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Can You Use A Freshwater Fishing Reel In Saltwater? (Pros and Cons)

Can You Use Freshwater Fishing Reels In Saltwater? 

When I started saltwater fishing, I didn’t own one piece of saltwater fishing gear, let alone a designated saltwater fishing reel. The first time I went fishing in the salt that wasn’t on a charter or a friends boat, was at the end of the North jetty in Newport, OR.  And of course, I took whatever gear I happened to own at the time.

The good part of the story is, we caught a lot of fish that day. The bad news is, I unknowingly sacrificed that fishing reel on the altar of brackish water and its evil effects on metal. At least the rod lived to see another day! 

The lesson I learned here was freshwater gear doesn’t necessarily work best in saltwater environments.  But it doesn’t mean that you can’t use a freshwater fishing reel in saltwater.

As a matter of fact, you CAN use a freshwater fishing reel in saltwater. But there’s a few VERY IMPORTANT things you need to do to make sure you don’t lay your reel upon the same salty sacrificial altar.

How To Use A Freshwater Reel In A Saltwater Environment

No matter how hard you try, any kind of reel you use in a saltwater environment will get saltwater on them.  Particularly if you use it for surf fishing. Surf fishing you’ll not only get a lot of saltwater on and in the reel, but you’ll also occasionally get sand in the reel.

Using a fishing reel in freshwater, you could probably go years without ever doing maintenance on your reel. But this is not the case in saltwater.  Using freshwater reels in the salt requires a lot of time breaking down your reel and providing thorough cleaning and maintenance.

Tips For Using Freshwater Fishing Reel In Saltwater

  •  Always, always, always rinse off your fishing reel after using it in saltwater.  For instructions on how to thoroughly clean your fishing reel after fishing the salt, read my post, How To Clean A Fishing Reel After Using It In Saltwater.
  • Take time to remove anything that might possibly be corrosive.  This means even the little bits of debris that can get stuck in the crevices.
  • I’ve even been known to take off all my line just to make sure I’m able to clean ever single part of the reel, including the fishing line.
  • Routinely lubricate your fishing reel.  This holds true for both freshwater and saltwater reels.  Check out my post, The Best Fishing Reel Oil AND Best Fishing Reel Grease for a closer look at some of the best fishing reel lubricants available. 
  • Realize that nothing lasts forever.  Even equipment that’s made for saltwater will eventually succumb to the highly corrosive power of salt.
  • If using a freshwater reel in saltwater, use it to fish for smaller fish.  For larger trophy type fish like tuna, marlin, halibut and other large gamefish, use a dedicated fishing reel that’s made for saltwater.
  • Not all reels are made the same.  Some freshwater reels will not last one trip in the salt, while others will last for years with the proper maintenance.  Generally speaking, Shimano has an excellent reputation for surviving being used in saltwater when maintained properly. 

Take Away

Fishing reels designed for saltwater can easily be used in freshwater without any additional maintenance.  However, freshwater reels used in saltwater require a lot of additional maintenance.

So if given the chance to choose, always select afishing reel that’s designed for saltwater. It’s much easier to use in both types of water.  

If you don’t have a choice, then try to buy Shimano.  They are known for working great in saltwater as well as freshwater.

If you’re not buying a new reel, and just using the one you currently own, can you use it in saltwater?  Yes, but proceed with caution. Take the time to do proper maintenance on it. And ALWAYS thoroughly rinse it off after each use.  

If you’re looking for more information on how to properly rinse and clean your freshwater fishing reel after saltwater use, then I recommend you take a look at my article, How To Clean A Freshwater Fishing Reel After Saltwater Use.  

Take good care of your fishing gear, and it’ll last a long, long time!

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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