Angling for catfish is great fun. These whiskered fish range in weight from less than a pound to over 500 pounds, and are found in freshwater all over the world. Additionally, two types of saltwater catfish can be found off the southeastern coast of the United States. Catfish are strong and fight hard when hooked. These bottom-feeding fish are quick to grab a bait and resist the line pull. When purchasing a reel for catfishing, look for one with a strong drag system, larger line capacity, and higher gear ratio.
10 Best Catfish Reels: Quick Picks
There are hundreds of catfishing reels on the market today. Our pick for the best bargain catfish reel is the Sougayilang Round Baitcasting reel. Even the though price is less than $50, this reel has a dependable 22 pound carbon matrix drag system and 6 sealed stainless steel ball bearings for smooth operation.
Some people just don’t like baitcasting reels for catfish. In that case, you want a high quality spin cast reel that can handle the fight. Kastking’s Megatron is the perfect spinning reel for catfishing. With the highest gear ratio on the market and a durable 30 pound carbon drag, this reel is meant to fight big fish and win. Its affordable price tag of just under $60 makes it the best catfish spinning reel on the market.
The Abu Garcia Ambassadeur is our choice for the best catfish reel. With a synchronized level wind system and the ability to hold large quantities of heavier line, this reel is perfect for serious catfish anglers. This reel is pricey at $260, but well worth the money.
Best Catfish Reels: Full Reviews
Abu Garcia is a trusted brand in fishing gear, and this reel meets their quality standards. The Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Catfish reel 6500 is manufactured in Sweden from an exceptional design, similar to Abu Garcia reels over the last 50 years. The reel housing is made of durable aluminum and features a large handle with a star design drag, so it is comfortable in your hand and easy to adjust on the fly. Features such as an automatic anti reverse system, sealed ball bearings, and a six pin centrifugal braking system keep the fish on the line after you set the hook. The high gear ratio lets you retrieve the fish fast.
- 4 stainless steel ball bearings plus 1 roller bearing
- Efficient carbon matrix drag system
- Synchronized level wind system
There is a reason our list has more than one KastKing catfish reel listed. KastKing, the company originally known for high quality, low cost spinning reels also offers a line of affordable baitcast reels. Their Rover catfishing reel is perfect for having fun with little channel catfish or going after a big blue. Kastking’s carbon fiber drag system and super hard anodized steel plates, this catfish reel is designed to take a beating and still perform beautifully every time. Whether you are trolling or bottom fishing, the 6 + 1 stainless steel bearings off smooth performance.
- Aluminum body with anodized steel side plates and handle
- Superior line capacity for braided or monofilament
- Designed for freshwater fishing or saltwater fishing
Yes, Abu Garcia has a second reel in the top 10. No matter what kind of fishing techniques you use, they really do have a reel for everything. This C3 Catfish special is not as much of a workhorse as the Ambassadeur, but it can certainly hold its weight against big catfish. Enclosed stainless steel ball bearings, a stainless steel worm gear, and a carbon matrix drag system make this a high quality reel at an affordable price.
- 3 stainless steel ball bearings and 1 roller gear
- Bait clicker feature
- Extended bent handle for comfort and ease of use.
The Catfish Sumo is a big reel made by a small company, but it performs as well as the big names. This catfish baitcasting reel has a 5.3:1 gear ratio with a center brake and spindle brake to prevent tangles and backlash. A line out bait clicker alerts you to a nibble and the 6 & 1 ball bearings mean smooth retrieval. This one is sure to become a favorite of catfish anglers over time.
- line out bait clicker
- carbon disk drag system
- designed for fresh or salt water
Our third pick is from Catfish Pro. That name alone tells you this reel was made to catch catfish. With brass gears and a multi disc drag system, this reel was designed to catch big fish.
- 5.3.1 gear ratio
- line out bait clicker
- oversized, comfortable handles
The Okuma company offers baitcasting reels in a number of models. The Solterra SLX 3011 has the added option of being able to switch from high gear for fast retrieval to low gear ratio for added torque when you need to reel in the big catfish. High quality stainless steel main gears, pinions, and worm stand up to use. The reel has a corrosion resistant frame for use in freshwater or saltwater. This reel has a carbonite drag system with universal grease.
