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Reel Review

Daiwa steps up saltwater super line performance and handling with the incredible new Saltiga

Date: 04/28/03
Tackle type: Reels
Manufacturer: Daiwa
Reviewer: Zander

Total Score: 9.08 + Editor's Choice Award!

Introduction: Offshore fishing places high demands on you and your tackle and the last thing you want to worry about is being ill prepared for that fish of a lifetime. New advances in technology have made it possible to continue the refinement of braided and fused superlines, Daiwa's brand new Saltiga was designed to harness the full potential of these amazing new lines and up the ante when it comes to premium offshore tackle. 

Daiwa Saltiga SA20 Specifications

Weight 15.5oz. (230g)
Gear Ratio 5.4:1
Bearings 6 Ball Bearings + 1 Roller Bearing
Line Capacity (lb/yds) 14-300 / 15-280 / 20-130
(Braid: 20-480 / 30-330 / 40-250)
Additional Features Solid  Machined Aluminum frame and sideplates, machined aluminum spool, Dual infinite anti reverse, grease impregnated graphite and stainless drag, high strength alloy gears, two position power handle.
MSRP $379.99

Impressions: This year Daiwa introduced two Saltiga reels to market, the SA conventional and SAZ spinning reels. Both these reels are designed for the discriminating offshore enthusiast and aim to deliver the highest level of refinement and performance to anglers that are willing to shell out the money for a piece of tackle that was designed from the ground up to deliver nothing short of stunning saltwater performance.


When asked to comment about the new Saltiga, Bill Liston, the representative from Daiwa summed it up by stating "These are some very tough reels for handling some very tough fish on some very tough lines. And if that isn't enough, they're also some of the best looking reels around too!" When I first examined the Saltiga I was amazed by the compact profile of this supposedly hard core offshore performer, could a reel this compact really deliver awe inspiring big water operation? While this reel boasted impressive line capacities for a reel of this size the fact remained that it was not much bigger than a Calcutta 250! The competing Shimano Trinidad's have a much larger profile. But when comparing apples to apples I began to understand exactly what Daiwa intended to do when they designed the Saltiga, and that was to create a reel that could pack a tremendous amount of fish fighting power into a relatively small reel utilizing the advantages of today's braided super lines.


Introducing the lightweight and compact Saltiga SA20


Materials: The Saltiga's design is among the cleanest most elegant I have ever seen to date. With clean lines and simple operation this reel has few parts that are prone to damage. The Saltiga feels extremely solid and compact thanks to both the frame and sideplates which were cut from solid aircraft-grade aluminum bar stock. While we hear this term a lot you begin to understand exactly how important it is to have a solid reel cut to perfect specifications when you begin hauling 20lb+ fish from the salty depths. This is a reel that is designed to exhibit absolutely no flex regardless of how big your underwater adversary is. In addition to the super rigid frame the guts of the reel are souped up machine-cut parts rather than cast alloy gears. These larger gears sport bigger teeth which better handle the extreme pressure and strain put on the entire gear train.


Every part of this reel is machined to perfection


Detail in design: Instead of copying other popular saltwater reels Daiwa decided to do what they do best...and that is to go to the drawing board and innovate. In the design of the Saltiga Daiwa fans will recognize the extreme drag system and  ultra light aluminum spool design. At the same time Daiwa which has never been a company afraid to conceive new technology designed a side plate system that is among the best we have ever seen when it comes to re-enforcing the reel frame and keeping corrosive saltwater out of the moving parts of the reel. This is done by using six screws on the sideplate to provide constant even pressure to the shield.


