When I first started fishing in the 1980s, baitcasting reels were mysterious and a little bit daunting. The old-timers told us tales of monstrous “bird’s nests” and “backlashes,” which they euphemized as “professional overruns.”
Because the baitcasting reels’ spools spin freely, unlike that of a spinning reel, any difference in speed between the spool and the line leaving it can result in a massive tangle. Furthermore, they were only suited for casting comparatively heavy lures at that time. So the choice of baitcaster versus spinning reel often boiled down to just lure size.
Fortunately, the old-timers’ tales and warnings proved to be a bit overblown. Yes, backlashes occurred, but all types of fishing reels have their own sets of problems. Today, even mid-priced baitcasting reels are better than the state-of-the-art models from when I started and the best fishing reels are works of art. Like all quality fishing gear, they make you a more efficient angler.
Why Choose A Baitcasting Reel For Fishing?
Spinning reels work just fine for fishing. They are easy to handle, cast well, and are great for light fishing. But there’s a reason that professional bass anglers prefer baitcasters over spinning reels. For many bass fishing strategies, baitcasting reels have a winning edge over spinning reels.
What Has Changed Over the Years in Baitcasting Reels
Why are today’s baitcasting reels so much better than the ones of yesteryear? It’s not just a matter of better components. Reels have become more specialized, where appropriate, and a better fit for each individual angler’s needs.
First, historically the handle on most baitcasters was on the right side. This differs from most spinning reels, where the handle can be switched from one side to the other. That meant that the typical right-handed angler would have to cast with their dominant (right) arm, and then switch the rod to the other hand to start the retrieve. For lures that required immediate retrievals, this was a huge disadvantage. Similarly, if a bass ate the lure on the way down, it could often expel it before the angler could feel the strike.
Second, there is now a far greater range of gear ratios, from super-slow all the way up to a blazing 10:1. A generation ago, most baitcasting reels were in the 5:1 to 6:1 range.
Today’s baitcasting reels, even saltwater baitcasters, are made of varying materials. They are typically much lighter than their predecessors, even if they feature more bearings. This allows them to balance with today’s increasingly lightweight baitcasting rods.
Finally, there are plenty of baitcasting reels that serve a wide variety of purposes and applications. But there are specialty reels made for techniques like “Bait Finesse” and others reserved for specific line types, such as braid.
What to Look For in a Baitcasting Reel
All right, now let’s get into the details of what you need to look for in a new baitcasting reel. It’s not complicated once you get to know the specs, and you’ll see which ones we care about most.
The gear ratio tells you how many times the spool turns in one revolution of the handle. The higher the ratio the more line that is retrieved per turn of the handle. Common gear ratios of top baitcasting reels are 5.3:1, 6.4:1, and 7.1:1.
The 6.4:1 ratio is an all-around excellent choice, as you can use any kind of bait and fishing technique, like worms, jigs, topwater, shallow cranking, and have excellent performance. The other gear ratios are more specialized, and you’ll see if that’s something you want to take advantage.
The low gears like 5.2:1 and 5.3:1 are great for fishing baits that pull hard like deep diving crankbaits, big swimbaits, and slow rolling heavy spinnerbaits. The low gear ratio helps you reel the bait slower, keeping it in the strike zone longer. You also enjoy a higher torque output on these reels, making them a nice choice for flipping and moving fish out of cover.
High gear ratios are best for techniques when taking up the slack and burning the bait back to the boat is critical. If you like to fish topwater frogs or toads, a 7.1:1 baitcasting reel is your best choice. They also excel at pitching jigs and plastics, so you can take up slack quickly and drive home a good hookset.
A bigger (deeper) spool can be beneficial if you like to fish stiff heavy line like a 20lb fluorocarbon. The larger spool creates smaller coils of line that are easier to manage. Smaller shallow spools are best for short line applications like flipping and pitching.
Low profile bass fishing reels have different handle sizes. Some of the most compact reels have shorter handles. This may be fine for most applications like fishing a worm or a jig, but not for handling big crankbaits or swimbaits. A larger, longer handle creates more torque to winch fish out of heavy cover, as when punching grass mats.
Brakes & Tension System
The tension knob controls the line at the beginning of your cast, and the brake system controls the line at the end of your cast. The brakes help especially when casting into the wind when your spool tends to spin faster than the bait as it is slowed down by the wind. A good tension and braking system is critical to being able to make long casts with a variety of lure weights and experience minimal backlashes.
Bearings & Materials
Look for quality ceramic or stainless steel ball bearings in your baitcasting reels. In general. the more bearings, the smoother it will cast and retrieve. Look for reels that use a lightweight design and use strong materials like aluminum, magnesium, or carbon composite materials. These are strong, durable, and corrosion resistant materials that will give you the best performance as well as durability.
