Best Catfishing Reels In 2019 Compared
Ask any angler their biggest problems with the gear they use to go catfishing and they’ll all tell you the same two things.
- The rod tip snapped when I set the hook.
- The drag on the reel seized up during a run.
The complaints usually aren’t their fault, either. Most manufacturers have spent time designing and building gear for every other type of fishing, BUT catfishing. When those anglers start hooking up with beasts their gear tends to feel the punishment. You’ve got a few choices when it comes to making sure your rods and reels can withstand that punishment. Namely, you can either overpay for some saltwater-specific gear that you know will last, or you can start venturing into the new subsection of the market where manufacturers are focusing specifically on the rising number of anglers who only chase catfish. This is not surprising with the number of people that eat catfish and the number of ways you can fish for catfish. We know why you’re here, which is why we’ve gone over the hard work of finding gear that’s worth your money and isn’t going to leave you frustrated and complaining about how many fish you lost, how big the one that got away was, and how much money you’ve wasted. At Tackle.org, we’ve got your back.
Best Baitcasting Reels For Catfishing
For most anglers, a good baitcaster is going to deliver far greater performance than a spinning reel will, but many anglers aren’t comfortable using a baitcaster. In general, they have stronger drag systems, better brakes, and, as the name implies, the ability to cast a bait further than a spinning reel. This plays largely into how the line is being fed through the rod guides. Spinning reels are constantly looping out more line while a baitcaster is a direct feed through the rod guides. In other words, when you cast with a spinning reel you’re releasing loop after loop from the reel and that slows down the speed of your cast and how far the bait will go. A baitcaster feeds line straight out without having the slowdowns caused by pulling loops of line off the reel. For catfishing, you’re going to have a hard time beating a good baitcasting reel. It’s highly recommended you spend time learning how to use one — your casting lengths will improve, the size of trophies you bank will go up, and the number of broken off fish will go down. With all that being said, our baitcasting bias set aside, here are 5 of the best baitcasting reels for catfishing in 2019, and probably far into the 2020’s. They’re built with timeless designs giving catfish anglers exactly what they need and have proven hard to improve upon. Take a look for yourself.
#1 – Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Catfish Special Round Baitcaster
Abu Garcia has been keeping anglers hooked up for decades and isn’t planning on going anywhere anytime soon. They’ve thrown their hat into the catfishing ring with their Catfish Special series of round baitcasters. If you’ve never owned an Abu baitcaster before, you’re missing out. Their decades of experience chasing trophies is what keeps them at the front of the line, and why we’re usually the first to recommend them to both beginner and veteran anglers, alike. The Catfish Special is no different. It’s from their Ambassadeur line which has more than proven itself for being durable and not skimping on quality in an effort to save a few bucks. While they are slightly more expensive than most other reels, the old rule “you get what you pay for” couldn’t be more true. Here’s some quick specs on the Ambassadeur Catfish Special reels:
- 3+1 stainless steel ball bearings for smooth operation.
- Carbon matrix drag system for consistent pressure.
- Extended bent handle for increased torque.
- 6-pin centrifugal brake for controlled casts.
- Synchronized level wind system ensures a smooth retrieve.
Each reel also features a built-in baitclicker so you know when your bait is free roaming, taking line out, and when a fish has taken the bait — then headed off for deeper water and structure to hide in. This is when the C3-6500 shines, giving you the power and torque you need to bring them back to the boat or bank — the combination of specs and positive reviews is what made us pick the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Catfish Special round baitcaster as our #1 pick in 2019.
|Abu Garcia C3-6500 Ambassadeur Catfish Special Round Baitcast Fishing Reel||$139.27||Amazon|
#2 – Team Catfish Gold Ring Casting Reel
Team Catfish is hot on Abu’s heels with their Gold Ring series of casting reels. They’re being built specifically with flowing waters in mind but are just at home in large lakes, smaller ponds, and backwater tributaries. Each reel design is field tested for hundreds of hours, putting them through some of the most punishing abuse you can imagine — all in an effort to find the weak links, so Team Catfish can head back to the drawing board to make their reels even more bulletproof. They’ve also built this reel to mate perfectly to their Thunder Cat casting rods so you don’t have to worry about buying a rod separately only to find out it isn’t balanced. An unbalanced rod and reel combo will cause you pain in your wrists, elbows, and shoulders after a long day of casting. Team Catfish knows that most trips are spent searching for fish, casting around, bumping into stuff under the water, and grabbing the attention of the bigger fish. Combined with their Thunder Cat rods, you may finally believe you’ve arrived in Catfish Heaven. (Their words, not ours!) Here’s some quick specs on the Team Catfish Gold Ring casting reels:
- 1:1 high-speed gear ratio serves up plenty of torque.
