Best Bass Fishing Reels: Our Favorites Reviewed

Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on reddit

To the uninitiated, one reel is pretty much like another. But for bass anglers, the differences are critically important–and easy to recognize. As any old hand on the lake can explain, the wrong reel will cripple your casts, hobble your retrieves, and have you spending more time clearing bird’s nests than fishing.

But which manufacturers can be trusted to provide year after year of smooth performance? How important is gear ratio–and which is the right one for you? Are models with braking systems to prevent bird’s nests worth the extra money? How strong should the drag be?

I’ll bet you’ve asked yourself these kinds of questions.

And we’d like to help with well-researched answers! Below, you’ll find a thorough discussion of what to look for in an excellent bass fishing reel, as well as reviews of some of our favorites.

Quick look at the best bass fishing reels on the market today:

Baitcasting vs. Spinning Tackle

Anglers use an almost bewildering range of techniques to entice largemouth bass to strike. And from drop shot rigs to big spinners, crankbaits to topwater, specialized rods matched to these applications are often the best bet. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find a good all-around bass rod, however, and we’ve discussed just what to look for if that suits your needs.

But there’s no question that baitcasting reels dominate the world of bass fishing. And with the exception of working very light lures with line weighing in at less than 10-pound test–and perhaps days where you’ll be casting into heavy wind–you’ll find most bass rods wearing a baitcasting reel.

Now, no doubt some of that lopsided victory for baitcasters has to do with television and YouTube; we fish what we see the pros using, and the pros have been running baitcasters for decades. But there are good reasons they’ve chosen these fishing tools, and those reasons are worth discussing.

The Basics: How are Baitcasting Reels Different?

Baitcasting reels don’t work at all like spinning reels.

Fixed vs. spinning spools – A spinning reel uses a fixed spool. When you open the bail and cast, line slips off and over the end of the spool, unfurling as it runs off the reel.

By contrast, a baitcasting reel has a spool that spins on bearings. As you cast, the line spins the spool, unwinding as it does.

Perpendicular vs. in-line spools – If you’re new to fishing, you may not have noticed this immediately, but spinning reels have spools that are aligned perpendicular to the motion of the line. Baitcasting reels, on the other hand, unspool line in the direction it will travel.

This tiny difference matters. Because of the in-line spool on baitcasting reels, they tend to impart less memory to line, especially as you step-up in test and diameter, or run fluorocarbon main line.

Drag systems – Good spinning reels sport a drag knob on the end of the spool. This system works well, especially with the lighter lines they’re designed for. But the star drag systems on baitcasting reels are generally superior, especially with heavier line.

Gear ratio – Baitcasting rods offer a wider range of gear ratios, especially at the top-end. And if you’re looking to gather line measures in feet per crank, they’re the only game in town.

Different rods – If you’re new to fishing, you may not realize that spinning and baitcasting rods are different beasts. From whether the reel sits atop or below the rod, to the design of the blank and the size of the guides, the differences are apparent once you know what to look for.

Looking for a dedicated bass rod? Check out our post on the best bass fishing rods!

Why Do the Pros Prefer Baitcasting Rods and Reels?

Let’s take a close look at why baitcasting tackle is generally superior for bass fishing.

Heavy line – This is probably the strongest reason behind the baitcaster’s widespread adoption among bass anglers. Spinning reels struggle when lines climb above 10- to 12-pound test, largely because that fixed spool reaches its practical performance limit. When it does, line starts to slip off the spool, fouling casts and reducing both distance and accuracy. And just as bad, the line retains too much memory–especially with fluorocarbon–further impairing performance.

By contrast, baitcasters love heavy test, and the in-line spooling really cuts down on memory issues.

Control – In all but the windiest conditions, a baitcasting reel provides greater casting control. Because the spool spins freely–with only your thumb as a brake–experienced bass anglers can cast more accurately and with greater finesse with baitcasting reels. And once your thumb has been educated in the mysteries of the casting reel, it can help you detect bites, too.

Drag – Baitcasting reels offer superior drag systems. Simply put, the star-shaped knob allows for greater drag, more precise settings, and improved smoothness over even the best spinning reels.

