Best Trolling Reels Reviewed & Compared

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Trolling is a great way to catch monster-sized tuna, mackerel, halibut, and more. It takes a lot more strength and know-how, and it absolutely requires gear that can keep up with the massive targets. Nothing is more important than the reel you use for trolling. Read on for the full rundown on choosing the right trolling reel.

Preview

Model

Material

Gear Ratio

Check Price

Shimano Tekota 300 Conventional Saltwater...

Shimano Tekota Line Counter

Aluminum

4.2:1

Penn SQL50LW Squall LevelWind

Penn Squall LevelWind

Graphite, brass, stainless steel

4:1

Okuma Magda Pro Line Counter Levelwind...

Okuma Magda Pro Line

Plastic, graphite, carbon

5.1:1

Okuma Cold Water Linecounter Trolling Reel...

Okuma Cold Water Linecounter

Aluminum, carbonite, brass, plastic

4.2:1

Penn 209LC General Purpose Level Wind,...

Penn General Purpose Level Wind

Stainless steel, plastic, brass

3.2:1

Penn 1292938 Squall Lever Drag 2-Speed...

Penn Squall Lever Drag 2-Speed

Graphite

2.9:1/1.5:1

Shimano TLD20IIA 2-Speed Lever Drag Fishing...

Shimano TLD 2-Speed

Graphite

4.0:1, 1.7:1

Gomexus Saltwater Trolling Shark Tuna...

Gomexus Saltwater Trolling

Aluminum

2.1:1, 1.2:1


Understanding Trolling Reels

If you're familiar with fishing reels in general, you'll get the gist of trolling reel performance specs pretty fast. The main difference between trolling reels and baitcast reels or spinning reels is that trolling reels are not meant to be cast most of the time. They have higher line capacity and accommodate heavier line like lead core.

Trolling is for mid- to large-sized sport fishing targets. Some anglers love to get offshore on a boat and try to hook a shark, but trolling reels are also useful for catching bass, wahoo, kingfish, salmon, mackerel, and other large species. Larger lures, weights, and baits are needed for trolling, so the reels are built for more weight and a more energetic fight with the fish. Anglers who go offshore or fish in large, deep lakes can easily reel in their own personal best of tons of different species with a trolling reel.


Buyer’s Guide For Trolling Reels

Type of Fish & Environment

Many anglers think of trolling as a strictly saltwater pursuit, but larger freshwater lakes are suitable for trolling as well. Trolling for bass with an Alabama rig isn’t unheard of, although it’s more likely to fish something like a dipsy diver to troll in really deep water.

Freshwater anglers can have some success trolling regular crankbaits for walleye, especially in high-pressure lakes. Mahi, tuna, and marlin are all common targets for offshore saltwater trolling. Locating currents and the location of cover and food sources like school can help your success rate when you’re trolling.

Trolling Reel Type

Most common trolling reels have a levelwind, which is a device that helps distribute line back onto the reel evenly when you’re reeling it back in. A vocal minority of anglers hate levelwinds because they feel it interferes with the line on a cast, but levelwinds help avoid backlash.

Dual speed reels allow you to go from reeling fast to a slower gear ratio that will give you the power to fight a fish. The key to trolling is to keep steady, even pressure on the fish, and a two-speed reel can help you do just that.

Reel Weight & Size

Trolling reels are more significant than other reels, generally speaking, but there is also a size range in trolling reels themselves. Larger sizes can give you a much greater line capacity, an important asset with larger fish like tuna that like to dive when they get hooked.

Graphite and aluminum are the most likely materials trolling reels are made out of. Many anglers are uncomfortable with graphite because its light weight makes it seem less sturdy, but designs like you find on the Shimano or Penn graphite reels do away with that fear. Aluminum is still the stronger option, however.

