Baitcasting reels are important tools for anglers who want to effectively fish larger lures and techniques where light line spinning reels simply don’t cut it. A good baitcaster gives you a high degree of control of your lure, allowing pinpoint lure placements, and the power to pull big fish out of cover and deep water.
This guide will help you understand how to choose the best baitcaster, one that helps you fish your favorite techniques as efficiently as possible, as well as fitting your budget.
For those new to baitcasters, we’ll cover the most important specifications to look for so that you make the right choice for your new reel. If you are already familiar with these things, then jump to our Top 10 picks.
10 Best Baitcasting Reels
Each of these reels reviewed is mid-range and above in price and good value for the money. Each model chosen is made by quality brands and would make an excellent bass fishing reel and most other freshwater fishing applications.
How did we choose these reels? We took our years of bass fishing experience and compared data and reviews from multiple online tackle shops. There are many other great reels, but these are the best all-purpose baitcasting reels from on-the-water experience and raw data.
Shimano Curado DC
Pros: Digital brake control technology that makes an incredibly versatile, smooth, and long casting baitcasting reel. Shimano craftsmanship and all their top reel technologies.
Cons: A few ounces heavier than other reels in the Top 3.
- Weight: 7.8-7.9 ounces
- Gear Ratios: 6.2:1, 7.4:1, 8.5:1
- Capacity: 10/120 fluorocarbon, 30/135 braided line
- Technology: I-DC4 Digital Brake, Hagane Body, X-Ship Pinion
The Curado DC is the latest version of the most popular Shimano baitcasting reel of all time. We could talk about how this reel is packed with tech like the Hagane alloy body, X-Ship pinion gear support, Micro Module brass gears, and Cross Carbon drag, but the star of the show is the I-DC4 digital braking system.
The I-DC4 digital braking system is a tiny microcontroller that monitors your spool tension and speed. Every time you cast, the chip measures your spool speed at 1,000 per second to adjust the brake pressure automatically on the fly.
Why is that important? It makes anglers of all experience levels more efficient. You can change techniques and lure weight without constantly readjusting the brake setup. You can achieve long, smooth casts with less effort, whether throwing a light Texas Rig worm or flipping a ½ ounce jig.
It might sound too good to be true, but it is not. Just read the instructions before fishing with the DC. The I-DC4 is factory tuned and does not require adjustment out of the box. Once you have tried a Curado DC, you might want more. You have been warned!
Lew’s Hyper Mag SLP
Pros: Magnesium frame, hardened aluminum gears, weighs just 5.4 oz. Highly adjustable internal braking system (4 pins and 27 positions).
Cons: Premium priced, but you get an amazing reel and the great Lew’s customer service.
- Weight: 5.4 oz
- Gear Ratios: 7.5:1, 8.3:1
- Bearings: 10+1
- Line Capacity: 12/110 mono, 30/110 braid
The Team Lew’s Pro Mag packs all of Lew’s technology into a premium feather-light reel. It’s a premium baitcaster reel but still priced within reach of serious angler’s budgets. Tournament anglers should love the sensitivity and all-day comfort that comes with a magnesium body.
The concept for the Pro Mag is to be Light, Fast, and Strong. The reel is built on a one-piece magnesium frame and C45 carbon side plates. The concept is even taken to the handle and knobs, which are carbon fiber and cork EVA composite. The spool is machined aluminum to maintain tight roundness tolerances but has a v-shaped profile for level winding and is drilled to shave off weight.
The fishing performance is as refined as the reel. Lew’s reels usually exhibit great casting, and the Pro Mag is no exception. The great casting comes from double shielded ball bearings, an audible tension clicker, and a killer 27-point, externally adjustable centrifugal braking system. Throw in an integral bait keep and line size indicator, and you have one heck of a baitcaster.
Shimano Chronarch MGL 150
Pros: Magnumlite Spool and SVS Infinity braking for smooth, precision casting and stout retrieve.
Cons: On the higher end of the price scale, but worth every penny.
- Weight: 6.5 oz
- Gear Ratios: 6.2:1, 7.1:1, 8.1:1
- Bearings: 8+1
- Line Capacity: 12/110 mono, 30/135 braid
If you’ve read this site, you can tell we are fans of Shimano fishing reels. The Chronarch MGL 150 is easily in the Top 3 of all baitcasting reels. The Chronarch MGL costs more than a budget reel, less than the cost of magnesium models, and performs as a premium reel should.
