As always, we test out products before recommending them to you. We tested different surfing reels for surf fishing. In this guide, we've narrowed down the 10 best surf fishing reels in 2020.
Shore fishing of any sort involves challenges that are unique from fishing out of a boat, and so it requires equipment that is specialized to the task. This is doubly true for saltwater surf fishing.
You’ll need a rod and reel designed with the unique needs of surf fishing in mind. That may start with a focus on casting, but it also includes an eye towards the sheer versatility you’ll need from your shore fishing equipment.
Once you’ve picked out your surf fishing rod, you’ll need a reel that’s up to the unique and rewarding situations that you’re going to put it through. We’ve collected the best surf fishing reels for a variety of budgets and levels of expertise below.
The Shimano Ultegra strikes the best possible balance between quality and price. It’s going to offer you an excellent experience without needing to get into the higher premium tiers, and even beats out several higher-priced options in performance and features.
It uses a unique construction to shift the center of gravity as close to the rod as possible, creating a more ergonomic combination and making casting over extended periods of time more comfortable and sustainable.
It also has several features that, combined, allow for both smoother and longer casts. The center of gravity being closer to the rod also brings the body of the reel in position to release the line perfectly parallel with the rod up to the first guide. The lip of the spool is designed using Shimano’s proprietary propulsion spool design, which prevents snares and interference, and provides greater casting distances.
Dollar for dollar it’s the most versatile and durable reel on the market, and precisely what most surf anglers will be looking for.
If you’re new to surf fishing, or still trying to decide if it’s for you, you’re looking for a reel that provides the best value for the money. Something that’s not going to break the bank if you decide surf fishing isn’t for you, but that won’t be the reason you decide it’s not for you either.
That’s why the KastKing Sharky III is our choice for the best value and best entry-level surf reel.
It’s a lightweight reel that’s suitable for both saltwater and freshwater fishing. They use a triple-disc carbon fiber mechanism that delivers up to 40 pounds of drag. That, combined with the reinforced graphite body, deliver excellent strength and performance for the price.
All of Kastking’s reels are sealed with a special sealant that protects water and dirt from getting inside and fouling up the mechanism. The extra protection makes them a great value, especially for beginning anglers, or young ones who might be prone to fumbles.
Penn’s Spinfisher VI is far from the most expensive reel on the market, but it’s pretty much the last point before you start hitting diminishing returns on the money you spend. Anything beyond this is going to start getting into extremely specific uses and features that are mostly only meaningful to people who have exact locations and types of fish in mind.
This reel is all about balance and versatility. It uses precise machining to allow you to cast over extremely long distances.
It comes with four (count ‘em, four) presets for rear drag adjustment that deliver on-the-fly adjustments to handle all different sizes of fish. These presets can also be adjusted.
Its all-metal body is coated with their special IPX5 coating, meaning the reel itself is extremely sturdy and also protected from grime and spray.
It might be a bit higher price-wise but the best option if you’ve decided that surf fishing is 100% your thing.
Another offering from Penn, the 5000LC Conflict II focuses more heavily on long-distance casting.
They use the same machining techniques as the Spinfisher but instead uses a resin body and carbon fiber for the construction. This makes it a much more lightweight option, and one that allows for repeated distance casting.
Even for such a lightweight reel (the 5000LC comes in at under a pound, and similar versions in the same line below half a pound), you’re not sacrificing durability or strength. It still offers up to 20 lbs of drag strength, and all moving parts are made from high strength carbon fiber.
It doesn’t have quite as much versatility as the higher-up offering from Penn on this list, but its singular focus on cast distance makes it a worthwhile option surf fishing where that’s a top priority.
The Rockaway surf reel combines metal and graphite construction to deliver a long-distance casting rig that’s at one light and durable.
It’s also got a great line capacity, up to 375 yards of a 12lb monofilament.
It doesn’t use an external sealant to prevent moisture from getting into the inner workings, rather a proprietary rotor technology designed to sweep the water away from the mechanisms. The external plates are graphite, to resist corrosion over the long term.
The drag weight is up to 26 pounds, putting it at the higher end of the options on this list as well.
Overall, it’s a solidly constructed reel, and there’s nothing left to be desired on its casting ability. The gear system has fast retrieve, so if you find yourself getting worn out more by winding your line in than casting, it’s a solid choice.
There’s nothing bad to be said about the Penn Wrath. It wouldn’t be the third offering from Penn on our list if there was. It’s a perfectly serviceable reel, especially for its price range.
