10 Best Saltwater Conventional Reels + Buying Guide

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Written By Russ Egan

Russ is a professional fisherman with over 20 years of experience. He has fished all over the world for more than two decades, primarily for saltwater game fish but also for local trophy fish. Russ comprehensively tests and reviews all his fishing gear to help others achieve their own fishing goals. There is nothing he prefers than heading down to his local tackle store, buying the latest fishing reel, and taking it to the water to test.

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The best conventional reels have a line capacity of over 500 yards of 30 lb braid, a powerful drag system of over 30 lb, two-speed gear ratios for cranking, corrosion-resistant materials, and high-performance ball bearings, such as the Shimano Tiagra.

When you target gamefish like tuna or marlin, you will want to have the best conventional reel available. The last thing you want is to have gear failure and watch the fish swim into the distance.

I have put together this list of the top 10 conventional gels for game fishing, a buyer’s guide, and an explanation of some key criteria you will want to consider before making a purchase decision.

Conventional fishing reels offer a proven design for retrieving long lengths of heavy line. They also have lower gear ratios to pull in larger fish.

It doesn’t matter if you call them Conventional Reels, Offshore Reels, Trolling Reels, Deep Sea Reels, or Overhead Reels. They are all the same design.

Conventional fishing reels are also ideal for bottom fishing. If you are looking to go offshore fishing for large reef fish then have a look at these saltwater conventional fishing reels.

Best Conventional Reel
Shimano Tiagra Conventional Reel

Shimano Tiagra Conventional Reel

  • The World's Premier Conventional Reel
  • Over 3300 Yards of 150 Pound Braid Line Capacity
  • High 100 Pound Max Drag
  • Extremely Heavy and Powerful Reel
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Best Value for Money
Shimano Tyronos Conventional Reel

Shimano Tyronos Conventional Reel

  • Great Value for Money Game Reel
  • Two Speed Gearing System
  • Huge Line Capacity
  • Good Combination of Power and Retrieve Rate
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Best Budget Option
Piscifun Salis X Trolling Reel

Piscifun Salis X Trolling Reel

  • Over 500 Yards of 50 Pound Braid Capacity
  • 37 Pound Max Drag
  • High 6.2:1 Gear Ratio for Trolling
  • Best Budget Conventional Reel
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Let’s dive into the best 10 conventional reels available on the market at the moment.

1. Shimano Tyrnos – Best Value for Money Conventional Reel

Me using my Shimano Tyrnos Conventional Reel
My personal Shimano Tyrnos in action

The Shimano Tyrnos is my personal conventional reel. I have used it to catch plenty of tuna and mackerel – no marlin yet, but not due to lack of trying.

I am a big Shimano fan and this conventional reel is no exception.

One of the features of the Tyrnos is the two-speed lever. This means you can have two different gear ratios depending on whether you need a fast retrieve (if you are bringing a lure back to the boat) or a slow retrieve (when that previously mentioned marlin has taken a bite).

What I Like About It

It is a good moderately priced that has higher quality materials than the TLD but is less expensive than the Tiagra. It is a great value-for-money alternative that can also be used for bottom fishing.

  • Gear Ratio – 5.0:1
  • Max Drag – 33 pounds of drag
  • Mono Line Capacity – 550 yards of 30-pound mono
  • Braid Line Capacity – 900 yards of 50-pound braid


  • Great value for money
  • Suitable for gamefish trolling and bottom fishing
  • Two-speed gearing system


  • More expensive than Shimano’s TLD alternative
  • I Have Owned This For Over 10 Years and Use It For All Offshore Trolling and Big Game Fishing
  • Two Speed Gearing for Fighting and Retrieving
  • Suitable for Game Fish and Bottom Fishing
  • It Is More Expensive Than Shimano TLD Alternative
  • I Find It To Be Heavier Than Other Offshore Options

2. PISCIFUN Salis X – Best Budget Conventional Reel

Piscifun Salis X on the Water
Piscifun Salis X on the Water

For something a bit different have a look at the Salis X. It is a much smaller reel than some of the other options and is substantially cheaper.

With a higher gear ratio of 6.2 it has a much higher retrieve rate per crank. This means it is suitable for smaller fish as well. But you will have to fish smarter when chasing the monster species.

