5 Best Tuna Fishing Reels: 2021 Buyers Guide

Kenneth ReavesEdited by: Kenneth Reaves
Michael DarmontReviewed by: Michael Darmont

Last Update:

The Rundown

Best Overall: Penn Squall 2-Speed Lever Drag Reel (click to see)
“Featuring stainless steel bearings, a heavy-duty Dura-Drag lever for enough power, and a dog ratchet system that prevents its handle from reversing, the Penn Squall is for anglers who are ready to reel in a large tuna.”

Best Value For Money: Penn SQL15LW Squall LevelWind
“With the Versa drag system, anti-reverse system, and line capacity rings for ample fighting power; the Penn Squall LevelWind is for anglers seeking a robust, performing tuna reel at the best value.”

Best High-End: Penn Fathom Lever Drag (click to see)
“Showcasing a Quick-Shift 2-speed system, Dura Drag system, 5 shielded stainless steel ball bearings, and a double dog ratchet anti-reverse system, the Penn Fathom is for anglers looking to upgrade their gears to the next level.”

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When fishing for tuna, the quality of an angler’s reel can make or break their excursion. Lesser reels will simply not stand up to the level of abuse that a massive bluefin tuna can dish out. With a quality fishing rod and reel at your disposal, you will surely find yourself standing in the midst of the excitement.

Most of today’s best tuna fishing reels feature robust drag systems, high-quality stainless steel ball bearings, and specialty anti-reverse mechanisms. Together, these features offer an angler all that is needed to go toe-to-toe with some of the most aggressive saltwater tuna species found in any offshore environment.

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Product Name
Best High-End
Our Ranking
Ranked #1
Ranked #2
Ranked #3
Thumbnail
PENN 1292938 Squall Lever Drag 2-Speed Trolling Fishing Reel, 890/50
PENN Fishing SQL50LW Squall Level Wind , Black, 320Yd/50Lb
Penn 1292934 Fathom 40N Lever 2-Speed Lever Drag Fishing Reel
Our Grade
Our Rating 95/100
Our Rating 90/100
Our Rating 88/100
Feature 1
Powerful drag system for rigorous fighting power
Anti reverse system to eliminate rotor back play
Full metal body and side plates for enhanced rigidity
Feature 2
Double dog ratchet system to prevent handle reversal
Versa drag system for ample fighting power
Heavy duty lever drag for durability and power
Best Overall
Our Ranking
Ranked #1
Thumbnail
PENN 1292938 Squall Lever Drag 2-Speed Trolling Fishing Reel, 890/50
Our Grade
Our Rating 95/100
Feature 1
Powerful drag system for rigorous fighting power
Feature 2
Double dog ratchet system to prevent handle reversal
Best Budget Reel
Our Ranking
Ranked #2
Thumbnail
PENN Fishing SQL50LW Squall Level Wind , Black, 320Yd/50Lb
Our Grade
Our Rating 90/100
Feature 1
Anti reverse system to eliminate rotor back play
Feature 2
Versa drag system for ample fighting power
Best High-End
Product Name
Our Ranking
Ranked #3
Thumbnail
Penn 1292934 Fathom 40N Lever 2-Speed Lever Drag Fishing Reel
Our Grade
Our Rating 88/100
Feature 1
Full metal body and side plates for enhanced rigidity
Feature 2
Heavy duty lever drag for durability and power

5 Best Reels For Tuna Fishing

  1. Best Overall: Penn Squall 2-Speed Lever Drag Reel
  2. Best Budget Reel: Penn Squall SQL50LW LevelWind
  3. Best High-End: Penn Fathom Lever Drag
  4. Best Trolling Reel: Shimano Tekota LevelWind
  5. Most Versatile: Shimano Triton TLD25 Lever Drag

Penn Squall 2-Speed Lever Drag Reel

Best Overall: A reel as rich in power as it is in functionality

PENN 1292938 Squall Lever Drag 2-Speed Trolling Fishing Reel, 890/50
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KEY FEATURES

  • Powerful drag for rigorous fighting power
  • Double dog ratchet system to prevent handle reversal
  • Two-speed system for rapid adjustment

The Penn Squall Lever Drag is likely one of the best choices for anglers who seek out tuna of epic size whenever the situation presents itself. This fishing reel features stainless steel main and pinion bearings, as well as a heavy-duty Dura-Drag lever drag system, which should provide more than enough power to haul even the largest of tuna fish. The Penn Squall 2-Speed LevelWind reel also utilizes a Double dog ratchet system that prevents the reel’s handle from reversing, thereby minimizing the risk of line entanglement.

