8 Best Catfish Reels: Reviewed, Rated & Compared

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Catfish are more powerful and fight harder than most other fish. You’ll need a smooth but powerful drag system and high line capacity to get these cats onto the boat. Catfish reels are tailored to this purpose. Read on for a full comparison and review of the best models and all the information you need to choose your own competently.

Preview

Product

Max Drag

Gear Ratio

Check Price

Abu Garcia C3-7000 Ambassadeur Catfish...

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur

20 lbs.

4.1:1

KastKing Rover Round Baitcasting Reel, Left...

KastKing

Rover Round

60 - 13.2 Lbs.

5.3:1

Daiwa BG8000 BG Saltwater Spinning Reel,...

Daiwa BG8000

33 Lbs.

5.3:1

Penn Spinfisher V SSV10500

PENN

Spinfisher V

40 lbs

4.2:1

Yoshikawa Baitfeeder Spinning Reel Saltwater...

Yoshikawa Baitfeeder 6000

28 lbs.

5.5:1

Zebco ZB310BX3 Bullet Spincast Reel...

Zebco

ZB310BX3 Bullet

14 lbs.

5.1:1

Abu Garcia Catfish Commando Fishing Rod and...

Abu Garcia Catfish Commando

11 lbs.

5.1:1

Penn, Spinfisher VI Live Liner Saltwater...

Penn 1481260 Spinfisher VI

35 lbs.

5.6:1


Why Fishing for Catfish Requires Specialized Reels

The wider mouths and general behavior of catfish require certain modifications to set the hook and reel them in. Baitcasters are popular for their more accurate casting, though some simply feather a spinning reel.

A drag system to fight bigger targets should alternate to hold them off or give them enough line to tire themselves out. The spool should have a higher line capacity in case they really go on a run. Other helpful modifications like a baitclicker to let you know when you have a bite are important parts of catfishing reels.


Choosing a Quality Catfishing Reel

Reel Type

Spincasters are suitable for beginners and never have backlash. Spinning reels are best for saltwater catfishing, and baitcasters are much better in freshwater. Baitcasters are harder to cast, especially in strong winds, but they usually have higher gear ratios. Spinning reels hold more and stronger line and typically have better drag.

Drag System

Tension from the line is controlled with a drag system to prevent a powerful fish from snapping the line. Pulled line engages drag to turn the spool backward and let some line off. If you set the drag too high, then the line won't give at all, and it will snap. If you set it too loose, though, you won’t have enough power.

Power & Durability

The drag system and gear ratio determine power. The best reels have strong CNC-machined parts, usually made out of durable materials like aluminum, brass, or sometimes carbon fiber. If you can find an all-metal catfishing reel, it’s likely to be the most durable and last the longest with proper care.

Speed & Smoothness

The gear ratio is normally what controls retrieval speed. How fast you can get the line back onto the spool is critical in the time before a fish has really started to fight back. A smooth cast comes from a good braking system. The line should be loose but not completely free if you want to cast it out really far.

Spool Tension

The main spool, around which the line is wrapped, can affect your fishing in a few ways. One primary way is the tension. A light and steady tension is good for casting, and lots of spool tension is sometimes useful for fighting a strong fish. The brake system determines spool tension for casting and the drag system for fighting the fish. 

Line Capacity & Gear Ratio

The number of rotations of the spool when you crank the handle one time is called the gear ratio. We’ll discuss this later on in this article. Line capacity is the amount of line a spool can hold. You need lots of line to cast far and feed it out to fish that go on a run.

Ease of Use

The handle is vital on a catfishing reel not only for comfort but for performance. It should give you a good grip and be slip-free to make sure you can keep reeling. Many are made with an EVA covering to prevent slipping and make sure you can keep fishing for long periods.

Price & Warranty

Look for telltale signs of an inexpensive reel like a smaller number of ball bearings and try to get a mid-range reel in terms of weight and line capacity if you want to catfish on a budget without sacrificing all the good performance of a catfishing reel. Warranties are generally limited to defects that occur during the manufacturing process if they exist at all. Luckily spare parts are usually easy to order to repair broken reels.


