Baitcasting reels are an important tool for anglers who want to be able to effectively fish larger lures and techniques where light line spinning reels simply don’t cut it. A good baitcasting combo gives you a high degree of control of your lure, allowing pinpoint lure placements, and the power to pull big fish out of cover and deep water.
This guide will help you understand how to choose the best baitcasting reel for the money, one that helps you fish your favorite techniques as efficiently as possible, as well as coming in under your budget. For those new to baitcasters, we’ll cover the most important specifications to look for so that you make the right choice for your own personal best baitcasting reel. If you are familiar with these things already, then jump right down to our Top 5 baitcasting reels.
We believe anglers should use both spinning reels and baitcasting reels to be the most versatile angler you possible. However, there are many techniques and lures that are best used with a baitcasting combo.
Heavier Line – On a baitcasting reel, the spool’s axis of rotation is perpendicular to the rod guides, meaning the line comes off directly through the line guide and straight through the rod guides. This makes it easier to use heavier lines, from 10-20lb test on average, and heavier lures. A good baitcasting setup can easily cast lures from 1/4 to 1oz, and more.
More Power – Baitcasters are capable of more power than spinning reels, thanks to their spool layout and design. The spool is in-line with the handle and gears so the reel can apply more power and torque. Also, because the handles are mounted directly onto the reel frame there is no lever arm to cause flex when reeling hard on a fish.
More Control – Baitcasting reel combos give you a higher degree of casting control compared to spinning gear because you can control the distance and speed of your lure by thumbing the spool during the cast. Once you become proficient in their use, you can achieve pinpoint accuracy with your casts, allowing you to place your lure exactly where the fish are.
If you’re wondering what the top baitcasting reels are, then take a minute to compare our Top 5 picks in the comparison chart. We collected review data from multiple websites, and used our own fishing experiences to make these recommendations. All of these reels are a good value for your money, and would make a good choice for a variety of freshwater fishing applications.
As you can tell, we are fans of Shimano fishing reels. The Chronarch Ci4 tops our list of all baitcasting reels. The Chronarch Ci4 is right in the middle of the price range. It costs more than a value reel, but still nowhere near the cost of magnesium framed reels. What leaves you with is a high quality, high performance baitcasting reel you can count on.
The Chronarch is built on a foundation of a carbon fiber infused Ci4+ frame that weighs a scant 6.5 ounces. Like many of Shimano’s high end reels, the Chronarch gets the X-Ship gear arrangement that provides rock solid gear stability and strength.
The Dartanium II drag washers provide one of the smoothest drag systems around. You can simply adjust it with a flick of your finger while fighting a fish. The SVS Infinity breaking system is one of the best out there. There is an external dial as well as 4 internal brakes that are adjusted by opening the side plate and engaging 1 to 4 of the buttons.
Overall, the Chronarch Ci4 can be the versatile workhorse baitcasting reel that you need. It is well suited for anything from finesse lures and weightless plastics, all the way up to your flipping and pitching needs. The fact that you can get this performance in a lightweight carbon frame reel, without the price tag of a magnesium reel is a bonus.
The Revo SX baitcasting reel from Abu Garcia is one of the very best all-around reels an angler can buy today. They are Abu Garcias most popular baitcasting reel for a reason. It’s very lightweight, easy to palm, and comes in two different gear ratios.
The 6.4:1 SX is going to excel at a wide swath of fishing techniques, and we recommend this one if you are looking for a workhorse, multi-purpose reel. The 7.1:1 reel on the other hand, will be better for you if you like to burn in topwater baits, or if you like to pitch and flip jigs or soft plastic creature baits. You’ll get more casts in with the 7.1 ratio.
The Revo SX is smooth on the cast thanks to 10 ball bearings and a dial adjustment for the magnetic brakes on the side plate. This reel is a great option if you are looking for versatility, performance, and reliability in a new reel, yet doesn’t cost a fortune.
The Daiwa Tatula is one of the more innovative baitcasting reels we’ve seen in a long time, thanks to it’s awesome new “T-Wing” casting system. Once you get used to the way it flips open and shut on casts, you’ll be slinging baits further and easier than ever before.
The T-Wing concept is a specially designed line guide that reduces friction and obstruction on the cast, while maintaining a uniform level line winding onto the spool on the retrieve. It works by flipping up into casting position, revealing the wide slot for the line to flow through on the cast.
Compare this to the single small hole found on virtually every other baitcasting reel made today. There is less restriction on the line, allowing you to cast farther and smoother. On the retrieve, the T-Wing flips down and the line lays in a narrow groove to levelwind onto the spool. It really is an ingenious design from Daiwa.
The Tatula reels are more than just the T-Wing, coming equipped with a carbon drag stack, Magforce-X casting brakes, 8 bearings, and several gear ratios, all at an affordable price.
Looking for an extreme high speed baitcaster to fish topwater frogs and toads with? Look no further than the Abu Garcia Revo Rocket. This sucker is an actual “Reel Rocket”, with a candy red color, carbon fiber handle, and equipped with a blistering fast 9.0:1 gear ratio and a line recovery rate at 37 inches per turn. This is the fastest baitcasting reel on the market.
