Best 10 Conventional Reels for Big Game Fishing 
When you are targeting gamefish like tuna or marlin you will want to have to best conventional reel available. The last thing you want is to have gear failure and watch the fish swim into the distance.
I have put together this list of the top 10 conventional reels for game fishing as well as a buyer’s guide and an explanation of some key criteria you will want to think about before making a purchase decision.
Conventional fishing reels offer a proven design for retrieving long lengths of heavy line. They also have lower gear ratios to pull in larger fish.
Conventional fishing reels are also ideal for bottom fishing. If you are looking to go offshore fishing for large reef fish then have a look at these saltwater conventional fishing reels.
Table of Contents
- 1 Quick Summary – Best Conventional Reels
- 2 Why Use a Conventional Reel for Big Gamefish?
- 3 Conventional Reel Buyer’s Guide
- 4 Best 10 Conventional Reels
- 5 Conclusion
Quick Summary – Best Conventional Reels
- Best Overall: Shimano Tiagra
- Best Value for Money: Shimano Tyrnos
- Best Budget Option: PISCIFUN Salis X
Why Use a Conventional Reel for Big Gamefish?
Conventional reels have two advantages over spinning reels when it comes to catching larger fish:
- Lower gear ratios
- Higher line capacity
Conventional reels have lower gear ratios which means they will retrieve less line per crank but they have more torque which is particularly valuable when fighting against fish that can be heavier than you are.
They also have more line capacity. Remember, you will need more length of a higher diameter line so the size of the spool needs to be exponentially larger for big fish.
Conventional Reel Buyer’s Guide
Chasing big gamefish like tuna, marlin, or sailfish is a very different sport then popping down to your local lake to catch a bass. You need much larger gear from your line, hooks, and rod and reel.
The preference of experienced anglers for game fishing reels is to use an overhead conventional reel.
But there are many different sizes and designs of conventional reels that will change your fishing experience. I have put together this buyer’s guide to showcase the requirements you should be looking for to help make a good purchase decision.
Max Drag Requirements
Appling drag to your reel should not be an art but a science. Drag is used to apply a constant force on the fleeing fish and to prevent your line from snapping.
Because of this you can use the strength of your line to know exactly how much drag you should be applying.
But it does depend on what type of line you are using – mono and braid fishing lines have different properties.
How much drag do you need for mono line?
Mono line has a fair bit of stretch in it which means you can set your drag higher than you would for braid as the line is less likely to break under the same instantaneous force applied.
- Up to 20 lb Mono Line – 20% of the line breaking strength
- 20 to 50 lb Mono Line – 25% of line breaking strength
- 50 lb and up Mono Line – 30% of line breaking strength
How much drag do you need for braid line?
Braid line doesn’t have any of the stretch of nylon monofilament fishing line. This means you will need to be more conservative with setting your drag. Please see our recommendations for setting your drag below:
- Up to 20 lb Braid Line – 15% of line breaking strength
- 20 to 65 lb braid line – 20% of line breaking strength
- 65 lb and up braid line – 25% of line breaking strength
Remember – when going after big gamefish you want to be precise. Don’t set your drag using gut feel. Get out the scales to set it correctly.
Line Capacity Requirements
When a large black marlin takes your lure and flees into the distance at full speed you can easily lose hundreds of meters of line in under a minute.
Most game fishermen recommend having at least 500 yards of line when going after gamefish like Marlin or Sailfish.
Remember, the thicker diameter line you have the less length you can fit. So make sure you consider both aspects when looking at the spool size and line capacity.
Best 10 Conventional Reels
Let’s dive into the best 10 conventional reels available on the market at the moment.
The Shimano Tyrnos is my personal conventional reel. I have used it to catch plenty of tuna and mackerel – no marlin yet, but not due to lack of trying.
I am a big Shimano fan and this conventional reel is no exception.
One of the features of the Tyrnos is the two speed lever. This means you can have two different gear ratios depending on whether you need a fast retrieve (if you are bring a lure back to the boat) or a slow retrieve (when that previously mentioned marlin has taken a bite).
It is a good medium positioned reel that has higher quality materials than the TLD but is less expensive than the Tiagra. It is a great value for money alternative that can also be used for bottom fishing.
