Catfish are widely considered to be one of the most sought-after freshwater fish in the world for a number of reasons. They are known to grow to massive sizes and are one of the toughest-fighting freshwater species in existence. They are regarded by rod and reel anglers the world over as a ‘heavyweight’ fish that only the most skilled fishing enthusiasts dare go after.
There are a number of different catfish species that roam the waters of North America including blue, flathead, and channel cats. These ‘Big Three’ are known throughout the angling world as species that only the most experienced fishermen and women are truly capable of going after.
Many ill-equipped anglers have attempted to catch these freshwater beasts with rods that were too small, line that was too weak, and reels that were not strong enough to handle the fight that a catfish is capable of putting up against even the toughest anglers. Many of these cases result in rods and fishing line being snapped like twigs, hooks straightened out, and reels completely stripped of their internal gears.
If you’re planning to do a significant amount of fishing for catfish in the lakes and rivers that run through North America or any other part of the world, it’s absolutely essential that you come prepared. This means having the right type of gear and equipment—most importantly, a reel that will stand up and allow you to go toe-to-toe with one of these monsters.
In this article, we will detail the most important factors that anglers need to keep in mind when it comes to searching for and purchasing a reel for catfish angling.
Table of Contents
- 1 Quick Summary – Best Catfish Reels
- 2 Catfish Reels Buying Guide
- 3 What to Look for in a Catfish Reel
- 4 10 Best Reels for Catfish
- 4.1 1. Abu Garcia C3 Catfish
- 4.2 2. Penn Squall LevelWind
- 4.3 3. Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 7000
- 4.4 4. Lew’s Speed Cast Reel
- 4.5 5. Daiwa BG Spinning Reel
- 4.6 6. Okuma Convector Reel
- 4.7 7. Penn Spinfisher VI Reel
- 4.8 8. Shimano Sedona FI Spinning Reel
- 4.9 9. Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Blue Yonder
- 4.10 10. KastKing Rover Round Baitcasting Reel
- 5 Final Thoughts
Quick Summary – Best Catfish Reels
- Best Overall: Abu Garcia C3 Catfish Reel
- Best Durable: Penn Squall LeverWind
- Best Value for Money: Lew’s Speed Cast Reel
Catfish Reels Buying Guide
When it comes to purchasing a reel that is intended to be used mainly to target catfish, there are some very important factors you’ll need to pay attention to. In fact, many of the same tips you might commonly take into consideration for purchasing a bass fishing reel or one for other species of fish will simply not apply when it comes to catfish reels.
In most cases, these reels will have their own set of quality indicators that are specially aimed at making sure you’ll have the right kind of performance capabilities for your equipment to hold up against a large, trophy catfish. Here are some of the most important tips to consider as you’re looking to purchase a catfish reel.
Style of Reel
One of the most important things to keep in consideration when it comes to your search for the best reels for catfish is the specific type or style of reel. As most anglers are well-aware, one can choose between a spin-cast reel, a spinning reel, and a baitcasting reel when it comes to catfishing or going after virtually any other type of fish.
Each type of reel will have its own set of unique advantages and drawbacks, or pros and cons. Understanding and paying attention to the various good and bad aspects of these types of reels is the beginning step in your journey to find the best reel for catfishing.
Spincast reels are considered the ideal choice for anglers who might just be getting started in catfishing as these models are very straightforward and require very little technical knowledge in order to properly use them to catch fish. They are the most simple type of catfish reel to use and are the perfect choice for beginner anglers and kids who want to learn how to get started in the exciting world of catfishing.
One of the main drawbacks to spincast reels is the fact that you’ll be very limited as to the overall amout of accuracy, as well as the distance you can cast with them. While these spincast reels are excellent choices for young anglers and beginners, they are really not ideal for any angler who has a significant amount of experience catfishing.
