Top 10 Best Trolling Reels (2020): Review & Buyer’s Guide
- Immanuel Baranov
You’ve got a boat, you’ve got a fish finder and your bait is all set. You are almost ready to go. You just need that last little piece of kit to be able to troll successfully. There are almost as many brands of trolling reels as there are fish to catch. However, here, we have gone through them all in one handy buying guide outline to help you find the best trolling reel. Whatever kind of trolling reel you are looking for, our reviews will help you get out to the water, ready and waiting for your first catch.
What You Will Get Here
- How a Trolling Reel is Different from Other Reels?
- How Did We Pick these Products?
- Things to Consider When Buying a Trolling Reel
- Our Top 10 Product List
- Editor’s Choice: Penn Squall LevelWind
- For Cold Water: Okuma Cold Water Linecounter
- For Saltwater: Okuma Magda Pro Line Counter Levelwind
- Best Lever Drag Reel: Penn Fathom Trolling Reel
- Beginner's Choice: Penn Squall 2-Speed
- A List of 5 Other Products We Reviewed
- Cleaning & Maintenance
How a Trolling Reel is Different from Other Reels?
Before we cast out into comparing trolling reels, let’s have a quick look at what it is and how it differs from the other kinds of reels that you may already be familiar with.
As an angler, whether a novice or more experienced, you are probably already familiar with spinning reels and baitcasters. A trolling reel, however, is an altogether different kind of best. Trolling is where you drag a fishing line behind the boat. Sometimes you may attach more than one lure and are able to cover more water.
Of course, this kind of fishing takes practice and you need to make sure that you have got all the necessary equipment. With this type of reel, you need to understand how a reel is suitable for this purpose.
A trolling reel is needed for trolling in deeper waters no matter if you’re fishing for freshwater or saltwater fish species, instead of using a regular casting reel. This type tends to look a bit rounder in its profile in comparison with other reels as they hold more fishing line within them.
They are similar in some ways to reels used for bait casting with having a reel that is mounted above in both kinds. Yet, trolling reels have a much higher spool line capacity in comparison with bait casting reels.
In comparison to bait casting, trolling reels have less accuracy and control. They do not allow you to feather a spool so that you can place it precisely. Bait casters have more balance, control and are easier to operate one-handed.
If we compare trolling reels to electric reels, which are assisted electrically, it is not difficult to realize that the main difference is in how you retrieve the jig back!
But, it’s certainly not all bad. Trolling reels allow their users to fish for much greater distances and off-shore too – further than any other kind of reel. They also often have a reel counter which will help you in releasing a certain amount of fishing line when you are trolling in open waters. This does, however, come at a cost and these reels tend to cost more than the other kinds of reels you can buy.
How Did We Pick these Products?
Of course, if we at Fisher Reel are making recommendations, you will want to know how we came to our decisions. How did we pick our top 10 from all of the available products out there to buy today? What were our criteria? And, most importantly, how can you trust us that we got it right?
Rest assured that our selection process is very thorough. It starts with hours and hours of internet-based research, looking at all of the options available online. We read all their reviews, their product descriptions and trawl through their features. Indeed, for our reviews, we spent over twenty hours just on the initial research.
We compare all this with their prices before deciding which ones we think are worthy of testing. For this review, we decided to test out 19 different trolling reels, each with unique feature combinations and in different price brackets. We wanted to provide our readers with a thorough and detailed buying guide so that we have done all of the hard work and our readers can relish in the results.
We tested out the 19 top products that we could find. Since it was difficult to try them all out ourselves, we sourced a team of volunteers to give us their detailed and comprehensive feedback. Throughout the whole process, we have learned exactly what it is that users are looking for in a trolling reel – what works and what doesn’t. We have found the pitfalls and the added extras, the expensive and the more affordable, which we will outline to you below. With all of this information in hand, we came up with our top ten trolling reels.
Things to Consider When Buying a Trolling Reel
Essentially, there are three simple features that all trolling reels have in common: a release lever, a line-out alarm, and star drag. This kind of reel is versatile given the fact that they can accommodate all kinds of fishing lines.
Trolling reels have certain parts in common:
- Large Reel Handles and Feet
- Spools and Star Drags
- Spool Release Levers
- Bait Clicker Alarm
- Level-Wind Systems (some models)
- Line-counters (some models)
Rods, if chosen well, absorb much of the energy. However, multi-disc drags give the smoothest control when handling a big fish. Users want drag that will operate smoothly with no jerking when the fish is making a tough run. Located near the handle, star drag modifications are really convenient for anglers.
