Person Using Casting Reel

Top 5 Best Baitcasting Reels of 2020 Reviewed

One could choose 20 baitcaster reels current to the last 10 years that all have the creds to top a best-of list. For the angler, especially avid baitcaster enthusiasts, this is a great position to be in.

The problem is, with such a stellar line-up from all brands, famous and fringe, how do you whittle it down to five. And then, how do you actually choose one?

I don’t believe it’s at all possible to name an outright best. There’s simply too much competition, too many similarities, and ultimately, it’s subjective. We’ve only got room for 5 on our list – this means I have to be pragmatic. So, tried and tested is the order of the day. 

Let’s check out my selection criteria first, then move onto the reviews.

Key Criteria for Reel Selection

Strength and Power

I want a baitcaster that will allow me to cast the lightest of soft plastics at a smaller class of fish. But I also want the reel to punch well above its weight. I want to know that should I hook a mega bass on a swimbait, that I have every chance of playing it out and landing it.

Casting Credentials

It nearly goes without saying; cast length and accuracy are important. After all, this is why I have chosen a baitcaster in the first place. I also want to know that I’m not going to be hampered by backlash. (keeping in mind that the backlash thing is pretty well up to the user). Reliable braking is essential.

Endurance

I want my baitcaster to stand the test of time with regular use in tough conditions. I’m not one to maintain reels with meticulous dedication either. I want to know that reasonable care and maintenance is enough to ensure longevity.

Smoothness

I want a crank and drag system that’s silky smooth. Silent is not a requirement, but it has to feel like butter in your hands.

Multiple bearings aren’t critical, but it helps…

Bucket loads of ball bearings are a good start; however, they are usually the key component for bumping prices up…not so cool. Multiple bearings aren’t critical, but it helps.

While price is a consideration, it’s not a big one. I’ve deliberately covered all budgets.

Value for money is a different consideration to price point. However, value for money is also subjective.

To Each Their Own

Anglers place different values on particular inclusions and technologies. That which might be value for money for one angler may differ from another. For example, some anglers might not find any great value in having 8 bearings over 6, considering the extra cost for 2 more bearings.

Spool capacities are not a big consideration here either…

Spool capacities are not a big consideration here either. While important, I’ll not bang on about it. Most of these reels will be deployed in close quarters where stronger max drag is of higher value than playing space. 

Anyway, with modern braided fishing lines, most compact baitcasters can hold more than enough 20-pound.

Let’s move onto the reviews.

Shimano Curado K Series

Having made its way into the K series, anglers now have a reel that performs every bit as well as reels from a much higher price point.

Shimano Curado K Series

The inclusion of the SHIMANO CURADO REEL – K SERIES is so predictable it’s nigh on boring. No critic in their right mind can leave it out, however.

Firstly, relative to my performance criteria it ticks every box and then some. Secondly, Shimano added Micro Module, X-Ship High-efficiency gearing to the K. This gearing technology was originally reserved for the top end reels.

Having made its way into the K series, anglers now have a reel that performs every bit as well as reels from a much higher price point.

Combined with 6 double sealed stainless bearings, the crank has to be felt to be believed…

Combined with 6 double sealed stainless bearings, the crank has to be felt to be believed. Smooth is an understatement. The small gear teeth deliver a perfect mesh, so locked and so synced you can’t really feel it’s working.

Design

The K has beautiful lines that are highlighted by the swept star drag. It looks as good as it performs. It’s a classy looking reel. Shimano hasn’t treated it with the garish neon that’s starting to make its way into some baitcaster designs. 

Importantly, there are few inshore applications it won’t handle. SVS Infinity adds refinement to the cast, that when mastered, delivers unrivaled length and accuracy. It’s brilliant for casting light lures when the wind’s up.

Fishing light with the K series is way covered. But tackling a larger class of fish is also child’s play thanks to the pinion gear being supported by bearings at each end. 

While this too enhances casting, it comes into its own under heavy battle loads, as gears remain perfectly aligned. All force goes to the fight. The feel imparts confidence in the toughest of fights. 

