Best Catfish Reels of 2020 – Complete Review

If you’re an avid catfish angler, you know that traditional fishing gear doesn’t always cut it in a fight with these monstrous bottom feeders.

Catfish are well-known for their feisty nature, and to give you the best chance of a catch, it’s a good idea to get a reel specific to the job. This article will walk you through some of the best buys on the market.

Comparison of the Best Catfish Reels


Abu Garcia Ambassadeur

  • Super smooth
  • Large line capacity
  • Nice additional features
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Shimano Tekota 300

  • Great bait alarm
  • Comfortable performance
  • Versatile can be used in both fresh and saltwater
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Daiwa Millionaire Classic UTD 5.1:1

  • Good gear ratio
  • Great drag system
  • Best pick for the money
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Zebco/Quantum BCXT30C, Right Hand

  • Large line capacity
  • Reasonably priced
  • Best baitcasting reel
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Penn Spinfisher V & VI

  • Versatile
  • Very long casts
  • Best spinning reel
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Shakespeare ATS

  • Lightweight
  • Great special features
  • Best Shakespeare reel
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Aspects to Consider Before Buying a Catfish Reel

Before you make your purchase, there are a few things every buyer should consider to ensure they have the best chance at angling success.

What Fish Will You Be Targeting?

Though this may seem like an odd question, it’s an important one because if you know what kind of catfish you want to hunt, you can cater your reel choice accordingly to the task at hand. If you plan to stick to fishing for more modestly sized species of fish, you can go for a more standard reel, whereas if you want the trophies, it requires a reel that can take a bit of a beating.

What Features Do You Want?

There are some reel features that can be very helpful in the fight against a catfish. Typically, an angler would want to purchase a reel with a powerful drag. Before browsing, make sure you know the special features you’d like in a reel so you can narrow down your choices.

Characteristics of Our Favorite Reels 

When in search of a new catfishing reel, there are several characteristics to keep an eye out for. Along with high-quality construction, check that your potential buy includes the following:

Powerful Drag 

As mentioned before, a powerful drag is a very popular feature in a catfish-specific reel. Our favorite reels have a drag that has enough stopping pressure to handle very large fish. Skimping on this aspect of a reel could seriously compromise your ability to pull in a fish.

Large Line Capacity 

Fishing for catfish usually requires the use of a heavier line. It’s essential to purchase a reel that can hold a thicker strand, therefore requiring a larger than average line capacity.

Bait Clicker 

If you’re not using circle hooks, a bait clicker on a reel can be super helpful in knowing when to strike. A bait clicker, sometimes labeled a line alarm, alerts the angler when the fish is moving with the bait.

Suitable Gear Ratio 

To ensure angling success, make sure that the gear ratio of your reel is somewhere between 6:1 and 5:1 to ensure you have the retrieval speed to bring your fish to shore.

Quick Take | Best Catfish Reels

Just looking for the top three best catfish reels? Here they are:

  1. Abu Garcia Ambassadeur
  2. Shimano Tekota 300
  3. Daiwa Millionaire Classic UTD 5.1:1

Review of the Best Catfish Reels 

Before you are bombarded with the multitude of options online and in store, check out some of our top catfish reels to give you an idea of brands to keep in mind.

Abu Garcia C3-6500 Ambassadeur Catfish Special Round Baitcast Fishing Reel


  • Stylish design
  • Powerful drag system
  • Comfortable handles
  • Designed specifically for catfishing
  • Break system assists in casting and retrieval


  • No thumb bar
  • Emits a bit of rattle
  • Gear ratio isn’t great

What Recent Buyers Report

For the most part, buyers of the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur were very happy with their choice of a reel. Most users praise the Swedish company’s construction, reporting that the reel offers exceptionally smooth casts and retrieval. A few users were disappointed with the value to features balance, claiming that for the price the reel should have more special features.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This reel shot to the top of our list for its gorgeous design and powerful drag system. Colored with bright orange juxtaposed against a sleek black, this is a reel that will stand out among the others. But substance is definitely not compromised for style—the drag system is incredibly effective and it also has a great braking system for extra control.

Who Will Use This Most

This is a great option for anglers with a little more money to spend who are searching for a step up from a smaller spinning reel. With enough power to handle large fish, this could easily be used to hunt trophies, but could also be effective in drawing in smaller cats.

What Could Be Improved and Why

Because this reel is at the higher end of some budgets, there are a few attributes that could be added to make it a more valuable purchase. We think the reel could definitely benefit from a thumb bar, and the gear ratio isn’t high enough to make it competitive with luxury reels.

Bottom Line

Overall, this is a great, all-around spinning reel that would make a great pick for your next catfishing excursion. Abu Garcia is a reliable Sweden-based company that takes pride in its construction, and this reel is a shining example.

