Trolling for salmon, lake trout, kokanee and steelhead is, in many circumstances the most successful way of getting fish on the line. If you live near an large body of water, be it the ocean, lakes or even rivers it opens up the possibility of boat fishing. Moving boats that is, not a nice Sunday trip in a rowing boat.
Freshwater trolling reels are similar to their salt water counterparts. They may be smaller in form depending on target fish but still require the same features. Line counters, lever/star drag and large spools for line are all beneficial to repeatedly present lures at the correct depth and stay on the fish.
Features of a Trolling Reel
Although similar to saltwater, and indeed there are plenty of crossover trolling reels, there are some features on trolling reels that make fishing easier. These can include the following:
Line Counters For Freshwater Trolling Reels
A line counter has fast become an essential for all forms of fishing. Especially in deeper waters like the Great Lakes, or National Parks. Although it is possible to guesstimate how much line is running form the back of the boat, the accuracy of a line counter means once you find the fish you can get back among them on the next pass much MUCH quicker.
There are Freshwater trolling reels with them built in already, especially newer models, and they don’t add much to the price. They will however add fish to your day. If you already have a reel without one you can pick up separate line counters for trolling reels as well (there are plenty available on Amazon) and you can check the prices in the link. Just make sure they are accurate and calibrate, both types, first.
Star Drag Vs Lever Drag Lines.
There are pages, and I mean pages, of debate on which is is a better drag system for trolling, casting, bottom fishing and more. As usual with Fishing gear discussions the jury is out and likely to remain so. Lever Drag tends to be a little more expensive than star systems, and lever is considered better for larger fish and Blue water fishing, but lets briefly compare the two here.
Star Drag Systems
- Set it and forget it
- Tend to be cheaper
- Good for seasoned and greenhorn anglers
- More suitable for fish under 40lb
- Better for bottom fishing, jigging casting
Lever Drag Systems
- more accurate settings
- More expensive
- Better for experienced anglers
- better for big game fish fights
- better for trolling (with caveats)
This debate is old and still carries on. The basic information for freshwater fishing reel users is that both systems work well in most circumstances but some work better than others. I realize this is not reely (ha!) that helpful but forum pages of 300 ages still haven’t defined an answer.
I use star drags, I don’t usually fish for big game fish where I live, so I don’t need the accuracy of a lever drag trolling reel. I also like the option of easier bottom fishing and stars have a slight edge here. The choice, as they say, is yours!
Line Capacity and Spool Depth for Freshwater Trolling Reels
Almost reluctant to write this as it follows a similar direction as the star / lever drag debate above. However we can rule of thumb this!.
- In most cases it is better to have to much than too little
- Check the lure depths / line requirements you need to get it down to the correct depth
- Bigger the water, bigger the fish
- bigger the fish, bigger the line!
- Bigger the line, the less on your spool
- Less line on your spool, well do need to go on 😛
For example a size 17 Daiwa fishing reel, basically the go to brands for trolling freshwater, maybe ok for smaller target fish on smaller lakes, but its line capacity will limit you. Most fishing forums suggest a size 27 to target decent trout and salmon in lakes and the extra capacity will give many more options.
Five Of The Best Freshwater Trolling Reels
We will take a look at five of the reasonably priced freshwater trolling reels that have all the features that you need to stock up that cooler
1. Okuma Line Counter Cold Water Trolling Reel
This trolling reel is designed for cold water fishing. This reel is extremely durable and when it comes to performance, excellent! Its features are both good for newbies and professional anglers. This trolling reel is easy to pull and operate. Like Penn Squall, the reel is lightweight so it is easy to use for so long without experiencing fatigue. One to try that is for sure.