NOTE

The icing on the K series cake is the different speed options and its available in formats for lefties and righties. Dollar for dollar, it doesn’t get better than the Curado K series.

Price Point

It’s hard to find fault with the reel. However, one can point a questioning finger at Shimano here. Other manufacturers are managing to include more features for less. 

There are other comparable reels, and they’re more affordable. I tend to think Shimano can add a little more bling for the price, or reduce the price.

Personally, the latter is probably a good idea. I’d like to see this pedigree of reel a little more accessible to your average angler.

Is the Shimano Curado Right for You? Key Things to Consider

Specs

  • Weight: 7.6 and 7.8 ounces
  • Speeds: 6.2:1, 7.4:1 and 8.5:1
  • Max Drag: 11-pounds, Cross Carbon Drag system
  • Monofilament Line Capacity: 8/lb/180yds, 10lb/150yds or 14lb/110yds
  • Braid Line Capacity: 30lb/190 yards
  • Braid Line Capacity: 30lb/190 yards
  • Gearing Technologies: Micro Module, X-Ship High-efficiency gearing
  • Body Technologies: ci4+ Hagane Body
  • SVS Infinity braking system
  • S3D Stable Spool
  • 10-year Shimano
  • Ideal for saltwater or freshwater fishing
  • See the full specs for the Shimano Curado K Series

Pros

  • Boat, kayak or land-based; this is a highly versatile reel
  • The speed options enhance an already versatile reel
  • It’s fast AND powerful
  • Ideal for saltwater and freshwater applications
  • Basic cleaning and maintenance will see you hand the Curado onto the kids
  • Guaranteed pedigree reel

Cons

  • If you like to fish a heavier class of mono, you might not get a whole lot on the spool
  • If features for dollars are your thing, there are a number of manufacturers trying a little harder than Shimano

Editor’s Choice

Daiwa Tatula SV TW

In many respects, I’d recommend this reel for baitcaster masters and absolute beginners. Once you’ve learned how to dial it in for your rig and conditions, you have to try pretty hard to mess up with overrun.

Daiwa Tatula SV TW

I love this reel. Many of us enjoy casting small unweighted soft plastics at topwater targets. And we prefer not to stop when the wind’s up. We also like to skip baits under trees, jetties, and river banks without battling backlash.

Without going into the techno mumbo jumbo, the SV spool system uses air brake technology to achieve its brilliant casting manners.

RECOMMENDATION

In many respects, I’d recommend this reel for baitcaster masters and absolute beginners. Once you’ve learned how to dial it in for your rig and conditions, you have to try pretty hard to mess up with overrun. 

T-Wing System

While ticking all the boxes, it’s the casting that makes the SV TW a brilliant reel. I’m also a fan of the T-Wing system. It reduces friction as advertised, and casts can be huge, even with the lightest of baits.

…It reduces friction as advertised, and casts can be huge, even with the lightest of baits

I made mistakes when I first used it and wasn’t getting the distance. However, it didn’t take long to work it out…without instruction. Turns out I could put more effort into the cast than I thought.

Left and right-hand options, as well as 3 speed options ensure we can refine our reel selection to perfectly suit our application.

There’s 13-pounds of UTD (drag) Daiwa’s best. This offers plenty of head-turning power should you hook-up big. Spooled up with 135 yards of 40-pound braid, you’re set to tackle genuine inshore monsters.

Easy Handling

The swayed handle is over 3 inches long. It feels great to crank it hard, yet delivers wonderful control when worked with refined dexterity.

Ergonomics are another winning feature of the TATULA SV TW. It sits beautifully in your palm, with all the dials and buttons placed for maximum efficiency. 

Even the biggest club-hands can make a well-balanced DAIWA TATULA SV TW outfit feel like an extension of your arm.

RECOMMENDATION

Fish this guy all over the inshore waters from your vessel, or land-based, and fish it anywhere in the water column. You can cast a massive range of lures, particularly with the 6.3 gear ratio.

