What's the Best Spinning Reel for Saltwater Fishing?

It's an impossible question to answer of course, as the best spinning reel for one fishing application is likely to be much less successful for another. If there was such a reel, we'd all have it!

But you can't really expect a spinning reel that's perfect for launching a 10oz sinker far out beyond the surf line to be the best spinning reel for jigging a bucktail from a drifting boat.

But it is true that the all top quality spinning reels have a number of design and engineering features in common.

In particular, a smooth and powerful drag system, an on/off anti-reverse mechanism that allows back-winding, a reliable bale arm and - most importantly - an oscillating line lay mechanism that really does what it's supposed to.

Let's examine these essential features in turn, and identify a few of the best spinning reels as we do so.

The Essential Features of the Best Spinning Reels...

Drag Systems

Drag systems are intended to release line to a fish just before it creates enough tension to snap it, and - in theory anyway - a good drag system, properly adjusted will achieve that happy state of affairs.

But when powering-up the rod in a cast, a release of line from the spool is the last thing you want to happen, so it's absolutely vital that you can lock down the drag system completely.

Good quality saltwater spinning reels with the drag adjustment mounted at the front, directly on the spool, can achieve this. Heavy duty freshwater reels - sometimes masquerading as saltwater reels - have the drag adjustment mounted at the back of the reel and probably won't be up to the task.

My advice? Always look for a front-mounted drag when you're comparing the virtues of saltwater spinning reels.

Shimano Stella SW Spinning Reel

Shimano Stella SW Spinning Reel

Shimano's Stella SW spinning reels are the toughest, most powerful, smoothest, and most durable spinning reels ever created by this legendary reel manufacturer.

Could Shimano Stella be the very best saltwater spinning reel?

If price is anything to go by, it's certainly one of them!

Anti-Reverse Mechanism

All saltwater fixed spool reels have this feature - otherwise there wouldn't be much point in being able to lock the drag down tight.

But some reels allow the anti-reverse mechanism to be disengaged, enabling you to backwind the handle in the event that you need to give line when the drag is locked down tight.

So if you're thinking of buying a new saltwater fixed spool reel, this is a feature you might want to look for.

Quantum Cabo PT Spinning Reel

Quantum Cabo PT Spinning Reel

The Quantum Cabo PT saltwater spinning reel is engineered to shed the corrosive effects of saltwater and stand up to the most vicious fights inshore or offshore game fish can dish out. Loaded with Quantum’s legendary PT technology, including 8 PT bearings and super-hard PT gears.

Bale Arm

The bale arm does two things ...

  1. It turns the line through 90 degrees so that it aligns with the transverse spool, and
  2. it rotates around the stationary spool winding on the line as it does so.

During the cast the bale arm folds back out of the way so that the line can escape unhindered from the spool.

Qualities to look for in a bale arm? Just two ...

  1. The bale arm roller must rotate freely under load - and it will need a roller bearing if it's to do so. If it sticks it will wear the line out rapidly and wind the line onto the spool with twists in it - neither of which you need.
  2. It must lock securely in place for the cast, and stay there until either
  • a turn of the reel handle snaps it back into position for the retrieve, or
  • the bale arm is returned manually
Abu Garcia Orra 2 Inshore Spinning Reel

Abu Garcia Orra 2 Inshore Spinning Reel

With an advanced design for harsh, saltwater conditions, Abu Garcia Orra 2 Inshore Spinning Reels combine an IM-C6 carbon body (Model 60 has an all-aluminum body) with an X-Craftic gearbox. This design houses the reel's gears in perfect alignment. Lightweight but rugged, the Orra 2 Inshore Reels feature a machined aluminum, braid-ready spool that prevents superlines from slipping and allows braid to be tied directly to the spool, without the use of a backing.

You'll always find a roller bearing in the bale arm of the best spinning reels.

Oscillating Line Lay Mechanism

It's this mechanical device that moves the bale arm back and forth over the spool as it rotates around it, distributing the line evenly across the spool as it does so.

If you intend to use small diameter braided line, then the line lay must be pretty much perfect, otherwise one coil will embed itself between two adjacent ones which will do nothing to help your casting expectations.

You're far more likely to find the required qualities in a more expensive reel than in a cheap one - not that I expect this pearl of wisdom to come as a surprise to you!

Poor line lay will result in the line building up unevenly across your spool, preventing it flowing smoothly over the rim in the cast and adversely affecting your casting range and accuracy. Not really what you want.

Properly distributed line lay is essential, and will always be built into the best spinning reels.

And finally ...

All saltwater fishing reels are mechanically complex and machined to fine tolerances - or they should be.

But although there are plenty of cheap reels of questionable quality out there, most will turn out to be anything but the bargain they first appeared to be - so choose carefully and buy the best spinning reel you can afford.

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