- One-piece aluminum frame resists flexing.
- Aluminum side plates dissipate heat in your drag.
- Dual magnetic cast controls casting heavy baits in windy conditions.
- Double anodized aluminum spool looks great, functions flawlessly.
- Heavy-duty handle and low-profile baitclicker keep you connected.
#3 – Ming Yang Black CL60 Catfish Baitcaster
Don’t let the name fool you. Even though Ming Yang isn’t necessarily a known brand, like Abu Garcia or Team Catfish, it doesn’t mean you need to disregard them. They’ve taken a completely different stance to catfishing and the reels come from an area in the world where MONSTER catfish roam. Think Mekong monsters. Couple the fact these reels are designed specifically to target massive Mekong catfish and then the fact they’re able to withstand the punishment saltwater puts your gear through, you’ll realize why we’ve recommended them. If their company was active in the industry for more than a few years we might have even ranked their Black CL60 baitcast reels higher up on the list. Over time they could become a true competitor to Pflueger, Abu Garcia, and others. For now, though, here’s some quick specs on the CL60 reels:
- 2:1 gear ratio for superior torque and power.
- One-way clutch w/ anti-reverse bearing.
- Anodized aluminum side plates.
- Aluminum spool and anodized main gear.
- Star drag system with selective on/off bait clicker.
- Centrifugal and mechanical braking systems.
Remember, don’t let the name and price fool you — this is far beyond entry-level gear and definitely isn’t some toy that’s going to break the first time you take off with it. If you’re on a tight budget and want a reel that isn’t going to let you down, the Ming Yang CL60 Black reels are one of the best recommendations we can make for you.
|Ming Yang Black CL60 Baitcast Fishing Reel Muskie Catfish & Saltwater||$46.00||Amazon|
#4 – KastKing Royale Profile Baitcasting Reel
We’ve featured quite a bit of different gear from KastKing, in an effort to help anglers see what this company is doing for our favorite sport, so it comes as no surprise that their bestselling baitcasting reel made it onto our list, too. One look at the Royale Profile line of reels from KastKing will have you wondering why the price isn’t higher. To their support, KastKing is still a relatively new competitor on the catfishing scene so they’re making their name by competing on price. As the years go on, though, you can guarantee that their prices are only going to go up. When you see the level of craftsmanship that goes into each reel, how they’re built to stand up to the most brutal fishing conditions, and still deliver trip after trip, you’ll start to understand how they’ve made such a name for themselves in such little time. Here’s some quick specifications on their Royale Profile reels:
- 0:1 gear ratio for insane line retrieval speed.
- Precision-cut brass gears.
- 5lbs carbon fiber drag system.
- 11+1 shielded MaxiDur ball bearings.
- Easy-tune centrifugal and magnetic braking system.
- Two-color anodized design looks amazing.
- Multi-ported whiffle-style spool reduces weight while retaining strength.
If you’re on a tight budget but want performance that’s going to last for more than a season, or two, KastKing truly is hard to compare to. They’ve focused only on the essentials a catfishing angler needs while avoiding adding to the costs with unnecessarily features or technology. In short, this is one of the best baitcasting reels for catfishing that you can find for less than $50 and KastKing sells multiple different rods that mate perfectly to the low-profile design of the Royale Series reels.
|KastKing Royale Legend High Speed Profile Baitcasting Fishing Reel||$39.98||Amazon|
#5 – Pflueger President XT Low Profile Baitcast Reel
Pflueger has always positioned themselves smack dab in the middle of the fishing industry — not too expensive, not too cheap, with designs that stand the test of time and continue to get recommended by other anglers year, after year. For good reasons, too — Pflueger has been around for decades and has fine-tuned the art of selling to the masses while keeping their quality high and prices low. The President XT low profile baitcasting reels are no exception. While the Pflueger President XT should have landed further up the list, the only reason it claimed the #5 spot is because we needed to make room for budget-conscious anglers to get the gear they need without busting their wallet. That being said, here’s some specs on the President XT:
- 9+2 bearings for super-smooth casting and retrieval.
- Lightweight and comfortable, easy to “palm”.
- High-end magnetic braking system.
- Externally adjustable brake controls backlash.
- Lightweight aircraft aluminum construction.
- Soft cork knobs for increased comfort.
- Star drag system easy to dial in for perfect power.