What I Like About It

With over 500 yards of line capacity for a heavy 80 lb braid this is certainly a viable option to consider.

It has a rigid graphite frame and oversized pinion and main gears to give a smooth retrieve motion. 

This reel is one from left field but has earned my recommendation as the best budget level conventional reel.

  • Gear Ratio – 6.2:1
  • Max Drag – 37 lbs
  • Mono Line Capacity – 490 yards of 30 lbs
  • Braid Line Capacity – 520 yards of 80 lbs


  • Substantially cheaper than Shimano’s alternatives
  • Ideal for smaller saltwater fish


  • Has a high gear ratio that might not give enough drag for saltwater gamefish
  • Best Budget Conventional Reel
  • Over 500 Yards of 50 Lb Braid Capacity
  • Max Drag of 37 Pounds
  • 6.2:1 Gear Ratio
  • The Max Drag is Too Low for the Largest Saltwater Species
  • Gear Ratio is High and Cannot Generate High Torque

3. Daiwa Saltiga – Most Durable Trolling Reel

Daiwa Saltiga Unboxing
Daiwa Saltiga Unboxing

The Daiwa Saltiga is a well known reel with a lot of passionate fans. 

It is also very well made with a focus on corrosion resistance. The CRBB (Corrosion Resistant Ball Bearings) stainless steel ball bearings last 12 times longer than standard stainless steel ball bearings. And the bronze pinion gears give a smooth retrieve motion with high power.

What I Like About It

The Saltiga is a medium sized reel with a good 40 lb max drag but a higher 6.3:1 gear ratio so it is suitable for smaller fish that need to be retrieved quickly. But the two speed options give a much lower 2.3 gear ratio and should be your choice when going after the big fish.

With over 15 different models including single speed and two speed as well as 2 tournament style sailfish specialists – you will find one that suits your needs.

  • Gear Ratio – 6.3:1
  • Max Drag – 40 lbs
  • Mono Line Capacity – 420 yards of 40 lb
  • Braid Line Capacity – 660 yards of 80 lb


  • Two speed gearing systems are options
  • Good combination of value for money, powerful drag, and line capacity
  • High quality, durable ball bearings


  • Medium sized conventional reel that might not cut it against large saltwater gamefish
  • Optional Two-Speed Gearing System
  • High Quality Stainless Steel Bearings - CRBB
  • Good Combination of Power, Line Capacity, and Price
  • 15 Different Models and Sizes
  • This Medium Sized Conventional Reel Might Not Handle the Largest Game Fish

4. Okuma Classic CLX – Most Affordable Overhead Reel

Okuma Classic CLX Unboxing
Okuma Classic CLX Unboxing

The Okuma Classic CLX is another option to consider. With a graphite frame, aluminum handle, stainless steel foot, and stainless steel guide system this is well made.

What I Like About It

Personally, I prefer a level drag rather than a star drag like the CLX. The star drag is more adjustable but it just means there is something else you need to be fiddling with instead of focusing on the battle. This is only useful if you have set the drag wrong to begin with.

At under 20 ounces this is a smaller and lighter reel. It has an unusual combination of a low gear ratio and a lower max drag.

This is substantially cheaper than the Shimano options but at this price point, I think I would prefer the Piscifun.

  • Gear Ratio – 3.8:1
  • Max Drag – 13 lbs
  • Mono Line Capacity – 310 yds of 25 lb


  • Substantially cheaper than the larger options
  • Lightweight


  • Star drag can be difficult to adjust during a fight
  • Very low max drag
  • Adjustable Star Drag
  • Lightweight Conventional Reel
  • Max Drag of 13 lb
  • Gear Ratio of 3.8:1


  • Not Suitable for Large Saltwater Fish Species
  • Very Low Max Drag
  • Star Drag Means You Need to Adjust Your Drag During the Fight

5. Penn International – Best Offshore Trolling Reel

The Penn International is a close second to the Shimano Tiagra. It is a big, big reel. The low 3.1:1 gear ratio means it will generate huge torque even against the largest fish. This is a top tier Marlin reel.

What I Like About It

It has a high max drag and an enormous line capacity of over a mile depending on the line you select. These are large, durable, and powerful reels. Every specification is designed to be heavy-duty. As soon as I picked up a Penn International I felt the strength. The solid frame doesn’t flex even under the heaviest load you can imagine on the open ocean. I cannot undersell how big this reel is.

