Best Baitcasting Fishing 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.

When you start seeing all the really good baitcasters that are available, you may be overwhelmed. There are a ton of different sizes and shapes, features you may not have heard of, and a pretty big price range. That can make it hard to work your way through all the options and decide on a reel to purchase.

In this article, we’ll give you a crash course in casting reels and review some of the best rated 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.

If you’re in a rush and would rather jump straight to our suggestions on which reel to buy, there’s a quick-and-easy reference that matches some top baitcasting reels with specific fishing scenarios. Check out our Baitcasting Reel Cheat Sheet to get a fast recommendation on the best baitcaster to buy.

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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 manufactures 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 in to 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.

Baitcasting Reel Cheat Sheet

This section provides a shortcut to reel selection. You’ll see references to reel profile, line capacity, and gear ratio—if you want details about those factors, by all means, check out the topics in our Buying Considerations section.

But the whole point of this cheat sheet is to save you time, so you can find the best baitcaster without doing a lot of reading. Even if you don’t fully understand all the factors, you can be sure that we’ve weighed them heavily when matching up these reels with applicable scenarios.

If you’re fishing for…The best type of baitcasting reel is…Example
Bass using jigs or plastic worms
  • Profile: Low-profile
  • Line Capacity: Braid 170/30, Mono 132/12
  • Gear Ratio: 6.3:1
  • Features: Flipping switch
Quantum Accurist PT Baitcast Reel
Catfish using cut or live bait
  • Profile: Round
  • Line Capacity: Braid 185/30, Mono 165/12
  • Gear Ratio: 6.3:1
  • Features: Strong drag, good braking system
Ambassadeur Catfish Special
Bass using a crankbait
  • Profile: Round
  • Line Capacity: Braid 310/30, Mono 240/12
  • Gear Ratio: 5.2:1
  • Features: Major torque
Shimano Corvalus
Bass using a spinnerbait
  • Profile: Round
  • Line Capacity: Braid 295/30, Mono 160/12
  • Gear Ratio: 9.3:1
  • Features: Fast retrieve, good distance
KastKing Speed Demon
Speckled trout using plastic shrimp tails
  • Profile: Low-profile
  • Line Capacity: Braid 165/30, Mono 110/12
  • Gear Ratio: 6.3:1
  • Features: Saltwater ready
Daiwa Tatula Baitcasting Reel
Bluefish in the surf
  • Profile: Round
  • Line Capacity: Braid 420/50, Mono 250/20
  • Gear Ratio: 6.3:1
  • Features: Advanced brake system, Open frame

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Blue Yonder
Tuna offshore
  • Profile: Round
  • Line Capacity: Braid 900/65, Mono 320/50
  • Gear Ratio: 4.0:1
  • Features: Strong drag, winch-like power
Penn Squall LevelMind
Walley, trolling
  • Profile: Round
  • Line Capacity: Braid 320/30, Mono 290/12
  • Gear Ratio: 5.1:1
  • Features: Line counter, large capacity
Okuma Cold Water Linecounter Trolling Reel

We couldn’t cover every fishing scenario here, but we hope this chart gives you a good sense for which casting reels work best in typical fishing situations. You may notice a reel suggestion for a technique that’s similar to what you do, but not an exact match; in that case, it’s a safe assumption that the reel would be a good choice for your purposes.

Top Picks Overview

In this section, you’ll find a quick overview of some of the top bait casting reels on the market.
Each reel is also described as part of our bait casting reel reviews that appear later in this article.

 ProductOur RatingPrice
Daiwa Tatula Baitcasting ReelDaiwa Tatula
Check Best Price
Penn Squall LevelWindPenn Squall LevelWind
Check Best Price
Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Catfish Special C3 ReelAbu Garcia Ambassadeur
Catfish Special
Check Best Price
KastKing Royale Legend Low-Profile BaitcasterKingKast Royale Legend
Check Best Price
13 Fishing Concept A Baitcast Fishing Reel13 Fishing Concept A
Check Best Price
Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Blue YonderAbu Garcia Ambassadeur
Blue Yonder
Check Best Price
Okuma Cold Water Linecounter Trolling ReelOkuma Cold Water Linecounter
Check Best Price
KastKing Speed Demon - Worlds fastest baitcasterKastKing Speed Demon
Check Best Price
Quantum Accurist PT Baitcast ReelQuantum Accurist PT
Check Best Price
Shimano Corvalus Round BaitcasterShimano Corvalus
Check Best Price

Top 10 Batcasting Reels Reviewed

This section contains our top picks for high-quality baitcasting reels of many different types.
If you’re in the market for a casting reel that’s perfect for your style of fishing, check out these baitcast reel reviews.


