Tackle Guide: Best Baitcasting Reels for 2018

Baitcasting reels are my favorite fishing reels. They take a little more practice to master than a spinning reel but once you put your time in they’ll provide unique features to make you a better angler. In this guide, I want to outline those unique features, detail the key components in a great reel, differentiate between the several types of baitcasters (low profile vs. round profile) and recommend my favorite reels in each of these categories. If you already have a good understanding of these reels you may want to skip the initial educational details and jump to the reel reviews toward the bottom of the page.

Round Profile Reels

Reel

Our Score

Price ($-$$$$)

Review

Best Uses for Baitcasting Reels

Accurate casting

For casting precision, the baitcaster reels dominate this space. It accomplishes this by being able to slow or stop the spool with your thumb when casting. This gives the angler complete control of how much line is being released off the spool. For example, if you’re looking to cast or skip a lure/bait into a small section while trying to avoiding branches, logs, docks, etc. the baitcaster reel rises above the spinning reel.

Heavier Rods

Baitcasters are often paired with heavier backboned rods. The backbone of a rod is the section between the reel and first guide. As it sounds, the backbone provides most the strength for the rod. Baitcasters lend well to heavier backboned rods, so are often associated with targeting larger fishing species (or accommodating power fishing techniques).

River Fishing

I think one of the best pros for a baitcaster is its usages in river fishing (or moving water) applications, primarily with drift/float fishing setups. The baitcaster enables the line to slowly/quickly come off the spool in a controlled format. This is very important to get a “natural looking” bait when it’s drifting under a float in moving water. It’s much harder to release line smoothly on a spinning reel all the while controlling your rod and mending your line. This description doesn’t do it justice but I can’t stress this enough, baitcasters are invaluable for the river float fisherman.

Power Fishing vs. Finesse Fishing

Baitcasters fall into the power fishing category as they are designed to handle heavier lures/baits and handle more aggressive fishing techniques or actions on the water. An example of this type of fishing could include punching weighted lures through lily pads or thick forage, cranking or speed trolling. The spinning reel does better with smaller lures and “finesse fishing” techniques, which would include sensitivity and “feeling” the smallest and lightest fishing bites. This would include fishing techniques like drop-shotting, jigging, bobber fishing, etc. There are many camps with various definitions on what power and finesse fishing is, but in my opinion the baitcasting reel lends best to the power fishing category.

Finesse Fishing Middle Ground Power Fishing
Still fishing Bottom Bouncing Trolling
Live / Dead bait Texas Rigging Casting
Bobber Carolina Rigging Cranking
Drop-Shotting Flipping / Pitching Speed Trolling
Jigging Topwater Float Fishing in moving water

Differences between a Low Profile and Round Baitcasting Reels

Low profile baitcaster reels vs. the round baitcaster are very similar but the primary difference is the size. Low profile is the smaller, lighter reel and the round reel is larger and heavier. Low profile baitcasters are certainly the most popular for the typical fisherman. Here are some quick Pros / Cons for Low profile vs. Round Baitcasting reels.

Specification / Component Low Profile Round Profile
Weight Much smaller and lighter, so less casting fatigue and easier on the wrist-action. Larger reels that are typically 50% heavier. Based on model sizes the difference can be significant.
Gear Ratio Generally, have a higher gear ratio, because of the smaller spool size. On average these reels have a 6.0:1 ratio.
Line Capacity Less line capacity because of the smaller spool. This is one of the biggest pros as these can hold much larger weight and yardage of line. This is important for fish taking long runs.
Drag Low profile certainly holds their own for their size, but don’t have as good of a drag system as the round baitcaster. Larger/more drag washers provide a higher rated drag system to handle bigger fish.
Targeted Fish Weights Small to Medium sized fish (estimate between 0 – 14 lbs).

E.g. Bass, Trout, Pan fish, etc.

Medium to Very Large fish (estimate >12 lbs).

Sturgeon, Musky, Halibut, Tuna, etc.

