6 Surf Spinning Reels That Need to Be on Your Short List

Last updated on March 22nd, 2021

best spinning reels for surf fishing

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6 Best Surf Fishing Reels for Your Money

The 6 surf fishing spinning reels presented here are neither the most expensive nor are they considered to be budget reels for surf anglers. They are, however, reasonably affordable, especially given their top-notch quality and host of high-end features often found in much more expensive saltwater spinning surf reels.

These surf spinning reels are for the fisherman who is looking for an everyday reel that he or she can fish regularly with the confidence that it will perform for years to come – with a little regular maintenance along the way, of course.

Most anglers don’t want to go the cheap route and have to replace reels every year or two but, at the same time, we also don’t want something so expensive and esoteric that we’re afraid to put it through the rigors of saltwater fishing.

After all, that Stella SWB is a thing of beauty and precision but most anglers would be loathed to drop it in the sand or expose it to repeated dunks in the surf, though it is more than capable of withstanding it. Let’s be honest, it’s an expensive, showpiece kind of reel (did, I mention, it’s also one helluva reel?) that people tend to baby, and that’s understandable. 

The surf fishing reels featured in this post are beautiful workhorses – the kind of reels that the vast majority of anglers strive to have at least one of in his/her reel collection. Our lineup aims straight for the middle-ground of saltwater/surf reels – reels you can be proud of but have no qualms about putting to work.

We’ll start with 3 surf reels that are at the very top of this group in terms of cost and quality. If you’ve got a few more dollars to spend on a surf reel, you may want to take a good look at these first 3 offerings. What you’ll get with them are superior design, materials, and construction.

They are just a step below some of the top brands’ top-tier saltwater spinners and share many of the premium features and construction found in those reels without the steep price tag – in a nutshell, they are some of the very best surf fishing reels for the money currently on the market.

The second group (#4 through #6) consists of 3 surf spinning reels that are just a step behind the first 3, in my opinion, but are by no means slouches. They may, in fact, represent the best values in the surf spinning reel category because they are reels that are affordable to most but are made with the kind of quality that almost guarantees you’ll be fishing them for many years to come.

So, without further ado let’s dig in and take a closer look at our 6 top-rated, mid-priced surf spinning reels.

Shimano Ultegra XTD

SHIMANO Ultegra XTD Surf Reel, ULT5500XTD

See Shimano Ultegra CI4+ XTC on Amazon

The Shimano Ultegra XTD surf spinning reel comes in just 2 sizes/models: the 5500 and 14000. Like most of Shimano’s best stuff, the reel boasts a host of design features found in their high-end reels.

We’re talking things such as precision cold-forged Hagane aluminum gears, a lightweight carbon-infused graphite body design, High-Speed Drag system (the drag that only takes a very small turn set to fight mode) and, of course, superior saltwater corrosion protection –  some of the kind of features seen in their flagship saltwater spinning reel, the Stella.

More on the drag system: the Ultegra XTD 5500 comes in at 33lbs of drag and the 14000 gives you 44lbs of drag force to put the brakes on the biggest, most powerful surf species. Both are sealed drag systems to enhance long-term performance.

The Ultegra XTD also comes with 4 +1 stainless steel S A-RB  two-sided shielded bearings to protect against salt, sand and other debris from interfering with their smooth rotation. 

Shimano’s X-Protect feature keeps water and sand away from the internals (body and rotor) so the inevitable drop or dunk in the surf doesn’t ruin your day of fishing.

A rigid graphite composite rotor and cold-forged aluminum spool contribute the reel’s durability. The reel also uses Shimano’s proprietary X-Ship technology to keep the pinion and drive gears in near-perfect alignment. This greatly reduces flex and the chance of failure when the action gets heavy.

One of the features I really like about the Ultegra is that it is a long cast spinning reel. Shimano is able to increase casting distance greatly here by utilizing a “Parallel Body” design combined with their “Slow Oscillation” system to allow the line to lay flat on the spool and come off the reel evenly.