The Chronarch MGL has a near-identical carbon composite frame to the previous Ci4+ and still weighs a scant 6.5 ounces but has some new enhanced features. First, like many of Shimano’s high-end reels, the MGL gets the X-Ship gear arrangement that provides rock-solid gear stability and strength.
Also new are the Micro Module gearing and MGL Spool that give its name. Micro Module gears make the retrieve strong but smooth, and the Magnumlite spool reduces casting effort by up to 10%.
The Dartanium II drag washers provide one of the smoothest drag systems around. You can adjust it with a finger flick while fighting a fish. The SVS Infinity braking system is one of the best out there. There is an external dial and 4 internal brakes that are adjusted by opening the side plate and engaging 1 to 4 of the brakes.
Overall, the Chronarch MGL can be the versatile workhorse baitcasting reel that you need. It is well suited for anything from finesse lures and weightless plastics, all the way up to your flipping and pitching needs. The fact that you can get this performance in a lightweight reel with a carbon frame. Getting it without the price tag of a Japanese import is a bonus.
Best Baitcasters Under $200
Abu Garcia Revo SX
The Revo SX from Abu Garcia is one of the very best all-around reels an angler can buy today. They are Abu Garcia’s most popular baitcasting reel for a reason. It’s very lightweight, easy to palm, and comes at two different speeds.
The 6.6:1 SX is going to excel at a wide swath of fishing techniques, and we recommend this one if you are looking for a workhorse, multi-purpose casting reel. The 7.3:1 version, on the other hand, will be better for you if you like to burn in topwater baits, or if you like to pitch and flip jigs or soft plastic creature baits. You’ll get more casts in with the 7.3 speed.
The newest version (REVO4 SX) has an upgraded D2 Duragear and clutch, plus a hard coating on the pinion and pawl that take out a lot of friction.
The Revo SX is ultra-smooth on the cast thanks to 9+1 ball bearings and the Infini magnetic brake system on the side plate. This is a great option if you are looking for versatility, performance, and reliability in a new reel, yet doesn’t cost a fortune.
Lew’s Tournament Pro Speed Spool LFS
The Tournament Pro Speed Spool is a step up in refinement from the Tournament MB (keep reading for that reel). For the additional cost, you get more bearings, shave off half an ounce of weight, lure keeper, and precise braking adjustments.
The dark gray aluminum frame is highlighted with orange accents. The reel utilizes the Lighter Faster Stronger (LFS) materials, including a swept offset carbon handle that keeps your reeling power closer inline to the main drive shaft.
Fishermen should appreciate the little touches incorporated into the Pro Speed Spool. There is the SpeedKeeper near the seat of the reel that allows storing a Texas rig without pulling the hook from your plastic bait. Then there is an ingenious Speed Dial built into the tension control knob. Just point the clicker to the size of your fishing line and you’ll never have to play the guessing game again.
13 Fishing Concept Z
13 Fishing has always been kind of a “hype” company to me, making pretty products and splashy marketing. The Concept Z, touting a “Zero Bearing” design is no exception. It is a flashy red baitcaster with great looking matte black handle and knobs. No doubt they can design a good looking reel, but does it pass the test?
No bearings, how is that supposed to work? The Concept Z uses solid polymer bearings in place of ball bearings. A solid bearing has no place for dirt and debris to build up and clog the bearings, reducing the performance of your reel. This technology is impressive and has now been a top performer for several years, proving the hype was real.
On the fishing side, the Concept Z has proven to be more than capable. Casting is a breeze, thanks in part to a unique “arrowhead” line guide, and waffle spool. The internal 6-way centrifugal brake allows casting of lures as light as 3/16oz up to 1oz crankbaits and jigs. One knock is the lack of external access to the brakes, but once inside it’s as easy as selecting a setting from 0-6 on the dial.
Abu Garcia Revo STX
We like the STX lineup because of the high-end bearings and brake system, but also for the 3 different gearing ratios available (6.4/7.1/8.0:1). The Revo STX is essentially a super tuned version of the Revo SX. There is a gear ratio for everyone in the STX, where SX has only 2. The reel weight drops from 6.9 ounces to 6.4 ounces, and also has 10+1 bearings.
The biggest difference between the two models is the braking system. The Revo STX has a magnetic system, plus an upgrade to a centrifugal brake system called the Infini Brake System. It’s up to you if the extra money for the better braking system is worth it to you.
