What size reel for surf fishing: all you need to know

Looking at three fishing rods wondering what size reel for surf fishing

If you’ve just got your hands on a surf rod, you might be wondering what size reel is right for this length.

Balancing a rod and reel is very important, particularly for surf fishing, which typically has more demanding conditions.

This article looks at what size reel for a 9-foot, 10-foot and 12-foot surf rod is best. 

To choose the right size reel for a surf rod, make sure the reel is balanced by attaching the reel to the rod and then balancing it on your finger at the top of the reel handle. If it tips at the handle then the reel is too heavy. If it tips toward the rod tip, the reel is too light. 

Comparing surf reels between Shimano vs Daiwa? Click here for a head-to-head comparison.

Want a broader view and opinion on many different surf reels? Click here for our best saltwater reels for surf fishing article.

Daiwa BG

Author photo of the Daiwa BG Reel

Best Surf Reel Overall

  • Crazy value for money
  • Features you find in top-end reel models
  • Incredibly versatile, reliable and durable

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What type of reel for a surf rod? 

Typically there are a couple of options for reel types for surf fishing, conventional, and spinning. 

While some surf anglers favor conventional reels, the most popular choice is spinning reels for a number of factors. 

The experts at Penn Fishing sum up pretty well why spinning reels are the go-to choice:

“Spinning reels are perfect for casting lighter lures. Since the line leaves the spool with little resistance, a spinning reel will cast a lure weighing less than one ounce. Since a spinning reel hangs below the fishing rod, the angler can pinch the line to feel the slightest nibble making it the choice for finesse fishing where sensitivity is key.”

I’ve only ever fished with spinning reels in the surf and I find they are incredibly versatile. 

If the spool has adequate amounts of line on it and the reel is matched the right size to the rod, then you can get maximum distance out of your casts.

Even with smaller weighted tackle.

And spinning reels come in a wide variety of sizes.

So you can change your preferences up or down in size depending on how you are fishing the surf, where you are targeting, and what species you are after.

Conventional reels are able to handle heavier lures, and sometimes they are the preferred choice of reel, but this article focuses mainly on spinning reels.

Matching spinning reel size to your surf rod

First, you should already have in mind the rod you want to fish with that will be most suited to how you want to use it. 

For example, you’re not going to be choosing a 12-foot heavy power rod for targeting panfish like crappie. 

The general advice is to select the rod first, and match the reel to the rod you’ve chosen.

Then, matching a spinning reel to a rod is all about balance.

Quite literally, the advice is to attach the reel to the chosen rod and then balance the rod on your finger, placed just at the top end of the rod handle above the reel seat.

You are aiming for the rod to sit balanced on your finger, without tipping either toward the tip or to the butt of the handle.

If your reel is too heavy, it will tip towards the butt. 

And while you’ll have a particularly sensitive rod, overall the matching of reel-to-rod will be unnecessarily heavy, potentially sapping some of the joy out of your angling.

So you might want to try a size down. 

If the reel is too light, the rod overpowers the reel, and sensitivity is reduced. 

This means any striking fish will be more difficult to detect and you may miss hooking some fish.

So you might want to try a size up. 

Let’s have a look at some examples of matching the appropriate reel size to specific rod lengths.

What size reel for a 9-foot surf rod?

If you have a 9-foot surf rod, you might be wondering what the right size reel is right for matching to 9-foot of length. 

A 9-foot surf rod is a great choice for beginners but matching the size of the reel can be tricky.

The best size reel for a 9-foot surf rod would be in the range of 3,000 to 4000. This will provide enough line capacity for surf fishing, as well as a suitable level of drag for smaller to medium-sized surf fish like striped bass and snapper. Match with a 9-foot, medium power fast action rod.

A perfect contender is something like the Shimano Stradic 3000, perfectly designed to withstand saltwater conditions and a powerful reel.

What size reel for a 10-foot surf rod?

A 10-foot surf rod gives you a bit more leverage to cast out further and work lures harder in the water.

But with additional length, you want to make sure you choose the right size reel for a surf rod of this length. 

The best size reel for a 10-foot surf rod would be in the range of 4,000 to 5000. This will provide enough line capacity for surf fishing, as well as a suitable level of drag for medium-sized surf fish like larger striped bass, redfish, and also larger rays that might require more pulling power. Match with a 10-foot, medium-heavy power fast action rod.

The Abu Garcia https://amzn.to/3CBdpaURevo X is an inexpensive and highly popular spinning reel for surf fishing.

Try the size 40 reel on your 10ft surf rod. This reel is super smooth and tough – a great combo for battling saltwater species in tougher conditions.

What size reel for a 12-foot surf rod?

A 12-foot surf rod is getting toward the larger size for casting out further over the breaking surf to the larger species. 

So you want to have a reel that has the capacity for the length of line you need, as well as heavy drag to cope with the fight of the powerful fish.

The best size reel for a 10-foot surf rod would be in the range of 6,000 to 8-10,000. This will provide enough line capacity for casting out deep, as well as significant drag for large, powerful surf fish like sharks, large tarpon, and large black drum. Match with a 10-foot, heavy power fast action rod.

For the larger reel size, in a 6000 reel I’d be looking at a Penn reel. For those with bigger budgets, the Penn Battle III is an incredibly hardy reel. I love the big comfortable foam handle that makes winding in salty monsters an absolute dream. No slips here, meaning a higher catch rate… and less embarrassment on the beach! The 6000+ models are also lightning fast, so are great for fast lure retrieves or rescuing fish from rocky structures.

For those with smaller budgets, the Penn Fierce III is a very popular choice for saltwater anglers. It carries the quality build of typical Penn reels without the larger price. It may not last out as long as the Penn Battle III, but will still provide great performance for 2-3 seasons if well looked after.


Don’t forget! Read our opinion on the best value surf reels out this year.

Setting up your reel for surf rod

9-foot surf rod tackle

The line class for a 9-foot medium-power surf rod is recommended at 8-20lbs braided line. 

Something like this works great (link goes to deals on Amazon).

It’s worth having a 30-50lb mono leader line too to absorb shock. 

And you’ll be looking at 1/8 – 3/8 oz lure weights for a medium power rod.

10-foot surf rod tackle

For a 10-foot rod with a medium-heavy weight rating, choose a line class in the 10-20lb range, with added mono leader in the range of 50-80lb.

This is great 20lb braid, and this is great 50lb mono line.

The guidance for lure weight is between ¼- 1oz for this type of rod. 

12-foot surf rod tackle

The line class for a 12-foot heavy surf rod is 15-25lb (this 25lb braid is a great choice) to manage the larger fish you’ll be after out in the surf. You’ll need to increase the size of mono leader to around 80-100lb (this 80lb mono should work great) to handle the much larger fish you’ll be targeting out deeper. 

Choosing reel sizes for surf rods summary.

Hopefully, we’ve shown how you best match a surf rod to the right reel size. 

Remember to physically check whatever reel size you are thinking about is balanced to the rod you’ve previously chosen that you want to use. 

With a 9-foot surf rod the right size reel is a 3000-4000. For a 10-foot surf rod, this increases to 4000-5000 sizes. And for a 12-foot surf rod, anything over the 6000 size is a good option, depending on what you’ll be using it for and how strong you need the line and drag to be.