Fishing with a Baitcasting Reel

Top 7 Best Catfish Reels of 2021 (Detailed Buyer’s Guide)

Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.

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If you’re reading this, I guess you’re going to try and catch catfish.

These fish are no joke and grow to be some of the biggest fish you can land in freshwater…

In order to successfully land a big catfish, you’re going to need the best catfish reel.

After considering all the options our top catfish reels were…

Catfishing requires a reel to cast well, have a good drag and hold enough line.

Not many manufacturers make reels just for catfish and the ones best suited to catfishing are actually saltwater fishing reels.

Here’s a review of the best catfish reels out there.

The Top Three

Here are our top catfish reels from the review…

Best All-Rounder

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Catfish Special Round Baitcast

Abu Garcia makes great quality reels that last a long time and this one has been specifically designed for catfish.

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Catfish Special Round Baitcast

The all-rounder catfish reel is about doing everything you need for a good price.

We want a catfish reel you can rely on that’s not going to break the bank.

The Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Catfish Special Round Baitcast is our allrounder reel for catfish.

It’s specifically made for catfish and won’t fail you under pressure.

The drag system, gears, handle and line capacity all come together to make a reel that will put up an excellent fight against a big cat.

Best on a Budget

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur S Round Baitcast Reel

This is a solid baitcaster for the price. It’s made in China, unlike other more expensive Abu reels that are made in Sweden, but that’s why it’s a bargain.

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur S Round Baitcast Reel

The ‘best catfish reel on a budget’ needs to do the basics well and be as cost-effective as possible.

The Abu Garcia Ambassadeur S Round Baitcast Reel wins the best on a budget prize.

It’ll stand up well to fighting a catfish with its smooth drag system and line capacity while being durable and corrosion-resistant.

Editor’s Choice

Penn Squall Level Wind

This is a lovely conventional reel from Penn that is effective as a trolling or baitcasting reel. The frame and side plates are made from graphite, with marine grade bronze gears. This reel is built to last and is exceptionally durable.

Penn Squall Level Wind

This editor’s choice removes budget from the equation.

We are looking for the best catfish reel in the review here.

The reel that fits the bill is the Penn SQL Level Wind.

It has an awesome drag, will last a lifetime, casts well and the line capacity is huge.

What more could you want?

Our top picks…

We’ve lined out our top picks for best catfish reels and pitted them against each other.

Each one’s a winner in its own right and they all have their different strengths…

Best All-Rounder

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Catfish Special Round Baitcast Fishing Reel

Abu Garcia makes great reels that last a long time and this one has been specifically designed for catfish.

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Catfish Special Round Baitcast Fishing Reel

Abu Garcia makes great reels that last a long time and this one has been specifically designed for catfish.

The catfish reel comes in two sizes, the 6500 and 7000.

The 6000 is perfect for medium cats but if you’re after the big ones, then go for the 7000. 

Drag

The drag is made of a carbon fiber matrix system.

Carbon fiber is one of the best drag system materials out there and provides a smooth, consistent and powerful drag.

The drag is made of a carbon fiber matrix system…

The carbon matrix drag system is what you need when you come up against a giant and are fighting it for ages, you don’t want your drag to fail an hour in. 

Handle

The handle on this reel is extended and very strong.

It’s quite often the handle that breaks when your drag is high and you’re trying to crank in a stubborn fish.

But Abu Garcia thought of that…

With this handle, you can keep winching in at the maximum pressure to stay on top of the fish. 

Reel

This Abu Garcia reel uses a 6 pin centrifugal brake system but the clutch is unfortunately quite mushy and hard to engage.

You’ll often have to move the handle to get to it too.

This will get on your nerves and there is no thumb bar either.

After a while the spool can begin to make a squealing sound when you cast and will need to be sent back for repairs. 

Line

The fishing line capacity on these baitcasting reels is excellent and it comes with a synchronized level wind system that will neatly lay your line onto your reel for you.

The line capacity on these reels is excellent and it comes with a level wind…

The gears are very strong and the retrieve rate is excellent, but they scrimped on the ball bearings with only 3.

This will create more friction on the spool while casting and winding. 

The reel is easy to take apart, upgrade and maintain – making life a little easier in the long run. 