Spinning reels are also very popular for catfishing, but for a few different reasons we will notice. These reels are designed to allow anglers to cast their rigs much farther than they might be able to with a spincast reel. Spinning reels are also much more accurate than spincast reels and will allow anglers to make more precise casts. This is a key advantage of having a spinning reel as it will allow a skilled angler to cast their rig and bait in just the right spot, which is crucial when fishing in or around heavy cover or other major structures that can result in getting hung up or tangled.
The main downside of using a spinning reel is that these particular types of reels are not necessarily well-equipped to handle heavier lines of more than about 20 pound test in most cases. Some spinning reels are capable of holding heavy line, but there are many instances where the line can become tangled or other problems can arise.
Lastly, baitcasting reels are considered to be the ideal choice for serious catfish anglers. This is due to the fact that baitcasting reels are capable of allowing anglers to use very heavy lines of all kinds, as well as allowing anglers to make very accurate casts out to significant distances. SImply put, there are plenty of reasons why skilled anglers should be searching for a baitcasting reel instead of a spinning or spincast model.
What to Look for in a Catfish Reel
Here are a few of the most important characteristics and performance capabilities to pay attention to when it comes to your search for the best reels for catfish. Some of these aspects are a bit more important than others, but you should take each area into consideration if you want to find the best possible reel for your catfishing adventures.
The reel’s drag system is considered to be the most important performance characteristic that very often gets overlooked by anglers who are looking to purchase a reel that looks like a great deal and might be offered at an attractive price. The best quality reels will be well-equipped with a solid drag system because catfish are notorious for being one of the most hard-pulling fish in the world’s waterways. These freshwater giants have no problem stripping out a poorly-made drag system, which can ruin your reel and cause you to lose the fish as well.
A good drag system will allow you to tangle with the catfish and maintain solid contact with it while wearing the fish down gradually. If the catfish is able to pull harder than what the drag is able to give, it can easily snap the line or strip the drag out. Look for a drag system that is made of high-quality materials that include drag washers made of solid metal material—not plastic or other material.
Another key point when it comes to the best reels for catfish is looking for one that is made with high-quality material that won’t easily be susceptible to cracking or breaking under pressure. The top catfish reels will be made of very tough, durable material that might often be a bit heavier than other types of construction material.
While most reels are advertised as being ‘lightweight,’ this is actually not a quality that is essential when it comes to catfish reels. In fact, anglers would do well to choose a reel that has a housing and side plates made of solid aluminum or other metal material as this will ensure your reel won’t break or crack in the same way graphite is known to do.
Stainless steel is another good option for reel construction material that will guarantee you won’t be as vulnerable as you would with a weaker, lighter material. Remember, when it comes to going after catfish, you’re going to be dealing with exceptionally heavy fish and a brand that touts their reel being more lightweight than the competitors is one that should be viewed with discernment.
Catfish have been known to rip off hundreds of feet of line in just a few minutes in some cases. One of the most common elements that seasoned catfish anglers will seek out in a solid catfishing reel is just how much line the reel is capable of fitting onto the spool. This is a point that can cause some dilemma in choosing between a reel that is capable of fitting much more line on the reel, and one that’s specially designed to accommodate heavier line, which is more suitable for catfishing.
Be sure to pay close attention to the reel’s capacity when it comes to heavier line that’s at least 12 to 20 pounds in most cases. Anything less than this pound test rating will simply not be capable of giving you a fighting chance against the trophy catfish that are known to stalk the lakes and rivers of North America and other parts of the world.
Another main point of contention between some of the top brands in the fishing industry that are considered to be well-suited for catfishing is the gear ratio. This number varies widely across the many different types of reels, as well as the size and other factors that come into play.
The gear ratio simply refers to the number of spool rotations you’ll get with each full rotation of the reel’s handle. When it comes to catfishing, you’re better off using a gear ratio that is a bit higher than most other reels. This will allow you to crank in more line with each turn of the handle, which can prove to be a significant advantage for anglers who are locked in a tense struggle with a hard-pulling fish that continually makes hard and fast runs back out away from your boat or position, forcing you to make up ground through patience and relying on your reel to do its job.
