The 6 Best Catfish Reels Reviewed & Revealed ( 2019 Hands-on Guide )

 

What to Look for in Your Next Catfish Reel 

man holding catfish reelThere are a number of things you’ll need to consider when buying your next catfishing reel. Some of the most important include:  

Overall Construction  

Catfish species are aggressive and even smaller members of the family are capable of putting up a rod bending, reel screaming fight.

You will want to make sure any reel you select is built to handle the pressure a fish like this can exert by looking for a heavy-duty body, metal gears and even a stout handle.

Generally, graphite or composite reels will wear out far quicker than those made of aluminum. 

 

Line Capacity  

There are two rules concerning catfish and line:

1. You need heavy duty line, probably braided to catch catfish. 

2. You need lots of it.  

Look for a reel designed to handle large amounts of either monofilament and braided as well as heavy tests – 20 lb. or more.

Although smaller reels may be capable of handling heavy test and landing large cats, you will find that one or two break offs will leave you shorthanded, and force either a reel change or re-spooling. 

 

Drag  

Drag is important with any reel, regardless of the species targeted, as it allows you to control how the line reacts when the fish strikes and takes off for deeper water.

Selecting the correct drag will keep a running fish from spooling your line or damaging the reel so it is important not to simply get by, but to select the best drag possible. Most high-end reels use carbon washers and I would recommend avoiding anything else.

 

Gear Ratio 

gear ratio catfish reel

 

Gear ratio is another misunderstood and oft-neglected aspect of selecting a quality reel. The gear ratio determines how much line is returned to the reel with each turn of the handle.

For example, a 5:1 gear ratio means that for every turn of the handle, the spool makes 5 rotations.  

Reels generally range from a ratio of 2.5:1 to 7.5:1, with some extra-fast reels exceeding this.

When targeting catfish, you need ratios slightly faster than average, which will allow for quick retrieval of slack when a fish tires and provide the power to muscle big fish to the net. It is recommended you look for a gear ratio in the 5:1 to 6.5:1 range. 

 

Handle 

Many anglers do not consider the handle an integral part of their reel, but when you are pulling in long casts or forcing big fish to the boat the handle takes on a new level of importance.

Abu Garcia® C3 Catfish Special Round

Most catfish reels utilize a single grip, rather than the popular paddle wheel with twin grips, and heavier duty reels will incorporate a counterbalance opposite the grip.   

Generally larger grips provide better control and more power, the same being true for longer handles. The key is to find a handle which is not only strong enough to complete the task but is also comfortable enough for you to use.

It is recommended you try out several different versions before making your selection. Luckily, if you change your mind many reels have handles which can be changed or upgraded to meet personal preferences. 

 

What Type of Catfishing Reel Is The Best? 

There are three potential reel types available for tackling catfish: spincasting, spinning and baitcasting. Yes, there are other reel types on the market, such as fly reels, but they are not designed for catfish, so we will skip them today.

For now, we will focus on the top three and how they are suited, or not suited, for catching cats. We also have a in-depth separate article on different fishing reel types and their pros/cons. 

Spincast Reels 

Zebco Big Cat XT
Zebco Big Cat XT

First on the list is the spincast reel, quite possibly the first reel you ever used as well. This simple push button design is easy to use — the main reason it is so popular with beginners — and simple to maintain.  

Although it can be used for entry-level catfishing, such as pulling bullheads or small channels from farm ponds, it has severe limitations.

Due to its small size, light line and weaker overall construction it is unlikely you will successfully land larger cats except by sheer luck. 

  • OK for introduction level fishing 
  • Capable of catching smaller species from shore or boat 
  • Not designed for larger, heavier species 
  • Gear ratio well suited for bait fishing but not for long runs or fights 
  • Limited line capacity, both in terms of size and amount available 
  • Very rare to find spincasting reel with bait clicker 

 

Spinning Reels 

Okuma Coronado CD

Spinning reels are a big step up from the spincasting reels and have seen an increase in popularity among catfish anglers, especially those using live bait for species such as flatheads.

There was a time when the guy who showed up for catfish with a spinning reel was instantly labeled “amateur”, but more and more guides and avid catfish enthusiasts are seeing the possible advantages of spinning reels.  

Spinning reels come in a wide variety of sizes ranging from ultra-light to those intended for open ocean saltwater use, although the smaller version may be little better than spincasting reels, the big boys can land sharks, so a catfish is well within their range.  

But, there are still limitations, which are why they are not the go-to reel for this particular species, including the fact that they are not compatible with many catfish rods. Once again, they generally are not available with a bait clicker. 

  • Larger models more than capable of landing big cats, but this may mean selecting a larger, more expensive saltwater model 
  • Easy to use; low learning curve 
  • Not readily compatible with most catfish rods 
  • Difficult to use with rod holders 
  • Few models include bait clicker 

 

Baitcasting Reels 

Quantum Iron PT
Quantum Iron PT

 

Baitcasting reels are by far the most popular and most widely used reels when it comes to targeting catfish.

Given the heavy-duty construction, ability to hold heavy line (and lots of it) and sheer power they are capable of producing, there is a baitcasting reel for every catfish adventure.  

Even a smaller baitcasting reel, matched with a quality rod can be outfitted to catch cats far bigger than comparable spincasting or spinning reels, but it is still recommended you match your selection with the species you plan on pursuing.

There is a bit of learning curve involved in using a baitcasting reel, especially if you hope to avoid the dreaded bird’s nest, but once you get the hang of it you will find this dependable design a staple in your fishing arsenal.  

As stated earlier while it is more than capable of landing even the biggest catfish you may want to have a spinning reel available for those when live bait is called for. 

  • Heavy-duty construction perfectly suited to fighting even the biggest species 
  • Designed to provide power and torque needed for catfish 
  • Large line capacity  
  • Very little maintenance needed 
  • Best catfish rods specifically designed for this type of reel 
  • Can be difficult for beginners to master 
  • Not necessarily the best choice when using live bait 

 

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