The refinement of the Saltiga is impressive, every edge, corner, knob, and handle has been rounded through careful machining to make the reel extra ergonomic and easier to maintain. The Saltiga ships with a easy to use multi-tool (screwdriver, handle wrench) that is used to both adjust the handle and remove the side plates.


the reinforced sideplate design still allows easy access to the lightweight spool while ensuring no contaminates get in


Superlines: Super lines are the next generation braided, fused, and special mono lines that are now available on the market. These high performance lines are designed with innovative new materials and wrapping techniques to offer more strength, sensitivity, and now line capacity. Daiwa's Saltiga was created to take advantage of braided and fused superlines that take up much less room on the spool thanks to tightly woven micro fiber braids that reduce the line diameter and overall spool space required. I chose to run a the new Spiderwire Stealth super braid which is not only extremely durable but super quiet and smooth.


On top of the Spiderwire I went with a 100 foot "top shot" of 20lb Trilene Big Game. Why run a top shot on your super braided line? By running a top shot connected to superline you can essentially preserve the superline while still taking advantage of it at deep depths, you essentially have a depth indicator at your line change (good when you need to get to a specific depth quickly), and you now have a reel which you can fish on any charter boat (even those that do not normally allow solid braided lines). Whether you are running straight superline or a mono top shot it is still good practice to run a fluorocarbon leader to reduce visibility.


Spooling Spiderwire Stealth superbraid on the Saltiga


The field Test: To test the Saltiga we went out for a week long field test in the Monterey Bay region to take advantage of the Salmon opener this year off the California coast. The Saltiga looked right at home strapped to our Seeker Black Steel graphite test rod, and we were ready to go catch some early run fish.


Complete Testing Rig for Saltiga SA20 Field Tests

Rod Seeker Black Steel G-870-7'
Reel Daiwa Saltiga SA20
Line 20 lb. Spiderwire Stealth with 20lb Trilene Big Game clear (Top Shot)


With a top shot of mono you can still fish the Saltiga in any conditions

Since most of our Salmon fishing tests involved mooching we had to set aside 2 hours for casting tests early in the morning of day one. We rigged up jigs of various weights and began casting away. What we found was the Saltiga felt more like an agile baitcaster than a traditional cumbersome saltwater reel. The freespool on the Saltiga is simply amazing, so good in fact that one can easily consider the Saltiga as a good choice for many surf casting applications! With easy access to the spool you can thumb your line easily while casting preventing any troublesome backlashes. One interesting thing we noticed was the very well designed freespool lever which is topped off with a rounded knob rather than just a switch, which made it easy to engage or disengage the freespool even with bulky gloves on your hands.


The open face design allows excellent line manageability for live bait mooching


Retrieving: If you enjoy casting and retrieving artificial lures it is likely that you will have already opted to go with a reel that includes a levelwind. But many saltwater anglers, myself included, opt for a open spool design like the Saltiga because it allows greater access to the line. This access allows better line management and presentation while fishing live bait. Once you get used to fishing an open face reel you will find that you can use your fingers to wind line back on the reel just as fast and evenly as reels with levelwinds. But the main reason to transition to a non-levelwind reel is simply to reduce the number of mechanisms on your reel. Simple open faced reels like the Saltiga are much better at handling large fish because they have less fragile parts like the levelwind worm gears which can burn out or fail under the pressure of a large fish.

Retrieving the Saltiga is a real joy as this reel boasts a silky retrieve not normally found in a saltwater reel with use of six precision cut bearings, and one roller bearing. One of the things I hate most about many saltwater reels is their sloppy handle play, which is a non-issue with the Saltiga's effective dual-system anti reverse which keeps the handle right where you want it in the heat of the retrieve.


The Ergonomics of the Saltiga are top notch, from freespool to drag and line management and power cranking this reel just feels right


Power: Earlier I mentioned Daiwa's super rigid frame, once you start retrieving this reel you will understand how the flex free frame means each turn of the handle is efficiently transferring 100% of the winding power you are putting into this reel. Whether retrieving a jig or a mammoth fish its a quick trip to the surface with the ability to pull in almost a yard of line (35 inches) with each turn of the handle. A nice option not normally found in reels of this compact size is the ability to switch the handle position to provide more or less leverage, essentially translating into speed or power mode. The rubberized handle is very ergonomic and provides an exceedingly solid grip.