Now, this is only true with heavier lines, and with light tackle, spinning reels really come into their own.

Gear ratio – For running buzz baits and other fast-moving presentations, the high gear ratios available on baitcasters just can’t be beat.

What Are the Weaknesses of Baitcasting Tackle?

Baitcasters aren’t in every sense superior, and it’s worth considering where they fall short, too.

Ease-of-use – Spinning reels are simple to use, and there’s a bit of a learning curve with baitcasters. Until you develop some serious thumb mojo, expect bird’s nests!

Light line – Below 10-pound line (or it’s diameter equivalent), spinning reels are going to outperform baitcasters, hands-down. That’s the sweet spot of their design–what they’re intended to do.

Light lures – In contrast to the fixed spool on a spinning reel, baitcasting designs feature a spool that spins to release and retrieve line. The higher the quality, the more frictionless that spool’s movement will be, but physics doesn’t like to be cheated.

As a result, irrespective of the number of bearings, the viscosity of the lubrication, or the materials involved, that spool will generate friction. With very light lures in the range of 1/32 of an ounce, this will noticeably affect casting. That’s why the vast majority of ultralight and light rods wear a spinning reel.

Braid – Counterintuitively, baitcasting reels have a braid problem, especially in small diameters. Even when running superlines that are as fat as 10-pound mono, a hard hookset, a wicked fight, or a firm snag can bury that first spool-wrap of braid, causing a bird’s nest on the next cast.

Wind – Baitcasting spools spin freely, in contrast to the spinning reel’s fixed spool. And when casting a light lure into the wind, that can lead to problems. As the lure meets resistance in the air, it’ll slow down, but the spool is still spinning vigorously.

And what happens when line is coming off the spool faster than the lure is moving? That’s right–real trouble!

What We Look For in an Excellent Baitcasting Reel

Durability

Baitcasting reels tend to be pricey, and nothing is more frustrating on the water than an expensive piece of tackle that stops working after a single season.

The reels we’ll recommend have a well-earned reputation for durability, making the most of your money. And while we’re not beholden to any manufacturers–we tell the truth, good or bad, about every product–three names are worth remembering: Daiwa, Shimano, and Lews.

These three manufacturers are producing some of the best reels I’ve ever used, and if you stop and have a chat on the water with your fellow anglers, chances are, you’ll see these reels on their rods.

Great drag

When you’re fighting a real monster, an awesome drag can is your best friend. And from cushioning hooksets when running a crankbait, to assisting your line with a fish that would otherwise break it, you want smooth and strong to be your watchwords.

For instance, when fishing crankbaits, you may want your drag at a modest 3 to 4 pounds. You’re looking for smooth performance, just a touch of give to prevent you from ripping treble hooks free, especially if you’re not using a glass rod.

But if you’re trying to ensure long-distance hooksets, or dragging bass out of heavy cover, you’ll want to increase your drag settings. No slippage is the name of the game in these situations, though opinions are divided about how much drag is enough.

Many anglers advise that the ⅓ rule always applies: set your drag to ⅓ of the breaking strength of your line. That gives you plenty of power to torque big fish while still protecting your line and rod.

But others don’t agree. Essentially, they argue that they bought high-dollar superlines to use them to their capacity, and when fishing heavy cover, they’ll set the drag to the maximum. At that point, they’re relying on the line, knot, and rod as a solid connection, and the idea is to drag bass from the nasty stuff.

Who’s right?

Well, both camps have solid reasons for what they’re doing. But generally, you won’t need more than 6 to 10 pounds of drag.

But do you need all the torque your truck can deliver?

Awesome casting

A good baitcasting reel has a spool that tries to defy physics. It should spin as freely as mechanically possible, and be paired with slick surfaces for the line to run through, as well. In fact, the proper design of the levelwind (the piece that guides the line on and off the spool) is essential to long casts.

Daiwa’s “T-wing” is famous in fishing circles for its smooth function, but other top manufacturers have their own proprietary designs.

But long casts are useless if they end in bird’s nesting backlash. To help prevent this, many higher-end rods feature magnetic braking systems that apply more pressure as the spool slows, keeping the reel from feeding more line than needed.

