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The Best Saltwater Baitcasting Reels For The Money (Reviews and Buyers Guide)

Baitcasting reels have the capability of delivering where spinning reels cannot. The same is true in both freshwater and saltwater applications. In this article, we’re taking a close look at what I’ve found to be 5 of the best saltwater baitcaster reels.

Saltwater Baitcaster Reels Mentioned in This Article

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What I love about saltwater fishing is the versatility of it.  Inshore fishing, deep sea fishing, kite fishing, bottom fishing and a hundred other kinds of fishing that can be done in the ocean.  

The other awesome thing about saltwater fishing is the insane variety of fish that can be caught.  For example, you can jig for herring for an hour, then head out and use that herring as bait to fish for salmon, halibut, tuna, or jigging for lingcod.

But what can make or break your saltwater fishing trip is the fishing gear you use. It’s absolutely critical that you use the right kind of gear for the right kind of fishing conditions.

And when I’m fishing on the ocean, there’s very specific gear I like to use. And when it comes to what kind of fishing reels I prefer to use, in saltwater I prefer to use baitcasting reels.

Sure, I use spinning reels as well, especially when I’m jetty fishing. But generally speaking, if I’m fishing off a boat in the ocean, I prefer to use a saltwater baitcaster.

dorado fish jumping out of the saltwater ocean

Introduction

The purpose of putting this post together is to help you narrow down your search for the best saltwater baitcasting reel. There’s a ton of them out there, and you can quickly become overwhelmed.  So I narrowed the search down to what I believe to be the best baitcasting reels for saltwater, specifically.

I also narrowed it down even further, based on what kind of saltwater fishing you use your baitcaster for. The categories I broke them down into are:

  • Best Inshore Baitcaster
  • Best Offshore Baitcaster
  • Best Deep Sea Trolling Baitcaster
  • Best Saltwater Low Profile Baitcasting Reel

Let’s jump right into the baitcasting reel reviews.

The Best Saltwater Baitcasting Reel (Reviews)

 

Best Offshore Baitcasting Reels

1. Penn Squall LevelWind   (Best Deep Sea Trolling Baitcaster)

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The penn squall Levelwind is unquestionably my favorite on this entire list. And I have no hesitation recommending it as the best baitcasting reel, especially for offshore fishing applications.

This round baitcasting reel is a lightweight reel that has the guts and brawn that you’re looking for in an offshore fishing reel, particularly if you plan on trolling. The penn squall is the all-around best saltwater baitcasting reel for charter boats, hauling in trophy fish at saltwater tournaments or simply fighting fish for fun out on the open water on your own boat.

Two-Speed System

The penn squall is equipped with a two-speed system which provides the ability to toggle between high retrieval speed and low retrieval speed instantly so you can adapt to the movements of your prey efficiently and easily. To shift gears, all you have to to do is bump the shift knob button for low speed or twist it for high speed. All that without letting go of the handle. 

It doesn’t get much more user friendly than that. This feature really comes in handy for reeling in long distances and the Dura-drag system practically eliminates hesitation or snags even in the most intense of fights.

Integrated Line Capacity Rings

One of my favorite features of this conventional saltwater reel are the line capacity rings marked at ⅓, ⅔, and full capacity.  With these integrated markers, at a glance you can quickly see how much line is remaining when your fish decides to make a run and peel off loads of line.

Stainless Steel Ball Bearings

On top of that, the stainless steel ball bearings make the cranking of this reel silky smooth and practically eliminates any back-play. What you’re left with is a steady reeling experience that is just excellent for hauling in big game fish.

This reel packs a boat load of power, it’ll will pass the test of time if you care for it right and for the price it is an absolute steal.  

Features Of The penn squall Saltwater Reel

  • Squall level wind built to handle extreme conditions and wear
  • Line capacity markers to let you know how much line you have left. 1/3, 2/3 or a full spool.
  • Durable yet lightweight graphite frame and side plates
  • Forged and machined aluminum spool
  • Heavy-duty marine grade bronze alloy main gear
  • Stainless steel pinion gear
  • HT-100 carbon fiber drag washers provide smooth drag under heavy loads
  • Instant anti-reverse bearing with silent backup ratchet

2. Abu Garcia C4-6601 Ambassadeur Round Baitcast Fishing Reel   

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Abu Garcia has been making Ambassadeur fishing reels since the early 1950s. And the fine folks over at Abu Garcia have continued the tradition with the C4 Ambassadeur.