Like most other types of reels, when it comes to selecting the best reels for catfish, you’ll want to opt for a model that provides a high number of ball bearings if possible. Generally, the more ball bearings a reel has, the more smooth its casting and retrieving action will be on the water. When it comes to catfishing, anglers are not likely to be doing as much casting as they are likely to do when fishing for other species.
This means that you’ll want to look for and focus on a reel that has a smooth feel when it comes to reeling the line in. Also be aware of the material that the ball bearings are made of as poorly constructed ball bearings will almost always mean a wobbly or uneven feel when reeling in the line.
Size and Weight
The last point of concern you’ll want to take into consideration when looking for the best catfishing reels is the size and weight of the product. Since you’re going to be targeting larger, heavier fish, it’s really not necessary to have a lightweight reel as this will only prove to be more of a disadvantage than anything.
The reel needs to be large enough to hold plenty of heavier fishing line as you can’t get very far using small diameter, light line that is not well-suited for big, heavy catfish. Look for a larger reel that is capable of handling heavier line in order to give yourself the best possible advantage on the water for catfish.
It’s also not very important to worry much about the weight of the reel itself since you’re not likely going to be casting your rig out as often as you would for something like a largemouth bass or pike. Sometimes, a heavier reel that’s made with stainless steel or aluminum will give you the best advantage when it comes to going after catfish.
10 Best Reels for Catfish
1. Abu Garcia C3 Catfish
- 3 stainless steel ball bearings + 1 roller bearing(6500 size)
- 2 stainless steel ball bearings + 1 roller bearing (7000 size)
- Carbon Matrix drag system
If you’re like most catfish anglers, beginner or even a seasoned professional, you’re likely going to be looking for the best reel for the money. The Abu Garcia C3 Catfish is easily one of the top choices on our list of the best reels for catfishing as it presents the user with a number of premium-quality components and capabilities, but is available for a price that is much more affordable than some of the top brands in the industry.
Abu Garcia is well-known in the fishing industry and has been producing some of the best reels for many decades. Their latest version of the ideal catfishing reel is one that’s truly hard to beat as it packs in a number of prominent features. As the name implies, the Abu Garcia C3 Catfish reel is specially-designed for going after these whiskered monsters.
What I Like About It
This reel comes in two main size options, the 6500 and the 7000, which are both virtually the same except for a few small differences. The 6500 features 3 stainless steel ball bearings with one roller bearing while the 7000 offers 2 bearings and 1 roller. As you might imagine, the 7000 is capable of holding a larger amount of heavier line, which is ideal for anglers who specifically plan to target the largest catfish in their chosen waterway.
Both models also offer a Carbon Matrix drag system that’s capable of holding up against the largest cats. The Abu Garcia C3 Catfish is also equipped with a 6-pin centrifugal braking system and can be specially-ordered to have a power handle that will help provide anglers with more torque when reeling in their catch.
- Premium quality components
- Value for money
- Powerful enough to catch large catfish
- The smallest model has a max drag of only 15 lbs
2. Penn Squall LevelWind
- Level wind trolling reel for big game fish in a variety of saltwater conditions
- Durable construction with lightweight graphite frame and side plates and bronze main gear and...
- HT 100 carbon fiber drag system provides powerful drag without sacrificing smoothness
Penn is known throughout the fishing community as one of the most reputable brands in the industry. Their products have been rods and reels that anglers have relied on for many decades as the company focuses on delivering top-notch quality in a price that most anglers can afford.
The Penn SQL30LW Squall LevelWind is arguably one of the best catfish reels currently on the market for a number of reasons. The reel’s housing and spool are made from highly-durable machined aluminum and are well-made to stand up against the toughest fights with trophy catfish. This reel could also double as a solid saltwater option as it is made with anti-corrosion capabilities that make it ideal for trolling or bottom-fishing in the open ocean.
What I Like About It
This one is virtually made for fighting with large fish as it features a line capacity indicator that helps anglers determine how much line they have left on their reel, allowing them to adjust their efforts accordingly. The reel features a very durable stainless steel pinion gear system, as well as a tough HT-100 Versa drag system that is designed for going after big fish.
