Best Surf Fishing Reels in 2024 Tested And Reviewed

Written By John VanDerLaan

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Fishing from the beach presents some challenges for your equipment. You need a fishing reel that keeps out the sand and salt, while being able to cast beyond the breakers where the fish are. I have tested and reviewed all of the best surf fishing reels available today so that you can find the right reel for you.

We will take an in-depth look at both spinning reels and casting reels for surf fishing. Each has its advantages and disadvantages and we will explain those below

Our Top Picks

Best overall

Van Staal VR200 Spinning reel

van staal vr200

Best Penn spinning reel

PENN Slammer IV Spinning Reel

penn slammer IV

Best conventional reel

Penn Fathom II Conventional Surf Casting Reel

penn fathom ii

11 Best Surf Fishing Reels At A Glance

How I Tested The Surf Fishing Reels

I have been surf fishing for over 40 years and have experience with a wide variety of surf fishing reels. The ones that I don't own, I was able to acquire from friends who are surf anglers, manufacturers and different sources in the industry.

I was very excited to use and test some of the high end reels on this list, and some of them still have a place in my surf fishing equipment.

I tested the reels on the beaches of the Jersey Shore, for striped bass and bluefish. I also tested the reels on the beaches of Florida and Texas for redfish, snook and many other species.

Below you will find my reviews of the surf fishing reels that performed the best.

Best Surf Fishing Reel Reviews

We will start with the spinning reels that I tested and then I will share reviews of the top conventional reels that I tested

Best Spinning Reels For Surf Fishing

Best Spinning Reel for Surf Fishing: Van Staal VR200 

Van Staal VR200 Spinning reel

If you are looking for the best surf fishing reel and cost is not a concern, then the Van Staal VR200 tops the list.

With 40 lb of carbon fiber drag and a tough 6061-T6 Aluminum body reel, you can muscle in the heaviest fish on the smoothest of drags. It's hard to compare this reel against anything other than the Daiwa Saltiga and Shimano Stella, at a fraction of the price.

This reel had the smoothest drag of any other reel I tested. Add in the completely sealed body, to keep out salt water, sand and dirt, and you can see why it comes in at number one.

Here's what the Van Staal VR Series reels are known for.

Solid Construction: The reel is made from high-quality materials all around. The feeling of the exceptional build quality is unmistakable.

Large Line Capacity: The reel can hold up to 500 yards of 40-pound braided line, which makes it suitable for catching large fish in the surf.

Waterproof, Weatherproof, Dirt, and Dustproof: The VR200 reels are completely sealed and waterproof, which means they can withstand submersion in saltwater, dropping onto the sand, and other horrible things you put your reels through. This reel is not shockproof but is built very solidly.

Ultra-Smooth Drag System: The VR series has a smooth and powerful stutter-free waterproof drag system that we love.

Easy Maintenance: The VR200 is easy to maintain and clean, which means you'll be using it next decade too. It isn't hard to keep in good shape.

The Van Staal VR200 is a great reel for anglers who are looking for a high-quality and reliable surf fishing reel. Its waterproof design, solid construction, smooth drag system, large line capacity, and easy maintenance make it an excellent choice for serious anglers. The size of the VR200 is comparable to a size 5000 or 6000 Shimano or Penn spinning reel.


  • Construction – One piece aluminum body. Aluminum handle, spool, and rotor. Stainless steel spool shaft with titanium nitride coating.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – VR200 4.8:1 (40"). 
  • 13 Bearings
  • Spool Capacity – VR200 500 yd./40 lb. braid, 400 yd./15 lb. mono.
  • Instant Anti-Reverse
  • Drag – 40 lb. carbon fiber
  • Weight – 16.8 oz.
  • Right or Left Retrieve – Both available. 