8 Best Fishing Reels for Catfish Reviewed

1. Abu Garcia Ambassadeur

Our Top Pick

Reel Size Dimensions

7000

Mono Line Capacity (YD/LB)

320/12

Braid Line Capacity

310/30

Max Drag

20 lbs.

Gear Ratio

4.1:1

Bearing Count

 3

A strong and powerful round reel specifically designed for catfishing, this is the best catfish reel among Abu Garcia catfish reels and their competitors across the market. It comes in size 6500 as well in case you want a lighter setup. The Ambassadeur has added torque in the extended bent handle and power knob, which makes it great at fighting big cats on the run.

Despite the comparatively low number of stainless steel bearings, this reel is incredibly smooth. That has a lot to do with the 6-pin centrifugal brake system that keeps the spool from spinning too fast, giving anglers an accurate cast and preventing backlash at the same time.

Having the line automatically spool evenly via the wind system is one less thing to worry about, especially when using braided line. The star-shaped drag is conveniently located for chases when you want to let a catfish tire itself out, get out of cover, or get set on a circle hook without feeling tension on the line.

Is the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Good for Catfishing?

Short answer: yes, absolutely. If you’re chasing trophy cats or targeting larger flatheads or blues, be prepared to get heavy tackle and the strongest, abrasion-resistant, heaviest test line you can fit on this reel. For channels and any reasonably-sized targets in a lake or reservoir, this reel works like magic. Jigs and bucktails are readily executed, and there's enough power to get fish on the boat.

Pros
  • Stock power handle
  • Smooth cast and retrieval
  • Wind system included
  • Comfortable thumb rest
  • Convenient drag dial
Cons
  • Standard gear ratio
  • Right-handed only

2. KastKing Rover Round

Best Baitcasting Reel for Catfish

Reel Size Dimensions

60

Mono Line Capacity (YD/LB)

16/250

Braid Line Capacity

Unknown

Max Drag

60 - 13.2 Lbs.

Gear Ratio

 5.3:1

Bearing Count

6+1

KastKing has designed this reel to be more versatile than your average catfish reel. The all-metal body, including a stainless steel worm gear and main shaft, is designed to be corrosion-resistant so that it can be used in saltwater conditions as well.

These reels aren’t as crazy on the cast as Ambassadeurs, so newcomers to baitcasting can avoid backlash a bit easier. That being said, when you compare the two, this KastKing doesn’t have a floating spool, where the spool turns independently of the shaft, the way Ambassadeurs do. That limits the castability.

One plus is that the KastKing Rover comes in both left- and right-handed retrieval models. There are enough ball bearings inside to make the operation really smooth without driving the price up sky high. The drag and the braking system make casting out straightforward, and the clicker line out alarm gives you ample notice when there's action on the line. You could easily grab a couple of these reels and cast them out simultaneously if you bring some rod holders along.

Is the KastKing Rover Round Good for Catfishing?

The variety of sizes and line capacities make this reel a competent one for a variety of targets. If you're looking for a reel that you can customize and fish just about any lure on, this could be the one for you. It casts with ease, and everything from the handle to the spool to the side plate is durable enough to last you a long time. You’d be surprised how high above its weight class this reel can punch, which is why it has remained one of the best catfish reels to use for any size target since it was released.

Pros
  • Durable
  • Saltwater friendly
  • Smooth operation
  • Clicker alarm
  • Stainless steel worm gear
Cons
  • Fixed spool

3. Daiwa BG8000

Best Big Catfish Reel

Reel Size Dimensions

8000

Mono Line Capacity (YD/LB)

20/550, 25/440

Braid Line Capacity

50/730, 65/590

Max Drag

33 Lbs.

Gear Ratio

 5.3:1

Bearing Count

6+1

If you want the best big catfish reel, you'll need additional power and torque. That's just what you'll get with this reel thanks to its oversized drive gear, which is one of the largest on the market. The reel has machined aluminum housing that's durable, scratch-resistant, and saltwater-friendly.

