Catching musky is one of the most enjoyable types of fishing you can partake in. While muskies make a great meal, reeling them in is extremely fun and just as satisfying! However, if you’re not armed with the best tools for the job, fishing them can quickly get aggravating.
Picking the right rod, bait, and line are all very important factors in determining how well you do on the water. However, the one piece of equipment that’s most important to your experience is an exceptional musky fishing reel.
Below, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of the best musky reels we think could be just right for any aspiring or veteran musky anglers.
- Shimano Tranx TRX500PG – Our Pick!
- Abu Garcia Revo Toro Beast T2 BST50
- Shimano Calcutta D CT400D
- Daiwa LEXA-WN400PWR-P
- Zebco Big Cat XT
- KastKing Rover 70
Table of Contents
- 1 Criteria for Choosing a Musky Reel
- 2 Reviews
- 3 Our Pick – The Shimano Tranx TRX500PG!
Criteria for Choosing a Musky Reel
Not all fishing reels are created equal. Serious musky anglers know the only real way to land such an aggressive fish is with an equally strong reel. This means you should be using a baitcasting reel, as they’re able to withstand even the toughest fights.
Sure, you can land muskies with other types of reels, but why hamper your success with an inferior tool for the job? That will lead to nothing but frustration, anger, and heartbreak.
We’re going to look at some more crucial elements for selecting a proper reel for musky fishing. Below are the things we’ll be looking for when reviewing the best musky reels on the market.
Muskies are large, tough fish, and thus require gear that can handle the rigors of landing them. The reel takes the most abuse, as fighting one of these monsters can be extremely strenuous.
This means not all reels are fit for the job. Sure, you could catch one on an old Zebco passed down from your grandfather, but the chances of it getting destroyed from the sheer force of the fish or the giant lures you’ll be casting are pretty high.
You want a rugged, tough reel that can withstand the force of a battle with that trophy musky when you set the hook. You shouldn’t have to worry about a hardware malfunction at that point, just landing your prize!
Gear ratios range from around 4.6:1 to over 8.1:1. What does this mean? The first digit indicates the number of rotations the spool (the part of the reel that holds the line) makes per a single full turn of the reel’s handle. Therefore, a reel with a gear ratio of 5.1:1 will have the spool rotate 5.1 times per single, complete turn of the reels handle.
The lower the gear ratio’s first number is, the slower the reel can retrieve. This often comes with a much higher torque power, meaning you’ll put less energy into retrieving your bait.
Different gear ratios also have different use cases. So while you may use a nice, fast reel in one instance, you may need a slower, more methodical ratio for another.
Having a reel with a gear ratio in the 5:1 – 5.7:1 range is ideal for catching musky. They’re relatively large fish that pack a lot of punch, so being able to drag them in with precision and strength is more important than trying to retrieve them quickly.
Line Retrieve Per Crank
This number, specified in inches, will tell you exactly how far you can retrieve your line with a single turn of the handle. This number is important, as it lets you know how much work you’ll have to put in to retrieve your lure or land a hooked fish.
With the lower gear ratios of baitcasting reels used for musky fishing, the retrieval rate will generally be slower than the speedier reels on the market.
This specification is tested with a full spool of line on the reel. Keeping your reel full will allow this number to stay consistent and your reel to feel the same all the time.
Muskies have a large diversity in their weight, ranging from 15-36 pounds. This means you’ll need a line weight that can handle that large of a fish pulling and stressing it. We suggest, ideally, that you fish with around 80 lb. line to ensure your line is strong enough to handle even the largest musky.
In general, you can be confident that 80 lb. fishing line will be able to withstand the monstrous lures you’ll use for catching muskies. A common misconception is “65 lb. test line will be fine,” when in actuality, anything under 80 lb. can break with a hard enough cast.
As crucial as line weight is to catching a musky, the amount of line you’re able to put in your reel is equally as important. You want to make sure you’re able to load up at least 140 yards of 80 lb. test line for optimal fishing.
If you’re not able to hold a sufficient amount of line in your reel, you could be looking at disaster! If you’re in a battle trying to land a musky and the fish takes off, it could easily run out your line and snap or fray it. No one likes to lose a fish, especially like that!
Right or Left Handed
The last criteria we believe is important is the handedness of the reel. If you’re left-handed, you’ll most certainly want to find a reel that’s made with you in mind! While the choices are more limited, it’ll raise your enjoyment level exponentially to have a reel that fits your body correctly.
There are many things to consider when buying a new reel for musky fishing. While most of the baitcasting reels we’ll be reviewing here are very similar, they do have minor differences worth noting.
Picking the right reel could make the difference between landing a musky and having it snap your line and swim away. To help you make the best decision for your needs, we’ve reviewed some of the top musky reels on the market.
Shimano Tranx TRX500PG – Our Pick!
Gear Ratio: 4.6:1
Line Retrieve Per Crank: 30 in.
Max Drag: 25 lbs
The Shimano Tranx is a beautiful and functional reel, and we were absolutely blown away by it. With a low gear ratio of 4.6:1, it works extremely well for musky fishing. Combine that with a relatively quick speed given its low ratio, and it makes the perfect musky reel.
Fishing with the Tranx can be described with one word: smooth. From the effortless casting to the quiet retrieval, the reel flat out performs.
It’s on the heavier side at 20 ounces, but the reason for this is the solid build quality. With an attractive metal exterior, combined with CoreProtect water-resistant technology, you don’t have to worry about this tank of a reel wearing out any time soon.
You can feel the quality and innovation Shimano put into the Tranx from the moment you put it in your hands. It trumps everything else on this list, and is truly our favorite reel for musky fishing!
- Premium metal construction
- Fast retrieve rate for the gear ratio
- High-end water resistant-technology
- Smooth casting and retrieving
- On the heavier side
Gear Ratio: 4.9:1
Line Retrieve Per Crank: 24 in.
