Fishing Reels for Catfishing

There are many types and brands of reels that are great for catfishing but, there are a few things to consider when choosing.  What type of reel do you know how to cast?  What size or species of catfish are you targeting?  Answer these two questions and it will be easy to find a reel to fit the bill.  Reels for catfishing can basically be broken down into three groups: spinning, spin-casting, and bait casting.  Below we will discuss importat specs and give a few suggestions that are popular with many catfishermen.  If you are not familiar with reel terminology please see our article: Fishing Reel Anatomy.

A few things to consider when choosing a catfishing reel:

Line capacity – This simply refers to how much of a given size of line a reel will hold.  This is a very important spec especially when targeting large fish.  Having a large reserve of line can mean the difference between loosing or landing a monster catfish.  A large catfish is capable of peeling yards and yards of line off of your reel on a hard run.  Having a large amount of line capacity is also useful when drift fishing, for extra long casts or fishing extremely deep waters.  A minimum of 150 yards of your line of choice is recommended.

Drag – The drag is an adjustable spec that refers to the amount of force it takes to move the spool when it is NOT disengaged.  Drag is what allows a running fish to remove line from your reel rather than breaking your line, rod, or reel.  It is intended to allow you to effectively wear the fish down to make landing the fish successful.  Look for an upcoming article on how to correctly set your drag.

Gear Ratio – This refers to how many times the spool will turn for each turn of the handle.  Ratios vary alot from one brand or model to another, usually from 3 to 1 up to 7 to 1.  The lower the ratio, the less force it will take to turn the handle under pressure and the slower the retrieve will be.  The higher the ratio, the more force it will take to turn the handle under pressure and the faster the retrieve will be.  For most catfishing purposes somewhere between 3 to 1 up to 6 to 1 will work well.  This is primarily personal preference, I prefer somewhere around 5 to1  because I am primarily a bank fisherman and I am often casting long distances.  A higher ratio makes the retrieve faster.

Bait Clicker – This is a great feature for catfishing!  When the “clicker” is on, it will make a loud clicking sound when line is pulled from the reel.  Clickers are commonly used after a bait is placed and the reel is set to free spool.  This will allow a fish to pull line from the reel, with little resistance, alerting you of the action.   They can also be used with the drag “backed off” a bit making it a bit more difficult for a fish to run with your bait.  This is a very useful technique when using circle hooks, which we will outline in an upcoming article.  Clickers are available on many models of spinning, spincasting, and baitcasting reels.  Clickers are also often referred to as: bait alarm, line alarm, bait runner, or bait feeder.


Baitcasters are a catfishermen’s favorite but by a small margin.  In a recent poll, we discovered that of 300 catfishermen, 50% prefer baitcasters.   They all have many features that make them the top choice for catfishing, especially if you plan to target large fish.  Many models have bait clickers, large line capacity, and have outstanding casting abilities.  Below you will find a few of top baitcasting reels for catfishing.

Abu Garcia Round Baitcasters

The Abu Garcia 7000iC3 is one of the absolute best for chasing monster cats!  It features a bait clicker, powerful carbon-matrix drag system, and a very large line capacity.  While this reel is a bit overkill for chasing eater-sized channel catfish, it is an outstanding choice for monster blue cats and flathead.  Abu Garcia’s reputation with experienced catfishermen is unsurpassed.

The Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C4 series of reels are very similar to their big brother above.   They feature a similar drag system and speedy retrieve only in a smaller size.  The 6600 is a favorite for channels up to monster blues.  With slightly less line capacity than the 7000, it is still a great choice for catfish of any size.  The 6600 is one of my all time favorites!

Buy soon! For a limited time all Abu Garcia reels 79.99 or more qualify for a special offer and a mail in rebate!

Bass Pro CatMaxx

Bass Pro’s own CatMaxx CMX-3 is another great choice for catfish large and small.  Its one-piece frame, high capacity spool, and bait clicker make it a fantastic catfishing reel for a very modest price.  This reel is very smooth and offers great casting distance as well as a quick retrieve.

Spinning Reels

Spinning reels are also very popular among new and veteran catfishermen.  In the above mentioned poll about 40% prefer spinning reels.  Spinning reels are known for great casting distances, very fast retrieves, and NO BACKLASHING.  Spinning reels are great for someone who just cant figure  out a good technique for casting a baitcaster.  In large sizes, these are great reels for big cats.  Several models, like the ones below,  even offer a bait clicker with adjustable tension.

Shimano Baitrunner

The Shimano Baitrunner is the flagship of catfishing spinning reels.  These reels all feature a fully adjustable bait clicker, high line capacity, and a fast retrieve.  These reels can also be set up for left or right handed fishermen.

Okuma Epixor Baitfeeder

The Okuma Epixor Baitfeeder is another great spinning reel that has a bait clicker.  The Epixor is offered in 4 sizes, the larger 2 being outstanding catfishing reels.  All of these reels come with an extra spool for quick and easy line changes.

Spincasting Reels

While spincasting reels are not necessarily a top choice for monsters, they have been used for catching catfish for decades.  Their easy casting, low cost and durability make them a favorite especially for the new fisherman.  Most likely they will not last if they are used to cast very heavy weights and baits that are often needed to catch big cats. If you plan on becoming a serious catfisherman, I would definitely point you towards spinning or bait casting reels.  If you are targeting primarily channel catfish or are just getting started catfishing, these reels are a good choice.

The Zebco 808 is the top choice in spincasters for catfishing.  These reels feature dual ceramic pick up pins, a bait alarm, and even come prespooled with 130 yds. of braided line.  The retrieve is a bit slow for my taste at under 3-1 but, this is to ensure the reel will not be damaged by a large fish.

Any of these reels, among many others, will make great catfishing reels.  Just consider, before you buy, what sizes of fish you are going to target and be sure the reel you choose will fit the bill.

Give us some feedback!  Do you have a reel you are particularly fond of ?  Leave us a comment below and tell us what is you favorite reel and why.

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7 Responses to “Fishing Reels for Catfishing”

  1. aaron "bubba gut " gutermuth
    October 18, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    a cheaper but very powerful reel for monster blues is the shakespeare tidewater series. i have used these reels very reliably for years with much succes the t-30 being the largest with a huge line capacity.

    • Catfishadmin
      October 18, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

      I agree 100%. I am currently using the 30’s on two of my rods.

  2. St.CloudCatman
    June 12, 2013 at 8:01 am #

    It’s definitely not top of the line, but I use an Abu Garcia Bcx 6500 with 20lb mono. I love it. I’m not after the big dogs either. I use it with a 6.5 foot mh big water casting ugly stick. I’ve had no problems. Casts super easy for being my first baitcaster.

    • Catfishadmin
      July 12, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

      You should be able to haul in some big fish with that set up.

  3. Mr. Whiskers
    April 1, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    I use Shimano Tekoka 500 reels w/25lb mono mounted on 8ft Berkley night stick rods I use the same set up for leopard sharks and bat rays in San Francisco Bay the average cats I catch are from 15lbs to 30lb channels in Clear Lake Ca. I am considering going to 50lb braid.

  4. Matthew
    June 1, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    I like to use the abu garcie 5500 c3 for smaller channel catfish and the abu garcia 6500c3 for trophy blues and flatheads


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