In this article, we’ll give you a crash course in casting reels and review some of the best baitcasting reels on the market.
You’ll get our top picks for the best casting reels, and we’ll examine all the factors you should think about when you’re shopping for a reel. There’s a breakdown of different reel shapes and sizes, a discussion of gear ratios and types of braking systems, and an overview of the materials that manufacturers use when building casting reels.
Before we get into our top picks, let's take a look at what advantages you get with a baitcasting reel.
Advantages of Baitcasting Reels
Baitcasting reels offer some serious advantages over spinning gear. While both kinds of reels have their place, there are some jobs that only a casting rig can handle. Baitcasters work well with heavy line, make long casts, and provide great power. Plus, unlike spinning reels, their design practically eliminates line twisting.
Baitcasting reels are also extremely versatile. While there is a handful of techniques that work slightly better with spinning gear, with a baitcaster in your hand, you can do almost any kind of fishing that you want. And that includes saltwater tactics! As we’ll discuss in-depth later, these powerful little fishing winches are as suitable for inshore, offshore, and surf fishing as they are for throwing crankbaits at your local pond.
Top 10 Best Baitcasting Reels
Daiwa Tatula Baitcasting Reel
Daiwa has a reputation for manufacturing some of the best fishing gear available, and their Tatula Baitcasting Reel is a great example of what they produce. It’s one of the best baitcasting reels under $150.
One of the very best Daiwa baitcasters, this compact reel has a durable aluminum frame and side plate that fit perfectly in the palm of your hand. A powerful drag system and oversized crank help you handle big fish in heavy cover, and Daiwa’s unique Magforce-Z cast control lets you easily adjust the reel for any bait or wind situation.
Thanks to its corrosion-resistance, the Tatula is as suited to saltwater as it is to freshwater. If you’ve been looking at all the inshore baitcasting reels on the market, things can get a little confusing. If you go with the Tatula Baitcasting Reel from Diawa, you won’t be sorry.
KastKing Royale Legend Low-Profile Baitcasting Reel
Our next reel could be nominated for the Best Budget Baitcaster Award if such a prize existed.
The KastKing Royale Legend Baitcaster is a compact reel that’s value-priced but has features you’d expect from a high-end reel. For one thing, it has no less than 11 bearings, so its operation is smooth as silk.
This reel’s fully adjustable centrifugal braking system provides superior cast control. It has a carbon fiber drag system that kicks in when you’re battling late surging lunkers. The KastKing Royale Legend Baitcasting Reel would be an excellent choice for almost any freshwater fishing technique that exists.
If you’re on the hunt for the best cheap baitcasting reel, you found it. The KastKing Royale Legend packs in a lot of value for your money.
For those reasons, we think the KastKing Royale is the best baitcasting reel under $100.
Penn Squall LevelWind
While the Penn Squall LevelWind could be used for surf fishing, it’s really more of a boat-rod reel. This reel is at its best when attached to a broom-stick stiff boat rod and battling huge deep-water game fish.
This level-wind bruiser is made to stand up in tough saltwater conditions. It features a powerful 4.9:1 (or 4.0:1) gear ratio. The aluminum spool can hold a lot of line, whether you choose braid or mono.
The construction is lightweight thanks to a graphite frame and side plates. The machined, high-strength main gear is made from a marine-grade bronze alloy. This rugged saltwater baitcaster features a high strength stainless steel pinion gear that gives it a remarkably smooth feel.
Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Catfish Special
Abu Garcia makes some cool baitcasters, and one of the best Abu Garcia baitcaster models is the Ambassadeur Catfish Special. This round-profile reel provides fishermen with a high-performance reel that was designed specifically for catfish fishing.
Featuring 3 stainless-steel ball bearings and 1 roller bearing, the Catfish Special has a smooth operation and its carbon drag system brings the firm, constant pressure you need when a fighting fish makes one last lunge. A 6-pin centrifugal brake system means controlled casting, and the extended crank handle gives you additional torque and power.
If your main thing is catfishing, the Ambassadeur Catfish Special Baitcast Reel would be an excellent addition to your tackle collection.