When designed and executed by the best, these systems help you cast light lures, work in the wind, and launch your crankbaits into the next county.

Gear ratio

Gear ratio describes how many revolutions of the spool one crank of the handle generates. For instance, a gear ratio of 7.5:1 indicates that one turn of the handle spins the spool 7.5 times. The higher the ratio, the faster the retrieve. This speed is also represented by the number of inches per turn (IPT), for example, 31”. In this case, that would mean that every turn of the handle picks up 31 inches of line!

Fast isn’t always better than slow, but it does offer a bit more versatility. It’s easier to slow your retrieve than to speed it up, and with a little practice, you can ease your natural cadence to match the needs of slower presentations.

The reels we’ve selected are available in a range of ratios, but we’ve chosen to highlight what we think is the sweet spot a 7-speed offers. While probably a little hot for crankbaits and deep divers, it lets you pick up a lot of slack quickly and is pretty much ideal for soft plastics and jigs.

Capacity

Capacity isn’t something to sneer at, especially if you need to strip and cut line while you’re fishing.

The reels we’ve selected are fairly even on this front, though there are standouts. Of course, a larger spool typically translates into a bigger reel, so there are trade-offs.

The capacities we list, for example, 12/120, are measured in mono diameter equivalents and feet.

Weight and “Palmability”

Weight and comfort are critical elements of a good reel. Ideally, your reel pretty much disappears on your rod and in your hand, and a few ounces count.

We’ll note weight and discuss comfort in each of our reviews.

Bearings

Bearing count matters with baitcasting reels, though the standard is just one roller bearing for the spool. The rest are in the innards, making retrieves as slick as icy stairs.

While not an iron-clad rule, more is better. There are exceptions, of course, and the 13 Fishing Concept A demonstrates that less can be more.

Price

Let’s be realistic–you’re going to pay quite a bit more for a good baitcasting reel than you would for a similar spinning model. That’s a fact.

But beyond a moderate price-point, each dollar you spend isn’t buying you a dollar’s worth of extra performance.

We’ve put together a list of mid-range reels that can save you some money while still astounding you with their performance.

Best Bass Fishing Reel Reviews

Lew’s Tournament Pro LFS TP1SHA

LEW'S Fishing Tournament Pro Speed Spool LFS Series, Baitcasting Reel, Fishing Reel, Fishing Gear and Equipment, Fishing Accessories (TP1HA)Amazon 

Weight: 6.4 oz.
Bearings: 11
Material: Aluminum body with C45 carbon sideplates
Max drag: 20 lbs.
Capacity: 12/120
Gear ratio: 7.5:1/ 31”

Lew’s Tournament Pro LFS has been winning fans on the water for quite a while now, and just a few minutes in your hand goes a long way to explaining why.

To begin, the LFS is a remarkably light low-profile reel, virtually disappearing on your rod. And while it’s probably a tad too big to palm for the average angler, it’s shaped just right for all-day comfort.

Casting is simply a dream with this reel, and plenty of anglers rate it better than Daiwa’s Tatula CT Type-R or Shimano’s Curado K. That’s saying something, as this reel comes in quite a few dollars cheaper than either alternative. I’d chalk that smooth performance up to a combination of 11 bearings and a carefully engineered levelwind.

This reel really struts its stuff where others start to suffer: wind casting and light lures. Neither seems to cause dreaded backlashing, and the ability to throw light lures really helps this reel serve the role of an all-arounder. Lew’s awesome 27-point adjustable braking system really does make a difference here, and you can count me impressed!

The LFS features a carbon drag system that runs all the way up to 20 pounds. Smooth, precise, and strong, it’s about as good as they come at any price, and you have plenty of pull for hooksets, no matter how far you’re casting. 20 pounds may be overkill, but like the extra torque in a big truck engine, it’s nice to know it’s there if you need it!

Finally, its solid brass gears are smooth-and they stay that way season after season.