The aluminum construction is lightweight, and the rotor has been designed to eliminate excessive weight. Between the additional strength from the rotor and the solid handle, anglers will likely be impressed with the strength output of this reel.

The spool is designed to fit more line without creating a need for backing line that never actually gets off the reel. Gear ratio is less on the larger BG8000, but the larger spool sends line out in greater coils so you can get a farther cast more easily.

With more ball bearings than some baitcasters, this spinning reel operates exceptionally smoothly. The bail has a manual return for more control. The drag system offers good resistance for larger cats, and the whole thing is waterproof, which is an obvious plus when you’re out on the water.

Is the Daiwa BG800 Good for Catfishing?

You can go after much larger catfish without fear with this spinning reel. Its ability to hold more line should ease any fear you have that a big target will snap so much line that you’re left unable to continue casting out after just a few snapped lines. Braided line works just as well on this model if you want to try and get some additional strength to prevent snapped line in the first place.

Pros
  • Easier spinning reel operationManual return bail
  • Durable & scratch-resistant
  • 7 ball bearings
  • Lightweight aluminum construction
Cons
  •  Smaller gear ratio

4. PENN Spinfisher V Spinning

Best Open Face Catfish Reel

Reel Size Dimensions

10500

Mono Line Capacity (YD/LB)

415/30, 350/40, 255/50

Braid Line Capacity

750/50, 670/65, 580/80

Max Drag

40 lbs

Gear Ratio

4.2:1

Bearing Count

5+1

The design of this reel puts it in a league of its own compared to similar spinning reels. If you’re looking for a reel that can handle saltwater and doesn’t need a full deep-clean after every fishing trip, then look no further.

PENN has built this Spinfisher V with seals at every crucial meeting point to keep water from entering and gumming up the works. For just about every angler, it’s almost guaranteed to keep the inside of the reel dry. The only thing you need to look out for is cranking the handle while it’s in the water.

Other features that make this such a great open-face catfish reel are the aluminum and stainless steel construction, the 6 shielded ball bearings, and the friction bail trip that automatically closes the bail but leaves it open until the right moment during a cast.

The variety of reel sizes (down to 3500) suits anglers no matter what their main aim is, whether to get a long cast, use heavier test, or fish lightweight finesse lures. For catfishing, the larger reels with triple-supported and oversized stainless steel main shaft are strong enough to support the rotor that puts line back onto the spool on retrieval. The spool itself requires no additional backing, which gets you a higher line capacity.

Is the PENN Spinfisher V Good for Catfishing?

The V is especially useful for targeting larger catfish for folks who aren't familiar with baitcasting reels or want to try out saltwater fishing without ruining a perfectly good baitcaster. The open-face option is great for untying knots quickly and feathering the line.

The bail flips with just a touch for those who understand how much better it is for casting and for the inner gears over the long term to flip the bail manually rather than reeling in to make it flip by itself. This reel is powerful enough to fight a big fish and accommodates heavier tests with ease. Pair the larger 10500 size with a medium-heavy fast action rod, and you'll have yourself one of the best catfish rod reel setups you can get, even if it's a bit on the heavier side.

Pros
  • Sealed watertight
  • Strong main shaft
  • Automatic bail trip
  • Great drag
  • Smooth retrieval
Cons
  • High reel weight

5. Yoshikawa Baitfeeder 6000

Best Cheap Catfish Reel

Reel Size Dimensions

6000

Mono Line Capacity (YD/LB)

16/220, 20/170, 24/140

Braid Line Capacity

15/300

Max Drag

28 lbs.

Gear Ratio

5.5:1

Bearing Count

10+1

Although it’s from a little-known manufacturer, there’s plenty about this reel that’s surprisingly effective performance-wise considering the low price point. The first thing that should jump out at you is the 11 ball bearings inside. It's not the only reel that has so many, but generally, you wouldn't expect to see that many ball bearings in a spinning reel for any less than $100. Retrieval, casting, and winding are all smooth thanks in large part to these ball bearings.

