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Best Baitcasting Reels

Updated November 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 6 Models Considered
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 155 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best baitcasting reels

    Last Updated November 2018

    Most new anglers start their journey into fishing using a spinning reel or the even more beginner-friendly spincast reel. But for those ready to get in long casts, fight new and bigger fish, and add more techniques to their fishing repertoire, the baitcasting reel is the way to go.

    This reel can seem a little intimidating compared to simpler bail-and-spool spinners, with more casing around the spool and a few extra gizmos built in. Yet with a little research and some practice, you may find such success with a baitcasting reel that you decide to make it the primary reel in your kit.

    What should you look for in a baitcasting reel? At BestReviews, we’re here to help you find out exactly that. Let’s wade in and look at key features for baitcasting reels. When you’re ready to buy one, take a look at the chart above, where you’ll see our favorite catches.

    A baitcasting reel alone may not improve casting distance. Consider the entire system – rod, reel, line weight, and type of lure – and the type of fish you’re going after when choosing a reel.

    Why use a baitcasting reel?

    All types of fishing reels offer certain advantages. Let’s take a look at the perks of owning a baitcasting reel.

    • Powerful casting: A baitcasting reel can cast much farther than a regular spinning reel.

    • Control: Whether you’re casting out or reeling in, you can adjust a baitcasting reel to provide you with greater control. They handle heavier lures well, too.

    • Accuracy: It’s easy to pinpoint where you want your lure to drop and cast it there.

    • Technique: Baitcasting reels allow for precision casting techniques like pitching and flipping.

    • Ergonomic design: Many baitcasting reels are, by design, more comfortable to handle than spinners. They’re easier to cast, so your wrist doesn’t get tired – and you can spend more time fishing.

    • Heavier line and lures: The open design of most baitcasters, along with their casting method, make it possible to use heavier, longer line. Because of this higher capacity, you can use heavier lures, too – and land bigger, stronger fish.
       

    Of course, baitcasters aren’t the be-all and end-all of reels. They do have disadvantages, the biggest of which is a tendency toward line backlash that creates a line tangle, or “bird’s nest,” at the spool.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Lower-priced baitcasting reels offer braking systems that can’t be fine-tuned as closely, though most have a knob or dial allowing some adjustment of the system.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Baitcasting reels are available for both freshwater and saltwater fishing. So you can have your pick of the best locations for an idyllic afternoon of fishing.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    The type of line you use dictates how your braking system is set. Braid should be set at a lower level of braking, or less tension, while monofilament requires a higher setting.

    Key features

    Light vs. heavy reel

    Beginners will most likely want to opt for a lightweight baitcaster. There are many options to choose from in this category. Lightweight reels are easier to use and help balance the rod better. If you’re more experienced, however, heavier reels – which usually are the older, classic “round” shape – tend to last longer due to their simpler components and rugged construction. These reels can handle heavier rigs than smaller, lighter reels.

    Round vs. low profile

    Round baitcasters hold a lot more line, which is desirable for super-long casts. Low-profile baitcasters are part of a newer design that further reduces line twist when casting. They’re also lightweight and easy to handle.

    Drag adjustment

    The drag setting is located on the crank between the handle and the reel. You use it to set the amount of resistance on the line. Rotating the drag system backward lessens the drag, allowing a fish to pull more line; rotating the drag forward increases resistance, making it harder for a fish to pull line off the reel.

    To improve casting efficiency, don’t completely fill the baitcaster spool with fishing line. Unlike spinners, you can use all of the line on a baitcaster spool during a cast without a problem.

    Spool tension knob

    Located just behind the crank, the spool tension knob fine-tunes the drag resistance setting and is set after the drag adjustment is made. Just as with the drag setting, rotating the spool tension knob forward increases tension, while rotating it backward lessens tension.

    Braking system

    Available on some baitcasting rods and located on the reel opposite the crank, the braking system helps prevent backlash and provides more fine-tuned control of how the line spools out. Keep in mind that the higher you set the braking system, the less distance you’ll get in your cast. The tradeoff is better control of the cast and an even lower chance of backlash.

    Crank ratio

    On the side of the baitcasting reel body or on the packaging, you may see a ratio marking such as 7:1, 5:1, or 6:1. This indicates the number of times the reel rotates each time you crank the handle. A 7:1 ratio means that for each single crank rotation, the reel rotates seven times. That high ratio means the line can be reeled in much faster, which is great after a really long cast.