Daiwa Tatula Baitcasting Reel

Daiwa Tatula Baitcasting ReelDaiwa 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 reel 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.

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.

Our rating: 4.7/5


  • Corrosion-resistant clutch mechanism
  • T-Wing System
  • Infinite anti-reverse functionality
  • Rugged & super lightweight aluminum frame and side plate
  • Magforce-Z cast control
  • I-Shape handle knob for firm grip
  • 5.4:1, 6.3:1& 7.3:1 gear ratio options
  • 7 ball bearings plus roller bearing
  • Ultimate Tournament Carbon Drag (UTD) with 13.2 lbs Drag Max
  • Large 90mm swept power handle with cutouts
Models Overview
BearingsGear RatioLine Per
Handle Turn
Line CapacityDrag
5BB, 1RB
6.3:126.3″7.6Mono: 14/120, 16/100
Braid: 40/140, 55/105
5BB, 1RB
6.3:126.3″7.6Mono: 14/120, 16/100
Braid: 40/140, 55/105
5BB, 1RB
8.1:133.9″7.6Mono: 14/120, 16/100
Braid: 40/140, 55/105
5BB, 1RB
8.1:133.97.6Mono: 14/120, 16/100
Braid: 40/140, 55/105
BearingsGear RatioLine Per
Handle Turn
Line CapacityDrag
TATULA-100PM / L7BB, 1RB5.4:122.9″7.9Mono: 14/120, 16/100
Braid: 40/140, 55/105
TATULA-100HM / L7BB, 1RB6.3:126.3″7.9Mono: 14/120, 16/100
Braid: 40/140, 55/105
TATULA-100HLM / L7BB, 1RB6.3:126.3″7.9Mono: 14/120, 16/100
Braid: 40/140, 55/105
TATULA-100HSM / L7BB, 1RB7.3:130.5″7.9Mono: 14/120, 16/100
Braid: 40/140, 55/105
TATULA-100HSLM / L7BB, 1RB7.3:130.5″7.9Mono: 14/120, 16/100
Braid: 40/140, 55/105



Penn Squall LevelWind

Penn Squall LevelWindWhile 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 marine-grade bronze alloy. This rugged saltwater baitcaster features a high strength stainless-steel pinion gear that gives it a remarkably smooth feel.

Our rating: 4.6/5


  • Lightweight graphite frame & side plates
  • Marine grade bronze alloy high-strength main gear
  • High-strength stainless steel pinion gear provides a smooth experience
  • HT-100 drag washers
  • Highly sturdy mechanical braking system
  • 2+1 shielded stainless steel bearing system with instant anti-reverse functionality
  • Switchblade lugs on the SQL50LW model
Models Overview
ModelMono Cap (YD/LB)Braid Cap (YD/LB)BearingsMax DragGear RatioRetrieve RateWeightPosition
SQL15LW320/15 280/17 220/20580/20 435/30 305/50315 lbs4.9:128″ / 71cm16.2 ozRight
SQL20LW415/17 315/20 290/25865/20 650/30 455/50315 lbs4.9:128″ / 71cm16.9 ozRight
SQL20LWLH415/17 315/20 290/25865/20 650/30 455/50315 lbs4.9:128″ / 71cm16.9 ozLeft
SQL20LWLC415/17 315/20 290/25865/20 650/30 455/50315 lbs4.9:128″ / 71cm17.8 ozRight
SQL30LW455/25 370/30 285/401020/30 710/50 590/65320 lbs4.9:135″ / 89cm20.9 ozRight
SQL30LWLH455/25 370/30 285/401020/30 710/50 590/65320 lbs4.9:135″ / 89cm20.9 ozLeft
SQL50LW435/40 320/50 285/60900/65 775/80 665/100320 lbs4.0:132″ / 81cm24.6 ozRight
Demonstration Video


Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Catfish Special

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Catfish Special C3 ReelAbu 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 you’re main thing is catfishing, the Ambassadeur Catfish Special Baitcast Reel would be an excellent addition to your tackle collection.