Pros:

  • Awesome casting, even into the wind and with light lures
  • Excellent drag
  • Light and comfortable
  • Incredible durability

Cons:

  • Gives up some capacity to its rivals

Daiwa Tatula CT Type-R TACT-R100

Daiwa Tatula CT Type-R 100HSL 7.3:1 High Speed Left Hand Baitcast - TACT-R100HSLAmazon 

Weight: 7.2 oz.
Bearings: 8
Material: Aluminum
Max drag: 13.2 lbs.
Capacity: 14/120; 16/100
Gear ratio: 7.3:1; 30.5”

Daiwa’s Tatula CT Type-R is an improvement to the Tatula CT of old. That’s awesome news because the old Tatula CT was simply incredible, and upgrading performance–while dropping weight–results in a reel that’s truly game-changing.

The Type-R weighs-in at a svelte 7.2 ounces, with comfortable curves and a palmable size that promises less fatigue when you’re casting all day. But yes, it’s a solid ounce heavier than the LFS, and a beefier reel overall.

Casting performance is awesome, and the Type-R is smooth, smooth, smooth, enabling some very long throws. Their propriety “T-wing” design really works to reduce friction, and with Daiwa’s magnetic braking system, overrun is minimized, as is its attending backlash. That gives me a bit more confidence with long casts, and I’d rate performance as top-notch. That said, I’d give the edge to the Lew’s LFS here, especially on windy days, but not by much.

But casting with light lures is exceptional, and I wouldn’t hesitate to throw the small stuff with this reel.

Daiwa builds a great carbon fiber drag system into this reel, delivering smooth performance down low and a max drag of 13.2 pounds. “Flawless” is the best word to describe its performance. For most anglers, most of the time, that’s more than enough drag to win a tough fight or muscle a monster.

And for a low-profile reel, the little Type-R really packs on some line, easily beating the LFS on this front.

Durability is excellent, and it’s easy to find anglers who’ve been fishing the same Daiwa reel for years.

Pros:

  • Awesome casting
  • Excellent drag
  • Light and comfortable
  • Excellent capacity
  • Incredible durability

Cons:

  • Maybe not as good on windy days as the Lew’s LFS?

Shimano Curado K CU200HGK

Shimano CURADO K, LowProfile Baitcasting Freshwater Fishing Reel, 200K, High GearAmazon 

Weight: 7.6 oz.
Bearings: 7
Material: Graphite
Max drag: 11 lbs.
Capacity: 8/180, 10/155, 14/110
Gear ratio: 7.4:1; 31”

Shimano’s reels are legendary, and the Curado K Series is among the best of the bunch. I know anglers who’ve dumped Chronarchs for the Curado K–it’s that good!

Much of Shimano’s reputation on the water can be attributed to just how buttery smooth each and every one of their reels are. But the Curado K is a step-up in this department, and with fine-grained adjustments on the spool control knob, it’s pretty much in a class all its own. I’m not exaggerating–its performance is that good.

That translates into some of the best casting I’ve ever had. From ultra-long distances to very light lures, it was simply amazing. On this front, I don’t think it can be matched at its price point, and more than one angler is thinking about swapping more expensive reels for the moderately-priced Curado K!

The Curado can’t match the Daiwa or Lew’s on weight, even with a graphite frame. So if you’re looking for a reel that simply disappears, you might want to consider another option. Indeed, of the offerings on our list, only the Abu Garcia weighs more, but the Curado does pack-on a lot of line.

The Curado K’s drag is excellent, too, making full use of the SVS Infinity system that allows precise micro-adjustments. I’d like to see a bit more power in the drag system, especially for anglers who run stout rods and heavy superlines. But 11 pounds isn’t a max I’d dismiss, and following the ⅓ rule, you could run 33-pound braid, no sweat, and have plenty of muscle for a fight.

It comes as no surprise that the Curado K will really last, and you can expect many years of service from this reel.

Pros:

  • Awesome casting
  • Excellent drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Incredible durability

Cons:

  • Not particularly light

13 Fishing Concept A A8.1-RH

13 Fishing Concept A7.3 7BB Aluminum Frame/Carbon Side Plates ReelAmazon 

Weight: 6.8 oz.
Bearings: 6
Material: Aluminum
Max drag: 22 lbs.
Capacity: 12/110
Gear ratio: 7.3:1; 28.9”

13 Fishing is a relative newcomer to the bass market, but their Concept A reel is already converting anglers from the cult of Daiwa/Lew’s/Shimano.