Max Drag: 25 lbs
The Abu Garcia Revo Toro Beast has everything you could ask for in a baitcasting reel for musky fishing. With a gear ratio of 4.9:1 and a solid 24-inch line retrieve distance per crank, it’s both smooth and easy to handle.
Casting with the Abu Garcia Revo Toro Beast is a nice experience, overall. There does seem to be a touch of friction on the cast, but it can still send your lure out a long distance without issue.
With a metal alloy construction and a noticeably light weight of 13.58 ounces, the Abu Garcia feels premium without being overly heavy. The metal alloy also helps the reel to be corrosion-resistant.
Like Shimano, Abu Garcia is known for their amazing baitcasting reels. The Revo Toro Beast is another fine reel from the company, and an excellent pick for musky fishing.
- Lightweight metal construction
- Smooth casting
- There’s a bit of friction when casting
Gear Ratio: 5.1:1
Line Retrieve Per Crank: 27 in.
Max Drag: 15 lbs
We tested out another Shimano reel, the Calcutta D CT400D. This is another fantastic option for musky fishing, and we were impressed by its quality.
With a Gear ratio of 5.1:1, it falls perfectly into our “musky zone.” Featuring a retrieve rate of 27 inches per crank, it shows itself to be an all-around performer.
The max drag is a bit underwhelming at only 15 pounds, but it’s a light reel that comes in at 11.8 ounces. That’s a bit of a trade-off, but the lighter weight certainly helps with handling.
The reel is metal, and feels extremely sturdy. It feels premium in the hand, and the ergonomics are decent.
- Perfect gear ratio
- Nice build quality
- Max drag only 15 pounds
Gear Ratio: 5.1:1
Line Retrieve Per Crank: 27 in.
Max Drag: 25 lbs
The Daiwa LEXA Type-WN is a high-performing reel that holds up extremely well when taking on the rigors of musky fishing.
Having a “perfect” gear ratio of 5.1:1 and a respectable 27-inch retrieve rate per crank, the Daiwa is definitely up to the task. The fact that it offers a robust, 25-pound drag is another great positive.
The Daiwa reel has an awesome feel when casting. We didn’t experience any hitches or friction, just a smooth cast from start to finish.
Coming in at a weight of 16.2 ounces, the reel is not overly heavy and was extremely easy to handle. The metal construction has a very premium, robust feel.
When we took the reel apart, we noticed it was a bit low on the greasing around the gears. We remedied that issue quickly, though, and experienced no additional problems. The reel didn’t feel bad before we greased it, but it could affect the longevity of the internals.
You certainly should not overlook this reel. It’s easy to grab the Abu Garcias or the Shimanos, but the Daiwa LEXA Type-WN is an exceptional reel that you should consider for your musky excursions.
- Perfect 5.1:1 gear ratio
- Metal construction
- Lacks sufficient lubrication
Gear Ratio: 4.2:1
Line Retrieve Per Crank: 29 in.
Max Drag: 17 lbs
Weight: 18.4 oz
You’re more likely to see the name Zebco connected to beginner fishing rods in the middle of the aisle at your local Walmart. However, the Big Cat XT is a very capable reel for not just catching catfish–which it’s named for–but also snagging muskies!
With a low gear ratio of 4.2:1 and a rather speedy retrieve rate of 29 inches per crank, the Zebco certainly performs well enough for most fishermen. The max drag comes in at 17 pounds, which is middle of the road in our tests.
The Big Cat XT may not be the most elegant reel, but it sure casts a mile! We didn’t have any issues raring back and sending our lures for a ride. This one is a real pleasure to cast.
The body of the reel is made out of graphite. While you would think it would be a lighter alternative to the metal construction seen on other reels in this list, that’s not the case. The Zebco Big Cat XT weighs in at 18.4 ounces, which is on the heavier end of the reels we tested.
- Long cast distance
- Fast retrieve rate
- Graphite construction
Gear Ratio: 4.2:1
Line Retrieve Per Crank: 23.2 in.
Max Drag: 15.5 lbs
KastKing isn’t a household name when it comes to fishing reels, but in the case of the Rover 70, it should be–at least for musky anglers.
The performance numbers stack up with the bigger brands, with a gear ratio of 4.2:1 and a retrieve per crank rate at 23.2 inches. I’d say this is one of the bigger downsides of this reel, as it does take a while to retrieve. The max drag is perfectly acceptable at 15.5 pounds, enough for most applications.
Casting the KastKing Rover 70 was mediocre. While the cast feels nice and smooth, it doesn’t seem to be able to keep pace with the other reels when it comes to casting distance.
The metal construction of this reel feels great. That feature does come with the cost of being the second heaviest option on this list, but ergonomically, it feels fine. Overall, the added weight isn’t extremely noticeable.
Don’t let the name on this one fool you. The KastKing Rover 70 is a great reel and competes well with the more popular reels on the market.
- All metal construction
- Smooth casting and retrieval
- Short casting distance
- Slow retrieval rate
Our Pick – The Shimano Tranx TRX500PG!
There are tons of reels that meet our criteria for a good musky fishing reel. However, the Shimano Tranx TRX500PG is the most complete.
While we believe that any of the reels on this list are capable of being used for an enjoyable musky fishing trip, the Shimano Tranx stands out as the highest quality build of them all. But it isn’t all about what’s on the outside. The reel also sports some fantastic features that will save you frustration on the water.
Whichever reel you choose from the ones we tested, you won’t be disappointed. There are tradeoffs in certain instances between weight, ergonomics, and features. We made certain that these tradeoffs did not detract from the overall fishing experience.
Choose wisely, the muskies are out there waiting to be caught!