Pair this reel with a proper catfish rod and you have a recipe that is hard to beat.

Our rating: 4.4/5


  • Cutting edge Carbon Matrix drag system for smooth drag
  • Extended bent handle for increased power
  • 6-pin centrifugal braking system
  • Synchronized level wind system
  • Sturdy aluminum reel spool
  • Star drag
  • Instant anti-reverse feature
  • Reel handle positioned right
Models Overview
ModelGear RatioRetreive RateBearingsBraid CapMono CapMax DragWeight
C3-65005.3:126″ / 66cm3BB + 1 RB310/30320/1215 lbs11.6 oz
C3-70004.1:122″ / 56cm2BB + 1 RB420/40250/2020 lbs21.5 oz
Demonstration Video


KingKast Royale Legend Low-Profile Baitcaster

KastKing Royale Legend Low-Profile BaitcasterOur 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.

Our rating: 4.3/5


The KingKast Royale Legend reel is available in two models. The KK-RS1000HL is for left-handed use while the KK-RS1000H is for right-handed use.

  • Ball Bearings: 11+1
  • Gear Ratio: 7.0:1
  • Drag Power: 17.6 lbs
  • Weight: 7.51 oz
  • Line Capacity (LB/YDs): 10/200, 12/165, 14/120
  • Line Capacity (mm/m): 0.26/180, 0.28/150, 0.30/110
  • Inches Per Turn: 31.5
  • Color anodized aluminum forged multi-ported whiffle-style spool results in incredible strength at a reduced weight.
  • State-of-the-art specialized dual brakes with a centrifugal and magnetic braking system offers complete casting control.
  • 4-disc carbon fiber drag
  • Precision brass gears
Demonstration Video


13 Fishing Concept A Baitcast Fishing Reel

13 Fishing Concept A Baitcast Fishing 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.

Our rating: 4.3/5


  • Ultra lightweight reel weighing in at 6.8 ounces
  • Geared with an oversized handle that will give you an advantage when battling big fish
  • Arrowhead line guide system automatically levels the spool when casting and retrieving
  • 22-lb bulldog drag system ensures the reel won’t slip or release any line under any circumstances
Models Overview
ModelRetrieveGear RatioWeightBearingsLine Cap. (Test/Yd.)
A5.3-RHRight5.3:16.8 oz(3AC+3SS) + 1RB12/100
A6.6-LHLeft6.6:16.8 oz(3AC+3SS) + 1RB12/100
A6.6-RHRight6.6:16.8 oz(3AC+3SS) + 1RB12/100
A7.3-LHLeft7.3:16.8 oz(3AC+3SS) + 1RB12/100
A7.3-RHRight7.3:16.8 oz(3AC+3SS) + 1RB12/100
A8.1-LHLeft8.1:16.8 oz(3AC+3SS) + 1RB12/100
A8.1-RHRight8.1:16.8 oz(3AC+3SS) + 1RB12/100


Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Blue Yonder

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Blue YonderThe Ambassadeur Blue Yonder reel from Abu Garcia is a prime example of what a surf casting 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 surf casting 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.

Our rating: 4.1/5


  • Incredibly smooth aluminum reel spool
  • Carbon fiber drag material
  • Instant anti-reverse bearing for protection
  • Star drag functionality
  • Highly efficient MagTrax magnetic braking system
  • Carbon Matrix drag system for consistency
  • Duragear brass gear for durability
ModelGear RatioRetreive RateWeightLine CapMax Drag
BY-65006.3:130″ / 76cm12.2 ozBraid: 310/30
Mono: 275/14
15 lbs
BY-70005.3:128″ / 71cm19.5 ozBraid: 515/30,
420/40, 360/50
Mono: 325/17,
250/20, 230/25
20 lbs


Okuma Cold Water Linecounter Trolling Reel

Okuma Cold Water Linecounter Trolling ReelIf 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.