The second great thing about this Baitfeeder is the bait-running system, which is controlled with a small lever on the back of the reel. This system allows the line to run off the spool without you having to flip the bail again, so a catfish can run with the line without causing any kind of line tie-ups. If you’re familiar with disabling the auto-reverse bearing to backreel to feed line to the fish, this bait-running system accomplishes a similar purpose.

Besides the performance aspect of the reel, it’s also very lightweight. If you just want something for finesse fishing with smaller channels and a light rod, the 3000 is what you’re looking for. The lower price also makes it a great way to get into catfishing if you haven’t tried it yet. Since it’s a spinner reel, it works great on saltwater as well as freshwater.

Many anglers love this reel for its portability. The handle folds away so you can fit it into a backpack or your luggage if you like to take fishing vacations. It's also left-right interchangeable, so every angler can use this reel no matter what their dominant hand is. The front and rear drag system is perfect for quick adjustments when you’re fighting a fish, especially in tandem with the bait-running system.

Is the Yoshikawa Baitfeeder 600 Good for Catfishing?

You might want to stick with small- to mid-sized catfish with this reel, but it's perfect for catching those. It's not impossible to catch larger cats with this reel, especially the 6000 since it has a good line capacity and more drag power, but it will probably be a fight, and you might need a little luck and strong test (try a 50 lb leader!) to get a big one on your boat.

This Baitfeeder is also great for fishing frogs and other styles of angling, so you can keep it on hand outside the catfishing season too. There's a little bit of noise from the gears, but for the money, this is a great option to get started or just adding a solid spinner to your gear.

Pros
  • Versatile for all-sized fish
  • 11 BB for smooth operation
  • Bait-running system
  • Front and rear drag
  • Foldable handle
Cons
  • Some gear noise

6. Zebco ZB310BX3 Bullet

Best Spincast Reel for Catfish

Reel Size Dimensions

13.4 oz.

Mono Line Capacity (YD/LB)

90/10

Braid Line Capacity

Unknown

Max Drag

14 lbs.

Gear Ratio

5.1:1

Bearing Count

8+1

This is a spincast reel so many anglers, particularly beginners, will find much easier to use. There are some drawbacks in performance, strength, and durability that you trade-off for ease-of-use, but it does work.

One thing you can certainly say about this spincaster is that it’s not cheaply built. It also comes with two spools of 10 lb test mono line that are pre-spooled. The all-weather handle knobs give a good grip. This is a very fast reel, which means you can cast it really far and reel in quickly. There’s no backlash since this is a spincaster.

One drawback is the weight of this reel. The rubber cover over the rear thumb button tends to tear after prolonged use, but it does do a good job letting the reel spin freely as it’s meant to do. The Bullet is also not the smoothest operation you’ll find on a catfish reel.

The drag is fairly smooth and operates efficiently with a dial on one side of the reel. In fact, you can adjust the drag with your rod hand and keep your dominant hand on the handle to reel in. Be careful, though, because it's easy to adjust the drag too high and snap your line.

Is the Zebco Bullet Good for Catfishing?

First off, this reel works best with mono light- to mid-weight test. You can get braid on there, but it just functions better with mono and perhaps some fluoro now and then. There’s nothing even approaching water-tightness in the design, so while you can take this reel saltwater fishing, it's not built for it, and it's likely going to be more of a headache.

While the thumb stop makes casting easier than with a baitcaster, the button underneath the rubber cover is one of the only plastic parts in this reel and tends to break down, stick, or wear out. It's more of a mid-range reel than a pro-level one, but for the majority of anglers, this is a great Zebco catfish reel that will add a lot to your gear collection.

Pros
  • Really fast spincaster
  • No backlash
  • Easy to use drag
  • All-weather handle knobs
  • Spare spool included
Cons
  • Heavy reel
  • Designed for freshwater

7. Abu Garcia Catfish Commando

Best Catfish Reel and Rod

Reel Size Dimensions

6500

Mono Line Capacity (YD/LB)

255/17

Braid Line Capacity

350/30

Max Drag

11 lbs.

