Only the best surf fishing reels can handle the hazards of fishing from the beach. Expect sandy slurries, surf, salt, and sand flying in the wind. These are reel-wrecking conditions and you haven’t even hooked a hard-fighting fish yet.
The following feature lists the 10 best surf reels for 2023. There are some classics you already know and love, plus a couple of new releases you should explore. Check out the handy buyer's guide so you can make your next surf reel purchase with total confidence.
My Review Process
I’ve fished the waves with everything from handlines to game reels. With over 40 years of surf fishing under my belt, I know what to look for in a good surf reel. Power, good casting manners, strong drag, rigidity, and durability matter most. Sealing and corrosion resistance is great for the surf, but it comes at a price.
It’s easy to throw money at the problem and buy a Stella or Saltiga. But ultimately, it’s value for money relative to fitness for purpose that matters, whether you're selecting the best of the best, or the cheapest reel on the shelf.
The BG wins my top pick on an all-things-considered basis. Yes, there are reels that are technically better, but not at this price point. The BG series has demonstrated the high level of quality, performance, strength, and endurance that can be achieved in a spin reel, without the need for high-end price tags.
The BG is a feature-laden durable reel, with a smooth, powerful crank that’s exceptional under load. With sizes 2000 through 8000, there are no surf-dwelling species it can’t handle. If there’s a down side, its BG’s heavy weight - a marked contrast to modern spin reel trends. I own a 3000 and a 5000, giving them full marks for versatility and reliability. The BG series is a heavy-duty spin reel, perfect for surf applications.
Van Staal represents the pinnacle of surf spinning reels and is a must-have for the most dedicated surf anglers. They’ve held the surf spin reel throne for decades and continue the tradition with the release of the new VSXS2.
The combination of sand, salt water, wind, and waves work like a wrecking ball on precision fishing equipment. But the Van Staal VSSX2 Bailed series reel is military-grade fishing gear. It’s designed to endure contact with sandy salty slurry, dunking, and drowning. You just pick it up and carry on wrestling monsters.
While very expensive, an SSX2 is an investment – not simply a reel purchase. Available in sizes 50, 150, and 200, the VSSX2 is the ultimate surf reel in every way, whatever monsters you chase.
The Penn Fathom II is a conventional reel perfectly suited for huge fish surf applications. The proprietary long spindle design assists with distance casting – generally, a necessity when chasing the largest fish for which this reel is designed.
A bronze main gear and hardened stainless pinion provide the internal strength you need for mega-fish. The full metal body, sideplates, and 6 stainless bearings keep all moving and rotating parts locked in sync. Just keep in mind that getting the best casting results from the Fathom II requires a skilled, experienced hand.
I like the Fathom II for big baits and sharks. The 40 holds oceans of mono, which is important for surf-side shark battles. While I’m a big fan of the size 40, I think the 12 is awesome for general surf targets, and the 12 and 15 offer magnetic braking as well. It’s a must-try for conventional reel fans.
The TRX300AHG, with its 7.6 gear ratio, is my pick for the best surf casting reel. It's brilliant for chasing bluefish and mackerel on spoons, stick baits, and other hard bodies.There are 4 Tranx sizes available, 150 to 400, with all but the 400 available in two gear ratios.
I also appreciate the smoothness and protection of 5 + 1 bearings. While capable of holding 190 yards of 50 pounds, I use 20 pounds allowing me a little backup for the 8kg of Shimano Cross Carbon drag.
The Tranx is designed for the salt, has excellent corrosion resistance, and Coreprotect to keep the water away from critical internals. The weight, casting rate, and performance under load make it a brilliant surf fishing casting reel. Just remember, baitcasting reels require greater casting skill, particularly in surf conditions where it’s nearly always windy, and landing zones are harder to predict. While the Tranx has some serious competition at this price point, for my money it’s easily the best casting reel for the surf.
The Penn Authority won ICAST 2022 Best Saltwater Reel. It’s one of their rare ventures into high-end spin reels, which includes the very pricey Torque and Torque II. It comes with all you’d expect from Penn, including a CNC stainless steel main and pinion, Dura-Drag up to 60 pounds, and a full metal body and side plate.
