Serious catfish anglers need to match the best rod to the best catfishing reel. You have a lot of reel choices when assembling your rig. Your choice in catfish reels will change depending on your needs. It also depends on your skill level and budget. With the proper reel, catching catfish could be so much easier than using the wrong one.

Your best bet is to understand what makes one reel different from another. Understand how a drag system works. Also, what spool tension you need. How anti-reverse works and if you need a bait clicker. Not every reel is able to handle all bait. Some will handle catfish that are small sized better than larger ones. It’s good to know how a spinning reel is different from a baitcasting reel. Mastering this will help you catch big catfish every time.

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur

The Abu Garcia 6500 baitcasting reel is one of the best catfish reels on the market. It can stand up to wear and tear like few others. You can expect this catfish reel to last for years to come with no problems.

The reel was engineered to have a smooth and consistent drag. With a 5.3: 1 gear ratio, it’s very reliable. One handle turn will pull in 26 inches of line. The cast and retrieval are second to none. The braking system is also superior. This is a great catfishing reel for hauling in big cats. It has the size and power to handle nearly any catfish.


Extremely well-made
Large line capacity



Shimano Tekota Levelwind Reel

The Shimano Tekota is one of the strongest reels you’ll find. The die-cast, one-piece frame design is very sturdy. It has a powerful drag system and also a standout line capacity. It can also easily be used for any other kind of fishing. It’s great for trolling catfish. Fast retrieval and smooth casting are also real selling points. If you need a heavy-duty reel, this is a great choice.

The Shimano is costlier than many other reels. It’s all so bulky which keep weight on your wrist after a long day of fishing.


Great casting
Sturdy construction



Team Catfish Gold Ring Casting Reel

The Team Catfish Gold Ring casting reel has an all-aluminum frame. There are also aluminum side panels for added strength. It’s also highly corrosion resistant. It features an instant reverse and 5 stainless steel bearings. It provides a power handle to help snag some of the largest catfish. The bait clicker is low profile so that you won’t accidentally set it off. The anti-reverse system is also helpful. Team Catfish went all out with this catfish reel. The quality shows. The price point is reasonable as well.

For hard to cast bait there is a dual magnetic cast control. The downside is a limited drag system setting and limited line capacity. It’s a good option for most catfish, though.


Strong frame
Great casting
Quality anti-reverse system


Not the best drag system

KastKing Brutus Spinning Reel

If you’re looking to go catfish fishing on a budget, the Kast King Brutus is an amazing option. At a fraction of the price of other reels, it’s still reliable. It features a 5:1 gear ratio, and a sturdy graphite frame. The multi-disc drag system is incredibly smooth as well.

The Kast King Brutus comes in four sizes. The 5000 is the strongest and would be best suited for catfish fishing. Some anglers have reported that even 50 lb line casts easily and smoothly with this reel.


Incredibly well priced
Smooth casting


Not ideal for the largest catfish

Ugly Stik Rod and Spinning Reel Combo

When you want to take the guesswork out of catfish fishing, a rod and reel combo is best. The Ugly Stik GX2 is a great, low profile choice. Ugly Stik is known for making simple yet functional rods. Many first-time anglers start out using Ugly Stik. As a result, some anglers consider them amateurish. The GX2 is a standout combo for catfish, though.

The rig is sturdy and reliable for what it does. It’s also incredibly affordable. It takes the guesswork out of matching your rod to your reel for maximum functionality.

This is only a light action rod and reel combo. You don’t want to use this for large cats. If you’re hunting channel catfish or flathead catfish, this may work. It’s sensitive and durable. At the price point, it’s a great choice.


Great price
Easy to use


Not suitable for large catfish
Can’t handle heavy line

Penn Spinfisher VI Live Liner Spinning Fishing Reel

Spinning reels are not as common as baitcasting reels for catfish fishing. The Penn Spinfisher is your best choice if you want a solid spinning reel. You’ll get long casts and an exceptionally smooth drag system. It comes with a progressive system that increases rear drag as needed. Full metal construction and quality engineering make for a smooth operation. Six stainless steel ball bearings help in that regard, as well. Penn also has the Live Line feature. That’s their version of a bait clicker.