Of all the baitcasters we looked at to build this list for you, the Pflueger XT low profile received the highest number of positive reviews (nearly 80 at least check) and an almost-perfect 5-star rating. We haven’t found many reels that can compete, especially at this price range.
Best Spinning Reels For Catfishing
Even though we have a pension for baitcasters, there’s nothing saying you can’t use a good spinning reel and still catch a mess of fish — even bagging a few trophies to talk about for years to come. If you’re still new to fishing or you don’t want to put in the time to learn how to throw a baitcaster properly, there are still plenty of options available. More than a few trophy-sized catfish have been taken on a spinning reel… so there’s nothing stopping you from making your mark! With all the different options available right now, picking the right one can be a tedious ordeal and leave you with more questions than answers. There’s only a few specs that you need to pay attention to when you’re shopping for the best spinning reel for catfishing in 2019.
#1 – Penn Battle II 4000 Series Spinning Reels
Penn is more known for saltwater gear than freshwater but that doesn’t mean you can’t adapt one of their bestselling reels to heavy, trophy-winning, monster catfish. If you’re looking for the best spinning reel you can get for those trophies, Penn’s Battle II series are the first place we recommend you focusing your attention. The 4000-series has been around for a long time, under constant development, and has yet to let us down. It’s built with a full-metal body, sideplates, and rotor, with their patented Superline spool. Where most spinning reels have issues getting line off the spool fast enough, the specialized design of the Penn 4000-series spinning reels gives you the ability to cast significantly further. Not quite as far as a good baitcaster, but there’s no bird’s nests to deal with, either. Here’s some quick specs on the Penn Battle II 4000-series spinning reels:
- 5+1 sealed stainless steel ball bearings.
- Full-metal body, sideplate, and internal rotor.
- HT-100 Versa-Drag carbon fiber drag system.
- Instant anti-reverse bearing eliminates pullback.
- Superline spool prevents line slippage under pressure.
- Built-in line capacity marks reveal remaining line on spool.
The fact that this reel is under $100 (usually) and built specifically for saltwater fishing means you’re getting a lot more than you’re paying for. Backed by the Penn name and warranty, this is, hands down, the best spinning reel we’ve found for trophy hunting and filling a cooler.
#2 – Pflueger President P40X Spinning Reel
There’s very few reels available today that can handle braided lines without feeling the pressure. This is especially true when you’re running high-lb test and chasing bigger fish — they will cause braid to slip on most reels. If you’re fishing in larger, more open waters, getting a reel that can hold more-than-a-normal amount of braided line without requiring the use of a mono backer goes a long way to helping you find fish where they’re hiding, instead of waiting on them to come to your limited area. Here’s some quick specs on the Pflueger P40B/X spinning reels:
- 10+1 corrosion resistant stainless steel ball bearings.
- Graphite body and internal rotor keeps weight down.
- Braid ready spool keeps braided lines from slipping.
- Sealed drag washers stay lubricated to reduce heat.
- Slow oscillation gearing keeps line laying flat on the spool.
The Pflueger President P40B/X line of reels is known for performance and hasn’t needed anything more than a few minor tweaks through the generations. Lightweight, and affordable, it’s our #2 pick and the first we recommend if keeping the weight down is a concern.
|Pflueger PRESSP30X President Spinning Fishing Reel||$59.90||Amazon|
#3 – KastKing Sharky III 4000-Series Spinning Reel
When a company boasts the K.I.S.S. principle in their marketing materials, we always take notice. If you’re not familiar with what K.I.S.S. means, quite simply it means “keep it simple, stupid” — the mindset they adopt with every reel they produce. We kid. In this case it stands for the KastKing Intrusion Shield System that helps keep the water out of the internals so you’re not constantly breaking your gear down when the reel gets a bit gritty. The KastKing Sharky III 4000-series spinning reels stick to that mantra nearly perfectly. Even though KastKing is still relatively new, we love their gear and the designs, features, and durability they’re bringing to the catfishing market — at an amazing price, to boot. Here’s some quick specifications on the KastKing Sharky III spinning reel:
- Built to land trophy fish in both salt and freshwater.
- Extremely lightweight reinforced graphite body and rotor.
- Carbon fiber triple disk drag capable of holding 39.5lbs of pressure.
- Oversized stainless steel main shaft for smooth rolling.
- Precision mesh manganese brass pinion gears reduce heat.
- Shark Fin aluminum spool built for braided lines.
- 10+1 shielded stainless steel bearings rated for saltwater use.
