Best Saltwater Spinning Reels Under $200 in 2018 [Buying Guide]
If you're in the market for a new spinning reel but aren't sure where to start your search, this article will introduce you to 5 of the best saltwater spinning reels, all under $200.
With so many brands, models, sizes and materials to choose from, wading through all the details can feel overwhelming. But rest assured it's not as complicated as it may seem. To help you make sense of all the options available, let's take a look at what makes a good spinning reel for saltwater fishing.
Baitcast and spincast reels certainly have their place in the fishing world, but for most saltwater fishing applications, spinning reels are the go-to choice. The best saltwater spinning reels are easy to cast, durable and work well for a wide variety of fishing techniques. But what makes one model better than others? And how do you know which is right for you?
Saltwater is very corrosive and damaging to metal, plastics, and composite materials... all of which are used in spinning reel construction. While you can use any reel for saltwater fishing, unless it's designed specifically for saltwater use, you'll soon be disappointed by its inadequate performance and short life span.
The best saltwater spinning reels are made for saltwater fishing use special non-corrosive materials like stainless steel, aluminum and carbon fiber. They also incorporate seals and gaskets that keep saltwater away from internal moving parts that could be damaged by contact with saltwater.
When saltwater fishing, your reel may encounter rocks, sand, seaweed and algae along with the bumps and dings that happen in your kayak or boat. The best saltwater spinning reels are built to be very durable and are capable of standing up to the abuse of ocean fishing.
Saltwater fish are generally much larger, stronger, and harder fighting than freshwater fish. The drag on your reel must be capable of putting pressure on large fish and must also let line out smoothly when they run. The best saltwater spinning reels have very sensitive and strong drags that are easy to adjust and maintain consistent pressure while fighting a fish.
The larger the fish, the more line you need. The big fish you encounter in the ocean often make long, fast runs, and if you don't have enough line on your reel, can "spool" you, break your line, and swim away free.
The best saltwater reel manufacturers provide a line capacity rating for each model and size, stated as a number of yards of a particular line size. A basic rule of thumb is that your reel should hold at least 100 yards of the line size you intend to use.
All of the reels on this list come in multiple sizes allowing you to select a reel that matches your specific fishing needs. The smallest sizes are intended for freshwater and light saltwater use; medium sizes are for inshore species like redfish and speckled trout; the largest sizes are for offshore, deepwater species like tuna and marlin.
More and more, saltwater anglers are swapping out monofilament for braided line. While braided line has many benefits, it has one problem: it tends to slip on the spool if not rigged properly. Normally, you would have to load monofilament line on your reel spool before you load the braided line. The mono keeps the braid from slipping, but this setup is not ideal as the mono takes up space of the preferred braided line.
Luckily, reel manufacturers have taken this into consideration and many of the best saltwater spinning reels are designed to accommodate braided line without the need for monofilament backing. These reels use a special rubber gasket around the spool that keeps braided line from slipping.
When you look at specs for spinning reels, you'll see a bearing count listed. Generally, the higher the bearing count, the smoother the reel operates. You'll notice that as a reel's bearing count increases, so does the price. Reels with lower bearing counts cost less but aren't as smooth, especially when fighting larger fish. For the smoothest action, and especially if you want to target larger fish, buy a reel that has the highest bearing count within your budget.
5 Best Saltwater Spinning Reels
For under $200 you can get a great saltwater spinning reel capable of any fishing challenge you might encounter. While you'll do just fine choosing any reel on this list, you'll find that certain models stand out or are better suited for the specific types of fishing you like to do. Onto the reels...
The Spinfisher V is the fifth generation of Penn's classic Spinfisher series.
Available in 11 sizes, each larger model has a higher line capacity and greater maximum drag than the previous.
Several of the sizes are available in Live Liner versions (for live bait fishing), and there's even a bail-less version.
This heavy duty reel is praised by fishermen for its high-quality components, durable construction, strong, smooth drag and fully sealed design that keeps corrosive saltwater out.