What We Like

  • Build Quality – This fully sealed system will give you confidence that you can fish for days in harsh conditions without so much as cleaning your reel. The strength, durability, and smooth operation are legendary among anglers using these reels.
  • Smooth Drag - I absolutely loved the drag on this reel.
  • Upgraded Spool Shaft – The new spool axis is thicker/stronger than Gen. 1.
  • Waterproof – The VR series reels can operate underwater. Meaning, you can reel underwater. It is completely waterproof and ideal for conditions when fishing from the surf or rocks where saltwater waves are splashing.

What We Don't Like

  • Expensive 

Here is a great video showing you all of the features of the Van Staal VR series of surf fishing reels.

Van Staal spinning reels are one-of-a-kind expensive tools that will get the job done because they're so darn reliable and virtually indestructible with normal use. 

Best Surf Fishing Spinning Reel for the Money: Shimano Vanford Spinning Reel

Shimano Vanford Spinning Reel

The Shimano Vanford is my favorite inshore saltwater reel, so I was excited to test the larger 5000 size for surf fishing and it did not disappoint.

This reel is super light, which makes it perfect for all day use. No more tired arms and hands from hours spent casting with a heavy surf setup.

Though moderately priced, and some would say 'expensive', the Shimano Vanford spinning reel series packs in the most value for your money. These are lightweight reels with high technology like Ci4+ carbon reinforced composite body and handle, super lightweight rotor, and Hagane forged gears (no cut).


  • Construction – Body and handle are Ci4+ carbon. Spool is aluminum. Hagane gears.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – 6.2:1 (40").
  • 7+1 S A-RB Bearings
  • Spool Capacity – Max 300 yd./30 lb. braid, 200 yd./12 lb. mono.
  • Instant Anti-Reverse
  • Drag – Max 24 lb. carbon fiber discs.
  • Weight – 7.8 oz.
  • Right or Left Retrieve

What We Like

  • Build Quality – The reel is beautifully designed and made with top-quality materials.
  • Lightweight - The first thing that I noticed when using this reel is how light it is. 
  • Smooth! – Smooth, light, and effortless retrieves make this a joy to use.
  • Drag – Smooth and consistent water-resistant drag system worked really well when dry and more than acceptable when the reel got wet.
  • Price – We were very happy to spend as little as we did on this one because the price was more just a few months ago. There are many $250 reels on the market that don't come anywhere near this level of technology, functionality, and weight.

What We Don't Like

  • Limited Sizes – The Shimano Vanford only goes up to a size 5000.

Here is a video showing you why this may be one of the best spinning reels on the market.

If you want a lightweight spinning reel from one of the top 5 manufacturers in the fishing business, this Shimano Vanford reel is an excellent choice that will quickly become your favorite surf fishing reel under $300.

Best Penn Reel for Surf Fishing: Penn Slammer IV

PENN Slammer IV Spinning Reel

The Penn Slammer had been my go to surf reel for years, until I found the Shimano Vanford a few years ago. PENN has really given us a reel that is hard to beat for surf fishing reels, and at a very reasonable price.

My old Slammers are still in use today. I rinse them with fresh water after every use and then a good cleaning and lube once a year.

The body and spool of the Slammer IV have been enhanced with IPX6-rated water resistance and the drag's water resistance has also been increased. IPX6 means you can splash the reel with saltwater, rain, or maybe even tears if you lose a big fish! Water should stay out of the interior of the reel. It can resist high-pressure sprays of water and splashes. It is not rated for submersion in water.


  • Construction – Full metal body and side plate. Brass CNC gearing. Aluminum spool.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – 6500 5.6:1 (42").
  • 8+1 Bearings – IPX6 sealed.
  • Spool Capacity – 250 yd./30 lb. braid, 215 yd./ 12 lb. mono.
  • Instant Anti-Reverse
  • Drag – 30 lb. Dura-drag system.
  • Weight – 15 oz.
  • Right or Left Retrieve

What We Like

  • Brand – We love PENN reels and tend to buy them if there is one that has the features and specs we need. Our PENN reels have lasted for many years and seem to be able to take a beating more so than other brands we've used heavily.
  • Durability – PENN reels are known for their durability in saltwater use. 
  • Price – PENN reels are priced so that anyone can afford them.

