The 6 Best Catfish Reels Reviewed & Revealed ( 2018 Hands-on Guide )

Catfish caught while fishing spinning rod.

So, you’ve decided to try your hand at catfishing — good for you. But before you can hit the water you need to have the right gear. You need gear capable of not only hooking but landing even the big boys.

One of the top things on that list is your reel. Many beginners make the mistake of thinking the reel is little more than a place to store extra line, but they’d be wrong.

The reel is the foundation of your fishing rig; it not only stores extra line but provides the oomph necessary to cast your catfish rod accurately and with precision, the backbone to set the hook after a bite and strength to fight to the finish.

Pick the correct reel and your friends’ social media will be blowing up with pictures of your trophies. But pick the wrong reel and you will be looking for a new hobby.

Let’s look at some of the best models on the market today.

Below are our choices for catfish spinning reel, catfish baitcasting reel and rod/reel combo, along with an explanation of the features that let these examples rise above the competition. 

 

 

The 6 Top Catfish Reels of 2018: Outdoor Empire Reviews

These are our top recommendations for catfish reels of 2018:

  1. Best spinning reels: Get the PENN Spinfisher V Live Liner (read 540+ Amazon reviews)
  2. Get the Pflueger Patriarch Spinning Reel
  3. Best baitcasting reels: Get the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur
  4. Get the Abu Garcia C3 Catfish Special Baitcasting Reel (Read 80+ Amazon customer reviews)
  5. Best rod & reel combos: Get the CatMaxx Rod & Reel Combo 
  6. Get the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 6500S Combo

*Looking for a specific feature? Check out our quick-reference chart below:

ProductPENN Spinfisher V Live Liner
PENN Spinfisher V Live Liner

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur
Abu Garcia Ambassadeur

CatMaxx Rod & Reel Combo
CatMaxx Rod & Reel Combo

Model No.SSV4500LLC-7001CMX70
Mono Capacity300/8
250/10
185/12
20lb/250ydsnot specified by manufacturer
Braid Capacity365/15
280/20
200/30
30lbs/630yds80/260
Bearing Count624+1
Max Drag25 lbs20 lbs40 lbs
Gear Ratio6.2:1
4.1:14.6:1
CostCheck Price



Check Price



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1. Best Catfish Spinning Reels: PENN Spinfisher V Live Liner

 

PENN Spinfisher V Live Liner

There are very few manufacturers producing spinning reels specifically for catfish, most are saltwater models adapted for big bass or cats, and this is exactly what the PENN Spinfisher V Live Liner does best.

This reel was designed for the harsh saltwater environment and the fish that inhabit it but is equally at home in a catfishing boat as well. 

The overall design is robust. The large all-metal body, side plates and frame provide an excellent foundation for the equally strong metal gears and oversized bail wire. Top it off with the machined anodized aluminum spool and you have a true beast in your hands.   

As stated earlier, this reel was designed for saltwater battles; and the drag and stainless-steel ball bearings are all well suited for catfish line capacity (both braided and monofilament).

Plus, the additional Live Line feature (PENN’s version of a bait clicker) is perfect for swimming baits to cats. 

  • All metal construction, designed to take abuse 
  • Six shielded stainless steel bearings 
  • Metal gears housed in a greased watertight body 
  • Capable of handling heavy line and lots of it, both braided and mono 
  • Live Line feature not easily found on spinning reels 

2. Pflueger Patriarch Spinning Reel

Pflueger Patriarch Spinning ReelOne of Pflueger’s top-of-the-line reels, the Patriarch Spinning Reel is well-suited for a variety of freshwater gamefish, but it provides incredible value for those chasing catfish.

It is not only a very strong reel, which is perfect for medium-sized catfish (and rigid enough to handle the occasional giant), but it is also quite light, which means your hands and arms won’t get fatigued while fishing all day (or night) long.

And to make sure that those big cats don’t snap your line, the Patriarch comes with a permanently sealed carbon drag and a titanium-coated line roller.

The Patriarch is available in three different sizes, but we’d recommend the largest (the 35X) for catfish.

  • Features a lightweight carbon handle, machined aluminum main gear and a titanium shaft.
  • Built around a super-lightweight magnesium body, frame, and side plate.
  • Treated with a proprietary three-step coating process, which will prevent corrosion and extend the life of the reel.

 

3. Best Catfish Baitcasting Reels: Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C-7001

Abu Garcia is one of the most well-known makers of baitcasting reel and is a favorite among catfish enthusiasts. Topping the list of the many popular models is their flagship Ambassadeur C-7001.

This is one of the most durable and dependable baitcasting reels ever made and continues to be a favorite among catfish anglers. 

The traditional round reel design includes an all-metal body, side plates and spool. The brass Duragear gear is designed to last a lifetime, while the oversized extended handle with power knobs will provide the power need to land anything you hook.  

