The Best Baitcasting Reels of 2019 Reviewed: The Definitive Guide

 

Choosing Factors: Things to Think About 

Because anglers exhibit varying preferences with regard to species, techniques and geography, the best baitcasting reel for one angler may not be very good at all for another. So, it is important to make sure you select the best reel for your circumstances.  

To do so, be sure you always consider the following characteristics when trying to choose a baitcasting reel: 

Baitcasting reels on fishing rods

 

Construction  

Most anglers prefer all-metal reels, with aluminum being the most desirable material. Some manufacturers have combined aluminum frames with graphite side plates and achieved an excellent combination of strength and weight.  

Metal gears – particularly those comprised of brass or stainless steel — are also prized for their durability and performance.

But regardless of the material used in any reel, the end product must be tight fitting and free of gaps, which may lead to snagged or weakened lines.   

 

Round vs. Low-Profile  

Historically, baitcasting reels were round in shape, but as they became more popular with freshwater anglers, manufacturers started producing low-profile reels, which are a little lighter and nimbler than traditional, round reels are.

However, each style has advantages and disadvantages, and you’ll need to consider your preferences and needs to make the best decision.  

Round

Shimano Corvalus 401
Shimano Corvalus 401 for the left-handed angler

Round reels usually feature all-metal construction, which makes them a bit heavier than low-profile reels, but it also makes them more corrosion resistant and therefore better suited for saltwater applications.  

Because round reels are typically bulkier than low-profile reels, they can usually hold more (and thicker) line than their low-profile counterparts can.

They are also the better choice for anglers using large lures or targeting larger, heavier species such as steelhead, salmon, muskies or pike. Catfish anglers and those who like trolling usually prefer round reels too, as they generally include a line clicker. 

Low Profile

Abu Garcia Revo SX
Abu Garcia Revo SX – lightweight yet robust baitcaster

Low profile baitcasting reels are based on the same general design as round reels, except the spool is smaller and the side plates are elongated to provide a more ergonomic feel.

This design enables low-profile reels to deliver nearly the same amount of power and torque that traditional, round reels do.  

Although low-profile reels are rarely capable of holding as much line as a round reel of similar size, they still hold much more line than the average spinning reel.

Additionally, the maximum appropriate line diameter for most low-profile reels will be thinner than for a comparable round reel.  

Low-profile baitcasting reels are easier to cast and weigh less than comparable round reels, and you can actually fit many of the low-profile reels in your palm while fishing (called “palming”), which some anglers find provides better contact with the lure.   

Although they are generally not suitable for large species, low-profile reels are excellent for catching bass, and larger panfish, such as crappies. 

 

Bearings 

baitcasting reel bearingsBearings allow the spool on a baitcasting reel to spin, and the number of bearings is often positively correlated with the quality of the reel. Some manufacturers have loaded up their reels with as many as 10 bearings.

However, it is also important to consider the quality of the bearings, as well as the quantity.  

In terms of quality, the most important thing to look for is corrosion resistance. Look for keywords including “shielded”, “sealed” or “double sealed” to ensure the best level of protection, especially if you plan to fish in saltwater.

Some manufacturers even offer additional protection by applying an anti-rust coating to the bearings themselves. 

 

Line Guides 

baitcaster line guideAlthough you can find reels made without them, line guides are indispensable for most anglers, as they ensure the line spools in an even, non-binding fashion. Modern line guides are usually comprised of either titanium or ceramic.  

Ceramic guides are more affordable and capable of providing years of problem-free operation, even when used with the most abrasive braided line. However, ceramic guides are somewhat fragile, and they can break when dropped.

Accordingly, most premium manufacturers use titanium line guides.  

In the end, ceramic line guides may provide initial savings, but you’ll have to replace them more quickly, leading to higher long-term costs.  

 

Braking Systems 

KastKing Spartacus brake system
KastKing Spartacus dual magnetic and centrifugal brakes

The braking system is one of the most important aspects of any baitcasting reel, as it will help reduce the number of tangles you experience.

Backlashes, bird’s nests and tangles occur when your line unspools faster than your lure travels, or when the spool continues to spin after the lure hits the water. The braking system helps to slow the spool during a cast.   

2 Types

Baitcasting reels typically come with one of two basic brake systems: centrifugal or magnetic. Both systems work by applying resistance to the spool; they just do so in different ways.  

1. Centrifugal systems impart resistance by pressing pins against the spool body to create friction. To adjust the resistance, you generally need to remove a side plate and engage or disengage some of the pins on each side of the spool.  

2. Magnetic brakes, by contrast, apply resistance via magnets, which means there is no contact between the surfaces. Magnetic brakes can usually be adjusted by turning a knob or dial on the outer body of the reel and do not require you to open the reel body. 

Centrifugal brakes typically apply the greatest control during the initial seconds of a cast, while magnetic brakes may take a moment to engage properly.

Some manufacturers have experimented with combining both centrifugal and magnetic brakes, as well as adding fine tuning wheels for micro adjustments, but you’ll pay for these types of features. 

 

Drag 

The amount of drag imparted by a reel determines the amount of pressure needed to pull line from the spool.  

A poorly functioning drag may allow a hooked fish to run with too little resistance, giving him the chance to run farther you’re your line will allow. Conversely, it may lock down too tightly, enabling him to snap your line with ease.

A poorly functioning drag will also make it difficult to achieve a rock-solid hookset. 

Baitcasting reels are available with one of two drag systems: star drag and knob drag. These names describe the type of hardware used to adjust the drag. Star drags feature a star-shaped drag dial, while knob drags rely on a small, circular knob.

knob drag

 

Although you can use either style you’d like, and most of the choice comes down to personal preference, it is important to understand that star drag systems are generally easier to adjust while battling a fish.

