Baitcasting reels are some of the most popular reels used by modern anglers, and they are a great choice for those who want to use heavy gear or target large gamefish.
However, anglers often find it challenging to learn how to use these reels, and there is definitely a learning curve involved. But with a little practice, you’ll learn how to use on like a pro and begin reaping the rewards they provide.
What Is a Baitcaster?
Baitcasting reels ( also called casting reels ) feature a revolving spool that is mounted inside a rigid frame. A button on the rear side of the frame frees the spool and allows it to spin during a cast, while a side-mounted handle allows you to retrieve line afterward.
Baitcasting rods, which feature top-mounted line guides and trigger-style handgrips, are the best rods to use with these reels.
Later, we’ll explain some of the most important features and specifications to identify a good baitcasting reel, but let’s begin by identifying some of the best baitcasting reels available on the market.
Baitcasting reels differ in a variety of ways, and different models are better suited for some applications than others. Accordingly, we’ve broken down our product recommendations into several different categories.
The 4 Top Baitcasting Reels of 2018: Outdoor Empire Reviews
These are our top recommendations for baitcasting reels of 2018:
- Best overall: Get the Shimano 200IHG Curado (read 120+ Amazon reviews)
- Best baitcasting reel for the money: Get the KastKing RXA 40-90 (read 270+ Amazon reviews)
- Best saltwater baitcaster: Get the Shimano Calcutta B (read 55+ Amazon reviews)
- Best baitcaster under $100: Get the Lew’s Speed Spool SSG1SH (read 50+ Amazon reviews)
*Looking for a specific feature? Check out our quick-reference chart below:
|Weight||7.4 oz||10.7 oz||18.2 oz||7 oz|
|Line Retrieve||30 in||not specified by manufacturer||28 in||31 in|
|Max Drag||not specified by manufacturer||11 lbs||17 lbs||10 lbs|
|Cost||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
1. Best Overall: Shimano 200IHG Curado
The Shimano 200IHG Curado is a top-of-the-line reel, specifically designed to provide the best possible fishing experience.
Featuring a low-profile design and several high-tech solutions to common baitcasting challenges, the Shimano 200IHG Curado is easy for most anglers to operate and a joy to use.
The Curado’s design includes everything you’d want in a high-end baitcasting reel. Starting with a solid, ultra-rigid Metal Hagane body, the lightweight platform consists of a one-piece set plate, a large drive and pinion gear and 6 double-shielded bearings.
You can load the Curado with more than 100 yards of fluorocarbon, monofilament or braided line, and the 7.2:1 gear ratio means you can reel in 30 inches of line with each turn of the handle. This makes the reel a perfect choice for those who love burning high-speed lures, such as:
The Curado has plenty of muscle for handling big fish, and you can dial up as much as 15 pounds of drag pressure when chasing big bass.
But unlike other beefy baitcasting reels that will tire your hands, wrists and arms, the Curado weighs in at a svelte 7.4 ounces, making it easy to use for hours at a time.
Shimano has provided the most advanced braking system available to reduce the number of backlashes and bird’s nests that you experience.
They do this in part by pairing a centrifugal brake system with an external micro adjustment knob, which makes it easier to control the spool and provides more consistent brake force.
The Curado also features X-ship technology, which relies on a pinion gear that is supported from both ends, rather than many other reels, which are only supported from a single side.
This provides more torque, increased power, and it also means your reel will last longer less maintenance.
The S3D spool also deserves special mention, as it is one of the most perfectly balanced spools on the market, which will make it much easier for you to whip your lure across the lake.
To review, some of the other notable features of the Shimano Curado include:
- The enlarged drive and pinion gear
- Six double shielded bearings
- Ultra-fast 7.2:1 gear ratio
- Unique SVS braking system
- S3D spool
2. Best for the Money: KastKing RXA 40-90
Kast King takes pride in providing premium-quality reels at affordable prices, and the RXA is a perfect example of this ethos.