Maintenance

As somebody who is a little slack with maintenance, I’d worry about keeping the Daiwa in peak condition. Servicing appears as though should only be done by a pro.

The casting is so refined, I expect regular maintenance would be required to keep it operating at peak…

The casting is so refined, I expect regular maintenance would be required to keep it operating at peak. This may well be a big drawback for the more casual angler, unwilling to dedicate time to cleaning and maintenance.

All in all, I can’t believe I don’t own one of these. Like really. I’ll fix that. Maybe I’ll just not tell my pal Marty that I’ve still got his. Yep…I’ll do that. Maybe the Daiwa would encourage me to be more diligent with reel maintenance

Is the Daiwa Tatula SV TW Right for You? Key Things to Consider

Specs

  • Ratios: 6.3, 7.3 and 8.1
  • Bearings: 7(2CRBB)+1
  • Weight: 7.2
  • Capacity (mono): 100 yards of 14 lb
  • T-Wing System
  • SV Concept
  • Air Rotation
  • Aluminum Frame
  • Ultimate Tournament Drag
  • Cut-Away 90mm Swept Handle
  • Custom Soft-Touch Handle Knob
  • See the full specs for the Daiwa Tatula SV TW

Pros

  • In my humble opinion, the Tatula SV TW is right for nearly every dedicated angler who understands the benefits of regular maintenance
  • The crank is silky smooth. There are 7 + 1 bearings, two of which are super corrosion resistant. I like this for the salty stuff
  • I really like the speed options but I’ve only used the 6.3. In my opinion, it’s the best option for the broadest selection of lures. This is the goldilocks gear ratio
  • The ergonomics are fantastic
  • The Tatula is great in the hands of a novice and deadset weaponized in the hands of a pro

Cons

  • A better spool capacity would deliver greater versatility. In my books this is a Braid only reel
  • I’m not sure how the T-Wing deals with heavier, longer leaders passing through it. Those who use longer leaders may have trouble with bulky joins
  • Not a good option for those anglers who care less about regular cleaning and maintenance.

KastKing Spartacus

With 11 + 1 shielded bearings, it’s a beautifully smooth crank driven by tightly meshed brass gears. There’s a whopping 17.5 pounds of carbon fiber drag which, in my opinion, puts it in the heavy-duty category. Yet weighs in at only 7.2 ounces.

KastKing Spartacus

You’re likely to find the SPARTACUS for at a rock-bottom entry level price point

I can only assume that it’s manufactured by little magic elves because it’s very difficult to see how it can offer all these inclusions at its rock bottom entry-level price point. KastKing is famous for it, however.

Let’s not debate it. In fact, if it only works at peak for a year or so, you’re still getting fantastic value. Word is, however, it will certainly last you longer than that. Sorry, can’t confirm the tales of longevity, but I’d take a punt on it.

With 11 + 1 shielded bearings, it’s a beautifully smooth crank driven by tightly meshed brass gears…

With 11 + 1 shielded bearings, it’s a beautifully smooth crank driven by tightly meshed brass gears. There’s a whopping 17.5 pounds of carbon fiber drag which, in my opinion, puts it in the heavy-duty category. Yet weighs in at only 7.2 ounces.

The gear ratio is perfect. 6.3 puts it in the all-rounder category so you can cast a very broad range of lures and lure sizes.

Value for Money

Really, for the money, that’s enough. But it doesn’t stop there. You also get a micro-cast dual centrifugal and magnetic brakes. In my opinion, they could have channeled the budget elsewhere. 

The standard centrifugal system would have been enough. Too much dialing, particularly for the average angler. I took a little while to get the casting right, and I don’t believe I was ever completely happy. Other reels cast much better.

It actually feels reasonable enough in your hand. I’m yet to find ‘the catch’ with this reel. Believe me, I’ve checked feedback from anglers, and the overwhelming majority are in raptures…and have a lot more change in their pockets too.

