The two main types of surf fishing reels are conventional and spinning reels. While spinning reels are easier to use, conventional-style reels have better casting distance and power. Once you get over the learning curve, a conventional reel will prove your surf casting and help you catch more fish.
This guide will discuss the ideal reel qualities and review the best conventional surf casting reels of 2022. We recommend gear for anglers with different budgets and needs. Our team has years of experience testing and reviewing fishing equipment, and we’re confident we can get out outfitted with the perfect setup.
Reels Reviewed (jump-to section)
Reel Types: Star Drag vs. Lever Drag
If you’ve been searching for the right conventional reel, you’ve probably noticed two common designs: star drags, and lever drags. While these reels may look similar, they perform differently.
Star drag reels have a knob on the side that’s used to tighten the drag strength progressively. This reel style has a simple design and is straightforward to operate.
Since star drag reels don’t have as many components, they’re typically lighter and more compact than lever drag conventional reels. Many anglers also claim star drag reels cast farther with more accuracy than lever drag systems.
Conventional star drag reels are best for targeting smaller fish under 40 pounds. This is because lever drag systems have technology that improves the control of bigger fish.
Lever drag reels typically feature a “strike setting,” along with traditional-style drag settings. This setting can be quickly activated so you can quickly adjust the drag when a fish bites.
A “strike setting” allows you to pre-set a weaker drag so stronger fish don’t immediately break you off. While this isn’t the only differentiating feature of lever drag systems, it’s the most important factor to consider.
1. Penn Fathom II Conventional Reel - Best Overall
4.7 Stars | 273 Angler Reviews
The best overall conventional surf casting reel is the Penn Fathom II Conventional Reel. This model has exceptional casting distance, brute strength, and a lightweight design. We also love the black housing and gold accent color combo.
Penn makes some of the best conventional reels in the industry. The pieces are fitted well, so there’s no play or friction between components. The improved build quality of the Fathom II also ensures a longer life span.
This model has high-speed reeling and a drag system with 30lbs of fish-stopping power. However, the best feature is Penn’s magnetic casting brake, which works flawlessly. You can set the drag once and won’t have to worry about it until your next fishing trip.
With a ton of line capacity and a smooth carbon fiber drag, the Fathom II has no negative qualities. This reel also has a quick-access side plate, making it easy to clean and lubricate the interior after use.
We found this reel extremely versatile. It can handle many surf casting species, including stripers, bluefish, small sharks, seatrout, redfish, drum, mackerel, and more.
For the price, you can’t go wrong with this reliable, high-performance conventional reel.
2. Shimano Trinidad Star Drag - Best High-End Reel
5 Stars | 8 Angler Reviews
If you’re after big fish or simply searching for the best surf reel money can buy, the Shimano Trinidad Star Drag is the best high-end conventional reel. While this model is a bit pricey, the Trinidad reel has the best star drag performance on the market.
The housing and spool are made from ultra-lightweight aluminum with E.I. corrosion protection. This design means it lasts through years of intensive use and is resistant to saltwater damage.
Shimano included a woven carbon fiver drag which is insanely powerful. The cranking is smooth and satisfying, with nine total ball bearings inside the compact frame. This model also features advanced “Super Stopper” technology with a “Silent Twin Pawl Assist Stopper.”
The Trinidad conventional reel is ideal for dedicated surf fishing anglers willing to invest in top-tier equipment. While this model might break the bank, it’s sure to put you on some fish!
3. Shimano Triton TLD - Best Lever Drag Reel
4.5 Stars | 92 Angler Reviews
The Shimano Triton TLD is an exceptional lever drag conventional surf casting reel. This model has a ton of power and a rigid housing. We like using the Triton when fishing for sharks, billfish, bluefish, and other powerful species.
A one-piece graphite body protects all the finely-tuned interior components. The spool also has a one-piece design and is constructed from cold-forged aluminum.
Our favorite feature is the ball-bearing drag system, which has titanium fabric technology. The drag is smooth, and the advanced technology keeps the drag pressure consistent, even when fighting monster fish.
The Triton TLD is also fairly versatile, as it can be used for casting, trolling, and fishing live bait. While it doesn’t cast as far as a star drag model, this is an expected trade-off for the increased power.
4. Piscifun Chaos XS - Best Budget Conventional Reel
4.6 Stars | 1,285 Angler Reviews | $50 - $60
If you’re on a strict budget, the Piscifun Chaos XS has a ton of performance for the price. This model costs 10x less than the high-end Shimano Trinidad, making it a great value. Piscifun is a smaller reel manufacturer that competes with the big dogs by designing affordable, well-made conventional reels.
The Chaos XS model has seven anti-corrosion bearings and a reasonably smooth drag system. It’s not as smooth as more advanced conventional reels, but this is expected for the price.
While the Chaos XS may not last as long as a Penn or Shimano reel, you can buy several of these models and still end up saving money.
The best part of this budget reel is the powerful carbon fiber drag. Boasting 20 pounds of tension, this reel can fight most surf fish species across the country.
We also enjoy the low-profile design and lightweight components, which are surprising given the ree’s cost.
5. Penn Squall II Star Drag - Second Best Penn Reel
4.7 Stars | 247 Angler Reviews
Many anglers refer to Penn as the king of conventional reel designs. While the brand has many quality products, the Penn Squall II Star Drag Conventional Reel is the second-best model for surf fishing. However, this is a personal opinion, as some anglers prefer it over the Fathom II.
The Squall II is lightweight, has quick reeling action, and has the same casting distance as the Fathom II. Five size options are included in this series, so there’s a model for every type of surf casting.
For the money, this reel is an absolute steal. Its strong drag can cast a one-ounce lure nearly 100 yards without creating a bird's nest.
This model gets second place because the Fathom II has better quality bearings and a thinner spool design. This means the Fathom II has smoother reeling than the Squall model and offers more line capacity.
However, the Squall II is affordable and performs better than many high-end conventional reels.