What makes a great Baitcasting Reel

In this section, I’ll outline the key features (components) you should be looking for in quality baitcasting reel. Baitcasting components are similar to spinning reels; drag system, gear ratios, bearings, etc, but the baitcaster has larger variations of these components. For example, they have a higher gear ratio than the spinning reel. Lastly, based on this research and personal testing I’ll outline my best baitcasting reels for 2018 (both low profile and round reels).

Gear Ratio

The gear ratio quickly summed up is the speed of your reel. The ratio is represented by x:1, and the x represents how many times the spool rotates for each single crank of the handle. For example, a gear ratio of 6.2:1 means the spool will rotate 6.2 times for each handle crank. Depending on the type of fishing you’re doing a higher gear ratio is typically more advantageous. For example, when covering a bunch of water, you’ll want to do a lot of casting and that means quick retrieval to get your lure back to the boat and out for another cast. A higher gear ratio speeds this process up to ensure you’re getting the most line in for each crank of the handle.

Brake System

A great braking system is important with baitcasters as this will help prevent the brutal backlashes or “birds nest”. A backlash is when the spool over rotates after the lure has hit the water and these additional rotations cause the fishing line to bunch up on the reel. A good braking system will slow the spool down just before the end of the cast to ensure these additional rotations do not occur.

The first braking system component is a small knob on the side of the reel that controls the spool speed. The knob applies pressure to the spool so it spins either faster (loosen the knob) or slower (tighten the knob). The big idea here is for larger lures or setups have a slower spool spinning speed.

There are many different additional brake systems on these reels, like Centrifugal brakes (pins inside creating friction) and Magnetic brakes that slow the spool down with magnets both of which are adjustable. You don’t have to understand the technical details here but I will say it’s impressive to see manufacturers continually pushing the technology in this area of the reel.

Lastly, the best brake system on a baitcaster reel is your thumb. No matter what special braking system technology your reel has, your thumb will always be needed. You’ll have to learn how to apply the right amount of pressure on the line to slow down the spool as needed. This is something you’ll have to practice, and it doesn’t take long to get good at. It’s mandatory to learn to avoid backlashes and get those accurate casts.

Body / Frame

Baitcasters are all about lightweight reels and are typically made from aluminum or graphite. Aluminum has more grit but is heavier than the graphite, whereas the graphite is lighter but won’t hold up to a lot of abuse. Whichever balance you like in materials, I recommend looking for a one-piece frame made of a single material (best would be one-piece aluminum frame for the strength).

Spool

A great spool is lightweight for speed but can handle the elements as well. Typical material for spools is aluminum because it’s so light. A forged aluminum spool is best as it’s a tougher metal and doesn’t get damaged or scratched as easily. Manufacturers are drilling holes into their spools for that lighter weight and quicker spin (air dynamics & weight).

Ball Bearings

The bearing count is not necessarily important. You want to ensure you have quality ball bearings and recommend looking for shielded bearings or sealed bearings.

Line Guides

The material for line guides should be legit, I’m talking strong titanium. These are the guides where the line feeds off the spool and reel. They often move with the spool ensuring the line is guided on/off the spool without a big angle which creates some line friction.

There is an argument to be made on the shape of these guides to enable efficient line guidance off the reel. Daiwa uses their patented T-Wing System where the guide is shaped like a T, it creates a wide section (top part of the T) when line is exiting and a narrow (bottom part of the T) when the line is returning. Anyway, don’t get too hung up on the shape but make sure the guide is made from a quality/strong metal.

Handlers

This is a preference thing. And often you can swap these out with different handles, so you’re not committed to a specific handle in your reel purchase. For me, I prefer a larger plastic knob that’s sticks well to my hand. Anything that slips in my fingers in the rain drives me crazy.

Top Baitcasting Reels Reviews

Here are top 6 low profile reels and top 3 round baitcasting reels. I’ve chosen these reels based on the key features in parallel with price. As always, I’m looking for the balance of quality and affordability, “the best bang for your buck” as they say. These are quality reels and would be a great asset to your baitcasting arsenal. Here are my picks for the best baitcasting reels for 2018.

Price Rating: $$

  • Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0 96%

Daiwa has 3 low profile reels under the Tatula series (Type-HD, Type-R & Tatula base). For this guide, I’m breaking down the Tatula base reel, which funny enough is also broken down into 3 models (100P, 100H & 100HS), I know confusing right? No worries, just know that the 3 reels have similar components but do have additional features with the most expensive models. But let’s talk about the Tatula because it’s #1 on this guide for good reasons!