TIP

This is the sort of reel the casual angler can buy 2 or 3 straight up. You rig them differently for a day on the water. Don’t re-rig, simply change rods. For inshore anglers, you’ll be catching anything from anywhere with the Spartacus. And for a lot less money.

Is the KASTKING SPARTACUS Right for You? Key Things to Consider

Specs

  • Micro-cast dual centrifugal and magnetic brakes
  • Tournament ready carbon fiber drag with 17.5 lbs of Trophy fish stopping power.
  • Superior shielded 11 + 1 corrosion resistant ball bearings
  • CNC Machined aluminum spool
  • Brass gears.
  • 6.3: 1 gear ratio
  • 7.4 ounces
  • Left and right-hand retrieve
  • Holds 100 yards of 12-pound mono
  • See the full specs for the KastKing Spartacus

Pros

  • If you really want a general-purpose baitcaster for inshore fishing, and you’re on a serious budget, it’s nigh on impossible to go past this reel
  • I would highly recommend this reel for the casual angler not looking to fork out big money for fishing kit
  • A great option for anglers looking to buy several reels at once to cover a number of different applications
  • For the price, the many inclusions make this reel genuinely remarkable

Cons

  • Pros and experienced baitcaster anglers will definitely prefer other reels. The Spartacus doesn’t have that class
  • Bearings are expensive and this reel has 11. I would question the longevity of the Spartacus. At this extremely low price point, It stands to reason that components must be of a lower quality
  • Dual brake systems seem unwarranted in an entry level reel. Would rather see 5 less bearings, one brake system and a more ‘solid’ feelingbloo reel

Best on a Budget

Lew’s Fishing Tournament MB

The Lews MB delivers class and performance at an accessible price point. This is the sort of reel that will be appreciated by the noob and pro alike.

Lew’s Fishing Tournament MB

The Lews MB delivers class and performance at an accessible price point. This is the sort of reel that will be appreciated by the noob and pro alike.

The Lews MB delivers class and performance at an accessible price point…

The high strength brass gearing is beautifully supported by 9 shielded stainless steel bearings. The crank is immaculate, feeling far more expensive than its pricing might suggest.

The Zero-reverse one-way stainless steel clutch bearing delivers a strong hook set come strike time. Zero slack or slop puts all the power to the hook point.

Casting manners are excellent. The Multi-Setting Brake (MSB) dual cast control system feels more accurate and predictable than similar configurations in other brands. 

Dialing in for weight and weather may take some time. Distance is definitely enhanced with the addition of the Zirconia line guide. 

NOTE

But many anglers will have to experiment a lot to get the settings right. This will frustrate the more impatient anglers getting used to the ‘plug and play’ ease of modern casting reels.

Casting

If you’re not a great caster, I might suggest other models are easier from the outset. Those who prefer silent running may be put off a little by the noise. It’s not a problem for me, but it’s a deterrent for some.

14 pounds of carbon composite drag allows you to turn big fish fast. Yet the reel weighs an astonishing 6.7 ounces and feels like a part of your hand.

I’m a big fan of long handles on baitcasters…It should be compulsory. This one is 95mm and an absolute joy to crank, especially under load.

The one-piece die-cast aluminum frame keeps things light yet rigid…

The one-piece die-cast aluminum frame keeps things light yet rigid. Even under extreme loads, the gears hold their mesh and the power is delivered to the fish.

Bearings

The bearings are stainless and shielded. The frame is alloy, as is the handle. The side plate is graphite. This is a great start for serious longevity, given considered cleaning and maintenance. 

Maintenance on the run is encouraged with the external lube port. A regular drop of lube can add years to the life of a reel.

The ergonomics are intuitive and well balanced…

The Lew’s is a joy to use. The ergonomics are intuitive and well balanced; it’s light yet strong. This is a reel you can cast all day without fatigue. 

Lew’s LFS (Lighter, Faster, Stronger) technology has a lot to do with it. It signals a trend in fishing reels and is not unlike Daiwa’s LT Concept.

This is what modern reels are about, catching bigger with smaller.