Our rating: 4.1/5


  • Lightweight corrosion resistant side-plates and frame
  • 2BB + 1RB stainless steel bearings
  • Speed lock pinion gear system
  • 1-year limited warranty
  • Multi-Disc carbonite drag system
  • Self-lubricating gearing system
  • Racheting star drag system
  • Clear View Technology anti-fogging line counter for easy overview
  • XL machine cut brass crive and pinion gears
  • Mechanial and roller bearing anti-reverse functionality
  • Wide Mouth Levelwind
  • Mechanical Stabilizing System
Models Overview
ModelGear ratioBearingsWeight (g)Line retrieve(cm)Max drag force(kg)Mono line capacity (mm)
Right Handed Linecounter Reels
CW-153D5.1:12BB+1RB41458.460.35/220, 0.40/170, 0.45/130
CW-203D5.1:12BB+1RB42558.460.35/270, 0.40/210, 0.45/150
CW-303D4.2:12BB+1RB56761.070.40/420, 0.45/320, 0.50/260
CW-453D4.2:12BB+1RB61866.070.45/450, 0.50/360, 0.55/300
Left Handed Linecounter Reels
CW-153DLX5.1:12BB+1RB41458.460.35/220, 0.40/170, 0.45/130
CW-203DLX5.1:12BB+1RB42558.460.35/270, 0.40/210, 0.45/150
CW-303DLX4.2:12BB+1RB56761.070.40/420, 0.45/320, 0.50/260
Demonstration Video


KastKing Speed Demon Baitcaster

KastKing Speed Demon - Worlds fastest baitcasterWhen 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.

Our rating: 4.0/5


Available in two identical versions – KK-Speed Demon-L for lefties and KK-Speed Demon-R for right-handed people.

  • Ball Bearings: 12+1
  • Gear Ratio: 9.3:1
  • Drag Power: 13.2 lbs
  • Weight: 8.3 oz
  • Line Capacity: 12/160, 14/140
  • Inches Per Turn: 37.4 / 95cm
  • The 12 + 1 MaxiDur shielded ball bearings provide an ultra smooth casting and retrieving experience.
  • High-quality 3-disc carbon fiber star drag system with 13.2 lbs power lets you catch big game fish.
  • Trilateral magnetic braking system provides total control
  • Cross-drilled aluminum spool eliminates backlashing
  • Incredibly fast retrieval speed of 37.4″ per handle turn
  • Sure grip flat paddle EVA knobs
  • High-torque 115 mm handle
  • Powerful brass gears
Demonstration Video


Quantum Accurist PT Baitcast Reel

Quantum Accurist PT Baitcast ReelThe 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 hookset. 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.

Our rating: 4.0/5


  • Gear ratio: 7.0:1
  • Weight: 8.2 ounces
  • Line capacity: 12 lbs / 125 yards
  • Bearings: 6BB + 1 RB
  • Inches per turn: 28″
  • Max drag: 16 lbs
  • Ceramic drag system.
  • Quick-release side cover.
  • Polymer-stainless hybrid PT bearings.
  • Geared with a flipping switch.
  • ACS™ external adjustable centrifugal braking.
  • Continuous Anti-Reverse™.
  • One-piece aluminum frame.
  • Super light aluminum crank handle.
  • MaxCast™ skeletal spool.
  • Strong multi-coated finish.


Shimano Corvalus Round Baitcaster

Shimano Corvalus Round BaitcasterThe 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.

Our rating: 3.8/5


ModelPowerpro Line CapMono Line CapWeight (Oz)Line RetrievalGear RatioMax Drag (Lb)

Buying Considerations: 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 ultra-low gear ratio, you’re more likely to find that in a round reel. Their shape allows for more torque-y 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.

Line Capacity

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.

Pro Tip

If you’re the average fisherman described in the preceding paragraph, you may want to invest in some backing line—it’s a low-cost nylon line that takes up space on the reel. That saves you money! When you spool up with that expensive premium fluorocarbon line, you won’t have to use as much to fill your reel.

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 line that your reel can hold!

Gear Ratio

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.


Baitcasting Reel Parts

Some of the most important elements of a casting reel pertain to the engineering that went into it’s design and construction. This section drills down into some of the most important aspects of a reels 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.


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.

This doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to get a quality baitcasting reel. Many mid-range offerings are very good baitcasting reels. One example that didn’t make it into our reviews is the Lews Fishing American Heroes Speed Spool Reel. With a one-piece, graphite composite frame and 5 stainless-steel bearings, it’s probably the best Lews baitcaster if you’re looking for a great reel at an affordable price.

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 baitcast reel for you.

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