What to look for in a Saltwater Reel

Discussion in 'Saltwater' started by Kcahill, May 11, 2012.

  1. I did some searching and found information on specific reels but not to much on what to look for in general on purchasing a saltwater reel for larger game fish. I have been browsing manufacturer websites and poking around google and there are just so many options that I am not sure what is really needed.

    I am taking some trips this year that will hopefully put me into stripers, bonefish, and redfish, so an 8wt reel, preferably one with a lifetime warranty, that can stand up to being dragged all over the world(i am not gentle on gear). To this point my largest rod has been a 6wt but I mostly fish 3-5 wt and you dont need much of a reel so this is all kind of foreign.

    Looking at larger reels is kind of intimidating, there are so many options, and a huge price range so I am looking for input. I am not really looking for any specific reel recommendations but more of a you need this type of drag, this option xxxx, blah blah blah, and you want this type of backing etc.

    Thanks in advance for any input.

  2. For my bigger reels (8 and 10wt) I like reels that are fully ported in the arbor - I find this reduces weight, allows for wet backing to dry faster, and it also looks bad ass (which is the most important thing).

    That being said, don't pick out the lightest reel in the size you want: You want the reel to balance the rod, especially in the larger weight classes where your arms are doing more work than they would normally be doing with a 3-5wt.

    Anodized, and a solid drag round it out.
  3. Get ready for 101 different opinions, here’s mine:
    DUPLICATION: Never go on a saltwater fishing trip with one of anything. I know it’s not as much fun, but if your budget is $800 for a reel, you are much better off with two $400 reels (identical models). Remember, if you are going on a designated fishing trip for a week, you are screwed if your reel breaks on day 2. Even the BEST mechanical devices can fail.
    The best 8 weight reel I’ve ever used (and I own several Charlton’s) is the Waterworks Vanquish. Yet, I would still rather bring two less expensive reels than just one Vanquish. Shit happens. Don’t let it happen to you without a back-up.

    2. MACHINING. Look for a reel that is fully machined. There are actual strength and tolerance benefits to quality machining (vs. ‘cast’ reels) that are worth considering. More importantly, manufacturers generally put better quality drags and components onto reels that they put the money and time into machining.
    FINISH. Any good quality saltwater reel will be ‘anodized’. This is a process that permanently covers the entire surface of the reel to protect it from scratching and corrosion. You will hear a variety of opinions on who makes the best finish, virtually all of them will work well. Some companies (notably Abel Reels) have turned anodizing into an art with colorful graphics and designs. Generally the hardest finishes are actually ‘matte’ and fairly dull to look at.
    DRAG. Since you are shopping for an 8 weight and will be putting relatively minimal pressure on fish, almost any good drag will work. Some favorites are the ‘draw-bar’ traditional cork drags from Tibor and Abel, the Charlton style drag featured on the new Ross F1 and the very popular conical drag system found on the Lamson reels. Remember, this is an 8 weight not a boat wench. (See #5).
    WEIGHT. Weight is very important on rods 10 weight and smaller. You will be casting and carrying these rods quite a bit.
    LARGE ARBOR. Picking up line quickly, even drag pressure, less line memory. We probably don’t have to get into this again.
    MADE IN AMERICA. I’m not saying this just to be patriotic. The best reels in the world are made right here in the states: Abel, Tibor, Lamson, Ross, Bauer, Galvan… Sure there are other good reel manufacturers. But, ask any of the numerous European and Asian fly fisherman who use American made reels because of their superior quality.
    COST. You are going to have to spend some money. Not necessarily $900, but be prepared to shell out a few bucks. I can think of two fully machined, anodized, American made reels that would serve your purposes for under $250 (the Lamson Guru 3.5 and Ross CLA #4).
    WARRANTY. All of the reels that fit the criteria above will have a lifetime warranty.
    SEX APPEAL. You can lie to me and tell us it doesn’t matter, but I won’t believe you. This one I won’t even address, other than to say if you are going to shell out some $$$ for performance, it might as well look good too.
  4. Great info so far!
  5. I have fished for BIG saltwater fish for a number of years. I originally found myself in a similar state, not know- ing much or how much. I started with Ross CLA Reels. They are less than $300 for most sizes. Then I moved up to Ross Big Game reels. Higher price, better drags, etc. As I have gotten to know the sport better, now I am using Tibor reels. They are hard to beat;expensive relatively but with unconditional warranties like the others. I also use Billy Pate reels made by Tibor. They are heavier but bulletproof. You have to decide the species, rod weight, and price range before you can really make an intelligent decision but the better quality reels like Tibor, Abel, and the aforementioned Vanquish are all good, serviceable reels for salt. The Charleton is legendary but super expensive today and also very rare finds as no one who has one wants to part with it and they are no longer made.