If you like spinning reels, this is the best option on the market. It’s strong enough to handle saltwater fishing. Because of that, it’s well suited for handling even the biggest cats. Plus the anodized design stands up to a lot of abuse. This is the best spinning reel for catfish out there.


High quality drag system
Great casting
Great line capacity
Stainless steel bearings


Could be hard to find a suitable rod
Gets a little noisy

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 7000

If you’re serious about catfish fishing the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 7000 is the reel for you. This catfish reel is not for catching small channel catfish or flatheads. This reel is designed for catching big fish. It handles a high pound test and offers great spool tension. The construction is corrosion resistant.

This baitcasting reel is bulky and powerful. It features a multi-disc carbon drag system. It also features a 6-pin centrifugal braking system. It offers up the torque you need to pull in the biggest of catfish. It features a power handle and a large line capacity. The gear ratio is a powerful 4.1:1.

Because of its size, it could be cumbersome for casual catfishing. Amateur anglers might find this uncomfortable to use. It’s unnecessary for smaller fish and would make it needlessly complicated. If you want big catfish, other catfishing reels can’t compare.


Great line capacity


Hard to use

The Three Types of Catfish Reels

1.Spinning Reels

Catfish spinning reels are not considered the best reels you can get for catfish fishing. That said, there are some catfish anglers who swear by them. You can have a lot of success catching catfish with a spinning reel. They work well with live bait and are great for catching flatheads.

Baitcasting reels are considered stronger, but spinning reels are made for large fish. There are some spinning reels able to handle trophy fish in the ocean. Things like marlin and sharks. The problem is that many catfish specific rods are not designed to hold spinning reels. Still, they are easy to use.


  • Can handle big fish
  • Good for casting live bait
  • Straightforward to use


  • Won’t fit on many catfish rods
  • Can’t be used with a rod holder


2.Baitcasting Reels

The most common reel used for catfish fishing these days is a baitcasting reel. Baitcasting reels have a heavy-duty construction. They can also handle a high pound test. These two things together make them ideal for catching catfish.

A good baitcasting reel will be able to catch bigger catfish than a spinning reel. Baitcasting reels can have a large price range. Some can be very affordable. There are professional quality catfish reels that can cost many hundreds of dollars.

Ideally, these should be fully sealed and corrosion-resistant. Pay attention to the ball bearings to ensure smooth function. More ball bearings mean a smoother cast.


  • Heavy duty
  • Great line capacity
  • Suitable for large or small catfish


  • Takes practice to learn
  • Not always good with live bait

3.Spincasting Reel

Spincasting reels are extremely common and very easy to use. These are usually the best rods to introduce new anglers to the sport with. They work simply by pressing a button and casting. Once your line gets hit, you can then reel it in. The idea is to make it as easy as possible.

For basic catfish fishing, this is a perfectly fine kind of real. If you’re looking for a trophy fish, you might want something else. Spincasting reels aren’t equipped to handle heavy line. You can string a heavy line on a spin casting reel, but it will take up more space, and leave you with a shorter line overall. That can very much limit your ability to fish.

The construction of a spin casting reel is not up to the task of catching large fish. They often have plastic gears that could break under stress. If you’re looking for small channel cats or bullhead, this is a good choice.


  • Super easy to use
  • Affordable
  • Good for small catfish


  • Not suited for large catfish
  • Poor line capacity
  • Weak construction

Rod and Reel Combos

To make it easier, some manufacturers offer rod and reel combos. For a newer catfish angler, this is a great choice. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of getting ready for fishing. There are many rods and reel combos that are extremely effective. If you are a more advanced angler, you may not like this kind of setup. For casual anglers, rod and reel combos work very well.

The upside to a rod and reel combo is that both have been properly matched. When you’re matching a rod to a reel yourself, you may not always hit the nail on the head. Not every reel fits on every rod. Even those that do aren’t always the best fit. A rod and reel combo should have been specifically designed to work together. This makes the whole process easier for you. You can’t always catch the big fish with this kind of rig unless it’s catfish specific. If that’s your goal, you’ll want to invest in fishing reels that can handle a high pound test. The kind designed for big cats. If you just want to do some casual fishing, the combo may be best.


