Best catfish reels – Review & Buyer’s Guide

The most important part of your catfishing gear is the reel you choose. Catfishing demands strength and durability in all of your equipment. We are going to look at some of the best catfish reels available for going after the biggest and toughest cats.

Top 5 The Best Catfish Reels

1. KastKing Rover — Best Value Catfish Baitcast Reel

The KastKing Rover has a new design including hardened aluminum and highly machined spools and brass gears. The spool shaft and other components are made with stainless steel.

The Rover features a carbon fiber drag system intended for larger fish and extended retrievals. The drag system includes a newly designed cymbal washer system. The KastKing Rover is made with six bearings and operates and casts smoothly with heavy catfish line.

This baitcast reel works well with a wide variety of catfishing techniques including trolling and deep water bottom fishing. The clicker alarm works well in ensuring that bigger cats have the bait secured before the drag system kicks in.


The KastKing is an excellent baitcast reel for the money. It is made from extremely durable material and will provide years of enjoyment with proper maintenance. It has the features of more expensive reels and works well with heavy catfishing line and tackle.


  • This is well made and durable.
  • The newly designed drag system is reliable when fighting large fish.
  • The KastKing Rover is all metal, with no plastic parts.


  • The Rover has some crunchiness.
  • Less experienced baitcasters will need practice to avoid backlash with this reel.

2. Abu Garcia Ambassadeur — Best Baitcasting Reel For Big Catfish

This Abu Garcia is designed for catfishing and is an ideal reel for big catfish.

The Ambassadeur features a four bearing system and a carbon matrix drag system that adjusts easily and maintains the desired drag with security. The Abu Garcia is designed with a superior centrifugal brake that provides for excellent casting and prevents backlash. This has longer handles designed for fighting large catfish.

This Abu has a reputation for durability and great utility in landing big catfish. It will maintain its value over time and the manufacturer is well known for excellent customer service.


The Ambassador is a fantastic reel specifically designed for catfishing. It has all the features serious catfish anglers look for in quality, durability, and high performance. This is not for bargain hunters, but is a reel that will last a lifetime with proper maintenance.


  • This is manufactured from high-quality components and materials.
  • The drag system for this reel is well designed and works very well.
  • This casts heavier catfish line smoothly.

3. Okuma Avenger ABF — Best Catfish Spinning Reel

This Okuma Avenger ABF has a six bearing system and a multi-disc drag system. The Avenger has a nice line capacity and the spinning reel design provides for superior casting of heavy catfish line.

The drag system on the Avenger is precise and maintains its setting during extended line retrieval. Okuma’s baitfeeder dual drag system works well for many catfishing techniques where the angler wants to be sure the fish has securely taken the bait before setting the hook.

This is constructed of high-quality bearings and other materials, and is intended for heavyweight catfishing. The available gear ratios are designed for deep water fishing and big fish that will take up lots of line.


The Avenger is a nice spinning reel for catfish. The spinning reel design will be attractive to anglers of all skill levels, and the drag system works well for extended fights with big catfish. The multiple bearing system will provide for a long life of smooth operation.


  • This casts easily.
  • The Avenger has a high line capacity.
  • Okuma is well known for high-quality construction.


  • This is not best suited for rod holders.
  • There are a couple of plastic parts (drag lever in particular) that have had some breakage issues.

4. Piscifun Flame — Best Catfish Reel Under 50 For Beginners

This Piscifun Flame is suitable for catfishers of all experience levels. Many anglers may already have a suitable spinning rod handy, and this reel can be a solid choice when someone wants to try catfishing before checking out baitcasting catfish rods and reels.

This is designed for a variety of fishing types, and the drag system is adequate for most situations. The Piscifun Flame does have a high line capacity and gear ratio, so fast retrieval is important when fishing with the type of drag provided by this reel.

The Piscifun Flame body has many graphite components, providing for a lighter weight reel. The tradeoff for lighter weight is durability and the risk of reel breakage under heavy duty catfishing conditions.


