Best Conventional Reels for Surf Fishing With Reviews(2023)

Surf fishing is one of the most popular ways to get out on some saltwater and catch some fish. Many of us live near a coast, or within driving distance of some open water and surf fishing is allowed in most places. Our experts share their top picks for best conventional reels for surf fishing, complete with reviews and what we like and don't like about each pick.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall

Penn Fathom II Conventional Surf Casting Reel

PENN fathom II

runner up

Penn Squall II Conventional Fishing Reel

penn squall II

Best Budget

Daiwa Sealine-X SHA Conventional Saltwater Reel

Daiwa sealine x sha

Choosing the right conventional reel for surf fishing can be a challenge. Our experts will give you the overview and some of the crucial details you'll need to decide on the right reel for your surf fishing outings.

These are the exact reels that we use fishing off the beaches of the northeast and Atlantic seaboard for stripers and blues, as well as redfish, snook, jacks and big sharks off the beaches of Florida and the gulf coast of Texas.

The reel you choose will be based on a number of factors like the size of fish you want to catch, the rod you're using, and your budget.

Choosing the best conventional reel for surf fishing will be a personal choice based on all the different types of fishing you want to do with the reel. 

List Of The Best Conventional Reels For Surf Fishing

What Is a Conventional Casting Reel?

A conventional casting reel is a type of fishing reel designed for casting and retrieving fishing line. Unlike spinning reels, which wind the line on and off with a rotating bail and line roller, on a conventional reel the spool itself spins to release and retrieve line.

This conventional casting reel design gives the angler better control and distance over casts, and the ability to hold a lot of strong line.

Conventional casting reels are used for surf fishing (casting), trolling from a boat, and bottom fishing from a boat, bridge, or pier. The stronger drag system of the conventional reels mean they are prepared to handle strong fighting fish.

Because the reel spins during casting, the angler must keep a thumb ready to stop the spool or quickly slow it down when their lure/bait is over the exact location they desire.

Conventional reels have a braking system, but a thumb on the spool is still necessary during hard casts to prevent line tangles in the spool called backlash or bird nests. There is a learning curve to casting with a conventional reel but most people master it pretty quickly.

Conventional reels are made for surf fishing. Special features like adjustable brakes, anti-reverse systems, sealed bearings and gearing, long distance casting, strong drag, massive line capacity, and line capacity rings contribute to make this the ideal reel choice for fishing from the beach.

RELATED: 5 Types Of Fishing Reels And How To Use Them

How To Choose a Conventional Reel for Surf Fishing

Now you know, conventional reels are a great choice for surf fishing. But, there are hundreds to choose from. How can you qualify them and choose one that will match your fishing needs? We cover everything you need to know below. Read on!

RELATED: Guide To Fishing Sarasota Bay


When choosing a conventional reel for surf fishing, the size of the reel is an important factor to consider. A reel that is too small may not have enough line capacity to handle the species of fish you are targeting. Small reels may also not easily fit onto a big surf rod. Make sure it fits before you buy it! A reel that is too big may be too heavy and awkward to handle.

RELATED: What Size Reel For Surf Fishing?

Generally reels in the 5000 to 8000 size range are used for surf fishing, but you can go outside that range depending what you're fishing for.

Here are some guidelines to help you choose a reel based on size:

  • Spool Capacity – Ensure your spool can hold the amount of line you need to fish for the species you're targeting. For a beach reel, 30 to 50 lb. braided line is typically used to catch a variety of fish. A conventional reel can hold hundreds of yards of this line and is probably suitable for any kind of fish you want to catch unless you're targeting sharks. For sharks, you're going to want a heavier weight line and greater spool capacity.
  • Rod Length – Some say your rod length should dictate the size of your reel, but let's be honest, people put whatever reel they want on their surf rods as long as it fits. I just saw a YouTuber trying to cram a size 15 PENN reel onto a 13 foot surf rod and it just wouldn't fit. He needed a bigger reel or smaller rod to help balance the overall weight of the rod and reel combination.
  • Fish Species – For large species like tarpon, you'll want a larger (size 8000+) reel and strong drag system that can handle a fish that size. For croaker, sheepshead or pompano, you can size way down (size 1500 to 5000) and try to match your lightweight conventional reel with a rod that will get you the distance you need to reach the fish.
  • Personal Preference – Ultimately, the size of the reel should feel comfortable enough to cast and fight fish with, possibly for an hour or more. The bigger the reel, the heavier it is and the more fatigue you'll have trying to bring a hard-fighting fish in. Take the opportunity to try friends' reels when you can. It will help you figure out what your reel size preferences are.