2. Line Capacity
The line capacity is most important when the species you are fishing for is strong enough to strip the spool. This is mostly an issue in saltwater. Having said that, if you are fishing in deep freshwater and need to pay out lots of line, you could end up being short of room to work with a reel that’s small spooled.
With trolling reels, you let the line go straight down into the water to reach a certain depth. You should consider what species you’re trying to catch and at what depth you are most likely to find them. This will let you know what line capacity you will need.
The material a reel is made from is a really important consideration when buying this product. However, trolling reels are usually only made from a choice of three materials, making this choice a little easier. Generally, they are made from aluminum, machined aluminum material, or graphite. All of these materials has its own flaws and benefits, as you will see.
Of all of these materials, the lighter weight trolling reels are made from graphite. But, they are generally weaker too and are more affordable. If you are a beginner, then this material would make a good choice. Yes, they are more likely to break. But, rather you break a cheaper reel when you’re inexperience than buy a more expensive one and break that! Most breaks are due to manhandling due to inexperience, so using a cheaper trolling reel will mean that your breaks (if they happen) don’t end up being too costly.
For the intermediate fisher who knows what s/he is doing and are not concerned about spending a little extra for enhanced durability, a cast aluminum reel is a good choice. They tend to be better where quality and strength are considered.
The most practical choice if you’re catching large fish are the reels made from machined aluminum. These prevent wear and tear and premature failure. Whilst this material is best in terms of quality and durability, it is the most expensive of all the materials. Those who are passionate anglers and experts should probably choose a machined aluminum reel.
There are many sizes available today. Some of the reels are really small and it is difficult to picture them as being useful for trolling. Other ones are so big that it puzzles us as to why anyone would need so much capacity for line.
Most trolling reel manufacturers make them in similar sizes so that they don’t miss any ‘niche’ for their customers. Some typical sizes are sizes 17, 27, 47, 57 and 60.
With the 17 size reels, these are usually too small for trolling on the open water as there is just not enough capacity in the line. With trolling, long lines are needed to get crankbaits to the required maximum depth. If you have a lead that is between 200 and 300 feet, the spool ends up skinny and because there’s not much line left, the line counter can underestimate the length of the lead. This size does not carry heavy loads well but it can be useful for structure or flat line trolling.
Size 27 reels have often been said to be the best all-round reel in their price range. They have good line capacity and for walleye trolling, the reel holds more than adequate amounts of line.
A size 47 reel is ideal if you want to use the thicker, lead core line and you can easily spool 200 yards on. It is perfect for those wanting to troll the Great Lakes with 30 to 40lb test sizes.
The 55 and 60 size reels are the largest and these are ideal for when you want to use 300 feet of lead-core line.
A clicker provides an audible sound that your line is paying out. You want to make sure your clicker is loud so that you can hear it over any engine noise or if your fellow anglers are chatting.
Fishing is often used as a means of escapism and so the easier it is to do, the better it is for the angler. Counting the depth of a line can be irritating and tedious. With a counter, an angler can experience much more peace and less stress while fishing.
There are two main types of counter: an electric and a manual. The problem with an electric counter is usually due to their failure with the electric components such as the LCD screens thanks to being in wet environments.
The size of the spool is just as important as the line capacity. You need to make sure you consider the type of line as well as its length. What type do you intend to use? A braided line, a lead core, or a monofilament line?
The type of fishing line that you choose will affect the size of the spool you will need, thanks to the different diameters. A monofilament line’s diameter is between that of the other two types mentioned. When you are using a braided line with the same weight as a monofilament line, you can actually wind bigger lengths of it around the spool because of the smaller diameter. On the other hand, a lead core line has a bigger diameter which means you can’t wind as much around your spool.
This greatly impacts on the size of the spool that you need to use when trolling and being able to reach the depths that you desire.
Our Top 10 Product List
Now that you know what to look for in good trolling reels and how they can differ, you will understand why we have chosen the trolling reels that we have in our top ten list. This list is all-inclusive that covers the top models on the market today. First up is our number one choice, our Editor’s Pick.
Our top choice is the Penn Squall LevelWind and you will soon see why! This brand is particularly well-known as it is one of the most reputable brands out there. It is used by professionals the whole world over. The reviews on Amazon are impressive, with 4.2/5 stars and 314 reviews at the time of writing.
There are several models of this trolling reel ranging from a 15 size to a 50 size. They are made with high-quality materials and components and have all been tested for their durability and quality. The frame of the trolling reel is made from graphite as are the side plates which make the reel exceptionally light in weight.