Combined with the previously-mentioned X-Ship, which also serves to keep the friction between the spool shaft and gear at almost zero, you get longer casting distances than with other reels.

The retrieve rate is 41″ per turn for both XTD sizes/models. Lastly, you get a spare spool and 3 line/spool reducers with this reel. 

This reel should be on every serious surf fisherman’s shortlist – it’s that good. Pair it up with a good, quality lightweight surf rod in the 9′ – 12′ range and go have some fun at the beach!

Top Features:

  • Very lightweight yet strong CI4+ body and rotor
  • Hagane gears for power and precision
  • Cold-forged aluminum rotor
  • Sealed drag and X-Protect water/sand protection
  • Long cast design – one of the best surf spinning reels for distance
Buy Shimano Ultegra XTD on Amazon

Penn Slammer 3

Penn 1403985 Slammer III Spinning

See Penn Slammer 3 on Amazon

This is a reel on which we did an in-depth comparison to the Saragosa SW in a featured post a while back. Since then, the Slammer 3 only continues to amaze. With 10 sizes and models, from the diminutive 3500 to the massive 10500, surf fishermen have plenty from which to choose with this surf/offshore reel. I think it is the best Penn reel for surf fishing.

As we wrote then in the head-to-head comparison, the Slammer 3 is built like an armored tank with its all-metal construction – body, side plates, rotor, spool. The reel has an indestructible feel to it!

Add in CNC brass gearing, 6 stainless steel bearings, Penn’s proprietary Dura-Drag putting out as much as 60 lbs of fish-stopping drag (on the bigger 9500 and 10500 models) – all protected against saltwater and debris/sand by the reel’s IPX6 sealed system – and you’ve got a reel built for surf fishing!

And oh, did I mention that this reel won the “Best Saltwater Reel” award at ICAST 2016, or that its striking black and gold color scheme also makes it one of the most attractive surf reels on the market?

Not much to be said about this reel that hasn’t been said already. It’s the type of reel that you will be still fishing many years from now with a little routine maintenance. The Slammer 3 is worth its salt and then some.

Top Features:

  • All-metal construction means almost no flex and maximum power
  • CNC Brass gears and sealed SS bearings for years of performance and durability
  • Prodigious drag system courtesy of Penn’s Dura-Drag technology
  • IPX6 rating/seals keep destructive saltwater corrosion out of the reel’s internal components
  • ICAST Best Saltwater Reel winner
Buy Penn Slammer III on Amazon

Shimano Saragosa SW 

Shimano Saragosa SW A Saltwater Spinning Reel, SRG10000SWAPG

See Shimano Saragosa SW on Amazon

The Saragosa has been at the top of almost everyone’s list for a long time now. If you plan on being anywhere near salt water for an extended period of time, this reel has to be in the conversation. As a saltwater/offshore/surf fishing spinning reel, there are few that are better, even taking into consideration reels that are more expensive.

At the heart of this reel is Shimano’s Hagane cold-forged aluminum technology incorporated into the reel’s body and gears, which are made using 3D technology instead of traditional cutting. This gear manufacturing process is an important one to the reel’s smoothness, strength, and longevity – things particularly crucial when fishing from the surf.

The Saragosa SW is further made saltwater-worthy by its use of 5 shielded, corrosion-resistant S A-RB ball bearings in the smaller models and 6 bearings in the bigger 20000 and 25000 reels. X-Shield and X-Protect seals and gaskets throughout the reel help keep out corrosive saltwater and debris. The reel has an IPX8 rating, ensuring that saltwater intrusion doesn’t ruin your day.

Another of the reel’s strengths is its sealed drag. Though not as monstrous as the Slammer 3’s, it is more than enough, ranging from 22 lbs – 44 lbs across its 6-reel sizes/models.

