In general, all fishing reels can be used for fishing in saltwater, but make sure to clean the reel between uses to remove any residue salt and follow routine maintenance.
To share my own experience upfront. I have used plenty of reels that are marketed for freshwater uses inshore and they have held up fine. Their longevity all comes down to how well you take care of them.
I also highly suggest avoiding dunking or submerging any reel into saltwater. This advice is even more relevant for any reel which does not have proper sealing.
So let’s discuss the differences between reels that are marketed as freshwater, compared with the ones that are marketed for saltwater fishing. What is the difference, and does it really matter?
The main difference?
Freshwater and saltwater reels have more in common than separate them. Some entry level saltwater reels are all but identical to comparable size freshwater reels.
In saying that, there are some differences between quality saltwater and freshwater reels, but much of the difference comes more down to marketing than anything substantial.
Improved corrosion protection
The main difference between a saltwater rated reel and one which is rated for use in freshwater only is the level of corrosion protection. Reels that are saltwater rated generally feature a much higher quality corrosion resistant coating. This coating, does not prevent corrosion but can slow it down, making the reel look and feel new for longer.
Better seals to prevent water intrusions
Saltwater rated fishing reels, often come with internal seals and sealed drags.
These seals are designed to keep saltwater out of the internal mechanisms where corrosion can make the reel feel less smooth, or in extreme cases cause it to seize.
Now, Seals, do make fishing reels feel a bit tighter to operate, not quite as buttery smooth. A reel full of seals will never feel as smooth as one without which is the main reason (other than cost) that not all reels come with seals.
Corrosion resistant gearing
Some saltwater rated reels use higher quality metal such as stainless steel in their gearing. While cheaper freshwater rated reels might stick with zinc oxide.
In saying that, plenty of reels marketed towards saltwater fishing have identical gearing as reels more commonly used in freshwater. For example the Shimano Nasci and Sedona. The Nasci is a Sedona just feel some more deals and better corrosion protection. Everything else is basically the same.
Drags – carbon vs felt
You are more likely to find carbon drags in saltwater dedicated reels. The main reason why is that saltwater fish, are often more powerful so they go on longer and more runs which can cause the drag material to heat up. Carbon is simply more heat resistant than felt.
With care, freshwater reels can be used in saltwater
A well cared for freshwater reel works perfectly fine in the saltwater.
In fact, some manufacturers, including Shimano, the heavyweight of the reel world do not really differentiate between their lower end reels.
That is because a Sedona 1000 is just as home on a trout stream as it is inshore. Sure it might not have all the fancy features such as corrosion resistant coats, seals, and water repellency as a dedicated saltwater reel. But if you take care of it, a Sedona none of that stuff really matters.
On the other hand, people who are very harsh on reels might want to pay extra for a reel with better protection. Such as Shimano Nasci, which is basically a Sedona but with better protection against seawater.
In saying that, even a Nasci is not going to survive for long if it is not cared for between uses. With enough abuse, even the best saltwater dedicated reel will eventually start to corrode.
How to clean a freshwater reel after it’s been used in saltwater?
After using a reel designed for freshwater use in the sea. It is important to spray the reel down with warm water, and with a clean cloth wipe away any moisture.
Some people like to wash their reels under the tap or with a hose. But such high pressure can actually force salt and sand into the reel’s internals.
When salt water gets into the internal gearing, then it is a good idea to give the reel a full service.
Are saltwater rated reels more powerful than freshwater reels?
For any given reel size, saltwater reels are not made to be more powerful, but because saltwater fish do get larger and more powerful than their freshwater counterparts there are larger reels designed for saltwater fishing.
There has been a few cases of fishing reels that were designed for freshwater getting rebranded and marketed as saltwater reels in a different market. This was often a case for carp reels being marketed as surf fishing reels in different markets. In most cases, these carp reels were still good enough to handle sharks and other hard fighting fish from the shore.
Now, of course. If we take things to extremes,
offshore game reels such as a Shimano Trinidad or Daiwa Saltiga will be more powerful than the typical freshwater reels, but they are not targeted at the same species.
Freshwater reels are typically designed to catch bass, trout, catfish, and carp. While saltwater reels need to be able to contend with tuna and sharks which can pull a lot more string.
But there is still a lot of overlap. I use a shimano tld 25 conventional reel to target tuna in the salt, but also Sturgeon in rivers. Two powerful fish and a powerful reel is the perfect tool for the job. T
Do saltwater reels have more capacity?
The biggest saltwater reels are larger than anything targeted at freshwater, but there are freshwater reels that truly have massive line capacities.
I have seen carp reels that holds over 480yards of 14lb line, this is more capacity than the vast majority of saltwater reels.
Sure, the largest of big game reels, do offer truly extreme capacity, for example, the Penn International holds 1330yards of 100lb monofilament.
But in general, the same size freshwater reel has comparable capacity to a similar size saltwater reel.