Two Speed or Not Two Speed?

November 30, 2018

Shifting Gears on Tough Saltwater Gamefish


To those who use them regularly, two-speed fishing reels have proved to be one of the biggest angling innovations that have come along over the last several decades.  To many other anglers, however, it’s somewhat of a mystery how these reels work, what you’re supposed to use them for and even why you would ever need two different speeds on a reel in the first place.

The first step in de-mystifying two speed reels is to understand their basic concept and application.   The retrieve ratio on a single speed reel might be 4:1, 5:1 even 6:1, meaning the spool revolves four or five or six times for each turn of the handle.  A reel like this brings in a lot of line with each turn, which is great when cranking a jig or trying to catch up with a fast-charging fish. High gear ratio turns into a negative, however, when a big tuna, marlin or other tough gamefish turns stubborn and decides to “dog it” deep.  

Think of it like the gears on a bicycle.  Even the strongest rider can’t ride up a steep, prolonged grade in 18th gear. But when you drop down into 1st gear, all of a sudden that same rider has to power to climb a near-vertical wall.  At the same time, a bicycle which only had low gear would be pretty useless when trying to cover a lot of ground and build up speed on the flats.  

The same idea applies to fishing, especially for saltwater anglers who like to do battle with big, stubborn tuna, shark, marlin,  or other tough gamefish. A reel needs to have a relatively fast retrieve ratio for that majority of the time where you’re not hooked up or hooked into a fresh, hot fish that’s likely to turn around and charge the boat.   

Reel speed is your ally in these situations, but it quickly turns into a negative when they dynamics of the fight change.   When things get tough, what you need is the winch-like power of a low retrieve ratio. When a big fish turns the side of its body towards you and starts swimming in circles, the battle often degrades into a tug-of-war where neither side seems to be gaining ground.  The biggest problem is that about the time the fish is ready to give up, the angler is so spent he has no strength left to finish the job.

This is precisely the time the angler should drop his reel into low gear to shorten this critical part of the fight and lessen the chances of a last-minute heartbreak.   With a heavy rod, strong braided line and a reel operating at a 2:1 or even lower gear ratio, fishermen can apply maximum pressure and literally power-winch even the biggest fish towards the waiting gaff.  

With today’s crop of quality lever-drag two-speed reels loaded with zero-stretch, small diameter braided line, this tactic isn’t just reserved for anglers chasing tuna the size of NFL offensive linemen.    Small, powerful two-speed reels and matched graphite rods give anglers the ability to switch gears on school tuna, amberjack, mahi and all kinds of saltwater gamefish.