The 6 Best Catfish Reels of 2023 (Spin & Baitcast)

Geoff Stadnyk in Fishing Reels on

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 (and choosing the best fishing line to use while baitcasting your catfish) 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.

Table of Contents

Best Premium Spinning Reel For Catfish

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.

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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.

What We Like
Options - There's a little something for everybody here. From the lightweight 10.7 ounce intro 2500 model to the 38.6 ounce 10500 behemoth, there's something for every fish here. I recommend the 6500 size for catfish anglers.
Durability - This reel was built to last. It's constructed and sealed in a way to keep water and debris out of the inner bearings of the reel. Whether you're on the lake or river going after a catfish, or if you take this reel to the salty sea, you can be confident that it will survive any condition and scenario you throw at it. 
Drag - This spinning reel has the stopping power that you need for big fish. The drag washers are housed in the sealed spool so that they will last and stay strong for the life of this reel.
Know Before Buying
- The big thing to double-check on this spinning reel is the model and size before you buy. You'll want to consider the weight of the reel, the drag, and the line capacity before choosing the model best suited for your needs. 

Best Value Spinning Reel for Catfish

The Daiwa BG is a balanced, durable spinning reel that is a go-to option for any catfishing you'll be doing.

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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.

What We Like
Versatility - The Daiwa BG offers is versatile enough for any catfishing that you'll be doing, but it's also a spinning reel that can be rigged up for other fishing as well. Get more out of this reel in any situation that you'll be fishing in.
Build - This is a big reel, no matter which of the four size options you choose. It is hefty without being too heavy, and it holds a lot of line. You don't have to worry about water damage on the inner drag system, because it's made with a waterproof aluminum build that seals out the elements. This is a reel built for heavy usage and it won't fall apart after years of going after big catfish.
Power - For the price, this is probably one of the most powerful catfish spinning reels on the market. It's smooth, steady, and gives you the confidence you'll need to land a big blue catfish or flathead. 
Know Before Buying
- This is a big spinning reel. You'll want to make sure you have the right rod to fit this particular reel onto before buying. 

Best Premium Baitcast Reel for Catfish

The Abu Garcia C3 is the reel that the most discerning anglers will appreciate for their next catfish adventure. 

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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.

What We Like
Quality - Everything about the Abu Garcia C3 reads as quality. The body is made with aluminum and the handle is solid stainless steel. It was made for catfishing and it shows. The 7000 size model can help you land catfish up to 100 pounds if that's what you're going for. This reel is made in Sweden and you can take the quality to the bank.
Drag - The drag on this reel is super smooth and gives you the ability to adjust while fighting a big cat if needed. This is important if you've got a catfish on the line that is bigger than you initially thought. 
Casting - When you're out on the water going for a catfish, you want a reel that will give you a long, smooth cast. And the Abu Garcia C3 does not disappoint here. It's a reel that will help you cast pretty near a mile if you've got the line. 
Know Before Buying
- This reel comes in three size options. Two are built for catfish and one for carp. If you're going for big blues, you'll want the 7000 size option, but the other two are formidable as well.

Best Catfish Spinning Reel for Beginners

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.

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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.

What We Like
Value - This is a spinning reel that won't break the bank. The Piscifun Flame holds up as a great intro spinning reel for a beginner or a second rig for catfishing. It's affordable but holds up with quality and performance. 
Lightweight - If you're going to be casting all day on the waters, this is a spinning reel built for you. Look, heavy reels have their place, but they take their toll if you're out all day throwing lures or bait. This reel is versatile if you want to cast for other fish or rig it up for some catfishing.
Smooth - This is the quality that really gives this spinning reel an edge. Everything about it is smooth, from the interior bearings and gear mechanism to the cast. It gives a clean cast and line retrieval, and if you're bringing in a channel cat, you'll be happy with how the drag holds up on this lightweight reel.
Know Before Buying
- Although this spinning reel is a great intro and affordable option, you want to make sure that this one will fit your needs. If you're going after bigger catfish, like blues or flathead, it might not hold up as well as heavier options. 

Best Baitcasting Catfish Reel for Beginners

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. 

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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.

What We Like
Price - Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, this reel is the best-priced baitcasting reel on the market for the quality and reliability that it delivers. It's a great choice for an entry-level baitcasting reel for a beginner angler wanting to go for catfish or even a second rod and reel that you want to take on your next trip. 
Versatility - There are enough size options on this reel for any catfishing you want to do. Not everybody is going for monster blue cats - in fact, most guys I know are content going for 12-pound channels or flatheads. But I've heard of guys landing 80-pound blues with this reel. As a nice touch, this reel also gives options for left-handed and right-handed anglers.
Know Before Buying
- Don't turn away from this reel because it's priced lower than other brands. It's probably one of the best-valued baitcasting catfish reels I've come across and it holds up to the more expensive competitors.

Best All-Around - Baitcaster 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.

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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 one of the best classic, simple baitcasting reels 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.

What We Like
Build - This is a solid reel. Each component is high-quality and on closer inspection, you can see that Catfish Sumo put thought into each part. Brass gears, steel ball bearings, and an aluminum body that can take abuse out on the waters from a big blue or flathead.
Value - It's not the most expensive reel on the market and it's not the cheapest either, it lands somewhere in the middle, right in the sweet spot. I would put this Catfish Sumo reel up against the most expensive options out there and I think it would hold its own when the rubber meets the road and you're out on the water going after cats.
Know Before Buying
- The only drawback of this reel is that there aren't any options for size or type. That's fine, though. Remember, this is the choice if you want a simple baitcasting reel that gets the job done and you don't have to worry or think too much about options and sizes. 

Buyer’s Guide

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 bullhead, you’ll want to take along the right reel for the job. Also, if you want your fishing reels to last a long time, take care of it. Clean it and lubricate your reels using gun oil or other lubricants.

Fishing reel. Summer fishing. Fisherman equipment.

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:

Line capacity

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.

Drag System

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.

Gear ratio

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

Baitcasting reel on fishing rods in sport shop

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?

Fishing for catfish in the lake, with a catfish on the line.

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!

Geoff Stadnyk

Geoff started fishing as a child in the gorgeous lakes of Mammoth, while on family vacations. His fishing experience includes the use of fly rod and reel. Guided trips along the Madison and Gallatin rivers in Montana, the Frying Pan and Animus in Colorado, and the Deschutes river in Oregon have all paid off and helped make Geoff the angler and writer that he is today.

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