The best fishing rods and reels


A light to medium configuration like the Shimano TLD Trolling Rod and Reel Combo will do without breaking the bank.

Whether you’re casually trolling a single lure behind your boat or actively fishing a six or eight line spread, it’s important to have a trolling rod and reel that can handle big fish, which can severely damage under-equipped gear and leave you with an even deeper hole in your pocket once you’ve made any necessary repairs or replacements.

Crossing a particularly remote part of Fiji, our trolling gear let us down and we were reduced to hand lines – which work perfectly fine, but aren’t for everyone – and quality tackle lower until we reached New Zealand, where the captain ended up having to invest in all new gear. We lost more fish than either of us cares to say along the way.

Choosing the right trolling gear can be tricky: too light, you risk destroying your tackle or leaving a fish with a lure and spool of line attached; too heavy, and there won’t be much sport involved in retrieving (most) small fish. Consider where you will be trolling most of the time and whether or not the chances of snagging a trophy are worth the extra weight.

If you are inshore trolling and your catch will likely stay in the 50 pound range (think inshore species like salmon, and maybe small mahi mahi and offshore tuna), the Shimano TLD rod and reel combo will work perfectly.

If you find yourself fishing more offshore, something a little sturdier will save you time, money in the long run, and maybe even a little heartache, which is why I’d choose directly one of Penn’s International Series Reels and associate it with Penn’s Ally Fishing Rod.

Tip: If you’re going to use this setup on a sailboat, consider a short model (5ft 6in or 6ft) for better maneuverability around the boat’s rig.

Penn’s International The reels have been a favorite reel since my grandfather was catching tuna, and I still have and use a few of his old ones. The modern version of the International V comes with a one-piece machined aluminum frame, which helps keep salt and gravel out of the inner workings of the reel. The more seams there are in a reel, the more entry points there are for water and gravel to find their way, and in the case of salt water it can mean the game is over without immediate attention.

Penn’s Ally Stand-Up Series suits most needs, but choose the style that best suits you and your boat, and be sure to buy at least one model with a gimbal, which not only locks the rod into its holder, but allows it to pivot in a combat belt or chair – as opposed to, say, your hip or thigh, which can be painful. You can raise or lower your rod as needed, but it’s best to buy a rod with roller guides if you’re using test line over 50 pounds, which will wear groves in regular O-ring guides over time.

Advantages: Most models of both configurations will also work for bait and bottom fishing

The inconvenients: Heavy, bulky to store

Buy the Shimano TLD Trolling Rod and Reel Combo at Bass Pro Shops for $269.98 to $309.98
Buy a Penn International Series Reel from Amazon, starting at $502.71
Buy the Penn Ally Trolling Rod from Bass Pro Shops for $66.97 to $249.95

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