Shimano Tekota 300 Saltwater Star Drag Reel with Line Counter


  • Fast retrieval
  • Level-wind system
  • Can be used for trolling
  • Incredibly smooth casting
  • Corrosion-resistant construction


  • Quite heavy
  • Retrieval could be smoother
  • Level-wind system can be flimsy

What Recent Buyers Report

Users of the Shimano Tekota 300 were satisfied with the reel’s ability not only as a catfishing reel, but also in a variety of other fishing settings. They were happy with its saltwater resistance and performance as a surf reel. Some complained of minor quality control issues.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The Shimano Tekota earns a spot on our favorites for its powerful drag system and major line capacity. It’s carefully crafted with high-quality die-cast aluminum that is built for durability, which we appreciate.

Who Will Use This Most

This particular reel is a great choice for anglers who need a little more versatility in their equipment. Many catfishing reels are best-suited for hunting cats and nothing else, but the Shimano Tekota is effective in a variety of different fishing settings ranging from ocean fishing to freshwater lake fishing.

What Could Be Improved and Why

This product could benefit from a smoother retrieval system and a higher gear ratio. Although buyers report that the retrieval speed is quite competitive, some complained that they experience jumps and jerks in the process.

Bottom Line

The Shimano Tekota is a great buy for well-rounded anglers. Buyers need not worry about versatility with this pick and can be certain this reel will have a place on the lake and the ocean.

Daiwa M-CUTD250 Millionaire Classic Utd Casting Reel, 5.1: Gear Ratio, 24.50' Retrieve Rate, 9 lb Max Drag, H/MH Action, Right Hand


  • 5:1 gear ratio
  • Oversized handles
  • Nice special features
  • Made with high-quality materials
  • The 11-pound pressure drag system


  • Line clicker is often faulty
  • May need to be greased before use
  • Bit of a learning curve when using heavier bait

What Recent Buyers Report

Reviewers of Daiwa’s Millionaire UTD were happy with the update to the old classic. This reel is a newer version of an original Daiwa model with an enhanced drag and line capacity. Some did report some quality control issues that were eventually resolved by customer service.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The Millionaire UTD appears on our favorites list because of its incredible value. This is a very solid catfishing reel that comes at a very reasonable price. It has a great technical drag system, a high standard gear ratio for fast, and a very smooth retrieval; on top of all that, it’s super stylish.

Who Will Use This Most

We’d recommend this Daiwa reel to anglers who are new to catfishing or those who are on a bit of a budget. This is a suitable beginner’s reel for catfish hunter’s who aren’t comfortable using larger baits, but throwing larger baits can also be mastered with a little bit of practice.

What Could Be Improved and Why

Daiwa could improve upon the Millionaire UTD with a little better quality control. One of the complaints from users had to do with having to lube up the reel before use, which would be a very easy fix on Daiwa’s end. Some buyers also complained that parts of the reel were faulty even before taking it out on the water.

Bottom Line

If you’re on a budget but still have the desire to catch some major catfish, don’t worry too much. Daiwa’s got your back. The Millionaire is a great budget pick that holds up to the company’s standards.

Best Baitcasting Reel:
Zebco/Quantum BCXT30C, Right Hand

Zebco Big CAT XT CV Reel 4.2:1


  • Easy to use
  • Quality gears
  • Smooth casting
  • Great bait clicke
  • Huge line capacity


  • Very large
  • Clunky design
  • A little noisy on retrieval

What Recent Buyers Report

For being on the lower end of the price scale, buyers were pleasantly surprised with Zebco’s reel. Though it’s a fairly basic model, users praised the smooth casting and retrieval they achieved with the reel. One user recommended this particular reel to bank fishermen who need a little extra length in their casts.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This reel made it to our list for its reliability. Although it’s not a luxury reel or brand, this reel offers consistent performance and some great features. It includes a great bait clicker, synchronized adjustable level wind, and it’s made with high-quality aluminum.

Who Will Use This Most

The Zebco reel is a great pick for anglers of any skill level. As mentioned before, for catfishers who prefer bank fishing rather than a boat, this is a good option as it offers super smooth, long casts. It’s a fairly easy baitcasting model to master as well, so it would be a good choice for beginners.

What Could Be Improved and Why

Despite all its great qualities, the Zebco reel has a large, clunky design which isn’t always fun to have in your hand. The company could definitely take some time to make the reel a little more compact and sleek.

Bottom Line

If you’re a first-time catfisher looking for an all-around simple yet effective reel, this is a great pick for you. Zebco did an excellent job of sticking to the essentials while also creating a competitive design.