The big features are the IPX8 waterproof body and spool, 12+1 bearings, slow oscillation for a tidy spool, and awesome casting. I love the handle and knob. It’s designed for cranking big fish hard. The Authority is Penn’s premium surf spin reel, having eclipsed the Slammer IV. You’ll pay a premium price for the larger reels, but it’s worth it.
This is the reel I’d recommend for all enthusiastic surf anglers wanting one high-performance reel under $200 to cover the majority of surf applications. It weighs 15 ounces, has 17.6 pounds of drag, and holds 370 yards of 20-pound braid. It's proof you don’t need anything bigger to tackle surf staples. For versatility, simply get another spool to fill with a lighter line class.
Daiwa’s Magseal is an innovative sealing technology that uses a proprietary oil to prevent water and dirt ingress. Be aware that if Magseal oil becomes contaminated it can only be replaced by an authorised reel repairer, as it’s not available aftermarket. However, with 8 bearings, a waterproof Carbon ATD Drag System, and a Magsealed line roller and main shaft, this 4000 reel can endure all the surf can throw at you.
Penn created a legendary spin reel with the Slammer. The Slammer IV DX series reel keeps the legend alive, especially amidst the surf-angling fraternity. With 18kg of drag and a spool that’ll hold 380 yards of 30-pound braid, there’s nothing out of reach.
A full metal body, sideplate, and rotor, 9+1 sealed stainless bearings, and IPX6 sealing complete the picture. With CNC machined gears and pinion, you know you have a spin reel that will endure countless battles with monsters. Add a spare spool with a lighter line class and it’s the only reel you’ll need for the surf.
Along with the Daiwa BG, the Shimano Saragosa has been the best spin reel released in recent years. The 8000 is perfect for those who like live baiting but isn’t so big that it’s overkill using other techniques for a smaller class of fish.
The high gearing delivers over a meter of retrieve making it a great choice for big, fast lures. With 35 pounds of cross carbon drag, you can stop just about anything, especially when backed up by 340 yards of 40 pounds braid.
With waterproof cross-carbon drag assembly, IPX8 water resistance line roller assembly, and X protect, it’s built for the rigors of surf fishing. It will endure countless years of big fish battles in reel-wrecking conditions.
Beginners need a reliable reel that's easy and versatile. The Penn Battle III delivers all of this at an affordable price point. PENN’s proprietary CNC gears head the feature list, with HT 100 carbon drag, and a full metal body and side plate rounding out the core benefits. It’s a joy to fish.
There are 7 sizes from which to choose, 2500 through to 10500. A Penn Battle III is a no-brainer choice for the beginner looking for value, without sacrificing performance and endurance.
Be aware the drag system and body have no sealing, so you’ll need to take extra care not to drop it in the sand and surf. Sealing protects your reel against sand, salt, and water ingress - a constant risk in surf conditions. However, drag and body sealing can be very expensive features, and while desirable, aren’t necessary features for great surf fishing performance.
I have always been a fan of Shimano’s entry-level spin reels, and the Sedona tops the list. The Sedona will get you casting surf breaks for less than 100 bucks. Importantly, you’ll be fishing a reel you can trust, with enough strength and power to tackle all but the ocean's biggest.
With only 3 stainless steel ball bearings, you’re not getting high-end smoothness and durability. However, the Sedona is a joy to fish, delivering great performance and endurance relative to its very low price.
Sizes start at 500 through to 8000, giving budget-driven anglers access to a wide range of techniques and targets for a tiny outlay. With Hagane gears, X-ship technology, and a 10-year warranty, this is a basic surf fishing reel at its most reliable.
What Size Reel Is Best For Surf Fishing
Modern spin reels have astonishing power and tech features. A 4000 or 5000-reel size is all the average angler will need to tackle the majority of surf-dwelling fish and conditions. With these surf reels, you’re set for everything from whiting and pompano to big drum, stripers, bluefish, mackerel, and modest sharks.
My go-to reel is a BG 3000. I’ll sometimes use a 2500 for the sport if conditions are light enough. For big live baits and big targets, 8000 to 10000 are great as a rule of thumb. However, I use a 14000 Saragosa that doubles as my rock fishing reel. It has compact body design and lightweight construction giving it similar dimensions and weight to some 8 and 10000 size reels, but with the power and line capacity of a 14000.
