Bottom fishing is an excellent saltwater tactic. You can catch big fish like halibut, flounder, red snapper, and groupers. It's also great for catching big catfish in freshwater. The trick is getting your bait down deep, then having the tackle to pull the fish back up. To do that, you need the right tackle.
In our opinion, the best rig for bottom fishing should consist of a six- to seven-foot casting rod with a heavy action and a high-quality conventional reel. You don’t need to be able to cast a mile; you need to be able to feel a strike and get pressure on the fish quickly. You also need a reel that makes it easy to start reeling the fish in so that you can get it away from structure that can break lines. Let’s look at some of the best bottom fishing reels out there.
Top 7 Best Conventional Reels for Bottom Fishing
Best Overall - Penn Squall Star Drag
The best conventional reel for bottom fishing is the Penn Squall Star Drag. It has a line capacity of 240 yards of seventeen-pound-test monofilament line and a 6:1 gear ratio. It features a star drag that is easy to adjust so you can quickly go from long casts to fighting big fish. This reel has a magnetic brake that makes backlash a thing of the past.
This is a saltwater-ready baitcasting reel with a graphite frame and side plates, bronze alloy main gear, stainless steel pinion gear. All the components are corrosion-resistant. The gears and bearings are precision-machined for smooth operation and long life.
The Penn Squall has plenty of line capacity on the reel. It holds enough line to let you fish deep wrecks and reefs where the big fish are. It features a bait clicker so that you can tell when a fish is pulling the line with a quick anti-reverse engagement.
There is no level wind on this reel, so you must keep your thumb on the reel as you bring in line. This makes it a first-rate caster as well. If you want to use the same setup for both bottom fishing and surfcasting, the Penn Squall Star Drag is a great choice.
Best Value - KastKing Rover
If you are on a budget, the Rover 60 from KastKing is our choice. It will hold 250 yards of sixteen-pound-test mono line and features a 5.3:1 gear ratio. It also features a star drag system that uses carbon fiber washers. It uses a centrifugal brake to prevent backlashes.
This reel has lots of features found on much more expensive models. It’s a terrific blend of capability and value. The side plates and spool of the Rover 60 are made from anodized aluminum, while the worm gear shaft is made of machined brass. The bearings and other internal components are made of stainless steel. Everything is corrosion-resistant; this reel is ready to hit the saltwater.
It has an all-metal level wind system to lay the line evenly on the spool as you reel. You give up some casting distance, but it's elementary to operate. The reduced casting distance is not so important in bottom fishing.
Unlike many other conventional reels, the Rover 60 comes in both right- and left-hand models. It has a bait clicker with an easy off button. This is a great all-around reel. If you’re on a budget in can only afford one reel for saltwater fishing, the Rover 60 is a great choice. It’s the best conventional reel for the money. It will pair excellently with a good catfish rod.
Best Premium - Daiwa Saltist
If money is no object, the Daiwa Saltist star-drag reel is the way to go. It will hold 270 yards of 14-pound test monofilament, although it was designed from the ground up for braided line. It features a 6.4:1 gear ratio for blistering fast retrieves. It uses a star drag adjustment and has a centrifugal brake for the spool.
The entire reel is made from machined aluminum with an anodized finish. There’s nothing in this reel that can be corroded by saltwater, and the aluminum is tough enough to hold up for years.
The Daiwa Saltist uses both ball and roller bearings. This is one of the smoothest reels around; it has the highest gear ratio we looked at. The Saltist lets you really crank the line in. That's nice for jigging or covering lots of water. It’s also handy when you hook a big fish in structure – you can bring in a lot of line before the fish has a chance to get tangled up and break the line.
While it is the most expensive real that we looked at, the Daiwa Saltist is exceptionally well-made and durable. It could very well be the last conventional saltwater reel you buy.
Penn Squall LevelWind
This reel also made our "best baitcasting reels" list, simply because it's a pleasure to use and the overall quality is evident.
The Squall Level Wind Reel from Penn is nearly identical to our best overall reel. It has a line capacity of 280 yards of 15-pound mono, just a little more than the Squall Star Drag. It also includes a level wind system. The level wind is a small guide for the line that slides back and forth as you reel. This guarantees that the line is loaded onto the spool smoothly and that it lays level.
The level wind system increases friction on the spool and reduces casting distance. On the other hand, a level wind system means you don’t have to worry about the line is you reel in. You’ll have to decide for yourself if you want the extra casting distance or more straightforward operation. The Squall Level Wind reel is great for bottom fishing, trolling, or jigging. The Star Drag is a little better for bottom fishing and much better for surfcasting.
The Squall Level Wind features the same internals as the Squall Star Drag. Like that reel, everything is corrosion resistant and saltwater ready. Penn has been making reels for a long time and has an excellent reputation for quality. There are lots of pros who trust Peen reels.