But numbers don’t tell the full story with Saragosa’s X-Tough Drag. Probably even more so impressive than its stopping power is its smoothness. The reel uses over-sized carbon washers at the spool’s base to greatly reduce wobble and allow the line to come off silky smooth. The evenness of line distribution can’t be overstated when you’ve got a big angry fish pulling hard.

Rounding out the reel’s standout features is a rigid, lightweight graphite rotor, and a cold-forged aluminum spool. One of the features surf fishermen really like about this reel’s spool is a tapered lip design that lets the line fly off the spool for longer casts with less chance of tangling.

The Shimano Saragosa has long been considered by many to be the gold standard in the mid-priced saltwater spinning reel category. For many, it’s also the go-to option in the surf.  

Top Features:

  • The go-to saltwater/surf spinning reel for scores of anglers for over a decade
  • Strong Hagane body and 3D designed Hagane gears
  • X-Shield/X-Protect with an IPX8 rating protect against saltwater penetration 
  • Powerful but silky-smooth drag means more landed fish
  • Tapered spool lip for longer casts and less line tangle
Buy Shimano Saragosa SW on Amazon

Daiwa Saltist

Daiwa Saltist 5.3:1 Gear Spinning Reel, 48.70"/33lb/33 lb

See Daiwa Saltist on Amazon

If you have ever fished the Daiwa BG then you will love the Saltist. If you haven’t heard of the Saltist before today, it’s probably because Daiwa doesn’t promote it as much as the BG or some of their other reels – but it is one nice surf reel.

I find that it is a more saltwater-resistant and beefed-up version of the BG. A casual look at the two reels will show that they look very similar to each other, color scheme notwithstanding.

In fact, the Saltist shares a lot of the same great features and components with the BG reel. They are things like the Air Rotor, which is nothing more than a unique rotor design that shaves off some weight and makes the graphite rotor more rigid by making it more compact.

The oversized DigiGear with its bigger gear tooth footprint is another shared design that adds to the reel’s strength and power. Daiwa’s Hard Bodyz machined anodized aluminum reel body and side plate also make the Saltist resilient to the elements and the rigors of saltwater surf fishing.

But what sets this reel apart from the BG is its upgraded protection against saltwater intrusion and corrosion, the arch-enemies of every surf fisherman.

The Saltist excels at saltwater protection because of its Magsealed main shaft, Magsealed line roller, and corrosion-resistant ball bearings (CRBB) of which there are 8 (+ 1 roller bearing). I believe those upgrades alone make it a good investment if you are going to be spending time in the surf.

Other key components of the Saltist include a thick surf-worthy bail wire and a waterproof ADT carbon drag system.

The Daiwa Saltist comes in 7 sizes/models: 2500, 3000, 4000, 4500, 5000, 6500 and 8000. Also, like a lot of other Daiwa reels, they seem to hold more line in comparison to other reels of similar size, which is a plus when surf fishing.

The Daiwa Saltist is a reel that exceeds every expectation the surf fisherman may have while at the same time being very affordable.

Top Features:

  • Anodized aluminum body and oversized main gear (DigiGear) for strength
  • Magsealed key components for a greater level of saltwater protection
  • Waterproof drag system for reliable stopping power
  • Thick, sturdy bail wire
  • Generous line capacity compared to other similar size reels
Buy Daiwa Saltist on Amazon

Quantum Cabo PT

Quantum CSP40PTSE Cabo Spin Reel

See Quantum Cabo PT on Amazon

One of the first things that impressed me about the Cabo PT when I saw it a few years ago was its rugged good looks. That certainly drew me in to have a closer look. Well, today I own 2 of these wonderful saltwater reels, the smallest of the lineup, the PT40 and the largest, the PT80 (there 4 models altogether in the series). I’ve had no regrets in the 4 years or so that I’ve owned them.

The Quantum Cabo PT was built specifically for saltwater/surf fishing. In my opinion, it is an underrated surf fishing reel. I’ve used the smaller PT40 in the surf for everything from pompano to jacks and it has performed without a hiccup.

