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Conventional Fishing Reels for Trolling Success

When it comes to fishing reels, there are several styles on the market. However, if you’re hooked up with an offshore giant or if you’re fishing in rough seas, you’ll quickly realize that some reels aren’t up to the task.

big game conventional rod and reels

Conventional reels are one of the oldest and most popular designs of fishing reels, and it’s easy to see why they’re such an enduring fixture in the fishing world.

Conventional reels are overbuilt to stand up to the rigors of ocean fishing, and they have the power and strength necessary to target pelagic species like tuna, billfish, or sharks. 

Of course, when it’s time to shop for a conventional reel, you’ll be inundated with hundreds of choices, all claiming to be the best thing since braided line. Today, we’re going to look at the best conventional reels on the market.

We’ve tried dozens of the top conventionals on the market to make it easier for you to wade through the hype to pick one of the best conventional reels for your next outing. 

Top 10 Conventional Reels

  1. Penn Rival Level Wind
  2. Penn Squall
  3. Shimano TLD
  4. Penn International
  5. Penn Fathom
  6. Shimano Tyrnos
  7. Shimano Torium
  8. KastKing Rover
  9. Penn Squall Level Wind
  10. Daiwa Saltist

Penn Rival Level Wind 

Penn is widely respected as one of the greatest reel manufacturers of all time. Their Rival reel is a testament to their decades of experience producing the best reels for serious anglers. 

The Rival is one of Penn’s most affordable reels, and it’s an ideal choice for beginners and anyone who isn’t looking to spend lots of money for a conventional reel they can rely on. Penn makes plenty of concessions to make this reel affordable, but it still offers the performance you’d expect from one of the best brands in the business. 

The Rival is available in three sizes, so there’s an ideal reel for you whether you’re fishing inshore or offshore. The frame and side plates are graphite, making for an affordable reel that’s also lighter than most. 

This model delivers 15 pounds of drag and features Penn’s HT-100 star drag system, which is infinitely adjustable and provides the stopping power you need to tangle with bigger fish. 

Critical Specs

Gear Ratio5.1:15.1:13.9:1
Line Capacity (yds/test)580/20# 435/30# 305/50#865/20# 650/30# 455/50#1020/30# 710/50# 590/65#
Max Drag15 pounds15 pounds15 pounds
Weight18.3 ounces18.4 ounces22.6 ounces

Penn Squall  

The Squall represents a significant step up in features and functionality compared to Penn’s bargain-priced reels, yet it’s still available at an excellent price that’s attainable for most anglers.

This reel offers a graphite frame that helps save weight without compromising rigidity or durability, and the components that matter the most are made from aluminum and steel. A pricier lever drag system replaces the star drag common with Penn’s cheaper reels, and the Squall delivers between 13-33 pounds, depending on the size. 

The Squall comes in sizes 30-60, so there’s a reel to meet your needs, whether trolling for tuna or shark or fishing the coastal waters for smaller game.

Critical Specs

Gear Ratio6.1:15.1:14.3:14.3:1
Line Capacity (yds/test)1025/20# 775/30# 550/50#1075/30# 750/50# 625/65#1050/50# 875/65# 750/80#1050/65# 900/80# 775/100#
Max Drag13 pounds20 pounds27 pounds33 pounds
Weight18.2 ounces20.9 ounces27.4 ounces28.1 ounces

Shimano TLD  

Shimano produces some of the best rods, reels, and lures in the industry, and their TLD series conventionals are affordable and feature-packed reels that will serve you well on the water.

The graphite frame of the TLD helps reduce weight and costs while still providing ample durability. With an aluminum spool and steel gear components, the TLD is every bit as durable as the pricier all-metal reels Shimano is best known for.

The TLD is available in sizes 15, 20, and 25, so it’s best for targeting larger inshore fish up to 50 pounds, such as striped bass, bonito, jacks, and drum. Each model delivers 22-23 pounds of drag, so this reel provides ample stopping power when you need it most.

