Best Surf Fishing Reels in 2023 with Reviews and Buying Guide

The best surf fishing reels are absolutely full of a variety of technology and functionality that will help you catch more fish and enjoy fishing even more than you do now.

Every surf reel below has the basics down, but each one has something special about it or a lot of special things that may get you thinking about purchasing a new reel. We've tried to compare them on similar features and yet some of them are more than the sum of their features.

We will take an in-depth look at both spinning reels and conventional reels for surf fishing. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

What's fascinating is the amount of new technology we're seeing in surf fishing reels this year. The future looks bright!

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

15 Best Surf Fishing Reels At A Glance

Best Surf Fishing Reel Reviews

These are the top surf fishing reels we've used over the years with an emphasis on recent years. We've put these reels through the paces as some on our team have used them for surf fishing for years and we had them fill out data sheets on each reel they own.

We will start with the spinning reels that we use and then we will share reviews of the top conventional reels that we use for surf fishing.

Best Spinning Reels For Surf Fishing

Best Spinning Reel for Surf Fishing: Van Staal VR200 

Van Staal VR200 Spinning reel

Robert Koelewyn started Van Staal brand reels in the early 1990s to match the harsh conditions of surf fishing in the Atlantic Ocean. He sold it to Pure Fishing which owns Shakespeare (Zebco), and Penn as well. Mr. Koelewyn built up his spinning reel brand to be one of the most respected in the market, competing against brands like Penn and Shimano. Around here we owe him a special debt of gratitude for making one of the best reels ever.

Today the brand is known for its rugged waterproof spinning reels for surf and rock/cliff fishing.

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.

We can tell you first-hand, the Van Staal VR200 surf fishing reel is known for its durability and rugged toughness. This is really the ultimate surf fishing reel for anyone who is fishing from a beach where wave-sprayed salt, sand, dirt, grime, and sweat can make a reel useless over time.

The Van Staal VR200 reels have some great features that make them ideal for surf fishing! You'll understand what we're talking about when you're holding it in your hand, it's like a tank. If you've ever used a Hasselblad or old Leica camera, you know the feeling. Perfectly machined genius.

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 or even deep sea fishing.

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"). The smallest in the series, the VR50, has 6.3:1 (37").
  • 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. The right-hand side cranks add a '1' to the end of their model number. So VR200 has a left-hand crank and VR201 has a right-handed crank.

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.
  • Bail-less Kit (optional) – You can remove the bail which helps you cast longer distances and avoid some problems inherent in using the bail.
  • 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.
  • Manual Bail Flip – Unlike most spinning reels, this one requires you to manually flip your bail shut after casting. This prevents accidental closure while casting and losing a heavy (and expensive) lure as the line is abruptly stopped.

What We Don't Like

  • Heavier – The VR200 weighs more in comparison to offerings from Shimano, Daiwa, and Penn.
  • Right/Left Handles – You must buy the option you want, and it can't be changed like on most other spinning reels.

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. Some of us cannot do without them. A quick note – their sizing is not correlated to other spinning reel manufacturers. For instance, the Van Daal VR50 reel is around a size 3000 Shimano spinning reel. Go by spool capacity instead.

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

Shimano Vanford Spinning Reel

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

The Shimano Vanford comes in several different gear ratios, depending on the model. Model sizes available include 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, and 5000 and you can see their gear ratios below.

The versatility is what makes this reel so special. You can fish the 5000-size Vanford from a 12' surf reel for big redfish, jacks, permit, or sharks. Or you can use it inshore on a 7' rod for trout, pompano, or bonefish. It can be a pier rod or fished from a boat inshore. Then, when you're tired of saltwater fishing, you can target big walleye, pike, musky, and gar with this reel.


  • Construction – Body and handle are Ci4+ carbon. Spool is aluminum. Hagane gears.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – Size 500 5.6:1 (27"), Size 1000 5.1:1 (25"), size 2000 6:1 (32"), size 3000 6.4:1 (35"), size 4000 6.2:1 (40"), size 5000 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 for the 4000 and 5000 sizes.
  • Weight – 5.3. to 8.3 oz.
  • Right or Left Retrieve

What We Like

  • Build Quality – The reel is beautifully designed and made with top-quality materials. It is very lightweight, but when you use it, you can't believe it's as strong as it is. The lightweight body, handle, and rotor make this a dream to use.
  • 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 an ultralight 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 inshore spinning reel under $300.