What We Don't Like

  • Heavy
  • Not submersible

Here is a video showing all of the features of the PENN Slammer IV.

If you're looking for a surf fishing reel you can rely on and you insist on buying reels from one of the top brands in the space, the PENN Slammer IV should be on your list of potential purchases. The guys on the team couldn't be happier with ours. Solid engineering with durable materials plus high water resistance and simple technology makes this one of our favorites of all time for surf fishing!

Staff Favorite: Penn Spinfisher VI

PENN Spinfisher VI Spinning Reel

In 1961 PENN introduced the first Spinfisher reel, the Spinfisher 700. We've come a long way since then, and the Spinfisher is still with us and on its 6th iteration!

The Standard model is a spinning reel made for surf and inshore fishing. The Live Liner is designed for anglers who want to fish with live bait. It has a drag system that allows adjustment of the tension on the spool to enhance live bait fishing. The Bail-less model is designed especially for surf fishing and other types of fishing where the bail can get in the way. Instead of a bail, the Bail-less has a manual pickup system. The Long Cast model is designed for anglers who want to make long casts. The spool is designed for extra-long casting and has a slow oscillation system that helps reduce line twist.

These models are available: SSVI2500, SSVI3500, SSVI4500, SSVI5500, SSVI6500, SSVI7500, SSVI8500, SSVI9500, SSVI10500, SSVI4500BLS, and SSVI6500BLS.

We tested the SSVI6500 standard model.


  • Construction – Full metal body. CNC brass gear system. Sealed body and aluminum spool. Carbon fiber handle.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – SSVI6500 5.6:1 (42").
  • 5+1 Bearings
  • Spool Capacity – 335 yd./50 lb. braid, 205 yd./20 lb. mono.
  • Instant Anti-Reverse
  • Drag – 30 lb. with HT-100 carbon discs.
  • Weight – 22.3 oz.
  • Right or Left Retrieve

What We Like

  • Great Casting - I really like how the Penn Spinfisher casts.
  • IPX5 – Good water resistance at this price point is a positive. Spinfisher reels can take splashes and sprays of saltwater without a problem.
  • Materials – High-grade stainless steel, brass, carbon fiber, and aluminum.
  • Price – PENN reels are priced so that anyone can afford them.

What We Don't Like

  • Bearings – Bearing numbers are a bit low, we don't know whether that will translate into a worse user experience down the road in a couple of years.
  • Heavy

Here is a video showing all of the features of the PENN Spinfisher line of fishing reels.

The PENN Spinfisher has been around as a series longer than most of us have been alive. Though Penn has been sold a number of times, they retain their high-quality products, engineering, and commitment to innovation.

Best Casting Reel for Surf Fishing: Shimano Ultegra XTD Surf Reel

Shimano Ultegra XTD Surf Reel

The Shimano Ultegra XTD reel is an excellent surf casting reel for big game or small. It has a Long Cast Spool that allows line to come off easier and with fewer twists. The Aero Wrap II stem reduces line oscillation to provide optimal line lay and cut down on twisted lines.

Like some other Shimano reels, the XTD uses the Hagane Gear system. It's a cold-forged brass gear system that doesn't rely on cutting precision. The gears are formed in exactly the shape they are needed. This means more strength and durability.

The body is made of the same carbon composite Ci4+ body as the Shimano Vanford surf reel, giving it a lightweight and strong body and side plate that can take a lot of stress.


  • Construction – Body is carbon composite Ci4+.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – 5500 model 5.3:1 (42").
  • 4+1 Bearings
  • Spool Capacity – 5500 model holds 220 yd./50 lb. braided, 230 yd./16 lb. mono. 
  • Drag – 33 lb. for the 5500 model.
  • Weight – 5500 model is 17.3 oz.
  • Right or Left Retrieve

What We Like

  • Lightweight - I love how lightweight this reel is.
  • Long Casting - This was the longest casting spinning reel that we tested.
  • Parallel Body – Eliminates line slap and ensure smoother casting.
  • Spool Lip – Another casting enhancement, the new Propulsion spool lip design allows longer casting than other designs and helps to prevent bird nests (backlash) and knots in the line.
  • Drag Free Spool – With just a half-turn on the drag knob, the reel goes from whatever drag setting you had it on to free spool. Super useful!