Critical Specs

Gear Ratio4.0:13.6:13.6:1
Line Capacity (yds/test)700/50# 530/65# 405/80#820/50# 745/65# 660/80#1015/50# 980/65# 845/80#
Max Drag22 pounds23 pounds22 pounds
Weight18.6 ounces23.6 ounces24.5 ounces

Penn International VI

The jewel of the Penn product line, and one of the most common reels onboard commercial hook-and-line fishing vessels, the Penn International needs no introduction.

These reels are made in the original Penn factory in Pennsylvania, and there isn’t a fish in the ocean that you can’t land with an International. It’s one of the reels that has made Penn such a trusted name for anglers.

The latest version, the International VI, offers an all-stainless steel gear train with an aluminum body and Penn’s Dura-Drag system, which delivers between 15-45 pounds of drag depending on the size. 

The International VI line is available in 12, 30, and 50 sizes. There are also additional International lines offering reels up to size 130 for targeting enormous offshore giants. 

Critical Specs

Gear Ratio6.75:14.1:13.5:1
Line Capacity (yds/test)1510/10# 1030/12# 880/15#1385/20# 1030/30# 800/40#1185/40# 880/50# 780/60#
Max Drag15 pounds30 pounds45 pounds
Weight31 ounces55 ounces66 ounces

Penn Fathom 

The Penn Fathom offers an ideal blend of high-end features while remaining affordable, and it’s a perfect choice for more experienced anglers who are upgrading from a beginner outfit. 

The Fathom is Penn’s most affordable conventional that offers an all-metal body, so it’s built like a tank while remaining reasonably lightweight. This reel also offers Penn’s legendary Dura-Drag system to stop fish in their tracks with 20-40 pounds of drag, depending on reel size. 

The Fathom also offers an all-stainless gear train which should provide decades of reliability. If you’re ready for a premium Penn reel but aren’t ready to shell out money for an International, the Fathom could be ideal.

Critical Specs

Gear Ratio5.3:15.3:15.3:14.8:17.1:1
Line Capacity (yds/test)335/20# 255/30# 175/50#680/30# 475/50# 395/65#635/50# 525/65# 455/80#785/50# 665/65# 565/80#995/65# 860/80# 735/100#
Max Drag20 pounds33 pounds33 pounds40 pounds40 pounds
Weight14.7 ounces19.4 ounces19.8 ounces24.7 ounces27.3 ounces

Shimano Tyrnos 

The Tyrnos is one of the most popular conventionals from Shimano, offering many of the high-end features of reels like the Tiagra at a much more attainable price. 

The Tyrnos offers an aluminum body with composite side plates, and it’s available in sizes 20, 30, and 50. The smaller two reels are perfect for coastal trolling and targeting fish like striped bass or drum, and the 50 is large and powerful enough for small tuna and other powerful pelagics. 

The Tyrnos is also a two-speed reel, so you can easily bear down to the lower gear ratio when working a big fish back to the boat. 

If there’s one knock on the Tyrnos reel, they’re a bit heavy, so they’re better left for trolling than finesse techniques like jigging. 

Critical Specs

Gear Ratio5.0:1/2.0:15.0:1/2.0:14.0:1/1.5:1
Line Capacity (yds/test)820/50# 745/65# 660/80#900/50# 845/65# 750/80#1120/80# 930/100# 800/150#
Max Drag33 pounds33 pounds42 pounds
Weight39.2 ounces40.9 ounces57.4 ounces

Shimano Torium  

A sleek and stylish conventional that looks like it would cost twice what it does, it’s easy to see why the Torium is one of Shimano’s most popular reels.

This reel is available in a ton of sizes, ranging from 14 to 50, so it’s easy to find the ideal model for you whether you’re fishing for fluke and seabass or targeting larger game to 50-60 pounds. All the reels are lightweight, especially the larger models, which makes them ideal for finesse techniques. 

The Torium offers a suite of Shimano technologies, including a Hagane body, HEG gear train assembly, Cross Carbon drag, and more. Finesse anglers and anyone looking for a value-packed reel from Shimano will love this compact powerhouse. 