Featuring a traditional, round reel design, the RXA is a good-looking, high-performance reel that costs only a fraction of what comparable reels do.
The RXA is built like a tank and suitable for use in fresh or salt water. Both the side plates and spool are built with reinforced anodized aluminum, the precision-machined gears are made from brass and the worm gear and shaft are both constructed from stainless steel.
The carbon-fiber drag system offers 20 pounds of maximum drag pressure, so you can drag in the biggest bass in the pond, while the line clicker lets you keep track of how much line is in the water.
The easy-access thumb bar release, heavy-duty non-slip grips and paddle-wheel handle all ensure that you will be able to respond quickly, forcefully and with the control needed to land whatever fish is foolish enough to take your line.
Finally, the Kast King RXA features seven premium stainless-steel ball bearings to provide supremely smooth operation.
When all of these features are considered, it is easy to see that the RXA provides all of the power, performance, versatility and dependability you’d want, at a price you can afford.
To review, some of the other notable features of the Kast King RXA 40-90 include:
- Solid metal construction, featuring stainless steel, hardened aluminum and brass components
- Carbon Fiber Star drag provides up to 20 pounds of drag pressure
- Corrosion-resistant and suitable for use in freshwater or saltwater
3. Best Saltwater: Shimano Calcutta B
Baitcasting reels are usually built to be durable, but those not specifically designed for saltwater use won’t last long if you take them offshore or down to your local beach.
But, the Calcutta is different; made with a cold-forged aluminum body and loaded with anti-rust bearings, the Calcutta is built to take saltwater in stride and perform admirably for years.
But the Calcutta isn’t just a tough reel, it is versatile too. It features a 4.7:1 gear ratio and 28-inch retrieval rate, making it well suited for trolling, bottom fishing for using live bait closer to the surface.
The spool can hold 310 yards of 20-pound-test monofilament or 650 yards of 50-pound-test braided line, ensuring that you’ll be ready for any long run or deep dive that comes your way.
But despite its robust construction, the Calcutta is surprisingly small and weighs only 18.2 ounces, making it the perfect complement for a variety of different rods.
When combined with the easy-grip paddle handles, you’ll find that the Calcutta is easy to control and use, no matter how long you are on the water.
To review, some of the other notable features of the Shimano Calcutta B include:
- Cold-forged aluminum frame, side plates and spool
- Anti-rust sealed bearings
- Compact size and maximum line capacity
- Appropriate for braided, fluorocarbon or monofilament line
4. Best Baitcasting Reel Under $100: Lew’s Speed Spool SSG1SH
While it is true that some of the best baitcasting reels on the market are also some of the most expensive, this doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money to get a fantastic reel.
For example, Lew’s Speed Spool SSG1SH is a very high-quality reel, which can be yours for less than $100. It is a lightweight reel that features most of the things you’d want in a quality reel, including all metal construction and high-quality ball bearings.
The Speed Spool features a single piece aluminum frame and graphite side plates, thereby providing the same kind of strength that many more expensive designs do, without the accompanying increase in cost.
The reels 10-bearing design provides smooth operation and makes it easy to cast your lures farther than before.
The Speed Spool boasts an extremely fast 7.5:1 gear ratio, making it perfect for high-speed lures and quick retrieves.
It holds up to 150 yards of 12-pound-test monofilament, and unlike a lot of heavy, bulky reels, the low-profile Speed Spool weighs only 7 ounces, making it easy to use for hours at a time.
For convenience sake, the reel features easily removed sides, to provide access to the internal components, and it is available in both right- and left-handed configurations.
- Aluminum and graphite construction is lightweight, yet strong
- High-speed 7.5:1 gear ratio
- Ten shielded ball bearings provide smooth performance
- Seven-ounce, low-profile design won’t cause fatigue
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:
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 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 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 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.
Although 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can use whichever configuration you prefer, but it is wise to try right- and left-handed models prior to making a selection.
A 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.
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.
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.
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.
A 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.
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.
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.
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.