As with most Penn reel models, anglers can choose between a few different sizes and spools that lets you get the one that’s just right for your style and approach when it comes to catfishing.
- Machined aluminum housing and spool for durability
- Versatile enough for saltwater offshore fishing
- Make sure you don’t pick a model that is too small for larger catfish
3. Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 7000
- Durable baitcast fishing reel handles tough saltwater fishing applications
- Multi-disc drag system offers forceful, smooth drag across the entire drag range
- 6-pin centrifugal brake applies consistent pressure for an exceptionally precise cast
While we could opt for placing another Abu Garcia reel model further down our list to diversify our options a bit, we would simply be doing our readers a disservice as the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 7000 is easily one that could be considered the best overall catfish reel on the market today. This round baitcasting reel has the classic look and feel that most serious catfish anglers look for in a high-quality reel and there are also plenty of reasons why you should seriously consider this model if you’re in the market for a premium catfish reel.
What I Like About It
It’s truly hard to find a reel that is tougher and more reliable than the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 7000. Anglers have been using reels just like this one for many decades and it’s no secret that Abu Garcia is among the top brands in the fishing industry—especially when it comes to making catfishing reels.
This model offers a dual levelwind system, as well as a tough 6-washer drag system that gives anglers the edge over big, hard-pulling cats. It also offers brass gears that are designed for smooth operation and dual anti-reverse capability as well. This reel is made to hold up to 300 yards of 20-pound mono or 600 yards of braid. It’s also equipped with a ‘clicker’ that lets anglers know when a catfish is beginning to pull, ever so slightly, on the bait.
- Tough and reliable design and construction quality
- Anti-reverse capability to help hold big fish
- Extremely high line capacity
- Has a lower retrieve rate of 22 inches per crank
4. Lew’s Speed Cast Reel
- Fishing reel: Reel constructed from an aluminum frame and side plates
- Casting reel: Features a premium 5-bearing system with 4-ball bearings and zero reverse one-way...
- Baitcasting reels: Includes an anodized aluminum spool
Lew’s is a brand that has made significant strides toward the top of the fishing industry in recent decades as many professional anglers have increasingly started to choose their products over the tried-and-true companies that have been around for much longer. The Lew’s Speed Cast Reel is another rounded baitcasting reel that is perfectly suited for catfishing on lakes and rivers.
What I Like About It
Everything about this reel is heavy-duty and made to be as tough as possible, which is a significant advantage over other brands’ products in today’s market. The Lew’s Speed Cast Reel is crafted with a carbon fiber drag system that is capable of handling the largest catfish species, as well as 5 stainless steel bearings with one Zero Reverse bearing that serves as an anti-reverse system.
The Lew’s Speed Cast Reel is made with a brass main gear and crankshaft that will prove to be as durable as any on the market today. The reel’s housing and side plates are both fitted with anodized aluminum instead of graphite, making it one of the toughest reels on our list and one that is fully capable of fighting monster cats with.
- Carbon fiber drag system
- Stainless steel bearings for corrosion resistance
- Anodized aluminum housing and side plates
- Only a 15 lb max drag
5. Daiwa BG Spinning Reel
- Black Anodized Machined Aluminum Housing ("Hard Bodyz" Body & Side Cover), Over-sized Digigear...
- Solid Screw-In Handle, Air Rotor, Dynamic Cut Aluminum ABS Spool
- Braided Line Ready Spool, Waterproof Drag System, Carbon ATD, Line Per Handle Turn: 47.4"
For anglers who prefer an open-faced spinning reel as their main choice of weapon for trophy catfish, look no further than the Daiwa BG Spinning Reel. The main drawback about this particular reel is that it is quite a bit more expensive than most others on our list, but there’s no denying that it is made of exceptional quality.
What I Like About It
Daiwa is another top name in the fishing industry and catfish anglers who have been in the game for more than a few years are likely already aware that some of the most skilled catfish anglers prefer this company’s products over any other. The Daiwa BG Spinning Reel features a sturdy and tough housing that’s crafted from anodized aluminum material, which means it’s a bit heavier than most others on our list, but will not easily break under immense pressure.