This is a fitting example of a consistent quality reel across the board for a reasonable price. The lightweight (yet tough) aluminum body and side plate will hold up against a lot of abuse. The Tatula has an interesting rotor (side component that works in parallel with the spool) in which mimics the spool with holes drilled/cut out for a lighter and more air dynamic component. Daiwa’s fancy name for it Air Rotor system.

The line guide system is called the T-Wing System (TWS), which is essentially a guide that’s in the shape of a T which creates less angles (friction) of the line coming off the reel. This type of feature is important to me as it enables better casting and balanced line retrieval on the spool.

The stainless-steel ball bearings in the base model are average, but again in looking at the price point of this reel they’re certainly on par for me. The gear ratio for the models are all different 100P = 5.4:1, 100H = 6.3:1, 100HS = 7.3:1. For a baitcaster I always recommend a minimum of 6:0:1 gear ratio, so I’d certainly recommend the 100H or 100HS in this case.

Key Features

  • T-Wing System
  • Air Rotor System
  • Very good Line retrieval (per handle crank)
  • Carbon Drag washers
  • Magnetic braking system
  • 3 Models available

Price Rating: $$$

  • Editor Rating: 4.7 / 5.0 94%

Lew’s has created the lightest baitcaster on this guide! But not without building a tough quality product. The one-piece aluminum frame is exactly what you want in a tough and light baitcasting reel body.

They have a two-way braking system that uses both Magnetic and Centrifugal components. This braking system is important in controlling the spool speed and cuts down the backlashes.

Lew’s claims an “aircraft-grade duralumin drive gear” which is essentially a hard & light alloy made of aluminum, copper & other elements. This of course is a part of the lighter design that Lew’s has strived and achieved with the Tournament MB.

This reel has many components that mimic some of the best baitcasters out there. The quality of the reel is impressive and the price point is very impressive for what you’re getting.

Key Features

  • Very lightweight
  • One-piece aluminum frame
  • Multi-Setting Brake system (Magnetic & Centrifugal)
  • Aircraft-grade duralumin drive gear
  • Star Drag
  • 4 Models available

Price Rating: $

  • Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 90%

If you’re looking to purchase or try your first baitcaster the Black Max is an excellent place to start! Bang for your buck this might be the best baitcaster on this guide. It doesn’t quite have the quality components as the reels above but will certainly appease the “weekend warrior” fisherman.

The Black Max comes in only one model, aka. one size fits all. And they have created a solid single option with a one-piece graphite frame (I’m always a fan of the one-piece frame!). It has an aluminum spool, 5 ball bearings for a smooth retrieve and good gear ratio of 6.4:1.

The Power Disk drag system is one of the most impressive components with a drag rating of 18 lbs which is the highest for all these low-profile reels. So even though there is only a single model for this reel it will be able to handle larger fish.

I’d recommend this reel for any angler, as mentioned a first time baitcaster to even a secondary reel for the advanced angler. You can’t beat this price point with the components that Abu Garcia is offering!

Key Features

  • Price point!
  • Excellent drag rating of 18 lbs
  • One-piece graphite body
  • Good 6.4:1 gear ratio

Price Rating: $$$

  • Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 90%

I’m a Shimano fan, they make excellent reels with high quality materials that last under the worst conditions! That’s part and parcel on why they’re usually on the upper end of the price spectrum.

Shimano does push the envelope in the materials / technologies they put into their reels. A fitting example is the body concept that Shimano calls Hagane, which is a fancy way of saying strong Japanese steel! This reel design concept is durable and light to put up with continual abuse!

The spool is made from thin aluminum uniform structure, it’s called the Shimano Stable Spool Design (S3D). This basically means they’ve created a very lightweight spool that can spin quickly and in a balanced format to avoid vibration. This is makes it easier to cast lightweight lures/baits.

All in all, I don’t mind spending the extra money for a baitcaster like this as it’s piece of mind especially when I’m spending so much time and energy preparing for big fishing trips. Rest assured this reel will consistently perform well for the casual to frequent angler.