Specs

  • Mono capacity YD/LB: 320/12
  • Braid capacity YD/LB: 310/30
  • Max Drag: 15lb
  • Gear Ratio: 5.3:1
  • Ball bearings: 4
  • Weight: 11.6oz
  • Retrieve rate, per crank: 26”
  • Retrieve Side: Right
  • Full Specs

Pros

  • Excellent gears
  • Powerful handle
  • The drag system is super smooth and powerful
  • Easy to upgrade and maintain.

Cons

  • Clutch feels mushy.
  • There’s no thumb bar.
  • Start ‘squealing’ when casting after a while.

KastKing Sharky Baitfeeder III

This reel is made from a graphite body and is super smooth, mainly due to the 10 bearing system and the brass gears. The retrieve is a delight and your line comes in quick.

KastKing Sharky Baitfeeder III

made from a graphite body and is super smooth, mainly due to the 10 bearing system and the brass gears…

This reel is made from a graphite body and is super smooth, mainly due to the 10 bearing system and the brass gears.

The retrieve is a delight and your line comes in quick.

Unfortunately, as soon as you put the reel under the pressure of a big fish, the smoothness disappears.

Body

The body flexes a lot and the handle feels very weak.

If you hook a large trophy catfish in flowing water, this is going to worry the hell out of you as your reel wobbles trying to handle it.

This is a real shame as it hits the bar on all the other levels. 

Drag

The spinning reel for catfish features a triple-disc carbon fiber drag system that is smooth and packs a punch.

I just wish the body and handle would be robust enough to use it.

dual drag system one at the front and back…

The reel comes with a dual drag system one at the front and back, this is for the baitfeeder or baitrunner mode.

The baitfeeder is excellent and works really well but only for a few months it seems.

After a while, it tends not to disengage and you’ll have to do it manually which will result in losing a few fish. 

Spool

The spool is aluminum and braid-ready and has a huge line capacity.

The reel also includes the usual perks like instant lock-antireverse and the KastKing intrusion shield system. 

Overall it’s a good catfish spinning reel that needs a stronger body before it can top our best reels for catfish list. 

Specs

  • Mono capacity YD/LB: 306/6, 210/8, 180/10
  • Braid capacity YD/mm: 140/0.3, 200/0.25, 330/0.20
  • Max Drag: 26.5lb
  • Gear Ratio: 5.1:1
  • Ball bearings: 11
  • Weight: 11.18oz
  • Retrieve rate, per crank: 29.9”
  • Retrieve Side: Right/Left
  • Full Specs

Pros

  • Strong and smooth drag system
  • Great line capacity
  • Good baitfeeder system to begin with

Cons

  • Weak handle
  • The body flexes a lot under pressure
  • Baitfeeder won’t disengage after time

Penn Fierce III

This reel comes in a range of sizes from 1000-8000, the larger models are more than enough to handle a large catfish.

Penn Fierce III

This reel comes in a range of sizes from 1000-8000, the larger models are more than enough to handle a big catfish.

The reel is made with a full metal body and side plate that keeps the gear alignment together under a heavy load.

The reel is made with a full metal body and side plate that keeps the gear alignment together under a heavy load…

This is key when catfishing, as you don’t want any flex winding in a big fish and you’ll need every wind you can get.

That being said it does happen on occasion and the retrieve isn’t the smoothest.

This is most likely due to the spinning reel only having 4 ball bearings.

You’ll feel it when pulling on something heavy. 

Spool

The spool is braid-ready, has a big line capacity and comes with line capacity rings so you know where you’re at all the time.

It casts well but the bail arm can often engage mid-cast.

These cases are rare but if it happens to you, it’ll get frustrating quickly. 

Drag

The drag is made from a carbon fiber disc system, strong and smooth.

Overall the reel is tough and very durable while being light for its class, making for easy casting all day and a long life. 

Specs

  • Mono capacity YD/LB: 255/6 175/8 140/10
  • Braid capacity YD/mm: 240/10 220/15 160/20
  • Max Drag: 12lb
  • Gear Ratio: 6:2:1
  • Ball bearings: 5
  • Weight: 9.9 oz
  • Retrieve rate, per crank: 33 inch
  • Retrieve Side: Right/Left
  • Full Specs

Pros

  • Very light, you can cast all day with it.
  • Really durable.
  • Strong and smooth drag.
  • Easy to maintain.

Cons

  • Body does have some give to it.
  • Bail can close mid-cast
  • Retrieve isn’t smooth.

