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June 09, 2014

Picking a Conventional Fishing Reel

Midsize conventional reels offer anglers a dramatic punch to improve their offshore game.

(Be sure to click through all the images in the gallery above.)

Somewhere between fighting grander billfish and casting to spotted bay bass falls the midsize conventional reel. Though it’s tough to define “midsize” precisely, think of it as the reel you grab first when heading offshore for species like mackerel, tuna, grouper, jacks and other fish that weigh 25 to 200 pounds.

I characterize midsize conventionals as reels that hold at least 300 yards of 30-pound monofilament or braid, but aren’t so large that filling the spool with 30- to 50-pound braid would drain the bank account. Even with those ­parameters, midsize conventional reels are wide-ranging in the features they offer. Manufacturers incorporate specific characteristics such as tweaked gear ratios, different drag options, and distinct build materials to cater to fishermen.

Decide the reel that best fits your style of fishing and your target species, but consider the following factors before purchasing. The truth is that a trendy two-speed might be overkill for you. Then again, that same reel might cover all your blue-water-fishing needs.

Speed Kills

Fishermen and captains are hot for ­two-speed conventional reels because those reels offer unmatched versatility.

“I really like the Penn International 16 VS two‑speeds when fishing tournaments for kingfish, dolphin, wahoo, blackfin tuna and cobia,” says Capt. George Mitchell, a Penn pro staffer and veteran charter and tournament captain in southeast Florida. “We’ll have up to 16 reels on the boat, all spooled with fluorocarbon, ready for anything. With the drag strength, line capacity and quality materials, I’ve never had a reel failure.”

Two-speed reels differ from single-speeds in that they provide high-gear and low-gear cranking abilities. Two-speeds handle large fish that fight deep and circle, forcing the angler to power them to the surface. Reels with a single, higher-speed gear have trouble in this distinct scenario. The low gear ratio allows greater cranking leverage to handle the weight and strength of large species that fight this way, such as tuna.

Gear ratio plays a key factor when considering conventionals. The ratio explains how many times the spool rotates with just one complete handle turn. That number of rotations then translates to how many inches of line are cranked on the reel, with higher-diameter reels allowing more inches per turn.

“Using Accurate’s Boss BX 400N single speed as an example, its 6-to-1 gear ratio has to be fast enough to jig for species like tunas,” says Ben Secrest, vice president of sales and marketing at Accurate. “But on Accurate’s Boss Dauntless 600 two-speed, the 2.2-to-1 low gear allows max lifting power, while the 5-to-1 high gear allows an angler to gain line quickly.”

Though two-speeds offer ­flexibility, single speeds definitely have their place offshore. When using light lines under 40-pound-test, a low-gear two-speed might put too much pressure on the line; single-speed reels are an obvious alternative. And when matched with a rod that exhibits “slower” parabolic action, single-speeds are able to add heavy pressure to the fight.

“You want a light tip to cast baits, enough backbone to handle when a fish dives deep, but strong parabolic action to handle heavy loads,” says Secrest. “The rod dictates when to reel, so I’ll watch the tip and wind down on the fish. If you don’t jerk and pump, you can lull fish to sleep with a steady wind.”