Gear Ratio – 5.0:1
Max Drag – 33 pounds of drag
Mono Line Capacity – 550 yards of 30 pound mono
Braid Line Capacity – 900 yards of 50 pound braid
- Retrieve: Right, Gear Ratio: 4.0:1 / 1.5:1, Weight: 57.40 ounce
- Mono Line Capacity (lbs/yd): 50/700
- PowerPro Line Capacity (lbs/yd): 80/1120,100/930,150/800
For something a bit different have a look at the Salis X. It is a much smaller reel than some of the other options and is substantially cheaper.
With a higher gear ratio of 6.2 it has a much higher retrieve rate per crank. This means it is suitable for smaller fish as well. But you will have to fish smarter when chasing the monster species.
With over 500 yards of line capacity for a heavy 80 lb braid this is certainly a viable option to consider.
It has a rigid graphite frame and oversized pinion and main gears to give a smooth retrieve motion.
This reel is one from left field but has earned my recommendation as the best budget level conventional reel.
Gear Ratio – 6.2:1
Max Drag – 37 lbs
Mono Line Capacity – 490 yards of 30 lbs
Braid Line Capacity – 520 yards of 80 lbs
- Built to Hunt Monsters - The Salis X trolling reels are constructed with extremely durable light weight graphite frame and side plates paired with powerful stainless steel handle for big game fish in...
- Incredible Power - Piscifun Salis X saltwater fishing reel is a real power machine! The top class carbon fiber washers deliver up to 37Lbs drag power, which helps fight against the biggest fish with...
- Braid Ready Spool - The Salis X conventional reel comes with a forged and machined aluminum spool which is braid ready to eliminate mono backing when spooling braided fishing line
The Daiwa Saltiga is a well known reel with a lot of passionate fans.
It is also very well made with a focus on corrosion resistance. The CRBB (Corrosion Resistant Ball Bearings) stainless steel ball bearings last 12 times longer than standard stainless steel ball bearings. And the bronze pinion gears give a smooth retrieve motion with high power.
The Saltiga is a medium sized reel with a good 40 lb max drag but a higher 6.3:1 gear ratio so it is suitable for smaller fish that need to be retrieved quickly. But the two speed options give a much lower 2.3 gear ratio and should be your choice when going after the big fish.
With over 15 different models including single speed and two speed as well as 2 tournament style sailfish specialists – you will find one that suits your needs.
Gear Ratio – 6.3:1
Max Drag – 40 lbs
Mono Line Capacity – 420 yards of 40 lb
Braid Line Capacity – 660 yards of 80 lb
- Precision Machined housing
- Spool lock mechanism protects gears when engaged
- Ultimate Tournament carbon drag (UTD) with 15.4 lbs drag max
The Okuma Classic CLX is another option to consider. With a graphite frame, aluminum handle, stainless steel foot, and stainless steel guide system this is well made.
Personally I prefer a level drag rather than a star drag like the CLX. The star drag is more adjustable but it just means there is something else you need to be fiddling with instead of focusing on the battle. This is only useful if you have set the drag wrong to begin with.
At under 20 ounces this is a smaller and lighter reel. It has an unusual combination of a low gear ratio and a lower max drag.
This is substantially cheaper than the Shimano options but at this price point I think I would prefer the PISCIFUN.
Gear Ratio – 3.8:1
Max Drag – 13 lbs
Mono Line Capacity – 310 yds of 25 lb
- Lightweight, corrosion-resistant side plates
- Corrosion resistant graphite spool on clx
- Ported graphite frame design
The Penn International is a close second to the Shimano Tiagra. It is a big, big reel. The low 3.1:1 gear ratio means it will generate huge torque even against the largest fish.
It has a high max drag and an enormous line capacity of over a mile depending on the line you select.
If I walked onto a marlin charter and saw Penn International reels in the rod holders then I would be very happy.
Gear Ratio – 3.1:1
Max Drag – 65 lbs
Mono Line Capacity – 1120 yards of 80 lb
Braid Line Capacity – 3025 yards of 130 lb
- Machined and anodized aluminum body and sideplates
- Stainless steel main and pinion gears
- Quick-shift II 2-speed System
If you are going after trophy black marlin then I wouldn’t want anything other than the Shimano Tiagra. It is an absollutely monsterous reel with a 2.2:1 gear ratio and 100 lbs of drag. This is the kind of reel you want on your side when going after fish weighing hundreds of pounds.
Depending on what diameter fishing line you select this reel will hold more than a mile of line! Even when the largest gamefish starts spooling off your line you will be comfortable.
The downside – when you are fishing for anything other than gamefish then this reel is overkill. It isn’t particularly versatile and you wouldn’t want to go after some smaller tuna or mackerel.
