Baitcasting reels are important tools for anglers who want to be able to effectively fish larger lures and techniques where light line spinning reels simply don’t cut it. A good baitcasting combo gives you a high degree of control of your lure, allowing pinpoint lure placements, and the power to pull slounches out of cover and deep water.
This guide will help you understand how to choose the best baitcasting reel for the money, one that helps you fish your favorite techniques as efficiently as possible, as well as coming in under 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 own personal best baitcasting reel. If you are familiar with these things already, then jump right down to our Top 5 baitcasting reels.
Advantages of Baitcasting Reels
We believe anglers should use both high quality spinning reels and baitcasting reels to be the most versatile angler you 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.
- Less Line Twist – Spinning reels are notorious for line twist, and line twist is the enemy of good casting. Baitcasters spool the line perpendicular to the spool axis, meaning the only line twist imparted into your line will be coming from your lure, usually when fishing soft plastics.
- Longer Casts – When paired with the right rod, baitcasters easily outcast spinning gear. 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– Baitcasters are capable of more power than spinning reels, thanks to their spool layout and design. The spool is in-line with the handle and gears, so the reel can apply more power and torque. Also, because the handles are mounted directly onto the reel frame there is no lever arm to cause flex when reeling hard on a fish.
- More Control– Baitcasting reel combos 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.
10 Best Baitcasting Reels Compared
Before reading the reviews, take a minute to compare our Top 10 picks in the comparison chart. All these reels are mid-range and above in price and are good values for the money. Any of these reels would make an excellent choice for bass and almost all other freshwater fishing applications.
How did we choose these reels? We collected review data from multiple online tackle shops, took notes on what anglers were saying, and combined this with our own fishing experience. There are many other great reels out there, but these are the best all-purpose baitcasting reels based on the data.
|Shimano Chronarch MGL 150||6.5 oz||8+1||6.2/7.1/8.1|
|Lew's Pro Magnesium Speed Spool||5.5 oz||10+1||6.8/7.5|
|Abu Garcia Revo SX||7.7 oz||9+1||6.6/7.3|
|Lew's Tournament Pro G||6.2 oz||11||6.8/8.3|
|13 Fishing Concept A||6.8 oz||6||6.6/7.3/8.1|
|Abu Garcia Revo STX||7.0 oz||11||6.6/7.3/8.0|
|Lew's Tournament MB||6.7 oz||10||5.6/6.8/7.5/8.3|
|Daiwa Tatula||7.4 oz||7+1||6.3/7.3/8.1|
|Shimano Citica I||7.4 oz||6||6.3/7.2|
|Ardent Apex Elite||5.9 oz||12+1||5.3/6.5|
Best Baitcasting Reels for the Money
1. Shimano Chronarch MGL 150
- Specs: 6.5oz / 8+1 bearings / 6.2:1, 7.1:1, 8.1:1 gear ratios
- 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.
If you’ve read this site, you can tell we are fans of Shimano fishing reels. The Chronarch MGL 150 tops our list of all baitcasting reels. The Chronarch MGL is at the top of medium price-range. It costs more than a budget reel, but still nowhere near the cost of magnesium framed reels. What leaves you with is a high quality, high performance baitcasting reel you can count on.
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 gives the reel it’s 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 simply adjust it with a flick of your finger while fighting a fish. The SVS Infinity breaking system is one of the best out there. There is an external dial as well as 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 carbon frame reel, without the price tag of a Japanese import is a bonus.
2. Team Lew’s Pro Magnesium Speed Spool Review
- Specs: 5.5oz / 10+1 Bearings / 6.8:1, 7.5:1 Gear Ratios
- Pros: Magnesium frame, anodized aluminum gears, weighs just 5.5oz. Highly adjustable internal braking system (6 pins and 27 positions).
- Cons: Premium pricing, but you get an amazing reel, and the great Lew’s customer service.
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The Team Lew’s Pro Mag packs all of Lew’s reel technology into a premium feather light reel. It’s certainly a premium baitcaster, 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 reel.
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, respectively. 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. 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.
Best Baitcasting Reels Under $200
3. Abu Garcia Revo SX
The Revo SX baitcasting reel 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 in two different gear ratios.
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 reel. The 7.3:1 reel 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 ratio.