This is a versatile spinning reel that beginning catfishers will find usable and efficient. Like other spinning reels, it is not the best choice for every type of catfishing, but for casting, retrieving, and trolling it will perform nicely for anglers who do not know if they are ready for a baitcast reel.


  • This is easy to use for anglers of all skill levels.
  • The Piscifun Flame has a high line capacity and casts well.
  • The gear ratio is well suited for larger catfish.


  • The bail design on this reel makes drag control and retrieval somewhat difficult.
  • While this is a great reel for beginning anglers, it may not withstand the extended stress of heavyweight catfishing.

5. Cadence CS5 — Best Value Catfish Spinning Reel

This spinning reel’s main frame is made from a metacarbon composite that has similar strength to aluminum at a lighter weight. It has a higher gear ratio than many spinning reels and has an adequate line capacity.

The drag system is carbon designed and provides significant drag power but may not be as precise as some other spinning reels. The gear ratio compensates for the drag system, but requires fast and attentive line retrieval.

The Cadence CS5 is ergonomically designed, with easy to use handles in addition to its lightweight construction. Its ease of use is attractive to younger and less strong anglers. Like other spinning reels, it is better suited for trolling and casting than many bottom fishing techniques.


The Cadence provides good value for its cost. It also offers versatility for other fishing applications other than catfishing when using an appropriate rod, line, and tackle. For anglers who prefer spinning reels to baitcast reels, this reel makes for an economical choice.


  • The carbon construction of this reel is durable and lightweight.
  • This is less expensive than many comparable reels, especially lightweight carbon reels.


  • The drag system on this reel is not ideal for consistent fishing for large catfish.

Catfish Reel Shopping Guide

Catfishing is one of the most popular types of freshwater fishing. Catfish of all sizes are well known as being the premier fighter among freshwater fish. Catfish are found in all types of freshwater throughout North America, and you can catfish from all sizes of boats, from banks and shores, and from piers and docks. Catfish are found in all types of habitats and are active at all times of both day and night.

Catfishing is based on the use of the strongest smelling type of bait available. Catfish feed aggressively on both live bait and cut bait as well as any sort of dead organic material that can be placed where the fish are hunting for food.

Catfishing gear can differ greatly from other types of freshwater equipment and tackle. Because most catfish species in North America fight aggressively and can grow to be very large, heavy duty tackle is usually the best choice.

A high-quality catfishing reel is durable and well made. Let’s look at the features of catfish reels that are important to anglers.

Reel Types

There are three general types of reels manufactured for freshwater catfishing: spin cast reels, spinning reels, and baitcast reels.

Spin Cast Reels

Spin cast reels are the basic reel that most beginning anglers are familiar with. The line is enclosed and the spool is released for casting with a thumb operated button. Push, cast, and retrieve is about all that is involved with operating a spincast reel.

Spin cast reels are limited in line capacity and generally do not cast very well with the heavier line normally required for catfishing. The drag systems of most spincast reels are not as well made as other reel types. The part quality and gear ratios of many spincast reels are not up to par with the heavy duty requirements of fighting with catfish.

Spinning Reels

Spinning reels use a wire bale over the spool that is flipped open for casting. These reels work well for most catfishing situations–if the reel is heavyweight and up to the type and size of catfish you are going after. Many spinning reels are of lightweight construction and are only really useful against small catfish.

Heavier construction spinning reels do have superior drag systems and cast heavier catfishing line well. Spinning reels sit on the bottom of the catfish rod and do not always work well with rod holders.

Baitcast Reels

Most experienced catfish anglers prefer baitcast reels. These reels are useful for small fish up to the largest cats. Bait cast reels provide good line capacity for heavy catfishing line. The gear ratios for most baitcast reels are well suited for handling longer line lengths and extended fights with larger fish.
Bait cast reels also usually offer heavy duty construction and well-designed drag systems that are effective in long fights with larger fish. Bait cast reels work well with rod holders when paired with a good baitcast catfish rod.