The spool is also made with ABS aluminum material and the carbon drag system gives anglers a serious edge when it comes to fighting against large catfish that often get the better of anglers that are equipped with weaker drags. The Daiwa BG Spinning Reel features a high-quality 6+1 ball bearing system that is exceptionally smooth.
- Anodized aluminum housing for durability
- Very versatile option for different kinds of fishing
- I personally prefer overhead reels for catfish
- Tends to be heavier than alternate options
6. Okuma Convector Reel
- Made using the highest quality materials
- Tested for reliability and quality
- Used by professionals worldwide
Anglers who have been paying attention to some of the hottest up-and-coming brands on the market in the last decade have likely picked up on the fact that Okuma is one of the best companies in the fishing industry. This brand has established a reputation for producing great quality products for a reasonable price that most anglers can afford. The Okuma Convector is no different in that respect.
This rounded baitcasting reel is surprisingly lightweight despite having a housing and side plates that are made of aluminum material. This reel’s spool is also crafted from machined aluminum and the drag can be adjusted using a single star ratchet tool. This drag adjustment method isn’t very convenient for adjusting the drag while an angler is fighting to reel in a catch, but it does allow for a very precise adjustment.
What I Like About It
The Okuma Convector features a self-lubricating gear system that creates an exceptionally smooth performance, as well as a Mechanical Stabilization System that helps the reel maintain proper alignment despite being put through numerous bouts with large-sized catfish.
This reel also offers anglers with a depth counter that is prominently displayed on the top of the reel in order to allow anglers to properly monitor their depth range at all times. The reel comes in six different sizes that allow anglers to select the one that’s right for their own needs.
- Mechanical Stabilization Systems keeps the gearing properly aligned
- Depth counter to put your bait in the right place
- Inconvenience drag adjustment mechanism
7. Penn Spinfisher VI Reel
- IPX5 Sealed body and spool design
- CNC Gear technology
- HT-100 carbon fiber drag washers
The Penn Spinfisher VI is arguably one of the best spinning reel models you’ll find in today’s market that is well-suited for catfishing. This particular reel is another model in a long line of outstanding quality reels that professional catfish anglers have come to rely on during serious competition.
The carbon fiber HT-100 drag washers are fully sealed and protected, as well as offering anglers with a tough and smooth drag system that should be able to hold up against just about any sized-catfish in lakes and rivers around the world. The reel is equipped with a CNC gear system that helps it maintain a well-balanced feel.
What I Like About It
Anglers who are looking for an exceptionally tough spinning reel option will likely appreciate that this reel offers a Full Metal Body and side plates that help provide added structural integrity that will stack up against the meanest catfish you’ll encounter.
The Penn Fishing Spinfisher VI comes in a multitude of different options that allow anglers to select the size that’s ideal for the fish they plan to target. With a 5+1 stainless steel ball bearing system, it’s easy to see why so many seasoned catfish anglers prefer to use this model over the many other choices they could take to the water with.
- HT-100 drag washers
- Versatile for different fish species
- Full Metal Body and Side Plates
- I prefer overhead reels for catfish
8. Shimano Sedona FI Spinning Reel
- Line Retrieve Per Crank: 29.50 inch, Gear ratio: 4.7:1
- Line capacity (lb/yds): 8/240, 10/200, 12/160
- Line capacity (mm/meter): 0.25/260, 0.30/180, 0.35/130
Shimano is easily one of the most popular brands in the fishing industry and has a stellar reputation when it comes to producing some of the best spinning reels on the market. The Shimano Sedona FI Spinning Reel is an outstanding model for anglers who want to stay within a reasonable budget, but prefer to use a large sized spool that can also double as a bass fishing rod or be used to catch plenty of other game fish species.
