Offshore fishing can be harsh on reels. Constant salt spray, getting bashed around in the boat and hooking big angry fish will soon test the durability of any reel.
The exact type of offshore fishing you do will dictate the type of reel that best suits your needs, and then there’s the budget to consider as well. With the price of fuel and other boating expenses, any new reel purchase needs to be carefully considered. There’s no point in emptying your hip pocket for something that isn’t quite up to the task.
Before it comes time to fork out your hard earned cash, consider some of the following:
• How much use will the reel get?
• Are you willing to look after it properly?
• Will you be fishing really deep water for big fish, or close in for pan-sized fish?
• What size and type of line will the reel be spooled up with? and
• How much are you able to spend?
Three main types of reel are used for offshore fishing along our coastline: threadline, overhead and non-sidecast Alveys. Then there are the sub categories – threadlines can be large or small, and some have the Baitrunner-style feature, and so on. Overheads come in all shapes and sizes, there are star drags and lever drags, and a few have level-wind mechanisms. There are quite a few big Alveys available too, some for rods and others that are mounted on the boat as deck winches.
Threadlines (eggbeaters) are very easy to use and suit a range of situations, from catching livebait to spinning for kings or tuna, and inshore snapper fishing. Line capacity is more of an issue offshore than it is in the estuary or off the beach so, unless the reel is to be used only for catching yakkas and slimies, it’s a good idea to go for bigger threadlines that hold a few hundred metres of braid or nylon mono line. In other words, at least a 6000 size reel.
Some models that fit the bill include Daiwa’s BG60, Shimano’s TSS4 or Stradic 6000, and the Penn 650ssm. These reels are tough and durable, not cheap, but not too expensive either. If you spool such reels with 8kg mono or braid they can be comfortably used for bottom bouncing in water up to 50m, and quickly rigged up to throw lures at tuna or kings.
Threadline reels with a Baitrunner feature are strongly favoured by snapper fishers using unweighted or lightly weighted baits over shallow reef. You leave the rod in the holder with the Baitrunner set with enough tension so the line doesn’t keep slipping out as the boat rocks around, but free enough for a snapper to take a bait without feeling too much line tension. Once a fish starts ripping out some line, a turn of the handle will engage the reel and you’re on – a very effective mechanism if shallow water snapper fishing is your thing. Once again, it makes sense to go for a medium to large sized reel like a Shimano BTR 6500 or Daiwa Regal Plus 5000.
There’s not a great deal of difference between a decent sized threadline and a small overhead reel for inshore reef fishing for the likes of snapper, bream, flathead or small kingfish. A small overhead like an Abu 7000, Daiwa SL 50 or Shimano Tekota 600 may hold a bit more line than some of the medium sized threadlines, and these overheads also have a ratchet so they can be set in a rod holder like a Baitrunner. On the downside, they’re not as versatile as threadlines; small overheads are nowhere near as good for casting a lure.
When we get up to the larger overheads, some have a star drag and others have a lever drag. So which should you choose?
The good old star drag design has been around forever. Star drag reels like Daiwa Sealines and the old Penn Senators are as tough as nails, require little maintenance and hold heaps of line. They can handle big fish and can be used in shallow or deep water, depending on the exact size of the reel.
The main advantage of lever drags is that the drag can be set at a pre-determined level by winding the small cam at the base of the drag lever. The lever can then be pushed up to the ‘strike’ level, which is the full drag setting that has already been adjusted, pulled back down to the ‘freespool’ position and pushed back up again without changing the main setting of the drag. This is a really great feature that means you can apply more or less pressure during the fight without the pre-set pressure ever changing. You can’t do the same thing with a star drag.
Lever drag reels generally have a much larger drag surface area, which can handle the rigours of prolonged battles with big fish. Some models are even air cooled to prevent heat build-up during the fight, which can reduce the pressure or lead to bust-offs.
Levelwind mechanisms, commonly found on smaller overheads and baitcasters, conveniently lay the line neatly on the spool for you. Some medium and larger sized overheads designed for offshore use also have a levelwind feature. However, while this makes life easier than using your fingers to lay line evenly on the spool, there are a couple of downsides to a levelwind overhead.
First, when a really big, fast running fish is hooked, if the level wind isn’t quite up to scratch it can jam, resulting in an instant bust-off. Levelwinds aren’t really suited to spools that need to spin very fast, either when casting or when a big fish is doing the bolt. That’s why you’ll never see a level wind on a big game reel used for marlin.
Another sad fact of levelwinds on reels used for offshore work is that some of them have a habit of jamming up if you don’t keep up a regular maintenance routine. It only takes a grain of sand or some grime and the next thing you know the whole mechanism is stuffed and may need a few replacement parts. So if you do want to go with a levelwind reel, keep those points in mind and be prepared to look after it.
There are some awesome big game reels on today’s market, generally costing around $1000 or more. Such reels are a must if you’re serious about fishing for marlin, sharks and big yellowfin. Apart from that though, most smaller lever drag reels will perform well when it comes to kingfish, cobia, Spanish mackerel and average sized yellowfin tuna. There aren’t that many huge fish that demand the use of large lever drag game reels along the NSW coastline so, unless you’re right into the big stuff, I reckon you won’t need one. Why spend a grand on one reel when you could buy two good lever drag reels and two matching rods for the same amount!
And lastly, seek the advice of your local tackle store staff. They should be happy to help.
There are two main types of line that we can spool up offshore reels with: GSP (braided) lines and good old nylon mono. For deep water bottom fishing you really shouldn’t look past GSP. You can pack a lot more of it on the spool to enable you to fish deeper water, it’s far less affected by strong currents (which may drag thicker mono way too much) and you will be able to feel the bites 10 times better than with mono.
When it comes to a lot of average inshore fishing around shallow reefs for snapper, kings and small tuna, nylon mono is a very user-friendly option that knots well, deals with big fish over reefy country and casts OK. It’s not a bad idea to spool up average sized threadlines with GSP or braid so you can pack more line on the reel and spool up your medium to large size overheads with thicker mono for bigger fish.
When it comes to marlin, which jump and jerk around a lot, mono will be much more forgiving on both angler and fish. Non-stretch braid will increase the chances of pulling hooks, bending hooks and snapping the line or knots when a marlin is going nuts on the other end.
Regardless of which type of line you go for, don’t spool your reel with heavier line than it’s designed for. If you put 25kg mono on a medium sized threadline or small overhead it won’t cast properly, and you won’t get much line on the spool. If you want to use thicker line, use a bigger reel that will hold plenty of it.
Even the best quality reels won’t last too long if you don’t look after them. After each trip, tighten the drag up before giving the reel a very light spray with fresh water. Dry the reel off and back off the drag once you’re confident that there is no water left inside the reel.
If the reel is in regular use, give it a light spray with Inox or WD40 once a month and wipe off any excess grime. Give the working parts like the handle, levelwind, bail roller and Baitrunner lever a few drops of light grade reel oil here and there and your reel should continue to perform well.
Anglers who leave reels in boats or out in the sun for prolonged periods are asking for trouble, and when the reel lets them down they often blame it on the manufacturer or the shop that they bought it from! Human neglect is the main cause of reel failure.