The main gear is made from a bronze alloy that is marine grade and machine made to ensure its high strength. There’s also a high-strength pinion gear made from Stainless Steel giving it exceptional smoothness. The HT-100 carbon drag washers stay smooth and cool, even in heat. There’s also a 2+1 shielded bearing system that’s made from Stainless Steel too with an anti-reverse mechanism. This adds to its performance and durability.
The smallest model measures 7.9 x 7.9 x 5.9 inches and weighs just 1.1 pounds.
Additionally, there are left-handed models too, offering the same impressive qualities and features.
There are loads of trolling reels out there to choose from but, we firmly believe that the Penn Squall LevelWind Reels are a cut above the rest thanks to their long-lasting performance and durability. It is a great real for smaller and larger fish and has been designed and built to last. In fact, there are few other reels out there that meet all of these requirements. Yes, it may need a rinse if using with saltwater, but its pros far outweigh this slight niggle.
Our choice for cold water trolling reel is the Okuma Cold Water Linecounter. This is also used by professionals the world over and is made with high-quality materials that have been tested for their quality and reliability.
Its side plates and frame are lightweight and made to withstand corrosion. It has a multi-disc carbonite drag system as well as a ratcheting drag star which enables drag settings that are precise.
What is more, it has extra-large gearing with a gearbox that’s drop-down and self-lubricating. The pinion gears are made from brass that’s been machine cut and is therefore extremely heavy-duty. There’s also a dual anti-reverse system too. The Mechanical Stabilizing System (MSS) provides extreme durability as well as alignment of shafts and gears in the long term.
It also has left-hand and right-hand retrieve options. Lastly, it comes with a 1-year warranty! Okuma believes that they provide a foundation for a fishing experience that is not only better but more complete. They want to inspire anglers no matter their catch of choice – catfish, trout, bass, salmon, tuna, stripers or marlin.
Due to its durability, the Okuma Cold Water Linecounter is a popular choice. It’s lightweight with a smooth drag. It might not be top of all, but for the cost, you will get your money’s worth. You will really get the value you deserve, especially given its quality.
If you are a little fussy where reels are concerned, you won’t be disappointed with the Okuma Magda Pro Line Counter Levelwind. It is extremely versatile and so appeals to anglers of all types. It’s definitely worth your consideration, especially if you are a saltwater angler.
This is made with a lightweight frame that is resistant to corrosion and has been tested within an inch of its life for quality and reliability. Made from top-notch materials, this is a choice for the professionals and amateur fishers alike.
The spool is made from graphite, hence its corrosion-resistance. This means that it is ideal for saltwater anglers as well as those who fish in freshwater. The fact that this can be used in both water types means it is an economical choice too as you won’t need two reels!
The reel can hold a 12lb test with 290 yards of line, meaning your rod is not weighed down too much. The reel is really accurate, which is something you will be appreciative of. You can catch fish that are moderately sized and the line guide will allow you to guide it wherever you want it at any given moment.
This reel is an excellent choice for saltwater usage thanks to its corrosion-resistance. Saltwater trolling has never been so easy. There’s no need to rinse off the reel afterward either. It is extremely durable and has a superb drag system. The professionals clearly think it’s worth a shot too! It really is ready for anything that you can throw at it and is lightweight too. The one-year warranty is also a pleasing addition!
The Penn Fathom is a lever drag reel that is made to be durable with strong cranking power. It is fully die-cast aluminum in its side plates and body. This gives it extreme rigidity. It has all you need for a perfect reel and fulfills any requirements that you have in a wide range of angling activities.
The mechanism is made with a quick-shift dual speed system that shifts quickly from a low gear to a high one. Additionally, the Drag system is superb. The Dura-Drag tech has Phenolic bonding agent providing a water barrier. It’s been tested against the most difficult situations and passed with flying colors. The technology is unique in that it means the reel is resistant to corrosion, keeping it in good condition.
The reel is strong too. The gears work in powerful and smooth way. This means that it’s possible to manage up to a 20lb drag easily and smoothly. The five Stainless Steel ball bearings make it even smoother too! There’s also the anti-reverse, double-dog bearing which prevents sloping of the handle. You can keep your reel effective and stable even if there are big lures.
With speed and strength, this suits all kinds of trolling, even bottom trolling. The technology mentioned above speaks for itself. It will not corrode or fail and will run smoothly and with great strength for years. It is rated 4.6/5 stars on Amazon, which is excellent and makes it one of the top rated trolling reels out there today.
The Penn Squall 2-Speed is a perfect beginner’s reel. It has an alum spool and is powerful yet lightweight. Made with graphite side plates and frame, it is perfect for saltwater fishing, even for the big catch! It won’t corrode either. There’s also a fast 2-speed gear system, easily shifting between fast and slow gears.
