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I’m a dyed in the wool surf angler of over 4 decades. I didn’t think I’d be so challenged by the task of identifying the best surf fishing reels for the money.
The sheer volume of contenders presents the first problem. Every manufacturer has a couple of reels that deserve a place here.
Many brands present quite a long list of contenders, Penn comes to mind.
Then there are target species, from Whiting to White Pointers. This means you can be deploying anything from a 1000 spin option to a huge Penn International game reel.
Of course, there is the profoundly variable weather conditions, not to mention coastal geography, that will impact reel suitability.
A simple change in the wind and/or swell can render the reel you were just using, absolutely useless.
Adding to my confused deliberations, I considered a scary truth. My own go-to reel for surf fishing wouldn’t even come close to making this list.
Go figure, but I’m too ashamed to mention what it is and still expect any credibility here.
To make things easier I have only considered reels between the 6000 and 8000 size (including overhead equivalent).
These are (arguably) the most common sizes used at the beach. With these sizes, correctly spooled for the target, you can chase smaller species without too much overkill.
You can also land a shark of over 10 feet in length, providing it’s a good reel. Let’s get on with discussing the 5 best surf reels for the money.
Firstly, I’ll reveal my selections. Secondly, we’ll address what to look for in a good surf reel. Third, are the product reviews followed by my top of the list selection.
5 Best Surf Reels for the Money in 2023
Here are the best surf fishing reels in 2023:
Last update on 2023-01-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
What Type of Reel is Good For Surf Fishing?
Before we look at the details of selecting a good surf fishing reel, here’s a note about the differences between modern complex reels and older style, less technical reels, relative to surf use.
A very simple reel such as a side cast reel has a considerable benefit for surf fishing. They are very simply broken down and cleaned.
They have far less metal and far fewer moving parts. These things can be indestructible and endure extremely well when abused surfside.
The trade-off is things like horrible line twist and weight, to name a few. They also require a particular rod butt assembly. Hence, there isn’t a side cast mentioned in this list.
While modern technically advanced reels are an absolute joy to fish, the refined moving parts can suffer greatly (sometimes irreparably) from saltwater and sand ingress.
Many modern reels have technologies to protect them from the disasters of saltwater and sand ingress.
The bottom line is: A surf fishing reel must be robust and durable.
Make no mistake. The surf and sand hold utter contempt for your prized fishing reel.
For starters, your reel will get wet and more than likely submerged. And then there’s the sand.
You cast, then set your rod in a rod holder wedged in the sand waiting for a strike.
Sometimes your rod will fall over of its own accord; wind, what have you. You then get a sandy and more than likely wet reel. Bad.
Other times, an unnoticed encroaching tide will work at the base of your rod holder. It washes out the sand, causing your rod holder to fall.
Wave action will do the same. Again, a wet sandy reel. Bad.
Then there’s the classic: Your bait is struck hard when you are standing well away from your supposedly well set and secured rod.
As you watch your rig head speedily toward the surf, dragged by a disrespectful fish, your reel is being ram fed with a wet salt sand slurry into every crevice. Ever so bad.
These things WILL happen, and it only need happen once to relegate an expensive reel to the injury list.
Sand and saltwater devastate modern reels should they get inside.
STRONG BAIL ARMS (SPINNING REELS):
Look for a heavier gauge wire bail arm for spin reels. Usually, this will be an advertised feature of a reel.
They survive better when dragged along the sand. They also survive better when you hook a fish 10 time bigger than you were chasing.
Importantly, they’re better suited for casting big lead weights, which you will do frequently when surf fishing heavier conditions.
I fish mono in the surf. The reason for this is worth another article, so I’ll not explain it here. While it’s a personal choice I believe I am with the vast majority.
I fish lighter for a better strike rate. Therefore, I prefer having a big full spool. When I hit something big it can run as far as it likes. (Within reason).
The mono can degrade pretty quickly in the sun and surf (just like anglers).
I like to be able to rip off and dispose of 30 odd feet without having to replace it straight away.
A strong high capacity drag with great heat dispersion is recommended. Again, you’re often fishing for a mixed bag and an extra large fish is very likely.
Often you will hook up into something large when casting at something smaller.
If you are fishing lighter, a strong drag will assist greatly in turning your prize to the beach.
Many reels offer a sealed drag system. Clearly, this is highly advantageous.
