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A Buyer's Guide To Your First Saltwater Reel

Great New Models Make It Easy To Choose

The fastest fish in the water, wahoo will make your reel sizzle like a skillet full of fajitas.If you are looking to buy your first saltwater reel, you've come to the right place! Chances are you have already had a taste of the open water and the many varieties of game fish that pull line off a reel like it was tied to the bumper of a Corvette.

Well, our store staff fell under the spell of that briny playground, too, and we share your newfound passion for saltwater action.

The makes and models and quality of saltwater fishing reels put on the market in the last decade or so is overwhelming, but a great thing for you, the consumer. You simply can't make a bad choice and we have reels in a wide array of designs and price points to match any budget and style of fishing.

The first thing you have in your favor, besides the expertise of our staff, is that it's like manufacturers took a shrink ray and brought huge offshore trolling reels down to something you could easily hold in the palm of your hand.

While it wasn't that easy and actually took many years of advances in design and materials, the fact is your first saltwater reel will pack as much drag and sheer handle-turning power as the giants of old. And they'll cast much farther.

It's important to understand it was actually a fundamental change in fishing line that made today's reels possible. What's the point of designing a small reel that can handle everything from billfish to amberjack if all the line is gone on the first run?

Modern Braided Lines Changed the Game

Modern braided lines are both strong and thin, multiplying the line capacity (how many yards a spool can hold) by an average of  four to five times compared to monofilament. That means 50-pound-test has the diameter of between 12 and 15-pound mono, depending on the make of both the braid and the mono. Bottom line is only a really big fish could take all the line off your reel, a humbling experience called "getting spooled."

And by combining braided lines with varying strength leaders/top shots of mono or fluorocarbon, you can cover many saltwater fishing options with a single reel.Shimano's Tranx reel holds 420 yards of 50-pound Power Pro braid and is a hybrid conventional reel that blends a baitcaster style with big reel gearing.

Spinning Or Conventional Reel?

So what are the decisions you have to make right now?

The first decision is spinning or conventional reel. Spinning tackle is more popular along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts and conventional reels get the nod along the West Coast, although charter boats will always have spinning setups available. That's because spinning reels are easier to cast and handle for beginners. Conventional reels offer much more control when hooked up to a fish. Which is why when you move up in class to fish that measure in hundreds and even thousands of pounds, the tackle is invariably conventional.

We can help you make the decision on what is best for you to start, especially once we know where you fish, what kind of boat you fish on and what kind of fish you are trying to catch.

One Size Makes A Good Start

For starters, there's one size setup that can be used to good advantage practically anywhere in the saltwater world: a reel rated for 20 to 30-pound-test mono matched with a medium-heavy 7-foot rod. (Note: rods for spinning and conventional rods are different and you need to match the rod with reel style of your choice.) Practically everything that swims has been caught on just such an outfit and this size tackle is perfect for dorado, mahi-mahi and dolphinfish – which, of course, are three names for the same fish.

Just like one fish can have three names, they almost all come in multiple sizes. Fish grow fast in the ocean, where it's eat or be eaten. A dorado can grow to 60 pounds in just four years. Luckily, the same reel can catch everything from a peanut dorado up to the biggest bull. And it's not just yanking in a small fish on heavy line. You can be species specific since a reel filled with 50-pound braid can be topped off with 20-pound fluorocarbon for finicky albacore or 60- to 80-pound leader to cast baits or lures to bigger tuna or the smaller-class billfish, like sailfish, white marlin and striped marlin.Daiwa's Saltiga spinning reel is Mag Sealed to keep saltwater out.

Changing Leaders And Moving Up

While we can show you connections that make it easy to change your top shots and leaders, you're going to find the first fishing reel you choose will work better for a certain size range of fish and/or style of fishing. A two-speed reel might be better if you're after bigger game, while a single-speed reel with a high gear ratio could be best when using a jigging technique. 

And differing actions and sizes in rods also work better for ranges in fish size and techniques. That's another story and set of choices, especially because you will need to buy another reel. Either way, we're here to help you make the right choice. Let's get you started on the saltwater.