But is the Spinfisher V one of the best saltwater spinning reels on the market?
Let's look at the Spinfisher V in more detail.
Water Tight Design. At every point of potential water entry, the Spinfisher has gaskets and seals in place to keep saltwater out.
Full metal body and side plate. This makes the reel very rugged and durable. The full metal body also gives the reel a nice rigidity that reduces body flex, allowing for better energy transfer which is especially beneficial when fighting larger fish.
Thick, heavy duty bail wire. The bail wire on the Spinfisher is one of the thickest you'll find on any spinning reel, adding to the reels overall durability.
Powerful sealed drag system with 3 HT-100 carbon fiber drag washers. This reel features a front drag, but the main drag housing is located at the bottom of the reel, where there's more space to house the over-sized drag washers. It uses keyed drag washers that remain stationary, allowing both sides of the washers to be utilized, essentially doubling the drag power. The drag system is fully sealed for maximum protection against the elements.
5 shielded stainless steel bearings plus 1 anti-reverse bearing. The bearings are shielded for corrosion protection to keep your reel cranking smooth after use in harsh conditions.
Infinite anti-reverse. This keeps your reel from spinning backward in every position of the handle's rotation. The 7500-10500 sizes have a backup anti-reverse ratchet in case the main anti-reverse system fails.
Braid compatible, no backing needed. A rubber gasket around the spool keeps braided line from slipping.
Live-Liner models available. A few of the sizes are available with secondary drag systems that allow the reel to free spool with the flip of a switch, without adjusting the main drag. This is ideal for fishing live bait or for other dead bait and bottom fishing techniques.
Line capacity rings. Inside the spool beneath the line, there are three lines that function as a gauge to let you know how much line is left on the spool. This is particularly handy when fighting big fish that makes lots of runs and take lots of line.
The Penn Spinfisher V is a real workhorse. It's heavy duty all-metal body makes it very durable, and being fully sealed gives it adequate protection against saltwater in even the harshest ocean environments.
The powerful sealed drag provides tremendous fish-stopping power. The standard versions of this reel would make an excellent all-purpose reel, ideal for both inshore and offshore saltwater fishing. The live-liner models are great if you prefer fishing with live bait or various bottom fishing techniques.
The Penn Clash is the lightest weight spinning reel Penn has ever built.
While not quite as durable or rugged as the Spinfisher V, the Clash has several features that may turn the heads of certain anglers, especially those who like to fish lighter gear, with more finesse.
The Clash is available in a wide range of sizes, but there are a few distinct differences between the smaller and larger sizes. The smaller sizes (2000-5000) are designed to be incredibly lightweight and feature a rigid resin rotor, which is a type of high-strength graphite.
The larger sizes (6000 & 8000) have an aluminum rotor giving the reel a full metal body, which is heavier than rigid resin, but overall more durable. We'll go over the other distinctions that make the Penn Clash one of the best saltwater spinning reels available.
CNC Gear Technology. The gearing is machine cut from a single piece of metal -- brass in sizes 2000-5000, aluminum alloy in sizes 6000 & 8000. This solid gearing makes the reel incredibly smooth right out of the box, and is much more durable than standard die-cast gearing. There are also small grooves cut into the surface of the gears that hold lubrication much better than smooth surfaces, keeping the gears evenly lubricated over time.
Leveline Oscillation System. When you crank on the Clash, you'll notice that the spool moves up and down slower than other reels. This allows the line to wind on evenly, creating a more level line lay. This level line lay is especially beneficial when using braided line, and it also allows the line to come off the spool smoother when casting, which allows for more casting distance.
Sealed drag with 3 HT-100 carbon fiber drag washers. This is the same drag system used in the Penn Spinfisher V as well as other Penn spinning reels. It is sealed from the top and has a sealed bearing beneath the drag stack, keeping saltwater out from both directions.
