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October 26, 2001

A Positive Spin

Thanks to advances in construction, some spinning reels can be used for offshore fishing.

Spinning reels sometimes get a bad rap among saltwater fishermen. The verbal trashing usually includes complaints that spinners twist the line, the drags are too small to stop a running fish, or they just can't hold up to the abuse and corrosion inherent to fishing in salt. While some of these complaints might have held some water 10 or 15 years ago, new drag and body materials, design innovations and a general increase in overall quality should make anglers take another look at big spinning tackle for offshore and nearshore use.
I got my start in salt water on the flats chasing redfish and snook, so I have a particular affinity for spinning gear. As a beginner, I found spinning reels much easier to cast than bait casters, and it didn't hurt that they were less expensive than their conventional counterparts.
As my fishing preferences slowly crept off the flats to include more offshore trips, and since I didn't have any preconceived, negative notions about the performance of spinners on big game, it was just a natural progression for me to include a couple of big spinners in my deepwater quiver. Many dolphin, wahoo, sailfish and cobia later, I won't leave the dock without a spinning rod on the boat.
To be considered for our product-listing chart, each spinning reel had to hold a minimum of 150 yards of 20-pound mono. Due to the long, deep runs associated with catching offshore game fish, we felt that 150 yards marked the minimum line capacity anyone would require. All of these reels offer a one-year limited warranty on parts and workmanship, except for Van Staal, which offers a lifetime warranty.

The main advantage spinning reels hold over their conventional counterparts - and the key to their versatility - is casting ability. Although some practiced anglers can cast conventional reels with ease, many of us wind up staring at an eagle's nest and cursing lost fish when trying to accurately toss a bait or lure with a revolving spool reel. Many a dolphin following a hooked companion to the boat or a free-swimming cobia following a weed line have fallen victim to keen-eyed anglers with spin gear at the ready.
Capt. Bouncer Smith of Pembroke Pines, Florida, targets a wide variety of species in the prolific south Florida inlets, canals and nearshore reefs he fishes. "The 20-pound spinner is the bread-and-butter of our business," he says. "I've used them to catch tarpon, sailfish and even bottom fish."
That same versatility appeals to captains like Billy Maxwell, who skippers the Tuna Fever out of Oregon Inlet, North Carolina, chasing tuna, dolphin and white marlin in deep blue water. "We've got to have spinning reels on the boat," says Maxwell. "When tuna are feeding on glass minnows at the surface, you can't catch them by trolling, but if you slip up behind the school, you can toss a surface plug into the fray with a spinning rod and they'll jump all over it."

What a Drag
Drag durability and stopping power on spinning reels garnered a bad reputation when they were first introduced to the offshore environment. Small spools and even smaller drags didn't provide enough surface area to slow the high-speed runs and deep dives of tuna, wahoo and other big game. Nowadays, manufacturers of large spinning reels boast of "oversize drags" and large-capacity spools capable of stopping a diving tuna in its tracks.
If you plan to target hard-fighting game fish like tuna, tarpon or billfish on spinning gear, it's best to avoid the lower-end models and spend the extra money on upper-end gear. Higher prices usually translate into higher-quality components like stainless-steel spool shafts, brass or bronze gears and more ball bearings.
Drag materials run the gamut from oiled felt to Teflon and carbon composites, and all manufacturers claim to have exceptionally smooth drags. The only way to properly test a reel's drag is to catch a fish on it. But since you can't do that until you've got the reel out on the water, you might want to see if the salesman would let you put some line on the reel and mount it on a rod in the store. Thread the line through the rod's guides and have someone pull line from the reel at different drag settings. If the drag starts up easily and doesn't stutter under increased pressure, you've got a winner.
One thing to avoid at all costs: rear-drag reels. Due to the narrow nature of a spinning reel's body, rear drags don't offer enough surface area and tend to fail after long, blistering runs. "In all of the spinning reels I've seen, front-drag reels perform much better than rear drags. And when I have clients bring rear-drag reels aboard, we inevitably have trouble with them," says Smith.

The main concern most saltwater anglers have about spinning reels is durability. Again, when purchasing a spinning reel for offshore use, bargain hunters will eventually be disappointed. While spinning reels with graphite bodies costing less than $30 might be just fine for surf or pier fishing, they usually won't hold up offshore. Graphite frames on some of the more inexpensive models sometimes flex or warp, allowing the gears to shift and become misaligned. This eventually results in stripped gears and a ruined reel. Plus, graphite or plastic rotors (the rotating head that the bail rides on) can bend under the strain of heavy drag and cock over to the side, rubbing on the reel body and breaking off fish. Although some metals will corrode after long periods of use, the trade-off in strength is worth an extra bit of maintenance.
Smith also advises anglers to choose reels with drags under the spool instead of on top: "With the drags sitting under the spool, you have less chance of water or grit getting in there and tearing up your drag material."

Don't Do the Twist
Another common problem associated with spinning reels stems from their tendency to add twist to line. Manufacturers have spent a lot of money trying to eliminate line twist, and although a few have claimed victory over the malady, the existence of a spinning reel that won't twist line ranks right up there with "backlash-proof" bait casters and Big Foot in terms of tall tales.
"In all applications, a spinning reel is going to add some twist to the line," says Smith. To lessen twist, use ball-bearing swivels when fishing spin tackle and never wind against the drag when a fish is taking line. Choose reels with ballbearings in the roller-bearing guide to help reduce line twist.