Best on a Budget

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur S Round Baitcast Fishing Reel

This is a solid baitcaster for the price. It’s made in China, unlike other more expensive Abu reels that are made in Sweden, but that’s why it’s a bargain.

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur S Round Baitcast Fishing Reel

This is a solid baitcaster for the price.

It’s made in China, unlike other more expensive Abu reels that are made in Sweden, but that’s why it’s a bargain.

The reel holds enough line for catfishing but the max drag of 11lbs would concern me a little when fighting a big one. 

Reel

The reel is light for easy all-day casting but if you’re a baitcaster pro, don’t expect to get your usual distance with this reel.

The level wind is always engaged which slows the line down on the cast.

This is actually great for beginners as it’ll reduce backlashes

The handle is strong and ergonomic and there’s no flex in the body when winding in something big…

The retrieve is quick but the low bearing count of only two will affect how smooth it is.

The handle is strong and ergonomic and there’s no flex in the body when winding in something big – a valued asset when catfishing. 

Drag

The drag is made from a multi-disc carbon system and although it’s a bit light, it smooth and reliable.

The reel is strong, durable and stainless steel ball bearings that will last a long time with the right care.

TIP

If you’re new to baitcasting reels this could be a great choice. If you’re a pro, the casting setup will probably get to you.

Specs

  • Mono capacity YD/LB: 255/17
  • Braid capacity YD/LB: 350/30
  • Max Drag: 11lb
  • Gear Ratio: 5.1:1
  • Ball bearings: 2
  • Weight: 11.10oz
  • Retrieve rate, per crank: 25”
  • Retrieve Side: Right or Left, not changeable
  • Full Specs

Pros

  • Strong and durable build.
  • Smooth and reliable multi disc drag system.
  • Stainless steel ball bearings.
  • Strong and ergonomic handle.

Cons

  • Low bearing count.
  • Level wind always engaged.
  • Low max drag.

Sougayilang Round Baitcasting Reel

This reel is excellent value but seems to be hit or miss in most cases. On paper, it’s excellent. It’s built of a machined aluminum frame, spool and side plates that are anodized for increased corrosion resistance

Sougayilang Round Baitcasting Reel

It’s built of a machined aluminum frame, spool and side plates that are anodized for increased corrosion resistance…

This reel is excellent value but seems to be hit or miss in most cases.

On paper, it’s excellent.

It’s built of a machined aluminum frame, spool and side plates that are anodized for increased corrosion resistance.

Machined aluminum is very durable and stands up well to bangs and scrapes. 

Drag

The drag is strong, smooth and made up of a carbonite disc system.

It has a max of 22 lbs, which is more than enough for catfish.

The drag adjustment is easy and precise and the dual anti-reverse is super useful for feeding your catfish bait to hungry fish. 

Gears

The gears are made from brass and the insides are all stainless steel, making this real very durable and corrosion-resistant.

The retrieve is super smooth and despite the level wind, the reel casts well…

The retrieve is super smooth and despite the level wind, the reel casts well.

The braking system is a bit dodgy and you may have to resort to using your thumb and maybe a glove.

This is fine for a pro, but if you’re a beginner you’re going to struggle. 

NOTE

There are a lot of cases where this reel seems to fall apart.

The clutch and drag systems completely fail, parts fall off, things snap, the handle is loose and wobbly and the list goes on.

But there are also some very happy customers. It’s hit or miss, if you get a good one, it’s a great reel. If not, send it back.

You might be having second thoughts about this reel from Sougayilang because their new to the market. To give you the knowledge and confidence about Sougayilang reels, here’s a detailed review of Sougayilang fishing reel you can check out.

Specs

  • Mono capacity YD/LB: N/A
  • Braid capacity mm/M: 0.35/180 0.4/140
  • Max Drag: Up to 22lb
  • Gear Ratio: 5.2:1
  • Ball bearings: 7
  • Weight: 11.28oz
  • Retrieve rate, per crank: N/A
  • Retrieve Side: Right
  • Full Specs

Pros

  • Smooth retrieve.
  • Strong and smooth drag
  • Good line capacity
  • Casts well
  • Excellent value

Cons

  • The handle is loose and wobbly.
  • Clutch and drag can fail after a while.
  • Poor braking system.

Editor’s Choice

Penn Squall Level Wind

This is a lovely reel from Penn that is effective as a trolling or baitcasting reel. The frame and side plates are made from graphite, with marine grade bronze gears. This reel is built to last and is exceptionally durable.

