What's New In Inshore Reels

Advances in materials and construction have made reels last longer and perform better in salt water. Here's a look at some of the key components of a good saltwater reel.

Casting artificials for inshore species can put a lot of wear on a reel. Advances in saltwater reels now allow reels like this Penn SS series to stay reliable for many years of use.
Photo by Mike Marsh

It was only a couple of decades ago when fishing in salt water meant buying a new reel after one or two seasons of use. Encrustations, salt and seawater caused a lifetime of wear on bearing surfaces in a short time compared to reels seeing only freshwater duty. Seawater corroded all metals used for reel bodies, gear systems and bearing surfaces including steel, aluminum and brass.

Fortunately for the anglers of today, buying a seaworthy saltwater reel has never been easier, with all major manufacturers offering product lines of reels specially designed to last for many years of salt water use. The technology used for salt water has also translated into better reels used for catching freshwater fish; some manufacturers can tout their reels as suitable for double-duty use in saltwater or freshwater fishing.

"Our Medalist series spinning reel is designed specifically for salt water use," said Joel Townley of Shakespeare. "But we are also recommending our higher end freshwater reels, our President and Trion series reels, for salt water use. When using these freshwater series reels in salt water, the only thing you have to do is rinse the reel with fresh water after using them in salt water."

Indeed, rinsing any reel after salt water use is an excellent idea. Rinsing helps clean the lines, roller bearings, bails and rod guides, helping them last longer.

Advanced features of saltwater reels include stainless steel bearings, titanium line guides, anodized aluminum spools and frames, sealed drag systems, larger spools and specialized bail arms.

Shimano has come up with new corrosion-resistant bearings for its spinning reels. The company's ARB bearings undergo a treatment process using chromium to make its stainless steel bearings at least 10 times more corrosion resistant than if they were manufactured of only stainless steel. Not only is the technology incorporated into the main spool shaft and drive shaft of the reel, it is used for every bearing. For some reel models, that means there are 12 to 14 of these corrosion-resistant bearings.

Shimano's top-of-the-line Stella spinning reel series has a new finish called the "S" finish. This is a multi-coating treatment that is applied to the aluminum frame, creating a protective shield against scratches. Once an anodized aluminum frame has been scratched, corrosion can begin at the site of the scratch. Spinning reels are subjected to more abuse than baitcasting or fly reels because it is difficult to lay them down or set them in a rod holder where they are not in contact with a hard surface like a slip-resistant deck with a grit-textured surface coat. Another feature is a tapered bail arm, which allows heavy monofilament lines used in saltwater fishing to feed from the reel more smoothly.

The bodies of Shimano's Calcutta TE series baitcasting reels are made of anodized aluminum. But it is a stronger metal than the metal used for making Stella spinning reels. Waterproof drag systems are incorporated into the Calcutta series. Keeping seawater out of drag systems is the best way to prevent mineral and salt deposits, which can result in a sticky drag. A smooth drag is vital to landing large fish with light tackle reels.

For saltwater fly reels, rim control is all the rage. Fly-fishing for big saltwater game fish species has become increasingly popular. The problem with landing a big redfish from a grassbed is that the angler has to adjust the drag multiple times during the fight.

Some anglers use finger pressure against the fly line, but that can result in a snapped line or blistered fingertips. Some adjust the drag, but both hands are needed on the rod for leverage during a fight with a big fish. Fortunately, industry leaders are now offering saltwater fly reels with exposed rims. An angler uses the palm of his hand to apply pressure to the reel, allowing the line to come off smoothly when a big fish is on.

One problem with spinning reels is that the drag system adjustment can be knocked loose by the constant pounding that is part and parcel to boating near or in the ocean. The drag-tension adjusting knob can even fly off the reel, rendering it useless for the day. The tension knob can even become so encrusted that it slips as a fish is fought, increasing the drag to more than an angler needs at an inopportune time. Most saltwater spinning reels now have clicker detents to securely lock drag settings in place to solve the problem. Many saltwater baitcasting reels also include click-adjustable drags.

The biggest problem with using a freshwater baitcasting reel in salt water is line capacity. While 100 yards of line is plenty for landing a largemouth bass, it can take three times that to land a big saltwater fish.

Wider frames on saltwater baitcasting reels, along with larger diameter spools help store more line. But with the larger frames comes the problem of heavier weight. Some manufacturers solve the weight problem by making reels with graphite frames, which still hold high-capacity, anodized aluminum spools.

Anti-reverse mechanisms are beefed up for saltwater reels compared to those used in freshwater reels. A look inside a saltwater reel will show a sturdy, stainless steel anti-reverse dog or cam with stainless steel springs to stop the reel from reversing instantly and reliably.

Also found inside a good saltwater reel are brass gears instead of the aluminum or soft-metal alloy gears used to save weight and expense in the manufacture of freshwater reels.

Worm gears and other levelwind components of baitcasting reels are made of stainless steel or other corrosion- and wear-resistant materials on all saltwater models. Another source of excessive wear is the line roller bearings on the bails of saltwater spinning reels. Line rollers must be made of hard, corrosion-resistant materials because they result in more failures of saltwater spinning reels than any other mechanical feature.

The bails of lower end reels have plastic bearing sleeves with stainless steel line rollers. These wear out quickly and are prone to make noise as they rotate when they begin to wear. Higher end reels have line rollers of high-grade stainless titanium or other hard-alloy metals rotating on stainless steel ball bearings in brass housings over stainless steel shafts.

Bail springs are

another common source of failure. Saltwater bail mechanisms that use stainless steel springs are much more reliable than steel spring mechanisms. The best saltwater spinning reel bails use coil springs instead of V-spring trip mechanisms.

An angler who chooses a quality saltwater reel to get the job done may have to pay a higher price, but for him the mechanical failure of a reel will never become an excuse for the "big one" that got away.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

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