Critical Specs

Gear Ratio6.3:16.2:16.2:16.2:15.1:16.2:1
Line Capacity (yds/test)375/40# 370/50# 240/65#530/40# 330/65# 250/80#710/50# 375/65# 310/85#1015/50# 515/65# 415/80#1500/40# 1250/50# 920/65#845/65# 710/80# 540/100#
Max Drag17 pounds24 pounds24 pounds24 pounds31 pounds30 pounds
Weight15 ounces18.9 ounces19.2 ounces19.8 ounces27.9 ounces33.2 ounces

KastKing Rover  

The Rover from KastKing is one of the most affordable reels on the market, making it a perfect choice for beginners who are just getting into fishing or for stashing in the tackle box as a spare. 

This reel offers all-metal construction with a brass gear train and a CNC-machined aluminum spool. The Rover comes in sizes 40-90, and it delivers between 15-30 pounds of drag depending on the model. The 40, 50, and 60 models also offer a centrifugal braking system for long and accurate casting without backlash. 

The Rover is versatile and ideal for bottom fishing or trolling. It doesn’t offer the drag power you’d need for offshore fishing, but it’s an excellent choice for small striped bass, bonito, albacore, or bluefish. 

Critical Specs

Gear Ratio5.3:15.3:15.3:14.2:13.6:13.6:1
Line Capacity (yds/test)200/50#200/70#250/70#430/70#650/70#650/70#
Max Drag15 pounds18 pounds20 pounds25 pounds30 pounds30 pounds
Weight11.6 ounces12.0 ounces12.6 ounces19.0 ounces21.6 ounces22.6 ounces

Penn Squall Level Wind  

The Squall Level Wind from Penn provides the same excellent array of features of the original Squall reel. But, it adds a level wind system, so you have less to worry about when retrieving your bait or fighting a fish. 

This reel is available in sizes 15, 20, 30, and 50, so there’s a perfect reel for you whether you’re targeting smaller game from shore or larger fish nearshore. You should be able to confidently land anything smaller than a tuna with these reliable reels. 

The 15 and 20 size reels are also light enough for finesse techniques, so you can jig for hours without burning out your arm. 

Critical Specs

Gear Ratio4.9:14.9:14.9:14.0:1
Line Capacity (yds/test)580/20#435/30#305/50#865/20#650/30#455/50#1020/30#710/50#590/65#900/65#775/80#665/100#
Max Drag15 pounds15 pounds20 pounds20 pounds
Weight16.2 ounces16.9 ounces20.9 ounces24.6 ounces

Daiwa Saltist  

The Daiwa Saltist is one of the most popular reels on earth, and it offers the ideal blend of performance-minded features, bulletproof build quality, and a fair price. 

a daiwa saltist conventional reel

The Saltist offers a one-piece aluminum frame with stainless drive components, and the only non-metal component on the reel is the free spool lever. Depending on the model, Daiwa’s Automatic Tournament Drag delivers up to 22 pounds of drag. 

The Saltist is available in sizes 15, 20, 30, 35, 40, and 50, so there’s plenty to choose from when you’re selecting the best reel for you. All the reels are exceptionally lightweight, and even the 50 size weighs in at only 21 ounces. For finesse fishing, the Saltist is an excellent reel to consider.

Critical Specs

Gear Ratio6.4:16.4:16.4:16.4:16.4:16.4:1
Line Capacity (yds/test)330/30# 260/40#330/40# 260/50#660/30# 450/40#390/50# 330/65#490/50# 430/65#460/80# 360/100#
Max Drag17.6 pounds17.6 pounds17.6 pounds22 pounds22 pounds22 pounds

Final Thoughts

Conventional reels are a tried-and-true option that many anglers prefer when they set out in search of the fish of a lifetime. Conventionals have proven themselves in the most treacherous conditions, and they provide the durability that serious anglers demand when saltwater fishing. 

The reels on our list above represent an excellent selection of the best conventional reels on the market, especially when trolling for big game like the legendary marlin.

While they’re all solid choices, the Penn International is our pick as the best conventional reel. Or, if you’re looking for a more affordable option, the Shimano Torium might be perfect for you.

Rocco Smith

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