Gear Ratio

Gear ratios are almost always on the slower end of things when it comes to trolling. There won’t be much opportunity for anglers to crank a reel over and over like there is with lighter rigs and lures. A lower gear ratio helps prioritize redirected cranking power to the fish and not to spinning the handle around multiple times. Trolling reels with two different gear ratios are helpful to give anglers a bit more flexibility when moving a lure or pulling in a fish.

Drag & Tension

While max drags are sometimes not as high on trolling reels, there are really well-designed HT-100 carbonite drag systems on Gomexus and Penn reels later on in this guide that rely on friction to keep the drag plates from snapping line and letting big targets go free.

Other reels pack huge 30- and 40-pound maximum drags for stopping those really big fish in their tracks. Tension on the line can be adjusted, and knowing a few methods like chasing your fish in the direction it's swimming will help keep tension off the line until you're bringing the fish in.

Reel Components

Trolling reels are meant to be used simultaneously with multiple other lines. For this reason, loud bait clickers are included on most quality trolling reels. The spools are usually machined aluminum or occasionally brass to make sure they don't lose shape under pressure.

Trolling reels are usually rounder and wider to increase their line capacity and accommodate larger test line. Handles on trolling reels are often reinforced, balanced, or made of stronger metal like aluminum to give you more torque. Line counters help get your lure into the strike zone and stay there until you get a bite.

Line Type & Capacity

Many of these reels can fit a tremendous amount of line for staggering baits while trolling with more than one line. Lead core, line with lead in its core, is almost exclusively used for trolling. It's more robust and thicker and can be used with a short mono leader to blend in with the water. Line counters that tell you how much line you've let out, so you know where your bait is in the water column are often calibrated for mono line, so beware if you're using a manual counter with braid or lead core.

Price & Warranty

Trolling reels run the gamut price-wise, from under 100 budget models to reels that cost ten times as much. Like other sport fishing equipment, there's a cost divide between professional-grade equipment and the stuff us normal anglers use.

There are options for folks who have one or two hundred to spare, and it's even possible for somebody with less than that to find a solid reel for trolling. The usual 1-year limited warranty for faulty manufacturing and parts is almost the only thing on offer with these reels, although sometimes it’s a bit longer or covers a little more.


8 Best Trolling Reels Reviewed

1. Shimano Tekota

Best Trolling Reel - Our Top Pick!

Material

 Aluminum

Reel Size/Weight

300/14.3 oz.

Gear Ratio

4.2:1

Line Capacity

Mono: 275/12, 220/14, 185/16

 Braid: 255/30, 210/40, 205/50

Ball Bearings

3 + 1

Warranty

2-year limited

This Shimano is hands-down one of the best trolling reels you can find with a better variety of possible applications than any of the competition. Like many other Shimano reels, the Tekota is a solid one-piece aluminum construction, which makes it incredibly strong and also adds to its aesthetic appeal. The 300 size is readily palmable, but there are scaled-up versions like the 700 that are better for larger targets but function just as well.

Most of that performance comes from the drag system, spool design, and rust-free treatment on the ball bearings. Shimano claims the ball bearings will last ten times as long as those in competing reels and that longevity does seem to bear out in trolling reel reviews of the Tekota.

One of those ball bearings is used to support the pinion gear as part of Shimano’s ‘Super Free Spool’ design, eliminating friction between the pinion and the main spool when the clutch is disengaged for smoother operation and more endurance in the product.

Carbon is used in the drag system for better performance and less wear over a long period of time. It’s controlled with a star-drag on the side of the reel, a nice element that should be familiar to those who have worked with baitcasting reels before. While the drag may not seem like a big-game stopper on the 300, rest assured that the large line capacity can more than makeup for any shortcomings there.

One of the most appealing aspects of this model that you don’t find in the competition (or even in most Shimano trolling reels) is its ability to work in either freshwater or saltwater without issue. This is due to its solid construction and the openness of the frame.

Besides making it easier to take knots out of the line, an open frame also makes it really easy to spray the reel down after fishing in saltwater, which can help everything stay performing at its best and keep corrosion from the salt at bay. A small design feature like moving the crossbar forward to promote more access can make all the difference in a trolling reel, and it certainly has in the Shimano Tekota.