Lighter than any of the reels we reviewed except the Lew’s, this is another option that simply disappears on your rod all day. It’s sized right to palm, too, and a worthy rival of the LFS on this front.

And despite giving up bearings to the competition, this is a very, very smooth reel, coming in a close second to the Shimano Curado K. That says a lot in our book, and a few casts will speak volumes. From light lures to wind, the Concept A just keeps casting, minimizing backlash even when you really should expect some. Chalk that up to an incredible braking system.

Distance is simply awesome, too.

That palmable size means that something’s got to give, and in this case, it’s capacity. While still plenty for most anglers, the Concept A isn’t leading the pack here. That noted, its drag is exceptional–perhaps even the best of the bunch! Offering super-smooth performance and no-slip weights up to 22 pounds, it just might be my first choice if I know I’m fishing soft plastics with plenty of line between my rod and my hook. And for muscling brutes, I can’t think of a better reel.

That’s a lot to like in a reel, and we really do think the Concept A is giving the big boys a run for their money!

Pros:

  • Awesome casting, even into the wind and with light lures
  • Maybe the best drag of the bunch
  • Light and comfortable

Cons:

  • We don’t know much about durability at this point
  • Capacity suffers a touch to keep this reel small

Abu Garcia Revo SX REVO4 SX-HS

Abu Garcia 1430429 Revo SX Low Profile Baitcasting Reel, 7.3: 1 Gear Ratio, 30' Retrieve Rate, 24 lb Max Drag, 10 Bearings, Right HandAmazon 

Weight: 7.83 oz.
Bearings: 10
Material: Aluminum body with C6 carbon sideplates
Max drag: 24 lbs.
Capacity: 10/175, 12/145, 15/100
Gear ratio: 7.3:1; 30”

Abu Garcia is a household name where I come from, and whether you fish largemouth or reds, fresh or salt, you know you can count on top-notch quality. It’s even “rumored” that the AGs are made at the same factory as the Lew’s. Whatever the truth of the matter, one thing’s for sure: the Revo SX reels are a fantastic option for the serious bass fisherman.

Abu Garcia equips these reels with its Mag Trax brake, a magnetic centrifugal system that works like a charm. That, plus a very smooth spool, and a virtually frictionless surface for line feeding, equals very long casts with little to no chance of a backlash. The Abu Garcia, while admirably smooth, probably lags just a touch behind its competitors. But bear in mind just how awesome those others are: many anglers think this is among the finest they’ve fished.

Performance with light lures is excellent, but I’d still give the nod to the Lew’s or the Daiwa if I’m planning on casting small stuff or throwing into the wind.

The Revo SX has been upgraded to include Abu Garcia’s Power Stack Carbon Matrix Drag, an awesome system that delivers smooth performance and incredible power. And with a maximum drag setting of 24 pounds, you won’t risk losing a tug of war with a brute!

Solid brass gears have replaced the earlier model’s aluminum innards, too, resulting in greater durability and better feel.

All-in-all, Abu Garcia’s Revo SX series is a worthy addition to this list, and a solid all-around choice.

Pros:

  • Awesome casting
  • Excellent drag with a very heavy maximum
  • Excellent capacity
  • Incredible durability

Cons:

  • Not particularly light
  • Not quite as smooth as the competitors, but still very good

Final Thoughts

These reels are so good–so uniformly excellent–that picking a “best” product just doesn’t make sense.

From smooth casting to comfort, backlash control to quality drag, each and every one delivers in spades. They’ve got the strength, speed, casting, and no-nonsense performance anglers crave, and I’d fish them all without a second thought.

The Lew’s is probably the best for windy days and light lures, but the Daiwa is damn close. For casting distance, I’d probably give the nod to the Shimano or the 13 Fishing Concept A. For capacity and drag, the Revo SX or the Daiwa are probably your top picks.

How would I choose?

I’d wait for a sale or discount, look for a good deal, and pick up a few on this list. I’d put them on the same rod, assess how they feel in my hand, and pick the one I liked best.

It’s that simple.

Please leave a comment below–we’d love to hear from you!

Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on reddit

Leave a Comment