Penn Squall Level Wind

This is a lovely reel from Penn that is effective as a trolling or baitcasting reel.

The frame and side plates are made from graphite, with marine grade bronze gears.

This reel is built to last and is exceptionally durable.

When looked after, it’ll still be going after two years of heavy use. 

Drag

The drag is smooth and powerful, you could probably handle a 100lb tuna on this reel, so I think a big catfish will be fine.

The handle is solid and so is the body, you’re not going to suffer any flex with this reel…

The line capacity is huge on the larger models and is backed up by a solid max drag. You wouldn’t worry about your line capacity when fishing catfish.

The handle is solid and so is the body, you’re not going to suffer any flex with this reel. You’ll be able to pump up the drag and crank every wind without concern. 

Retrieve

The retrieve is smooth and quick, despite the small numbers of stainless steel ball bearings.

Penn, how do you do it? It also casts really well thanks to a fine-tuned braking system that can double up as a bait feeder when you’re in free spool.

The reel doesn’t come with an auto-engage drag and you’ll have to flick up the lever manually. 

NOTE

The only real issue it has is the level wind. It seems to break quite often and there are a few cases where the line isn’t spread easily. This is an issue when you’re putting on over 300 yards of braid. 

Specs

  • Mono capacity YD/LB: 320/15, 280/17, 220/20
  • Braid capacity LB/YD: 580/20, 435/30, 305/50
  • Max Drag: 20lb
  • Gear Ratio: 4.9:1
  • Ball bearings: 3
  • Weight: 16.20oz
  • Retrieve rate, per crank: 28 inch
  • Retrieve Side: Right or left
  • Full Specs

Pros

  • Excellent quality
  • It’s made with the future in mind, you won’t have to replace it if you look after it.
  • Great drag and line capacity
  • Casts well
  • Quick retrieve

Cons

  • Level wind can go
  • Level wind can bunch the line
  • No auto engage

KastKing Rover Round Baitcasting Reel

This reel can be used as both a baitcaster or trolling reel. Only the 40-60 models come with a 2-pin centrifugal brake for casting, so make sure to buy one of those if you like the reel.

KastKing Rover Round Baitcasting Reel

can be used as both a baitcaster or trolling reel…

This reel can be used as both a baitcaster or trolling reel.

Only the 40-60 models come with a 2-pin centrifugal brake for casting, so make sure to buy one of those if you like the reel. 

Overall it’s very durable and well made.

The whole thing consists almost entirely of metal.

It has an aluminum body and side plates while the gears are made from brass and comes with stainless steel worm gear.

It has an aluminum body and side plates while the gears are made from brass and comes with stainless steel worm gear…

This makes the body very solid and it won’t flex under pressure.

In fact, that’s one of the best things about this reel, it’s reliable under pressure.

The drag, the handle, and the gears come together to make it very difficult for a fish to get past you. 

Reel

The reel has a large line capacity and a quick retrieve rate.

You’ll be able to keep your weight off the bottom and you won’t get spooled by a giant if you hook one.

Drag

The drag is powerful at 30lbs of max pressure and also smooth thanks to the carbon fiber disc system.

In odd cases, the drag does fail completely but that is often the case with cheaper baitcasting reels. 

Downside

The main issue with this reel is the casting, and perhaps that’s because its been made as a dual function reel.

It’s really hard to set the spool tension correctly, too tight and your cast is short, too loose and you have a backlash.

Finding a happy medium is a pain.

The release button is hard to engage and it can also disengage mid cast – a nightmare when you need to cast often.

Specs

  • Mono capacity LB/YD: 16/750, 25/540
  • Braid capacity LB/YD: 45/750, 65/540
  • Max Drag: 30lb
  • Gear Ratio: 3.6:1
  • Ball bearings: 5
  • Weight: 22.8 oz
  • Retrieve rate, per crank: 24.8 inch
  • Retrieve Side: Right or Left, choose when you order
  • Full Specs

Pros

  • Durable
  • Big line capacity
  • High max drag
  • Reliable under pressure
  • Quick retrieve rate

Cons

  • Poor spool tension
  • Hard to cast with
  • Release button hard to engage
  • Drag can fail

What to Look for

Catfish species can grow to a significant size. So it is wise that you pick a reel that can handle a big channel catfish or a flathead catfish.

This is what you need to consider to find the right catfish reel for you. 