The body is an all-graphite construction which means it’s got a great balance of weight and durability, and corrosion will be the least of your concerns. The spool is aluminum and offers a similar strength of weight and balance. Overall, it weighs less than a pound (12.5 ounces, approximately) so you won’t be slowed down.
The drag weight is a bit on the lower side, as is the line capacity, so it’s probably not the greatest option for long-range casting or serious saltwater surf fishing.
It’s a great entry-level option for people looking to explore their options for surf fishing, or who might be fishing in freshwater or more sheltered areas.
With Shimano’s second appearance on this list, we’re getting back into the realm of serious kit. It’s certainly a premium option, but definitely worth the money.
One of the things you might notice right out of the gate is that it’s got a 7-pound max drag weight, one of the lowest on this list, meaning that if you opt for this, you’re going to have to seriously focus on technique.
If you’ve got your technique down though, the Shimano Stradic Ci4+ has everything going to help you with that. Everything about the gearing and construction is designed to reduce friction and provide a perfectly smooth experience for both casting and reeling.
It’s also one of the lightest on this list. All told, the reel comes in at under 6 ounces, so that combined with all of Shimano’s proprietary technology means that this is a fantastic reel. The only thing keeping it from being higher on this list is that it’s not a very beginner-friendly option.
The SeaKnight Rapid Saltwater Spinning Reel is a fantastic value option for beginning saltwater surf anglers. It’s got a fully sealed aluminum body, making it a strong, durable, and corrosion-resistant option.
It uses six washers, three carbon, three aluminum to deliver up to 33 pounds of drag, putting it on the high end of this list for that category.
It’s surprisingly lightweight as well. It uses hollow, machined aluminum for a lot of its key parts, keeping the final product well below a pound.
The rest of its products are carefully machined and calibrated as well, and a combination of carbon and aluminum, striking a great balance between weight, strength, and smoothness. All essential factors for saltwater surf fishing.
For the price range, it’s one of the best saltwater specific options you get. It’s another great starting point, and one you won’t need to replace for quite some time.
Okay, let’s get this out of the way. Yes, it looks like your grandpa’s reel. No, it’s not your grandpa’s reel.
The low profile President XT is another shockingly lightweight entry on this list. A half a pound total, combined with the center of gravity you naturally get with a reel of this size and shape means that you’re almost not going to feel this reel is there in terms of casting.
The full aluminum body means this is a strong, durable option.
The handles are soft and rubberized. The controls can be easily and quickly adjusted. Overall, this is a very friendly reel. If you’re used to a different style, it might take some adjustment, if this is your first foray into surf fishing or fishing in general, this is going to be a very comfortable place to start.
The line capacity is a bit low, and a lot of the mechanisms are internal and there’s not much in the way of sealing on those parts. It’s a much better option for freshwater than saltwater.
It’s also only available in a right-hand model (sorry lefties).
You wouldn’t be entirely wrong to think of Quantum’s Cabo PT as the premium version of the SeaKnight Rapid. That’s going to get me some hate from purists, but I stand by it.
It’s really a fantastic reel, specifically built with saltwater fishing in mind. It’s fully sealed and uses mechanisms that shed the water as well. The composition is alternately titanium, ceramic, and carbon fiber all fantastically strong materials, and it shows. Different versions of the Cabo PT offer between 30 and 50 pounds of drag weight, the highest option on this list.
Sadly, it’s also the heaviest. That option with the 50 pound drag weight? It’s well over a pound and coming up quickly on two. That’s really the only offset when it comes to casting, everything else about it delivers a great long-distance casting experience.
If you’re the type of angler that likes to muscle your way through challenges, Quantum had you in mind when they made this one.
You really can’t go wrong with any of the options on this list but, well, there are 10 of them. You’ve still got to narrow it down somehow. Or (heaven forbid) your local shop doesn’t have any of them, you’ve got to know how to pick the next best option. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Surf fishing immediately evokes saltwater, mostly because of the term surf, but technically it can be describing both. So, the first thing to ask yourself is if you’ll be looking at saltwater or freshwater fishing.
The spray and salt of the ocean are going to mean you need a much more durable reel. Carbon and graphite options are going to be good for this, but if it has metal pieces, definitely look for some sort of protective coating.
If you’re going for freshwater fish, you certainly aren’t going to go wrong with a reel specifically aimed at saltwater, but you can afford to be a little less discerning, in terms of protective coating and exterior construction.