- Most of its parts are made from aluminum including the spool, handle and drag
- The reel has a titanium coated level wind
- The side-plates are weather resistant
- It has a self-lubricating gear system
- The line is made to be anti-forging and easy to set
- Competitively priced
- Comfortable to operate
- The three stainless steel ball bearings
- Drag system is multi-disc and carbonated
- The gears of the reel are made of brass
- One year warranty only
- Noisy Clicker
2. Daiwa Sealine Sg-3B Line Counter Reel
This Daiwa Sealine Trolling Reels have award winning features. It is many MANY anglers go to choice when trolling in a freshwater (and salt) . It is great for trolling larger lures and with the 27 sized model can get lures down to decent depths. It has a star drag system which helps to keep the price a shade over 100 USD. These reels have been around for decades, for very good reasons!
- An aluminum spool
- built-in line counter measuring in feet
- Automatic, self engaging clutch
- Ultimate Tournament carbon drag (UTD)
- One-piece composite frame
- 450gm or about 16oz
- Its handle preforms greatly while casting
- It has a super high-tech braid lines
- Its dual disc drags provide smooth drag with excellent range
- Excellent free spool adjustment
- It will be your long-term investment
3. Shimano Tekota Levelwind Reel
Shimano is never cheap, and this is no exception. It is two reels in one however. Built to be a crossover reel for both salt and freshwater you have the confort in knowing you have both a great reel and one that can cover more water.
The line counter measures in feet and it has deep spools as well as anti corrosion measures are there to demonstrate its aim to be a cross over reel for both fresh and salt water.
However it is a Shimano reel, and the price proves that. Even for this price it is worth a look It will hold 50/735; 65/570; 80/430 – Mono Line Cap: 25/410; 30/350; 40/290 yards of line on that deep spool. if your focus is freshwater it may be a little large, and truthfully a little pricey.
- Diecast aluminum frame,
- Stamped aluminum right side plate,
- An aluminum braced graphite non-handle side plate
- An aluminum spool.
- A Super Stopper
- A 1-way roller bearing
- Assist Stopper back-up anti-reverse system
4. Okuma Magda Pro Line Counter Levelwind Trolling Reel
Okuma make great reels, and even the lower price range ones hold up next to much higher price ones. A trolling reel suitable for fresh and saltwater with a line counter and star drag for under 60 USD is the something not to be just passed over.
- Line Counter built in
- Lightweight corrosion resistant frame and side plates
- Holds 420 yds 20 lb test
- Multiple size options
- 2 stainless steel ball bearings
- Great price quarter of the price of a Shimano 600LC.
- Great and sensitive drag
- Line counter built in.
- Decent size capacity
- Line counter may be a little inaccurate
- may feel a little plasticy
5.Penn Warfare Level Wind Conventional Reel
For all fishing including trolling and deep bottom fishing Penn are an established brand that both anglers on sea and freshwater return to again and again. The Penn Warfare Level is at a pleasantly affordable price for the brand, perhaps because of the graphite construction.
It is worth picking up the versions of this, for a little more cash, that have line counters on them. You will find this helpful with the large capacity spool on these reels.
The line rings built into the reel with help you keep an idea of how much line is still on the reel, and as you can probably guess these reels can handle sea and lake fishing.
- Lightweight graphite frame and side plates
- Forged-and-machined aluminum spool
- Machined brass main and pinion gears
- Carbon fiber drag washers
- Instant anti-reverse bearing
- Line capacity rings
- Compact and lightweight
- It has zero nags or hesitation
- It has an anti-reverse system for safety and efficiency
- Strong side plates
- Costs extra for line counter versions
A day fresh water trolling is going to be a day well spent. Making sure you don’t under or over gear is going to make the sport better. Choosing a medium rod and reel like the ones detailed above, with line counters and decent drag systems is essential get those sorted and all you need are some tasty lures! Hopefully we have given you some ideas. Enjoy the season!
Hi I am Marc, when I am not in a classroom teaching you will find me, or more likely not find me, on a boat, trekking through the woods, sitting by a river or pier hoping for tight lines or a straight shot. I have been teaching Outdoor skills, fishing, archery, shooting, Kayaking, Climbing and more for over 30 years. It’s about time I shared some of that with you all.