    In reality, just about any good quality reel will work but buy the best you can afford, once and in the long run, you will save money and your sanity.
  6. I agree on the duplicates factor, and for the price and tolerances, the Lamson Guru is a great line of reels...
  7. I've always had good luck with my older Ross reels, Saltwater IV and Big Game 4,5 & 6's.
    Galvan Torque has work great as well. There are lots of excellent choices out there.
    I won't mention the brand of the reel that failed me on a bonefish trip. I'm glad I had back-ups.
    Nothing like having the drag knob freeze up the first day and the handle fall off the next day while playing a 5 lb bonefish. Got to love having to strip in a bonefish.
  8. Every review I have read for the Billy Pate reels says bulletproof, so that is where I am leaning. It looks like the only thing I am really giving up with that reel is that they are a little heavier and they dont really have the sex appeal. But if it works everytime I can give that up. I also like that at the pricepoint I can buy one new and pick up one used(since they are bulletproof) as back up and still not break the bank.

    And as far as the rest goes it all depends on where I am working that year, last year I spent time in some great trout country, this year it looks like I will have a shot at red-fish, stripers and maybe some Hawaii bones in December so I want to get a nice 8wt set up.
  9. Never heard of an Abel, Ross, Galven or B Pate failing.
    When you hook something that makes your heart
    pound, all you want to worry about is your knots.
    Not your reel.

  10. Hi,
    I have to agree with anil's post. See point 8. I own a bunch of lamsons and a few ross cla's. For the fishing you are describing the drag of the lamson or the cla from ross will be fine. (for other fish- tarpon dorado sailfish a heavier reel with more drag and expense is often necessary) Of the lamsons, I do not own a Guru but have several litespeeds and velocities. The extra cost for the litespeed is probably not worth it as they are similar reels but the litespeed is lighter than the velocity and guru but both the velocity and guru are plenty light. My Impression is that the CLA from ross has a more powerful drag. But it is heavier. I usually use the lamsons. Both companies offer lifetime warranties and I have never had a problem with them fixing a reel for me. I have some heavier reels similar to the billy pate but almost never use them for the fish you describe as they are too heavy for my likes.

    Good luck.
  11. Billy Pate reels are coming onto the used market now and you can pick up a good one for $300 - $400 on e-bay. The owners , for the most part, take really good care of them and when you buy one, it's usually in pretty good shape. I picked up a BP Bonefish model a few months back for $250. It's in great shape with little sign of wear. Now I have to find some bonefish.:)
  12. I have found that most of the modern reels won't even balance my 5wt or 8wt rods in the sizes that the manufacturer recommends. I find that they are several ounces too light and the rod is really tip heavy. I was pretty surprised how big I needed to go to balance my 8wt (like OVER 10 oz's!!). I would imagine a 10wt would need a pretty heavy real to balance on the cork. Do you prefer a lighter reel for the reduced overall weight of the setup or is there some other reason that you prefer to go light? OR, do you go tip heavy on a saltwater rig so that the tip of the rod is down on the water when you are stripping?