Key Features

  • Lasting / quality components
  • Shimano Stable Spool Design (S3D)
  • SVS Infinity brake system
  • Saltwater approved
  • 3 available models

Price Rating: $

  • Editor Rating: 4.4 / 5.0 88%

Similar to the Abu Garcia Black Max, KastKing has created a single model baitcaster at low price. For the price, this reel dishes out some impressive specs! Here are the standout details that got my attention.

This reel comes flying out of the gate with a Gear Ratio of 7.0:1! With that speed, you’ll retrieve your baits back fast and ultimately give you with more casts within the day.

Line capacity is certainly above average when comparing against other reels in this class (165 yards of 12 lb mono line). This can be helpful for those longer fish runs or even shorter trolling applications.

The fact that it can be used in Saltwater is a bonus and speaks to the quality of the construction. All in all, this is a great first baitcaster reel for someone just beginning, or secondary reel for the multi-reel angler!

Key Features

  • Price point!
  • High Gear Ratio of 7.0:1
  • Dual braking system (magnetic & centrifugal)
  • Large line capacity
  • Saltwater approved

Price Rating: $

  • Editor Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 86%

How on earth can these manufacturers make these reels and sell for the price they do?! Ending up this year’s low-profile reel recommendation the Piscifun is another extremely low-priced reel that checks the boxes for a legit baitcaster.

Weight at 7.3 oz. is consistent with the higher end reels, so it feels like you’re holding a higher end reel. The line capacity is a little lower (110 yards of 12 lb monofilament line) than the other reels but certainly not a not a deal breaker. The line retrieval is 26.8 inches per crank, which is certainly on the high end when comparing against the other reels in this/higher classes.

The remaining specs are on par with a good reel, starting with a gear ratio of 6.3:1, that’s legit! Aluminum spool, graphite body, carbon fiber drag, 14 ball bearings and magnetic brake system.

This is the lowest priced point reel on this guide and it’s hard not to want to try it out for a secondary reel, or perhaps someone looking to try a baitcaster for a first time.

Key Features

  • Price point!
  • Great line retrieval
  • Dual braking system (magnetic & centrifugal)

Comparison Chart of the Low-Profile Baitcasting Reels

ProductGear RatioBall BearingsDrag Range (lbs)Weight (ounces)Line Retrieve (inches / crank)Line CapacityBraking SystemBody / Structure# of Models
Daiwa Tatula5.4:1 - 7.3:1813.27.922.9 - 30.5MONO: 14/120, 16/100

BRAID: 40/140, 55/105
Magforce MagneticRotor = zaion carbon composite. Rugged, lightweight aluminum frame and side plate3
Lew's Fishing Tournament MB5.6:1 - 8.3:110146.723 - 35MONO: 120/12 - 150/12Multi-Setting Brake: Magnetic & 4-pin positionOne-piece aluminum frame. Aircraft-grade Duralumin drive gear. Graphite sideplate.4
Abu Garcia Black Max6.4:15187.326MONO: 145/12

BRAID: 140/30
MagneticOne piece graphite frame, Graphite sideplates, Spool = Aluminum, drag is Synthetic.1
Shimano Curado 200I5.5:1 - 7.2:16127.423 - 30MONO: 8/180,10/155,14/110

BRAID:  30/190,50/120,65/80
SVS Infinity brake system.Metal Reel body (strong), 1 piece frame.3
KastKing Royale Legend7.0:112127.6N/AMONO: 12/165Magnetic & centrifugal independent brake system.Anodized aluminum forged multi-ported whiffle-style spool.1
Piscifun6.3:114127.326.8MONO: 12/110

BRAID: 30/135
MagneticCNC Machined Aluminum Spool, Graphite Body.1

Price Rating: $$$

  • Editor Rating: 4.7 / 5.0 94%

Shimano you always get quality and dependable materials and this reel is no different with Shimano’s cold forge aluminum for the frame, sideplates and spool. This reel will take a lot of wear/tear and maintain its balance.

The brake technology of Shimano is impressive with they call VBS, which is a centrifugal style that uses weights to create drag on the spool. These brake weights can be turned on or off to control the speed of the spool. That may sound pretty technical but the point being this braking system will greatly reduce backlashes.