Pros
  • Line counter included
  • Freshwater & saltwater ready
  • Open frame design
  • Easy to maintain
  • Left-hand model available
Cons
  •  Low max drag

2. Penn Squall LevelWind

Best Saltwater Trolling Reel

Material

Graphite, brass, stainless steel

Reel Size/Weight

50/25.60 oz.

Gear Ratio

4:1

Line Capacity

Mono: 435/40, 320/50, 285/60

 Braid: 900/65, 775/80, 665/100

Ball Bearings

3

Warranty

1-year limited

Like just about all their other fishing gear, Penn trolling reels are durable, dependable, and high-performing, making them a market mainstay and a fisher favorite. This Squall Levelwind saltwater trolling reel holds lots of heavy line so you’ll be able to go after the big fish or reel in medium-sized targets more easily. The low gear ratio makes it perfect for trolling since the lures and weights you'll be using are larger, and they'll be going deeper underwater.

The drag system is very robust on this reel as well. Referred to by Penn as the HT 100 drag system, it’s built with a carbon fiber fabric that’s laminated onto fiberglass. Without getting too immersed in polymer science, suffice it to say that the carbon relaxes when it heats up, so the friction from lots of line being pulled out like it is when a fish is on the run will automatically make the drag let up slightly, just enough to prevent a line break and save you a lost fish.

As you can tell from the name, there’s also a levelwind on this model to re-spool line evenly. Heavier line will be right at home on the machined aluminum spool, which has line capacity rings so you can make sure to load it up just enough without accidentally setting yourself up for a mean mess by overloading the spool. 

There are only 3 ball bearings in this reel, but the motion is still smooth, most likely due to the strategic location of the ball bearings and also to the brass pinion that interlocks with the stainless steel main gear quite nicely.

Pros
  • Includes levelwind
  • Carbon fiber drag
  • Line capacity rings
  • Ideal for heavy lures & lines
  • Lightweight for its size
Cons
  • Few ball bearings

3. Okuma Magda Pro Line

Best Budget Trolling Reel

Material

Plastic, graphite, carbon

Reel Size/Weight

15/357g

Gear Ratio

5.1:1

Line Capacity

220/12, 170/15, 120/20

Ball Bearings

2

Warranty

1-year limited

This isn't an earth-shattering trolling reel, but it is a nice little bit of machinery that works surprisingly well for the price. It's lightweight, a rarity in trolling reels. They took care of crafting the different moving parts of this reel. The gearing is all machine-cut brass, and the spool is corrosion-resistant graphite. Perhaps one of the nicest things about this reel is the self-lubricating feature that will introduce a small amount of oil into the gears when friction is detected.

There's a counter system on this model, but keep in mind that it's mechanical and not electrically operated. It works to get your lure into the strike zone nonetheless. The smoothness of the reel isn't the nicest you'll ever find, but it doesn't grind or make any noise that you'll register in the middle of a fight with a fish. For that matter, the drag system on this Magda is a little lackluster in terms of its maximum power even if it does apply what strength it does very readily out on the water.

Overall this is an excellent reel to keep around as a backup or to use in tandem with other trolling reels. If you're looking for a way to fish a simple Alabama rig or drop in some comparatively lightweight lures, then this one will suit you just fine. There are also some larger models like the 45 that can handle heavier lures and still won’t break the bank.

Pros
  • Self-lubricating
  • Sturdy moving parts
  • Counter included
  • Drag kicks in quickly
  • Levelwind built-in
Cons
  • Plastic parts
  • Lacks drag power

4. Okuma Cold Water

Best Trolling Reel with Line Counter

Material

Aluminum, carbonite, brass, plastic

Reel Size/Weight

567g

Gear Ratio

4.2:1

Line Capacity

510/15, 420/20, 310/25

Ball Bearings

 2 + 1

Warranty

1-year limited

Another hit reel from Okuma should solidify their position as a manufacturer of some of the best trolling reels with line counters. The first thing that stands out with this reel is its aesthetics; it just looks good. Upon closer inspection, there are lots of performance specs that make it even more appealing.