As with size above, the weight of your reel and rod combination must be taken into account when you purchase gear. If you're going for a shark, you don't have a choice, you'll be loaded up with some heavy gear. In general, heavier gear is stronger and can handle a greater range of fish species than lighter reels. So, unless you're buying multiple reels, go a bit heavier to cover your bases.


The materials conventional reels are made with affect its durability, performance, and your quality of experience.

Keep materials in mind when choosing a conventional reel. Consider the following:

  • Body and Frame – The body and frame of the reel are usually made from aluminum, stainless steel, graphite, or carbon fiber. All of these materials are strong and rust resistant but graphite and carbon fiber are lighter in weight.
  • Spool – The spool is typically made from aluminum, graphite, or a combination of both. Aluminum spools are corrosion-resistant, strong and heavy, and can handle heavy lines. Graphite spools are lightweight and corrosion-resistant, but may not be as strong as aluminum spools.
  • Drag System Components – The drag system components are typically made from stainless steel and carbon fiber. Carbon fiber disks are ground against each other to provide smooth drag. Magnets are sometimes used to provide a very smooth braking system for casting.
  • Bearings – Stainless steel and ceramic ball bearings are used in many areas of a high quality conventional fishing reel. In general, you should buy reels with as many bearings as you can afford if you are certain they are very high quality. Good bearings can mean smoother performance and are usually worth the money.

Gear Ratio and Retrieve Rates

All fishing reels have a specific gear ratio and retrieval rate. These affect the gear's usability, and can help you decide on a reel based on which fish you are targeting. A faster retrieve rate is a matter of convenience as you don't need to turn the handle that much.

Consider the following when choosing your reel.

  • Gear Ratio – The gear ratio determines the number of rotations of the spool with each 360° rotation of the handle. A ratio of 1:1 means one full turn of the spool with one turn of the handle. A higher gear ratio of 4:1 means four complete turns of the spool to one full circle of the handle. Higher gear ratios mean faster retrieves. Lower gear ratios mean more powerful cranks on the handle.
  • Retrieve Rate – The retrieve rate is the speed of line retrieval and it is higher (faster) when the gear ratio is higher. The retrieval rate is lower (slower) when the gear ratio is lower.


Drag is a force applied to stop the fish from pulling line from your reel once hooked. Ideally, you want a drag system that applies pressure to the reel and slows the fish down smoothly without irregularity in the drag. This helps to keep your hooked fish on the line, allowing you to land it.

Here are some things to know about the drag system of a conventional fishing reel:

  • Drag System Design – The drag system design can vary a bit, with some having a star drag system and others with a lever drag system. Star drag systems are typically simpler and easier to adjust, while lever drag systems offer more control and versatility.
  • Drag Material – The drag material, such as carbon fiber affects the reel's performance and durability. Carbon fiber is lightweight and corrosion-resistant, but can be affected by dirt and water.
  • Drag Adjustment – Drag adjustment of the past was basically a guessing game. You had to guess how much you applied. Today some reels have clicks to tell you how much drag you've applied. You just count the clicks.
  • Max Drag – The maximum drag of the reel is important because if you can't get enough drag, you won't slow bigger fish down enough to tire them out. The max drag needs to be strong enough to match the biggest fish you're likely to catch.
  • Smoothness – How smooth the drag is applied over the course of time you're fighting the fish is important. The drag should be constant and unwavering. It needs to be smooth so the fish stays on the line.

Braking System

The braking system is a combination of constant pressure applied to the spool with the spool tension knob, and extra pressure automatically applied as the spool nears the end of the cast to prevent backlash.

The two primary systems on conventional reels are the magnetic systems and the centrifugal braking system. The magnetic systems are ultra-smooth and reliable.

This system is different from drag, which applies pressure to the spool to keep it from turning while you are fighting a fish.

Ball Bearings

The reason you see the number of ball bearings highlighted in fishing reel ads is because if you have more high quality bearings, the reel feels smoother. It feels so nice when everything is precision-machined on a good fishing reel. When choosing a conventional reel for surf fishing, the number and quality of ball bearings are important factors affecting the reel's performance.

Keep the following in mind about ball bearings:

Number of Ball Bearings – More means better. Don't forget, the quality of the bearings is also very important. You can have seven junk bearings and the reel still feels horrible. If your bearings are high quality, you'll love the feeling of precision and smoothness that comes with having more bearings.

Quality of Ball Bearings – Conventional reels need high quality precision ball bearings designed for use in salt water. Ideally, the bearings are sealed from water and dirt and well oiled.