To my delight in day two of the testing I began to engage in my favorite part of any field test...actual fishing. Within two hours I got my first hit and after waiting in anticipation I felt confident the Salmon 90 feet below had swallowed my bait. In one motion I lifted the rod tip and began cranking the Saltiga. The fish below responded by lurching towards the surface bringing slack back into the line! To maintain pressure on the fish I cranked hard and fast on the Saltiga and quickly brought the fish back under tension. Sure enough the fish burst into a solid run away from the boat and the drag and power of the Saltiga begun to earn their weight in gold as the fish tried to no avail to escape the sheer muscle of the Saltiga. In less then 3 minutes the 19lb fish was netted and tagged.


The entire body and components of the Saltiga are anodized but it is still good practice to rinse off your reel to remove any traces of corrosive saltwater


Drag:  After spanking many Salmon in our field test two elements of this reel shone brighter than any other characteristics...this reel has plenty of power, and plenty of drag performance match. Daiwa drags are simply among the best in the business. The Saltiga we tested could generate near 20lbs of drag pressure right out of the box! That's phenomenal performance for a reel this size! Using an assortment of grease impregnated graphite drag washers keeps the Saltiga's drag running through the longest most stressing runs with consistent pressure. The adjustment of the drag is surprisingly fine for a saltwater reel and provides a wide range of control to prevent break offs while taking advantage of stretch free braided lines.


The Saltiga spanks Salmon in our field test with ease and can even be used for fishing big game like albacore tuna


Durability: Daiwa built this reel super tough and it shows. While the entire frame is seamless in construction the overall design of the reel prevents any unwanted contaminates to enter the guts of the operating parts. To ensure the reel looks and feels new long after initial use Daiwa anodized every component of the Saltiga so it could better resist corrosion. The open face construction allows this reel to fish just about any big game you feel fit to throw at it. When handling both tough fish and tough lines the Saltiga will not fail.



Daiwa Saltiga SA20 Ratings (?/10)

Construction/Quality Excellent materials and workmanship make the Saltiga an impressive entry into the saltwater market. I simply can't get over the detail in design! 10
Performance Performance is excellent across the board. Whether it is a solid consistent drag, or pure power the Saltiga will not let you down. The only down side is the sheer capacity if you love to fish traditional mono lines, but remember this reel was designed for braided and fused superlines 9
Price At a MSRP of 379.99 the Saltiga is slightly more expensive than the competition but right in line when you look at other premium offshore offerings 8
Features The Saltiga focuses on simplicity and solid design rather than packing a bunch of features into the reel, but still manages to incorporate a plethora of Daiwa technology into this package 8.5
Design (Ergonomics) Lightweight and compact this reel is stunning when it comes to ergonomics. A real pleasure to fish over extended periods 10
Application A good reel for many offshore applications and with more power than you expect for a reel this size you can be confident that the Saltiga can tackle big game 9

Total Score


Pluses and Minuses:

                 Plus                                    Minus

J Premium look and feel L Cost may be high for some anglers
J Light weight, compact design L Line capacity too small if you prefer fishing traditional mono lines
J Designed to handle superlines  
J Very smooth retrieve  
J Power, power, and more power!  
J Consistent drag performance  

Conclusion:  A great design and an unprecedented level of refinement in a saltwater reel made the Saltiga real pleasure to fish during our field test. The beefed up components, flawless drag, and immense muscle will make a believer out of anyone who is looking for a premium saltwater reel that is built to handle today's toughest new super lines. To me the Saltiga felt like a premium hand made reel backed by the technology and quality of a industry leader like Daiwa. While I have been fishing Shimano Calcutta's and Trinidad's as long as I can remember I now have a new favorite offshore reel when it comes to crunch time. If you are in the market for a premium offshore reel that has the beauty and brawn to match near any offshore big game the Saltiga should be right there on top your list. With such a robust offering it was an easy choice to make the Saltiga the very first ever saltwater reel to make it to our short list of Editor's Choice winners!


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