The C4 features a lot of Abu Garcia’s best technology in what can easily be described as the hardest working reel on the market today.

Castability

What I really like most about the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C4 is in how well this reel casts. The C4 features a 6 pin centrifugal brake system which gives the casting reel consistent brake pressure throughout the entire cast.

4+1 Bearings

The reel also features at total of 5 bearings; 4 stainless steel bearings plus 1 roller bearing. The result? A silky smooth retrieve. Keep in mind, however, that when compared to the low profile baitcaster reels in this post, the retrieve is not quite as smooth as those.

Carbon Matrix Drag System

The Carbon Matrix Drag System gives you smooth, consistent drag pressure. And the brass Dura Gears hold up to any hard cranking abuse you can throw at it.  The Ambassadeur is rated with a max drag setting of 15 lbs. And just because the Ambassadeur C4 has a classic reel look to it, don’t be fooled. The C4 features a modern drag system of aluminum disks and carbon fiber that can compete against the best of baitcasting reels. Over and over, users of the reel report that the performance of the C4’s drag system is very smooth and consistent.

Available in five different sizes, the Ambassadeur C4 targets a wide range of offshore saltwater fish species. The Ambassadeur increased line capacity allows you to spool it with your favorite monofilament or braid. After pairing it with your favorite saltwater casting rod and you’ll be ready for a great time out on the water.

Features Of The Ambassadeur C4:

  • Advanced Carbon Matrix Drag System
  • Four Stainless Steel Ball Bearings + 1 Roller Bearing
  • Compact Bent Handle and Drag Star
  • Six Pin Centrifugal Brake System
  • Synchronized Levelwind System
  • Duragear II Gear System

Best Saltwater Low Profile Baitcasting Reel

3. SHIMANO TRANX, LowProfile Baitcasting Fishing Reel (Offshore/Trolling) 

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With a different body style than the previous two saltwater baitcasting reel reviews, the Shimano Tranx 500 just might be the highest performing most powerful low profile saltwater baitcasting reel ever made.

The Shimano Tranx 500 baitcasting reel is was designed specifically for those of us that want to target larger offshore species of fish, but still want the features of a low profile design. As one person put it, the Shimano Tranx 500 is a bass reel made for tuna and billfish. As you know, these large gamefish will make massive runs during a fight, and that’s exactly what the Shimano Tranx 500 is prepared for.

SHIMANO Tranx 500 HG Lowprofile Baitcasting Freshwater Reel

In essence, you get the comfort of a low profile bass fishing reel equipped with all the fishing line you’ll need. And with a 6.6:1 gear ratio, the Shimano Tranx 500 is designed to deliver on speed during the retrieve.

The Tranx 500 saltwater baitcasting reel boasts total of eight corrosion resistant ball bearings as well as an aluminum frame that’s also coated with a special treatment that locks out corrosive saltwater.

The Shimano Tranx 500 comes in two different models both with a max drag capacity of 25 lbs and massive line capacities of up to 420 yards of 50 lbs test braid.

Tranx 500 Model TRX500HG is built for speed with a 6.6:1 gear ratio and has an incredible line retrieval rate of 43″ per crank of the handle.

Tranx 500 Model TRX500PG is built for power with a 4.6:1 gear ratio and a line retrieval rate of 30″ per crank.

Offshore deep sea fishing and trolling requires reels with much more line capacity than their inshore counterparts. And with a line capacity of 420 yards of 50 lb test braid, you’ll be able to let those fish run as long as they want and tire themselves out.

Combine that huge line capacity with the 25 lbs of smooth drag and what you have is the best low profile  saltwater baitcasting reel available.

SHIMANO Tranx 500 HG Lowprofile Baitcasting Freshwater Reel

Shimano Tranx 500 Features:

  • S A-RB A-RB coating which protects bearings from rust in saltwater use
  • Super Stopper designed to eliminate handle back play
  • Dartanium II drag washer provides incredibly smooth drag performance with durability
  • Ergonomic Power Handle provides increased leverage
  • Superfree bearing-supported pinion gear eliminates friction with spool shaft for better freespool
  • E.I. surface treatment protects against corrosion from saltwater soaked braided line
  • HEG drive and pinion gears increase cranking efficiency
  • Durable X-Ship design which provides an extra smooth retrieve with superior durability

 

 Best Inshore Baitcasting Reels

4. (TOP PICK) Piscifun New Phantom Carbon Baitcasting Reel (Best Inshore Baitcasting Reel)

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At only 5.7 oz, the Piscifun Phantom Carbon baitcasting reel is one of the lightest baitcasters available. But for as light as it is, this reel is still durable enough to be one of the best affordable saltwater baitcasting fishing reels for inshore fishing applications.