If I walked onto a marlin charter and saw Penn International reels in the rod holders then I would be very happy.

  • Gear Ratio – 3.1:1
  • Max Drag – 65 lbs
  • Mono Line Capacity – 1120 yards of 80 lb
  • Braid Line Capacity – 3025 yards of 130 lb


  • A very powerful drag and low gear ratio can handle any gamefish on the planet
  • Ridiculously high line capacity


  • Extremely large and heavy reel
  • Premier Big Game Trolling Reel
  • Over 3000 Yards of 130 Pound Braid Capacity
  • High 65 Pound Max Drag
  • High Power and Highly Durable


  • Extremely Heavy Reel
  • Extremely Large Reel

6. Shimano Tiagra – Best Conventional Reel

If you are going after trophy black marlin then I wouldn’t want anything other than the Shimano Tiagra. It is an absolutely monstrous reel with a 2.2:1 gear ratio and 100 lbs of drag. This is the kind of reel you want on your side when going after fish weighing hundreds of pounds.

What I Like About It

Depending on what diameter fishing line you select this reel will hold more than a mile of line! Even when the largest gamefish starts spooling off your line you will be comfortable.

The downside – when you are fishing for anything other than game fish then this reel is overkill. It isn’t particularly versatile and you wouldn’t want to go after some smaller tuna or mackerel.

This is certainly the premier conventional reel for big gamefish.

  • Gear Ratio – 2.2:1
  • Max Drag – 100 lbs
  • Mono Line Capacity – 1000 yards of 130 lb
  • Braid Line Capacity – 3315 yards of 150 lb


  • This is the best conventional reel available on the market, in my opinion
  • 100 lb of max drag
  • Over 1000 yard line capacity can handle anything


  • Extremely expensive and heavy duty
  • This is overkill for anything less than the largest gamefish
  • World's Premier Conventional Reel for Big Game Fish
  • High 100 Pound Max Drag
  • Over 3000 Yards of 150 Pound Braid Capacity
  • Extremely Heavy Reel
  • Extremely Large Physically
  • Very Expensive

7. Okuma Cortez – Best High Speed

Okuma has its own Mechanical Stabilizing System which ties together the spool shaft, pinion gear, pinion gear bearing, drive shaft and main gear so they stay in alignment.

It has an aluminum anodized spool, an aluminum frame, graphite side plates, and an ergonomic handle for comfort (even when your hands are wet).

What I Like About It

The Okuma Cortez also boasts a magnetic control system that boasts to achieve further casting distance – casting is not a normal part of game fishing.

The combination of a high gear ratio, low max drag, and lower line capacity means that it doesn’t make the top of my list.

  • Gear Ratio – 6.2:1
  • Max Drag – 17 lbs
  • Mono Line Capacity – 410 yards of 14 lb


  • Suitable for smaller saltwater fish
  • Able to cast longer distances than the alternates


  • A relatively low max drag for a saltwater reel
Penn International Conventional Reel
7.5/10Our Score
  • High Gear Ratio of 6.2:1
  • Magnetic Control System
  • Much Lighter than Alternatives


  • Only Suited for Smaller Saltwater Species

8. Shimano TLD – Best Trolling

The Shimano TLD is the entry-level conventional reel compared with the Tyrnos and Tiagra. It has a low gear ratio that will help it fight big fish but only a 22 lb max drag.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t catch big fish. It just means that you will have to fish smarter and let the fish take a lot of line before you can man-handle it back to the boat. You may also have to chase the fish with your boat if it is truly large.

What I Like About It

It can still hold 900 lbs of fairly heavy braid line so it is a viable option for sailfish. The materials of construction are not as high quality as the Shimano alternatives but the price is substantially lower.

  • Gear Ratio – 3.6:1
  • Max Drag – 22 lbs
  • Mono Line Capacity – 600 yards of 30 lb
  • Braid Line Capacity – 980 yards of 65 lb


  • Very large spool line capacity
  • Very affordable option full of Shimano’s technologies


  • Lower max drag than I would like
  • Great Entry-Level Conventional Reel
  • Over 900 Yards of 65 Pound Braid Capacity
  • High Torque Gear Ratio of 3.6:1


  • Lower Drag of 22 Pounds
  • It Will Take a Long Time to Retrieve All That Line

9. Penn Squall – Best Deep Sea

The Penn Squall has a good combination of lightweight design, corrosion resistance, and adjustability. The two speed gearing system allows you to change the gear ratio and retrieve rate per turn depending on what you are doing and what size fish you hook.

