Choosing your Fishing Reels

by admin


My earliest memory of fishing was on the Wellington Harbour sitting next to my uncle and dad with a string line wound round a piece of thick dowel all ending in a couple of looped hooks with a serious looking weight attached. You would wedge the butt end of the stick in wherever you could, drop a few yards of string at your feet, in case you hooked a screamer, and waited for the bites. Simple, it worked, but tangles and very sore fingers were usually the order of the day! No different to the same technique used in 2000 BC where Egyptians were depicted using rod and line.

Now, I’m not saying that reels weren’t invented, when I was a young havoc, far from it; it was just the range and affordability that was amiss. In fact undisputedly there are early paintings recorded as far back as 1200 AD! A Chinese turtle fisherman using what can only be described as ‘rod and reel!’

Typically the Yanks and the Brits are still fighting over who invented the first ‘multiplier’ reel. This was the first real (pardon the pun) advancement in the mechanics, whereby one turn of the handle produced four turns on the spool. This was all way back in the 1800’s and in 1895 you could buy a reel made by Star Reel Works with a 90 yard line capacity for US$1.75. Putting things into perspective, the average wage back then was around US$40 per month.
While the overhead reels had come a long way, up until 1948 most spinning reels were rotated 90° to allow retrieval then clicked back 90° to allow casting out in loops of line; much like the Alvey reels. 1948 saw a breakthrough when the Mitchell Reel Company in France introduced the fixed spinning reel, and soon bail arms and anti-reversing handles were the order of the day, and we haven’t looked back since!

I bet most of you older fishos had a Mitchell reel at some stage. Today, the choices are virtually infinite! Choosing what you need and when you need it, what to buy and how it will best suit your criteria can be a daunting foray! We agree. So here’s a much wanted piece on getting it part right. Here’s the REEL DEAL!

Talk Size

Don’t talk species, talk size of the fish! Want to hook and land a marlin? Get a big reel! Want to get tuna, kingfish and smaller marlin? Get a damn good quality smaller reel! Want to get kingis, all sizes of snapper and anything bigger than legal? Buy quality, and replace less often!

Let’s talk type. Overhead, spinning & casting reels are all just a matter of preference these days. You can cast just as well with certain overheads as you can with a bait caster. New technology in all facets of the makeup have transformed the way we fish ‘light years’ away from when I was a boy and the new inroads the manufacturers are making on a yearly basis is astonishing!

So what’s the key? Do your homework and whatever you purchase maintain it! The majority of anglers don’t, yet this is as important as flushing your boat’s engine and removing salt from all your gear! Tighten the drag, hose the reel, dry it off and apply a light spray of a suitable lubricant is pretty much it. If you bought quality the reel will last you years. I still have a Shimano that I bought 25 years ago and still use occasionally.

I’m not going to go into trolling for marlin or tuna because if you’re keen you will also need so much gear and guts that you really should speak to those in the know and work from there. I suggest 50mm wide or 80mm wide reels, depending on how much you fish, and certainly your budget! A Tiagra 50mm wide 2-speed will set you back around NZ$1,100 and making a big inroad is the eggbeater Shimano Stella 20000 at NZ$1,350, perfect for casting a bait back to a fussy marlin, that just won’t bite a lure!

Let’s talk smaller sizes like big badass kingfish! The big misconception here is, you need a big reel. You don’t. Whether you’re trolling, jigging, live baiting, or just happen to catch one on bait, as long as you have some quality gear you are in the game! Smaller overhead reels such as the Trinidad range, Ocea range, will be very fine. Spinning reels (eggbeater type) are very rugged, and I would suggest the Stella range and the Okuma V series, are all class acts.

Soft Bait Fishing Reels

We have our Aussie cousins to thank for the first soft bait gear into the country. Bass and bream were well fished over there and the reels they were using were to become the forerunners of our soft bait tackle.

YES you can buy a soft bait reel for NZ$50. If you actually start catching decent fish with one you’ll probably have to buy another one later in the season with another one early next year. Get the point? Don’t do it!

