Many anglers are familiar with baitcasters and spinning reels, but the trolling reel is an altogether different animal. Trolling involves dragging a line behind your boat, sometimes with multiple lures attached, and this way you can cover a lot of water.
As with any kind of fishing, you need to have the right equipment and plenty of practice to get any results. With trolling reels, it’s particularly important to understand what makes a reel suitable for your purpose.
In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of trolling reels, how they compare to other types of reels, and what makes for a good trolling reel.
Best Trolling Reels Comparison Chart
PENN Squall LevelWind
Okuma Magda Pro Line Counter Levelwind Trolling Reel
Okuma Cold Water Linecounter Trolling Reel
KastKing Spartacus Plus Baitcasting Fishing Reel
Penn Warfare Level Wind Conventional Fishing Reel
How is a Trolling Reel Different From Other Reels?
A conventional, or trolling fishing reel is necessary for trolling for deep waters whether salt or freshwater fish species, rather than using a traditional casting reel. Trolling reels tend to have a rounder profile than other reels because they are able to hold a greater amount of fishing line.
Trolling reels are in many ways similar to baitcasting reels with the reels being mounted above the rod in both types. However, the spool line capacity is higher for trolling reels than on baitcasting reels.
Bait casting reels provide better control and accuracy and allow you to feather the spool for precise placement of lures, while the small dimensions make it manageable. You can slow the spool in order to drop it to the exact distance you want. Other benefits of bait casters are that they have more control, better balance, and easier one-handed operation.
Electric reels, which are electric assisted reels, have an electric motor to help you retrieve the rig or jig back and not winch big fish up. This type also lets you change the reel automatically when you catch a big fish.
The use of a trolling reel allows you to fish over a greater distance offshore than other rod and reel types. Additionally, trolling reels contain stronger drag and line capacities than other reel types. Many trolling reels also feature reel counter capabilities to assist with releasing a set amount of line when trolling for fish in open waters.
On the downside, a trolling reel generally costs more than other types of reels out there and tends to be more difficult to use than casting reels.
What Makes a Good Trolling Reel? Are All Trolling Reels the Same?
Three basic features are common to all trolling reels, namely star drag, a release lever, and a line out alarm. Trolling reels are versatile in the nature of fishing lines they can accommodate. A variety of fishing lines can be used depending on the target fish.
Additionally, trolling reels fare composed of the following parts:
- Large Feet and Reel Handles
- Star Drags and Spools
- Levers for Spool Release
- Baitclicker Alarms
- Certain Models Use Level-Wind Systems
- Certain Models Also Use Built-In Line Counters
While a properly selected rod will absorb a lot of the energy of a fight, multi-disc drags provide the smoothest control for handling big fish. You want a drag that operates smoothly without jerking as the fish makes a strong run. Star drag adjustments, located next to the handle, are convenient for most anglers to use.
A clicker is handy for providing an audible signal that line is paying out, and you want to make sure that you have one that is nice and loud so that it can be heard over engine noise and the chatter of fellow fishermen.
Line capacity is mainly an issue when you're fishing for a species that has the ability to strip a spool, and that's mostly a saltwater issue; however, if you're fishing serious freshwater depths and have to pay out a lot of line, you could find yourself short on working room with a very small-spooled reel.
Generally, trolling reels are made from cast aluminum, graphite, or machined aluminum materials. Of these, the graphite trolling fish reels are lighter in weight, weaker than other materials, and less expensive.
A cast aluminum frame is a better choice if you are looking for a stronger, higher-quality reel. The best reels for fighting larger fish are those made of machined aluminum and also prevent premature failure and prevent wear and tear.
Quick Take - The Best Trolling Reels
These are our recommendations for the best trolling reels:
Review of the Best Trolling Reels
With so many trolling reels and products out there, it can get pretty overwhelming for a first-time buyer. Let’s now take a look at some fine examples of trolling reels and their features. These are our top picks from the huge variety available for sale.
The Penn Squall 50 Level Wind Trolling Reel is ideal for drifting, chunking, sharking, or trolling. It is crafted from lightweight graphite, with a lightweight, durable graphite frame and side plates.
The stainless steel pinion gear and bronze main gear deliver smooth cranking even when under tremendous stress.
The carbon fiber drag system offers power and smoothness while remaining cool and supple and giving anglers the performance needed to conquer fierce saltwater game fish. Its Versa-Handle lets anglers quickly adjust the length of the handle to perfectly suit each situation.
This is a high-quality reel for budget-conscious buyers and is popular for salmon, halibut, and other sea fishing. Thanks to its power and smooth cranking, you’ll find yourself enjoying every fishing expedition and pushing yourself to the limits!
This lightweight, corrosion resistant reel by Okuma features side plate rings reinforced by stainless steel. The counter is mechanical, has a rubber push-button reset, and measures distances in feet. This reel is ready for any challenge with its durable machine cut brass gears, self-lubricating gear system, and carbonate drag system.