Pair this reel with your best catfish rod and you have a recipe that is hard to beat.
13 Fishing Concept A Baitcasting Reel
We’ve looked at some top-rated baitcasting reels, but most of them sit in the low- to mid-price range. For anyone looking for high-end baitcasting reels, we wanted to suggest the Concept A Baitcast Reel from the guys at 13 Fishing.
The Concept A may be the best baitcasting reel under $200. It’s one of the lightest baitcasting reels available, weighing just 6.8 oz, thanks to its aluminum chassis. And the reel’s streamlined design not only makes it sit very low on your rod but also lets it fit perfectly in the palm of your hand.
Featuring a 6-bearings system, the Concept A has a silky-smooth feel when you crank the handle. And speaking of handles, this reel sports an oversized one that’s capped with two, easy-to-grab, cork grips.
If you’re OK with spending a little more money on a casting reel, it could be hard to pass up the Concept A Casting Reel from 13 Fishing. It’s not the most expensive baitcaster in the world, but it does come at a higher price than our other suggestions.
Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Blue Yonder
The Ambassadeur Blue Yonder reel from Abu Garcia is a prime example of what a surfcasting reel should be. It’s simple to operate, casts a mile, and has the power to handle huge fish.
In the past, you may have used spinning reels for surf fishing. It’s a very common practice. But if you try this surfcasting reel, you may never go back to spinning equipment.
Spinning gear causes spool- and guide-drag that slows down the line during a cast. It will blow your mind how eliminating that drag can increase your casting distance.
The best saltwater baitcasters feature an open frame for easy line access, and the Blue Yonder is no exception. It also has 2 stainless-steel ball bearings and 1 roller bearing, plus an advanced brake system. An extended handle gives you increased torque, and the carbon drag system delivers solid resistance across a wide range of settings.
Okuma Cold Water Linecounter Baitcasting Reel
If you fish in the icy waters where giant salmon, steelhead, and walleye roam, the Okuma Cold Water Linecounter Trolling Reel is a product you’ll want to get a closer look at.
It’s engineered with a powerful, multi-disk carbonite drag system and machine-cut brass pinion gears. The line counter is easy to read; you’ll always know exactly how much line is out. What’s more, Okuma builds reels with what they call their Mechanical Stabilizing System—it provides unsurpassed durability and ensures permanent alignment of the gears and shafts.
When you’re trolling for large, northern species, you need a precision casting reel that will keep you in control of your lure. The Okuma Cold Water Linecounter Trolling Reel is the perfect tool for the job.
KastKing Speed Demon Baitcasting Reel
When you’re slinging spinnerbaits or some other search bait, it’s almost impossible to reel the bait too fast. Fish in a chasing mood will be able to keep up! It’s all about covering as much water as you can, and to do that, you need a super-high-speed reel. According to KastKing, the Speed Demon is actually the fastest baitcaster in the world.
Enter the KastKing Speed Demon. If you want a fast reel, this is, very possibly, the best baitcaster for the money. With a blazing 9.3:1 gear ratio, the Speed Demon takes up line like crazy!
Even with all that speed, the KastKing Speed Demon provides ultra-smooth operation. A staggering 12 ball bearings and 1 roller bearing ensure effortless casting. Powerful brass gears and a 3-disc carbon fiber drag system helps you handle big fish with ease. Rounding out the feature list of this awesome reel is an easy-to-adjust magnetic brake system that lets you set up the reel for any lure weight or wind conditions.
When it’s time to burn a spinnerbait or lipless crankbait in search for roaming fish, you can’t go wrong with the KastKing Speed Demon. It’s awesome in freshwater but considering the similar search tactics you perform in saltwater fishing; the Speed Demon would make a darn good inshore baitcaster too.
Quantum Accurist PT Baitcasting Reel
The Quantum Accurist PT Baitcast Reel is one of the best flipping reels on the market. If you want to do a lot of worming and jigging for bass, this reel would be a fantastic choice.
