The best catfish reels for any skill level depends on the species of catfish. Reels designed for flathead or blue catfish will be bigger. Whereas the reels for channels or bullheads are smaller. There are reels falling in the middle range that will handle all the catfish also. An angler needs to know the targeted species of catfish before buying their reel.
Choosing the right one will be based on how you fish, your skill level, and how much you are fishing. While any reel can catch fish some are better. The most common type of reel used for catfish is a baitcast reel. The design of baitcast reels offers better strength. Plus durability compared to other types.
A common misconception is that a baitcast reel is hard to use. This is not true but the reel does take some practice to learn to cast effectively. The reels take some time to set the tension knob and cast control. Afterward practicing casting will allow an angler to cast long and accurate. As a result, you will get enjoyment for many years from the reel.
Choosing Catfish Reels
Understanding the features of reels will help choose what is best for you. Some types of reels are better than others. Consider the use of the reel. An angler that only fishes sometimes may want something easier to use. A serious angler needs to find the right equipment for the species. Making a good choice requires knowing the features and why, when, and how they work for you.
Catching catfish depends upon putting the bait where they are in the river or lake. This sometimes requires long casts. This takes a reel with enough line and little friction on the line during the cast. A reel that only holds about one hundred yards of the line will not work. Instead, look for a reel with a line capacity close to one hundred fifty yards or more.
While casting the amount of line on the spool decreases. The angle of the line steepens as it gets lower on the spool. As a result, this increases the friction where the line guide or edge of spool and line meet. This reduces casting distance on reels with insufficient line capacities. Choosing a reel with enough line capacity is a key element for any type of fishing.
Line capacity comes into play when catching a fish also. After casting there has to be enough line left on the reel. A big catfish is going to take some line off during the fight. Depending on how you fish the line will be taken off during the bite additionally. An angler may have to let the fish run before setting the hook. This is common with big baits for bigger fish.
The gear ratio affects how much line is retrieved with each turn of the handle. A fish swimming towards you can cause slack in the line and spit the hook. The reel needs to bring in the line fast enough to prevent this from happening. The line tension on a hook also keeps it in the fish’s mouth along with the barb. A ratio too slow will not retrieve the line fast enough with some fish.
On the other end of the spectrum are high ratio reels. These are great for certain lures but not catfish. Fishing for catfish uses bait and weights to hold the bait in place. These often can weigh between 1 1/2 to 6 ounces. A high ratio will be harder to turn with this weight at the end of the line. Reeling in a fish has your heart pumping and you will not notice the effort to turn the handle. Cranking in heavy sinkers is different.
Anglers need to have a ratio in the middle range for catfish. The reel should be fast enough to prevent slack in the line but not too fast. It should be comfortable reeling in without a fish on and not be hard. Look for a reel in the 5.5:1 to 6.5:1 ratio since this is a mid-range ratio on many reels and suitable for catfish.
Fishermen do not think about the drag until it fails them. At that time it is too late. The drag is an important feature that needs to be smooth with adequate strength. Lacking in either aspect will lead to problems and missed fish. The drag works with the line strength and rod power to make fighting the fish successful. In other words the rod, reel, and line work as a team for you. Look for balance with the rod, reel, and line.
A reel with too much drag can break the line or worse the rod. A 12-pound drag is suitable for line up to 30-40 pounds so you do not need a 20+ pound drag often. Serious catfish anglers use reels with 12 pound drags and have no problems. The smoothness of the drag is more important. The line needs to come off when a fish pulls hard and not wait for a stuck drag. A good quality reel will come with a good drag and cheap reels do not have quality drag systems.
Setting the Drag
Setting the drag needs doing before hooking the fish. When a fish is on it is too late. The line breaks or you have to fumble with the adjuster for the drag while the line spools out. Set the drag for the line strength and end all the problems. It should take 25 to 30 percent of the line strength to pull the line off on a rod and reel set up the right way.
Start by tying the weight at the end of the line. Use a 6-7 pound weight for a 20-pound line. Then with the rod at a downward 40-45 degree angle lift the weight. If the line comes off easily tighten the drag a little and repeat. When the line does not come off loosen the drag until the weight falls slowly. Using this technique will set the drag set for the line before you go fishing. After some experience, pulling on the line will tell if it is set right.
The bearings are you get what you pay for items on reels. The cheap reels may have a few more but they are lower quality. The good reels have better bearings making the retrieving and casting smoother. On a baitcast reel, the bearings need to be a good quality for long casts. A reel that is not smooth will cause problems in other words. Look for a reel from a known quality manufacturer to avoid problems.
Reels in the 100-150 dollar range will have 4-5 bearings if it has more they are likely poor quality. The price increases with the quality and number of bearings. A fact an angler needs to realize. Catfishing uses bait and does not put constant pressure on the bearings. Bass fishing with lures is constant pressure on the bearings. A reel with 4-5 bearings is enough for the average angler. Do not be suckered by the number of bearings on cheaper reels.
The braking system is also known as cast control. This feature is important since it prevents over-spin on a baitcast reel’s spool. Over-spin is the cause of the dreaded backlashes or bird’s nest on the reels. A good braking system will greatly reduce the bird’s nests on a properly set reel. There are two types primarily although some cheap reels do not have a cast control feature.
The centrifugal control system is preferable. Since it works better in the opinion of many anglers. They use weights that can move during the cast to add resistance to the spool’s rotation. The weights only engage when needed during the cast. Usually during the mid-cast when spool speed can exceed the line coming off. In the end, the weights disengage allowing a few more yards of distance.