What We Don't Like

  • Bearings – Seems like an inevitable negative consequence is on the way from having only 5 bearings in total.

The Shimano Ultegra XTD Surf Reel offers exceptional performance and durability and is one of our top choices for long casts in the surf.

Best Budget Surf Fishing Reel: Penn Battle III

Penn Battle III

I bought two PENN Battle reels for surf fishing a number of years ago. Both are still working well. I cleaned and lubed them on average twice per year. With proper maintenance, Penn reels will last you a long time.

We tested the 6000 size surf fishing reel for this article.


  • Construction – Full metal body and side plate. Aluminum spool. CNC gears.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – 6000 5.6:1 (41").
  • 5+1 Bearings
  • Spool Capacity – 240 yd./40 lb. braid, 135 yd./20 lb. mono.
  • Instant Anti-Reverse
  • Drag – 25 lb. HT-100 carbon fiber discs and washers.
  • Weight – 18.8 oz.
  • Right or Left Retrieve

What We Like

  • Price – At this price, you may be able to buy a few of them to use on the beach or from a fishing pier or bridge. These are budget reels that will last and take a beating.
  • Reliable – The PENN Battle III is a reliable reel that will give you your money's worth and then some.
  • Choices – The size choices are fantastic, and even offer the High Speed option which some anglers love for small inshore fish and bass fishing.

What We Don't Like

  • No Frills – There are literally no frills here, which is both good and bad. What you have is a basic reel that can catch fish consistently over time. You don't get any of the new tech fun stuff that we like as anglers in this era!

If you're looking for a very strong time-tested surf fishing spinning reel on a budget, the PENN Battle III is one the best available choices in the market. We've been very happy with ours for years.

Best Surf Fishing Reel Under $200: Daiwa Saltist Spinning Reel

Daiwa Saltist Spinning Reel

The Daiwa Saltist Reels come in a few sizes, we'll focus on talking about the SALTIST 5000 model spinning reel here. It's the only one you're likely to find for under $200.

The Saltist spinning series reels are meant to handle saltwater conditions at a budget price that won't break the bank. They have a strong aluminum frame and side plate and a waterproof ATD carbon disc drag. Special MagSeal technology keeps the inside dry and dirt-free.


  • Construction – Body and side plate are "HardBodyz" but they don't say what that is on the product page. With some sleuthing, I found out it's a lightweight aluminum-metal alloy.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – 5000 5.7:1 (47.4").
  • 8+1 Bearings
  • Spool Capacity – 360 yd./50 lb. braid, 380 yd./17 lb. mono.
  • Instant Anti-Reverse
  • Drag – 22lb. waterproof carbon.
  • Weight – 22.9 oz.
  • Right or Left Retrieve

What We Like

  • MagSeal – Saltist reels feature a MagSealed main shaft and line roller, and (CRBB) corrosion-resistant ball bearings, all of which increase durability. MagSeal utilizes magnetic liquid nano fluid to seal the interior of the rod from excess moisture.
  • Lightweight Rotor – The Air Rotor design is 15% lighter than ordinary rotor designs.
  • Spool – Dynamic Cut Aluminum ABS spool.
  • Price – Depending on which size reel you choose, the price is around or under $200.

What We Don't Like

  • MagSeal could fail – We have 4 of these reals and the MagSeal failed on one of them, allowing saltwater to get into the reel.

The Saltist fishing reels are ideal for surf fishing. You're getting decades of experience plus some of the newest technology to keep the insides safe from contamination by saltwater and dirt. You'll get less corrosion and have more years of fishing with the same reel.