The PT stands for “Performance Tuned”, and they mean it. The Accurist PT reel is designed with an internal ACS centrifugal braking system that allows you to adjust your reel to handle any size bait and operate perfectly in any wind conditions. It features a compact aluminum housing, a titanium-nitride line guide, and 7 bearings.
One of the best things about this reel is the flipping switch. When flipping and pitching, if a fish hits your lure on the fall, you’ll want a fast hook set. The flipping switch helps with that. When it’s engaged, and the thumb bar is depressed, the reel is still in free spool mode. As soon as you lift your thumb off the bar, the reel engages. This keeps you from having to switch hands and crank the reel to engage it. If you’re flipping or pitching, that split-second difference matters.
Shimano Corvalus Round Baitcasting Reel
The Corvalus casting reel may be the best Shimano baitcaster ever. Its one-piece, diecast, aluminum frame gives it a substantial feel in the hand.
Shimano’s unique Variable Braking System makes fine-tuning for different lure sizes easy, so this reel is ready to perform in every situation.
The Corvalus features a 5.2:1 gear ratio that’s absolutely ideal for crankbait fishing.
If you’re looking for a high-quality reel that features some of the most advanced engineering that the tackle industry has to offer, consider choosing the Shimano Corvalus as your next casting reel.
What Makes a Good Baitcasting Reel?
A “good baitcasting reel” is one that is suited to the type of fishing you’re doing.
OK…I guess there’s more to it than that.
There are some makers who try to reduce costs so much that quality suffers. A reel from one of those manufacturers can’t be considered “good.” This is the last time we’ll discuss these ultra-low-end reels, as products with quality issues didn’t make the cut for our baitcasting reel reviews.
So, back to the idea that a good baitcaster must be suited to the type of fishing you’re doing.
In this article, you’re going to see a wide range of reels, with different shapes, sizes, and features. Some reels will be right for surf fishing, while others will not. You’ll see reels that could be used with a boat rod when deep-sea fishing, but most reels we cover aren’t even close to big enough for that kind of fishing.
The reality is, you’re going to have to think about what kind of fishing you’ll do before you can select the right baitcasting reel.
In some cases, you’ll be locked into a very specific type of reel, but, luckily, there’s a large class of casting reels that’s extremely versatile. In the standard low-profile configuration that most of us picture, a baitcasting reel can be used in almost any fishing scenario you can imagine, whether it’s freshwater or saltwater.
Many bass fishing techniques are most effective if you use baitcasting tackle, including fishing with jigs, plastic worms, and crankbaits. Because variation on those bass techniques can be just as effective when fishing in saltwater, baitcasters are somewhat of a universal fishing tool. A typical low-profile baitcaster is just as good at presenting a weedless bass jig in your local lake as it is at bouncing a spec rig along the sandy edge of an inshore grass line.
When deciding on the right reel, go as technique-specific as you have to, but also take advantage of the universality of a standard baitcaster.
Buying Considerations for Baitcasters
This section delves into all the factors you should consider when looking for the best baitcasting reel for the money and explains the criteria we used in coming up with our recommendations.
It discusses reel profile and line capacity. It examines how a reel’s gear ratio, drag, and braking system can impact performance.
There’s also a discussion of the materials that reel makers use to construct their best casting reels.
A baitcaster’s profile has an impact on gear ratio, line capacity, and the way you grip the reel. It also tends to dictate whether certain features (like a flipping switch) will be present, but that’s more a matter of convention than anything related to the actual reel shape.
There are two basic reel shapes:
- low-profile reels.
- round reels.
A low-profile reel is “palmable,” and millions of fishermen (especially bass fishermen) naturally hold the reel in their hand the whole time they’re cranking the handle. It makes the entire rig feel balanced—it just feels right.
But round-shaped reels have their benefits. If you need a reel with an ultra-low gear ratio, you’re more likely to find that in a round reel. Their shape allows for more torquey ratios—as low as 4.0:1. That makes them better for handling big baits and heavy fish.
You’ll also want to lean toward a round reel if you need a huge line capacity. Round baitcasting reels tend to hold more line, and you’ll need that if you’re going after big game fish, trolling, or fishing at extreme depths.