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Another feature of the Penn Squall Lever Drag that most anglers should find favor in is the reel’s Quick Shift 2-speed system, which quickly shifts into high or low gear. This is a valuable attribute, as it essentially allows anglers to change between two gear ratios, providing the right amount of power and speed for every application. The Penn Squall Lever Drag fishing reel is compelling in its lowest gear, although line retrieval speeds slightly suffer. In its highest gear, the reel possesses less power but can take up the line at a rapid rate.

The Penn Squall 2-Speed Lever Drag Reel is also lightweight by design, providing anglers with an all-day level of comfort that should present an improved tuna fishing experience. Much of this reduction in weight stems from this reel’s graphite construction. The Penn Squall Lever Drag’s compact size and weight should make it ideal for any big fish saltwater fishing.

Because of its graphite construction, the Penn Squall Lever Drag has a natural corrosion resistance, which should increase its overall longevity and durability. This should be appreciated by those hoping to get many years of use out of their subsequent gear purchases.

Penn Squall SQL50LW LevelWind

Best Budget Reel: Top tier functionality, at a price within the means of most anglers

PENN Fishing SQL50LW Squall Level Wind , Black, 320Yd/50Lb
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KEY FEATURES

  • Anti-reverse system to eliminate rotor back play
  • Line capacity rings for ease of line monitoring
  • Versa drag for ample fighting power

If you are currently seeking a robust tuna reel rich in both performance and features, then the Penn Squall SQL50LW LevelWind should be just what you are looking for. This high-quality tuna reel features Penn’s HT 100 Carbon Fiber drag system, which provides an abundance of cranking power while also showcasing super-smooth operational characteristics. This reel also features a machined high-strength main gear, composed of marine grade bronze alloy, for outstanding durability when fighting fish like tuna.

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Another feature of the Penn Squall LevelWind that anglers should favor is the reel’s ultra-lightweight design. This reel utilizes a lightweight graphite body and side plates in a bid to eliminate excess bulk. This is likely to be a favorite feature of those who spend ample time on the water and would quickly become worn out when using a reel with significantly more heft.

The Penn Squall SQL50LW LevelWind is also constructed in a level wind configuration, which should minimize the occurrence of time consumptive backlash. This style of tuna fishing reels tends to be a favorite of those who operate fishing charter services, as wasted time can quite often lead to lost profits. When a backlash is avoided, an angler can spend less time untangling the line and more time tuna fishing.

This tuna fishing reel also features two stainless steel bearings and one instant anti-reverse bearing that eliminates rotor back play. In addition, the Penn Squall LevelWind utilizes a lightweight yet durable, machined aluminum spool, fully compatible with a braided fishing line.

Penn Fathom Lever Drag

Best High-End: Smooth as silk, yet powerful beyond compare

Penn 1292934 Fathom 40N Lever 2-Speed Lever Drag Fishing Reel
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KEY FEATURES

  • Full metal body and side plates for enhanced rigidity
  • Line capacity rings for ease of line monitoring
  • Heavy-duty lever drag for durability and power

If you are a saltwater fishing veteran and are looking to upgrade your gear selection to the next level, then the Penn Fathom 40N should be worthy of your consideration. This premium reel showcases several exciting features, including a Quick Shift 2-speed system, Dura Drag system, 5 shielded stainless steel ball bearings, and a double dog ratchet anti-reverse system. The culmination of these features should provide a rich angling experience, especially when taking to the sea in search of massive bluefin tuna.

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Anglers are likely to find immense value in the Penn Fathom Lever Drag 40N’s silky smooth operational characteristics. This is mainly due to Penn’s inclusion of a premium quality, 5-piece stainless steel ball-bearing system when designing the Fathom. This system should minimize much of the stress placed upon an angler during a lengthy fight, as the Penn Fathom Lever Drag will make more efficient use of any energy expended.