Star drag systems are also easier to manipulate with wet fingers or gloved hands.  

 

star wheel
star wheel

 

Usually, star drag systems are used on traditional, round baitcasting reels, while low-profile reels feature knob drags, but there are exceptions in both cases.  

 

Handles 

Okeechobee Baitcast Power Handle
Okeechobee Baitcast Power Handle

While many anglers overlook the importance of good handles, they are always deserving of consideration when shopping for a baitcasting reel.  

Most baitcasting reels utilize a paddle-wheel design, consisting of two large knobs mounted on opposite ends of a long cross brace. This design saves space and allows for easier placement in rod holders and fast operation upon removal.  

The size of the paddles and the materials used in their construction will also influence their performance. Generally speaking, larger paddles made from soft, no-slip materials will provide a more secure and comfortable grip.    

Handle placement is also important to consider, as many anglers prefer to use either their left or right hand when cranking.

Unlike spinning or spincasting reels, baitcasting handles are not interchangeable and cannot be switched from right to left. A right-hand model is always a right-hand model and vice versa.  

You can use whichever configuration you prefer, but it is wise to try right- and left-handed models prior to making a selection.

 

Flipping Switch  

flipping switchA flipping switch allows the reel to be re-engaged immediately, even after the spool has been free. This is a particularly helpful feature for flipping jigs into vegetation or up under docks, as you won’t need to crank the handle in order to set the hook.   

Flipping switches are not imperative (especially if you don’t flip very often), but you’ll usually find they provide greater flexibility without presenting any challenges aside from a small increase in price.  

 

Anti-Reverse 

An anti-reverse feature prevents the reel handle from spinning backward when a fish strikes your lure and swims off with the line.

Although many baitcasting reels designed for saltwater still feature anti-reverse mechanisms, most low-profile reels utilize a one-way bearing instead. This alleviates the need for an anti-reverse system.  

Nevertheless, you’ll want to be sure any reel you consider has one or the other.

 

Angler Concerns 

Angler caught peacock bass with baitcaster

To select a reel that will suit you well, perform like you expect and be fun to use, you’ll want to consider a variety of factors – not just the cost of the reel.

You may find that a several-hundred-dollar model works best for you, or you may find that a bargain-basement reel suits your needs.   

Beginners should select a reel that is easy to use and control, which means that a quality braking system must be a high priority. Advanced anglers, by contrast, may place more emphasis on high-quality bearings or spool capacity than braking systems.     

Remember that baitcasting reels are not designed for light or ultra-light tackle. If you are looking for something to catch small panfish or plan on using lures weighing less than one-quarter ounce, you’d be better served by purchasing a spinning or spincasting reel. 

Here is a video that gives an overview of the baitcaster’s parts, pros and cons, also compared to a spinning reel.

 

Leading Baitcaster Brands 

Some manufacturers who make baitcasting reels do so only to fill out their product line, but others place a special emphasis on these types of reels and produce several different models.

Four of the most popular manufacturers of baitcasting reels are profiled below so that you can understand the tendencies of various brands.   

Shimano 

Shimano

This Japanese manufacturer is known for prioritizing cutting-edge materials and technology, which often precipitate from their spinning reel lines.

With signature innovations including the Dartanium Drag, Hagane metal body and X-Ship technology, Shimano has developed some of the strongest, fastest and smoothest reels on the market.  

Despite the innovations and advanced technology incorporated into Shimano’s designs, a growing number of users have complained that many of the company’s newer models fail to resist corrosion well.

A number of anglers, including some who used previous Shimano reels for years, explained that the bodies of low-profile models often collects salt and rust quickly if not cleaned immediately following use.   

 

Abu Garcia 

Abu GarciaA Swedish company, Abu Garcia is a leader in both traditional round reels, such as their signature Ambassadeur series, and low-profile designs. Both are available in a wide range of sizes and price points, enabling you to find one that will fit just about any budget.  

Abu Garcia typically uses lightweight materials, high bearing counts and corrosion resistant components, which makes their reels excellent choices for both fresh and saltwater use. 

Most users love the wide range of options available from Abu Garcia. Higher end models, which are typically still very competitively priced, enjoy a loyal following.

But more economically priced models often receive complaints regarding the quality of their components, especially the metals used for the gears. 

 

Lew’s  

Lew's

Founder Lew Childre was a lifelong angler, who turned his passion into a profession by building handmade bamboo rods and later adding reels to his line. He is even credited with developing the pistol grip now common on almost every baitcasting rod.

His company primarily produces low-profile reels — a style which he is credited with introducing. The small number of round reels the company offers are smaller in size than many competitors and intended for targeting smaller freshwater species. 

Lew’s reels are known for their high-speed gear ratios and sleek, compact designs. Unfortunately, these features come at a price, and even their budget models are more expensive than many competitors’ premium offerings.

Left-handed anglers will find the selection limited, with only a few models from which to choose.  

 

Daiwa 

Another Japanese company, Daiwa produces a wide range of fishing equipment including several popular baitcasting reels. Their reels have a well-deserved reputation for being both affordable and well-engineered.

Although their main target audience is the economic-minded, casual angler they also produce several premium models that feature high-speed gear ratios.    

Most anglers find the Daiwas well-suited for both fresh and saltwater applications, although some models do not have the level of anti-corrosion protection needed for long-term salt use.

Many anglers find that Daiwa baitcasting reels often perform comparably to much more expensive options, although Daiwas rarely last quite as long.  

 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are a number of things to consider when selecting a new baitcasting reel. But don’t let yourself become overwhelmed – just try to focus on selecting the best reel for your particular fishing needs.

Do this, and you’re sure to enjoy your next new reel for years to come.  

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