With corrosion-resistant graphite spools, stainless steel reinforced side plate rings, lightweight corrosion resistant frame, mechanical line counter function, two stainless steel ball bearings, a multi-disc carbonate drag system, wind line guide system, a self-lubricating gear system, stainless steel level, and is backed by a one-year warranty, this reel is fully loaded and ready to go.
This reel is perfect for trolling and allows you to set the drag quickly, while the counter is accurate if you have a full reel and the reel itself is strong. You need to practice a bit in order to get the right amount of turn, or else you can lose a fish because of turning too much.
The Cold Water has lightweight, corrosion resistant side-plates and frame, and includes a powerful rachet star drag, heavy-duty brass pinion gears, dual anti-reverse system, and full Carbonite drag system.
The Mechanical Stabilizing System provides superior durability and keeps shafts and gears tightly aligned. Anglers will appreciate the premium line counter in both a right and left-hand retrieve.
With an accurate line counter, smooth and consistent drags, this reel is great for trolling. The reel gives you a clear view, doesn't fog, and the location of the control prevents accidental reset. This rod is recommended for striped bass and many other kinds of trolling.
The KastKing Spartacus baitcaster uses a micro-cast, dual centrifugal, a magnetic dual brake system, and has 17.5 pounds of carbon fiber drag. The reel features hi-grade rubber cork handle knobs, 11 + 1 shielded MaxiDur corrosion resistant steel ball bearings, a ceramic line guide insert that is braid line ready, and instant stop anti-reverse.
It also features durable brass gears, a CNC aluminum spool with a fast 6.3:1 gear ratio, high-torque 95MM handle, and weighs just 8.1 oz.
The KastKing Spartacus baitcaster fishing reel is a great addition to your tackle collection thanks to the versatility of its 6.3:1 gear ratio and carbon fiber drag with 17.5 lbs of stopping power. Its smoothness and power are unmatched by any other bait caster in this budget price range.
This reel has a lightweight graphite frame and side plates, with a spool made from forged and machined aluminum. The reel also features a machined brass main and pinion gear, along with HT-100 carbon fiber drag washers.
It has an excellent instant anti-reverse bearing and line capacity rings. The reel comes with a clamp so you can lock it to your pole. The clicker is loud and serves the purpose of letting you know it’s on.
This reel casts well and has a smooth drag. It is a fine choice for a beginner or non-professional angler who likes fishing occasionally. The big handle makes it easy-to-use and this reel is great for any type of big game fishing for fish over 20 pounds or for pure deep sea fishing.
How to Clean and Care For a Trolling Reel
The first step before you clean the reel is to get your supplies ready. You should have a bucket of hot water, a biodegradable cleaning compound like Simple Green, Reel X, Ronsonol Lighter Fluid, Super Lube Grease, and TG's Rocket Fuel Hi-Speed Reel Oil. Then follow the instructions below.
- Disassemble your reel by first removing the side cover. Use a mat to keep your parts accessible and close. Label or number the parts as you remove them so that you can reassemble everything without any stray or leftover pieces.
- Make sure to properly position your reel during disassembly and reassembly and use a pair of tweezers when handling tiny parts like springs and wire clips to prevent them from getting misplaced.
- Check your spool to ensure fishing line has been removed or secured before continuing.
- Use Simple Green or another biodegradable product applied with a toothbrush to clean all parts of the reel.
- Using a toothpick or a small brush, apply grease to the bottom of the teeth.
- Clean the bearings with lighter fluid and then test them to make sure they spin. Then oil them with TG's Rocket Fuel using a toothpick.
- When all steps are completed, put your reel back together. Once finished, rub the exterior with Reel Magic to protect the line and outer finish.
How to Use a Trolling Reel
Equipment for fresh or saltwater trolling reels tends to be more difficult to use. Rather than casting your line into the water, with a trolling reel, you will drag your line from a moving watercraft.
The following steps will help you correctly use a trolling fishing reel:
- Use a manual or electric line counter, to lower your bait to your desired depth
- Make sure your bait and your boat are a minimum of 20 to 150 feet apart from each other.
- Keep track of your results.
To improve your results, use multiple lures. If you have a selection of lures deployed, more lures will create more noise in the water, and hence, be more stimulating to the fish.
This way you can offer the fish different types and sizes of lures, cover various depths, and deploy your lures at different distances from your transom.
Trolling for fish on the open waters of a lake or deep sea is very rewarding, but requires specialized equipment to really enjoy. If you want good results, you’ll need the right rod, lures, and trolling reel, as well as lots of practice to get used to.
Keep in mind the factors such as drag, clicker, material, and line capacity when selecting your new reel. For some excellent trolling reels, check out our recommendations above.