The system does need to set by locking or unlocking the weights inside the reel. The number of weights set depends on the angler’s casting ability and varies in each reel. Some reels have 4 and others have six but all are set the same way. An inexperienced angler should use all of the weights also called pins.
After gaining experience with reel you can reduce the number of pins used. Simply lockout a few of the pins. Do pins opposite each other when locking out even numbers or go evenly spaced with 3 on a six-pin reel. This method maintains a better spool balance. This will give a little increase to the distance while casting. The information needed to adjust the pins settings will come with the reel.
Bass reels use the magnetic type of cast control. The majority of this type is either on or off all the time. As the name implies they use magnets to slow down the spool. They work throughout the cast and do not disengage or do not work at all. This reduces casting distance or increases the chance of bird’s nests. It is best to avoid these types of braking systems on catfish reels.
Types of Catfish Reels
The 3 basic types of reels used for catfish are spin-cast, spinning, and baitcast reels. They all have advantages and disadvantages depending on the angler’s viewpoint. But, some are better for catfish. The one to use is a choice everyone needs to make themselves.
Spincast reels are the ones many people use as a child when learning to fish. In general, they are not recommended for catfish. The reels come with poor quality drags, low line capacity, and are cheaply made in other features also. That said, people with disabilities may need the use of these reels. Young children should use this style until they have learned how to cast.
The people using this reel will likely target channels or smaller catfish. So having a better reel is often not necessary. If you see someone using a spin-cast combo do not judge them. As their ability and enjoyment are the primary concern. Allow everyone to enjoy fishing according to their ability.
There are few options for spin-cast reels able to handle catfish. This reel will handle channels and an occasional flathead or blue. The reel will need the line changed often due to the design of spin-cast reels. But will work for those individuals requiring a spin-cast reel.
A spinning reel of the right size will be adequate for catfish. Spinning reels with the larger line capacity will be 5000 series or higher. Small reels do not have the amount of drag needed for catfish. The smaller reels can handle bullheads and small channel cats. A large catfish will likely get lost on an insufficient reel. Choose a reel capable of landing the fish you are targeting.
The reels above are large spinning reels rated to hold 17-20 test pound lines or more. They also have the bait runner feature that allows a fish to run with the bait. The bait runner feature is something considered necessary when fishing for catfish with circle hooks. The circle hooks cause less harm and will hook the fish without a standard hookset. You simply reel down until tension is felt and start fighting the fish.
P.S. The Penn reel comes with or without the bait runner feature. Check for the Live Line in the name of the reel if you want a bait runner.
Catfishing uses baitcaster reels since they have the most advantages for the angler. The baitcast reel casts farther, holds more line, and has better drags for large fish. Besides, the majority of rods designed for catfish are baitcast rods. Catfish rods fall into the medium to the medium-heavy range with power.
Bass, catfish, and pike anglers use these rods. This provides a sustainable market for manufacturers. Spinning rods in the power range for large catfish tend to be saltwater shore rods. These rods are longer and can limit where they are used. In other words, you need the space to swing an 8 1/2 foot or longer rod.
The round reels hold more line making them preferable for catfish. The 5500 size reel by Abu Garcia can easily hold over 200 yards of 17-pound mono or more of braided lines. Flathead and blue catfish need a strong line and lots of line. The blues stay in deeper water meaning long casts. The flatheads will strip line off quickly on lighter set-ups. This size reel paired with the correct rod will catch more fish than any other set-up for catfish.
Anglers pursuing large fish only may go with a larger reel. The 6500 or 7000 series is designed for lines above 20-pound test strength. Living in an area with a good population of blue catfish makes this class of reel ideal for an angler. Blue catfish regularly get to weights of 30-50 pounds where enough numbers exist. If you want to catch them you need the right tackle.
Review on Round Reels
Abu Garcia is one of the best reels for catfish. It has a large line capacity, quality bearings, and smooth 20-pound drag. The stated line capacities are 250yds./20lb. mono or 420yds./40lb. of braid. The 3BB + 1RB bearing may seem like they are not enough but quality over quantity is the key. The reel has a 6 pin cast control additionally. The cast control will greatly reduce the chance of backlashes making the reel a great choice.
The Lew’s reel is another good reel at a lower price. It has 4BB + 1RB giving one more than the Abu Garcia. The reel comes with the centrifugal braking with six pins for cast control. Lew’s reel also comes with a little less drag at 15 pounds but is enough. The line capacity is rated at 300yds./15lb. or 225yds./20lb. yards of mono. Using braid will increase the reel’s capacity. This is a good reel in the budget class of baitcast reels.
The Kastking Rover comes in with the lowest price of around fifty dollars. The bearing count is 6BB + 1RB but the bearings will be of lower quality at the price. The line capacity is 200yds./12lb. mono or 200yds./50lb. of braid and a 15-pound drag. This is a level wind reel and does not have the cast control feature present in the other reels. In other words, it is an old school style of casting reel. This will need a little more skill and patience setting and using the reel to avoid backlashes a.k.a. bird’s nests.
All of these reels come with a bait clicker. The clicker will alert you when a fish is taking the bait.
Fishing has become a specialized sport and catfish are not an exception. Enjoy fishing more by having the right tackle for the species you plan to catch. Take some time to speak with anglers fishing for a certain species. Take time to learn about the equipment and how to catch them. Then buy quality rods and reels designed for the fish. You will be happier by taking the time to get the right reel and rod.
Keeping fishing simple for tight lines and bragging rights