Best Penn Reel for Surf Fishing: Penn Slammer IV

PENN Slammer IV Spinning Reel

We'll look at one of the 13 reels in the PENN Slammer IV series, the SLAIV4500HS model. The HS stands for 'high speed' and means the gear ratio is higher so you can retrieve more line with a spin of the handle. This 4500HS retrieves 48" of line.

The Penn Slammer has always been one of our go-to reels over the years, and with the latest fourth iteration, PENN has really given us a reel that is hard to beat for spinning surf reels, and at a very reasonable price.

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 the 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.

The PENN Slammer IV is the perfect reel for surf, kayak, pier, or boat fishing and there is a size made just for the kind of fishing you intend on doing. Models include 2500, 2500HS, 3500, 4500, 4500HS, 5500, 5500BLS, 6500, 6500HS, 7500, 8500, 8500HS, and 10500.


  • Construction – Full metal body and side plate. Brass CNC gearing. Aluminum spool.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – 2500 6.2:1 (33"), 2500HS 7.0:1 (39"), 3500 6.2:1 (37"), 4500 6.2:1 (40"), 4500HS 7.0:1 (48"), 5500 5.6:1 (39"), 5500BLS 5.6:1 (39"), 6500 5.6:1 (42"), 6500HS 6.2:1 (48"), 7500 4.7:1 (38"), 8500 4.7:1 (42"), 8500HS 5.3:1 (50"), 10500 4.2:1 (43").
  • 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.
  • Bail Trip – Smaller models have automatic bail trip (flip) and models of 6500 and higher require a manual bail trip to reel in line.
  • Durability – PENN reels are known for their durability in saltwater use. We have been using these reels for years and can verify that they are some of the most durable reels available for harsh environments.
  • Price – PENN reels are priced so that anyone can afford them.

What We Don't Like

  • Heavy – Though it isn't a tank like the Van Staal reel above, the Slammer IV in the upper size categories is no lightweight reel either. It's ideal for putting in a rod holder and waiting for bites and not so great for hand-holding the rod for hours on end as you cast and retrieve in the surf. PENN didn't seem concerned with saving weight with this reel. Admittedly, it's not one of the huge concerns surf anglers usually have.

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

The Penn Slammer IV series has put a smile on anglers' faces for a decade. The first one was introduced in 2005. We got our first one shortly after. There have been technological advancements, mainly in water resistance and anti-corrosive material use but the reels have largely maintained their same profile and use case.

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 PENN Spinfisher VI comes in a multitude of sizes, left and right handle options, and in three different styles – Regular, Live-Liner, Bail-less, and Long Cast.

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.

In this overview, we'll talk about 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 – 2500 6.2:1 (33"), 3500 6.2:1 (37"), 4500 6.2:1 (40"), SSVI4500BLS 6.2:1 (40"), 5500 5.6:1 (39"), 6500 5.6:1 (42"), SSVI6500BLS 5.6:1 (42"), 7500 4.7:1 (38"), 8500 4.7:1 (42"), 9500 4.2:1 (40"), 10500 4.2:1 (43").
  • 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

  • 4 Styles – With three extra reel styles, we get even more options to choose from that will help us catch more fish and enjoy fishing a little bit more. The Long Liner, Bail-less, and Long Cast reels help anglers out with reels focused on their type of fishing. Great idea!
  • 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. We have only had our reel a short while. It's fine now, not as smooth as a Vanford or Van Staal of course, but it's smooth enough.

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.

We have always liked PENN surf fishing reels and we'll keep buying them as long as the quality stays in the top 3-5 reels available. You shouldn't have any reservations about the brand, so shop from this page based on features and specs that you know will serve you well for the next decade. Or, buy more than one reel!

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

Shimano Ultegra XTD Surf Reel

Designed for serious surf casters, the Ultegra XTD Surf reels (ULT5500XTD and ULT14000XTD) provide consistent long-distance casting performance and Super Slow Oscillation (14000 model) / Slow Oscillation (5500 model) for precision line lay. Plus, these reels feature Shimano X-Ship for improved gear durability even under the heaviest loads.