Best Shimano Reel for Surf Fishing: Shimano Stella SW C

Shimano Stella Sw C Saltwater Spinning Reel

The Shimano Stella series reels are all high-end spinning reels with excellent features and performance. The SW C models are designed for heavy saltwater use and dreadful conditions.

I was very excited to take a Stella STLSW5000HGC to the beach, on the Jersey Shore to test it out on stripers.

I was very impressed with its casting ability and smooth retrieve.

I also had the opportunity to land a couple of 3" stripers with this reel and it was quite the pleasure to fish.

Stella reels are built with the highest quality materials like a rigid metal Hagane body, X-Protect water-resistant tech, and an ultra-smooth and powerful drag system.

All reels also have the Silent Drive and MicroModule Gear technologies for butter-smooth and quiet operation.


  • Construction – Hagane full metal body. Hagane gears.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – 5000HGC 5.7:1 (38")
  • 13+1 Bearings
  • Spool Capacity – 175 yd./40 lb. braid, 165 yd./14 lb. mono. 
  • Instant Anti-Reverse
  • Drag – 24 to 62 lb. Cross Carbon drag.
  • Weight – SW C 12.5 to 34.4 oz.
  • Right or Left Retrieve

What We Like

  • Fluid Retrieve – The smoothness of line retrieval and drag is mesmerizing on these Stella reels.
  • IPX8 Water Resistance – This very high water resistance covers submersion and the harshest saltwater conditions.
  • Heatsink Drag - Reduces the temperature of the spool by up to 100°F.
  • Legendary Reliability – One of the best reels ever made, is being made better all the time with each new release.

What We Don't Like

  • Price

This was one of the best surf fishing reels that I tested. The reason it is this far down the page is because of how expensive it is. If you can afford it, I highly recommend it.

Best Daiwa Reel for Surf Fishing: Daiwa Saltiga

Daiwa Saltiga Spinning Reel

What the Stella is to Shimano, the Saltiga is to Daiwa. The Saltiga reels have a bewildering amount of technological innovation for a surf fishing reel.

It is not everyday that I get to test $1000 plus fishing reels on the beach, so I was once again super excited to test the Daiwa Saltiga.

I found it to be similar to the Shimano Stella, but much bigger, because the smallest size is an 8000 size. That is too big for most of the surf fishing that I do, but would be good for big sharks off the beach.


  • Construction – One piece aluminum body. Aluminum handle, spool, and rotor.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – 8000-H 5.8:1 (43.7").
  • 12+1 Bearings
  • Spool Capacity – 330 yds/16 lb mono, 330 yards/40 lb braid
  •  Anti-Reverse
  • Drag – 55 lb. carbon fiber. 
  • Weight – 23.1 oz.
  • Right or Left Retrieve

What We Like

  • Smooth! The Saltiga is super smooth on retrieves and drag. It gives that premium feel that we're paying for. The feel of precision engineering is fantastic, and I've become somewhat addicted to it. Double-taper spool edges contribute to this feeling.
  • Drive Gear Strength – This latest 20Saltiga drive gear is double the strength of the old 15Saltiga reel.
  • MagSeal – The body, bearings, and line roller have all been sealed up with the MagSeal system. This reduces the amount of water that can reach crucial components.
  • Rotor – The Air Rotor is now double the strength of the previous 15Saltiga rotor.
  • Drag – They now have 14 washers/discs for drag, some of which help heat dissipation and the entire system contributes to longer durability.

What We Don't Like

  • Price – Like the Stella, the cost for this flagship Daiwa reel is crazy, but definitely worth it to some people! 

Here is a video showing all of the features of the Daiwa Saltiga.

If you want to use the most technologically advanced spinning reel that Daiwa makes, get the Saltiga. There is something almost magical about reels in this category, and there aren't many of them. 

Best Conventional Reels For Surf Fishing

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

What We Like

  • We love how far you can cast this reel.
  • 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.
  • Quick Change Sideplates – "Fast Gear Access Sideplates" with 3 screw removal, allows easy access.
  • 7 Ball Bearings.