Shimano reels are all about toughness and exceptional performance, making the Shimano Sedona FI Spinning Reel an easy addition to our list of the best catfish reels as it features a surprising number of capabilities and characteristics that serious catfish anglers typically look for in their reels. It offers anglers with a tough, but lighter G-free body housing that also features a Magnumlite rotor for exceptional durability and performance.
What I Like About It
This reel, like so many other top notch spinning reel models, is made with Hagane gears, which are considered to be among some of the most well-made in the fishing industry. The Sedona FI offers anglers with an incredibly smooth 3+1 ball bearing system that feels much more like it has double the number of bearings.
The larger sizes of the Shimano Sedona FI Spinning Reel are the more suitable models recommended for catfish anglers and each one provides a 6.2:1 gear ratio that allows anglers to gain some serious ground on catfish that can often rip away several feet of line per second. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly spinning reel, this is one that is virtually perfect.
- Budget friendly option
- G-Free Body puts the center of gravity closer to the rod for less muscle fatigue
- Make sure you pick a large enough reel for large catfish
9. Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Blue Yonder
- 4 stainless steel ball bearings + 1 roller bearing provides smooth operation
- Caron matrix drag system gives smooth drag performance
- 6 pin centrifugal brake gives consistent brake pressure throughout the cast
As we’ve already mentioned, Abu Garcia makes a strong case for being the absolute best brand when it comes to producing reels that are ideal for catfishing. The Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Blue Yonder is an easy and clear addition to our list that should probably be ranked higher if it weren’t for the fact that this model is exceptionally more expensive than any other option on our list. However, anglers who are seeking the absolute best catfishing reel they can find should seriously consider investing a few extra bucks into this model as it really is the total package when it comes to catfishing.
This is another round baitcasting model that delivers an exceptionally-smooth performance despite using extremely heavy fishing line in either mono or braid. The housing and side plates are made out of super durable stainless steel and aluminum material that is made to stand up against anything you’ll encounter on the water.
What I Like About It
It offers a simple 2 stainless steel ball bearing system that is also crafted with a single roller bearing that delivers an incredibly smooth casting and reeling experience. The reel also offers anglers the ability to adjust their drag system and other elements using the Duragear brass gear and MagTrax brake system.
With a corrosion-resistant anti-reverse bearing and a Carbon Matrix drag system, it’s easy to see why so many anglers are willing to drop a bit more money into this exceptional-quality reel.
- Total package for catfish
- Corrosion resistant
- Stainless steel housing and side plates
- More expensive than alternatives on my list
10. KastKing Rover Round Baitcasting Reel
- BULLET PROOF - The hot Rover reel just became hotter. The KastKing Rover round baitcasting reel has...
- MORE POWERFUL - You will love the stronger, more powerful KastKing Rover round baitcasting reel with...
- SUPER SMOOTH - KastKing Rover reels have premium MaxiDur double shielded stainless steel ball...
The last option on our list of the best catfishing reels is certainly not the least when it comes to performance and capability on the water. The KastKing Rover Round Baitcasting Reel is a very reasonably-priced rounded baitcasting reel that is well-equipped for taking on monster-sized cats.
What I Like About It
It offers an exceptionally durable body that’s housed with anodized aluminum side plates and also fitted with a CNC machined aluminum spool. This reel also features precision-cut brass gears, as well as an all-alloy level wind.
The carbon fiber drag system features high-quality Cymbal-Washers that are equipped to handle the toughest fighting fish while the reel MaxiDur double-shielded stainless steel ball bearings are also well-equipped for serious catfishing adventures.
- CNC machined aluminum spool
- Precision cut brass gears
- Stainless steel ball bearings
- Multiple gear ratio options – so make sure you pick enough
A good quality catfish reel will undoubtedly provide you with some different features than what most anglers are accustomed to having. Remember that in order to catch some of these monster, trophy-sized cats, you’ll need to have a reel that is big and tough enough to stand up for the challenge. With the points we’ve listed in this buyer’s guide, as well as our list of the best 10 reels for catfish, you should have everything you need to be well on your way to becoming a seasoned catfishing expert.
Last update on 2022-01-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API