There really is nothing like a super-smooth crank. The more bearings, the smoother the crank and the stronger the crank. This is desirable.
As a rule, more bearings means more money. Make sure the bearings are sealed, ceramic or stainless and of high quality. Corroded bearings are a serious liability.
Again, strength and corrosion resistance are essential. Look for strong alloy, stainless or brass gears and pinions.
This can be tricky. I like to cast big metal slices in the surf. This requires a pretty fast ratio so you don’t have to crank like a man possessed to hit appropriate speeds.
However, when the sea is heavy, the fish are heavy, and your lead is heavy, a cranking speed will feel better.
Something to keep in mind is that often you are casting prodigious distances. With all that line out, a faster ratio helps you retrieve it quicker.
Generally speaking, a more expensive reel with a higher ratio will have you covered for speed without compromising a strong crank. E.g. Saltiga and Stella.
SEALING AND WATERPROOFING:
These days even some of the entry level reels offer a modicum of sealing. Each manufacturer has their own take on the technology.
As you move up to higher price points, expect more sealing and more advanced waterproofing.
As I have made patently clear at the beginning of this article, keeping the sand and water out is critical.
Talk to others about their experiences with sealing and waterproofing credentials of the reels on your shortlist. This is a very important feature for a surf reel.
The only exception to this is the angler that is very skilled and disciplined in breaking down and cleaning reels regularly. They’re not in the majority. Ask yourself if you are and be honest.
REEL BODY AND FRAME:
You guessed it…strong, rigid and corrosion-resistant. Obviously, you want this in any reel but for the surf, it’s critical; if you want your reel to last that is.
HANDLE AND KNOB:
Bigger is better. Usually, you will get this with a reel over 6000 size but make sure. You will be casting and cranking a lot, solid ergonomics has a huge impact on warding off fatigue.
Top 5 Surf Fishing Reels For The Money Reviewed
1. PENN Slammer III 6500HS Spinning Reel.
The 6500HS has a whopping 40 pounds of sealed Penn Dura-Drag. Add to this a spool capacity of 345 yards of 15-pound mono and you have some serious fish stopping power.
The 6500HS has a ratio of 6:2.1, which will be great for cranking metal slices, and reeling in oceans of line quickly.
The CNC brass gear system is corrosion resistant and PENN strong. You have speed as well as all the cranking power you need for heavier applications.
The big news is the independently tested IPX6 Seal rated body & Spool. With a little care, your Slammer will handle all the surf can throw at it, and for countless sessions.
This is a feature-packed spin reel built for the surf. It’s very popular with surf anglers and for good reason.
- Outstanding sealing against the sand and salt water
- Whopping drag capacity and the system is sealed
- Excellent spool capacity
- Strong corrosion resistant gear system
- I like the independent sealing verification and rating
- Great pricing for such a feature-rich, quality reel
- It’s as though it’s built specifically for the surf angler
- The handle and grip are brilliant
- There are no cons. This is a quality reel in every way and true to pricing
2. Daiwa Saltist 30 H-C 6.1:1 Levelwind Overhead Fishing Reel
The first thing to mention is that the Daiwa Saltist H-C 6.1:1 is an impressive looking reel. And that’s just the beginning.
The gear ratio is ideal for all types of fishing. At 35 inches per crank you get a lot of line in fast.
Fish lures of all types and cast heavy live baits spectacular distances. Casting the Saltist is reasonably straightforward to master with a little practice.
There are 20 pounds of Daiwa’s famous Automatic Tournament Drag. More than enough considering you can spool up with 210 yards of 20-pound mono.
The 4 bearings are corrosion resistant and the reel has a protective anodized finish. The frame is a very rigid aluminum and highly corrosion resistant.
The helical cut gears are incredibly strong. The crank feels buttery smooth yet you can feel the power, particularly under load.
The gears are of course stainless. Again, even more anti-corrosion considerations.
The accessible pricing makes this a brilliant surf overhead that’s difficult to beat.
- Great looks
- Excellent corrosion resistance inside and out
- A strong crank, yet super smooth
- Powerful drag system and great mono capacity
- Love the gear ratio and the handle. It’s built to crank
- Casting is easily mastered with practice. Rip in without the fear of backlash
- Stainless gears offer strength and protection
- Accessible pricing considering the quality
- It’s a little heavy (By no means a criticism. I’d happily cast it all day)
- Right hand only
3. Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 7000 C Round
This a wild card inclusion for sure. It gets approval because of its simplicity and robust construction. I caught my first Barramundi on the older 6000 model.