The Revo Rocket allows you to power fish at a high rate of efficiency. The high gearing and recovery rate makes it possible to get more casts in per day, greatly increasing your opportunities to catch fish.
Use the Revo Rocket to efficiently cast buzzbaits, buzz toads, hollow body frogs, wakebaits, poppers, and even jerkbaits. The Rocket is also great to power fish with jigs and creature baits around docks and cover. You’ll get many more flips and pitches in over the course of a day, which increases your odds of catching that kicker fish you need to win the tournament.
We like the STX line because of the high end bearings and brake system, but also for the 3 different gearing ratios available (6.4/7.1/8.0:1). The Revo STX is essentially a tuned up version of the Revo SX. There is a gear ratio for everyone in the STX, where SX has only 2. The reel weight drops from 6.9 ounces to 6.4 ounces, and also has 10+1 bearings.
The biggest difference between the two models is the braking system. The Revo STX has a magnetic system, plus an upgrade to a centrifugal brake system called the Infini Brake System. It’s up to you if the extra money for the better braking system is worth it to you.
Like on all the Revo reels, you can expect an ergonomic design that is easy to palm, a smooth Carbon matrix drag system, and a D2 Gear Design that provides plenty of cranking and hook setting power. The STX can be the workhorse reel you’ve always wanted.
The Shimano Curado reels are known as some of the best baitcasting reels of all time. Just take a look in the boat of any fisherman who has been around a while, and chances are you will see a few Curados on his deck. The Curado has built a long reputation of performance, reliability, and durability. Sometimes all it takes is a thorough cleaning and some new bearings to give a 5 year old Curado 5 more years of service. They are really that tough.
Users of the Curado marvel at the smooth casting and especially the adjustable Infinity braking system. The Curado is complete with all the cool Shimano technologies like a Super Free Spool, S-A-RB bearings, and the new X-Ship pinion gear design that anglers have been raving about since it came out.
The bottom line is, if you don’t want to try out other brands, or have any doubts about cheaper reels, then get into a few Shimano Curados. They cast like a dream, and will last you many, many years of hard fishing before you need to tear it down for cleaning or to buy a new one.
What to Look for in a Good Baitcasting Reel
All right, now let’s get into the nitty gritty details of what you need to look for in a new baitcasting reel. It’s not complicated once you get to know the specs, and you’ll see which ones we care about most.
#1 Gear Ratio – The gear ratio tells you how many times the spool turns in one revolution of the handle. The higher the gear ratio the more line that is retrieved per turn of the handle. Common gear ratios of top baicasting reels are 5.3:1, 6.4:1, and 7.1:1.
The 6.4:1 gear ratio is an all-around good choice, as you can use any kind of bait and fishing technique, like worms, jigs, topwater, shallow cranking, and have excellent performance. The other gear ratios are more specialized, and you’ll see if that’s something you want to take advantage.
The low gear ratios like 5.2:1 and 5.3:1 are great for fishing baits that pull hard like deep diving crankbaits, big swimbaits, and slow rolling heavy spinnerbaits. The low gear ratio helps you reel the bait slower, keeping it in the strike zone longer. You also enjoy a higher torque output on these reels, making them a nice choice for flipping and moving fish out of cover.
High gear ratios are best for techniques where taking up slack and burning a bait back to the boat are critical. If you like to fish topwater frogs or toads, a 7.1:1 baitcasting reel is your best choice. They also excel at pitching jigs and plastics, so you can take up slack quickly and drive home a good hookset.
Here is a god video explaining these concepts further.
#2 Spool Size – A bigger (deeper) spool can be beneficial if you like to fish stiff heavy line like a 20lb fluorocarbon. The larger spool creates smaller coils of line that are easier to manage. Smaller shallow spools are best for short line applications like flipping and pitching.
#3 Handle Size – Low profile bass fishing reels have different handle sizes. Some of the most compact reels have shorter handles. This may be fine for most applications like fishing a worm or a jig, but not for handling big crankbaits or swimbaits. A larger, longer handle creates more torque to winch fish out of heavy cover, as when punching grass mats.
#4 Brakes & Tension System – The tension knob controls the line at the beginning of your cast, and the brake system controls the line at the end of your cast. The brakes help especially when casting into the wind when your spool tends to spin faster than the bait as it is slowed down by the wind. A good tension and braking system is critical to being able to make long casts with a variety of lure weights and experience minimal backlashes.
#5 Bearings & Materials – Look for quality ceramic or stainless steel ball bearings in your baitcasting reels. In general. the more bearings a reel has, the smoother it will cast and retrieve. Look for reels that are lightweight and use strong materials like aluminum, magnesium, or carbon composite materials. These are strong and durable materials that will give you the best performance as well as durability.
Top Reels by Price
Best Baitcasting Reels Under $100 – Most weekend anglers will be satisfied with our top choices in the 100 dollar price range. You would be pleasantly surprised at the quality reels that you can find in this price range.
Best Baitcasting Reels Under $200 – For a minimal amount more, you can buy a lighter, stronger, smoother baitcasting reel. This is really important for more serious fishermen who enjoy high performance, and can’t stand for reel failures.
Crankbait Reels – Review the top cranking reels that can make fishing deep diving crankbaits so much easier and effective.