The newest version of this reel (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 reel is a great option if you are looking for versatility, performance, and reliability in a new reel, yet doesn’t cost a fortune.
4. Lew’s Tournament Pro G Speed Spool
The Tournament Pro G 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 G. There is the SpeedKeeper near the seat of the reel that allows storing a Texas rig without pulling the hook form your plastic bait. Then there is ingenious Speed Dial built into the tension control knob. Just point the clicker to the size of your line and you’ll never have to play the line size guessing game again.
5. 13 Fishing Concept A
13 Fishing has always been kind of a “hype” company to me, making pretty products and splashy marketing. However, over several years of being made, it has become impossible to ignore the popularity of their proven Concept A reel. It’s a sexy matte black baitcaster with great looking cork knobs. No doubt they can design a god looking reel, but does it pass the test?
Like most reels in the sub-$200 range, the Concept A is built upon an aluminum frame, with composite side plates. The fit and finish are superb, no doubt you will look cool wit ha handful of Concepts on your boat deck. Cork has long been the go-to material for rod handles, but 13 Fishing is making them popular on reels now.
On the fishing side, the Concept A 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 “Concept Brake System” 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 form 0-6 on the dial.
6. Abu Garcia Revo STX
We like the STX line 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 tuned up 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 Baitcasting Reels Under $150
7. Lew’s Tournament MB Speed Spool
The Tournament MB 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 MB 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 MB 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.
I’ts 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 sideplate 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.
8. 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 the 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 levelwind 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 drag stack, Magforce-X casting brakes, 8 bearings, and several gear ratios, all at an affordable price.
9. Shimano Citica I
The newer Shimano Citica are highly similar to prior years Curados, which are known as some of the best baitcasting reels of all time. Peel into the boat of any experience bass fisherman and chances are you will see a few Curados on his deck. The Citica I is building on that long history of performance, reliability, and durability.
I’ve had 6-7 year old Shimano reels where all it takes is a thorough cleaning and some new bearings to give it another 5 years of service. It’s impressive they are really that tough, especially for a $150 reel. It’s the perfect balance of cost and performance that you can rely on.
Users of the Citica marvel at the smooth casting and especially the adjustable Infinity SVS braking system. The Citica I is complete with all the cool Shimano technologies like a S3D stable spool, S-A-RB bearings, and the new X-Ship pinion gear 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 Citica I’s. 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.
10. Ardent Apex Elite Review
If you’re not familiar with Ardent, I encourage you to check out their Apex series. The Elite is priced just below the top of the line Apex Grand. The only difference is color and gear ratio. The Grand is high speed 7.3:1 only, while the Elite has both 6.5:1 and 5.3:1 speeds. At $50 less, the Elite is the best choice for all purpose bass fishing.
The materials on the Apex Elite are top notch, with an aluminum frame and spool, carbon fiber handle, and EVA foam paddle knobs. The result is a 5.9oz reel at a very competitive price. Most reals in this price range will weight at least 6.5-7.0 ounces.
As for performance, Ardent has upped it’s game with the Apex series. Anglers have many positive things to say about the fluid casting and flex free frame. The external 270 degree magnetic brake dial is icing on the cake. If you want to set yourself up with lightweight, easy to palm reels, the Apex Elite is super value.
What to Look for in a Good Baitcasting Reel
All right, now let’s get into the nitty gritty 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 gear 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 gear 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 gear ratios 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 where taking up slack and burning a bait back to the boat are 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 a reel has, the smoother it will cast and retrieve. Look for reels that are lightweight and use strong materials like aluminum, magnesium, or carbon composite materials. These are strong and durable materials that will give you the best performance as well as durability.
More Baitcaster Guides
- Top 5 Baitcasting Reels Under $100 – Most weekend anglers will be satisfied with our top choices in the 100 dollar price range. You would be pleasantly surprised at the quality reels that you can find in this price range.
- Top 5 Baitcasting Reels Under $50 – When you just want a cheap baitcasting reel for occasional use, you need to be careful. Read this guide so you don’t make the mistake of buying a junk Chinese reel.
- Crankbait Reels– Review the top cranking reels that can make fishing deep diving crankbaits so much easier and effective.
- Flipping Reels – These are the best reels for close quarters combat. You need high gear ratios, free casting spools, and tough drivetrains.