This is certainly the premier conventional reel for big gamefish.
Gear Ratio – 2.2:1
Max Drag – 100 lbs
Mono Line Capacity – 1000 yards of 130 lb
Braid Line Capacity – 3315 yards of 150 lb
- Hagane Body
- Cross Carbon Drag
Okuma has its own Mechanical Stabilizing System which ties together the spool shaft, pinion gear, pinion gear bearing, drive shaft and main gear so they stay in alignment.
It has an aluminum anodized spool, aluminum frame, graphite side plates, and an ergonomic handle for comfort (even when your hands are wet).
The Okuma Cortez also boasts a magnetic control system which boasts to achieve further casting distance – casting is not a normal part of gamefishing.
The combination of a high gear ratio, low max drag, and lower line capacity means that it doesn’t make the top of my list.
Gear Ratio – 6.2:1
Max Drag – 17 lbs
Mono Line Capacity – 410 yards of 14 lb
- Made using the highest quality materials
- Tested for reliability and quality
- Used by professionals worldwide
The Shimano TLD is the entry level conventional reel compared with the Tyrnos and Tiagra. It has a low gear ratio that will help it fight big fish but only a 22 lb max drag.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t catch big fish. It just means that you will have to fish smarter and let the fish take a lot of line before you can man-handle it back to the boat. You may also have to chase the fish with your boat if it is truly large.
It can still hold 900 lbs of fairly heavy braid line so it is a viable option for sailfish. The materials of construction are not as high quality as the Shimano alternatives but the price is substantially lower.
Gear Ratio – 3.6:1
Max Drag – 22 lbs
Mono Line Capacity – 600 yards of 30 lb
Braid Line Capacity – 980 yards of 65 lb
- The ultimate workhorse; the TLD15 Offshore Lever Drag Fishing Reel features four stainless steel ball bearings; gears; main shaft and spool; and a graphite and titanium body
- The programmable lever drag with its free spool feature is great for live bait fishing
- This high-quality reel is affordable offers a smooth drag and nice retrieve while line capacity allows you to let things run or fight hard to reel in the big one
The Penn Squall has a good combination of lightweight design, corrosion resistance, and adjustability. The two speed gearing system allows you to change the gear ratio and retrieve rate per turn depending on what you are doing and what size fish you hook.
The lever drag allows you to snap the drag settings into the correct position very easily at a moments notice.
The black and gold design is also very stylish and will be a good addition to any anglers reel collection.
Gear Ratio – 2.9:1
Max Drag – 40 lbs
Mono Line Capacity – 890 yards of 50 lb
Braid Line Capacity – 2145 yards of 80 lb
- Reel, RH, 3BB + 1RB, 2.9:1 / 1.5:1 ratio
- Alum spool, Braid 2485/65 2145/80 1835/100, mono 1550/30 890/50 565/80
- Reels saltwater lever drag
The Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C3 is a much more versatile reel. It has a higher gear ratio and low max drag than the big reels. To be honest it is a much smaller reel. You wouldn’t want to chase massive marlin with this reel but it would be perfect for smaller tuna and mackerel.
The C3 is a well liked reel amongst anglers and if you intend to do a bit of gamefishing and a bit of another kind of fishing with the same reel then I would consider this.
It is a good combination of brute strength and refined style.
Gear Ratio – 5.3:1
Max Drag – 15 lbs
Mono Line Capacity – 320 yards of 12 lb
Braid Line Capacity – 310 yards of 30 lb
- Baitcast fishing reel designed for strength, smooth operation, and precision
- Engineered for smoothness with 3 stainless ball bearings and 1 roller bearing
- Carbon Matrix drag system provides smooth and consistent drag
That brings us to the end. I hope you have gained something from reading this article and have found a few different models that you will consider for your next saltwater fishing adventure.
When making your selection I will give one piece of advice – when going after big gamefish then always, always, always pick quality. Once you have spent thousands of dollars on gear, travel, boating, and other gear you may only get one or two bites from your target species. The one thing you don’t want is your gear to let you down.
Whether this is your rod, reel, fishing lines, fishing hooks, or even a simple swivel – always pick quality when it counts.
If you have experience in using any of the conventional fishing reels listed in this article then please share your thoughts in the comments below. I love to hear from our readers and to gain from your wisdom.
Another piece of advice – if you are chasing big gamefish then make sure you get a high quality fighting belt to save your body from the strain of a multiple hour fight.