It is about as reliable a reel you will find in this mid-range group and the performance has remained smooth throughout the frequent saltwater sprays, the occasional dunks and even a few drops in the drops in the sand.

I can say the same for the largest Cabo, the PT80, also. I have caught everything from snook to shark on it and it has not failed me once. The bottom line here is that the Quantum Cabo PT, throughout the entire model line is a serious surf fishing spinning reel, though it doesn’t often get mentioned with the Saragosa, Slammer 3 or other recognized names in surf circles.

So, let’s take a closer look at what makes this reel one of the best out in the surf. While the reel has many outstanding features, I’d like to focus on the ones I feel make the biggest difference with regards to its performance and reliability.

With that said, let’s dive into the reel’s construction. After you get past the beautiful silver and metal blue-accented cosmetics, you immediately notice the reel’s solid construction. Everything about the Cabo’s design says ‘I can take whatever you throw at me.

One of the things that first jumps out at you is the angular industrial-looking reel arm with the big, beefy knob handle. This combination gives you not just the feel of reliability in surf battles but also real cranking power with little to no flexing under load.

The reel body is made of a lightweight but strong anodized aluminum alloy that houses Quantum’s CAD designed gears that are manufactured with tight tolerances for increased strength, smoothness, and durability under challenging surf conditions. When you’re reeling in a big fish or one that wants to put up an epic fight, this type of component quality greatly reduces the chance of failure.

But when we’re talking about surf fishing none of that would matter if those internal components were not adequately protected against saltwater intrusion. This is another of Cabo’s strong points, I believe.

The Cabo features 8 high-grade stainless steel bearings, a sealed clutch and a drag system that incorporates both carbon and ceramic multi drag disks to both prevent water penetration and provide smooth line output and maximum lockdown power.

The use of ceramic is key here because it dissipates heat more efficiently than other materials during long, hard runs, resulting in better stopping power – think ceramic disc brakes on an Indy race car.

Speaking of the drag, it is truly impressive. For example, the smallest model, the Cabo PT40, is capable of 30 lbs of drag, an eye-popping number for a reel of that size. The PT80 has a max drag of 50lbs! That’ll put the brakes on the likes of big stripers, bonito, tarpon… almost anything else in the surf. The Cabo’s drag is also one of the smoothest you’ll ever experience.

Other things to like about the reel include its lightweight design – the smaller models, the Cabo PT40 and PT50 weigh 13.4 oz and 13.8 oz each, and the larger PT60 and PT80 weigh 24.2 oz and 24.9 oz respectively.

It also offers excellent line capacity across all sizes, and the thin nickel-titanium bail arm is remarkably strong, cutting down on weight and ensuring that if you accidentally bend the arm it will not stay bent but instead return to form.

The Quantum Cabo PT is one of those under-the-radar types of reels that will make you want to kick yourself for not buying one sooner.

Top Features:

  • Lightweight with incredibly powerful and smooth drag thanks to a combination of ceramic and carbon washers
  • Sealed Magnum drag and clutch for improved performance/longevity
  • Aluminum alloy body and CAD designed gears increase strength and reliability under extreme surf conditions
  • Generous line capacity and a nickel-titanium bail arm that resists bending/damage
  • 3-Year Extended Warranty ( 1-year standard plus additional 2 yrs when registered within 60 days of purchase)
Buy Quantum Cabo PT on Amazon

Penn Spinfisher VI

Penn 1481262 Spinfisher VI Spinning Saltwater Reel, 4500 Reel Size, 6.2: 1 Gear Ratio, 40" Retrieve Rate, 6 Bearings, Ambidextrous

See Penn Spinfisher VI on Amazon

Since its debut back in June of 2018, Penn’s 6th and the latest installment of their highly popular Spinfisher series has been met with great demand. In fact, so much so that getting hold of one of these reels has been a challenge at times as some retailers have struggled to keep up with the unprecedented demand.

So what makes the Penn Spinfisher  VI such a hot commodity? Well, as the replacement to the highly successful Spinfisher V fishing reel, the VI offers some key improvements for surf fishing.