Anti-Reverse System – Some conventional reels have an anti-reverse system that uses ball bearings to prevent the handle from turning backwards. This is useful when fighting fish. Most recently designed conventional reels have instant anti-reverse bearings.

Lubrication – The ball bearings need regular lubrication. Ideally, the sides of your reel should come off easily and not send springs shooting across the room when you pop them open. The PENN Fathom II has easy access to internals without this issue.

Level Wind

Level wind reels automatically guide the retrieved line onto the spool evenly across the width of it. Without it, you need to guide the line with your finger during your retrieve. The level wind system on a conventional reel can make your life easier.

The downside to level wind is friction. The level wind models will not cast as far due to the friction of the line passing through the level wind.

More about the level wind system for your surf fishing reel:

  • Design – There are two main types of level wind systems: manual and automatic. A manual level wind system means you have to keep it top of mind when reeling in line because you have to manually guide the line onto your spool evenly back and forth to keep the line levels even across the spool. Not fun. Automatic level wind systems distribute line easily and automatically so you don't have to think about it.
  • Line Capacity – Make sure the reel you choose has a level wind system that can spool the amount and thickness of line you will be using.
  • Smooth Operation – The level wind system must be smooth without jamming, snagging, or any inconsistency. It must evenly lay line across the spool during retrieval.

Right or Left Handed

Whether you use a right hand or left hand reel doesn't make much difference. There is a case to be made for right handed anglers using left hand reels for convenience so you don't need to switch hands after casting. Feel free to choose whatever feels more comfortable for you.

Reviews of the Best Conventional Reels for Surf Fishing

When choosing a reel for surf fishing, you'll need a reel that is strong, light enough to cast, durable, great with saltwater exposure, smooth brakes and a strong smooth drag, and one that holds a lot of fishing line.

We cover seven reels below that our staff use on a regular basis for surf fishing. We have reel choices for Best Overall, Best Runner Up, Best Budget Reel, Best for Long Casts, Best Lever Drag, Best Left Hand, and Best Staff Pick.

Best Overall: PENN Fathom II Star Drag Conventional Fishing Reel

Penn Fathom II Conventional Surf Casting Reel

Many anglers were awaiting the release of the 2nd edition PENN Fathom reels and most were not disappointed with what they got. These are tough saltwater reels, all aluminum and brass/stainless gears, with 30 lb. drag across the board, instant anti-reverse bearings, line capacity rings, and Live Spindle with free floating spool.

Key Features

The PENN Fathom II reels come in a variety of sizes and all have star drag with 30 lb. drag. There is no level wind on the reels. They come with quick access side plates for easy maintenance. All reels come with marine-grade brass main gear and stainless steel pinion. The 12 and 15 size reels come with a magnetic braking system with all other sizes getting centrifugal braking except the 8 level, which has no braking feature.

We use the 15 size for surf fishing and here is the box that our Penn Fathom II came in. You can see the weight and line capacity of the size 15 Fathom II

Penn Fathom II Fishing Reel Box


  • Wide Size Variety - 800 to 4000 (PENN labels these sizes 8 to 40).
  • All Aluminum Body
  • 30 lb. Drag – All reels have strong 30 lb. drag.
  • Variable Gear Ratio – Choose 6.1:1 or 4.8:1.
  • 7 Ball Bearings
  • Quick Change Sideplates – "Fast Gear Access Sideplates" with 3 screw removal, allows easy access.
  • Spool Tension – Clicks to let you count increments.


  • Magnetic Spool Tension – Only for 12 and 15 size reels but would be great to have for all sizes.

Here's a video showing all of the features of the Penn Fathom II Conventional Surf Fishing Reel.

You can't go wrong with PENN saltwater reels, and some of us on the Fisherman's Authority team prefer them to all other reels. Their durability and strength are legendary and they are easy to clean and maintain.

Penn Squall II Conventional Fishing Reel

The PENN Squall II Star Drag reels are lightweight, strong, durable, made for saltwater, and come in 5 sizes (12, 15, 25, 30, and 40). They all have 6.1:1 gear ratios for fast retrieves and they are more affordable than the Fathom II reels from PENN.

Key Features

The Squall II all have graphite frames and Fast Gear Access Sideplates. Drag is 20 lb. for the smaller reels and 25 lb. for the 25 size and larger reels. The 15CS reel features upgraded spool bearings and knob mag dial.