The Fathom 40N features Penn’s proprietary Dura Drag system, known for its superior performance when under significant loads. In addition, this system has gained quite the reputation for its snag and hesitation-free operation, which is relatively unheard of concerning other spinning reels at a similar price point. This should provide anglers with the extra fighting prowess needed to wage war against the sea’s largest game fish species.

Most anglers are likely to also find favor in the Penn Fathom 40N’s Quick shift 2-speed system, which allows anglers to quickly and effortlessly switch between two independent gear ratios. At its lowest setting, the 40N exhibits enormous fighting power but slower line retrieval rates. In its higher setting, the reel sacrifices a slight bit of torque in favor of a blazing fast line spool rate.

Shimano Tekota LevelWind

Best Trolling Reel: A reel that will take your trolling efforts to the next level

Shimano Tekota 500A Conventional Trolling Reel
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KEY FEATURES

  • Aluminum frame for durability and corrosion resistance
  • Anti-rust bearings for smooth line flow
  • One way roller bearing to eliminate back play

The Shimano Tekota LevelWind should be an instant favorite of any angler who prefers to troll rather than drift or stationary fish. This trolling reel features a sizable line capacity, which is likely to assist anglers in presenting their bait or lure at the exact depth they desire. This gets your bait into the zone, thereby increasing an angler’s strike rate. Shimano Tekota’s LevelWind construction allows lines to be quickly and easily spooled upon retrieval, free of any twists or kinks.

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Anglers are also likely to find favor in the Shimano Tekota LevelWind’s weather and salt-resistant characteristics. In addition, this reel employs specially treated anti-rust bearings, which are ten times more durable and corrosion-resistant than traditional bearings. The use of these specialty bearings also provides the Shimano Tekota with superb casting characteristics.

The Shimano Tekota LevelWind is designed to stand the test of time. This reel is constructed into a one-piece die-cast aluminum frame that should provide tight tolerances and significant durability. This attribute of this Shimano product will likely be appreciated by those who fish relentlessly, week after week and year after year.

Another feature of the Shimano Tekota LevelWind that should catch the eye of discerning anglers is the reel’s use of a one-way roller bearing, eliminating back play for solid hooksets. Furthermore, this bearing is safeguarded by a backup anti-reverse system, which reduces the stress applied to the 1-way roller bearing, thereby further enhancing the Shimano Tekota LevelWind’s degree of durability.

Shimano Triton TLD25 Lever Drag

Most Versatile: A reel for every angler and every occasion

Shimano Triton TLD25 Lever Drag Graphite Fishing Reel
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KEY FEATURES

  • Specialty ball bearing drag system for improved heat dissipation
  • Strike alarm click indicator for bite notification
  • Compact design for comfortable handling

The Shimano Triton TLD25 should be the perfect reel for any offshore angler who regularly diversifies their tactics in a bid to catch fish by any means necessary. Thanks to its custom ball bearing arrangement, precision stainless steel gears, and 1-piece lightweight graphite frame, this reel is perfectly adept to use when trolling or casting. In addition, the Triton should be compact enough to provide all-day comfort, no matter the situation at hand.

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Many anglers should be pretty fond of the Shimano Triton TLD25’s specialty ball bearing drag system, which features a titanium-impregnated fabric for improved heat dissipation and seamless operation. This can provide even line control and pronounced fighting power, even when being acted upon by the extreme forces often imparted by a hard-fighting big tuna or other similarly sized game fish.

The Shimano Triton TLD25 Lever Drag is also extremely compact and lightweight, making it a wise selection for those who leave from the dock for a full day at a time, tuna fishing from dawn until dusk. In situations of this nature, using a heavier, more cumbersome reel will likely end in frustration, as hand, arm, and back fatigue quickly set in.

Another unique feature of the Shimano Triton TLD25 is its included strike alarm clicker. When a strike is detected, the reel emits an audible ticking noise, alerting anglers that it is time to take care of business. This is an attribute that should find favor among those who typically simultaneously fish multiple rods and cannot physically watch each setup simultaneously.

What To Look For When Buying The Best Tuna Fishing Reels

Bearing Number

When fighting enormous saltwater fish, every bearing counts.