As you can see, many round-reel features are there for specialized techniques that are used less commonly. If you’re fishing style calls for a round reel, get one, but if you’re like many of us, slinging normal-sized baits at average-size fish, you’ll get more out of a low-profile reel.
A reel’s line capacity is one thing you may not have to worry about if you’re only going to be fishing for freshwater species using conventional techniques. That doesn’t mean it’s not important, as there are plenty of people who will be trolling or targeting huge fish like musky and salmon—for them, line capacity is very important.
Typically, reels with the highest line capacity are round models. Low-profile reels feature smaller spools, so they have lower line capacity.
Back to the average fisherman for a second. If you’ll be casting standard baits (in fresh or saltwater) and catching typical game fish, you’ll probably be using a low-profile reel, and you’ll rarely cast out more than the top third of the spool. In that case, you can basically ignore line capacity when selecting a reel, instead focusing on the reel’s external size and shape.
So, who should be concerned about their reel’s line capacity?
Anyone who is trolling or fishing very deep. You can get pretty far into the spool in those scenarios. If a fish hits with all that line out and then starts pulling drag, you may need every inch of the line that your reel can hold!
Gear ratios make more sense if you know what the numbers mean.
Let’s take a reel with a 6.3:1 gear ratio, for example.
The first number, 6.3, represents the number of rotations the spool makes for every full turn of the handle. That ‘full turn of the handle’ is where the second number comes in—it’s “1” full turn of the reel’s crank.
We chose 6.3:1 as our example because it’s an extremely common gear ratio. You can think of 6.3:1 as the baseline—anything lower is a slow, high-torque reel; anything with a higher ratio is a burner.
So, when should you use a reel with an especially low gear ratio?
Fishing with a large-lipped crankbait can be tiring if you’re holding the wrong reel. Crankbaits like that displace so much water, the resistance as you reel is extreme. Not to mention, if you don’t have a proper crankbait rod, things will be tough. Using a high-speed reel will wear you out, whereas a low-ratio torque machine will let you fish that big crankbait all day long.
What about techniques that call for a high gear ratio?
Throwing spinnerbaits or any other type of search bait is a good time to choose a high-ratio reel. If you’re cranking a reel with a 7.3:1 gear ratio, you’ll be able to cover a huge amount of water in a very short time.
A casting reel’s drag system is a critical component. Its purpose is to help tire out a fish while you’re fighting it.
When a fish runs, it may pull so hard that, with no drag at all, one of three things would have to happen: you move with the fish, the fish pulls your rod into the water, or you disengage the reel to let line out.
Of these three options, the last is best, but letting line out with no resistance would simply let the fish swim as far away from you as possible.
By employing a drag system, a casting reel can put smooth and steady resistance on a running fish. They can pull line, but it’s hard work, and eventually, the fish turns around and you can start cranking him in again.
The drag is adjusted using a star-shaped knob located next to the crank handle. (Some reels have lever instead.) Drag systems consist of a series of washers and discs, with the discs typically being made of carbon, graphite, or ceramic. These materials expand and dissipate heat in a predictable way, and manufacturers have figured out how to set them up, so you’ll have fine control over the reel’s drag resistance.
It’s smart to adjust your drag to a moderate to heavy setting before your first cast, then fine-tune the resistance when you get a fish on.
A casting reel’s braking system is, from an engineering standpoint, one of the more sophisticated elements of the reel. It’s capable of dynamically slowing down the spool speed during your cast to help you avoid backlashes and overruns.
The braking system should not be confused with the reel’s spool tension control, which simply manages how much tension is on the spool when it’s disengaged.
When shopping for reels, if they have a braking system, it will be one of two types, centrifugal or magnetic.
The former uses centrifugal force to move a set of tiny weights to the outer end of the pins they slide on. This slows the spool just the right amount at the start of the cast. That’s when spool RPM is the highest and those dreaded backlashes and overruns can occur. Magnetic braking is not quite as dynamic, but it’s still effective. It uses magnets to control spool speed during the entire cast.