Wave spring in drag knob. A unique feature of the Clash's drag is that instead of using a standard coil spring in the drag knob, it uses a "wave" spring which is a relatively new innovation in drag technology. Unlike standard coil springs, wave springs apply pressure evenly as you tighten the knob, giving you access to the entire range of the reel's drag.
NOT fully sealed. There are seals at a few key locations in the reel including the drag, the clutch, and the bearings, but it is not a fully sealed reel. While it is designed for use in saltwater and uses non-corrosive materials, there is still a chance that saltwater could enter the reel body and damage the internal parts if exposed to harsh conditions or repetitive dunking.
Friction trip ramp. This keeps the handle from turning while the bail is open, preventing the bail from slamming shut while making a cast. A firm turn of the handle will shut the bail, or the bail can be shut by hand.
Braid compatible, no backing needed. A rubber gasket around the center of the spool keeps braided line from slipping.
Line capacity rings. Just like the Spinfisher V, the Clash features line markings on the spool that let you know how much line is left on the spool when fighting a fish.
While the Clash isn't quite as beefy and durable as the Spinfisher V, it is a high-performance reel that gives anglers plenty of power, but in a lighter weight package. If you like to throw lures and make lots of casts all day long, the Clash might be just what you need.
The Shimano Stradic FK spinning reel is a highly engineered, high-performance spinning reel made with both freshwater and saltwater anglers in mind.
Shimano utilized a new system they call Hagane, which is designed to create a more rigid reel in an effort to eliminate body flex.
The benefit of a more rigid reel is that you get a better transfer of energy when fighting a fish, which translates to more power.
In theory, with more power you can catch larger fish with lighter gear.
The Stradic FK is designed for saltwater use through and through, has a very strong, durable design, and packs a lot of power in a small package. There are 5 sizes available, all of which are smaller than both the Penn Spinfisher V and Clash models. The larger sizes of the Stradic FK are well suited for inshore saltwater fishing but aren't quite large enough for offshore fishing.
Hagane cold-forged gears. Machined from a single piece of aluminum, the gears are very stout and fit tightly together leaving less room for rub and wear.
Cold-forged aluminum spool. The spool is machined from a single piece of aluminum for increased durability, and it will not corrode.
X-Ship gearing system. Shimano's X-Ship gearing system is made up of a double supported pinion gear that increases bearing support, maintains precise alignment of the gear teeth, and removes flex from the reel.
Hagane all metal body. The all aluminum body is incredibly durable and maintains the reel's rigid design, limiting flex for more fish fighting power.
Coreprotect treatment. Coreprotect is Shimano's method for protecting the reel against the elements. The body of the reel is coated with a protective layer that causes water to bead on the surface of the reel, preventing water from entering small crevices in the reel. The reel also has gaskets and seals at key locations to keep saltwater out of the reel body.
Anti-reverse switch is completely removed from the body. This creates one less point of entry for saltwater or other contaminants.
G-free body. The body of the reel is positioned closer to the rod for better balance. This is especially beneficial if you like to throw lures all day as the balanced design reduces fatigue.
The Stradic FK is considered by many to be one of the best saltwater spinning reels inshore saltwater fishing. It's lightweight, balanced design is great for long days of casting, and extra precautions are taken to protect the reel against saltwater and other grit. The overall main feature of this reel is its rigid design which gives you more fish fighting power in a smaller, more efficient package.
The Shimano Baitrunner D is a specialized reel designed for fishing with live bait and other free spooling techniques.
While standard spinning reels have one drag system, the Baitrunner actually has two: one main drag and another secondary drag that is used to manage live bait.
There is a lever on the reel that switches between the two drag systems.
When the secondary drag is engaged, line can move off the spool freely. This allows your live bait to swim off for a more natural presentation. Then, when a fish takes your bait, you flip the switch to engage the main drag, strike to set the hook, then reel in your fish.
Using a Baitrunner system is especially beneficial when fishing for species that don't like to feel the pressure of the line when taking bait. A common bottom fishing technique is to cast out your bait, then set your secondary/baitrunner drag so that there is no tension on the line. Then, when a fish takes your bait, it can swim off with the bait in its mouth without feeling the pressure of the line, at which point you can engage the main drag and set the hook.