Daiwa Seagate SGT50H Saltwater Conventional Reel
Another great choice is the Seagate conventional saltwater reel from Daiwa. This model is a little heavier than the others we reviewed, with the spool capacity of 350 yards of 30-pound test monofilament. Like the Daiwa Saltist, it has a fast 6.4:1 gear ratio. It features carbon fiber drag washers and a centrifugal brake system.
It has an anodized aluminum frame, a composite body, and brass gears. It’s corrosion proof and ready for the ocean. It may not be quite as durable as the Daiwa Saltist, but it will still hold up for a long time.
The Seagate is a true deep-sea reel. It’s a terrific choice for bottom fishing in the open ocean, and the big spool has a high line capacity. This means even you fish the deepest wrecks, you’ll still have line to spare when a big fish makes a run. It's probably a little too big for surfcasting or fishing from a pier.
If you want an all-around reel, you should pass on the Daiwa Seagate. On the other hand, if you spend most of your time fishing deep water, or if you want a dedicated reel for the open ocean, it’s a great choice.
Penn Rival Level Wind
Another bargain reel is the Penn Rival level-wind reel. This reel costs about the same as the KastKing Rover. The spool will hold a whopping 320 yards of 15-pound mono. This is the highest line capacity of any of the 15-pound reels we reviewed. The Daiwa Seagate and Fin-Nor Lethal hold more line, but they are beefier reels designed for bigger fish. It has a 5.1:1 gearing and a level wind attachment.
The body of this reel is graphite with an aluminum frame. These materials won’t hold up as well as some of the other reels listed here, but it’s still a solid performer. This is a good choice for an occasional angler. However, it does have the same drag washers as the other Penn reels we have discussed.
It’s also the best choice of the reels here for freshwater work. Since freshwater won’t corrode metal like saltwater, there's no need for the more expensive brass, bronze, and stainless steel parts in a freshwater reel.
The Penn Rival comes in left- and right-hand retrieve models. It also features line capacity rings that let you know how much line is left on the spool. That’s handy when a big fish is stripping line out – you’ll always know how close you are to hitting the end of the reel.
Fin-Nor Lethal Star Conventional Reel
Our last conventional reel for bottom fishing is the Lethal star drag reel from Fin-Nor. It will hold 350 yards of 20-pound test line. It has a 6.2:1 gear ratio. The gears are bronze and stainless steel, while the bearings are ceramic. It does not have a level wind feature. The drag washers are carbon fiber.
The Lethal from Fin-Nor is the second most substantial reel we looked at, behind the Daiwa Seagate. It's still light enough to be a combo surf/bottom fishing reel, but it's a little better at the deep work that at surfcasting. Even so, it's a solid choice for an all-around saltwater reel.
It features an aluminum body, spool, and frame. All the aluminum is coated to prevent corrosion. The Fin-Nor Lethal is meant mainly for bottom fishing, but the design also allows smooth casting and solid all-around performance. This reel is a fine choice for a one-rod angler who prefers the deep stuff but also spends some time surfcasting.
Fin-Nor is one of the first companies to make deep-sea reels, all the way back in 1933. Deep-sea anglers have trusted these reels ever since then. Over 900 International Game Fish Association records have been set with Fin-Nor reels.
What Is a Conventional Reel?
Conventional fishing reels got their name because they have the oldest design of any reel type. (Check out other reel types here). They have a line spool that sits perpendicular to the length of the rod. These reels are mounted on top of the rod. The differences in spinning reels and conventional reels are apparent. The difference between baitcasters and conventional reels is less clear.
Most of the differences in these two types of reels are internal. The reason for the divergence comes down to location. Baitcasters are designed for freshwater fishing. They are all about accuracy and give the angler the most control over where the lure lands.
Conventional reels are meant for saltwater work. The design is all about casting distance. Freshwater is often small, and fish hold tight around structure. IT takes careful casting to get the lures in front of the fish. Casting into the ocean is all about distance. Conventional reels are optimized for long casts and fast retrieval.
Conventional reels are also made from the highest quality materials. Saltwater is corrosive, and it will eat up most metals. Conventional reels use stainless steel, brass, bronze, and carbon fiber to stand up to the worst the ocean has to offer.
What Is Bottom Fishing?
As the name suggests, bottom fishing is a tactic that targets fish at the bottom of the water. Some of the biggest predatory fish hang out at the bottom of the water, waiting for prey. Whether it's grouper, snapper, and halibut in the ocean or giant catfish in freshwater, the bottom is a great place to find big fish.
To fish on the bottom, you need a reel with plenty of line on the spool. It can take a lot of line to reach the bottom of deep bodies of water, and you need plenty of extra line on the spool. If you catch a big fish, you need enough additional line on the reel to let the fish make runs without hitting the end of the line.
