7 Best Trolling Reels Reviewed

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Best Trolling Reels

Greetings fellow angler, you’re about to read my review of the best trolling reels.

You’ll encounter some of the biggest fishes in your life when you’re trolling. This demanding fishing style where you’ll be deep-sea fishing requires lots of line – and heavy line at that. In addition, the corrosive saltwater will eat at your reel mercilessly.

For those who are willing to pay a bit more, the Penn Squall II Level Wind Conventional Reel is an amazing trolling reel. It’s powerful enough for even the giants of the ocean and is able to withstand saltwater conditions well.

Don’t worry if that was out of your means though, there are plenty of trolling reels that won’t break the bank.

Let’s dive right in!

Our Top 7 Picks

  1. Penn Squall II Level Wind Conventional Reel (Best Overall)
  2. Shimano Tekota Reel (Best Splurge)
  3. Burning Shark Level Wind Trolling Reel (Best Budget Strength)
  4. Shakespeare ATS Trolling Reel (Best Budget)
  5. One Bass Level Wind Trolling Reel (Best Smoothness)
  6. Okuma Cold Water Linecounter Trolling Reel (Best Durability)
  7. Okuma Magda Pro Levelwind Trolling Reel (Best Budget Lightness)

The 7 Best Trolling Reels

Before we get started, note that although I won’t talk much about clickers and smoothness, every one of these trolling fishing reels has a loud and audible clicker and a smooth drag system.


Best Overall

1. Penn Squall II Level Wind Conventional Reel

  • Ball Bearings: 3+1
  • Reel Size: 1500-5000
  • Max Drag Weight: 33 pounds
  • Includes Line Counter?: Yes

First up is a sturdy reel that’s perfect for taking on large fishes. The Penn Squall II will provide all the muscle and durability you need for trolling.

Starting off with the drag system, this fishing reel can deliver a staggering 33 pounds. This allows you to face monster fish with no trouble.

For durability, this trolling reel features shielded stainless steel ball bearings and a tough anodized aluminum spool. Stainless steel is already highly corrosion-resistant. As if that wasn’t enough, Penn further shielded the ball bearings. This allows the ball bearings to stand up to harsh saltwater conditions. The anodized aluminum spool is also able to resist rust well, further enhancing the reel’s durability.

What really sets this trolling reel apart and makes it perfect for fighting large fish though is its drag washers. As line leaves the spool, the HT-100 drag washers get hotter and their friction actually decreases. On other reels, drag inevitably increases as more line leaves the spool. However, the HT-100 carbon fiber drag washers compensate for this increase in drag by reducing friction. The result is an incredibly smooth retrieval that’s perfect for fights against prize fish.

All things considered, the Penn Squall II is extremely well-suited for big-game fishing and deep-sea fishing. If you want to be able to confidently go after any fish even in the most corrosive saltwater bodies, this is the trolling reel for you.


Best Splurge

2. Shimano Tekota Reel

  • Ball Bearings: 3+1
  • Reel Size: 5000
  • Max Drag Weight: 24.3 pounds
  • Includes Line Counter?: Yes

This next reel is strong, long-lasting, and unrivalled in lightness. The Shimano Tekota Reel is flawless and excels in every aspect.

Strength-wise, with 24.3 pounds of drag, you’ll be well-prepared to face anything in the ocean, regardless of its size. 

It’s also got durability down with an aluminum body, shielded anti-rust bearings (S-ARB), and Core Protect technology. Since aluminum is the most durable material for spools, this alone is enough for a durable reel. In addition, it’s close to impossible to make the S-ARB ball bearings rust. Lastly, the Core Protect technology helps keep out corrosive saltwater from the roller clutch, body, and line roller. These three features combine to form a reel that will last for years to come.

To top it all off, this is the lightest trolling reel available on the market. The Hagane Body is made of a special aluminum that’s tougher than normal aluminum. This allows less aluminum to be used while still maintaining the sturdiness of the reel. Naturally, less aluminum translates to a much lighter reel. This reel is lighter than every other fishing reel on this list – and I’m comparing this reel’s size 5000 option to the other reels’ size 3000 options. You’ll find handling this reel a breeze.

In short, this reel delivers on all fronts. Strong, durable, and light as a feather, what more could you ask for? If you’re looking for the very best reel for trolling and have the money to spare, look no further.


Best Budget Strength

3. Burning Shark Level Wind Trolling Reel

  • Ball Bearings: 6+1
  • Reel Size: 3000-4000
  • Max Drag Weight: 38-40 pounds
  • Includes Line Counter?: No

Cheap but robust, the Burning Shark Trolling Reel the best trolling reel for those who want to save on a reel, but still want adequate power to snag prize fish.

This fishing reel costs less than half the price of the Penn Squall II. Despite this, it actually offers even more drag than the Penn Squall II – an astounding 38 pounds of it. Needless to say, you’ll be able to handle any fish that takes the bait, even if it’s an enormous shark.

And like all the other trolling fishing reels on this list, it’s well-equipped to survive saltwater fishing with its corrosion-resistant frame and anti-rust stainless steel ball bearings.

