One Size Doesn’t Fit All


Ben Neilson caught this nice king fishing with the author out of Manistee

February 01, 2013

One size fits all is a nice slogan, but it rarely works in the real world. An angler using spinning reels may be able to choose a 30 size reel and make it work for everything from bluegills to steelhead. The same strategy is a bad idea for trolling considering all the tasks these reels are asked to perform and species they are used to catch.

The smart move is selecting an assortment of reels that can handle all the common presentations including downriggers, diving planers, lead core, copper line, bottom bouncing and planer board trolling. Some of these reels will do double duty and others will become dedicated to a particular presentation. Knowing which is which is the focus of this Woods-N-Waters News exclusive.

Downrigger Reels

In recent years a growing number of anglers have parted company with downriggers in favor of fishing sinking lines like lead core or copper line. I still have two downriggers on my boat and I use them often to catch steelhead, salmon, lake trout and even walleye. Because the downrigger itself controls the depth, a line counter style reel is unnecessary for downrigger fishing. What is necessary is a level wind reel that has a dependable bait clicker function, a velvet smooth drag and the capacity to hold 200 yards of 20# test monofilament line. The bait clicker function is especially critical because it helps to keep the spool from backlashing while setting lines.

Two popular reel styles make sense for downrigger fishing including round frame baitcasting reels and traditional level wind trolling reels. In

the round frame category a size 250 or 400 reel

will generally have the line capacity needed for

rigger fishing. Because rigger fishing is most

The author trolls for a wide variety of species while filming episodes of Fishing 411 TV. During the making of the 2013 Fishing 411 season he trolled up walleye, striper, lake trout, king salmon, pink salmon, steelhead, coho salmon and brook trout! (Below right) The author uses trolling reels often and some models like this 2o series line counter can do double duty for downrigger fishing or trolling for trout, pike and other species. Author photos

often used to target larger species in deeper

water, my downrigger reels are loaded with

20#-25# test monofilament.

For anglers interested in doubling up one reel for multiple presentations, a round frame style reel works well for both downrigger and bottom bouncer fishing applications.

Level wind style reels are also good choices for downrigger fishing. The biggest disadvantage of these reels is they normally don’t offer direct drive. In other words, the angler has to open the bail release to deploy line and once line is deployed must manually close the bail release to engage the reel.

Sinking Lines

The popularity of sinking lines including lead core and copper line has taken a lot of anglers by surprise. Because both of these sinking line types are fairly large in diameter, it takes a pretty good sized reel to load any significant amount of line. Since reaching maximum depth with sinking lines calls for deploying lots and lots of line, most anglers don’t own reels large enough for the task.

A typical 45 size trolling reel will only hold about 5 colors of lead core line or 150 feet of copper line with adequate amounts of backing line. A growing number of Great Lakes trollers are equipping themselves with 55 series trolling reels capable of holding lots of backing and a full 300 foot spool of lead core line and or 300 feet of copper line.

Bigger reels are more expensive and as a general rule these larger reels have a rather slow retrieve ratio. The reason big reels tend to have lower gear ratios is they are designed to be strong enough to handle truly big fish like those caught in the ocean. Here in the Great Lakes a 55 series trolling reel has more than enough guts for any salmon or trout. What these reels don’t have is the ability to reel in copious amounts of line quickly.

It’s a challenge to find large capacity reels with a rapid retrieve ratio for fishing copper line or lead core. My favorite choice are the high speed Okuma Clarions which come in a 45 and 55 size ideal for fishing all the common lengths and pound tests of sinking lines. These reels are reasonable in cost, very high quality and the ideal choice for anyone bitten by the lead core or copper line bug.

These high speed level wind reels are perfect for sinking lines, but are not a good candidate for doing double duty on a trolling boat. The problem is to effectively control depth when fishing sinking lines anglers need to have multiple reels loaded with specific amounts of line. Since it’s not practical to change line once one of these reels is loaded and ready to fish, owning several reels and dedicating them to fishing sinking lines is the best approach.

On my boat I carry two 5 color and two 10 color lead core reels and also a pair of 150 and 300 foot copper line reels. This allows me to fish from 20 foot down to about 60 feet deep and to stagger those lines with planer boards so I can cover water both horizontally and also the vertical water column.

Diver Reels

The line counter reel revolutionized the trolling reel market some years ago and continues to be one of the strongest selling reel types in the trolling category. Because the amount of line deployed into the water controls how deep various lures and diving devices run below the surface, it’s fundamentally important to use line counter reels capable of monitoring lead lengths. Without line counter reels, it’s almost impossible to duplicate a productive trolling lead. With line counters it’s easy to not only duplicate a productive trolling lead, but to put several more lures in exactly the same strike zone!

Line Counter reels like this Okuma Cold Water are essential for certain types of trolling including diver fishing and planer board trolling. This new model features a vented line counter window to keep it from fogging up a common problem with this type of reel.

The reels used for fishing diving planers in the Great Lakes region have historically been rather large and heavy models. Since the invention of super braid lines, it is no longer necessary to match up huge line counter reels on diver rods. A typical size 30 line counter reel has plenty of line capacity for holding 200-300 yards of 30#-40# braid.

The other advantage of using smaller line counter reels for diver fishing is these same reels can double up as planer board trolling reels. A growing number of anglers are using super braid line for both diver fishing and also planer board trolling applications, giving great value to mid-sized line counter reels.

Planer Board Reels

Like diver reels, a good planer board fishing reel is going to be a line counter model. Depending on what kind of fish that is targeted, that reel could be a 15, 20, 30 or even 45 size model! Walleye fishermen for example favor the smaller 15 or 20 size reels, while salmon anglers are going to select the 30 size. Musky trollers who use 40 or even 50 pound test line often favor the larger 45 size reels for their trolling needs.

Some cross over and compromise is in order for anglers who fish a multitude of species. For example, the walleye guy who fishes salmon occasionally will be well equipped with 20 or 30 size line counters. Using a reel that’s a little big for the task isn’t that large a compromise. Keep in mind that large reels have a huge line capacity. Say you’re walleye fishing with a 30 or even 45 size reel and fishing 12 pound test line. It’s not necessary to fill the entire reel with 12 pound line. Instead top dress the reel using 150-200 yards of line that brings the reel to full capacity. I normally use the most inexpensive monofilament I can find for backing on these reels to save cost and only use my premium line for top dressing.

Summing It Up

One size doesn’t fit all for anglers using trolling reels. Because the Great Lakes region has such awesome trolling and so many species to target, an avid troller is going to end up with a host of different trolling reels designed for different fishing niches.

The cost of owning all these reels can be considerable. That’s the bad news, but the good news is quality reels last for decades and most anglers add to their collection over time.

Trolling Reel Manufacturers

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