For casting reels, 300 to 400 sizes are popular. For conventional reels, selecting by size can be difficult. I choose conventional reels by spool capacity and drag capacity based on the intended target.
Surf Fishing Reel Buying Guide
By and large, any reel of a quality build has its place in the surf. But there are certain things to look for to ensure you get reliability.
Very few reels under $100 are advisable for surf fishing. The Sedona is an exception. But for a little more than $100, you can get exceptional surf reels, such as the Daiwa BG. For those on a budget, $120 to $250 will get you feature-filled quality.
Top-shelf performance and features start around $340.High-end reels retail between $600 and $1000+.
Penn, Daiwa, and Shimano offer the greatest range of surf reels, including budget through to top shelf, performance reels. Van Staal offers top shelf only, with Okuma and Quantum, offering limited options entry to mid-price. Okuma is worth a look for value for money across the price spectrum.
Brands such as Fluaeger, KastKing, and Mitchel offer entry-level gear. My advice is always to establish your budget and application before you shortlist brands.
I advise a full metal body and side plate for rigidity. Brass or stainless main gears and pinions are a must. Sealed bearings are a good idea, however, once you have sand and water ingress, cleaning is required anyway.
An absence of cheap plastic is a good sign - it doesn’t take a trained eye to spot a reel that looks cheaply made. Trust your gut instinct.
Should budget permit, I look for a minimum of 5 sealed stainless steel bearings plus the clutch - 6 all up. Ball bearings are critical as they reduce friction, movement, and slop significantly. This helps ensure the transfer of power, and reduces wear and tear on critical parts.
For those seeking conventional and casting reels, you’ll have the option of centrifugal or magnetic brakes or a combination of both.
I think centrifugal brakes are a better match for surf conditions, but it’s not a critical consideration. By and large, surf casting with reels of conventional configuration comes down to angler skill, irrespective of brakes.
Most brands offer corrosion-resistant coatings or technologies, usually starting at a lower mid-price. Alloys and stainless steel offer excellent corrosion resistance and are materials you should seek out.
While a carbon body offers good corrosion resistance, it lacks rigidity in cheaper models, and that’s an undesirable tradeoff. The best anti-corrosion technology in existence is your post-session cleaning regime - and by orders of magnitude!
Drag and clutch sealing is now more common in affordable reels. Full-body sealing and waterproof reels don’t start until prices hit the high end. Sealing is great for the surf.
Keeping sand, salt, and water out ensures your reel will have a long working life. Don’t be dissuaded if the reel that suits you has no sealing. Take care not to drop it, and clean it regularly, and a quality reel will endure.
I just can’t go past a Daiwa BG. The performance, features, and quality of materials relative to its modest price make this the perfect surf reel for all surf anglers. If my budget permitted, I’d have several Van Staals - they’re the ultimate surf weapon. If big live baits and big lures are more your thing, you can’t go wrong with the Saragosa.
While conventional and casting reels are great, the spin reel is the easiest, most versatile reel for the majority of surf anglers. It’s also the most popular by far.
A 4000 or 5000-size spin reel delivers outstanding versatility - especially with a spare spool filled with a different line class. Try a 300 or 400 casting reel, and select a conventional reel with drag and spool capacities suitable for the target.
A 4000-size reel is one of the best options for surf fishing and suits a range of surf rod sizes.
To choose a surf fishing reel, first decide on general targets (species of fish), techniques, and a location. Establish your budget, then work out if a spin, conventional, or baitcasting reel is best for you. Select possible sizes, then shortlist brands. Are you buying a rod, or matching an existing surf fishing rod?
A 3000-size Daiwa BG is my go-to surf reel. It can handle everything up to medium-sized fish - the fight is fantastic.
It’s good to fish light and compact reels when you can, but only if you’re confident using lighter gear. It helps you avoid the inevitable fatigue associated with holding and casting big reels attached to big surf rods. You don’t need a 10000 size reel and 14 foot rod to catch many of the fish you’ll be targeting in the surf.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.