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"), 14000 model (4.3:1 (42").
  • 4+1 Bearings
  • Spool Capacity – 5500 model holds 220 yd./50 lb. braided, 230 yd./16 lb. mono. 14000 model holds 335 yd./65 lb. braided, 330 yd./20 lb. mono.
  • Instant Anti-Reverse
  • Drag – 33 lb. for the 5500 model and 44 lb. for the 14000 model.
  • Weight – 5500 model is 17.3 oz., 14000 model is 21.9 oz.
  • Right or Left Retrieve

What We Like

  • 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 is an obvious winning choice for surf fishing enthusiasts looking to improve on their spinning reel experience. There are a number of new technologies here that will probably make it into other reels at Shimano, but even across manufacturers as other companies get wind of them.

The Ultegra XTD is a strong, reliable, and realistically priced reel that deserves a look if you're interested in either a 5500 or 14000 size reel. It's a shame they don't have more options, but it seems this is a test release before they go bigger with it, or perhaps they will just move these advanced features to other reels already in their lineup.

One thing we liked a lot is the drag-free spool feature. Going from full drag to no drag in a split second is a really nice feature we've used over and over as a fish pulled us into structure and we didn't want to snap the line. It's also great for fishing grouper from a pier when they get 'holed up' and you release the pressure in an instant. They think they're free and will move out of the hole quicker.

To wrap it up, the Shimano Ultegra XTD Surf Reel offers exceptional performance and durability and is one of our top choices for big and small game fishing in salt and freshwater.

Best Budget Surf Fishing Reel: Penn Battle III

Penn Battle III

I bought four PENN Battle reels for surf fishing a number of years ago. All four are still working well. I cleaned and lubed them on average twice per month. My PENN reels have lasted far longer than I ever thought they would.

There are 12 spinning reels in the Battle III lineup. Sizes are: BTLIII1000, BTLIII2000, BTLIII2500, BTLIII3000, BTLIII4000, BTLIII4000HS, BTLIII5000, BTLIII6000, BTLIII6000HS, BTLIII8000, BTLIII8000HS, and BTLIII10000. 'HS' stands for high speed and means the gear ratio is better for reeling in line (faster).


  • Construction – Full metal body and side plate. Aluminum spool. CNC gears.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – 1000 5.2:1 (22"), 2000 6.2:1 (30"), 2500 6.2:1 (33"), 3000 6.2:1 (35"), 4000 6.2:1 (37"), 4000HS 7.0:1 (43"), 5000 5.6:1 (36"), 6000 5.6:1 (41"), 6000HS 6.2:1 (47"), 8000 4.7:1 (38"), 8000HS 5.3:1 (44"), 10000 4.2:1 (43").
  • 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.

The Saltist comes in these sizes – 2500, 3000, 4000, 4500, 5000, 6500, and 8000.


  • 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 – 2500 5.6:1 (33.2"), 3000 5.6:1 (37.4"), 4000 5.7:1 (39.9"), 4500 5.7:1 (43.1"), 5000 5.7:1 (47.4"), 6500 5.3:1 (48.7"), 8000 5.3:1 (53.3").
  • 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 FJ and FK series can handle freshwater or saltwater. The SW C models are designed for heavy saltwater use and dreadful conditions.

All three 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. Gear ratio options are available to match exactly the type of fishing you do.

The Stella FK and FJ models have 7-24 lb. of maximum drag. The STLSW30000C has 62 lb. of drag available. That's probably more than what you need, and when did you ever have more drag than you need in a reel?

Add to that, the SW C models have a waterproof sealed drag and cold-forged Hagane gear system and a super-sized handle for hard cranking on big fish.


The first few characters stand for Stella Saltwater. At the end, PGC means Power Gearing Compact. XGC means Extra High Gearing Compact. HGC means High Gearing Compact.

Compact refers to the reel's size being somewhat smaller considering they fit a larger spool on a smaller body.


  • Construction – Hagane full metal body. Hagane gears.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – SW C 4000XGC 6.2:1 (40"), 5000HGC 5.7:1 (38"), 6000HGC 5.7:1 (41"), 8000HGC 5.6:1 (42"), 8000PGC 4.9:1 (37"), 10000PGC 4.9:1 (40"), 14000XGC 6.2:1 (53"), 18000HGC 5.7:1 (51"), 20000PGC 4.4:1 (41"), 30000C 4.4:1 (52").
  • 13+1 Bearings
  • Spool Capacity – 175 yd./40 lb. braid, 165 yd./14 lb. mono. (5000HGC)
  • 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.
  • New Tech – There are 21 technologies listed on the Stella FW C page at Shimano. All focus on using high tech to prolong the use of your super-smooth reel and to keep it dry on the inside.