There is a catch of course – it’s quite heavy. You’ll be compromising on weight to get this amount of muscle at a low price. Granted, the Penn Squall II is roughly the same weight too, but it offers a way smoother drag system.

As downsides go though, it really isn’t that bad. For those trying to keep costs down, this may be the best trolling reel for you.


Best Budget

4. Shakespeare ATS Trolling Reel

  • Ball Bearings: 1+1
  • Reel Size: 1500-3000
  • Max Drag Weight: 15-20 pounds
  • Includes Line Counter?: Yes

For those on a super tight budget, the Shakespeare ATS Trolling Reel was made for you. 

While it isn’t as strong as any of the previous reels, it can still generate 20 pounds of drag. You won’t be landing any record-breaking fish, but you can still take home some pretty large muskies.

The stainless steel pinion gear and ball bearings are also able to hold their own in saltwater.

This is the most affordable high-quality trolling reel available. For less than a third of the price of the Penn Squall or Shimano Tekota, you can start trolling. If you’re on a really tight budget, you’ll want to get this reel.


Best Smoothness

5. One Bass Level Wind Trolling Reel

  • Ball Bearings: 14+1
  • Reel Size: 1000-5000
  • Max Drag Weight: 30 pounds
  • Includes Line Counter?: No

Smooth is this reel’s middle name.

Equipped with 14+1 ball bearings, the One Bass Level Wind Trolling Reel has unparalleled smoothness. Some of you have probably never even seen a reel with 14+1 ball bearings before. This unbelievable amount of ball bearings gives you a fishing reel that has no equal in smoothness.

Smoothness isn’t this reel’s only strength though.

It’s able to churn out 30 pounds of drag. This means, like the Penn Squall II and the Shimano Tekota, you’ll have the freedom to hunt any fish you desire.

The only drawback with this reel is its price. It’s a tad more pricey than the Penn Squall II, albeit still cheaper than the Shimano Tekota. 

This reel is a worthy contender to the Penn Squall II and Shimano Tekota. Between the three, the Penn Squall II is the best for large fish, the Shimano Tekota is the lightest, and this reel is the smoothest. If you value smoothness above all in a reel, this is it.


Best Durability

6. Okuma Cold Water Linecounter Trolling Reel

  • Ball Bearings: 2+1
  • Reel Size: 1500-4500
  • Max Drag Weight: 13.2-15.4 pounds
  • Includes Line Counter?: Yes

Next up is the most durable trolling reel – the Okuma Cold Water Linecounter.

First off, the spool frame and sideplates are corrosion-resistant to handle saltwater conditions. 

Next, the ball bearings are stainless steel to further enhance the reel’s durability.

This fishing reel also boasts a self-lubricating gearing system. This ensures that your gear will never have performance issues.

Last of all, the Mechanical Stabilizing System (MSS) ties the spool shaft, pinion gear, pinion gear bearing, drive shaft, and main gear together with a single support system. This allows all these critical parts to stay in alignment at all times

Together, these features produce a remarkably hardy reel. The only con with this reel is that its drag system is on the weak side. If you prioritise durability in a reel, you might want to give this reel a shot.


Best Budget Lightness

7. Okuma Magda Pro Levelwind Trolling Reel

  • Ball Bearings: 1+1
  • Reel Size: 1500-4500
  • Max Drag Weight: 13.2-17.6 pounds
  • Includes Line Counter?: Yes

Designed for lightness, the Okuma Magda Pro Levelwind Trolling Reel is second only to the Shimano Tekota in lightness.

The spool is made with graphite which is the lightest material for fishing reels. The frame and sideplates are also engineered to be very lightweight.

In terms of weight, this trolling reel is lighter than most trolling reels on this list by a substantial margin. The only fishing reel it doesn’t beat is the Shimano Tekota. Clearly, the efforts to lighten the reel paid off.

The only problem with this trolling reel is its max drag weight, which isn’t too strong at 17.6 pounds.

Other than that though, you’ll find no issues with this reel. For only a few bucks more than the Shakespeare ATS, you’ll be getting exceptional lightness.


What To Consider When Buying A Trolling Reel

Learning how to judge a fishing reel is a crucial skill. 

Since this list isn’t exhaustive, you’ll no doubt come across other excellent reels. If you don’t know how to tell a good trolling reel apart, you’re going to let these wonderful trolling fishing reels pass you by.

To prevent that from happening, you’ll want to pick up the critical skill of identifying good reels.

Here are the factors to look out for in a good trolling reel.

Line Capacity

Line capacity is, as the name suggests, how much line your fishing reel can hold without being overloaded. 

However, a reel will be able to hold more of a thinner line than a thicker line. As such, line capacity is usually presented as X/Y

Y is the number of yards of an X-pound fishing line that the reel will be able to store. For example, a 20/350 reel means that the reel can hold 250 yards of a 20-pound fishing line. 

Do note that mono and fluorocarbon lines have different thicknesses so whatever line capacities are provided will only hold true for either mono or fluorocarbon line.

For trolling, you’ll need more line than other fishing styles and you’ll also be using heavier line.

