Saltwater: Reel Tough

Saltwater gamefish are often big and strong, and the conditions in which they live can be very demanding on anglers and their tackle. Sometimes a baitcasting reel is the only option.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Saltwater gamefish are often big and strong, and the conditions in which they live can be very demanding on anglers and their tackle, particularly reels. You can use an inferior reel on small freshwater fish and get away with it, but tough saltwater gamefish will quickly exploit any weaknesses. I've learned this lesson many times over the past 40 years, and I've found that baitcasting (revolving spool levelwind) reels endure the demands of saltwater fishing better than spinning reels.

Several factors make baitcasting reels more efficient fish-fighting tools. They often have drag systems that are superior to those of spinning reels, especially since the very design of spinning reels tends to introduce line twist during a long fight. Some tests I ran a few years ago indicated that monofilament line twisted under hard strain soon loses 25 percent of its strength.

With baitcasting reels, an angler can also more easily control the drag during a long, difficult fight. While an angler can apply extra drag to a spinning reel by hand-cupping the spool, this requires shifting the cranking hand from the reel handle up to the spool and back again. The baitcaster only has to move a thumb instantly into position on the revolving spool, without any shifting of the hands.

Baitcasting reels are also much lighter than spinning reels with the same line capacity and are thus more comfortable to use for all-day repetitive casting. It is easier to thumb-control the accuracy of the cast, as most largemouth bass fishermen have known for decades. And all things being equal (weight of lure, line size, rod length and action, etc.), a good baitcasting reel will actually cast farther in the hands of an experienced angler than a spinning outfit will.

Tender Loving Care
Baitcasting reels used in the salt typically need a little more care than spinning gear. Their inner workings involve more complicated designs and many more moving parts. Anglers with no experience taking o of these critters apart should only do so with the manual open to the appropriate page. With just a little practice, however, disassembly becomes easy.

he most important consideration is cleanliness and lubrication. You should rinse your tackle completely after each trip to the coast, even if you've been fishing in brackish water that is more fresh than salt. Rinse the reel thoroughly under a soft stream of fresh water rather than the hard spray from a hose nozzle that may actually push saltwater into the reel. While you're at it, rinse the rod as well, paying special attention to the guides; salt trapped in the tiny crevices will eventually cause corrosion.

If the reel has been subjected to a serious dousing in saltwater, soak it in a bucket of fresh water for 10 or 15 minutes; then take it out and remove a side plate to ensure that all trapped water is allowed to drain out. Some reels, like the new Penn International baitcasting series, actually have drain holes at the bottom of the side plates.

Baitcasting reels require oil more often than spinning reels if they are to perform at their best. Heavy oil is a no-no for baitcasters. It reduces spool rpm and can eventually gum up the works as it collects dirt and dust. Baitcasters will perform best, especially when casting, if you use one of the lightweight lubricants especially designed for fishing reels (like ReelX by Corrosion Technologies Corp., Dallas, Texas, 800-638-7361); these not only keep things turning smoothly but also prevent corrosion.

Oil should be applied to the bearings and cups at the ends of the spool shaft, the levelwind mechanism, and any other moving parts inside the reels. Oil the handles if not turning freely.

It's a good idea to always keep a small container of lube on hand. During a long day of hard casting, you might want to add a drop to the bearings and the levelwind before the day is done. First and foremost, you should always clean and lubricate the reel each time you change the line.

Spooling Up
It is very important to keep the spool filled to the proper level as indicated by the manufacturer; too much line causes backlash problems, and too little shortens casting distance dramatically.

Change the line whenever you've cut it back to the point where the level on the spool is too low for good casting. Reverse the line on the spool if the casting end is a little worn, but the rest is still good. But remember, when in any doubt, always change that line. Good monofilament is relatively cheap compared to the overall cost of even a local fishing trip. Buying line in bulk spools is the most economical way.

How much line do you really need (see sidebar, "Reaching Out")? Two hundred yards will get the job done in all situations except where you cannot follow a really large fish afoot or by boat. The only time I can remember seeing a reel of that capacity completely dumped was by an angler standing in the surf who hooked a wild 100-plus-pound tarpon. That fish didn't just change zip codes; it left the country! I doubt if even 400 yards would have been enough.

Concerning line strength, I like 16- to 20-pound-test line for really big fish. That size is good for a big snook or stripers in all but the worst cover, or a tarpon as big as you're likely to find in open water. For the smaller species, I use 6- to 12-pound-test. Regardless of line strength, I still want at least 200 yards on the reel.

Buying Up
It is very important to keep the spool filled to the proper level as indicated by the manufacturer; too much line causes backlash problems, and too little shortens casting distance dramatically.

Change the line whenever you've cut it back to the point where the level on the spool is too low for good casting. Reverse the line on the spool if the casting end is a little worn, but the rest is still good. But remember, when in any doubt, always change that line. Good monofilament is relatively cheap compared to the overall cost of even a local fishing trip. Buying line in bulk spools is the most economical way.

How much line do you really need (see sidebar, "Reaching Out")? Two hundred yards will get the job done in all situations except where you cannot follow a really large fish afoot or by boat. The only time I can remember seeing a reel of that capacity completely dumped was by an angler standing in the surf who hooked a wild 100-plus-pound tarpon. That fish didn't just change zip codes; it left the country! I doubt if even 400 yards would have been enough.

Concerning line strength, I like 16- to 20-pound-test line for really big fish. That size is good for a big snook or stripers in all but the worst cover, or a tarpon as big as you're likely to find in open water. For the smaller species, I use 6- to 12-pound-test. Regardless of line strength, I still want at least 200 yards on the reel.

**Buying