What I Like About It

The lever drag allows you to snap the drag settings into the correct position very easily at a moments notice.

The black and gold design is also very stylish and will be a good addition to any anglers reel collection.

  • Gear Ratio – 2.9:1
  • Max Drag – 40 lbs
  • Mono Line Capacity – 890 yards of 50 lb
  • Braid Line Capacity – 2145 yards of 80 lb


  • Very good combination of power, weight, and price point
  • Lever drag lets you set the required drag instantly


  • Low gear ratio results in a lower retrieve rate
  • Max Drag of 40 Pounds
  • Over 2000 Yards of 80 Pound Braid Capacity
  • High Torque Gear Ratio of 2.9:1
  • Good Combination of Power, Weight, Line Capacity, and Price


  • The Retrieve Rate is Very Low When Set on High Torque

10. Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C3 – Most Versatile

The Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C3 is a much more versatile reel. It has a higher gear ratio and low max drag than the big reels. To be honest it is a much smaller reel. You wouldn’t want to chase massive marlin with this reel but it would be perfect for smaller tuna and mackerel.

What I Like About It

The C3 is a well-liked reel amongst anglers and if you intend to do a bit of game fishing and a bit of another kind of fishing with the same reel then I would consider this.

It is a good combination of brute strength and refined style.

  • Gear Ratio – 5.3:1
  • Max Drag – 15 lbs
  • Mono Line Capacity – 320 yards of 12 lb
  • Braid Line Capacity – 310 yards of 30 lb


  • Extremely versatile reel


  • Very low max drag
  • Extremely Versatile Overhead Reel I Have Used For Dozens of Species
  • Gear Ratio of 5.3:1
  • Max Drag of 15 Pounds
  • 310 Yards of 30 Pound Braid Capacity


  • Very Low Max Drag for a Conventional Reel. I View It as a Baitcaster.
  • I Found It More Difficult to Cast Than Other Baitcasting Reels.

Specification Comparison

All of the reels in this specification comparison are based on their 30 sized models or the closest alternatives.

Conventional ReelGear RatioMax DragBraid Line CapacityBall BearingsPrice Range
Shimano Tyrnos5.0:133 lb790 yards of 80 lb4$$$$
Piscifun Salis X6.2:126 lb290 yards of 80 lb6+1$
Daiwa Saltiga 35-2SPD5.8:1 / 3.1:040 lb230 yards of 80 lb6$$$$
Okuma Classic CLX3.8:113 lb350 yards of 80 lb2$
Shimano Tiagra3.9:135 lb770 yards of 80 lb4$$$$$
Penn International 30VI4.1:130 lb1220 yards of 100 lb5$$$$
Okuma Cortez 126.2:117 lb540 yards of 100 lb4+1$$
Shimano TLD 253.6:122 lb845 yards of 80 lb4$$$
Penn Squall6.1:113 lb550 yards of 50 lb6$$
Abu Garcia C3 55005.3:115 lb235 yards of 30 lb4$$$

Conventional Reel Buyer’s Guide

Chasing big game fish like tuna, marlin, or sailfish is a very different sport than popping down to your local lake to catch a bass. You need much larger gear from your line, hooks, and rod and reel.

The preference of experienced anglers for game fishing reels is to use an overhead conventional reel. 

But there are many different sizes and designs of conventional reels that will change your fishing experience. I have put together this buyer’s guide to showcase the requirements you should be looking for to help make a good purchase decision.

Why Use a Conventional Reel for Big Gamefish?

Conventional reels have two advantages over spinning reels when it comes to catching larger fish:

  • Lower gear ratios
  • Higher line capacity

Conventional reels have lower gear ratios which means they will retrieve less line per crank but they have more torque which is particularly valuable when fighting against fish that can be heavier than you are.

They also have more line capacity. Remember, you will need more length of a higher diameter line so the size of the spool needs to be exponentially larger for big fish. You should also consider the color of the fishing line depending on the depth you will be fishing.

Max Drag Requirements

Appling drag to your reel should not be art but a science. Drag is used to apply a constant force on the fleeing fish and to prevent your line from snapping.