However, to list out all the combinations of the number of yards and line weights you should be looking at isn’t a very good idea. 

Instead, an easier way is to give you the ideal reel sizes since that directly determines line capacity. 

Reel Size

For trolling, I suggest getting a reel size between 1500-5000.

Reel size 1500 is the smallest size I’d recommend. Any smaller than that and you likely won’t have enough line to do any proper trolling. At this size, you’ll only be able to target smaller species like walleye.

If you want a fishing reel that can take on the monsters, go for reel size 4500-5000. 

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t get a bigger reel size. A bigger reel will be able to hold more line and ensures you won’t have to worry about running out of line. But remember that a bigger reel will be heavier too. 

Drag System

Drag system refers to the small steel plates in your reel that stop your spool from releasing line.

Reels will allow you to set different amounts of drag, with the highest possible drag for the reel being termed the “max drag weight”.

Depending on how much you’ve set the drag to, when the pulling force from a fish exceeds this drag, your spool will release line. This prevents your line from snapping. And at the same time, the drag system provides resistance to slow down the line and tire out the fish.

Drag should be set to 1/3 or 1/4 of your line’s pound test. 

For those wondering why we don’t set it to the line’s pound test instead, it’s because drag will increase as more line leaves the spool. 

This means your drag will exceed your line’s pound test as more line leaves the spool. 

When this happens, even if a fish’s pull is stronger than your line’s pound test, the drag system won’t release line. Without the drag system releasing line, your line will snap.

For trolling, the biggest fishes will need fishing lines heavier than 100 pounds. This means you’ll want a max drag weight of 25-35 pounds

I’ve never needed more than 30 pounds, but those who want to be safe can opt for a max drag weight of 35 pounds.

Clicker

A clicker is a mechanism that will alert you when fish take the bait.

Clickers are simple. 

You just have to make sure to get a clicker that can be heard clearly

This is important because when trolling, the sounds from your boat and the waves can be really loud. 

Your clicker has to be louder than that and unmissable.

Material

Reels are typically constructed from either graphite or anodized aluminum.

Graphite is much cheaper and lighter but also less able to take a beating. Anodized aluminum is heavier but is more resilient against rust.

For trolling, I prefer anodized aluminum for its hardiness. However, which material you choose boils down to your personal preferences.

Gear Ratio

Lastly, gear ratio is a factor you may or may not want to take into consideration. Let me explain. 

As you’ll notice, I didn’t include any gear ratios for the reels above. That’s because I believe gear ratio isn’t important for trolling. While it is recommended to use a lower gear ratio, a higher gear ratio won’t give you much trouble either.

Still, intermediate anglers or those with more experience may be more picky. If that’s the case, you’ll want to get a lower gear ratio. I’d say a gear ratio from 3:1-5:1 is in the slow gear ratio range, so take your pick from there if it matters to you.

FAQs

Trolling is a huge leap for anglers who usually catch fish on land stationarily. As you venture into this new fishing technique, you’ll definitely have many questions. 

Here are some frequently asked ones.

How do I use a trolling reel?

Using a trolling reel is simple. Just follow these 3 steps.

Step1: Decide what depth you want to troll at and use your line counter to get your bait to that depth

Step 2: Ensure that when trolling, your bait is between 20-150 ft away from your boat

Step 3: Sit back and listen for your clicker

How do I clean a trolling reel?

With saltwater running against your reel, you’ll need to clean saltwater trolling reels more thoroughly to keep them healthy. Here’s how to do it:

What are the best brands for trolling reels?

There isn’t a brand that specialises in trolling reels but the ones that make the best saltwater trolling reels are the usual brands you see top-notch reels from – Shimano, Penn, Okuma, and so on.

Why aren’t there any spinning and baitcasting reels in this list?

You’ll notice that there are 2 types of reels on this list – trolling and conventional. But a conventional reel is no different from a trolling reel and they’re just different names for the same thing. This means in reality, there’re only conventional reels on this list. Here’s why.

Spinning reels are out of the question because they don’t go very well with heavy lines and lures. This leaves us with only baitcasting reels and conventional reels.

Technically, you could use baitcasting reels for trolling because they work well with heavy lines and lures. The thing is, conventional reels are better because they’re designed with more focus on retrieving line and reeling fish in with maximum efficiency. Sure you could use baitcasting reels for trolling, but there’s a reason why baitcasting reels are widely used as bass fishing reels rather than for trolling.

My Verdict

Trolling is a fast-paced and demanding fishing style and only the best fishing equipment will do.

Trolling reels need to be strong enough for the monsters you’ll meet when saltwater fishing and durable enough to stay rust-free. 

The reel that best fits this bill is the Penn Squall II Level Wind Conventional Reel. Powerful, sturdy, and smooth, it doesn’t get much better than this.

With that, happy trolling!

P.S. I’ll bet quite a few of you are looking for the best trolling reels because you’re going walleye fishing. If that’s the case, once you’ve found the right trolling reel, you might want to check out the best walleye rods too.

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AUTHOR

Reuben went on his first fishing trip when he was 9. That's when he fell in love with fishing. When he's not fishing, he's searching for new gear and ways to fish better.