Additionally, there’s the Dura-Drag system which works to pretty much eliminate hesitation and snagging, even if there’s extreme drag. There’s also the addition of a double-dog ratchet system which prevents the handle from going into reverse. All of these features make it a great choice for beginners as it is so easy to use and hard to get wrong. The graphite material is lightweight meaning you will not get fatigued as easily when you are using it, which is important if you are a novice angler. The graphite is also corrosion-resistant which means it won’t need as much maintenance as other materials, which is especially useful if you are using it in the ocean as salt water trolling reels tend to corrode more quickly.
For a beginner, this is a really good shout. Its ease of use and easy maintenance makes it a safe bet for anyone giving trolling reels a try for the first time. However, it is worth considering some of the non-beginner trolling reels too as they actually may come up cheaper! This only has 3/5 stars on Amazon (having said that, this was based on one sole review!).
A List of 5 Other Products We Reviewed
The Shimano Torium HGA is a solidly-built yet lightweight star-drag trolling reel that is ideal for using live bait. This reel can also be used for bottom fishing and is full of fantastic features.
First up is its High Efficiency Gear (HEG) system, delivering incredible rigidity and strength, gently increasing the power and leverage for years and years’ worth of fishing to come. There are also Anti-Rust Bearings (A-RB) which offer ten times the resistance to corrosion than standard bearings made from Stainless Steel do. This promotes even and smooth flow of the line. Another brilliant feature is its Cross Carbon Drag. This provides smoothness that is long-lasting so it can withstand powerful, fast runs from large inshore and pelagic species.
The Torium also has impressive reviews, with 4.4/5 stars on Amazon (which is based on 80 reviews) but it does have a price tag to match.
If you are looking for a high-quality, top-caliber trolling reel then you could not go far wrong with this one. As mentioned in our pros, it is full of amazing high-specification features including A-RB, HEG system and Cross Carbon Drag. But, the downside is the cost. There most definitely are less expensive ones out there, but would the cheaper options be full of such amazing features? I think not!
This Penn Warfare Level is from their Warfare Level Wind range. The company was founded in 1932, so you know that, with Penn, you can expect exceptional quality due to their experience. This trolling reel is no different. This was designed to be exceptionally versatile and a good all-round affordable choice. The frame is made from lightweight graphite, as are the side plates, whereas the frame rings are made from aluminum to prevent any flexing of the frame and to offer increased rigidity.
Additionally, the HT-100 drag washers, made from carbon fiber, mean that the drag is smooth, even with heavy loads. There are line capacity rings. These let you know how much line is left when you are in the process of catching fish. The spool is made from machined and forged aluminum with machined brass pinion and main gears. As with other Penn models, the reel has anti-reverse feature. There are three models available in this type of reel, depending on your line and weight requirements.
With 3.9 stars of out 5 on its Amazon rating, it might be a little bit off-putting for some consumers. However, it may not be the top rated out there but it certainly ticks huge amount of boxes. It is made of durable, rigid materials that are also lightweight. The starting price is pretty reasonable too!
The One Bass TA is a conventional saltwater trolling reel with a drag system made from carbon fiber. The drag system provides up to 20kg/45lb of drag. The multi-disc drag system is made from carbonite and has proven to be reliable again and again, giving you the stopping power, durability and smoothness that you need.
The Stainless Steel bearings are plentiful. In fact, there are 14 of them and there’s one roller bearing that’s also made from Stainless Steel to give you the smoothest of retrieves, withstanding all the conditions associated with long-term saltwater fishing.
There is also a line-out clicker and a thumb bar easy-access spool release. The handle and handle arm remain in the frame when dissembled, which is a super quick process. It is ergonomic in its design, fitting in your hand easily. The over-sized buttons and handles with non-slip touch are brilliant for reducing user fatigue and giving maximum control. The frame is made from machine-cut aluminum (the type that’s found in aircraft), meaning you’ll not miss that all-important catch, whether out fishing off-shore or flat fishing in freshwater.
What’s more, this reel comes with an impressive three-year warranty! That beats some of the others right out of the water.
Overall, the One Bass is a great choice with a three-year warranty! One of its major design pluses is how ergonomic it is. With big, comfortable and easy to operate handles and buttons, you will be catching those fish without even the slightest ache, even after hours of fishing and trolling. The make-up of the reel is also resistant to corrosion meaning it makes a great choice for the saltwater anglers amongst us. Having said that, it doesn’t have the highest rating on Amazon in this range, which is worth bearing in mind.
