Anyone who fishes in saltwater regularly knows the havoc it can wreak on your gear. A reel that is exposed to splashes and dunks, if the saltwater does not end up destroying it outright, will lose its smoothness to the point where retrieving the line becomes a chore. 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 inshore or in boats and kayaks, it can be impossible to always keep the reel protected from the sea. For the saltwater angler, it makes sense to spend more on a waterproof, sealed spinning reel that will protect the inner gears and bearings from saltwater, as the reel will last much longer. Using a sealed reel provides peace of mind and allows the focus to remain on fishing rather than avoiding the ocean. Not long ago, sealed reels were only available as expensive luxury models but now there are several affordable ones to choose from. They are available in all sizes for all types of fishing from light inshore to heavy offshore.
(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, just user experiences. While the sealed reels from brands like Van Staal and Shimano have an excellent reputation, eventually the seals may break down and compromise their 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. One thing to keep in mind is that the Spheros has a manual bail and the Stella SW has an automatic bail. Another budget reel to consider is the Shimano Saragosa SW, another water-tight reel which has more bearings and a better build than the Spheros SW, though it is arguable that the Spheros SW represents a better value for the price.
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 Slammer III IPX6 Water-Resistant Spinning Reel
When the Penn Spinfisher V launched, it was advertised as a 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 misstep with the Slammer III family of reels. The Slammer III has an IPX6 water resistance rating. IPX6 means it is protected from powerful water jets (but not submersion). The Slammer III is completely sealed and should be able to 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 which is the next smallest sealed reel. Reviews indicate that the VR50 is pleasant to use and for those worried about the reputation of older Van Staal models as not being smooth, it appears to have a smooth retrieve that nobody is complaining about. With a line retrieve of 36.9 inches per turn, the VR50 is a great choice for lure fishing. Unfortunately, quantities of the VR50 are limited and it is sometimes difficult to find for sale.