What We Don't Like

  • Price – The price is probably enough to shock you at least a little bit. This reel is not for everyone's budget. But if you're looking for the flagship offering of one of fishing's most respected brands, the Stella is certainly a fine choice.

Of all the people buying this reel, most of them call it one of their favorites, or THE favorite reel they've ever had. These reels are legendary in the fishing community.

These Shimano Stella reels are all excellent choices for serious anglers with the money to spend, but the specific model that's right for you depends on your fishing needs and budget. If you're mostly going to be in freshwater with occasional saltwater use, the Stella FK and FJ are possibly better choices. If you're more likely to use your Stella reel in harsh big-game offshore conditions, the SW C is the only reel for you.

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 and though we can't possibly cover it without an intense review, we'll cover the ones we like the most and that relate to you as a surf fishing enthusiast.

Here are the reels in the Saltiga line: 8000-H, 8000-P, 10000-H, 10000-P, 14000-P, 14000-XH, 18000-H, 18000-P, and 20000-H. We'll cover the smallest Saltiga reel they have, the 8000-H level for our sections below.


  • Construction – One piece aluminum body. Aluminum handle, spool, and rotor.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – 8000-P 4.8:1 (36.2"), 8000-H 5.8:1 (43.7"), 10000-P 5.8:1 (38.6"), 10000-H 5.8:1 (46.5"), 14000-P 5.8:1 (40.9"), 14000-XH 5.8:1 (52.8"), 18000-P 5.8:1 (39.8"), 18000-H 5.8:1 (51.6"), 20000-H 5.8:1 (56.3").
  • 12+1 Bearings
  • Spool Capacity – 330 yds/16 lb mono, 330 yards/40 lb braid
  •  Anti-Reverse
  • Drag – 55 lb. carbon fiber. (8000-H)
  • 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. Some anglers buy these reels mostly for this reason. The feel of precision engineering is fantastic, and we'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

  • Small Reel? There is a limited number of Saltiga reels in the line and the lineup is skewed toward the much heavier reels for offshore and deep sea fishing. We'd love to see a smaller 5000-level reel in the group.
  • Price – Like the Stella, the cost for this flagship Daiwa reel is ludicrous, but definitely worth it to some people! Imagine being able to buy the latest fishing reel technology and love your reel for the rest of your life. That's what Daiwa and Shimano are offering with their $1,000+ surf reels.

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. There also aren't too many reels you can crank down on when reeling in a shark and know you're not even coming close to breaking something.

Thousand-dollar reels are not for everyone, but some of you will appreciate the quality factor here. These reels are made with the highest quality control standards and attention to detail. You'll definitely appreciate these things when you get your Saltiga in the mail.

Best Van Staal Reel for Surf Fishing: Van Staal X2

Van Staal X2 Spinning Reel

The best Van Staal reel for surf fishing is the X2 bail-less reel. Though not as pricey as the top-of-the-line Shimano or Daiwa spinning reel, this one is compatible and many say 'better.'

There are 14 reels in this line with these model numbers: VS100BX2, VS100SX2, VS150BX2, VS150SX2, VS151BX2, VS151SX2, VS200BX2, VS200SX2, VS201BX2, VS201SX2, VS250BX2, VS250SX2, VS300BX2, and VS300SX2.

The features we cover below will pertain to the VS300SX2 reels.


