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  • Willie Kim

The Saltwater Baitcaster

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

“Freshwater bass gear? What do you plan to do with that?” As a poor college student back in the 90’s I couldn’t quite afford to have multiple rods and reels for every type of fishing that I loved to do. I fished the open ocean, the kelp beds, harbors, bays, rivers, lakes, ponds, and pretty much any body of water I could find that would hold fish. Low profile baitcasters were not big on the saltwater scene back then but I know there were a few of us out there using them. Some out of preference, some just for fun and others because that’s what we had.

Fast forward 25 years and now all of a sudden smaller, lighter and stronger is the idealism behind saltwater low profile baitcasters. Sure it’s not for everyone. But for those of us who like a challenge it’s simply pure bliss. Now don’t get me wrong. I love my standard conventional reels and wouldn’t hesitate to throw irons on a Shimano Trinidad or flyline bait on accurate. There are times when these bigger reels are either needed or just a simple joy to use over a baitcaster. Especially when large bluefin tuna are around.

That being said, there are some advantages to a low profile baitcaster which may warrant a place in your arsenal. There are several key advantages for fishing a low profile saltwater baitcaster. First off, the reels are small and light weight. Paired with the correct matching rod these outfits are pleasure to hold and cast all day. Second, due to the size and weight the reels are very easy to cast. Palming the reel is comfortable. Cast control can easily be adjusted by applying brakes to the spool. And reels like the Daiwa Lexa have a magnetic cast control that can easily be adjusted on the fly in seconds by turning a knob on the frame. Third, because the reel is so easy to cast and the brakes are so easily tuned to the bait or lure you are casting the reel does a great job at eliminating back lashes. This is especially helpful to beginner fishermen or those who do not cast larger conventional gear so easily. Four, light spools and line make a difference when flylining a sardine or anchovy as bait. Most anglers will fish saltwater baitcasters with full spools of spectra tied to a short fluorocarbon leader. This means your live bait can swim through the water faster because less energy is spent turning the lighter spool and dragging the thinner line through the water. Your bait will not only swim faster but will look more natural in the water. This equates to getting bit.

Disadvantages. In order to gain line fast enough to keep up with pelagic species of fish these smaller reels require higher gear ratios. Which essentially means less cranking power. There’s no two speed low gear option. You can’t simply winch in your catch and you actually have to use your rod to gain line. What? Mind blowing right? The rod is a tool used to in conjunction with the reel to help fight and gain line. Baitcasters don’t seem to resist saltwater as well as larger conventional gear. This means you need to rinse, clean, lube and maintain your gear. Line capacity. Sure most reels will hold 200 to 300 yards of spectra but sometimes when targeting big tuna you need a long soak. This means having 100 or 200 yards of line out just to get bit. And if you hook a 150 pound Bluefin tuna it’s going to run. Now if you’re fishing a small or private boat I wouldn’t worry too much about line capacity as you can always chase the fish down. But stationary at anchor your odds of landing the fish before the tax man shows up begins to be a challenge. Drag. Yes I know, the reel specs state that the reel can produce 20 to 25 pounds of drag. Yes that may be the case with a new reel or one that hasn’t been battling fish all day long. But the more fish you catch in one day and the larger the grade of fish means the drags in your reel are going to heat up. Even though the packaging on the reel states your reel can put out 20 plus pounds of drag, maintaining good even drag pressure works better when using standard conventional lever drag reels.

Do you need a baitcaster to catch fish? No. Is it fun to use? Yes. Is a low profile saltwater baitcaster right for you? I would say it never hurts to have one in your arsenal. The reels are fun to use especially when battling large fish on light gear. When the bite is picky the faster swimming bait may give you the edge needed to get bit. And if you’re casting small jigs or light poppers on a windy day it’s always nice to be able to tune your reel to your bait to prevent backlashes. Nothing is more frustrating to a fisherman than finally getting bit during a picky bite only to lose your fish to broken leader caused from your reel stuck in a backlash.

A few low profile saltwater baitcasters to consider (note: each of these reels are quality reels and I wouldn’t hesitate to fish any of them in the salt):

1. Daiwa Lexa and Lexa HD. Good reels for the money. Solid drags with great castability. Comfortable to palm.

2. Abuc Garcia Revo. Proven fish slayer. Solid drags.

3. Shimano Tranx. Shimano quality. Smooth. Drags don’t feel as good as the Daiwa Lexa. Great castability and holds up well in the salt.

4. Okuma Komodo. Okuma has really stepped up their game in the past few years. Stainless steel main gear. Long term durability has yet to be determined.

5. Penn Fathom low profile baitcaster. A new design to the market from a proven company. Penn makes great products and I look forward to what this reel can do.




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