All standard bottom fishing rigs feature a hook, bait, and a sinker. The sinker is essential – it's what takes the hook and bait all the way to the bottom. Bigger is better when attaching a weight for bottom fishing. Egg sinkers and pyramid sinkers are popular for bottom fishing because they have shapes that don’t snag on structure.
Hooks for bottom fishing are usually dropper-rigged, with the hook hanging from a short leader just above the weight. This lets the bait and hook move with the current or ocean tide. Two and three hook sets are common to increase your chance of attracting a fish.
Bait for bottom fishing varies with the water and local conditions. Minnows native to the location are standard bottom fishing baits everywhere. Shrimp are a very common saltwater bait, while earthworms are widespread in freshwater.
Best Rigs for Bottom Fishing?
One popular rig for bottom fishing is the knocker rig. It uses a long leader tied to a barrel swivel. The hook is at the tip of the leader, and an egg sinker slides freely in the middle. The egg sinker can slip over snags easily. And since the sinker slides freely, the fish won’t feel any resistance when it takes the bait.
Three-Way Swivel Rig
Wreck fishing works well with the three-way swivel rig. The line is tied to a swivel with three eyes. The hook is tied one eye with a short leader, and the sinker is knotted to the other. The leader for the weight is made from line much lighter than the main line or hook leader. If the sinker snags on the wreck, the first line to break will be the light sinker leader. You’ll get your hook (and maybe a fish) back even if it snags.
Running Ledger Rig
When fishing from an anchored boat in the tide, the running ledger rig is favored. This rig uses a flat-bottomed sinker at the end of the line with two hooks on dropper loops above that. The weight will sit on the bottom and hold steady against the tide, while the hooks on droppers will sway in the current.
If you are fishing from the shore or a pier, you can use a paternoster rig to avoid snags and let your line have a better action. The paternoster uses the same arrangement of hooks and weight as the running leger, but the weight is widest at the top and narrowest at the bottom. The pointed weight will release quickly from snags on the bottom.
Why Is a Conventional Reel Great for Bottom Fishing?
Bottom fishing may seem simple, but it presents some unique challenges. It involves long distances, substantial (and invisible) structure, and big fish. Each factor requires unique features in a reel; distance is the easiest factor to visualize. In the ocean, the bottom can be a long way down. You need plenty of line on the spool to carry your hood to the bottom.
Structure is a little harder to picture. Bottom fishing is often conducted around reefs and wrecks. There are lots of things down there that can snag the line and result in a break. You can’t see any of it, so there’s no way to avoid it. The best way to keep the fish from breaking the line is a fast gearing that can get the fish away from the structure fast.
Finally, bottom fishing often leads to big fish. These fish usually weigh many times the strength of the line, which means you must let them fight the drag and tire out. Hooking a fish that’s able to strip line against the drag means you need even more line on the spool.
A reel with a big spool – a huge one – and a high gearing is needed for bottom fishing. Conventional reels check these boxes ideally. These reels are now made with other features that make them even better for bottom fishing. All the reels reviewed here use star drag, which is easy to adjust while you are fighting a big fish. Many conventional reels also have lever drag, which is also easy to adjust on the fly.
Conventional reels usually have a bait click feature. There's no good way to attach a bobber or strike indicator when you are fishing on the bottom of the ocean. Instead, the reel is set so that the fish can pull line off the reel when it takes the bait. The reel will click as this happens. Hearing those clicks is your signal to set the hook and reel in.
The bait click feature on conventional reels is loud enough to hear over the surf, and it's easy to turn off. After all, you don't want the fish to be able to pull out line at will. If you hook a big grouper, you need to get him fighting the drag as soon as possible.
Conventional reels are great for bottom fishing in fresh and saltwater. They are also terrific all-around reels for saltwater anglers. The reels we listed here have the spool capacity, corrosion resistance, and high gear ratios needed to winch big fish off the bottom of the ocean.
When choosing one of these reels, you should consider your budget, what kind of fishing you will focus on, and how often you will use the reel. A bigger reel is best for anglers who focus on bottom fishing in deep water. In contrast, a smaller reel might work better for someone who mixes surfcasting and bottom fishing. Casual anglers may want a level wind feature to simplify things, while hard-core fishers may wish to skip that feature in favor of longer casts.
One note for first-time buyers of conventional reels: they take practice. Like baitcasters, these reels need some control from the angler to avoid backlashes. When you get one, make sure to practice with it before your big trip. A snarled reel in practice is bad enough, but it's even worse when you are picking line, and everyone else is catching fish.
Whatever you decide, any of these reels is a great choice. You can put one on your rod with confidence and get to fishing. Pick a reel, check the tide charts, and get to fishing. Good luck!
(If you prefer clear mountain streams to deep-sea excursions, check out our guide to trout fishing here.)