The Piscifun Phantom’s carbon design and all aluminum gears make this fishing reel an extremely durable option for saltwater fishermen. The Piscifun Phantom Carbon features a 17 lb carbon fiber drag with a whopping 7.0:1 gear ratio. The Phantom’s dual magnetic brakes provides a smooth and accurate casting experience, which is what we need as inshore fishermen.

The reel is well built and delivers an exceptional casting experience. With its 5.7 oz weight and 17 lbs drag it is the perfect reel for inshore saltwater fishing where accuracy is the name of the game.

Piscifun Phantom Carbon Baitcasting Reel - Only 5.7oz, Our Lightest Baitcaster, 17LB Carbon Fiber Drag, 7.0:1 Gear Ratio, Dual Brakes Baitcast Fishing Reels, Incredible Cast Distance (Right Handed)

Features Of The Piscifun Phantom Carbon:

  • Lightest saltwater baitcasting reel in this list at only 5.7 ounces
  • Dual brake design consisting of external magnetic and internal centrifugal brakes for increased accuracy and reduced backlashes
  • 6 +1 Stainless steel shielded ball bearing with anti-corrosion design
  • CNC Duralumin spool construction for faster spool acceleration
  • 7.0:1 gear ratio for casting precision/distance and high-speed presentations

5. Daiwa Coastal 200HS TWS T-Wing Reel (Inshore Baitcaster) 

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The Daiwa Coastal 200HS Casting Reels feature a new inshore design that features the comfort of a low profile baitcaster combined with the added toughness and increased line capacity that’s need in a saltwater baitcaster.  The reel is built for those of us who like to use light line with a low profile, much like our freshwater bass’n reels.

Compared to the Daiwa Coastal 100, the 200 holds up to 35% more line, which gives you the confidence needed when hooking into those larger inshore fish.

This baitcaster features Daiwa’s T-Wing System (TWS) as well as all corrosion resistant ball bearings and aluminum body and sideplates which helps keep the saltwater at bay.  T-Wing is a level-wind system that shoots the line through a wider hole on the cast which allows for quite a bit more distance. Then on the retrieve, the line is fed through a smaller hole which allows for level winding precision.

Expect to be able to easily hold 180 yards of 40 lbs test braid line on the saltwater casting reel. Combine that with the integrated Ultimate Tournament Drag with up to 15.4 lbs. of drag max and what you’ve got is a strong and durable inshore reel that will last a very long time.

Daiwa CLTW200HS Coastal TWS Reel, 7.3: 1 Gear Ratio, 7CRBB, 1RB, 15.40 lb Max Drag, Right Hand

Features:

  • Max Drag: 15.4 lbs
  • Gear Ratio: 7.3:1
  • Retrieve Per Turn: 32.2 inches
  • Brake System: Magnetic
  • 8 Ball Bearings
  • Mono Capacity (lbs/yds): 14/164, 17/125, 20/100
  • Braid Capacity (lbs/yds): 40/190, 55/145
  • Weight: 8.2 ounces

What To Look For In A Saltwater Baitcaster Fishing Reel (Buyers Guide)

To make sure you buy the best of anything, you want to make sure you know for certain what it is you’re looking for to begin with.  It’s no different with baitcasting reels.

Baitcasting reels are much different than other kinds of fishing reels.  If you’re accustomed to fishing with spinning reels, then there’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve to become proficient with a baitcaster.

There’s a reason these reels are so popular among fishermen.  It’s because when dialed in, they can be absolutely deadly.

Here’s everything you wanted to know about baitcasting reels.

What Are Baitcasting Reels?

Like I mentioned earlier, baitcasting reels are different than any other type of reel. And you should know that you’ll hear people refer to these reels as baitcasting reels, casting reels, level-wind reels.  But they’re all the same thing.

Whereas spinning reels hang below the fishing rod, baitcasting reels are mounted on top of the fishing rod. The reel is designed with a spool that turns at a right angle to the reel seat.

Most saltwater baitcasting reels are designed to work best with fishing lines of 8-lb. test (monofilament) or more. Some of the larger baitcasting reels used to catch large game fish like marlin and tuna can take the heaviest line weights for battling bigger fish that live in saltwater.