Is the Lew’s Fishing Tournament MB Baitcast Reel Right for You? Key Things to Consider

Specs

  • One-piece die-cast aluminum frame
  • Drilled and forged, double anodized aluminum U style spool
  • Easily removable palming graphite side plate
  • High-strength solid brass gearing
  • Premium 10 double-shielded stainless steel bearing system (9+1)
  • Zero-reverse one-way stainless steel clutch bearing
  • Externally-adjustable Multi-Setting Brake (MSB) dual cast control system
  • Double anodized aluminum tension adjustment with an audible click
  • Rugged carbon composite drag system – 14lb max drag
  • Audible click, bowed, anodized aluminum star drag
  • Bowed, lightweight, aluminum reel handle with Lew’s custom paddle handle knobs
  • Zirconia line guide
  • External lube port
  • Slow ratios spool 150-yards of 12-pound. Fast ratios spool 120-yards of 12-pound
  • TS1SMB features high capacity spool and longer 95MM power crank handle
  • See the full specs for the Lew’s Fishing Tournament MB

Pros

  • Solid, predictable and reliable. It’s very light, granted. But 14 pounds of drag delivers plenty of fight, negating the need for huge spool capacities
  • It’s ideal for finesse work, yet has all the power to handle a larger class of inshore fish
  • Considered maintenance will ensure the Lew’s is a stayer.
  • Every crank is butter smooth, particularly under load.

Cons

  • The left-hand model is only available in a 5.6 ratio
  • It may take some anglers quite a while to dial in casting. Particularly those anglers using a wide range of lure weights and styles
  • Some anglers may find the reel a little too noisy
  • Those with big hands and fingers might find the Lews a little difficult to operate

Top Pick

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C3 Round Reel

This is a master reel for big hands chasing big cats and bass. This is one heck of a robust reel, designed for those that aren’t so gentle on their fishing equipment.

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C3 Round Reel

I was worried about ABU slipping behind the competition in a number of areas. However, the release of the latest Swedish made C3 has gone a long way to restoring my faith.

In terms of the criteria of strength, power, casting longevity and smoothness, the C3 totally nails it…

In my opinion, the C3 is a prime example of the perfect marriage of design, quality components and quality of construction (workmanship).

Compared to the other reels mentioned, the C3 has only 3 (+1) bearings. However, it’s so smooth, you’d swear there were more.

Built to Last

This is a master reel for big hands chasing big cats and bass. This is one heck of a robust reel, designed for those that aren’t so gentle on their fishing equipment

This is a master reel for big hands chasing big cats and bass…

You can be assured that it will stand the test of time under pretty harsh treatment. Even better, the C3 is very easy to service.

Casting has been improved out-a-sight for the new model. It’s thanks in part to lightening the spool and level wind. 

Importantly, the synced level wind delivers a far more consistent and even line lay. This, in my opinion, is the real improvement in casting. Casting is long and precise. 

It’s an ideal choice for those anglers that find compact, low profile reels a little bit of an ergonomic challenge.

Big Catch

You’re chasing a larger class of fish with the C3. The 5500 holds 235 yards of 30-pound, and you’re well supported with 15-pounds of Abu’s Carbon Matrix drag. That’s plenty of stopping power for anything inshore.

The bowed handle and star drag offer a huge improvement in ergonomics. It works beautifully with the thumb bar spool release, for fluid efficient fishing.

For those that fish larger lures such as swimbaits, this is an ideal reel…

For those that fish larger lures such as swimbaits, this is an ideal reel. I would also recommend this for fishing live baits. It handles the heavy stuff beautifully.

While a little brutish relative to its low profile cousins, don’t be fooled. This is one refined bit of kit – it’s muscle and class. The best of Mustang and Ferrari in the one vehicle.

It’s Own Appeal

It a beautifully crafted reel, with a focus on the round profile’s traditional simplicity. I predict the new C3 will return any wandering Abu Garcia fans back into the fold.

While a great reel, it is not the reel I’d choose for chasing a smaller class of fish. In that regard, it lacks a little versatility. 