  • Lightweight Graphite – Slightly lighter than the Fathom II series reels.
  • Good 25 lb. Drag – For the 25, 30, and 40 reels.
  • 7 Precision Bearings
  • Left Hand – Left hand placement available as an option.
  • Affordable!


  • Strength – Though graphite is strong, it is not as strong as metal and parts may chip over time.

Daiwa Sealine-X SHA Conventional Saltwater Reel

Daiwa is another great fishing brand like Shimano and PENN, and they usually create reliable reels for freshwater and saltwater that will be a good choice for you when you find yourself in need. This is a very affordable saltwater surf reel that is geared toward smaller fish.

Key Features

This is a 3000 level reel that has a light maximum drag at just 15.4 lb. This reel would be perfect for catching pompano, small reds, Spanish mackerel, small jacks, and small anything really. By small, I mean fish under say 20 lb.


  • Price – The price is right for an entry level, or even next-level saltwater surf reel.
  • Lightweight – Just 1.3 lb. for this size 3000 reel.
  • Brass Main – Features a brass main gear and stainless steel pinion gear which stands up well to saltwater.


  • No Level Wind – Hand spooling is necessary.
  • Weak Drag – I wish it had a heavier drag for surf fishing.
  • Few Bearings – With just 3 bearings, this reel may not be as smooth as some others with double that number.

This Daiwa is an affordable surf fishing reel that will bring you years of joy if you take care of it!

Best Long Casting Distances: Seigler SM Star Drag

Seigler SM Star Drag Surf Fishing Reel

The SM is Seigler's original star drag reel for surf fishing. The reel was created for tournament level fishing and can handle heavy weight while fishing for big drum or sharks off the beach. Many anglers consider it the best reel for surf fishing available.

Key Features

This Seigler SM Star Drag reel is compact, lightweight, and tough. The lifetime warranty almost makes it worth the price by itself. This reel is priced considerably more than other reels on our list and you can buy two of the other reels in some cases, or one of these.


  • All Aluminum Body
  • Long Casts – This free spool reel is optimized for casting long distances.
  • 40 lb. Drag! – This small and lightweight reel has a 40 lb. max drag.
  • Lightweight – Just 16.2 oz.
  • Lifetime Warranty


  • No Left Hand – Only right side handles available.
  • Loose Spool Tension Knob – It is too easy to turn the knob by just brushing it, throwing off your setting and fouling your line.
  • Price – If you haven't owned one before, you may have some doubts about whether it is worth it. If you are a prior owner of their past reels, you understand the level of quality they have and you will probably buy another one. Don't forget, they have a lifetime warranty to make it worth it.

If you're looking for a quality reel made in the USA with a lifetime warranty that will allow you to make casts longer than you probably ever have, consider the Seigler SM Star Drag reel as your next surf reel purchase.

SHIMANO SpeedMaster 2 Speed Lever Drag Saltwater Fishing Reel

Shimano has been making fishing reels since 1971 and their level of technology always seems to be cutting edge, and just a little bit advanced compared to their competition. This SpeedMaster 2 saltwater fishing reel is beautiful to behold and offers some great features for surf fishing, boat fishing, or pier fishing.

Key Features

The main feature that sets this reel apart is the variable 2 Speed Gear Ratio. With gear ratios of 5.7:1 and 3.1:1, you can choose one as needed. The extra power setting for big fish is great to have on tap. The reel chosen here for you is a size 12 right hander that can handle 580 yd. of 50 lb. braided line. It is 25.7 oz. in weight and has a maximum 40 lb. drag.


  • 2 Speed Retrieval
  • High Retrieval – 42" of line retrieval per one turn rotation of the handle.
  • Line Capacity – 580 yards of 50 lb. braided line.


  • Heavy – At 25.7 oz. for the lightest size SpeedMaster II you'll feel it more while casting and fighting fish at the beach.
  • Price – Expensive, but very well built.

Shimano, PENN, and Daiwa are three great saltwater reel makers you can count on to constantly bring new exciting products to the market. Though this SpeedMaster II is expensive, it will likely bring you many years of tight lines without failure. That's what you're paying for, isn't it?

Best Conventional Reel for Surf Fishing Left Hand: Shimano Torium

Shimano Torium Conventional Surf Fishing Reel

Sure, we could have just told you to grab a left-handed Squall II reel like the one above, which is a fantastic reel, but we also want to introduce you to some other great surf reels like this one. The high rigidity body of the Torium eliminates flex and increases power while reeling in big fish. A range of different fish targets are possible with reel sizes ranging from 14 to 50.

