Whether they want a tasty meal or have their eyes on a huge prize, the catfish species is a favorite target for fishermen. But catfish can be notoriously tricky to catch because of their strength and power. When you are fishing for catfish having the proper gear and tackle can make a massive difference between a successful catch or going home empty-handed. With over 3,000 different species of catfish around the world, some grow to monstrous sizes. The fighting strength of more giant-sized catfish will require specialized fishing gear, like heavy duty catfish reels.

Good catfish reels, when combined with a sturdy catfish rod, can help improve your fishing techniques to target a catch successfully. There are catfish baitcaster reels, which are perfect for heavier fishing lines. Or there are catfish spinning reels, which can help you cast further. No matter which type of catfishing reel you choose, it needs to be durable and reliable. With the best catfish reels, you’ll have the proper gear you need to target and catch multiple catfish species.

How To Choose A Catfish Reel – Buying Guide


When you are looking at catfishing reels you want a model that is durable, reliable, smooth, and strong. A top rated reel for catfish should have a high performance and be made of quality materials. Below we go through the essential features that make the best catfish reels.

Line Capacity

When you see a line capacity of 12/196, you may be wondering what those numbers mean. The line capacity will determine how much fishing line your catfish reel can hold. The numbers estimate the amount in yards, but it is also reliant on weight. Line capacity of 12/196 means that your catfishing reel can hold up to 196 yards of a 12-pound monofilament fishing line. If you prefer to use braided fishing line, keep in mind that it is thinner but less flexible. Most brands do not give specifications for braided line, but you may be able to look at catfish reel reviews or ask a professional for advice.

In general, most anglers will prefer to have a large line capacity, which can be helpful in situations where the line breaks, tangles, or a catfish takes the line. Catfish baitcaster reels will typically have a large line capacity than spinning reels for catfishing.

Drag System

Good catfish reels will have an adjustable drag system that you can fine tune to assist in reeling in a catch. When you are hunting for big catfish, having the perfect drag adjustment can mean the difference between coming up empty handed or landing the catfish.

Additionally, different catfishing reels with have their drag adjustments in various locations. Front mounted, and spool mounted drags usually have a knob on the top of the reel. But rear mounted drags place their knob on the bottom. Catfish baitcaster reels may also have a secondary drag feature called a bait runner or bait clicker. This system works to let your spool spin freely so that the catfish can run with the bait. Once the angler begins to reel in the fish, the feature would disengage and revert to the primary drag setting.

A bait runner can be a useful feature for two reasons. Firstly, it will make an audible clicking sound, which alerts the angler that they have a fish on the line. Secondly, it decreases the tension on the line as a fish dives to the bottom, which means fewer broken lines. Many catfish spinning reels that have an updated design will now have this feature too, which makes them a viable contender.

Gear Ratio

The gear ratio of heavy duty catfish reels refers to the number of spool revelations you get with one turn of the reel’s handle. A gear ratio of 5.2:1 means that the spool turns 5.2 revelations for every 1 full turn of the handle. The gear ratio is an important consideration in correlation to the type of lures or catfish bait that you may be using. A deepwater crankbait will need a lower gear ratio, whereas jigs need a higher gear ratio. For catfish, a gear ratio of 4 or 5 to 1 is best because they are a stubborn fish that put up a good fight.


The best catfish reels will have a good counterbalance with your catfish rod. The reel should sit comfortably on your rod without putting too much weight forward or backward. You can check the line capacity of the reel, as this will affect the weight, and determine how it may affect the counterbalance of the rod.

While you can fish with an unbalanced rod, it will be a more exhausting and uncomfortable experience than using a properly counterbalanced setup.


The size of a catfishing reel will be related to the line capacity of a model. If a catfishing reel has a larger line capacity, the piece will be larger overall. Smaller capacities lead to smaller reels. Size is usually measured by the thousands, with 1000 being the smallest size offered. A 4000-5000 size is usually standard for good catfish reels.

Power Handle

A power handle will have a larger turning knob, which is becoming standard for catfishing reels. The larger surface of a power handle makes for a secure grip and increased surface area for better torque. Whether you choose to use a power handle will be entirely up to you. Some anglers enjoy having the larger knob, and others are more comfortable with a standard handle.

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Heavy duty catfish reels should feature durable construction and quality materials. Catfish are strong, and they can exert a lot of pressure on your rod and reel. A top rated reel for catfish should never break or malfunction under the straining pull of a fighting catfish.