Best Spinning Reel:
Penn Spinfisher V & VI

Penn, Spinfisher VI Live Liner Saltwater Spinning Reel, 6500, 5.6:1 Gear Ratio, 42' Retrieve Rate, 6 Bearings, Ambidextrous


  • High gear ratio
  • Full metal body
  • Corrosion-resistant
  • Line capacity markings
  • Sealed ball bearing system


  • Heavy
  • Emits a clicking noise
  • Drag system is a little too tight

What Recent Buyers Report

The Penn Spinfisher reels have received overwhelmingly positive reviews from buyers. Many people comment on the reel’s ability to make extremely long casts with ease, using terms like “silky.” The main complaint among users is the physical weight of the reel, which they claim is tough on the wrists during a long day of fishing.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The Spinfisher earns the title of “best spinning reel” thanks to a combination of aspects. First, like buyers, we appreciate the super smooth casting and retrieval, which is achieved with a 5:1 gear ratio. It also includes a high-tech carbon fiber drag system that is powerful enough to stand up to large catfish.

Who Will Use This Most

This is a great versatile option for those anglers who spend time on the ocean and the lake. It’s pretty heavy-duty, so there’s no need to worry about its strength when it’s up against bigger catfish. If you’re not ready to switch to a baitcaster just yet, this is a great pick.

What Could Be Improved and Why

Because the reel is created with a full metal body, it is very physically heavy. This can be an issue for comfort, especially if the user is on a full-day fishing trip. If lighter materials were used in some of the construction, this spinning reel might just be a perfect 10.

Bottom Line

Although we’re typically fans of baitcasters for catfishing, we have no issue recommending the Penn Spinfisher reel for your next hunt. This is a heavy-duty, effective reel that’s very easy to use and will pack a punch against large fish.

Best Shakespeare Reel:
Shakespeare ATS

Shakespeare ATS Trolling Reel


  • Level-wind
  • Not too heavy
  • Excellent drag pressure
  • Substantial line capacity
  • Easy adjustments for fine-tuning


  • Line counter is inaccurate
  • Bait clicker is on the loud side
  • Needs to be greased before use

What Recent Buyers Report

Buyers of the Shakespeare ATS were impressed by this small but mighty reel. Despite the fact that it’s a bit smaller than traditional baitcasting reels used for catfishing, buyers say that this reel still holds a lot of power in its lightweight frame. Users were also satisfied with the quality with regards to its affordable price.

Why it Stands Out to Us

We liked the Shakespeare ATS for a couple of different reasons, mainly because it’s a reliable reel that isn’t overly large. It has a 5:1 gear ratio and includes special features like level wind technology and a high-quality bait clicker. The ATS made it to our list for being a very well-rounded reel.

Who Will Use This Most

The Shakespeare ATS is the perfect reel for traveling catfishers, or those looking for a more lightweight reel for their rods. Thanks to a full-graphite construction, this reel weighs a great deal less than more traditional catfishing rods, which is very helpful for portability and comfort.

What Could Be Improved and Why

One major complaint among users was that the line counter wasn’t always accurate, so there is huge room for improvement in that area. Other minor issues surrounded the volume of the bait clicker, which may be loud enough to scare off a potential catch, and the fact that in some situations, lube had to be applied before use.

Bottom Line

Overall, we’re excited by the abilities of the Shakespeare ATS as a lightweight option for catfishing. With several special features and reliable drag, casting, and retrieval performance, this reel is a great choice for your next fishing trip.

Types of Catfish Reels 

In the angling world, there are three popular reel styles that dominate the market. While all can be used for catfishing, some a few have more advantages over the others.


Spinning reels are the most widely-used reel among the angling community thanks to their effectiveness and ease of use. However, they are not the most popular for use in catfishing, as more anglers tend to opt for the more powerful baitcast reel. While it does limit the choice of rods, heavier spinning reels are just as effective. They’re easy to use, hold a lot of line, and often have high-tech drag systems.  


Baitcast reels are the top choice for anglers targeting catfish due to their power and control. They’re praised for their large line capacities and sophisticated drag systems—basically built to conquer trophy fish. However, these reels are often reserved for advanced anglers as they take quite a bit of experience to master.


Spincast reels are the most basic of catfish reels and should only be used for beginners or when targeting smaller fish. They are relatively easy to use but have very limited line capacity and poor drag systems. They would be a good pick for teaching children how to fish for catfish as there is little risk of line tangling.


Remember that the most important aspect of a catfishing reel is power. If you want to stand a chance against the monsters that lurk below, it doesn’t hurt to put a little time and effort into the search for a reel. Happy fishing!

People Also Ask

If you still have questions about catfishing, you’re not alone. Here are some other frequently asked questions that may come up in your research:

What is the Best Gear Ratio for Catfishing? What Size of Spinning Reel is Best for Catfish?

The best gear ratio for catfishing is between 6:1 and 5:1. While either would be suitable for speedy retrieval, a 6:1 will definitely be quicker. A larger spinning reel is the best option for catfishing as it has a larger line capacity.

How Does the Size of the Catfish Affect the Type of Reel?

In general, if you’re targeting smaller catfish, it’s fine to go for a more standard size spinning or spincast reel. But if you want to pull in very large fish, you should definitely splurge for a large spinning reel or a baitcasting reel. They’re more powerful and will be more effective.