Gear Ratio

5.1:1

Bearing Count

2

Being that it includes the famed Ambassadeur reel, this is hands down one of the nicest catfish rod and reel combos around. Despite its low ball bearing count, this reel moves smoothly and has a brake system that gives it excellent castability.

The drag system is workable with a star by the handle and helps, along with the brake system, to provide you with great cast control. There’s also a baitclicker that you can turn off and on with a small switch to the left of the spool. This reel does not have an instant anti-reverse, which is not common on the reel market but shouldn’t cause too much trouble.

The rod in this combo is seven feet long, which means you’ll have the advantage when you cast out and will have additional leverage when you’re fighting fish. There are seven stainless steel guides along the length of the rod to keep your line just where you want it. It can handle 15 to 30-pound test according to the manufacturer, but you might be able to sneak a little bit heavier test on there if you need to.

Is the Abu Garcia Catfish Commando Good for Catfishing?

It’s fair to assume that this catfish rod and reel are excellent for catfishing since they’ve been specifically designed for it. Once you see it in action, you can see that while it may not be the best of all possible combinations, it does perform very well. There are better Abu Garcia catfish reels, but they generally add features that only pro anglers will need and come at a higher price point.

The longer rod length and the smoothness of the reel's operation are both great to have when you're targeting catfish, and additional features that have become must-haves like the baitclicker will help when you've got your line out in the water. The only thing you should make sure of is finding the properly sized rod holder. There's a slight hump at the bottom of the rod that prevents it from fitting in the standard orange rod holders.

Pros
  •  7’ rod
  • Star drag system
  • Baitclicker
  • Great castability
  • High line capacity
Cons
  • No anti-reverse

8. Penn 1481260 Spinfisher VI

Best Rated Catfish Reel

Reel Size Dimensions

6500

Mono Line Capacity (YD/LB)

390/12 345/15 205/20

Braid Line Capacity

485/30 410/40 335/50

Max Drag

35 lbs.

Gear Ratio

5.6:1

Bearing Count

6

An updated version of the Penn Spinfisher V, this best-rated model has many of the same features and several significant improvements. The gears have all been upgraded to CNC-machined aluminum on the smaller models and CNC-machined brass on the larger reels.

The seals that made the V so watertight and made constant cleaning sessions unnecessary for most anglers have also been improved in the revamped VI. Carbon fiber drag washers give you enough power to fight those big cats and get them onto the boat. Penn also offers this model in various styles, including the bail-less and long cast.

A standard number of ball bearings and an all-metal construction both ensure that this reel will operate smoothly and be durable enough to last you a long time. Despite the all-metal construction, the smaller sized Spinfishers can be really lightweight. They’ve added a 2500 to the lineup for finesse fishing and kayak fishing. The new front drag works well, but it isn't the easiest to adjust in the middle of fighting a fish unless you spring for the live liner model in the Spinfisher VI line.

Is the Penn Spinfisher VI Good for Catfishing?

It's not just good for catfishing, it's great. Having a reel that's wholly sealed like this one will save lots of strife down the line since all that crud that normally gets into reels and locks them up isn’t able to creep in. The drag system in the live liner model is particularly helpful because it’s easier to use than a standard drag system.

Simply flip the switch on the rear of the handle and fight the fish a little. When you’re ready to start reeling in again, you can go ahead and spin the handle. That will automatically disengage the drag system. Everything you need for catfishing is not only on this model but also performs just about as good as you could ever want it to.