Like on all the Revo reels, you can expect an ergonomic design that is easy to palm, a smooth Carbon Matrix drag system, and a D2 Gear Design that provides plenty of cranking and hook setting power. The STX can be the workhorse reel you’ve always wanted.
Best Baitcasters Under $150
Lew’s Tournament MP Speed Spool LFS
The Tournament MP is a tournament fisherman’s delight. It’s hard to outfit 6 to 8 rods with $200+ reels, which is why reels like the Tournament MP are so popular. Like most other Lew’s products, they cast for distance with minimal effort. That fact is a big deal when fishing crankbaits and lighter jerkbaits.
The MP utilizes the LFS construction, making lighter, faster, and stronger than previous reels. Breaking that down, it means a 1 piece forged aluminum frame, drilled and anodized aluminum spool, and Duralumin gears. This is one sturdy reel.
It’s loaded with performance features bass anglers will love. It’s compact for easy palming but has a large handle with oversized paddle knobs. The big knobs come in handy wrenching big fish out of cover. The brakes are easy to fine-tune, thanks to four pins inside the side plate and a fine adjustment dial on the outside. Perhaps the best part is being able to choose from 4 different gear ratios, from 5.6:1 all the way up to 8.3:1.
Daiwa Tatula CT
The Daiwa Tatula CT is one of the more innovative baitcasting reels we’ve seen in a long time, thanks to it’s awesome new ” T-Wing ” casting system. Once you get used to the way it flips open and shut on casts, you’ll be slinging baits further and easier than ever before.
The T-Wing concept is a specially designed line guide that reduces friction and obstruction on the cast while maintaining a uniform level line winding onto the spool on the retrieve. It works by flipping up into casting position, revealing the wide slot for the line to flow through on the cast.
Compare this to the single small hole found on virtually every other baitcasting reel made today. There is less restriction on your fishing line, allowing you to cast farther and smoother. On the retrieve, the T-Wing flips down and the line lays in a narrow groove to level wind onto the spool. It really is an ingenious design from Daiwa.
The Tatula reels are more than just the T-Wing, coming equipped with a carbon fiber drag stack, Magforce-X casting brakes, 8 bearings, and several retrieve speeds, all at an affordable price.
Shimano SLX XT
The new Shimano SLX XT is highly similar to prior years Citica, which were known as some of the best baitcasting reels for the price. This is an excellent reel for beginners, but also bass fishing at any level of experience. The SLX XT promises to build on Shimano’s long history of performance, reliability, and durability.
Users of the SLX XT will love the smooth casting and especially the adjustable Infinity SVS braking system. The SLX XT is complete with all the cool Shimano technologies like the S3D stable spool, S-A-RB bearings, and the rigid Hagane metal body design that anglers have been raving about since it came out.
The bottom line is, if you don’t want to try out other brands or have any doubts about cheaper reels, then get into a few Shimano SLX XT. They cast like a dream and will last you many, many years of hard fishing before you need to tear it down for cleaning or to buy a new one.
5 Baitcaster Advantages
We believe anglers should use both high-quality spinning reels and baitcasting reels to be the most versatile angler possible. However, there are many techniques and lures that are best used with a baitcasting combo.
- Heavier Line – On a baitcasting reel, the spool’s axis of rotation is perpendicular to the rod guides, meaning the line comes off directly through the line guide and straight through the rod guides. This makes it easier to use heavier lines, from 10-20lb test on average, and heavier lures. A good baitcasting setup can easily cast lures from 1/4 to 1oz, and more.
- Related: Top braided lines for baitcasting reels.
- Less Line Twist – The spinning reel is notorious for line twist, and twist is the enemy of good casting. Since the line comes off the spool in the direction of the rod guides, the only line twist imparted into your line will be coming from your lure, usually when fishing soft plastics. This makes baitcasting gear work well with stiffer fluorocarbon lines.
- Longer Casts – When paired with the right baitcasting rod, baitcasters easily outcast spinning gear. The line comes directly off the spool straight out the rod guides, compared to the uncoiling of a spinning outfit. For bombing hard baits and jigs, you can’t beat the baitcaster.
- More Power – A baitcast reel is more powerful than a spinning reel, thanks to its spool layout and design. The spool is in line with the handle and gears, so more power and torque can be applied. Also, because the handles are mounted directly onto the reel frame there is no lever arm to cause flex when reeling hard on a bigger fish.
