Choosing a Salt Water Fishing Reel
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While rods are the most essential element in fishing, reels run a close second in the saltwater environment. Unlike freshwater fishermen, who can get serviceable production from practically any reel on the market, saltwater anglers need to give a little bit more consideration when choosing a reel.

Spinning

Spinning reels are very popular because they are easy to use, cast for good distance and are not affected by high wind conditions (as much as baitcasters). In addition, they are inexpensive and work well with light line.

On the flip side, spinning reels are prone to line tangles and twists, particularly if the line is not spooled correctly. They are also considerably heavier and bulkier than casting reels. However, all things considered, spinning reels are the best choice for beginners, or any anglers who routinely cast light lures in high winds.

Spinning reels come in both front and rear drag models. The front drag version, although often more expensive, is more reliable and able to house a larger drag surface with more direct contact with the spool. Whichever style spinning reel you choose, make sure it is made of corrosion resistant components, i.e.: graphite, aluminum, stainless, etc.

Since spinning reels are inherently large, for bayfishing, choose the smallest version that is capable of holding 100 yards of your chosen line weight.

One last note, spinning reels are often fitted with graphite or composite spools. Under heavy pressure, monofilament, and certainly braided lines, can cut into these spools. If you have any intention of chasing large fish, choose a model with an aluminum spool.

Baitcasters

Baitcasting reels can be intimidating to those unaccustomed to using them. However, modern day models are simple to master and actually provide more distance than spinning models in capable hands. Most models have some sort of “anti-backlash” control that allows a novice to adjust to the nuances of the reel with a safety-net of sorts.

Baitcasters are also extremely accurate and offer direct contact on the retrieve, which is handy when working big fish from heavy cover. However, baitcasters do take some practice and are basically useless when using lures under ¼ ounce. And, at some point, anyone who has ever thrown one has experienced a “backlash” or line snarl. But there again, once mastered, the baitcast reel is actually less prone to line tangles than a spinning reel which have inherently more line twist.

Unlike spinning reels, where a number of inexpensive `freshwater' models, the majority of baitcasting reels on the market today are capable of inshore saltwater fishing. The biggest difference in the more expensive models is how smooth they cast. Again, avoid the low-end reels that utilize graphite spools, but otherwise any baitcaster capable of holding 100 plus yards of 10 pound test is a safe bet in the bay.

Surf

When choosing a surf reel, the same considerations given to a bay reel should be kept in mind. However, in the surf environment it is even more important to be corrosion resistant since the reel will often get submerged in the rolling suds.

In addition, drag and line capacity is at a premium. Whether choosing a spinning or casting model, make sure it can hold at least 250 yards of 20 pound test.

Spinning models are the most popular, primarily because they are less expensive and more readily available. However, there are several capable versions in the baitcast lineup. Given that this type of fishing usually consists of casting heavy rigs, there is really no discernable performance difference when casting. However, for larger fish, such as sharks, baitcast models are a bit sturdier for winching fish in.

Fly

This is probably the one item that anglers consistently overspend on. Although none of the top drawer fly reels are inexpensive, rarely is such a high quality product needed for inshore fishing.

Essentially, there are two types of drag systems utilized in fly reel construction: spring-and-pawl (single-action or clicker) and disc drag. Saltwater fishermen really only need to concern themselves with the disc drag type reels. If you already have a spring-and-pawl rig capable of handling 7, 8, or 9 weight line, it will suffice for getting started with specks, reds and flounder. However, for long-term durability and performance, it is wise to invest in a disc drag reel.

Fly reel bodies are made from a variety of materials, with machined aluminum being the best, followed by forged aluminum and, finally, graphite. Each has its good qualities and for light inshore duty, any will serve the purpose. However, if you intend to pursue stronger fish such as jacks, snook and small tarpon, the aluminum products will hold up much better.
Find a reel that is capable of holding your chosen line weight, plus 150 yards of 20 pound Dacron backing. The drag need not stop a truck, but needs to be smooth and have a low start-up inertia (amount of energy it takes to get the spool moving).
Again, modern manufacturing techniques have allowed the prices of mid-range fly reels to plummet. Find something you can afford and put the excess money in a good rod and line.

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