The drag system is overlooked on casting reels, but it is worth talking about. If you intend on flipping and punching heavy jigs into matted grass, you need a reel with a high max drag. The spool must not slip when you wrench on a fish with heavy line.
On the other hand, when fishing more finesse-type presentations on lighter lines, the ability to have a drag that smoothly peels off line is important. Think about fishing shaky head jigs, crankbaits, and jerkbaits. Those techniques can catch big fish, but you risk a break-off if the fish decides to make a dive near the boat.
Our Top Picks
If you’re already familiar with baitcasters and looking for your next reel, read on to see the list of our top choices.
Daiwa reels have always been fan favorites. They are quality reels with intriguing designs that are sure to catch fish and attention. This reel is black with gold accents, for a sleek look.
It has a 6.3:1 gear ratio, so it reels in fish quickly without sacrificing torque. The Daiwa Tatula also has a great air brake system with 20 different adjustable levels. The swayed, ergonomic handle also gives the fisher a nice, comfortable grip. A UTD tournament drag system allows for very smooth and powerful drag. A TWS T-shaped lever winder adds 5% more casting distance. The magnetic breaking system creates smooth casting for tackle 1/8 oz and heavier.
This reel is a good baitcasting reel. It is made by a company that is known for it quality and durability. The Daiwa Tatula is versatile and performs extremely well, and is available in a range of sizes to fit your fishing needs.
The Pflueger President XT Low Profile Reel is one of the best reels you can get. For its quality, it’s also seriously affordable and built to last. This lightweight reel is made for both freshwater and saltwater, so it’s a great choice for inshore or offshore anglers, or for anyone looking for a versatile reel.
The Pfluger President XT is made with aircraft grade aluminum, so it’s extremely durable. It has 9 corrosion resistant stainless steel ball bearings, so casting is super smooth. This reel has a magnetic braking system, making it easy to cast with externally adjustable brake controls for optimal spool rotation and reduced backlashes. A soft touch rubber knob creates a comfortable grip, even on longer fishing days.
This reel is low profile, so it is lightweight and compact, but it doesn’t sacrifice strength. The Pflueger President XT is a favorite surf fishing reel, but works well in all applications.
Lew’s Fishing is known for high quality products, and the Tournament MB Baitcast Reel is a standout. It’s also a fairly inexpensive choice compared to some of the pricier reels on this list. This reel is made from quality components, so it is sure to last a long time with proper care.
Lew’s Tournament MB has 10 ball bearings and a zero-reverse clutch bearing, so casting is incredibly smooth. The ball bearings are double-shielded and made of stainless steel. The reel itself has an aluminum frame and spool, a graphite side plate, and solid brass gearing. It is lightweight but very durable, and works in both salt and freshwater. The Lew’s Fishing Tournament MB reel has a dual cast control system with externally adjustable multi-setting brakes.
This reel also features a Zirconia line guide and an external lube port. The spool is high capacity, so you can hold a lot of line. The Lew’s Fishing Tournament MB Reel is a great choice for any angler, with plenty of features and 5 sizes to best fit your needs.
Being called one of the most popular baitcasters year after year, the Revo SX has shown to impress myself with its durability and ultimate control while fishing. I have reeled in so many bass with this fishing reel. Combined with the sturdy Vendetta rod, this combo can be sick! Buy both the rod and reel and you will have a nice setup for years to come. You are getting a very good combo for the money. This rod and reel is for both beginners and more advanced fisherman.
They are both super lightweight with the alloy and carbon reel coming in at only 6.6 oz. It has 10 bearings with a 7.1:1 gear ratio and comes in both a right and left hand model. There are multiple generations of these reel and I’m amazed how they continue to reduce the weight each year.
The 7.0:1 gear ratio makes the KastKing a super smooth and efficient baitcaster. A little bit heavier than the Abu Garcia Revo SX, but you can’t tell the difference at 7.5 oz. It is a much cheaper reel than others and you can definitely feel that it’s not made as well as others. Plan on this one not lasting as long as other reels that are more durable. This reel has 11+1 ball bearings and super smooth reel for pitching, flipping and more. State of the art dual brakes make this baitcaster ready to go fishing right out of the box.
The price point makes this a good purchase. It’s an affordable reel if you are wanting to get into baitcasting like the professionals. Definitely a good reel to get for beginners before they move to a more durable reel.
The Piscifun Perseus is a fishing reel named after the Greek hero which destroyed the monstrous fish Cetus in ancient mythology, which might not be a bad name for a fishing reel that can handle up to 18.5-pounds of drag and features a double-line winding system that increases winding stability and durability.