This Okuma product is the Classic Pro Star Drag Reel or Pro XP. It has a Stainless Steel foot, giving it strength, a power handle made from aluminum with T knobs and a lever wind line guide also made from Stainless Steel to ensure proper clearance of knots when you are fishing with a double line.
It is resistant to corrosion in both the frame and the side plates thanks to its ported graphite construction. There’s also the added addition of a Rubidium multi-disc drag system and gear system that is self-lubricating. The drag washers are also carbonite meaning there’s a much smoother and wider range for drag for the utmost efficiency.
The Classic Pro XP has two ball bearings with an anodized machined aluminum spool as well as machine cut Stainless Steel and brass gears. It features the Speed LOC Pinion Gear System, which allows positive engagement even at extreme speeds.
There’s a legal disclaimer that comes with this product that we haven’t seen on other products. The disclaimer states that the product can expose the user to certain chemical which includes TDI. These chemicals are known to cause birth defects, other harm reproductively and cancers. There is also a website listed for potential purchasers to seek further information.
If you want a reliable trolling reel with great features, strength and durability, then this one would make a good choice. This one has a reasonable price too! As for its reviews, it has a pleasing 4.2 out of 5 stars on Amazon, despite the limited details on the listing. Having said that, the cons are definitely something to be aware of, particularly the point relating to chemical exposure. It is certainly worth doing some extra research if this is the one you want to go for.
This is a great choice for anglers who want to troll in both salt and freshwater. There is an excellent line capacity and it has advanced features in its construction. It is made from a single piece of die-cast aluminum which gives enhanced durability and tight tolerances. It is a reel that is certainly built to stand the test of time.
It also has a crossbar-forward design that is unique, proving direct and easy access to a non-disengaging level-wind mechanism and the spool. There’s an underbrace too for improved line management.
As well as the above, the bearings have been especially treated so that they don’t rush and give a minimum of ten times the resistance to corrosion than your regular Stainless Steel bearings. The line flow is therefore even and smooth.
If money were no object, this would beat many a competitor hands down. It has impressive features and an impressive design and structure. Who could argue with a one-piece structure, unique cross-bar design and anti-rust bearings? But, as you also know, extensive features and top quality reviews and ratings come at a price. And this one certainly is not cheap!
Cleaning & Maintenance
One of the most important aspects of owning any kind of trolling reel is making sure that you maintain it well. It should go without saying that if you look after your kit, it will last much longer than if you don’t. So, how do you take care of your trolling reel?
First of all, you need to make sure that you have everything you need. You will need:
- A tub of hot water
- A cleaning compound, preferably one that is biodegradable such as Simple Green
- Reel X
- Super Lube Grease
- Ronsonol Lighter Fluid
- Reel Oil, such as TG’s Rocket Fuel
The second stage is disassembly. You will need to use remove the side covers. Place all parts on a mat or towel to keep them protected and close by whilst you are cleaning. Indeed, number or label the parts as you take them out so that you can reassemble it more easily. Or, with today’s easily accessible pocket cameras (AKA your smartphone!) take a photograph of it as you dismantle it in case you get stuck later.
You should also use tweezers for handling the smallest parts such as wire clips and springs so that you don’t damage them or misplace them.
Before you continue with cleaning once it has been disassembled, make sure that the spool is free from fishing line or that it has been secured.
You should use your biodegradable cleaning product with a toothbrush and clean every part of the reel. With a small brush or toothpick, you need to apply the grease to the teeth.
The lighter fluid is to clean the bearings. Make sure that you test them too so that they definitely spin. After this, they should be oiled with a toothpick and the oil like TG’s Rocket Fuel.
When you have carried out all of these steps you should carefully put the reel back together. Once it has been fully reassembled, rub the outside with a protector such as Reel Magic.
Our comprehensive guide is almost complete. We hope that you have found our reviews informative and interesting. Finding the best trolling reel for your needs and budget is always going to be tricky when there are so many things to consider and so many products to choose from. However, with a bit of luck, one of our listed products might just have hit the spot for you.
If you’re still unsure or can’t make up your mind, you need to work out what exactly it is you want from your trolling reel choice. Will you fish in the open water and therefore need a trolling reel that is resistant to corrosion or will you stick to freshwater? Do you need a budget choice as money is a bit tight? Are you a beginner looking to get into trolling for the first time? Whatever it is, it is important that you determine your needs if you still can’t make that decision. Once those factors are in place, read our reviews again and see which one is your best match.
You can also have a look on other types of fishing reels that we reviewed right here on Fisher Reel.