What We Don't Like

  • 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.

What We Like

  • We love how lightweight this reels is. It is perfect for long days casting in the surf.
  • 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 – We love the price of this reel.

What We Don't Like

  • Strength – Though graphite is strong, it is not as strong as metal.

How To Choose a Reel for Surf Fishing

There are some things you should know or learn about before buying your surf fishing reel.

RELATED: Types Of Fishing Reels

Spinning Reel or Conventional Reel

Spinning reels are by the far the most common surf fishing reels, but there are some die hards that will only use conventional reels, also called casting reels.

Spinning reels are much easier to use. They are simple to cast and simple to maintain.

Conventional reels cast further, once you learn how to cast them. There is definitely a learning curve to casting long distance without getting a backlash.

My advice is to start with a spinning reel. Once you have become a die hard surf fisherman, and you will, you can graduate to casting reels. 


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. 
  • Rod Length – A surf fishing rod is going to be 9-12 feet long. Longer, heavier rods will require larger reels.
  • 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 4000 or 5000) and try to match your lightweight reel with a rod that will get you the distance you need to reach the fish.

RELATED: Lower Chesapeake Bay Fishing Hot Spots


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

Keep materials in mind when choosing a surf fishing 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 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

Fishing Reel Gears

The gear ratio of your reels can be thought of simply as the number of times your spool turns around with one rotation of the reel handle. A ratio of 5:1 means the spool will turn 5 complete rotations with one circle of the handle.

What this means in terms of benefits is that the reel's gear ratio affects how much line (in inches or cm.) you retrieve with one full circle of the handle. Typically reels can recover between 20 and 40 inches of fishing line with one turn of the crank.

For constant casting and retrieval, like that necessary for bass fishing tournaments, you will want to have a high ratio for your baitcaster or spinning reel that recovers around 40" of line per handle turn.

If fishing for heavier fish over 20 lb. or very strong fish, having a lower gear ratio of around 5:1 or less can help you power the fish in instead of letting it run around and possibly break the line.

RELATED: Surf Fishing Tips And Techniques


Fish taking Drag on a fishing reel

One of the important factors in choosing a reel is the amount of drag (in pounds) the reel can apply. This is important because the drag can tire the fish out for you and make it easier to reel in. A heavy drag can be used to muscle the fish in quicker to avoid exhaustion.

Drag has the effect of slowing a fish down because the fish must fight against the drag's resistance in order to get away.

For some fish species, like speckled trout with weak jaws and flesh, you should set the drag very low, as low as it can go. You don't want to rip the hook out as you reel in. For other fish like cobia, you can set the drag heavy and really pull to get the fish in.

RELATED: Best Fish To Eat In Florida

Surf fishing with reels capable of 20 lb. of drag is enough for most species you can catch inshore. But more drag available is always better because you don't know what you're going to hook into! A permit, big jack, skate, cobia, or shark can pull very hard!

RELATED: Top Texas Fish Species

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

  • Drag System Design – The drag system design can vary a bit, spinning reels will have a drag system on top of the spool.  Conventional surf reels will have either a star drag system or 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.
  • 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.

Line Capacity

Fishing Reel Spool Filled To Capacity

Fishing from shore you may cast out 50 or more yards from the beach. If you hook a shark or some other big fish, they may pull 100, or 200 yards of line off the reel. You need to ensure you have that much on the reel if you're fishing for big, powerful fish.

For fish like sheepshead, pompano, trout, redfish, snook, and other fish that are usually close to shore, you don't need that much line and line capacity becomes less important.

When fishing for bigger fish having the ability to put at least a few hundred yards of 30 lb. to 40 lb. braided line on your reel is important. 

RELATED: Best Time Of Day To Fish

Casting Distance

Surf Fisherman Casting

While the best surf fishing reels can influence your casting distance, it is probably more of a factor for the surf fishing rod that you chose.