  • Construction – Body, stem, and reel foot are 6061 aluminum. Main shaft is titanium. Gears are stainless steel.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – VS100BX2 5.4:1 (33.5"), VS100SX2 5.4:1 (33.5"), VS150BX2 4.75:1 (30"), VS150SX2 4.75:1 (30"), VS151BX2 4.75:1 (30"), VS151SX2 4.75:1 (30"), VS200BX2 4.25:1 (33.5"), VS200SX2 4.25:1 (33.5"), VS201BX2 4.25:1 (33.5"), VS201SX2 4.25:1 (33.5"), VS250BX2 4.25:1 (36.5"), VS250SX2 4.25:1 (36.5"), VS300BX2 5.1:1 (49.5"), and VS300SX2 5.1:1 (49.5").
  • 7+1 Bearings
  • Spool Capacity – 480 yd./80 lb. braid, 470 yd./25 lb. mono.
  • Instant Anti-Reverse
  • Drag – 42 lb. carbon fiber
  • Weight – 27 oz.
  • Right or Left Retrieve - Specified by a '1' in the third numeral position (for example VS201BX2 is right hand and VS200BX2 is a left-hand reel)

What We Like

  • Brand – The Van Staal brand captured our hearts a few years back when the first guy on our team brought it in for show and tell. Talk about a well-made piece of metal! Van Staal reels are tank-like and built with high precision for that space-age feel you'll love the moment you crank it.
  • Smooth! Super smooth while reeling in fish of any size, this is part of what makes the reel so attractive to so many anglers across the world.
  • Line Capacity - Quite good.
  • Handle – Powergrip handle and drag knobs are easy to grab and comfortable.
  • Options – With bails, without bails, and left and right-hand options are all appreciated.
  • Design – Absolutely phenomenal aerospace-like design.

What We Don't Like

  • Price – We love the brand, and we love the reels, but we could buy a couple or a few PENN surf fishing reels for one of these. If you have the money, you should buy it. That should be your guide. You'll love it if you do buy it and you probably won't have any regrets at all.

Out of nowhere came a man on a mission to build surf fishing reels that worked great and lasted a long time. He was competing with companies that had been around long before him, and are still around today. Van Staal VS series reels are built on simplicity, versatility, and function using some of the best materials and engineering in the industry.

The X2 reels improve upon past VS reels by adding key improvements designed to take your fishing to the next level. The strength of these reels is unparalleled and the sealing is remarkable.

With smaller and faster reels, Van Staal quality can now be a part of more serious anglers' adventures.

Best Surf Fishing Reel Under $100: KastKing Sharky III

KastKing Sharky III Fishing Reel

Every now and then a lesser-known reel manufacturer will throw a deal out there that catches a lot of attention, and ultimately is a great marketing idea because they become better known for quality reels and other gear.

KastKing appears to have done this with their KastKing Sharky III surf fishing reel. They not only are letting it go for under $100, but you can almost buy two of them for that!

The Sharky III comes in sizes 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, and 5000. We'll look at the 5000-size reel below.


  • Construction – Body and rotor are carbon-reinforced graphite. Main shaft is oversized stainless-steel. Main and pinion gears are a manganese-brass alloy. Aluminum spool and handle.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – 1000 5.2:1 (27.8"), 2000 5.2:1 (27.8"), 3000 5.2:1 (29.7"), 4000 5.2:1 (31.8") and 5000 5.2:1 (33.8").
  • 10+1 Bearings
  • Spool Capacity – 190 yd./60 lb. braid, 190 yd./14 lb. mono.
  • Instant Anti-Reverse
  • Drag – 39.5 lb. carbon fiber discs.
  • Weight – 10.6 oz.
  • Right or Left Retrieve

What We Like

  • Price – The price couldn't be any better. We haven't seen a deal like this on a reel of this quality for a long time. This is the power that small manufacturers have, they can cut out the margins on certain products and sell them like hotcakes.
  • Drag – 39.5 lb. of carbon fiber drag on their 4000 and 5000-level reels in this price range is quite good. Couple that with the other innovations and this reel is a no-brainer to pick up for really affordable backup reels.

  • Grips – The high-density EVA foam grips feel comfortable and have good wearability. Ours are in fine shape after 3 years of heavy surf fishing use.

What We Don't Like

  • You get what you pay for – While this reel will get the job done, it does not possess the same quality as the higher priced surf reels.

The KastKing brand makes all kinds of fishing gear and their reels have some nice features. We've had a couple of their reels for a couple of years, but we don't have any long-term data for them. We recommend them because it looks like they are wearing well and last much longer. If you don't feel comfortable buying the brand, no worries, just choose another reel from our group!

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.

Best Baitcasting Reel for Surf Fishing: Daiwa Saltist

Daiwa Saltist Star Drag High Speed Baitcasting Reel

The Daiwa Saltist Star Drag comes in two different styles, Daiwa Saltist High Speed Reels and Power Gear Reels. The High Speed reels are all geared for rapid retrieval rate while the Power Gear reels have a lower gear ratio and a slower rate of line retrieval.