Here's a closer look at the Shimano Baitrunner D.
Shimano's S concept design. S concept stands for "Smooth, Silent, and Strong." This is Shimano's marketing term for the overall design concept of some of their new reels. They essentially use upgraded components to achieve this desirable functionality.
4 shielded anti-rust ball bearings. The Baitrunner D has fewer bearings than some of the other reels in this list, but they are highly protected against corrosion and provide very smooth operation. Shimano states that these anti-rust ball bearings will last 10 times longer than standard stainless steel bearings in saltwater environments.
Cold forged aluminum spool. The spool is machined from a solid piece of aluminum, is very strong, durable and won't corrode.
Fluidrive II gearing. This gearing system uses a large bore master gear shaped to exacting dimensions, producing tight tolerances between the gear teeth that are polished smooth to maximize gear contact. The Fluidrive II gearing is very efficient, offering increased power for fighting fish. The reel's handle is attached directly to the master gear for even greater energy transfer.
Waterproof Dartanium dual drag system. Using a series of seals and gaskets, the drag system is fully sealed and protected from saltwater and other contaminants. The dartanium drag material offers very smooth, strong drag throughout its entire range.
Super Stopper II anti-reverse. This system uses a one-way ball bearing that eliminates back-play in the reel for instant hook sets and maximum efficiency when fighting a fish. A switch turns off the anti-reverse for back reeling if needed.
Varispeed oscillation. An oval oscillation gear is used to alter the oscillation speed, creating a perfectly even line lay. You also have the option to customize how the line lays on the spool by using a set of washers that are included with the reel. The washers can be placed above or below the drag teeth, and where you put them will cause the line to bulk up at either the top or the bottom of the spool. While most anglers won't bother with this customization, it can be helpful for certain types of line or other special situations.
With 5 sizes available, the Baitrunner D is great for fishing a variety of species. It is a heavier reel than some of the others on this list and better suited for heavy bait fishing rather than lure fishing. The secondary drag system makes fishing with live bait a breeze, and is also very helpful when fishing with multiple rods, as a fish can take your bait and run off, without taking the reel in too!
The Daiwa Ballistic EX is perhaps the most high-tech reel on the list. The main feature of this reel is that it is "Magsealed." The reel is fully sealed using "MAGOIL" -- a magnetic oil developed by space engineers.
The oil penetrates the small gaps throughout the reel, and unlike other oils, can be solidified through magnetic force.
The result is a reel that is highly protected against saltwater and other contaminants. If you fish in wet, harsh conditions, this may be the reel for you.
Magsealed construction. This is obviously the main attraction of this reel. Fully sealed, very corrosion resistant.
10 Magsealed bearing system. This reel has the highest bearing count of any reels on this list. It's incredibly smooth and the bearings are also Magsealed for maximum protection against corrosion.
Lightweight Zaion body and side cover. Zaion is a type carbon material that is very durable and lightweight.
Air Rotor. The rotor has perforations and a hollowed-out design that reduces the overall weight of the reel and increase sensitivity without losing strength.
Air Bail. The bail has a hollow core, which also lowers the total weight of the reel.
Powerful, smooth drag system. The drag is fully Magsealed, feeds out line smoothly and offers even pressure throughout the full drag range.
The Ballistic EX is available in four sizes, all of which are smaller than the larger Penn models on this list. The larger sizes of this reel are ideal for inshore saltwater fishing, especially if you find yourself fishing in harsh conditions that expose your gear to the saltwater, grit, and grime.
Shopping for new fishing gear can be very exciting, and the good news is there are some super high-quality, high-performing reels or the market that won't break the bank.
Each reel on this list brings something different to the table, but all are great reels in their own right, and you'll likely be very happy with any of them. Just remember that the best saltwater spinning reels are those that are matched to your specific fishing style, target species, and personal preferences.