The only thing worse than a huge salmon snapping your rod is a salmon burning out your drag, or stripping the gears on your reel. As a salmon fishing guide, I have seen this happen many times.
The perfect spinning reels for salmon will hold enough line, have a smooth and strong drag system, have bearings strong enough to crank the salmon in, and have a wide spool that allows the line to come off smoothly for a better presentation.
Many of the cheaper reels just can’t handle big salmon.
A Smooth Drag Is A Must On A Salmon Reel
I have seen reels with sticky, inconsistent drags that cause lines to break, rip hooks out of the salmon’s mouths, and even break rods.
For salmon fishing, getting a reel with a nice, smooth, and consistent drag system that can handle big fish is important.
Best Size Of Reel For Salmon Fishing
Spinning reels are usually rated by the thousands or by the tens. How they are rated depends on the brand of reel. As an example, a size 1000 reel is the same as another brand’s size 10, or a 3500 size reel is the same size as a size 35.
Shimano, for example, lists their reels from 1000 to 6000, whereas Abu Garcia lists them from 10 to 60. (10 = 1000)
Line Capacity Is Important
When it comes to reel sizes, it’s the line capacity of the reel that is most important.
When purchasing a spinning reel for salmon, I recommend getting one that can hold a minimum of 150 yards of 10-pound test. However, as you will see below, how much line you will need depends on the type of river you fish.
Reel Size: River Size
I’m not a big fan of giant reels for salmon fishing. I use reels suitable for the rivers I’ll be fishing.
I see guys using spinning reels in the 5000 and 6000 sizes on small rivers, which I think is overkill.
Unless you are fishing large, fast rivers like the Niagara River or the big BC or Alaska rivers, where you may not be able to walk the banks to chase a huge salmon, reels of this size are not good. They are heavy and awkward when casting and when float fishing.
On a smaller river that might be 30 to 60 feet wide on average, I would use a smaller reel of 3500 to 4000.
On these smaller rivers, the salmon are often confined to smaller spots, or if they decide to run up or down the river, you can run after them. Therefore, you will not need a larger reel with a large line capacity like you would find on a size 5000.
I have caught plenty of 20-lb to 35-lb and even some possible 40-pound salmon on 3500 and 4000 reels. I have never had a salmon take all of my line, even on a 3500 reel.
When fishing salmon on some of the bigger rivers or for guys that might be fishing off the piers, the best salmon-sized reels are 4000, 4500, or 5000-sized reels.
Check out the 11 Best Baitcasting Salmon Reels.
The 5 Best Reels For Salmon Fishing
These are the reels that I, other guides, and good anglers are using. They are proven to work on salmon and have some or all the requirements of a good salmon reel.
#1 Shimano Stradic: The Best Salmon Reel
The Shimano Stradic is likely the best reel for salmon fishing that I have ever used and I know other guides and other anglers that swear by this reel when fishing for salmon or steelhead.
I have been fishing with Shimano Stradic reels for 20 years now.
The old models were great for salmon and steelhead fishing, but the newer ones are even better with an improved and super smooth drag system along with improved bearings, improved gearing, better bail, better spool, and I think they are even lighter than the older models.
The Shimano Stradic is a proven reel and is a very popular reel used by many top anglers for Great Lakes salmon and steelhead, which is why I would say that it is for sure one of the best reels for salmon fishing on the Great Lakes and on the West Coast.
I recommend the Shimano Stradic FL 4000 or 4500 size. If you want a reel for both steelhead and salmon, consider the 3500 size.
#2 The Shimano Stella FJ
Even better than the Shimano Stradic is the Shimano Stella FJ Spinning Reel and the only reason I did not recommend it as the #1 salmon reel is that this is a reel that 90% of guys wouldn’t buy simply because it sells for about $320.
The last time I looked it was on sale at FishUSA.com.
However, if you are the type of guy that wants the best of the best and can afford this reel then go for it, it’s a fantastic reel for both saltwater and freshwater salmon.
Consider this reel in the 4000 model size when fishing for salmon around the great lakes in both rivers and in the lakes or on the piers.
The Abu Revo SX 40 For Salmon Fishing
Another good salmon fishing reel under $180.00 is the Abu Garcia Revo SX 30. You can get this reel at some retailers for about $169.00
This is a lightweight reel with bearings that can handle any salmon and a spool that casts lures across rivers.
I have had a bunch of Abu reels over the year, and they are super smooth.
I like this reel in the size 40 when salmon fishing, but for both salmon and steelhead fishing on small to medium-sized rivers, I prefer the size 30.
- Insert Molded C6 carbon body
- 1-piece aluminum gearbox
- Computer-optimized machined aluminum gears
- Lightweight graphite rotor with Everlast bail
- Rocket line management system
- Braid-ready machined aluminum spool
- 8 stainless steel HPCR bearings + 1 roller bearing
- K-Clutch anti-reverse
- Carbon Matrix hybrid drag system
Pflueger President XT Spinning Reel
The Pflueger President XT Spinning Reel is one of the best salmon reels for under $100.00.
At this price range, you start risking salmon damaging your gears or your drag system, but this reel should be able to handle many big salmon.
I recommend this reel in the 35 or 40 sizes.
This reel sells for around $89.00 at FishUSA.com
Pflueger President Spinning Reel
The Pflueger President Spinning Reel is for those anglers on a tight budget who want a well-liked reel with tons of great reviews that sell for about $60.00.
I would not use a reel under this price or quality for salmon fishing. You can get this reel at FishUSA.com for about $70.00
The Best Salmon Reels On Amazon
I have old and new clients asking about reels they found on Amazon.
I’m going to be straight up and honest with you. There are a ton of reels, rods, and other fishing products with lots of reviews on Amazon that are just crap!
When you buy from Amazon, just stick with brand-name reels and avoid the no-name China crap.
Since I know guys will ask, these are the best salmon reels that I would recommend on Amazon.
5 Best Salmon Reels On Amazon are:
- #1 – Shimano ST4000XGFL or Stradic FL
- #2 – Abu Garcia Revo SX Spinning Reel
- #3 – Penn – Conflict II Spinning Reel
- #4 – Pflueger President XT Spinning Reel
- #5 – Pflueger President Reel