One of the most important for surf fishermen is the addition of IPX 5 sealing against saltwater. That means that the reel’s gearbox and drag system – two of the most crucial components in any reel – are protected against the normal saltwater spray and the occasional wave crashes are not going to get into the reel’s important internals and wreak havoc.

Though the IPX5 seals will keep water, sand, and dirt from penetrating the gears and drag, they do not make the reel waterproof.  Not even the Slammer 3 with its IPX6 rating can make that claim. The closest reel to being waterproof may be the Van Staal, but even then I don’t believe there is any reel that is 100% waterproof.

That being said, the IPX5 offers more than enough water protection to make this reel an improvement over its predecessor and most of the surf reels on the market today.

Looking at the other features that make the VI one of the best saltwater surf spinning reels around and a high-demand item, let’s start with the reel’s full metal body and side plates. Though this was also the case with the Spinfisher V, it’s worth noting because metal is always preferred over graphite in the body when we’re talking about fishing in the surf.

Another area that the Spinfisher  VI has upgraded over the V is in its gearing. The VI uses the more precise CNC technology to manufacture the main gear to a higher tolerance for more strength and smoothness under heavy load. Models 650010500 have a CNC brass main gear while models 25005500 are outfitted with an aluminum main gear. All models have a brass pinion gear.

The drag as mentioned previously now has IPX5 seals but the drag material itself remains the tried and true, reliable HT-100 carbon fiber system seen in the Spinfisher V. Maximum drag starts at 15 lbs. for the smallest model, the VI 2500, and tops out at 50 lbs. for the behemoth Spinfisher VI 10500.

All VI models have 5 + 1 SS sealed bearings and come with excellent line capacity, so long runs in the surf should be no problem. Besides standard models, the Spinfisher VI also comes in Live Liner (LL), Long Cast (LC) and Bail-less (BLS) models.

Given the upgrade to the reel’s sealing via IPX5 protection and refinements made to its main gear through the use of the CNC process, the Penn Spinfisher VI comes as an improvement over an already great saltwater reel,  maybe making it the best bang for the buck in the surf fishing reel space.

Top Features:

  • IPX5 rated seals protect against saltwater, sand and debris intrusion to greatly reduce the chance of failure over time
  • All-metal reel body and side plates for maximum rigidity/anti-flex when fighting big aggressive fish
  • CNC machined brass and aluminum main gears give you improved smoothness and reliability for those long, hard fights
  • Proven and powerful Penn HT-100 drag system  to tame almost anything in the surf
  • One of the best surf spinning reel values currently on the market
Buy Penn Spinfisher VI on Amazon

What do you think about our 6 surf spinning reel picks? Let us know in the comments if you have a reel you feel should have been included, or maybe you have an entirely different list of choices.

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About Dorado

John Pardal, aka Dorado, is the editor as well as an author for Reel Adventure Fishing. He has fished extensively up and down the U.S. Atlantic coast, throughout much of Florida and a bit of the Caribbean. John loves writing about all aspects of sportfishing and is passionate about conservation and promoting sustainable fishing.

2 thoughts on “6 Surf Spinning Reels That Need to Be on Your Short List

  1. Terry Wright

    I have a question pertaining to these spinning reels. My son recently got into fishing with me, we started going last year and he has been hooked on it since. I have gotten him his own equipment but he has been on my about getting a surf reel. Which one of these would you recommend for a 13 year old boy? His birthday is coming up so I want to get him one.

    1. Dorado Post author

      Hi Terry. That’s great that your son has gotten into surf fishing. He will have blast! All the reels on this list are great choices, but since he’s just starting out I would go with something like the Quantum Cabo PT or the Penn Spinfisher VI because they are excellent reels but little easier on the wallet in comparison to the others. A Spinfisher 4500/5500 or a Cabo PT 50 maybe paired with a 10 – 12 ft surf rod like one of these should have him surf fishing like a pro in no time.

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