Braking systems are kind of a nice-to-have feature. Almost all low-profile reels have one, but you’ll find larger reels and many round-shaped reels that do not include the feature. If your reel doesn’t have a braking system, it simply means that to steer clear of backlashes and overruns, you’ll need to get good at adjusting the spool tension and develop the right ‘touch’ when making a cast.
Some of the most important elements of a casting reel pertain to the engineering that went into its design and construction. This section drills down into some of the most important aspects of a reel's engineering.
- Spool Tension - A reel’s spool tension control manages how much tension is on the spool when it’s disengaged. You can adjust it using a small knob on the side of the reel. A tighter setting puts more tension on the spool, a looser one allows the spool to turn more freely. It’s a basic feature, but it needs to work right, so you’ll want to check out the operation of the spool tension setting on any reel you’re considering.
- Bearings - The specs of a casting reel always include the number of bearings. A good rule of thumb is, the more bearings a reel has, the smoother it will feel when you crank it. Bearings can be made from steel or ceramic. Most reels include ball bearings for smooth spool rotation and roller bearings for the handle; roller bearings can better manage the stress that occurs when you’re reeling in a fish. There will also usually be an anti-reverse bearing of some type that keeps the spool from rotating backward while it’s engaged.
- Flipping Switch - Not all reels will have a flipping switch. In fact, you’ll probably only see this feature on low-profile reels. When you’re going to use a reel for flipping and pitching, you need to be able to execute a fast hookset if a fish hits your lure on the fall. With the flipping switch engaged and the thumb bar depressed, the reel is still in free spool mode, but the second you lift your thumb, the reel engages. That means you won’t have to switch hands and turn the crank in order to engage the reel, and when flipping and pitching, that fraction of a second counts.
- Frame - The material used to make the frame of your reel matters a lot. It can greatly impact the reel’s weight and strength. The frame will be machined or die-cast and they are typically made of graphite or aluminum. More expensive reels will have a frame that was machined from a single piece of aluminum, resulting in a more rigid construction than lower-end reels made of graphite.
- Handle and Grips—The handles on more expensive reels are usually made from carbon fiber or graphite, both of which are very light and strong. Value-priced reels will typically have a handle that’s constructed of cast aluminum, which won’t feel quite as nice. The grips at the ends of the handle are usually made from rubber, EVA, or cork.
Also read: A Guide To Various Reel Types
Manufacturers put a lot of research and development into improving their products every year. As you’ll see when you check out some of the reel prices, they expect us to pay for that R&D.
For some tackle components, the manufacturing techniques are so refined that you can get really high-end stuff for moderately low prices. Fishing rods are a good example of that, but reels are not. That may change over time, but for now, when shopping for a casting reel, you’ll get what you pay for.
The things that separate a high-end reel from a low-end reel are not necessarily nice-to-have features, but rather, they are super-fine-tuned implementations of basic reel functionality. A more expensive reel will seem smoother when you turn the crank. Engaging and disengaging the reel will provide a solid mechanical feel. The drag and braking systems of an expensive reel will be better than those of lower-cost reels.
Anyway, even if you spend a little more on your casting reel than you expected, you’ll get over it the first time you hit the water, because the enhanced performance will be very noticeable. The main advice we have regarding price is, go with a mid- to high-end reel; avoid ultra-low-end reels.
Baitcasting Reel Selection Solved
We know it can be hard to understand all the factors you should consider when selecting the best baitcaster reel. It is our sincere hope that this article helped clear up any confusion you may have had.
When picking a casting reel, as with so many things, you really have to do some soul-searching to come up with the right decision.
First, settle on the kind of fishing you plan to do with the reel. If it’s basically one tactic, choose a reel that is specifically designed for that tactic. On the other hand, if you want the reel to be able to perform in a wide variety of fishing scenarios, there are some really versatile options for you to choose from.
If you seriously consider what you need the reel to do, you’ll be able to find the best baitcasting reel for you.
Also check out our selection of top-rated casting rods to pair with your next reel.