Catfish can be one of the most fun fish to catch. They are strong fighters once hooked and that’s why putting some thought into the type of reel you choose is important.
I remember the first time I hooked a big catfish while river fishing. I was around 9 or 10 years old and it must’ve taken an hour or more to tucker him out and reel him up. Right as he surfaced and I thought he was close enough to net, the lunker snapped my line. Whatever gear I had that day wasn’t enough to bring in that big catfish.
Bringing the right gear out when you’re going for your’re trying to catch catfish is critical for the fight you might encounter and that’s why I put together this roundup of the best catfish reels out there.
The Penn Spinfisher VI is a solid, versatile spinning catfish reel that is my pick for the best spinning reel for catfish for a premium option.Check Today's Price
When I took my first look at the Peen Spinfisher VI, I was impressed. It’s a beautiful reel, built with a full metal body and metal side plates with black and gold coloring. It’s hefty and has that weighty feel that gives me the impression of quality and durability. And that’s what this spinning reel delivers.
This reel is sealed against water and other debris and has superb drag power. It is built for going after big fish, so if you’re angling for blue or flathead catfish, this is a spinning reel that you’ll want to consider in your arsenal.
There are four different model options, which give a range of casting abilities, and each model comes in a range of sizes for every need in terms of drag, line capacity, gear ratio, and weight. This isn’t a cheap catfish spinning reel – this is a premium choice for the discerning angler.
The Daiwa BG is a balanced, durable spinning reel that is a go-to option for any catfishing you'll be doing.Check Today's Price
This is a reel that can handle catfish of any size that you’ll want to fish for. The Daiwa BG comes in four size options, ranging from 3000 to 6500, and they’re bigger and more solid than most other reels I’ve seen out there when comparing similar numbers. Daiwa took care to engineer this reel and didn’t cut corners in any of its features.
One example of this is its oversized Digigear System. This spinning reel houses the largest drive gear in the whole line of Daiwa spinning reels, which translates to more power and boosted torque — essential for when you’ve got a big catfish on the hook.
It’s the little things that Daiwa put thought into that count, too. The spool on this spinning reel is built so that you get 100% usable line, which is important for when each yard of line counts. It’s also engineered for casting in mind, and you can get smooth, long casts with this reel, which is important if you’re casting bait out for those catfish.
The Abu Garcia C3 is the reel that the most discerning anglers will appreciate for their next catfish adventure.Check Today's Price
The first thing you’ll notice when you hold the Abu Garcia C3 is its weight and quality construction. It’s a serious tool and it can do some serious fishing – it’s built like a tank. This is a legendary reel and is made for the angler who wants something that will last.
You probably heard the old wisdom, you can buy a pair of $10 boots that will last six months, or you can buy $150 boots that will last for twenty years. The same principle applies to this catfishing reel reel. If you take care of this Abu Garcia C3, it will give you years of catfishing enjoyment out on the waters. It’s not a cheap reel – it is my top choice for a premium option, though.
Aside from the quality and durability of the build, it also performs well on the waters. It casts smooth, it has the power you need to land a big cat, and it even has a bait clicker that will give you notice when you’ve got a catfish on the line.
The Piscifun Flame spinning reel was made for the angler looking to rig a competent rod with an inexpensive reel. This reel won't break the bank, but it also holds its own out on the waters if you're going after a catfish.Check Today's Price
The first thing that I noticed when handling the Piscifun Flame is its lightweight build. It is constructed with graphite and has a hollow body, which houses its gears.
Even though it’s a light catfishing reel, it doesn’t look or feel cheap. When holding it in my hand it has a sharp, sophisticated feel — that’s the best way to describe it. And when you look closer at the specs and construction of this reel, that feeling is confirmed by its engineering: 10 stainless steel ball bearings, zinc gears that don’t corrode, which produce a cast that flies through the air like a warm knife through butter.
You can go really light on this reel with the Piscifun Flame 2000 series, which is suitable for smaller bullheads and channel cats, or you can upgrade to the 5000 series, which will be strong enough for your average flathead.
The KastKing Rover Round baitcasting reel is a great entry-level option that doesn't skimp on quality for catfishing. It's affordable and accessible for the everyday angler.Check Today's Price
You don’t have to break the bank when going for a quality reel. Enter the KastKing Rover to give a great, affordable option for your next catfishing trip.
This reel has a classic design. It is built with reinforced, anodized aluminum side plates, precision-cut brass, and stainless steel gears, an oversized T-Handle that gives you a nice grip when reeling in your next big catfish. This reel won’t corrode when standing up against the elements over the years with its thick outer shell.
You can bring this reel out for serious trolling, bottom fishing, and casting for cats. There are twelve different size options to choose from, too. There’s a little something for everybody and for every fish in this KastKing Rover baitcasting reel.
The Catfish Sumo Heavyweight Champions is an all-around solid choice for the angler who wants a baitcasting reel that can fight big cats and last for years to come.Check Today's Price
Some things in life should be simple. When I buy something, I want to know that what I’m getting is just as it’s advertised – nothing more and nothing less. And that’s what this Catfish Sumo Heavyweight Champions reel delivers. What you see is what you get: a solid, well-built reel that ticks all the boxes I look for when thinking about catfishing.
This is a baitcasting reel that is competent in every aspect: it has a bait clicker for notifying you when you’ve got a cat on the line, steel ball bearings for smooth line retrieval, steel mounted plate, and thick aluminum sides that look and feel solid, and a 20 pounds smooth drag that will help you tucker out a big flathead.
This is the kind of classic, simple baitcasting reel that makes me think of when I was a kid out fishing with the old-timers who knew how to land a catfish. It’s a reel that will last and do the job, simple as.