    Of course, a lower ratio may be more desirable for certain types of fish. You may have an easier time playing a bigger, feistier fish using a 5:1 reel. A lower ratio can also be easier on the fish, which is important if you’re practicing catch-and-release fishing.

    Left vs. right handed

    Baitcasters can be purchased with the crank either on the right side or the left side of the rod. For some, this creates a potentially more comfortable reeling and casting experience.

    FOR YOUR SAFETY

    Make sure the line guides on your rod are lined up correctly with the reel. This reduces friction on the line during casting and reeling.

    Adjusting drag and spool tension

    Learning to use the drag setting on your baitcasting reel is important. While it’s true that adding more resistance to the line while under load increases the chance that it might break, you may need to do this depending on the fishing conditions and type of fish you want to catch.

    Fine-tuning drag and spool tension is important because it helps reduce your chance of developing a bird’s nest upon casting. Before your first cast, we recommend that you fine-tune these settings on shore. Here’s how.

    • Set your line and lure in the cast position. The lure should hang about a foot from the tip of the rod when held in a standard fishing posture.

    • With the reel locked, adjust the drag so that the lure will not easily drop to the ground.

    • Rotate the spool tension knob all the way forward.

    • Unlock the reel. Slowly rotate the spool tension knob backward until the lure drops to the ground in a slow, controlled manner.

    • If the lure just flops straight to the ground, the tension is too loose. You would likely have to deal with a bird’s nest snarl upon casting.

    EXPERT TIP

    Using a heavier lure? If you let out more line before you cast, you can throw an even longer distance. The longer the distance, the better your chances.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    Increase the distance that you cast little by little as you learn to use a baitcaster. This will reduce the number of backlashes and help you work on your technique.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Using the braking system

    The braking system also helps prevent backlash and provides more fine-tuned control of how the line spools out. Keep in mind that the higher you set the braking system, the less distance you’ll get in your cast.

    However, the tradeoff is better control of the cast and an even lower chance of backlash.

    Fine-tuning a braking system should have the same goal as adjusting the drag. You want to set the lure so it falls from the tip of the rod to the ground very slowly.

    Always match a baitcasting reel with a baitcasting rod. Baitcasting rods have a small line guide at the base (the first guide above the reel), whereas spinning rods have a very large first line guide.

    Baitcaster reel prices

    While baitcasting reels generally cost more than spinning reels, there are still plenty of good values to be found at a range of prices.

    • Beginner reels

    These start at around $39 – although a few can be found in the $20 to $30 range – and go up to about $79. Both low-profile and round reel designs are available for beginners. Notably, the components in these lower-end reels tend to break down faster than in higher-end baitcasters.

    • Mid-range reels

    Anglers looking to transition to baitcasters with stronger but lighter components can find quite a few options in the $99 to $200 price range. These incorporate some of the materials found in higher-priced reels, such as composite components incorporated into their aluminum frames, along with performance upgrades like more precise braking and a wider variety of gear ratios.

    • Professional reels

    Pro-grade reels range in price from $200 to $400 or more. Low-profile designs tend to cost more than round designs, with many in the $400 range. These reels feature a variety of build materials including composite, graphite, and aluminum.

    Casting motion is important no matter what type of reel you use. Consider taking a class or getting a coach to improve your cast, which will save your wrists from problems like tendonitis down the road.

    FAQ

    Q. How much farther can I cast with a baitcaster than another type of reel?

    A. A baitcaster can increase casting distance by as much as 25% compared to a spinning reel. You may not see the difference right away, though, since learning to cast correctly with a baitcaster takes a little practice.

    Q. How frequently do bird’s nests occur? Is it easier to stick with a spinning reel instead?

    A. Bird’s nests occur most often during casting when the baitcaster reel isn’t tuned correctly (the drag adjustment and spool tension knob aren’t set correctly). Tension on the line is usually too loose, and the line doesn’t spool out smoothly, increasing the risk that it will catch in the reel housing and backlash.

    Don’t let this possibility turn you off of baitcasters, though. Spinning reels, spin casters, and trolling reels all have their peccadillos, too, and snarled lines are a common occurrence when there is a tension problem. It’s better to learn how to set the line tension correctly for the reel and fishing conditions you’re using.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Alvina
      Alvina
      Photographer
    • Amos
      Amos
      Director of Photography
    • Branson
      Branson
      Videographer
    • Ciera
      Ciera
      Production Assistant
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Katie
      Katie
      Editorial Director
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Senior Editor
    • Samantha
      Samantha
      Writer
    • Vukan
      Vukan
      Post Production Editor

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