Line Capacity

The line capacity will determine how much fishing line your catfish reel can hold. The numbers estimate the amount in yards, but it is also reliant on weight.

As you probably know, catfish can grow to be absolute monsters and the reel you choose needs to be able to hold enough of the right size line to land them.

The last thing you want is to run out of line or have to break the fish off because you can’t stop it. 

Using Braid

Most fishermen have moved to using braid over mono on their reels.

Braid can be a hassle to put on your reel as it slips on the spool.

Be sure your reel comes with a braid ready spool that allows the braid to bite into it.

This will make filling the reel simple and give you a tidy, tight line lay.

TIP

Most reels are braid-ready these days, but check to be sure. 

To help you out, here’s a guide on How To Put A Line On A Reel, be sure to check it out.

How Heavy Is The Reel 

Casting all day with a light reel is far more pleasurable than with a heavy one.

Your arms don’t ache and you won’t get tired easily.

Look for a lighter reel but don’t compromise on quality for weight, some reels for catfish are heavier due to their robust design and quality materials. 

Corrosion & Durability

This is always a key point and important for the survival of your reel for catfish.

Now while catfishing, you’ll most likely be doing freshwater fishing but the reel you’re using can most probably be used for saltwater fishing too.

RECOMMENDATION

Make sure that it’s made from corrosion-resistant materials and ideally has a sealed drag and/or body.

This will keep all the nasty things out that will cause your reel to corrode.

Drag

When targeting big fish like catfish, your drag is going to do most of the work to land the fish.

It needs to be well made, strong and smooth to do this.

Be sure the maximum drag is high enough and try to test it at full power if you can.

The line should be hard to pull off and come off smoothly when it does. 

Gear Ratio

A reel’s gear ratio describes how much line is reeled in with each turn of the reel’s handle.

With a high gear ratio, you can have more speed and power. You also get more line in per handle turn, but you would lose some power. While with lower gear ratios, you get more power, but less speed.

But what is the best gear ratio for catching catfish?

For catfish, a gear ratio of between 5.3:1 and 6:1 is best for catfishing reels. With that gear ratio, you have enough torque combined with a decent retrieve on your catfish reels.

Baitcaster vs Spinning Reels 

Baitcasters are a step up from spinning reels in terms of casting distance and accuracy.

They also have a higher gear ratio than spinning reels which will increase your retrieve rate.

Catfish baitcaster reels may also have a secondary drag feature called a bait runner or bait clicker. This system works to let your spool spin freely so that the catfish can run with the bait.

However…

Baitcasting reels are much harder to use than spinning reels for catfish and need a lot of practice to get used to. You’ll suffer a lot of tangles and backlashes until you become a pro.

If you’re new to catfish fishing, choose among the catfish spinning reels available. Once you’ve improved your skills and fishing techniques, then you can upgrade to baitcast reels.

If you bring your kids along on your catfishing, kids can use spin cast reels. These are the type of reels that almost everyone learns to fish with.

Conclusion

Let’s take a quick look at our top three best catfish reels…

All-Rounder

The all-rounder catfishing reel is the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Catfish Special Round Baitcast Reel.

Abu had the catfish angler in mind when they made this.

Each component of this catfishing reel is made to withstand the pull of a large catfish in flowing water.

The handle and body are especially helpful and will allow you to put pressure on every crank against a big fish.

It’s well made and durable, catfish anglers would have confidence with this reel.

Best on a Budget

The ‘best catfish reel on a budget’ is the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur S Round Baitcast Reel.

It’s amazing value for the price point.

You do lose a few features because of it but overall it’s a durable reliable reel that you can count on when you need to.

It has the makings to play a big catfish with its smooth drag, excellent line capacity and robust design. 

Editor’s Choice

This editor’s choice is the Penn SQL Level Wind.

This reel is built to last and will go on for a lifetime if it’s well looked after

It does everything any catfish anglers could want it to…

From having an awesome drag, line capacity, and a high retrieve rate to casting well. It ticks every box as the best reel for catfish.

There we have it, some of the best catfish reels on the market.

I hope you’ve found the review useful and you now know which is the best catfish reel for you.

Just remember that durability, castability, line capacity and drag are the most important things to look for in a catfish reel and be sure to match it with a good catfish rod that would make the fishing experience awesome.

If the reel you want ticks all those boxes, you’re making a good choice. And don’t forget to pair it with the best catfish rods available.

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Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.
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