- 5BB+2TB+RB stainless steel shielded bearings 10/15 models
- Dual anti-reverse system
- bait clicker with on/off features
With a very affordable price of under $50, the Sougayilang round reel has the look and feel of a conventional reel. The reel has a synchronized level wind line lay system for even spooling. The line out bait clicker can be turned on or off as needed. The wide reel is designed to handle heavier line, up to 250 yds of 16 pound braid.
- 22 pound carbon drag system
- thumb bar spool release
- oversized handle with non slip grips
The last three reels in our top 10 list are spinning reels for catfish. While spinning reels generally have a lower line capacity than baitcast reels, many people prefer them because they offer many options for fishing techniques.
Our number one best spinning reel for catfish is the KastKing Megatron. With a total of eight double shielded ball bearings, the Megatron is the fastest reel on the market. The CNC aluminum alloy spool has a decent line capacity for a spinning reel, and will hold 300 yards of 20 pound monofilament fishing line. The reel weighs only 13 ounces due to its strong, aluminum alloy frame. A CNC gear system with a zinc main gear and brass pinion gear provide smooth action.
- 4.5:1 gear ratio
- reversible comfortable handle
- Outstanding price
If you are looking for a spin cast reel that can handle big fishing line and stand up to the toughest fish fight, this is it. This chunky, oversized reel is designed for reeling in big fish. It has a tournament ready carbon drag system and an anti-reverse setting. The BG reel has Digigear, Daiwa’s digitally engineered gear design for extra-large, extra tough drive and pinion gears.
- 5.6:1 gear ratio
- high capacity ABS braid ready spool
- 6 sealed ball bearings and 1 roller bearing
Saltwater fishing techniques were revolutionized when Penn started producing spincast reels, and this one stands up to the reputation. The attractive IPX5 body and spool are fully sealed to protect against corrosion from saltwater. CNC machined gears provide ultra smooth operation. The patented Live Liner system offers four different positions to gradually increase the drag, but easily puts it back in fighting mode with the flip of a switch.
- carbon fiber drag system
- all metal body and spool
- large capacity spools
Catfish Reel Buyer’s Guide
Reel type is mostly a personal choice. Some people prefer bait cast reels for bottom fishing or trolling, others would rather use spin cast reels. There are some instances where having the right fishing reels can make a big difference though. Deep water fishing and off shore trolling for large fish seem to be more effective with a big baitcast reel. For smaller bodies of water, a smaller baitcast reel or a great spin cast reel is all you need.
No matter which reel type you select, pair it with the right catfish rod. Pay attention to rod recommendations for line type and weight. Be sure any spin cast reels you buy can properly seat your catfish reels. It won’t do any good to have the best catfish reel you can buy if you mount it on an ultralight fishing rod. Most catfish species are strong, so go for the medium action, medium weight rod. Catfish spinning rods are available at many retailers. They offer the extra umph you need to pull in a big flathead catfish.
Gone are the days of pot metal reels that corrode and seize up. Today’s best catfish reels have lightweight aluminum or strong graphite bodies. This allows for a stronger, more lightweight reel. Don’t let the light weight fool you though. Graphite is one of the strongest composite materials available. Also, graphite reels are great for saltwater fishing because the salt won’t harm them.
No matter which material you choose, be sure to pay attention to the construction of the frame. Does the spinning reel have a one piece bail and sealed body? Does the baitcasting reel offer sealed ball bearings and metal sides?
Line capacity refers to how much line can fit on the spool and still allow proper operation. Some spinning reels have a limited line capacity. This won’t matter as much if you are fishing smaller, shallower water, but if you plan to fish river bottoms for trophy catfish, you probably want something that holds more line.
Most manufacturer’s include this information on their website and on the packaging of the reel. Also keep in mind, when asking how much fishing line the reel can hold, you need to think about what kind of line you plan to use. 30 pound braid and 30 pound monofilament have different diameters and may cause issues with line capacity if you purchase the wrong reel. Generally speaking, large catfish are going to require heavier line which fills a reel more quickly than a lighter line.