    I ask, because like the OP, I am trying to put together a saltwater setup (10wt). I can get a CLA 6 or 7 for under $200, which is right in line with my budget, and the weights are right in line with what would balance the rod.
  13. 5shot,
    it is just personal preference that I do not like casting the weight of the heavy reels. For instance if you are blind casting on the beaches or from a boat around here in the salt or on a river, you can do alot of casting in a day. Adding a couple of ounces to the reel makes a differnce to me as far as having my arm tire out. I own a Tibor which I got from my dad and a Nautilus 10. I usually only use those in certain circumstances when I won't be doing alot of casting but when the drag is really important. The CLA I have (can't rmember which number) is a good reel and is still a few ounces lighter than the Tibor and Nautilus. (I am not saying the CLA is a better reel than the Nautilus or Tibor, just that around here I use it more).

  14. Thanks for the explanation Mike. I find that I get a lot of fatigue in my forearm trying to keep the tip up if the reel is too light. I see that on some of the Loop Rods that you can get a weighted butt to help balance the rod with a light reel. Given the distance from your hand to the butt, you can add a lot less weight than you would at the reel and have it balance. I am not sure why that isn't an option on every rod out there.
  15. I have a 10 wt. Xi2. I balance it with a Ross Momentum 6. It's the reel that replaced the BG-6. I like it very much and it has plenty of spunk for anything you can catch around here and several other places as well. I've used it in Mexico and while I might not want to tackle a big sail fish on the outfit, by accident, it could probably do the job. It is plenty enough for small tuna and dorado but I prefer to use a 12 wt. just to make it easier on me and the fish.
  16. Just an FYI...Although Jack passed away last year, Charlton reels are still manufactured and assembled right here in Washington.


    Stunning, incredibly reliable reels. Edco, Inc., owner of Solitude reels, does a lot of the CNC work. A lot of the drag system design in Solitude reels came from Jack's insight and assistance.

    The WWL Vanquish that Anil mentions is an absolutely awesome reel.

    I love nice fly reels. Super great information and suggestions here.
  17. Interesting. I had heard that they were no longer being made. I knew Jack had passed but had thaought that they discontinued building the reels on his death. Glad to hear they are still being made.
  18. Duplicates is such a good point. Last year I was in Belize for a week. Early in the vacation I had a very popular high-end 12 wt. reel lock up on me after hooking a 100+ # tarpon. Snapped the backing (not even at a knot). Just goes to show, there's no assurances with any gear, no matter how much you pay for it. If you fish long enough, the back ups will come in handy, no matter how much you're thinking/hoping you won't need them.
  19. Steve, thanks for the additional information and you are indeed correct.

    The "original" Charlton reels, i.e.- pre 2003-2004, when SA/3M owned the company/design/rights/whatever were the original. Jack's newer Mako reel prototypes, post SA/3M, were CNC'd by Edco in Mt. Vernon. Secondary to his quest, these newer reels were initially machined in Bellingham for some time.

    Because of the intricacies, detail and workmanship required to satisfy Jack's requirements, the CNC work came back to Edco where the machining is still done today. Mako remains a small specialty reel manufacturer and Judy, Jack's spouse, is now the mainstay of the company.

    Jack did not play a part in Edco's Solitude drag system design as I originally thought; however, he was a part of the refinement in their polishing processes pre- and post-anodizing.

    Man, I really love nice saltwater reels. The Nautilus No. 12, Solitude's SR 5 and the old "made in the USA" 3400D come to mind. We head for the Gulf Coast tomorrow and I'll be glad to hopefully put some of these reels to work.

    Duplicates or a few but definitely not just one.
  20. I just received my new Tibor Signature 11/12. It's as smooth as glass and way oversized compared to other models. It it a larger diameter than the Momentum 8 that I use for Tuna. It has a very large ported spool and I assume it will hold 300-400 yards of backing plus my line. I paired it with a 12 wt. Xi3. I can hardly wait to get into a big dorado with that outfit.

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