The 3rd version of their highly-rated Sharky line of reels features a few minor upgrades that give it the power and consistency we’ve come to expect from them. The line roller, internal shaft, carbon fiber drag, and ball bearings were all upgraded. If you’re not against giving a new company your money (the reels are some of the bestselling spinning reels for catfish currently available, especially at this price range), KastKing could be your new favorite gear to grab. It wouldn’t have made our list, otherwise!
|KastKing Sharky III Fishing Reel - New Spinning Reel - Carbon Fiber 39.5 LBs Max Drag - 10+1...||$55.98||Amazon|
#4 – Pflueger Supreme XT TSP35X Series Spinning Reels
Switching up the sizes, we’ve gone down a level with recommending the Pflueger Supreme XT TSP35X series spinning reel. We typically recommend using at least a 4000-series reel for spinning gear when you’re chasing catfish, but Pflueger has gotten 4000-series features packed into a 3500-series frame. That means less weight, less irritation in your wrist, elbow or shoulder, and more time hunting trophies. It is one of the most expensive reels that we’ve featured (even beating out some of the higher-end baitcasters above) but we think it’s still priced well below where it should be. When you look at reels from other manufacturers, with the same specs, you can expect to spend anywhere from $50 to $100 more. Here’s some quick specs on the Pflueger Supreme XT TSP35X spinning reels:
- 10+1 sealed stainless steel bearings.
- Featherlite magnesium body and rotor.
- 21% lighter carbon handle to keep the weight balanced.
- Sealed carbon drag system prevents overheating.
- High-density EVA knob avoids all-day blisters.
- Slow oscillation gearing reduces line twist.
If you believe in the adage “you get what you pay for” the TSP35X spinning reels from Pflueger definitely stack up. Even though they’re among the most expensive we’ve reviewed, you’re getting a lot more in features, durability, and innovation than you do with any other reel.
|Pflueger SUPXTSP30X Supreme XT Spinning Fishing Reel||$119.95||Amazon|
#5 – Daiwa BG4500 Spinning Reels For Catfish
Since we recommended a smaller, more lightweight reel in the Pflueger TSP35X line, it only made sense we offer anglers a reel that’s up-one-level in size, packing in even more durability, holding power, and line capacity than any other reel on our list. Even though the BG4500 is larger than most other reels, the design and construction materials keep it incredibly balanced. That means your rod isn’t going to be wobbling in the wind as you’re retrieving your line and your casts reach further. Finding the perfect balance point on your rod is critical to getting those extra few dozen yards out of your casts and a heavy reel moves that balance point further back — which means you’re not getting full leverage or reach. The only reason it landed in the #5 spot is because we know most anglers are on a budget and spending this kind of money for a reel is only for anglers who know they get the most out of their tackle and aren’t afraid to spend the money upfront on higher quality gear. Here’s some quick specs on the Daiwa BG4500 reels:
- Lightweight, oversized digi-gear and aluminum housing.
- Air rotor keeps heat and weight down.
- Dynamic ABS spool is braid-ready, with a waterproof drag.
- Manual return bail with 6+1 bearings and 5.6:1 gear ratio.
- Carbon drag built to hold up to 22lbs of force.
- Holds up to 300 yards of 40lb test line.
- Infinite dual anti-reverse system keeps fish on.
The Daiwa BG4500 solves this by keeping stainless steel where it needs to be, using aluminum in the areas that tend to flex, and ABS on parts that don’t necessarily need to be built out of heavier materials. The end result? A reel that feels higher-quality than the price tag suggests.
|Daiwa BG5000 BG Saltwater Spinning Reel, 5000, 5.7: 1 Gear Ratio, 6+1 Bearings, 47.40" Retrieve...||$95.95||Amazon|
Recommendations for the best catfishing reels in 2019?
You’ve seen our list… you know why we’ve recommended each of the reels above. Which of our “best” catfishing reels you think is the best has a lot to do with where you’re fishing, the species you’re going after, how far you’re going to need to cast, and how many casts you plan on making throughout the day. Since these vary from angler to angler, we’ve gone out of the way to feature what we consider to be the best of the best spinning and baitcasting reels. It’s up to you to figure out your budget, the features you want, the features you -need-, and what you need the reel for. If you can, avoid trying to skimp and save on your rods and your reels. These two pieces of tackle are far more important than any other, and spending a few extra bucks upfront pays off in spades when you hit the water and feel the quality working in your hands. Then, if you want to see a new reel reviewed, feel free to reach out. We love hearing from our readers… especially the gear they’re using to land dinner or their next tall tale.