Having spent a large amount of time discussing rock and surf rods, the next step to kitting yourself out for that trophy fish is of course the reel.
Again, the principles of reel selection are exactly the same as rod selection. Don’t go out and buy the first thing someone sells you. Reels can be the difference between landing the 200kg fish and simply fighting it for hours and losing the struggle in the end. While a rod is ultimately responsible for pulling the fish, the reel is doing all of the work.
Some of the important factors to look at when considering a reel include:
In South Africa, we enjoy a rather unique manner of fishing. There are few places in the world where multiplier reels are used to cast from the surf, slide out big baits etc. In most cases these reels are used to fish off boats with specialised rods that look like broomsticks. So the durability of a reel in South African terms is far more important than is advertised globally.
Corrosion resistance is extremely important. No-one can protect their reels 100% from the scratches, chips and nicks experienced when fishing off rocks. Similarly, most anglers want to wade out when casting from the beach, leaving their reels to get totally submerged in salt water during the process. Ensure the reel is made from corrosion resistant materials and has durable parts that are not likely to break or fail under pressure, potentially ruining your trip.
The drag system allows line to be removed from the reel in a controlled manner. The idea is to set the drag so that the fish has to exert maximum energy to fight without breaking the line, thus tiring the fish and making it easier to land. Every reel has a different drag allowing different maximum pressure. The drag system is made up of several washers. In most cases these are a combination of fibre and metal washers. Depending on the reel, system design and materials used, you’ll have a drag pressure from 9kg to 20+kg’s.
It is important to note that the drag must be as smooth as possible. If the drag jams during a fight, the tension in the line increases and the fish could break off. Even at maximum pressure, the drag should always allow a smooth and even release of line.
Many anglers also upgrade the drag washers from the standard fibre to carbontex. Carbontex washers are stronger and more durable adding a good percentage to the drag pressure. These washers are easy to obtain and do not cost a fortune. Always make sure you know what you are doing when installing them though. If you are unsure, take your reel to a pro to get it done properly. Incorrectly installed washers can play havoc with any reel.
The gear ratio refers to the amount of times the spool revolves for every completed turn of the reel handle. On average, the top of the range reels have gear ratios from 4.9:1 up to 6.3:1 and in some of the newer reels today as much as 7.1:1. The ratio depends on the purpose of the reel. Some reels are specifically designed for use when targeting larger games fish and small and medium sharks and rays. In these cases the reels have higher ratios to bring in line as quickly as possible when the fish are swimming towards you. This prevents a slack in the line which could cause the fish to escape. In some reels designed to target huge sharks and rays, the gear ratio may be slower. This is because the reels are designed with very heavy drag systems and the likely hood of a 250kg ray screaming towards you is extremely low. The gear ratio, like your rod and reel, is dependant on the target species and conditions you will be fishing.
Like with rods, reels have to be bought, based on the fishing conditions and target species. A small reel in the 30 class is not exactly ideal for the enormous runs we get from several shark species, not to mention the game fish like Giant Kingfish. Thanks to technological breakthroughs in lines, both monofilament and braid, lines today are thinner and more abrasion resistant than ever. Take note of the line you’ll need to fish with and compare it to the reel’s capacity. You don’t want to go out with 200m of line when fishing for giants.
Speak to other anglers and get their reactions about reels as well. Not everyone will agree, but you will soon realise that specific names keep popping up. This is because there are a few manufacturers who have developed reels to perfectly suite the SA style fishing. Once you have information you like, test; test; test. Like with rods, arrange a test day and get a feel for the different reels. Not all reels are the same and just because pro anglers are able to make them seem that way, as an amateur angler, you will soon find out it is not the case. To this day, I find casting the range of Daiwa Saltist and Saltiga reels far easier than the Shimano range of Toriums and Trinidads. It’s just a personal thing, but I own reels from both manufacturers because they each bring something to the table that is a must, depending on the conditions and target species.
On the next page is a list of some of the reels most commonly used today:
Saltist: This range of reels is undoubtedly a favourite amongst many anglers. A fast gear ratio, aluminum frame, strong drag and great casting ability all make up this reel. The range comes in a 30, 40 and 50 class with the smaller reels being superb for anglers targeting edible species. The 50 is capable of landing monster fish, including three digit sharks and rays. The newer version of the original is the Saltist Black Gold. This reel has all the great specs of the original with a few added extras including higher corrosion resistance, carbon drag and a design that is very easy to strip and service.
Saltiga: The big brother to the Saltist, the Saltiga offers a superb drag stronger than that of the original Saltist and is specifically aimed at big non edibles. The reel boasts an aircraft grade aluminum spool and 7 ball and roller bearings. It also has a massive hand fitting grip to ensure more comfort during a long fight. The extra strong spool is ideal for the pressure created by braid backing with monofilament top shot.
Torium: These reels are made with one piece aluminum frames and have a special adjustable power handle with an ergonomic handle knob for maximum comfort. These reels use a Dartanium drag and have the power to tow massive fish. These are truly high speed power reels and come in several sizes to handle any fish under any conditions.
Trinidad: One of the best reels ever made by Shimano, the Trinidad is compact, lightweight and incredibly powerful. The reel has 8 bearings, a super powerful drag and an extremely smooth spool rated for use with monofilament, braid and fluorocarbon line. It is highly corrosion resistant and also comes with an adjustable handle shank. This reel in combination with a powerful rod will ensure that very few fish, if any, are lost, no matter what the size.
The Fin-Nor range of reels are relatively new to South Africa in comparison to names like Daiwa and Shimano and so the reels have a lot to prove if they were to make it in a competitive market already heavily under the control of a select few. They have managed to do just that. Superior craftsmanship has ensured a corrosion resistant reel that can take a lot of punishment. By replacing the washers with carbontex washers, the drag will compete with any of the big names in the industry. In some cases here in South Africa the reel is sold with the drags already upgraded. The reel casts beautifully and is in the same class as both Daiwa and Shimano where that is concerned. The reel is light weight and can handle the harsh conditions in SA, including wading through water and fights with big sharks like Bronze Whalers. The reel also retails at a much cheaper price than most others in the same class and therefore makes for a super value for money item.
Just because there are so many reels in the same class, doesn’t mean that you will enjoy fishing all of them. As with rod selection, the best thing you can do is go out and test a number of reels and get a feel for the one(s) that suits you best. I personally prefer casting the Daiwa reels but I love the added drag of some Shimano’s. This also brings me to the next point. Ensure you are fishing the right reel for the right conditions and target species. If you know there are big game fish around and plan to target them, you’ll want a reel with a higher gear ratio. Big rays and some of the shark species are easier on the more powerful reels with a reduced gear ratio and higher drag system. Smaller reels like the Saltist 30 are ideal for casting plugs if you are targeting species like Garrick.
Reels can be very technical. Get to know the reel. Many tackle stores will help you service and maintain reels and several forums contain step by step guides with photos explaining the entire process. Make use of these platforms so that you can best care for each reel in your arsenal and ensure they last for years and years. It is also imperative that you rinse your reels after use to eliminate the salt and residue that is harmful to the inner working parts and corrodes these parts very quickly. Buy a reel bag or cover to prevent excess sand from entering the reel when walking on the beach. Take care of the reel and it will help you land the big fish.