- More Control – They provide a high degree of casting control compared to spinning gear because you can control the distance and speed of your lure by thumbing the spool during the cast. Once you become proficient in their use, you can achieve pinpoint accuracy with your casts, allowing you to place your lure exactly where the fish are.
How to Choose a Good Baitcaster
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.
Here is a good video explaining these concepts further.
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.
Low Profile vs Round Reel
You may have noticed all the recommended reels are low profile baitcasting reel models. What about a round fishing reel?
A low profile reel is extremely versatile for bass fishing and casting lures for other freshwater fishing, whereas a round reel excels at bigger baits and trolling.
If you are fishing lakes and rivers for regular gamefish, go with the low profile. If you are trolling, using heavy fishing line, or doing saltwater fishing, a round reel is likely a better choice.
Never before have there been so many great choices at affordable prices. Today’s top baitcasters are lighter than ever, with stronger materials, and a higher gear ratio. Buy one of the reels we mentioned with confidence and go out and learn to use it. You’ll be a better angler for it!
Last updated 2023-06-01 at 16:57 / Affiliate Links & Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
I appreciate the info about gear ratios. Makes more sense after watching your video. Thanks guys.
You obviously have’nt tried 13 Fishing baitcasters. Growing up I was always an ABU guy. Then went to Lews. Now i’ve found 13 Fishing. THE smoothest reel I’ve ever had in my hand. Casts like bullet, smooth as silk to reel in. Check them out guys, you wont be sorry.
Hey Scott. You’re right, haven’t had a chance to try 13 Fishing. I definitely plan on checking them out when I update my list. Thanks for the suggestion.
oh, I did enjoy the gear ratio vid…,I understand it more now..
Daiwa over any Abu… 13 fishing if u can afford
13 fishing Inception reel. $120 and its a really nice, smooth, light reel with 18lb max drag. I’d buy ten of them if I needed to.
Been fishing the same Abu 2500c for 40 years as my go to reel. I’ve had several others during that time. Diawas are all dead and gone. Got a round Lew’s that I use a lot. Two Curados that are both broken. Abu builds stuff that lasts and lasts and lasts.
Grew up an Abu in each hand, but 13 fishing have really got something. Still have my Pflueger Supreme, and Revo SX, but the other 7 reels I own are 13 fishing(inception). Tight lines to all!
I am a die hard Shimano reel fan. While I am pleased to see the Curado make the lineup I am also a little bit shocked that it would make it over the Citica I series. That statement may shock some folks but in my opinion, Shimano has put enough of the premium features into the Citica Series to the point that it is now a Curado I series reel (same weight, size) the only difference being the upgraded bearings in the Curado. For the difference of 30 bucks why not just buy a Citica and upgrade the bearings even further than what the Curado has if that’s the reason you would go with a Curado. All of the reels on the list are great reels! I just think (for the money) the Citica I series is better than the Curado I series! Tight lines everybody!
Very true, thanks for your input. When it first came out the Citica was more a entry level baitcaster. Now that they’ve upgraded the build, it definitely a reel worth checking out.
We are working on an updated guide and rankings. I’m thinking Lew’s will be represented 😉
I just purchased a Lew’s Mach 1 speed spool baitcast combo at dicks for $99. You get a 9+1 ball bearing, 7.1:1 reel. Casts and reels incredibly smooth. Casts a mile. And you get a 6ft 10inch IM 8 rod. All for $99. Can’t beat it in my opinion.
Nice! Those are actually quite popular combos, and if they are working for you, even better.
Thank you for a well written explanation of bait casting reels. I cannot afford a great quality = higher priced one to see how the feel is there a modest bait caster I can learn with? I usually use a push button or trigger reel
Yeah, hard to beat an Abu Garcia Silver Max or Black Max. You can find them in some Wal-Mart stores. Other commenters have said Kast King reels are affordable starter reels.
I’m surprised not to see the Kastking reels in the list. They are cheaper and have great reaction including low recoil/backlash. I, myself, have a kastking speed demon and haven’t gone back to my Albu Garcia or my Lews baitcaster since.
Never tried one to be honest. Glad you like them!
I can purchase 1new reel. IYO, should I get the Shimano Curado DC, the Shimano Chronarch MGL or the Lew’s HyperMag??
Tough choice! I’ve always loved Chronarchs, but some of my newer Lew’s are so easy to fish with. If you can find them in a store, try them out!
Thank you for all the information. Love the open mind approach to all the replies. Great job!