There’s a whole lot to be said about drag weight, and we don’t really have time to go over it in depth here. If you’re going after large fish, like most of the best choices for saltwater surf, you’re probably going to want a higher drag weight. Ditto for the larger freshwater options, though for the really big guys you’re probably going to be in a boat, so you could get away with a lower drag weight.
If you’ve got your technique completely down, and really enjoy the thrill of a long fight you can go for a lower drag weight. That Stradic is on the list for a reason, after all.
Generally speaking, you’ll probably want something between 20 and 30 pounds. If you need more or less than that, you already know who you are and why you need it.
If you’re fishing from the shore, you’re probably going to spend more time casting than if you’re going out of a boat. That’s not always the case, I’m aware there are exceptions but have that in mind as a rule of thumb.
Add in the fact that surf fishing rods are typically going to be in excess of 10 feet, which means that you’re going to start feeling any extra weight. That doesn’t mean you should automatically look for the lightest option, but your search should be trending in that direction.
There are tradeoffs to be made in terms of the strength of a reel vs its weight, and your line capacity and other factors are going to come into play there as well. Your best bet is going to be to lock in those features first, then find the lightest rod that meets those criteria.
Also having a reel with a proper center of gravity is definitely going to offset the weight if you opt for a heavier option.
There are a few factors that are going to decide exactly what you’re looking for in terms of your line capacity and gear ration. More isn’t automatically better in either case.
For line capacity, the distance of your cast isn’t going to be the first thing that comes into play. Even the smallest reels on this list are offering well over 200 yards. What you should be looking at instead is how heavy of a line you need, and how much play you’ll need for the fish you expect to be fighting.
If something is going to run like the dickens as soon as you hook it, you need more, if it’s going to do it’s best imitation of a cinderblock, you can get away with less.
The gear ratios are going to determine how quickly your line gets reeled in. For this one, you should be looking at two factors, how often you’ll need to reel a cast in, and how much time you’ll have to reel once you have a fish on the line.
If you’re doing frequently repeated long casts a high gear ratio is good. The same goes if you have a fish that’s going to give you short windows where you need to reel quickly. If it’s more about reeling a line in slowly or a slow and steady fight, lower gears are better.
Typically a spinner reel is going to be your best bet. They cast smoothly and powerfully, and reel in quickly. Much of the mechanism is external, meaning that it dries easily, snags can be easily addressed, and coating can be applied to prevent corrosion.
Within that category, you want something with a fairly high line capacity and a low weight since you’ll be casting far and often. You’ll also want something with a fairly high drag weight to deal with bigger fish who definitely don’t want to come to shallow water once they’re in trouble.
Beyond that, the best reel is going to depend on where and what you’re fishing for. As discussed elsewhere, a saltwater reel usually needs to be sturdier and more waterproofed.
Read our reel types guide if you're unsure about the various types and their uses.
We go into this in some detail here, but as a quick summary, you’re looking for a longer rod, usually at least 8-10 feet, and longer if you’re going for the really big fish. It should be able to cast heavy lures and cast far enough to get out deep enough to where the serious options are.
If you’re just starting out, you may want to consider fishing off a pier, which is going to give you a bit more flexibility, you might even be able to use a short rod that you already have. You’re still looking for at least 7-8 feet though.
There’s a lot to go into here as well. As a general rule, you want something that weighs less than a pound, and that’s capable of holding with at least 200 yards of line.
It’s going to be bigger than what you might use for the fishing you’re used to, but it should still feel light for its size.
Size is also half the battle. You want something with the correct profile and center of gravity so with the weight and extended casting it won’t become burdensome.
High tide is always going to be the best. Simply because more water coming in means that the fish are in closer to the shore (or closer to the pier, or whatever structure you’re fishing from). The best time of high tide is the time approaching the peak tide, the water is moving more, and the currents are pulling fish in.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to picking the right reel for surf fishing, but the basic rules are that you want something light, strong, and durable. Consider not just where you’ll be fishing, but what you’ll be fishing for. Your best bet is going to be to start with a budget-friendly option, possibly even two or three that have several key differences between them, and when you’re ready to upgrade, pick the choice that’s most like what you’ve grown accustomed to.
Surf fishing is a rewarding experience and one that can open up exciting new chapters in your hobby. It simply requires slightly more specialized equipment, and having the right tools can make all the difference.