The Calcutta offers 6 models so there is a reel for the ultra-light to heavier gear applications. I’m a big fan of having multiple model options, as I’ll often buy a smaller or larger version of the same reel once I’ve put it to the test. I’ve pounded Calcutta’s on the rivers and I love them. These reels are long term investments to me as they’ll last a lifetime when properly taken care of.

Key Features

  • High quality cold forge aluminum frame, sideplates and spool
  • VBS Brake system to reduce backlashes
  • Saltwater approved
  • Long life cycle for this reel

Price Rating: $$

  • Editor Rating: 4.6 / 5.0 92%

The Abu Garcia Classic round baitcaster comes in a few reel models: C3, C4 & C. Each of these models has a handful of sizes so there is no shortage of options for any fishing application. The Abu Garcia C3-6500 was the first baitcaster I ever owned. I’ve fished this reel hard for many years and I still use it today! That said, I dissemble the reel, clean and grease it each winter which has kept it like new. The price point and specs for this reel have made it mandatory for my list.

The Carbon Matrix drag system is smooth and dependable. As mentioned, each year when I’ve taken the reel a part, I’m happy to see no deterioration of the carbon washers. The drag itself is set with a star wheel that is easily adjustable when fighting the fish, I can hold the reel handle and turn the drag wheel with the same hand at the same time.

The 6-pin centrifugal braking system is good, as it does take some practice to learn the best settings for spool speed and drag. As I always say, your best brake system is your thumb, and I depend more on that than the centrifugal system with this reel.

These Abu Garcia reels have been around for decades, and there’s good reason for that. If well maintained, these reels will provide a number of years of great performance.

Key Features

  • Price point!
  • Above average gear ratio at 6.3:1
  • Carbon Matrix drag system
  • Smooth action with 5 stainless steel ball bearing

Price Rating: $$$$

  • Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 90%

This is the pinnacle of the round baitcaster reels! I must qualify this by saying there are higher end reels (obviously) that exceed the laughable price points (greater than $400 USD), but those reels aren’t included in this buying guide.

The Daiwa Luna is frame and sideplates are made of solid bar stock aluminum providing maximum strength. This advanced aluminum shell is important to ensuring the reel is balanced by protecting the rest of the reel.

If you’re well acquainted with baitcaster reels and try the Luna, one of the first things you’ll notice is the ease and extra distance when casting. This is the free floating spool structure that removes the spool pinion from the gear train (reduced friction). This allows the spool to spin quicker and longer for those long bomb casts. Additionally, the casting speed is easily adjusted by pressing and turning the sideplate. Most reels will have a separate knob for this functionality; to me the sideplate adjustment is more intuitive.

Key Features

  • Solid bar stock aluminum frame and sideplates
  • Free-Floating Spool for those long bomb casts
  • Ultra-smooth, multi-disc drag system
  • Magforce Z braking system for reducing backlashes
  • Saltwater approved
  • Long life cycle for this reel

Comparison Chart of the Round Baitcasting Reels

ProductGear RatioBall BearingsDrag Range (lbs)Weight (ounces)Line Retrieve (inches / crank)Body / Structure# of Models
Shimano Calcutta B5.0:1 - 6.0:139.5 - 16.59 - 18.223 - 28Cold Forge Aluminum Frame, Sideplates, Spool.6
Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Classic6.3:15159.3 - 10.930Aluminum, Carbon Fiber Drag.5
Daiwa TD Luna5.1:1611 - 15.411.1 - 12.923.6Solid bar stock aluminum.2

Conclusion

I hope this guide was helpful for you to choosing a baitcasting reel and providing additional information on these reels. I love studying baitcasters and looking for new technologies and improvements. If there is a reel I didn’t include that you use and love, I’d love to hear from you. Additionally, I’m happy to take any questions/comments on this guide, for all these things please leave a comment below. Tight lines! Jesse

About the Author

My name is Jesse, I’ve been obsessed about fishing since I was a toddler trying to catch fish with my minnow net in any type of water. Today I have a passion to promote fishing in an educational, fun and respectful format.

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