Casting distance is a factor that can influence your choice of fishing reel and surf rod because a lot of surf fishing is done from the water's edge. This means you may need to throw as far as possible out into the water to reach the proper depth that holds fish you want to catch.

If casting far is a priority, and you're using a somewhat heavier rig, like a couple of ounces, the baitcaster and conventional reels can give you the most distance on your casts, assuming the same size and surf fishing rod are used.

RELATED: Baitcaster vs Spinning Reels

Corrosion Resistance

Fishing Reel Sealed For Corrosion Resistance

If you want your saltwater reel to last a long time, you'll pay close attention corrosion resistance.

At the high end of the reel market, many corrosion-resistant materials are used on the exterior and interior of the reels. Materials like aluminum, good stainless steel, titanium, carbon fiber, brass, and hard plastics are used for their resistance to the elements.

Surf fishing in saltwater is especially harsh on reels as the salt causes metal and other parts to corrode faster than just freshwater does.

A fully sealed surf fishing reel like the Van Staal VR200 is ideal for saltwater fishing in any conditions including breaking waves soaking the reel or dropping it on the sand. You won't need to clean a reel like that as often and you will still get years of use out of it.


Fishing reel getting wet in the surf

A durable surf fishing reel will last longer and perform better in harsh saltwater and sandy conditions.

In order to be durable, there are a couple of factors to keep in mind when buying your reels.

The materials used should be strong, and corrosion-resistant. 6061 aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, graphite, carbon fiber, brass, and other materials are strong and resistant to rust. Avoid low-quality metals and plastics.

The drag system will probably use carbon fiber discs. This is the standard for most reels, and drag systems can fail pretty easily. The best drags are sealed from water and dirt. That said, drag washers and discs are easily replaced if the system does fail.

The number of bearing sets in your reel can help durability. More is better as long as they are high-quality bearings. Stainless steel and ceramic bearings are used in high-end reels. Read more about them below.

Ball Bearings

Sets of ball bearings are crucial for the smooth operation of your reel during line retrieval. There's nothing that says high quality like the feeling of exceptional bearings making parts move with ease and with precise movements. A good set of ball bearings can make the reel feel of higher quality instantly.

Ball bearings are typically made of stainless steel and can be very high quality and strong. Some high-end fishing reels, go really high-tech and use ceramic bearings. Ceramic is much harder than steel, and yet they are easier to break because they are easier to shatter.

Keep the following in mind about ball bearings:

Number of Ball Bearings – More means better.  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 – Surf fishing 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.


It may be hard initially, to justify spending over $300-500 (or more!) for a spinning reel, even one of the best surf fishing reels. 

I've been fishing for over 50 years, and I am still using some of my surf fishing reels decades later. 

When it come to the best surf fishing reels, you get what you pay for. Some of the surf fishing reels that I tested on this page are a perfect example of great features at a reasonable price. Others are just the absolute best that you can buy, regardless of price. Set the budget that you are comfortable with and buy the reel that is within budget.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use a conventional reel for surf fishing?

Yes you can use a conventional reel for surf fishing. However, they are more difficult to use than spinning reels and you should start with spinning reels first.

Do conventional reels cast further than spinning?

Yes, typically conventional reels cast further than spinning reels. This is because, with a conventional reel 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.

RELATED: Can You Use A Baitcaster On A Spinning Rod

What size reel is best for surf?

The best size reel for surf fishing is 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.

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. Also, braid casts further than mono.

Final Thoughts

I was able to test a large number of reels to determine the best surf fishing reels in different categories. I used the data from my testing, as well as my more than 40 years of surf fishing experience to determine the top reels.

Here they are again:

If you are looking to start surf fishing or you are one of the numerous surf fishing anglers looking for the next best saltwater reel, pick one up that is within your budget, put it on a surf fishing rod and get out and hit the beach!

RELATED: Best Rod And Reel Combo For Surf Fishing

Let us know what you chose and why in the comments!

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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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