Because of this you can use the strength of your line to know exactly how much drag you should be applying.

But it does depend on what type of line you are using – mono and braid fishing lines have different properties.

How much drag do you need for mono line?

Mono line has a fair bit of stretch in it which means you can set your drag higher than you would for braid as the line is less likely to break under the same instantaneous force applied.

  • Up to 20 lb Mono Line – 20% of the line breaking strength
  • 20 to 50 lb Mono Line – 25% of line breaking strength
  • 50 lb and up Mono Line – 30% of line breaking strength

How much drag do you need for braid line?

Braid line doesn’t have any of the stretch of nylon monofilament fishing line. This means you will need to be more conservative with setting your drag. Please see our recommendations for setting your drag below:

  • Up to 20 lb Braid Line – 15% of line breaking strength
  • 20 to 65 lb braid line – 20% of line breaking strength
  • 65 lb and up braid line – 25% of line breaking strength

Remember – when going after big game fish you want to be precise. Don’t set your drag using gut feel. Get out the scales to set it correctly.

Line Capacity Requirements

When a large black marlin takes your lure and flees into the distance at full speed you can easily lose hundreds of meters of line in under a minute.

Most game fishermen recommend having at least 500 yards of line when going after gamefish like Marlin or Sailfish.

Remember, the thicker diameter line you have the less length you can fit. So make sure you consider both aspects when looking at the spool size and line capacity.

How We Rate Products

Russ Egan and Donny Karr have over 40 years of combined fishing experience. We know the difference between a high-quality reel and a poor alternative.

I thoroughly review all products to measure their performance, durability, and value for money. I conduct bench and field testing to check how the product performs. Each reel is tested for at least 8 hours, with a full test taking 2 full weeks. This testing results in an overall score that I give to all products. All metrics are scored out of 5.


The performance score is how well this product fulfills its primary purpose. Does it have all the features and optional extras you need to catch the target species? I also interview expert anglers on their experience to build a broader and more comprehensive view on the performance under multiple conditions.

I take all reels down to my local freshwater lake for bass and panfish, or inshore fishing off the beach for redfish.

  • Test 1: I confirm that the max drag meets the manufacturer’s specifications using a calibrated scale.
  • Test 2: I test the maximum casting distance using a 1.0-ounce lure.
  • Test 3: I test the accuracy by casting 10 times into a 3 ft diameter circle at 30 yards.
  • Test 4: I check the versatility and the ability to handle multiple uses by field testing with 3 different lures and baits, by actually going fishing.


Durability refers to how long the product will continue functioning. I twist, bend, and break all the products to check their longevity. This score is for the materials of construction, the quality of the workmanship, and the servicing requirements. There are also bonus points for manufacturers’ warranty.

For products that I can’t test for long enough, I also consult with experts who have been using them for multiple decades to judge their longevity.

  • Test 5: I pull it apart to check the grease and oil levels, how difficult it is to maintain, and whether any sand or salt has deposited after use in saltwater.

Value for Money

The final aspect of the scoring system is the price or, more specifically, the value for money. Value for money is a comparison against the closest alternative products, both by the same manufacturer and other brands.

Overall Score

Finally, I average the three scores of performance, durability, and value for money to give the overall score of each product reviewed.

To see more details, please read the complete guide on how I test and evaluate fishing products.


That brings us to the end. I hope you have gained something from reading this article and found a few different models you will consider for your next saltwater fishing adventure.

When making your selection, I will give one piece of advice – when going after big game fish, always, always, always pick quality. Once you have spent thousands of dollars on gear, travel, boating, and other gear you may only get one or two bites from your target species. The one thing you don’t want is your gear to let you down.

Whether this is your rod, reel, fishing lines, fishing hooks, or even a simple swivel – always pick quality when it counts.

There are plenty of other options you might be interested in that didn’t make my list such as the Shimano Calcutta, Torium, or Triton.

If you have experience using any of the conventional fishing reels listed in this article, please share your thoughts below. I love to hear from our readers and to gain from your wisdom.

Another piece of advice – if you are chasing big gamefish, make sure you get a high quality fighting belt to save your body from the strain of a multiple-hour fight. You should also consider getting an electric conventional reel if you are fishing deep.

Happy fishing!