All fishing reels utilize a system of ball bearings to facilitate the rotational movement of their spool. However, not all bearing systems are created equally. The quality of a reel’s bearing system is defined by its number of individual bearings, as well as the quality of each. The greater the number of bearings and the higher the quality of each bearing contained within, the smoother a reel’s operation will be.

Size & Weight

When fighting the fish of a lifetime, the last thing you need is a bulky reel weighing you down.

It is not uncommon for a fight with a sizable tuna or other large fish to drag on for several hours. When this occurs, an angler quickly becomes drained of energy. Therefore, it is essential to locate a lightweight and compact reel, as this will prevent the need for additional physical exertion.

Line Capacity

A reel that is limited in line capacity often falls short when fighting hard-running tuna.

Tuna is known for its ability to cover 100 yards or more in a single run. This places extreme value on a reel’s available line capacity. When in doubt, it is always best to err on the side of caution by selecting a reel with a slightly higher line capacity that you feel is necessary. As a general rule, a capacity of 300-400 yards is typically ideal.

Braided Line Capacity

The use of a braided line can provide you with the necessary leeway to boat even the most sizable of tuna.

Many tuna anglers have begun to favor the use of braided lines. Braided line is known for its superior strength and abrasion resistance, which can come in handy when fighting the fish of a lifetime. Additionally, the braided line’s micro-diameter composition enables anglers to spool a greater line length on any given reel. However, this is easiest done with the use of a braid-ready reel.

Drag System

When tuna fishing, the use of a reel with anything less than the most robust of drag systems will almost always end in failure.

Tuna are ferocious fighters and waste no time stripping line from an angler’s reel whenever possible. As such, reel for tuna drag takes a substantial amount of abuse. True tuna fishing reels drag system should only use the highest quality friction material, many of which are impregnated with metal and other specialty compounds.

Materials and Construction

A tuna reel’s longevity is often determined by the integrity of its initial construction, as well as the individual materials from which it is composed.

In the world of tuna fishing, only the strongest of fishing reels survive. If a tuna reel has not been expertly crafted, and constructed from the heartiest of materials, it will likely fall victim to failure in short order. On the contrary, well-built tuna fishing reels tend to fare well over the long haul and provide years of trouble-free service.

Corrosion Protection

Saltwater is the mortal enemy of metal, which is used to construct an angler’s reel.

In order to display any level of durability, the internal components of a saltwater reel must be protected from water ingress. As a result, many tuna fishing reels of this type have been designed to combat the corrosive effects of saltwater and do a relatively fine job of remaining durable in such an inhospitable environment. Fishing reels of this nature typically feature sealed drag/bearing systems and are constructed from carbon fiber, aluminum, or graphite to minimize oxidation.

Handle and Knob

A handle’s comfort is key when attempting to battle a long-winded tuna to the boat’s edge.

It often takes more than an hour to wrap up a fight with a tuna of significant size. Therefore, a tuna reel’s handle and knob must be ergonomic to be used for an extended period in relative comfort. Large handles are often preferred by avid tuna anglers, as are rounded knobs.

Gear Ratio

A reel’s gear ratio dictates both speed and power.

A reel’s gear ratio is defined as the length of line collected with each successive turn of the handle. The higher the ratio, the faster a reel’s line is retrieved, yet the less power you have at your disposal. When tuna fishing, a gear ratio of 4.9 or 5.1 is typically ideal.

Waterproof

A dedicated tuna reel takes just as much abuse from the elements as it does from the fish that it is tasked with boating.

Saltwater, by nature, is highly corrosive and can pit and rust metal in short order. As a result, fishing reels intended for saltwater use must be sealed from water ingress. This seal prevents the reel’s stainless steel ball bearings and drag system from degrading at the hands of mother nature.

Price

While spending a notable amount of money on the best tuna fishing reels might be hard to bear, losing the fish of a lifetime due to a cheap reel’s inadequacies is worse yet.

In the world of tuna reels, you most often get what you pay for. While the purchase of a cheap reel might appear to make sense now, the shortcomings of such a decision are often not evident until a fish is on the line. Tuna fishing reels can be purchased for as little as $50, or as much as $500 or more.