Pros
  • CNC-machined construction
  • WatertightHigh gear ratio
  • Powerful drag
  • Variety of styles
Cons
  • Quick-adjust drag isn’t standard
  • Higher price point

Understanding Reel Gear Ratio

  • Low Gear Ratio/Slow (5.1:1 thru 5.4:1)
    Best for heavier lures like crankbaits or blade baits the go deeper in the water; these lower ratios have more torque to make reeling easier, although it will take longer. Slow gear ratios are better for big fish. You can find them on larger reels, and you'll need a sturdy rod to use them with.
  • Medium Gear Ratio/Medium (6.1:1 thru 6.4:1)
    To get the best of both worlds, use a medium ratio. You can alternate between slower and faster cranking on the handle to try and mimic some of the advantages of a slow or fast reel depending on the situation you’re in. For the vast majority of anglers chasing catfish, this is the speed you want.
  • High Gear Ratio/Fast (7.1:1 thru 8.1:1)
    Faster gear ratios can be used to retrieve deep lures like drop shot rigs quickly. The pros use high gear ratios to start their retrieval with a really fast crank and then let it slow down as needed since that's easier than cranking at full speed for an extended period.

Fishing Reel Sizing Guide

Different manufacturers size their reels with different numbers. Larger numbers indicate a larger reel. The numbers are usually either in tens or thousands, i.e., 20, 30, 40, 50, etc., or 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, etc. It's important to consider your environment and target.

To determine what size spinning reel for tackling catfish in saltwater, for example, a larger reel might be needed to hold more and heavier test line. Most folks need between a 4500 and a 6500 sized reel.


Tips for Using a Catfish Reel

  1. 1
    Setting the drag: Make sure not to set the drag too high. It should be high enough to get a clean hook set, but not so tight that the fish will snap the line on a run.
  2. 2
    Setting spool tension: Loosen the tension until your lure drops slowly. The line should stop spinning once the lure hits the ground.
  3. 3
    How to cast for catfish: Make sure the spool turns enough for the line to sail far out. There should be some weight on the line to make sure the line lands in the right place.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best catfish reel brands?

Abu Garcia is famous for its rod and reel combos. Lew’s also makes really dependable reels. Okuma and KastKing make inexpensive reels that perform consistently well. Team is a great one-stop-shop for a variety of reels. For spinning reels, Penn is probably the best overall. The best catfishing baitcasters are probably from KastKing.

What is a bait clicker for a spinning reel?

Bait clickers are alarms for anglers to know where there’s some action on the line. If you leave multiple lines out in rod holders at one time, that clicking noise becomes one of the nicest sounds in the world. When the line is pulled out, the reel clicks. The bait clicker can often be disabled, and it shouldn't sound when you cast.

Does the fishing environment affect the type of reel I choose?

Baitcaster reels are not going to be so much fun on saltwater. Spinning reels are great for saltwater, but they may not have the gear ratio you want for fighting larger fish. Just like the environment affects the size of the fish, it will affect what line, rod, and reel you want.

Is there any special maintenance that needs to be done to my catfish reel?

You should clean your reel after every use. Watertight reels like the Penn Spinfisher VI can be cleaned with a simple spray. Others will need to be taken apart, cleaned, and reoiled. If you don’t fish very often, a once a year deep clean should be fine. If you fish saltwater, get all the salt off after every trip to prevent corrosion. Store reels in a dry place with their handles secured.

Are more ball bearings in a catfish reel better?

Five good bearings are often better than eleven bad ones. It’s more about the construction materials and the location of the bearings. Smooth reeling can come from more bearings or well-placed bushings. Bearings are a good way to drive the price of a reel up, so don’t let that be the most important factor. Plenty of reels with 2 bearings reel smooth as butter.

Where is the best place to find catfish reels for sale?

While you may want to take a look around a sport's or outdoor store just to see what a reel feels like, the best place to purchase them is Amazon. Not only can you often find great sales, but more models are readily available on Amazon than you’re likely to find in person.

How do you remove Backlash?

To altogether avoid backlash, use a spincaster. But since that’s not really a solution, you can stop backlash by buying a reel with a good brake system and make sure it's adjusted well before you cast. You can remove the knots in a bird's nest with your fingers, or you can put pressure on the spool with your thumb and turn it. Engage the reel and then pull the line out with your other hand. Repeat this process if it doesn’t get the knot out.


Conclusion

Catching catfish can be hard since they’re typically fighters, but if you have the right equipment, it’s worth the battle. For its stock power handle and solid gear ratio and line capacity, we recommend the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur for everyone who's going after catfish, whether it's the first time or not.