If you plan to catch big catfish, look for a reel with a good drag system. Drag systems vary among manufacturers, but good quality catfishing reels should have a multi disc drag system that is easily adjustable while you are fighting that large fish. On spinning reels, the drag adjustment is usually a dial on the top of the reel that can be turned clockwise to tighten the drag or counterclockwise to loosen the drag. To see how reliable the drag system is, tighten it down and try to pull the line. How much line can you pull at different settings? This will give you an idea of the effectiveness of the drag system.
You can do the same test with catfish baitcaster reels. Some of the larger reels have a star shaped spinning drag systems, but it should still be easy to adjust the dial and it should hold the spool tension without line spooling off.
The reel’s gear ratio describes the number of times the spool turns for each one turn of the handle. For example, 5.3:1 means the spool will spin 5.3 times for each single turn of the handle. Quality reels will have higher gear ratios than cheap catfish reels. A faster gear ratio means you can retrieve line faster. This is especially helpful for catfish reels because catfish are bottom feeders, and you will probably have quite a bit of line out if you intend to catch catfish.
Ball bearings are used on the spinning parts of reels. Always remember that a higher number is better. It will give you smoother casting and retrieval. The best catfish reels have sealed stainless steel ball bearings. These resist dirt, dust, and corrosion.
Reel weight can be an important factor when choosing a fishing reel. There are different catfish species, and some of these grow quite large. You definitely want a reel that can handle the size of the fish. Heavier, stronger reels handle heavier line, and can therefore reel in more large catfish. Lightweight spinning reels are designed for lightweight line. A lightweight spinning reel might work great for small catfish, but it won’t hold the kind of line you need for big blue cats.
Also, remember the size of your reel should match the size of your catfish rod. A tiny, ultralight reel on a stiff, heavy rod won’t give you enough power to bring in a big fish. Look for a catfish spinning reel rated for 6-15 pound line and mount it on a light to medium action spinning rod.
Large handles or offset handles make it easier to land big catfish without tiring yourself out. The best spinning reels with have handles that can switch for right or left handed use. Catfish baitcaster reels often have large, knoblike handles on longer arms.
Frequently Asked Questions about Catfish Reels
What is the best reel type for catfish?
It depends which catfish you are planning to catch. For deep water bottom fishing or trolling, we recommend bait cast reels. These hold a lot of line, have bait alert clickers, and are made of heavy duty materials. For smaller catfish, spinning reels are perfect. They allow options for use and pair well with lightweight or midweight rods.
What rod should I pair my catfishing reel with?
Again, this depends on the type of catfish you plan to catch. If you are deep water fishing and plan to have a lot of line out, go for a round reel or a heavy duty spinning reel like the KastKing recommended above and pair it with a short, thick heavy weight rod. If you are catching one pound pond catfish, most spinning reels will do the job matched up with a light to medium weight, light action seven foot rod.
What is the best gear ratio for catfish?
No matter what type of reel you buy, the best catfish spinning reels have a high gear ratio. You want to haul in line quickly. Gear ratios from 5.3:1 and up are acceptable.
What kind of leader do I need for catfish?
If you can afford to make leaders from fluorocarbon, do it. It resists abrasion and fraying from rocks, debris, and catfish teeth. If fluoro is out of your price range, use heavyweight monofilament. The weight should be relative to your fishing situation. For trolling, you might want a 30 inch long leader of 40 pound monofilament. If you are casting into a small pond for little catfish, a 6 inch leader of 10 pound monofilament might be enough.
What bait or lure should I use for catfish?
Catfish are scavengers. They eat anything that looks tasty, no matter how bad it smells. Many people swear by chicken livers or chum soaked in fish blood as catfish bait. Others like artificial stink baits that resemble dough balls you mold around the hook. For smaller catfish, nightcrawlers (buy one here) floated a few inches off the bottom are often successful.
Final Thoughts on Best Reels for Catfish
Choose what fits your needs best. Deeper water means you need a heavy duty reel. Look for a high gear ratio and CNC gears. These features will make the reel operate smoothly. Remember, the higher the number of bearings, the better. The option to change out spools is worth the money. Pricewise, catfish reels range from $30 to $300. More expensive is not always better. Quality components, rigid construction, and attention to detail in moving parts make all the difference.