With a line capacity of 630/30 (braided) and 250/20 (monofilament), running out of line will not be a problem. But, should you find yourself on the end of a long run, a retrieval rate of 22 inches will make short work of any fight. 

  • Heavy-duty design intended for heavy-duty use 
  • Time tested and proven 
  • Twenty-pound maximum drag 
  • Centrifugal 4-pin brake system for constant pressure throughout cast 
  • Corrosion-resistant anti-brake for added protection 

 

 

4. Abu Garcia C3 Catfish Special Baitcasting Reel

Abu Garcia C3 Catfish Special Baitcasting ReelThe Abu Garcia’s C3 Spinning Reel is specifically designed to meet the needs of serious catfish anglers. It is built like a rock and will stand up to years of use.

And as a bonus, the C3 is very reasonably priced for such a high-quality reel, making it a great value. And it not only works well, but the custom graphics make it a great-looking reel too.

The C3 is available in two different models:

  • C36500 features a 5.3:1 gear ratio and collects 26 inches of line per handle turn.
  • C36700 features a ridiculously powerful 4.1:1 gear ratio which collects 22 inches of line per crank.

We’d probably recommend opting for the C36500 unless you are trying to catch the biggest cats in the pond, in which case the C36700 may be the better option.

But no matter which model you prefer, you’ll surely enjoy the extended-length bent cranking handles and oversized power knobs, as well as the carbon matrix drag system.

 

 

5. Best Catfish Rod & Reel Combos: CatMaxx Rod & Reel Combo 

 

CatMaxx Rod & Reel Combo

There are two things every catfish angler needs: a rod and a reel capable of meeting the demands of catching big fish. Unfortunately, although there are many quality reels and an equal number of quality rods available they are not always compatible.

A mismatched rod and reel can make fishing difficult, but Bass Pro has made this a whole lot easier by providing the CatMaxx Rod & Reel Combo. 

This setup is specifically designed for catching catfish, even big ones, and removes the need to experiment with different setups. The reel is comprised of a heavy-duty, one-piece aluminum frame and a high-capacity aluminum spool.

The 6-pin centrifugal brake system, rugged gears, 3-bearing design and instant anti-reverse are exactly what you need. An audible bait clicker rounds out the package.  

When mounted on the tough E-glass rod with heavy-duty double footed guides, carbon alloy tip and non-slip cork handle you are ready for hassle-free fishing. 

  • Matched rod and reel removes any need to experiment with setup 
  • Quality reel is designed for catfish and includes all the features you are looking for 
  • Tough, heavy-duty reel is specifically constructed to handle the abuse of catfishing, including a carbon alloy tip for extra surge protection 
  • Price is less than you would spend for comparable rod and reel when purchased separately  
  • Various sizes available to address all your catfish needs from channels to blues 

  

 

6. Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 6500S Combo

 

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 6500S Combo

Although anglers who like to catch dozens of “eating-sized” catfish may be better served by the CatMaxx combo mentioned previously, those who want to catch giants need a very robust rod, and reel combo, which can stand up to the wear-and-tear big fish can dish out.

The Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 6500S Combo is a great choice for catching big cats, yet it still provides the precision and performance discriminating anglers need.

This combo is available in two different versions: One with a medium-power rod and one with a medium-heavy-power rod. However, both rods are 8.5-feet-long, and both are paired with the same Abu Garcia Ambassadeur reel.

  • A synchronized level wind system, two stainless steel ball bearings, and a 4-pin centrifugal brake make it quite easy to cast and will keep backlashes to a minimum.
  • Comes with a multi-disc drag system and a star-shaped dial which makes it easy to make adjustments without taking your eyes off the water.

 

 

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 

 

Thomas Burrell
Tom is an avid outdoorsman and enjoys fishing , hunting and kayaking in his native Pennsylvania and anywhere else he find the time to travel to. When not recreating outdoors he is protecting it as a full time conservation officer and spending time with his wife and 3 children.

1 COMMENT

  1. I’m no pro but I live to fish and as I can’t afford a hundred different rods and reels I try to buy what will cover all my needs in just afew rods n reels. My favorite is the penn Torque 5 for what’s big and bad both catfish and surf beach. My others are baitrunner thunnus, 2 6000 and 1 12000 thunnus. All aluminum bodies, very strong and no flex. I have 3 torques 1 bailess #5 one bailed #5 and one bailed #7. Great reels for everything especially with 40lbs of drag if I need it. If you go backpacking in Alaska you don’t carry a 9mm for bear protection, you carry a Bazooka. The penn Torques are my bazookas, not to big not to small but really turn up the Heat on big fish. Blues, Flatheads, striper, shark. Can’t beat these 6 reels !!!!! St Croix rods and Ugly Sticks !!

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