Baitcaster Profiles

There are two different types of baitcasters.  These differences are referred to as profiles. They are:

  • Low Profile
  • Round

Low Profile Baitcaster Reels

Low profile casting reels are a really popular choice because of the ability to palm the reel, or hold it in the palm of your hand while fishing. This grip style significantly increases the level of comfort for anglers who tend to grasp the reel as well as the handle while reeling.

Low profile caster reels are very popular amongst bass fishermen and other anglers who enjoy tossing lures or jigs and want to keep perfect control of lure placement and lure movement.

Larger low profile reels are ideal for inshore saltwater applications such as jigging and fishing for small to medium sized fish.

Round Baitcaster Reels

Round baitcasters on the other hand tend to be reserved for larger game fish and trolling methods.

And these reels are exactly what they sound like…they’re round, and they also sit on top of the fishing rod.  But instead of holding, or “palming” the reel in your hand like you would a low profile reel, you grab onto the rod from over the back of the reel. This technique increases the overall torque you have on the rod, which makes it a great saltwater option.

The other benefit to using a round baitcasting reel in saltwater where larger fish are sought after is the amount of line the reel can hold. This extra line capacity makes round reels ideal for big game fish, trolling and deep sea fishing.

Baitcaster Line Capacity

Speaking of line capacity, that’s one of the things you should be sure to take into consideration when buying a new casting reel.  

In freshwater, line capacity isn’t necessarily that big of an issue.  But since we’re talking about saltwater fishing here, line capacity definitely becomes more of a concern.

Since line capacity is directly related to the size of a reels spool, you can imaging that the low profile reels have a much lower fishing line capacity. This becomes an issue especially in trolling and deep water situations where a hooked fish may run a long way before stopping. You don’t want to run out of line before the fight even starts.

The highest capacity of line is found with the round profile reels. So if big game or trolling is what you’re doing, then you should seriously consider round models as opposed to low profile.

However, if the fish you’re after are similar to the size of large bass or walleye, then a low profile reel would be perfectly fine.

Gear Ratio

The gear ratio measures how many times the spool spins or revolves with one full turn of the handle.

For example, when you turn the handle on a baitcaster reel, you use a large gear. That large gear turns a smaller gear that’s in line with the spool shaft. So when you turn the large handle gear one full rotation, the lower gear rotates multiple times. This equals less torque and much smoother cranking power.

High gear ratios, like you would see on the larger offshore saltwater baitcasters, means more line is retrieved with every rotation of the handle.

Low gear ratios don’t retrieve line as fast and have more torque, but they’re also able to reel in lures more slowly.

When you want speed, reduce line slack and bring the line back faster, go for higher gear ratios.

Here’s an example of a gear ratio:  5.5:1 To translate, what this means is that the the spool turns 5.5 (5 ½) times every time the handle turns.

Low gear ratios would be within 3.x to 1 range. Very high gear ratios can reach 8 to 1.

Baitcaster Reel Advantages and Disadvantages

Superior Drag System

The reel has a superior drag system that lets you set how much resistance the fish feels when it yanks on the fishing line. Setting a tighter drag means the fish feels more resistance and will tire out more easily. However, you have to find the sweet spot on the drag setting because if it is to tight the line will stress and break.

Frequent Backlashes or Bird Nests

Frequent backlashes are common and the reel itself is considered challenging to cast. Baitcasting reels are infamous for forming “birds nest” knots when the spool travels faster than the line can release it. The frequency of backlashes isn’t a deal breaker because the easy fix is to only fill your spool up to the halfway mark. The thinking behind this trick is that a full spool spins longer and faster which causes backlashes. Having a tighter spool that doesn’t spin quite as fast will highly reduce the frequency of backlashes.

More Moving Parts

The reel has a lot of parts to maintain and clean. With all the internal moving parts it is highly recommended that you keep maintenance a top priority through consistent cleaning and lubrication. This will ensure the gears engage properly, incur less resistance, and stick less often.

Increased Accuracy

Baitcaster reels are considered to be exceptionally accurate and work the best with heavier lures and lines meaning they can easily manage heavier test lines and a lot of stress.

Value

Baitcasters aren’t the cheapest, but cheaper models are available. We suggest spending a little more on models and brands that you can find parts for, can withstand some abuse, and are durable enough to last a lifetime.

Top Pick

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Written by Don

When I'm not bass fishing or looking for steelhead in my home state of Oregon I can be found working on house projects dreaming of my next fishing adventure.

I started this website to share just some of the things I've learned along my fishing journey, and the many things I'm still learning. Enjoy!

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