The best reel for catfish will also be watertight and corrosion resistant. Whether you are fishing in freshwater or saltwater conditions, constant exposure to water can eventually cause materials to breakdown. Catfishing reels should be made of a sturdy material that is resistant to damage from frequent water exposure. You are fishing, after all. Water is not an element that you can avoid. The best materials that are suitable for catfishing reels are stainless steel and carbon fiber.


The spool is what holds your fishing line, and it is part of what you turn when you reel in a catch. When you turn the handle, you are winding or unwinding fishing line from the spool. When you cast your catfish hook and line, you are unwinding from the spool. A good spool will have a large line capacity so that you can cast further. Additionally, spools should turn smoothly and remain free from loops.


Some catfishing reels feature a break, which slows down the speed that the spool turns. A brake can also entirely stop the spool from turning. The brake is a feature that can combat a backlash situation, which is where the speed of the line spins faster than the spool as you cast. A free spool will not feature a brake, which means you can cast further and easier.



Q: What exactly is a catfish spinning reel?


Spinning reels for catfishing are the medium ground between a spin cast reel and a catfish baitcaster. Catfishing spinning reels feature a wire bail, which is flipped back and forth as you cast. For beginner fishermen, spinning reels can be easier to learn on and more comfortable to use. However, there are a few downsides to a spinning reel. Mainly, there aren’t many catfish spinning rods available, and your reel must match the rod. For fishermen who use fishing rod holders, spinning rods may not fit. Additionally, spinning reels for catfish tend to have a lightweight design. While this is suitable for small species of catfish, you will need a baitcaster for heavier catfish.

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Catfish baitcaster reels are the more popular choice amongst catfish anglers because they are versatile and work with all species of catfish. You can also use a variety of fishing techniques with one baitcaster. The best qualities of a catfish baitcaster are an increased line capacity, better gear ratios, heavier builds, and better drag systems. There are also plenty of baitcasting rods, which leaves you with a wider selection of products.

Q: How does the size of the catfish affect the type of reel I can choose?


There are about 3000 different species of catfish around the world. The smallest catfish can fit in a home aquarium, but the Mekong Giant Catfish is the largest and can grow nearly 9 feet long. Plus, there are a variety of sizes in between those two extremes. Most anglers will be looking at smaller sized catfish, which are more manageable and more comfortable to catch. For smaller sized catfish, spinning reels for catfishing have adequate power to do the job. The lightweight design of spinning reels can be great for traveling fishermen and easy to get started fishing.

If you are looking for larger sized catfish, whose weight goes up into the double digits, you will need heavy duty catfish reels. Catfish baitcaster reels are the better choice for catching giants because they are better built and have stronger features. The more durable body of a baitcaster can withstand the strain and pull of a catfish for hours, which is essential because the species is known for putting up long fights. Baitcasting reels also have a larger line capacity, which makes them more versatile for a variety of fishing situations. And are ideal for situations where running out of line would lead to you going home empty-handed.

Related Review: Baitcasting Reel Under 100

Q: Does the fishing environment affect the type of my reels?


Yes. Fishing environments can be harsh places, and you’ll want a reel model that can withstand being handled rough. You should consider the locations that you want to fish in and how they might affect your catfish reel. Are you going to freshwater or saltwater? Catfishing on a lake is vastly different from the coast. Some catfish do live in coastal areas where you might encounter briny water. The salt in the water is corrosive, so you’ll need a good catfish reel that is corrosion resistant. Are you fishing in the river? The rough water of a raging river can jostle and shake your catfish reel, so you want to ensure that it can handle a few bumps.

Additionally, the environment may have barriers that can put you at a disadvantage with your line and reel. Damage may even occur in hostile environments or under challenging situations. The best catfish reel will be durable and long-lasting, which ensures that it is capable of doing the job. The reel should never struggle to reel in a catch, and if it does, you may need to consider a different setup.

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It can be challenging to catch a catfish, but with the proper gear, you can give yourself the upper hand. Whether you are a beginner or experienced angler, you can find a top rated reel for catfish that works with your fishing rod. The best catfish reel will be strong, durable, and come full of features, which can help you hone your technique and make a catch. Good catfish reels will make your catfishing experience enjoyable and are an essential piece to your catfishing setup.

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Do you own one of the catfish reels that made it onto our list? Has it helped you learn the joy of catfishing or reeled in a monster? Let us know how it has worked for your catfishing adventures in the comments section below.