The Saltist Star Drag refers to the drag system being controlled by a spinning 5-prong star on the handle. This makes access quick and sure and many anglers prefer this drag system.

The Saltist series has a Spinning Reel and a Baitcasting Reel. We cover the spinning reel as our best Under $200 surf reel.

The Saltist Star Drag baitcasters have 11 reels in total. The 6 High Speed models are: SALTIST15H, SALTIST20H, SALTIST30H, SALTIST35H, SALTIST40H, and SALTIST50H.

The 5 Power Gear models are: SALTIST15P, SALTIST20P, SALTIST35P, SALTIST40P, and SALTIST50P

The Saltist Star Drag baitcasting reels have been engineered with the latest features and are lightweight and compact. Across the range, they'll hold from 12 to 50 lb. mono and up to 100 lb. braided line. The maximum drag for the three biggest Saltist Power Gear models is 25 lb. The star drag allows an uninhibited free spool, perfect for live-bait fishing or great for long casts.


  • Construction – Body is machined aluminum with an anodized finish.
  • Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate – 15H 6.4:1 (39.5"), 20H 6.4:1 (39.5"), 30H 6.4:1 (39.5"), 35H 6.4:1 (37.4"), 40H 6.4:1 (47.1"), 50H 6.4:1 (47.1"). 15P 5.1:1 (29.5"), 20P 5.1:1 (29.5"), 35P 5.1:1 (25.8"), 40P 5.1:1 (25.8"), 50P 5.1:1 (25.8").
  • The P at the end stands for Power. The H for High Speed. The XH for Extra High Speed.
  • 4+1 Bearings
  • Spool Capacity – 360 yd./100 lb. braid, 310 yd./40 lb. mono. (SALTIST50P)
  • Instant Anti-Reverse
  • Drag – 25 lb.
  • Weight – 21.2 oz. (SALTIST50P)
  • Right Retrieve

What We Like

  • High Speed – The high speed models are ideal for fishing fast surf fishing lures when targeting species like mackerel, bluefish, tuna, etc.
  • Star Drag – The star drag system is great for longer casting. We always notice the difference.
  • Large handle – We really like the large handle, which helps to put pressure on big fish.

What We Don't Like

  • Right Side Handles – There are no left side handles.

The Saltist series is built for saltwater. Surf fishing, Jigging, reef fishing, inshore, offshore, whatever you choose. All you have to do is pick a size and a type. Do you need a High Speed or Power Gear reel? What size? If you'll be fishing for big and hard-fighting fish, go for the 50P model (5000 size).

All of the Saltist surf reels are tough and corrosion-resistant. The price is reasonable and the company is well known for producing top-of-the-line saltwater and freshwater reels for decades. It's truly one of the best surf fishing reels you can buy.

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.

What We Like

  • Lever Drag - You either love a lever drag or you hate it. We have guys on staff that love this reel.
  • High Retrieval – 42" of line retrieval per one turn rotation of the handle.
  • Line Capacity – 580 yards of 50 lb. braided line.
  • Brand – Shimano makes some of the best fishing reels in the industry.

What We Don't Like

  • Heavy – At 25.7 oz. for the lightest size SpeedMaster II you'll feel it more while casting and fighting fish at the beach.

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?

How To Choose a Reel for Surf Fishing

There are some things you should know or learn about before buying your surf fishing reel. Surf reels are made for fishing from the beach, inshore, or from a pier, bridge, or dock. You can use them for jigging, cast and retrieve, or cast and wait fishing.

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.

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 a conventional reel. Surf fishing gets into your soul and you will live to get out on the beach, regardless of the time of day or season.


When choosing a 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 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.

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.

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.

RELATED: Surf Fishing Tips And Techniques

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.


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.

A reel's drag is deployed after you have cast your line out and set your reel to retrieve line. If the fish is hooked and pulls against the line, the drag dictates how much force the fish must pull to take line away from the spool. If your drag is set at 1-2 lb. even a very small fish can pull some line back off your spool.

Drag has the effect of slowing a fish down because the fish must fight against the drag's resistance in order to get away. If your reel has 20-30 lb. of drag deployed, there aren't many fish that can pull that hard against it, you may be able to just reel that fish in if your reel and rod, line, and other gear are all strong enough.