To start with its central feature, the line counter has a larger, fog-free display that’s placed up and out of the way of the functioning of the reel, which is a small change from the competition that will keep you from having to squint in the middle of trolling.

The frame is lightweight and corrosion-resistant, although, as you can tell from Okuma Cold Water Linecounter trolling reel reviews, this reel is meant for trolling in deep, cold lake water. Aluminum on the handle arm gives lots of torque for reeling in powerful fish, and the gear system as a whole has been built for strength and smooth operation.

A holding plate keeps all the central moving parts - spool shaft, pinion gear, driveshaft, and main gear - aligned and working as intended. The mechanism supports the spool at three different stress points to prevent it from shifting or buckling under pressure.

One other nice feature is the bearing-backed pinion gear. The placement of one of the ball bearings keeps the pinion friction-free, which improves performance and reduces wear down over time. This reel works fantastically for trolling with lead core line, and Okuma was thoughtful enough to recess the reset button on the line counter and move it out of the way a bit to prevent accidental resets while you’re winding.

Pros
  • Levelwind reel
  • Left-hand retrieve available
  • Self-lubricating gear system
  • Featured bait clicker
  • 20 lb. max drag
Cons
  • Counter calibrated for mono

5. Penn General Purpose

Best Trolling Reel for the Money

Material

Stainless steel, plastic, brass

Reel Size/Weight

209/19oz.

Gear Ratio

3.2:1

Line Capacity

360/17, 290/20, 190/30

Ball Bearings

2

Warranty

1-year limited

Don’t let the unassuming name of this Penn trolling reel dupe you into expecting less. From the aluminum spool and brass gear to the HT-100 carbonite drag washers, this reel performs as well as you’d expect a Penn reel to. It’s not that this reel isn’t especially good at any certain application, but instead that it's a solid tool in so many.

Great for freshwater or saltwater, the straightforward operation and dependability is refreshing. Like similar competing models, this reel has a machined brass main gear and an aluminum spool. The classic design of the reel betrays its durability. We’ve rated this model the best trolling reel for the money.

The handle is not only oversized but also counterbalanced. That and the overall size of the reel makes it feel really comfortable in your hands. There’s also a pretty loud clicker in this model, and the levelwind helps make sure there are rarely backlash issues, which is great since this reel is castable as well.

There aren't many ball bearings, but the operation is still relatively smooth. This Penn reel is really easy to clean and maintain. Pair it with a rod that can handle between 30 and 50-pound test, and you'll have a very pleasing trolling set up for just about any situation you can get yourself into.

Pros
  • Levelwind operation
  • Extremely versatile
  •  Easy maintenance
  • Balanced handle
  • Great drag system
Cons
  • Few ball bearings

6. Penn Squall Lever

Best Big Game Trolling Reel

Material

Graphite

Reel Size/Weight

IGFA50, 55.60oz.

Gear Ratio

2.9:1/1.5:1

Line Capacity

Mono: 1550/30, 890/50, 565/80

 Braid: 2485/65, 2145/80, 1835/100

Ball Bearings

 4

Warranty

1-year limited

This reel is one of the easiest trolling reels to use on the market. That's not to say that it's meant for beginners, but those who already know how to use a trolling reel will love this robust and powerful model. The two-speed option is convenient when you want to pull in a lure quickly and then switch to the higher-torque low speed to get a big fish onto the boat.

They can be tricky to learn how to use, but if you figure out how to apply constant, even pressure with a two-speed reel, you’ll have a much higher success rate with huge tuna, halibut, and other fish that like to dive down when they get on the line.

Offshore trolling is where the Penn Squall really shines. If you want to troll around at a constant speed with a spread of three, four, or even more lines out at one time, you’ll love the loud bait clicker, the powerful 40-pound drag, resolute body construction, and the huge line capacity this model has to offer. The drag is operated with a lever that sits right at hand next to the handle.