It’s hard enough catching that 2kg bream or 6kg snapper let alone giving it a present of 200 metres of braid when it empties your spool! Go for quality. You know what that is – you married it!

Spend from NZ$300 – $385 and you’ll have a baby that will do its best for you every time and have you bringing home the ‘bacon’ and the trophies! Let’s do the sums. I bought my Okuma VS reel 8 years ago and it has caught everything from john dory, to kahawai (big ones!) to 18kg snapper and kingis! It cost me back then NZ$360 ($45.00 a year so far) and I still won’t go out without it!

A $50 soft bait reel won’t land your trophy and, more than likely won’t last a year anyway.

Look out for the Shimano Stradic or the Okuma VS range and you won’t go wrong!

Jigging Reels

Times have changed and over the past few years the move into lighter reels has meant the big guns of the jigging world have taken a hit; but to their credit, the big boys still allow you to haul in big fish all day, and STOP them!

Reels like the Daiwa Saltiga SA 30T, Shimano Ocea Jigger and the Trinidad 30 & 40 all have ‘grunt’ and stopping power to tame the mightiest kingfish. From jigging to live baiting to trolling, these boys are capable of probably stopping a marlin. They have massive pedigree but as I know from experience, stopping power is one thing, releasing 10 big kingis and jigging all day with the weight of one, another! These bad boys will set you back around NZ$800 – NZ$1200

Enter the lighter guns!

Braid has made a huge inroad into the development of our reels today; with much smaller reels made of the strongest materials available, able to take far more capacity in line. Overhead reels that can jig all day and yet are small and light such as the Shimano Trinidad 10A, Talica 8 and the Daiwa LD20 are perfect and with prices ranging around $730 – $850 they certainly make my Trinidad 40N look and feel like a dinosaur!

There is one BIG disadvantage though and this has much to do with our fish stocks. Rick Pollock our American adopted & famous charter skipper doesn’t like this new light gear, labelled ‘pea shooters’. He much prefers heavier ‘guns’ aboard. The reason? Too many lost fish, all dangling 100 – 300 gram jigs and fast becoming nothing but shark bait! The increase in sharks around White Island in the North Island and other famous kingi fishing areas, he puts down to the increased activity of jig fishermen using lighter gear. Something to ponder……..

And if your light gear isn’t cutting the mustard, you’ll have the heavier gear to fall back on.

New Bait Runners

For years I have fished with the good old Shimano Baitrunner. Great for beginners and sturdy enough to hang on to even a big kingi. You can cast poppers, jig and fish baits with them as well as transfer rods and take them surfcasting. The internals have remained the same for years and they are still available, just remodelled. The simplicity is awesome, heave out your bait set the reel into running mode, wait till the catch rips line off and wind the handle to engage the gear! You’re off!

Recently though Shimano has added another range, the Shimano Thunnus (Thunnus Alalunga meaning large pelagic tuna) 4000, 6000, 8000, & the 12000 were designed for livebaiting tuna and are capable (8000 & 12000) of handling both tuna and kingis! Lightweight but tough, you could compare them pretty much with the Stella STL 1000SW. For around $300 – $500 these are going to be a must for the boat! Easy to use at all levels, light weight but packing a real punch, you can’t go past these reels for delivering performance.

Stray Lining or Bottom Fishing reels:

Perhaps the best value and one of the best in reliability for good snapper and all that feed below it would have to be the Daiwa Sealine 30. A match up with the Tekota 600, the Shimano Charter Special or the Penn GT; at around NZ$200 – NZ$250 these are great reels, just above entry level and will stand most rigours for quite some time if you look after them. Most charters will hold an array of these to rent as they are reliable and easy to use.


It is still daunting no matter what you want. The selection is indeed endless and we’ve only mentioned a slice of the mammoth reel ‘pie’. What it all comes down to is this: Buy right, buy once. Spend a little more and get a lot more. Talk to your tackle shop guru, but remember it’s all down to personal preference, and if you’re serious, stay away from the real cheapies – you get what you pay for!

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