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. Some companies have tried to implement rear drag systems for spinning reels, but they never really caught on with the fishing public. 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.
  • 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.

Line Capacity

Fishing Reel Spool Filled To Capacity

Line capacity is one of the most important factors in saltwater fishing. All reels have limited line capacity. That can be a problem because you need to have a certain amount on the reel to handle any kind of fishing you're doing. For inshore, and surf fishing, it isn't all that important but it's still something to consider when you buy a reel. Having enough line capacity will help you land more fish.

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 deeper water from kayaks, boats, piers, bridges, etc., having the ability to put at least a couple hundred yards of 30 lb. to 40 lb. braided line on your reel is important. The more and heavier line your reel can hold, the better.

RELATED: Best Time Of Day To Fish

Casting Distance

Surf Fisherman Casting

One way to catch more fish is to be able to cast to more places. Casting far distances can allow you to cover a much greater area of water and enables you to catch more fish.

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 rod are used.

However, if you're using a very light rig, a spinning reel will be better for you because they can cast lighter rigs than either baitcasters or conventional reels.

RELATED: Baitcaster vs Spinning Reels

Corrosion Resistance

Fishing Reel Sealed For Corrosion Resistance

If you want your fishing reels to last a long time, you'll pay close attention to the materials used in your reel. Materials that corrode in the sun and saltwater are not ideal!

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 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.

Unfortunately, you won't know the build quality and materials used in every part of the reel. When you buy a reel made for saltwater fishing that is over $200 and from one of the brands on this page, you can be relatively sure that all materials used are not prone to corrosion.


Fishing reel getting wet in the surf

A durable 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.

Brand reputation is important. The reels on this page have all been vetted and we can vouch for the companies behind them generally producing very high-quality fishing reels. Sure, you can get a dud, but it won't happen often with the companies we've named here.

These brands often have warranties and customer support in case you need to repair or replace your reel.

Ball Bearings

Sets of ball bearings are crucial for the smooth operation of your reel during line retrieval and drag operations. 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.

With fishing reels, you're unlikely to shatter any ceramic ball bearings with the little force you can apply through the handle, so ceramic bearings work incredibly well. They are lighter in weight as well so they provide numerous benefits. The one drawback is that they are much more expensive than standard steel bearings so you'll only see them in the top reels.

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 – 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.

Anti-Reverse System – Some surf 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 surf 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.


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. You can buy any number of alternatives for under $100. With good fishing reels, there are so many places where costs could be cut and a cheaper reel made. On reels with a high price point, you can be sure that most or all of these areas have been addressed and have high-quality materials.

If you've been fishing for a long time, and collectively, we've been fishing for over 100 years, you have probably spent money on reels that didn't perform as you hoped. You probably didn't spend over $200 on those reels that disappointed you either.

We are still using some of our reels decades later. We've made parts for some of them that we couldn't find online. It's such a joy to be able to use a product for more than 15 years and pay for it once!

You get what you pay for. The reels suggested on this page are our top picks for surf fishing reels and we have been happy with all of them in the past. Your experience may differ slightly, but overall you're going to have the same amazing experience we did with these Penn, Daiwa, Shimano, Van Staal, and KastKing 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.

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.

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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.

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

There are an incredible number of reels on the market that you can use for surf fishing. It takes a lot of knowledge to weed out the junk and get a high-performance reel that you can use for a long, long time. You can confidently choose from the best surf fishing reels we've covered here.

One thing that I do, and this might seem a bit odd. When I spend a lot of money on something that has parts that can break over time, I buy extra parts at the same time I buy the item so I won't have to worry about not being able to find something later as parts get more scarce.

Fishing reel models are updated every few years. Companies are sold to other companies and sometimes the chain of parts can be cut off or it can be difficult to obtain what you need in a few years.

So why not buy some parts that typically wear out? Or, just buy a couple of the same reels at the same time so you always have at least some of them working. I'm talking 10 years down the road, none of the reels above should give you a problem for at least 5-10 years if you care for them.

The top-rated surf reels above are almost surely going to make you happy in most cases. Read the specs carefully. When you go to Amazon to buy, read the ad carefully. Make sure you're getting the right surf reel that will put a smile on your face.

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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