North America is home to over thirty species of catfish. Some like the blue catfish can weigh up to 150 pounds and average about 40 pounds. Others are smaller but still feisty, like the commonly seen channel catfish, which rarely exceed 40 pounds.
No matter if you’re going for a blue cat, a flathead, a channel cat, or a bullhead, you’ll want to take along the right reel for the job.
There are several key features to review when considering a catfish reel. Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ll be looking at when reviewing the best catfish reels out there:
This is one of the first things you want to check when choosing a catfish reel. Line capacity is the length of the line and its test, or strength measured in pounds, that the reel can hold. The specs will also differentiate between mono line and braided line, as these are different in dimension when considering their strength.
Reel material, longevity, weight
There are benefits and drawbacks with anything and catfish reels are no exception. The material that is used in your reel will likely determine its weight and quality. A heavier reel will take its toll on you if you’re casting all day, but will also be sturdier and built with high-quality materials, and last longer.
On a fishing reel, the drag system is a pair of friction plates inside the reel. When you hook a catfish and if he fights and pulls hard enough, the friction is overcome and the reel will rotate backward, which lets out line and gives it slack, and stops it from snapping. Knowing the max drag on your catfish reel is important, especially if you’re going after those big boy blue catfish.
Carbon Fiber Drag System
A carbon fiber drag system is one of the most reliable and durable parts on a catfish reel. The elements are tough enough to take a beating, which is what your fishing rod will do if you hook into a big blue catfish.
Multi-Disc Drag System
A multi-disc drag system is a set of rotating plates that creates the friction needed to stop line from releasing from the reel. You can adjust a multi-disc drag system when fishing, which allows you to create more or less resistance for your fish.
The gear ratio is how fast and how much line is reeled in when turning the handle on your reel. The bigger the number in your ratio, the faster the line will reel in. For catfishing, a low to medium gear ratio is usually best due to the size and strength of catfish.
Spinning Reels vs Baitcasting Reels for Catfish Fishing
Finally, there are two major categories of catfish reels that I’ll be considering in these reviews. They are spinning reels and baitcasting reels.
Spinning Reels for Catfishing
Spinning reels have a fixed spool. You can cast relatively far with them and they’re great for fast retrieval. Spinning reels are ideal for catfishing baits that don’t require a lot of distance, such as a slip bobber rig with cut bait or even live bait.
Baitcasting Reels for Catfishing
Baitcasting reels have a revolving spool that lets you cast long distances and it’s perfect for big baits, such as live bait. The drawbacks of these reels are their larger size and the fact they’re harder to operate. They can be difficult to use for beginners or those with limited strength. This is especially important if you’re using them to fish for those big blue catfish.
What kind of catfish rod do I need to pair with my reel?
This really depends on the reel you’re using. In general, a medium to heavy action will work for most reels. This allows the line to flex and absorb shock without brake because of the heavier test strength of the catfish line which usually ranges from 20 pounds up to 80 pounds or higher.
A medium-action rod will have a slightly stiffer tip, and a heavy action rod will have a much stiffer tip.
A medium to heavy action is usually the best choice for catfishing because of its versatility and ability to fish multiple types of lines and lures.
What are the best fishing techniques for catfish?
There are several techniques that will work best for catfishing. For small to medium-sized blue cats, a slip bobber rig with cut bait is hard to beat. This technique involves rigging your fishing line through the eyelets at the end of your rod and attaching one or more common glass or plastic slip bobbers.
You can make them by cutting a soda or water bottle in half and attaching your line with a strong knot, such as the Palomar. The high buoyancy of the bobber lets you suspend your bait above the bottom at various depths to entice those cats to strike.
For larger blues or flatheads that are feeding on shad schools, try using an umbrella rig with several baits. This technique involves threading your line through the top two eyelets of the rod and tying on a dropper loop that is attached to another larger swivel. You’ll then attach 4 or 5 smaller swivels, each with its own length of pre-made trotline cordage (Swivel → Trotline Cordage → Hook).
Each trotline cord will have two to three baits attached. This technique is best accomplished by attaching your line to a boat and slowly trolling it behind you while moving forward at about one mile per hour or less. This lets the shad schools swim into the umbrella rig and entices the larger blues and flatheads to attack it.
What gear ratio is best for catfishing?
In general, a low to medium gear ratio is best for catfishing. This provides the optimal balance between ease of use and speed of retrieval. A high gear ratio doesn’t let you feel the bites as well, making it hard to tell whether your bait is being attacked.
On the other hand, a low gear ratio can be frustrating because it takes too much effort to reel in your catch.
Gear ratio is all about give and take.
If you’re a beginner, it would be best to stick with a low or medium gear ratio reel. This allows for easier use and more control over the fish once you hook into it. If you’re looking for something for big catfish, then I’d recommend something with a higher gear ratio to give you better leverage when reeling in those big cats.
There are over 30 different species of catfish in North America alone and there are hundreds of reels made for catfish anglers. The best fishing reels for you to buy will depend on what kind of catfish you want to land, how you want to do it, how much you want to spend, and how long you want your reel to last.
The first thing you want to consider is if you want to look at spinning reels or baitcasting reels. A spinning reel will give you more versatility for doing another kind of fishing and it is most intuitive for anglers who have done other kinds of fishing before.
A dedicated baitcasting is a choice for a seasoned angler or somebody who wants to dedicate a rod and reel to go trolling or for bottom-feeders like catfish.
Luckily, there’s something for everybody out there. Now it’s time to make a choice of one of our best catfish reels and go catch a blue, flathead, or channel cat!
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