  • Well designed for catfishing
  • Cost-effective


  • Not as customizable
  • Not as common as separate rods and reels


Things to Consider


Line Capacity

Catfish fishing requires a heavy-duty line. That means you need a reel capable of handling heavy line. Remember, heavier line has a larger diameter. It will take up more room on the spool as a result. You need a reel designed to handle a large capacity line. Otherwise, if you break your line, you may find you don’t have enough to properly cast anymore. Also, those smaller reels can’t handle the stress of larger fish.

Gear Ratio

Every reel has a gear ratio. It is extremely important to understand what that is and how it works. The gear ratio tells you how much line returns to the reel as you reel it in. If your gear ratio is 4:1 it means that every single time you turn the handle, the spool rotates four times. Many reels are available in gear ratio represented as a fraction. Things like 3.5: 1 up to 7.5:1 gear ratio.

The higher the gear ratio, the faster the reel. When it comes to catfish, a high gear ratio is ideal. Something that has a 5:1 gear ratio or above would be best.


You can’t catch big catfish without drag. When you snag a fish, it’s going to start to wrestle with you. It will snap the line and start to pull it away. Drag is what allows it to pull on the line without it snapping or freezing in place. You need that drag so the fish can tire itself out. There has to be some give-and-take, or your line will break. Always research the drag before investing in catfish reels.

High-quality reels will have a drag system in place. It prevents the line from unspooling on you. There should be a drag star on your reel that you can watch working. As a fish pulls away while you’re reeling it in, the drag star will turn away from you. This allows more line out so that nothing breaks. If your drag is not set correctly, it will be much harder to land a catfish.

It can take some time to learn how to use a drag system. Make sure you give yourself time to practice. Once you have it down, it will greatly improve your catfish fishing. Catfish reels with a reliable drag system always make it easier to catch fish.

Bait Clicker

Bait clickers are very handy features to have. That clicking sound when a fish begins to pull your line is the bait clicker. Often this can be turned on and off. Not every reel has the feature, but many catfish anglers look for it. When you cast out and let your bait settle, a bait clicker is how you’ll know you finally have a fish on a line. When you’re fishing for the long haul, a bait clicker is invaluable.

A good bait clicker will be inconspicuous on the reel. A button that can’t accidentally be clicked is best. Getting used to a bait clicker can take time. That said, they are worth it. Fishing reels without bait clickers are not as reliable.


The handgrips on your real are something that’s worth paying attention to. Many anglers just take these for granted. Consider how long you’re going to be spending fishing. If you’re looking for a large trophy fish you’re going to be putting a lot of strain on your hands. You want grips that feel comfortable. One you can get a hold of easily. And one that won’t be slippery when covered in water or slime.

Reels are either single handle or with a twin grip paddle wheel design. Double handles are sometimes called standard or traditional. Some single grips will have counterweights opposite them. These are called power handles. You need to consider what will be most comfortable for you. Trying to reel in a large, fighting catfish with an uncomfortable grip is not easy. A power handle is often best for catfish fighting.


It should go without saying that you want to buy high-quality reels. Some anglers will sacrifice quality for price. A lower quality reel may work well for you most of the time. But if you’re looking for larger fish, higher quality is always better. Even if a low-quality reel works for a while, it may not have a long life. Over time, the stress of fighting with large fish can wear it down. The best fishing reels for catfish are a balance.

Reels made with plastic parts are usually not a good idea. Check the construction whenever possible. Store-brand or reels from companies you’ve never heard of may not be trustworthy. Since this is a potentially big investment, always check a product’s reputation first. You’re better off choosing a reel like Abu Garcia, Shimano, or Penn.

Catfish fishing reels don’t have to be complicated. Try a few out and compare reviews. Choose what is most successful for you and your situation. Your bait, your line, and the size of the fish you’re after. Just make sure you’re having fun at the end of the day.