So you’ve decided that you would like to try your luck saltwater fishing. There’s one problem though! You don’t have any saltwater fishing reels! This brings us to the question of “can you use freshwater reels in saltwater?”
Yes, you absolutely can use freshwater reels for some types of saltwater fishing! This includes baitcasting reels, spinning reels, and also fly reels.
However, this may not be the best decision, especially if you paid a lot of money for your freshwater fishing reels. That’s because freshwater reels are not made to withstand the damaging effects of saltwater, nor do they usually have the size to handle the bigger fish that roam the oceans.
Key Differences Between Saltwater and Freshwater Reels
When a lot of people think of saltwater fishing, they immediately think of the big reels that are used for deep sea fishing such as the ones in the picture above. However, most inshore fishermen’s saltwater reels look very similar to the freshwater variety. The biggest difference is the way that they’re made.
Materials and Components
The main difference between freshwater and saltwater reel is the type of materials that are used to make them. A good quality saltwater reel will usually be made of some type of corrosion resistant material such as stainless steel.
They also tend to have a solid body frame. The less parts to the reel mean the less of a chance that the saltwater can seep in and cause major damage to the inner workings.
Speaking of inner workings, unlike freshwater reels, most good quality saltwater reels will come with stainless steel bearing (sometimes the bearings are also sealed) that are coated with a special coating that further protect them from the saltwater.
Some saltwater reels are actually completely sealed, meaning that there are virtually no access points for any type of moisture to get in.
Freshwater reels on the other hand don’t need this type of protection, since freshwater is nowhere near as corrosive as saltwater is.
Typically, saltwater reels are bigger than their freshwater counterparts. They also have larger spools that are able to hold more fishing line, since saltwater fish tend to go on longer runs than bass and other types of freshwater fish.
While you can definitely use some types of freshwater baitcasting and spinning reels to go fishing for trout, redfish, flounder, etc. in the bays, flats, and intracoastal waterways, your bass reel just won’t cut it for the big boys found offshore around reefs and wrecks.
The amount of drag that your reel has can also play a role in whether or not you want to use it for saltwater. Typically, saltwater fish are much larger than freshwater fish (including bass) and are quite a bit stronger.
For example, a 10 pound redfish is going to fight much harder and go on longer runs than a 10 pound bass. If your freshwater reel doesn’t have a drag that can handle this amount of force, you run the risk of losing the fish or even worse…permanently damaging your reel.
I recommend that your reel has at least 15 pounds of max drag. This should be plenty for smaller inshore fish such as sea trout, flounder, mangrove snapper, and smaller snook and redfish.
If you do decide to buy a reel that’s specifically designed for saltwater fishing, expect to pay more for it. Saltwater reels are made with better quality materials in order to stand up to the demands that saltwater can have on your reels.
For instance, a good freshwater spinning reel such as the Pflueger President spinning reel will cost you about half of what a good quality saltwater spinning reel will cost such as Penn’s Spinfisher VI.
When It’s Okay to Use Your Freshwater Reels for Saltwater Fishing
If you’re going on vacation to Florida and are just wanting to wet some lines for a week or two then by all means bring your freshwater reels. They should be just fine if you plan on fishing from a land based structure such as a fishing pier, bridge or dock. You’ll probably even be okay using them on a boat.
I would not however recommend using them if you are planning on doing any wade fishing, surf fishing, or fishing from a kayak. Any one of these fishing methods will cause your reels to get some water on them, which could be devastating for a freshwater reel.
However, if you’re planning on doing more saltwater fishing on a regular basis, then I highly recommend that you upgrade your reels to those that are specifically made for saltwater use.
The cool thing about saltwater reels is that as long as they are similar in size to your freshwater reels, you can use them for all of your fishing needs.
I myself don’t do a ton of freshwater fishing, but when I do, I just grab one of my smaller saltwater spinning outfits such as my Penn Spinfisher 3500 series reel. This is a great all-around reel that can be used to haul in snook and redfish as well as largemouth bass and walleye.
If you need a few recommendations on some good quality saltwater spinning reels, make sure to head over to an article that I wrote on some of the best saltwater spinning reels on the market today.
How to Care for Your Freshwater Reels After Using For Saltwater
Once you’re done fishing for the day, now comes the important part. You have to clean your reels to get rid of any salt that is surely on them.
However, there is a specific way to wash them down!
One of the biggest mistakes that I use to make is that I would take the water hose and drench my rod and reels after each use. To a newbie, I was thoroughly cleaning all of the saltwater off of my reels.
What I didn’t know at the time was I was actually doing just as much harm to my reels as if I never even bothered to rinse them off.
By drenching them with water from the hose, I was unknowingly pushing water, along with salt residue into the inner workings of my reels.
As the video below will show you, the correct way to rinse off your reels is to simply wet a rag with freshwater and wipe them off. After that, you can dry them off with a towel or simply let them air dry.
Here is a great video explaining in detail how to properly wash down your reels after being exposed to saltwater.
Regardless if you only used your reels for 30 minutes or 3 hours, it’s extremely important that you properly wash them down with freshwater after each and every use when exposed to saltwater.
Also, if you do plan on using your freshwater reels for saltwater on a regular basis, then you’ll also want to regularly break them down and apply oil and grease as needed.
While it won’t completely protect them against the saltwater, it can help to prolong their life. Eventually though, the saltwater will eventually take its toll on them. I don’t care how well you clean them.
By the way, this doesn’t just apply to freshwater reels! Saltwater reels also need to be washed after each and every fishing trip. Even though they are made to withstand the corrosive effects of saltwater, that doesn’t mean that they are 100% saltwater resistant.
I’ve made it a practice to even wash down all of my gear (including reels) even if they don’t actually come in contact with any saltwater. When on or next to the ocean, there is actually salt in the air. This salt can cause just as much harm to your fishing gear as the water can.
If you’re not planning on doing much saltwater fishing and are not planning on going offshore for the big boys, then by all means go ahead and use your freshwater reels for the saltwater. It’s perfectly ok as long as you make sure to give them a good cleaning afterwards.
However, like I mentioned before, if you are going to do more saltwater fishing, then it might be time to start thinking about investing in a few good saltwater fishing reels.