Importantly, it has the right stuff for the beach.
I have seen them stripped down and put back together in the middle of a fishing session and it works perfectly.
If your 7000 C gets a dunking or has a serious encounter with wet sand, it’s easy to pull down, clean and lubricate and it’s good as new.
I have witnessed it cast prodigious distance. They may have been experienced hands but my assumption is that anybody can learn how.
I managed some pretty long casts tossing a 2-ounce metal slice. (Not an ideal reel for cranking metal slices by the way)
It’s a slow stable and really strong feeling crank that’s brilliant for heavy loads. The corrosion resistant brass gears give a strong and reasonably smooth crank.
There’s 15 pounds of drag, enough for larger fish, and it’s assisted by a spool that will hold 250 yards of 20-pound mono.
The simplicity and strength of the 7000 C make it a versatile utility for the surf. What it lacks in protection and sophistication it makes up for in robust strength and loyalty.
Look after this baitcasting reel, and it will look after you.
- Robust and easy to service while on the run
- Capable of long casts
- Big spool capacity
- Strong, corrosion resistant brass gears
- A simple reel that is easy to master. Ideal for the beach
- Will maintain its integrity when cleaned and lubricated after serious encounters with wet sand and salt water
- Affordable quality
- Better in the hands of an experienced overhead angler
- Level wind will require regular attention to ward off corrosion
4. Daiwa BG6500 Spinning Reel
If you’re on a tight budget but need to hit the beach with serious quality, the Daiwa BG 6500 sticks its hand up.
On the beach, it’s not the casting frequency so much as the distance you are often casting that this technology helps.
Digigear offers a super smooth crank and it’s powerful, predictable under load and very reliable.
For further corrosion resistance, the BG has an anodized machined aluminum housing and side plates. The spool is also aluminum.
The manual return bail arm is also a corrosion benefit. The small spring in auto bail arms is notorious for being the first thing to invite serious rust.
There are a whopping 33 pounds of drag that are assisted by a spool capacity of 370 yards of 20-pound line. Enough to handle big surf dwelling species.
However, spool up with 10-pound mono, and you have a great reel for smaller species, yet plenty of line, drag, and cranking power should you hook-up big.
Very difficult to find a better surf reel for the price. Like really!
- Nothing better at this price
- Very good anti-corrosion credentials
- Excellent inclusion of technologies for the price
- Waterproof ATD (drag)
- Power, rigid and highly capable against a large variety of saltwater fish big and small
- Should have included corrosion resistant bearings. A very strange exclusion
5. Daiwa SALTIGA Expedition 8000H
There’s little more that can be said about the Saltiga. You won’t start many fights claiming that the Saltiga sits in rarefied air with few peers.
Daiwa is a huge and highly respected global brand and fishing products leader. This is there flagship spin reel and contains their most advanced technologies.
The price may well take your breath away, but not as much as the experience of using one. Remember, this is the top of the top shelf.
It’s sealed to within an inch of its life. Nothing gets in.
There are 66 pounds of Automatic tournament drag, and the spool will take a touch over 400 yards of 20-pound mono. Stopping power to burn.
In vehicle terms, this is a Bentley cross Ferrari, cross, militarised tank. And yes, you will pay for it.
- It’s not only superb on the beach. It’s superb everywhere
- Power is astonishing, yet it is incredibly smooth thanks to 13 (+1) bearings
- The massive drag capacity and spool capacity make it nigh on unstoppable
- The sealing, corrosion resistance. and waterproofing is exceptional. It’s built to handle the toughest of conditions and will survive them for countless sessions
- Anglers can tackle very big game fish and win
- It’s very expensive
- Probably overkill for small surf species. (spool up with 6 pounds for the pan size)
The Verdict – What is the best reel for surf fishing?
It’s a tough choice, there’s something great about all of them. If I were only ever allowed to choose one more reel in my life, and money wasn’t an issue, it would be the Saltiga.
If I was running a decent charter fishing business, I’d buy the Daiwa BG. I know my clients would love them and I’d get great value.
However, if I had to use any of these reels for surf fishing tomorrow, it would have to be the Penn Slammer. It’s one of the top saltwater fishing reels out there.