For its large size, this reel moves smoothly. Big fish are no match for the Penn Squall Lever, hands-down one of the best offshore trolling reels on the market. The only drawback is a lack of line counter and levelwind, but most anglers who get the hang of this reel love it precisely because it lacks those two features.

Pros
  • Huge line capacity
  • Strong graphite body
  • 2 possible gear ratios
  • Bait clicker included
  • Strong max drag
Cons
  • No counter
  • No levelwind

7. Shimano TLD

Best 2-Speed Trolling Reel

Material

Graphite

Reel Size/Weight

20, 36.2 oz

Gear Ratio

4.0:1, 1.7:1

Line Capacity

Mono: 700/20, 450/30, 250/50

 Braid: 820/50, 745/65, 660/80

Ball Bearings

 4

Warranty

1-year limited

For a lighter 2-speed trolling reel, try this Shimano model. It doesn’t have as large a line capacity as the Penn Squall Lever, but it is more optimized for mid-size targets of generally large species. If you plan on a long day of fishing, this lighter reel is likely to save you some soreness in the wrist and may well enable you to stay out on the water even longer.

The drag is still handle-operated, and there's a clicker for those who want to have several of these trolling lines at once. Some anglers find the reel to be too heavy, but if you're trolling out of rod holders, then you shouldn't have it in-hand for long periods anyway. The two speeds on this reel are a bit faster than the Penn Squall, but still comparable.

Operating this reel is easy thanks to the treatment on the stainless steel ball bearings, which also causes the bearings to last in great shape for a considerably longer time than the ones you would find on competing models. The max drag is a little bit lower at 30 pounds, but that's still a substantial amount of power to have when you're up against a sportfish target. 

Pros
  • Graphite body
  • Corrosion-resistant ball bearings
  • Plenty of drag power
  • Lighter weight
  • Fast gear ratios
Cons
  • Smaller line capacity

8. Gomexus Saltwater

Best Tuna Trolling Reel

Material

Aluminum

Reel Size/Weight

130 / 158.38 oz.

Gear Ratio

2.1:1, 1.2:1

Line Capacity

Mono: 1000/130

 Braid: 2140/200

Ball Bearings

10 + 1

Warranty

None

Trolling for tuna takes as much power, line, and reel speed as you can possibly get. Some of the features on this trolling reel from Gomexus might seem like overkill compared to the other reels in this guide, and the price tag may seem exceptionally high, but rest assured that anyone going out for tuna is going to need the gargantuan performance that comes out of this golden trolling reel.

To make sure it can go head-to-head with the largest tuna, this reel had to forego graphite in its frame in favor of more resolute aluminum. The HT-100 carbonite drag system in this model, which is the same as the ones in the Penn models in this guide, is great for preventing monster tuna from snapping your line.

With a line capacity as massive as this reel has, snapped line may not seem like that big of a deal. But tuna really know how to take as much line out on a run as they can, and you're going to want to hang onto as much of it as you can, to say nothing of the annoyance of having to sit down and repair broken lines.

This is also a 2-speed trolling reel, but the two speeds on offer are much slower. That will allow the angler to concentrate on reeling the fish in rather than having to continually spin the handle just to get tuna out of the water.

The Gomexus Saltwater is much, much more substantial than most anglers are probably used to and will take some getting used to. It has a super-smooth operation thanks to the whopping 10 + 1 ball bearings inside it. The bait clicker and the deep reel design make this an easy reel to use overall, even if the fights you’ll have with tuna on the other end of it are still likely to take a bit out of you.

Pros
  • Super powerful
  • Two-speed option
  • Smooth operation
  • Massive line capacity
  • Strong aluminum body
Cons
  • High price point

Trolling Reel Size Guide

Sizes can run from 15 and 20 at the smaller end all the way up to 300 and larger. These should line up with your intended line size and target fish. Bringing a 300-size trolling reel to troll for 6-pound bass or a 20-size out to catch a shark doesn't make much sense.