This baitcaster has a 4 & 1/3-inch handle, an over-sized EVA knob, 3 carbon fiber drag washers, shielded bearings, a dual magnetic and centrifugal braking system, brass drive gear and brass pinion gear and a CNC machined aluminum spool. Everything needed to take down the next monster of a fish.
The SHIMANO Curado K Baitcast Reel is a silver-gray caster that’s considered by some anglers to be an improvement over previous Curado reels. It has a low-profile design that only weighs around 7-ounces or so but is able to handle up to 11-pounds of drag. It’s designed so that it can cast as smoothly as any of the higher end reels, as well as retrieve the line with the best of them.
Other features of this reel include an SVS Infinity braking system and Utilizes x-ship technology to “improve durability and long-lasting performance”. It’s a reel that handles both inshore and offshore fishing duties well. A Perfect baitcasting reel for both freshwater and saltwater.
The Daiwa Lexa is a reel with a 6.3 : 1 gear ratio, an aluminum side plate and frame and a stainless steel drive gear & pinion gear. It’s a professional grade system that has quite a few design features that allow it to really reel in the big fish. This model has an EVA Custom Handle Knob that doesn’t adversely affect its strength or its leverage.
Another great feature of this reel is the extra line capacity so that you can go with that thicker strength line when you are going to be fighting more powerful fish. And this 7 bearing system is specially designed to resist salt corrosion better than non-treated bearings. This gives it the ability to perform better longer in saltwater environments than some of its competitors.
Lew’s BB1 Speed Spool Baitcast is the world’s first low-profile baitcaster. With many ground-breaking features and stringent quality control, it leads to setting industry standards. This reel is designed for speed, durability, and castability. If you want the best baitcasting reel under 150, this is it!
Made out of machined forged aluminum, it sports a double anodized U-shaped large capacity spool and a 1-piece diecast aluminum frame. The 10-bearing system has double-shield ball bearings with zero anti-reverse for smooth operation.
The oversized titanium line guide enhances your casting performance while minimizing friction. It is well made, tough and durable. High strength, solid brass Speed Gears cut with precision gives it longevity. The Positive on/off Smart Plus Six Pin centrifugal braking system gives you good control.
The Daiwa CLTW200HS Coastal TWS Reel contains a deep spool made out of A7075 aircraft-grade aluminum. The T Wing System reduces line friction coming off the reel resulting in better line control while allowing you to cast long.
The Daiwa CLTW200HS Coastal is light and durable. Extremely high-density woven fiber goes into the making of drag washers. It contains a special oil that reduces heat from friction.
The 15.4 lbs of drag can easily tackle the striped bass or any large fish. The 8 Bearing System is resistant to corrosion and lasts 12 times longer than normal bearings.
The high strength gears in the Daiwa CLTW200HS Coastal are built to last and perform. The Magforce Cast Control minimizes backlash and is designed to slow the spinning of the spool. This is one of the top rated baitcasting reels. It can support 190 yards of 40 lb of braided fishing line, and up to 145 yards of 55 lb braided line.
How We Test
We utilized a comprehensive scoring system to evaluate each rod and reel across numerous criteria. Scores were tallied after each day on the water. Once all the numbers were crunched (and after some heated debate), winners in each category were crowned. The Editor’s Choice award is bestowed upon the product in each category with the best overall score, while the Great Buy goes to the products that represent the greatest value.
The test reels were paired with multiple test rods for an across-the-board evaluation using various rod actions. Reels were fished with both braided line (Berkley x9) and fluorocarbon (Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon).
What makes a good baitcasting reel?
A baitcasting reel is multipurpose and can handle most bass-fishing techniques. It allows you to adjust the speed of your cast and spool retrieve. baitcasters are best reels available for saltwater and freshwater fishing. Thumb pressure will be used to control cast distance. Brakes will be used to slow down & smoothen the cast.
What is a low profile baitcaster?
Low-profile baitcasting reels have a palm side and a handle side. Left-handed baitcasting reels have the handle on the left side, while right-handed baitcasters have the handle on the right side. The baitcasting reel is designed to fit in hand. This comfortable fitment in hands is the utmost advantage of a low-profile baitcaster over a spinning reel.
Should I use mono or braided line on my baitcaster?
Using braided line means less stretch so your hook sets are firmer and you can feel your lure bumping along structure (and feel hits) a lot better with longer line. Be careful, however, as braid can be so quick to set you’ll rip the lures right out of the fish so it may take some time to get used to. For most topwater uses, I usually just tie braid straight to my lure personally. One of the downfalls with this, however, is that the braided line may be visible to picky fish so if the bite is hard, try using a clear mono leader for float.