Key Features

A very strong body with good cranking power for big fish, and sensitive enough for smaller fish, the Shimano Torium surf fishing reel is lightweight and built with a stainless steel handle and bearings and a blend of strong materials for the body and other components.


  • Left Hand Retrieve
  • Star Drag – can reach a max of 35 lb. with the TOR40PGA model.
  • Lightweight – at 1.3 lb.
  • Price – Affordable!


  • Shimano customer service is not the best.

If you find a reel you like and you can't find the left-handed version of it, take a look at the manufacturer and see if there is another line of reel they make that is similar, because that line may include left-handed options.

Daiwa Saltist Star Drag High Speed Conventional Reel

The Daiwa Saltist is a good all around surf reel that is ergonomic and gives the impression of quality with its super-smooth spool, handle, and button and lever operation.

Key Features

The Saltist reels come in a wide range of sizes: 15, 20, 30, 35, 40, and 50, with a "Power" (5.1:1) or "High Speed" (6.4:1) gear ratio for each size except the 30 Power model.


  • Gearing Ratio Choice – Choose a gearing ratio focused on power or high-speed retrievals.
  • LIghtweight – The 15H, 20H, 30H, 15P, and 20P all weigh under 1 lb.
  • Anodized Aluminum – Body, spool, and lever.
  • Freespool – For longer casting.


  • Weak Drags – The 50 size reel only offers 25 lb. of max drag.

With a price very similar to our number one choice above, which has better features, you're better off to go with that reel (PENN Fathom II) if it suits your needs. Though we like this Daiwa Saltist reel, we like a lot of reels and you should go with your needs over which reels we prefer.

RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Reels

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use a conventional reel for surf fishing?

Conventional reels like those we covered above, are the preferred reel for surf fishing if you are comfortable with the layout of the reel, have the money, and are looking for a durable reel that will last a long time. Conventional reels are built strong and can hold a lot of heavy line. They are perfect for catching small to large fish from the beach. Spinning reels can also be used for surf fishing.

RELATED: Spinning Reel vs Baitcaster

Do conventional reels cast further than spinning?

Yes, typically you can get some extra distance while casting a conventional reel because the spool is spinning and feeding line out during the cast. On a spinning reel, the line is just unwinding sideways from the spool and there is more friction and line twist.

RELATED: Can You Use A Baitcaster On A Spinning Rod

What size reel is best for surf?

The most often used size range for surf fishing with conventional reels is typically between 5000 and 7500 size reels. These reels are strong enough and large enough to hold enough heavy line to cast far out into the surf and also provide the necessary power to help you fight larger fish.

The 5000 to 7500 size reels are also a good balance between weight and capability, as they are not too heavy to be used comfortably for a long period of time, but they still have enough strength and performance for surf fishing.

Should you use braid or mono for surf fishing?

Braided line is preferred by most surf fishing anglers because the diameter of braided is much smaller than monofilament line, braided line is about half as thick as mono line. So, you can put more on the reel. This is a crucial consideration while surf fishing.

RELATED: Florida Surf Fishing Species And How To Catch Them

What gear ratio for conventional reel?

In general, a gear ratio of 4.3:1 to 5.3:1 is considered a good range for surf fishing with a one-speed conventional reel. This range provides a good balance between speed of retrieval and power. Most reels give you one gear ratio and you have to decide if it's right for you.

Some reels give you options. One of our recommended surf reels above, the Shimano SpeedMaster II, has a 2-speed system that gives you the best of both worlds!

Final Thoughts

We have given you some great choices for conventional surf fishing reels. We use these reels every season on the beach and you can't go wrong with any of them. If you want the best conventional reel for surf fishing that is available today, then the Penn Fathom II is the perfect choice.

Oh, and one more thing! If you are a beginner with a conventional or baitcasting style reel, you may want to start out with a Level Wind Reel instead of reels without it. I used a baitcasting reel with a level wind for years and got quite a bit of distance while casting into the surf.

RELATED: Lower Chesapeake Bay Fishing Hot Spots

As usual, the choice is up to you! We've given you a good head start on your decision. Will you make it today? If you have any questions, just drop them in the comments below and we'll try to help.

Tight lines!

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Photo of author

John VanDerLaan

John VanDerLaan is the founder and lead editor at Fisherman's Authority. John is a passionate fisherman whose travels have taken him all over the country in search of different species of gamefish. He has won bass fishing tournaments, including the 1987 Candlewood Classic. He also chases winter steelhead in upstate New York, summer stripers in New England and spends a lot of time fishing the waters of Florida Keys. John is an active member of the Outdoor Writers Association Of America.

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