It’s not a great choice for the one reel angler looking to cover smaller panfish to larger fish…

While it’s certainly a smooth crank, it’s seems ABU missed an opportunity to add a few more bearings to enhance the feel, crank and strength, while providing greater support to the pinion and gears.

Whatever the case, It’s a workhorse with class that’ll be sure to outlast you.

Is the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C3 Round Reel Right for You? Key Things to Consider

Specs

  • 3 stainless steel ball bearings + 1 roller bearing
  • 15-pounds of Carbon Matrix™ drag system
  • Compact bent handle and star
  • 6 pin centrifugal brake
  • Synchronized level wind system
  • Gear Ratio: 5.3:1
  • Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Instant Anti Reverse
  • Aluminum Spool
  • 235 yards of 30-pound braid (C5500)
  • Available in left and right-hand models
  • Retrieve: 66″
  • See the full specs for the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C3 Round Reel

Pros

  • This is a tough reel that’s ideal for all anglers; especially those who are tough on their gear and prefer chasing a larger class of fish
  • 15-pounds of carbon matrix drag will give you the upper hand in most inshore battles.
  • This reel will perform admirably from the beach and piers and will even perform nicely from the ocean rocks
  • Simplicity is a key feature of the C3. Great for the maintenance shy angler
  • Setting up for casting is simple. Again, simplicity of design and improved ergonomics make things easier.

Cons

  • At just short of 10 ounces, it may not appeal to those anglers looking for seriously light reels.
  • Gear ratios are pretty slow by modern standards. At 5.3:1, this reel suits working a heavier style of lure deeper in the water column. Great for cranks
  • A few extra bearings would have delivered a smoother crank and greater strength. Perhaps more beneficial as it will target a larger class of fish
  • Lacks some of the sophistication and versatility of its competitors

My Top Pick

Top pick goes to the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C3 round reel. I love the access it provides to a larger class of fish.

It’s also incredibly robust without tossing out refinement. It casts beautifully and has a very smooth crank. It’s not all grunt.

The drag system is also very smooth throughout the range. I’m rough on gear and maintenance shy. I also have clubs for hands and, on balance, find myself working hard plastics deeper in the water column more often.

Sounds like you? 

Best On Budget

The Lew’s get’s the budget prize. While the Spartacus is cheaper, obviously, I find there is ultimately better value in the Lew’s.

It’s a far classier reel, and despite all the bells and whistles on the Spartacus, I would have to go with build quality first.

There’s an important place in the market for the Spartacus, but all things considered, the Lew’s gets the Best on budget. It’s great quality for less.

Editor’s Choice

It’s got to be the Tatula. Consistent, predictable, powerful and refined. It also has all the bells and whistles.

It’s ideal for my staple of casting bigger hard plastics deeper. However, I can change to unweighted soft plastics and throw them into a decent breeze without a hassle.

There’s refinement for the smaller stuff and grunt for the larger stuff. There’s a little more to pay, but the rewards are there for the added investment.

Conclusion

Each reel here is a fantastic reel in its class and deserves the rave. Ultimately, it was pretty easy to choose my top three sections, however.

Many may argue the Spartacus should get the budget prize. I’m all for fishing for less. And the Spartacus does “less” on steroids. For the price, it’s great.

Choosing the Best on a Budget

However, I feel the Lew’s offers better value due to the fact it’s likely to last a fair bit longer. Cheaper over time.

The Curado K series runs a very close second to the Daiwa. For many, brand loyalty will be the deciding factor here. For me, the refined casting of the Tatula edges out the Shimano.

Don’t Count the Other Reels Out

But the Curado should always remain in your considerations because it is a brilliant and proven baitcaster that represents excellent value.

If it were all about a larger class of fish, I’d have chosen the new C3 for the editor’s choice. However, versatility came into the equation, and the Daiwa was more versatile across different fishing styles and techniques.

Take a pick and don’t hesitate. These are 5 of the best baitcaster reels available in their class, if only arguably. With this selection of reels, it’s very hard to go wrong

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