Not all “saltwater” spinning reels are created equal.
Anyone who fishes in the ocean knows the damage it can inflict on fishing gear. A reel that is exposed to saltwater splashes and dunks will lose its smoothness to the point where retrieving the line becomes an unpleasant chore, often to the point of making the reel unusable. This is especially troublesome for fishermen who use surface and swimming lures, as constant casting and retrieving is the key to success. When fishing on foot or in boats or kayaks, it can be impossible for the reel to avoid contact with the sea. For the saltwater angler, it makes sense to spend more money on a waterproof, sealed spinning reel that will protect the inner gears and bearings. These types of reels will require less maintenance and will last much longer than non-sealed reels. Using a sealed reel provides peace of mind and allows the focus to remain on fishing. Not long ago, sealed reels were only available as expensive luxury models, but now there are also affordable ones to choose from. They are available in all sizes for all types of fishing, from ultralight inshore to heavy offshore use.
(Disclaimer: As with wristwatches, “water-resistant” would be a more appropriate term to describe these fishing reels. While these models are fully sealed and are known to be able to handle submersion, there haven’t been official tests performed on exactly how waterproof these reels are. While the sealed reels from brands like Van Staal and Shimano have an excellent reputation for being waterproof and submersible, eventually the seals may wear down over time and compromise the water resistance. It is suggested to avoid operating the reels underwater and to regularly clean and maintain them.)
Shimano Stella SW Sealed Spinning Reel Series
The Shimano Stella SW series is like the Ferrari of spinning reels and considered by many to be the best. The Stella SW is not only fully sealed and waterproof, but it also has a silky smooth retrieve thanks to its 15 bearings. It has an extremely strong drag, and the larger models are designed for offshore use. When shopping for a Stella SW, be aware that there are several variations of each size (with suffixes of PG, HG, and XG) with different gear ratios designed for different types of fishing. The PG models are “power gear” models with a lower gear ratio while the HG and XG models have higher gear ratios for a faster line retrieve. As Shimano’s top spinning reel, the Stella SW is expensive, but owners have traditionally received priority when sending their reels to Shimano USA for service.
Shimano Spheros SW and Saragosa SW Sealed Spinning Reel Series
The Spheros SW is Shimano’s most affordable line of sealed spinning reels. It offers the same level of water protection as the Stella SW at a much lower cost. Of course, the Spheros is not built as strong as the Stella SW and has a less powerful drag, but if you plan to use the smaller sizes (5000-6000) and performance is not super-critical, you may be better off choosing the Spheros SW and saving a lot of money. Another budget water-tight reel to consider is the Shimano Saragosa SW, which has more bearings and a stronger build than the Spheros SW, though it is arguable that the Spheros SW represents a better value for the price, if you are not targeting very large fish. Both of these series have a manual bail.
Van Staal VR Waterproof Spinning Reel Series
Van Staal is well-known for its VS Series, which is a popular waterproof reel for striper fishing on the East Coast. The new VR Series offers more affordable lightweight reels with the same level of saltwater protection. The VR features a fully-machined 6061-T6 waterproof aluminum body and a solid stainless steel center shaft with a titanium nitride coating. These reels have manual bails and include a bail-less conversion kit (except for the VR50). The VR series has a smoother retrieve than the VS and another advantage is that the case can be easily opened for maintenance.
Penn Torque II Waterproof Spinning Reels
The Penn Torque II family offers rugged reels for heavy-duty use with an IPX6 water-resistant rating. That means it is protected against powerful water jets but shouldn’t be submersed. However, the original Torque was known as a reel that could handle being submersed, so it wouldn’t be surprising if that is the case with the Torque II as well. The Torque II has 10 bearings for a smooth retrieve. The 5500 model has an automatic bail, and the 7500 and 9500 models have a manual bail. The Torque II series is made in the U.S.A.
Penn Slammer III IPX6 Water-Resistant Spinning Reel
When the Penn Spinfisher V launched, it was advertised as an affordable sealed real capable of withstanding submersion. That turned out not to be the case in reality, but Penn seems to have made up for that with the Slammer III family of reels. The Slammer III has an IPX6 water resistance rating like the Torque II. The Slammer III is completely sealed, and it appears that it can handle the occasional dunking as seen in this video, but prolonged submersion should be avoided. The smaller Slammer III sizes (3500-5500) have automatic bails and the larger sizes have manual bails.
For Ultra-Light Fishing: Van Staal VR50
Part of the VR series, the Van Staal VR50 is the only current option for an ultra-light waterproof spinning reel. It weighs just 8.9 ounces, compared to 13.9 ounces for the Penn Slammer III 3500. For those worried about the reputation of older Van Staal models as having a rough retrieve, the VR50 has a smooth and easy retrieve. (I purchased a VR50 after writing this article and can attest to this.) With a line retrieve of 36.9 inches per turn, the VR50 is a great choice for ultralight lure fishing.