Catching the elusive sailfish may be one of the greatest challenges in the sportfishing world. Considered by many to be the fastest fish in the ocean, you’ll need the right combination of gear to land this lightning quick, hard-fighting predator.
The incredible speed and impressive fight these fish provide means you’ll need a reel with high line capacity, fast gearing, and a butter-smooth light to medium drag. Whether your fishing with kites, dragging spreader bars, or drifting with live baitfish, you’ll need enough line capacity to let a sailfish run for at least 300 to 400 yards, if not more.
As they often swim in schools, when sailfish strike, you’ll often get several hookups at once. This means you’re going to be handling your setups a lot and moving around the boat while fighting the fish. A lightweight rig is key for this type of fishing – you’ll need to stay nimble and quick to match their speed!
With so many different reel options out there, picking the right one for catching sailfish can seem like a confusing task. I’ll break down some of the best options for each fishing technique and help you pick the right one for your needs, budget, and preferences.
Quick Answer: 5 Best Sailfish Reels
- Best Overall: Shimano Talica 20 BFC Reel
- Runner Up: Shimano Fishing Beastmaster A Electric Reel
- Best Multi Use: Penn Fathom 40 Level Drag Fth40nldhs
- Best Trolling Reel: Penn International VIS Two Speed 16
- Also Consider: Maxel Hybrid 25 Conventional Star Drag Reel
Best Overall: Shimano Talica 20 BFC Reel
While the name ‘Talica’ instantly conjures up images of catching massive offshore tuna in many of our minds, the BFC version is Shimano’s lighter-drag, lighting-fast retrieve version made specifically for targeting billfish like sailfish and white marlin. It features a 15-pound max drag, and retrieves a full 60” of line with each crank – allowing you to quickly reel in slack line when a sailfish changes direction or charges the boat.
A high 6.7 to 1 gearing ratio creates the impressive line retrieval speed, and because sailfish don’t require the slow grinding retrieve of other offshore species you won’t be overpowered. It also boasts a 3-pound minimum drag-at-strike setting – ensuring the fish stays hooked during the wild leaps and thrashes they’re so famous for.
The lever drag system also features a slow ramp up, which means it has a very gradual increase from free-spool to the strike setting. This can help during the hookset, and is especially useful when your using circle-hooks.
Shimano’s also taken great lengths to cut down on excess weight, with weight reduction holes, a hollow lightweight knob, and a weight reduced frame. If you’re looking for the ideal billfish reel for kite fishing, trolling, or drifting live bait, you simply won’t find a better option than the Shimano Talica BFC!
- Weight: 28 ounces
- Line Capacity: 640 ft. 20-lb mono
- Max Drag: 15 lbs
- Specifically designed for the Billfish tournament scene
- High-speed 6.7:1 gearing system
- Slow, gradual ramp up drag curve
- Retrieves a full 60” of line with each crank
Runner Up: Shimano Fishing Beastmaster A Electric Reel
Featuring similar specs to the Talica above, the Shimano Fishing Beastmaster A Electric Reel provides an ideal Sailfish reel. It’s purpose-built for pursuing sailfish and marlin on lighter tackle, and features a max drag up to 55 lbs. and a max winding strength of 250 lbs.
Although a little pricier than other reels listed here, the Beastmaster is lightweight and easy to handle while providing incredible torque making it well worth your money.
With a high-speed retrieve, it’s ideal for targeting speedy billfish using a full 3.1:1 gear ratio, pulling in 35″ of line per crank
- High speed, high power electric reel for saltwater
- Compact and easy to handle
- Max Drag: 55 lbs
- High-speed 3.1:1 gearing ratio
- Advanced GigaMax brushless motor
- Audible e-Exciting Drag Sound electronic technology
Best Multi-Use: Penn Fathom 40 Level Drag Fth40nldhs
If you’re looking for a well-made billfish reel that’s capable of catching a variety of other species like dorado, bluefish, and striped bass, the Penn Fathom 40 makes an excellent choice. It features a high speed 60” per crank retrieve – making it perfectly suited for speed-demons like sailfish and white marlin.
The max drag is 40 lbs. – which is a bit higher than most other reels geared toward billfish. The reasoning being that you’ll have enough drag to fight a larger marlin or tuna if they take your bait.
With a high speed 7.1:1 gear ratio, the reel has an incredibly fast retrieve. It also features enough line capacity for 500 yards of 20 lb. mono. Dura-drag washers, 5 shielded stainless steel ball bearings, and the double-dog ratchet anti-reverse provide smooth overall performance. The lever drag system allows you to make precise adjustments to your drag settings, so you can present your bait under ideal conditions.
Maks sure to get the ‘Fth40nldhs’ model number for targeting sailfish. The ldhs as the end of the model number stands for ‘lever drag high speed’.
- Weight: 7 ounces
- Line Capacity: 500 ft. 20-lb mono
- Max Drag: 40 lbs
- Ideal for billfish, dorado, bluefish, and larger pelagic species
- Lightning-quick 7.1:1 gearing and 60” per crank retrieve
- Dura-drag washers, full metal body and side plates, and double-dog ratchet system
Best Trolling Reel: Penn International VIS Two Speed 16
This eye-popping gorgeous reel from the renowned reel manufacturer’s over at Penn is perfect for trolling naked ballyhoo (sometimes called “dink” fishing). It’s the smallest version of Penn’s International VIS reels, making it ideally suited to target sailfish, dorado, and smaller tuna. With a max drag of 20 lbs. you’ll have more than enough resistance to successfully land billfish.