It's probably going to be best to bring a few solid-sized 50 reels unless you have the gear and skill to go after huge sport fish. If you tend to go out on the ocean, the larger sizes may appeal, but otherwise, you'll probably never need them.


How to Use & Maintain a Trolling Reel

All you need to use a trolling reel are suitable weights and lures and a solid rod. Cast or drop your lure off the back of a boat moving at good trolling speed and let it out for a sufficient distance. Getting the arithmetic between distance, weight, and lures can be difficult, but it comes quickly if you practice enough.

After use, always clean the salt off the real without a degreaser. Make sure your drag is fully engaged to keep water out of them while you clean. Dry everything off the reel with a soft cloth. Always make sure to store the reel with the drag washers fully disengaged and the bait clicker on to keep them in good condition for longer. Check out this video of a complete reel service on a Shimano Tekota if you want all the gory details.

Trolling Tips & Techniques

In addition to the right rig, the right electronics can help make sure you’re at the same depth as your target fish. To make sure you’re giving convincing presentations to the fish, stagger your baits. Use line that blends in with the water and lures that mimic baitfish when in motion.

The most crucial tip for trolling is not to stop the boat when you get a bite. In addition to ruining the presentation of your other lures, it can ruin your line slack and hook set and free that fish before you even start to fight it. Keep your trolling speed up for a minimum of 30 seconds before you stop or slow. Make sure you’re fishing at the right time too. Start trolling about 1.5 hours before the tide comes in. Species like Mahi and tuna will also be hungry in the pre-dawn hours.


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can I cast with a trolling reel?

Technically yes, but most are designed and balanced for trolling if they are castable at all. The weight is different, and there are no braking systems to speak of. There are some precautions against backlash, but since you'll likely be fishing with heavier weights and lures and a much more considerable amount of line, it's unlikely to net you any benefit if you try casting with a trolling reel.

What is a level wind reel?

A levelwind is an addition to a fishing reel that moves left and right in front of the spool when you cast out or reel in to make sure the line stays evenly spooled. Some anglers claim it causes interference when they cast. Still, if it ever does, the interference is minimal, and the cleaner accumulation of line on the spool is without a doubt worth having the levelwind.

Can I use a spinning reel for trolling?

You sure can, but spinning reels are not going to have the line capacity or the stopping power to catch huge fish unless you bring along a massive reel. It can be fun to troll your typical crankbaits and swimmers off the boat on your way back to the docks for sure, but in the end, the highest success rate and the largest fish are going to come from a trolling reel and a trolling rod.

Who makes the best trolling reels and rods?

The usual suspects are at the top of the market when it comes to trolling reels. Shimano makes great graphite reels that are strong and powerful. Penn is well-known for trolling reels that have tons of torque and reeling power and great ease of use. Okuma and Daiwa also make highly successful models, while professional-grade equipment comes from outliers like Gomexus.

Is there any other necessary equipment I need for trolling?

It's hard to make an exhaustive list, but some things will definitely make it easier on you if you go out trolling. Rod holders to keep your multiple rods out of your hand are definitely needed. Electronics help you find fish in the water column. Plenty of extra bait and extra spools are good to have in case the fish run away with some line. Make sure you bring a net to get fish on the boat or a gaff if you’re going after really big fish.

Where can I buy these trolling reels?

There are lots of places where you can find trolling reels and maybe get a hands-on look at them, but for the most reliable deals and the best shipping advantages, you can find just about anything on Amazon. Most manufacturers like Shimano and Penn run their own Amazon pages, so you get essentially the same kind of customer service and sales you would anywhere else.


Conclusion

If you're going trolling for big sport fish targets, you're going to need a line counter and a reel with enough stopping power to get the fish out of the water. The best reel with everything you need to get the job done is the Shimano Tekota Line Counter. In addition to its strength, it’s versatile and easy to maintain.