Drag Systems

Drag allows larger fish to pull line off of the spool without causing stress and shock to the line, the rod, and the reel. Drag allows an angler to land fish that exceed the test weight of the line by several factors. Most quality reels are designed with drag systems that allow for quick adjustments when a fish is on the line and putting stress on the line.

The quality of the drag washers of a catfish rod usually determines how well the drag system will work. Drag quality is among the most important considerations when catfishing, especially for larger fish.

Line Capacity

Effective and fun catfishing usually involves using lots of line. This is especially true when fishing for larger fish in deeper waters. Catfishing calls for heavier line than most other types of freshwater fishing, and that heavier line uses up more space on a reel’s spool.

A reel with greater line capacity will allow for effective landing techniques against larger fish and will provide sufficient line for a full day on the water, especially if any line is lost by hanging up or from breakage.

Braking Systems

A catfish reel’s braking system uses magnets to control the speed of the spool in releasing line. Braking systems help prevent line backlashes and greatly assist in casting heavy catfishing line effectively. Without a braking system, a reel’s spool can easily turn faster than the line around the spool, causing horrible tangles, wasted line, and lots of lost time.

Counter Balance (Spool Tension)

Many higher quality reels feature counter balance or a spool tensioner. This adjustment allows an angler to match the rotation of the line spool to the weight of the line and tackle being used. This adjustment takes some practice to get used to, but it allows for superior fine-tuning of the weight of the line and tackle used to match the spool’s rotation and performance.

Gear Ratio

A reel’s gear ratio describes how much line is reeled in with each turn of the reel’s handle. A higher gear ratio means that more line is retrieved with each turn of the handle. For catfishing, a higher gear ratio provides for effective retrieval of greater lengths of line with a large fish on the line, and at greater speeds.

When retrieving large fish that are fighting hard, fast line retrieval when the fish has released tension on the line is the key to landing the fish without damaging your line or tackle. Catfishing with a reel with insufficient gear ratio is a sure way to reduce the reel’s life and usefulness.

Line Alarms (Clickers)

Many reels feature line alarms, or clickers, that allow the spool to remain free while waiting for a bite. When a fish takes the bait and starts stripping off line, the alarm will start clicking to alert the angler that a fish has taken the bait. Many catfishing techniques are very effective when using rod holders and clickers.

Bearings and Bushings In Fishing Reels

Reel bearings allow the reel to turn and function efficiently. Because catfishing is usually heavyweight fishing, quality bearings allow for proper reel operation under stress. The number of bearings varies from reel to reel, and the more bearings a reel has usually is an indication of a higher quality reel. Some reels have bushings, which do not generally perform as well as bearings.


What is the best gear ratio for catfishing?

You want a gear ratio that is faster than average. This permits a quick retrieval of slack when the catfish gets tired. Look for a gear ratio of 5:1 – 6.5:1.

Do you need a leader for catfish?

Yes. We recommend a 40 to 50 pound clear monofilament leader. A heavy leader helps absorb the shock during an aggressive strike. It provides protection against the rough mouth of the catfish.

What is the best time of year to catch catfish?

Early spring, from late March through early May, will provide some of the best catfishing opportunities. However, catfish bite all year long.

What is the best rig for catfish?

Slip rigs are a great option. They offer versatility and can be used as drift and float rigs. If you are looking for a bottom rig, the egg sinkers slip rig is a good option.

Can I use a baitcaster for catfish?

Yes. Bait cast reels have been designed to work with a heavier line. They allow you to cast farther than you could with a spinning gear of the same size.

What kind of bait do you use for catfish?

Chicken livers are the best catfish bait available. Crawfish also work well. It’s worth noting that most flat heads caught using crawfish weigh under 20 pounds.


Choosing the right reel for the type of catfishing you plan to try is the key to successful and enjoyable fishing. Selecting the right reel based on the attributes discussed above will ensure that you have the right stuff in hand when you take on a big and mean catfish. We hope this guide has been of use. Please let us know of any questions or comments below.

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