It features a butter-smooth gearing system, with a 5:2 to 1 high gear ratio that’s quick enough to reel in slack when a sailfish takes your bait and starts jumping and leaping in the air. It’s also smooth enough to give you a quality hookset consistently. The two-speed system allows you to toggle between the high-speed retrieval gear and a low-cranking ratio of 1.6:1 for muscling in larger fish.
The reel’s body and side plates are made from solid anodized aluminum, giving the reel an extraordinary strength-to-weight ratio. This is helpful when sailfish fishing, as you’ll want to minimize excess weight whenever possible. It also features an impressive 770 yards of 20-lb mono capacity – so you’ll have more than enough capacity to let a billfish run.
- Weight: 36 ounces
- Line Capacity: 770 ft. 20-lb mono
- Max Drag: 20 lbs
- Well-made trolling reel for billfish, dorado, kingfish, and smaller tuna
- Two speed gearing for adjusting your retrieve while fighting fish
- Silky smooth drag system even when under heavy loads
Also Consider : Maxel HYBRID 25 Conventional Star Drag Reel
Maxel makes some of the best-quality, reasonably-priced saltwater reels on the planet, and this eye-catching reel is certainly no exception. It features true one-piece construction, with anodized marine-grade aluminum and stainless steel components. A powerful lever drag system with up to 28 lbs. of drag allows you to precisely set whatever drag is needed for the situation.
A 5:1 gearing provides a respectable 46” per crank retrieve – which is solid, but not as rapid as several other models.
An offset machined handle arm reduces the reel’s centerline profile and cranking wobble, while a large soft touch handle knob gives you excellent interface with your rod and reel. If you’re looking for an all-in-one billfish trolling, kite fishing, and drifting reel – the Maxel Hybrid is a solid buy.
- Weight: 13.7 ounces
- Line Capacity: 400 ft. 30-lb mono
- Max Drag: 28 lbs
- Speedy 5:1 gearing provides a respectable 46” per crank retrieve
How to pick the right sailfish reel
As sailfish are lightning-quick and can put up a hell of a fight, they require fairly specific reels to land successfully. With so many different reel models and manufacturer’s out there, narrowing down the right one can be a challenge. Let’s take a look at the key features to be on the lookout for.
Drag refers to the amount of force on the line at a given time. When targeting sailfish, you’ll generally only need a max drag of about 15 to 20 pounds. This will provide you with enough sensitivity to get consistent hook ups, and most sailfish aren’t big enough to warrant a higher max drag.
Most reels designed for sailfish are lever-drag reels, which means the drag can be adjusted by sliding a lever on the side of the reel. You’ll also want to look for a low amount of drag at the ‘strike’ setting, as sailfish can be finnicky to get a good hookset with.
Drag-at-strike of 3 to 5 pounds is perfect for most billfish fishing. Aggressive level drags – like those used for tuna fishing – can be too forceful for sailfish, and cause hooks to rip or come loose.
Line retrieval is closely related to the gearing ratio on a reel. Generally, the higher the gearing ratio, the faster that reel will be at reeling in line. As sailfish are the fastest fish in the ocean, you’ll need reels with high gearing ratios and a fast retrieval to take in any slack after the fish changes direction or charges towards your boat.
In addition to the gearing ratio, the spool diameter also has an impact on the line retrieval speed. A reel with a greater spool diameter will reel in more line per crank than a narrower one.
Many manufacturers will give a rating for how many inches of line are retrieved per turn of the crank handle. This is more useful measurement than just the gearing ratio alone.
2-Speed vs. 1-Speed
Conventional reels generally come in either 1-speed or 2-speed configurations. 2-speed reels allow you to toggle between a high-speed gear for quickly taking in line, and a low-gear for a slower, more powerful retrieve for fighting large fish.
If you’re looking for a billfish specific reel, then a 1-speed reel will generally be sufficient. These reels typically feature high-speed gearing in the 6:1 gear ratio or greater.
If you’re looking for a more versatile reel that can also be used for targeting tuna, dorado, marlin and other large pelagic species, then a 2-speed reel is the way to go. 2-speed reels will set you back a bit more money though, so keep this in mind.
The other major factor to consider when picking out a billfish reel is line capacity. These fish can swim at speeds over 68 mph, so you better believe they can snag your ballyhoo bait and take it for a serious run. This is especially true for kite fishing – where runs of in excess of 400 yards are common.
Most sailfish anglers use brightly colored 20-pound mono line for their main line. This will provide excellent visibility as well as the stretch and strength to handle nearly any sailfish.
When considering sailfish reels, make sure to check the line capacity for 20-pound mono. If the manufacturer doesn’t give a rating for 20 lbs mono, you can use this calculator to give you a pretty good estimation.
High-end sailfish reels can definitely set you back a decent chunk of change. Like most fishing gear, you’ll generally get what you’re willing to pay for.
A high-end reel – like the Shimano Talica BFC – will outlast and outperform cheaper sailfish reels by a significant margin. Also, they’ll usually retain their resale value to a greater degree than cheap reels. If it helps, think of it like a long-term investment, you’ll spend more up front, but will end up saving money over the long run.