MAG elite comes in a little bit late. It’s a slider type. You push your thumb along and it gives you more and more mag as your, as your spool empties.

The Diawa has a really nice knob feature. I prefer the Diawa just for the knob feature, but they’re both really, really good reels. There’s another version called the Mag elite super tuner or ST if there, if you’ve got to have the very best of the best without having a real custom tuned or custom built, that’s, that’s probably along with a few other reels out there.

See Prices >


FAQ

Q: What size reel is best for surf fishing?

A: It’s personal preference, but for spinning reels, I like either 3000 or 4000 for most surf fishing adventures.

Q: What makes a good fishing reel?

A: Quality and strength of the housing, water tightness (to help prevent corrosion), number of bearings (for durability and added strength)

Q: How to cast a conventional reel?

A: Place your thumb on the spool to prevent the line from coming off while moving the lever all the way back to the “Free” position. Bring the rod back and then forward in one swift motion, releasing the spool during the forward motion, allowing the bait to be cast. Preventing backlash takes practice! Stop the spool with your thumb as the bait enters the water, then move the lever to the correct position for your application.

Q: How to surfcast?

A: For this cast, start with about five feet of line between rod tip and lure. If you are right-handed, your feet will be about the width of your shoulders apart and point down the beach to your right.

With the rod held high, start the lure on a swing that carries it up and away at right angles from the water. When that swing is completed, begin the forward cast. This is a relaxed unhurried movement, and power comes from arms, shoulders and a rotating motion of the upper body.

Q: How far to cast when surf fishing?

A: An ideal surf-fishing rod is 12 to 15 feet long with large line guides. Pair it with a large saltwater spinning reel and 20 to 25-pound test line. With that equipment, you’ll be able to cast a weighted bait up to 100 yds.

A: How to mag a reel?

A: Reel Takedown:

On the cranking side of the reel you will see a little round chrome-retaining pin. Unscrew this pin in the counterclockwise direction. It will not come all the way out but once it is on you will want to pull on it and you will feel it slide back 1mm to 2mm. Hold it in this position with your left hand and then turn the crank in the counterclockwise direction. The whole Side plate should turn and then come free from the frame of the reel. Now slide the spool out and you are ready for business.

Installing The Mags:

You will install two ¼ x ¼ magnets and magnet cups in the side plate opposite from the gearbox / crank side of the reel. Before you glue or epoxy them in be sure to clean the area with lighter fuel. It’s a good idea to clean the backside of the mag cups with lighter fuel as well.

Glue:

Crazy glue gel works great but if you want a permanent fix then use an epoxy. Apply glue or epoxy to the backside of the mag cups and then install them side by side onto the inside of the plastic side plate. They will be a perfect fit in between the little plastic fins on the side plate. Place them on the bottom side of the side plate rather than the topside as in the picture. This will allow the clicker to function properly. Be sure to not push them up to tight against the round clicker spring. This will make the clicker malfunction. Hold the cups firmly for a minute or two until the glue sets.

Putting In The Magnets:

Once the glue has dried you are ready to install the magnets. You simply place the magnets inside of the magnet cups where they are held in place by magnetic force. By placing one magnet in with the north field facing towards the spool and the other with the south field facing the spool you will achieve maximum mag force on the spool. If the spool is still to fast with the mags in North South configuration then you can take small flat washers and place them inside the magnet cups to shim the magnets closer to the spool.

If the reel is to slow for you with the mags in North South configuration then you can flip one over and put them in so they are both North North or South South. This will create less magnetic force and allow for a faster spool. If it is still to slow then simply remove one of the magnets from the magnet cup.

Putting The Reel Back Together:

Simply slide the spool back in. Then place the gearbox / crank side plate back into the frame. You will see little groves where the side plate lines up with the frame.

Be sure and hold up the retaining pin out and then twist the side plate back into place. Once it stops turning let go of the retaining pin and it should drop down into the reel.

Next, tighten the retaining pin by twisting it in a clockwise direction. It should screw in with little effort. If it feels like it is not screwing in or it is hard to turn to STOP! Unscrew it and twist the spool a little bit until you feel it drop into place.

Once the Pin is in place and you have tightened it up you are ready to go fishing!


The Anglers Behind This Article:

Jon Stenstrom
Founder

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4 thoughts on “Best Surf Fishing Reels: Catch What Lies Beyond the Surf”

  1. Hi,
    Thanks for the great lesson. I started surf fishing for quite sometime now but with very low success rate. Cast distance is my main problem i think. Nevertheless, with all the reels that you mention, what is a good surf reel drag should be? 10kg? 15kg? or 20kg?

    • Hi Pierce – Thanks for stopping by the site! Depending on where you are, it’s not always about distance but more about finding the right structure to fish since that’s where the fish usually rest or hunt. Depending on what you’re fishing, you could go from 5kg up. I’ve caught some pretty big fish on light gear near-shore. I look forward to seeing your next catch!

  2. Hi Jon,
    I usually go for big catfish (that what my beach tend to offer, with occasionally Cobia and Barra will show up from time to time). Hope i will get my big fish soon, at the moment, my record is a 1.7kg catfish from my local beach lol……..

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