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Best Reel for Walleye Fishing – 2020 Buying Guide & Reviews

For northern anglers, walleye fishing is nothing less than a right of passage and an integral aspect of their life in the outdoors. A popular game fish throughout their native range, fishermen chase walleye in every season, using methods like trolling, casting jigs, spinners, and soft baits, and suspending live bait under slip floats.

There are plenty of good ways to catch walleye, but they all depend on the right rod and reel. And whether you’re casting or trolling, that decision can make or break your efforts.

What’s the best walleye reel? What separates a good trolling reel from one designed for casting? What separates an exceptional reel from the rest?

If you have questions, we have answers.

Best Walleye Reels

Casting: Spinning Reels

Trolling: Conventional Reels

Walleye Reel Reviews

Casting: Spinning Reels

Cadence CS8Our Pick!

Cadence CS8 Spinning Reel, Ultralight Fast Speed Premium Magnesium Frame Fishing Reel with 10 Low Torque Bearings Super Smooth Powerful Fishing Reel with 36 LBs Max Drag & 6.2:1 Spinning Reel
Amazon 

CS8-2000

Drag: 16 lbs. maximum
Gear ratio: 6.2:1 (32” per turn)
Line capacity: 6/160
Bearings: 9 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 7.3 oz.

CS8-3000
Drag: 19 lbs. maximum
Gear ratio: 6.2:1 (35” per turn)
Line capacity: 10/150
Bearings: 9 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 7.4 oz.

The CS8 series is a welcome addition to the walleye angling market, offering high-end performance at a price point that’s more reasonable than you’d expect. Serious competitors for established names like Shimano and Pflueger, these reels are an option no fisherman should ignore.

The CS8 series offers two sizes of reel that are ideal for walleye: the 2000 and 3000.

The 2000 is just right–holding 160 yards of 6-pound mono. At just 7.3 ounces, it slides under the comparable Pflueger on the scale, while delivering a bit more capacity to boot.

The 3000 is there for anglers who really like monofilament, or for that rare breed who just can’t get enough braid on the spool. And the awesome news is that it’s just .1 ounces –that’s right!– heavier than the 2000, offering a capacity to weight ratio that the competition just can’t touch.

The drag on the CS8-series is excellent, and it uses a series of carbon fiber discs to create line tension. Actuated by a knob on the end of the spool, both reel sizes deliver silky smooth control with zero slippage or binding. In fact, at its price point, I don’t think the Cadence CS-8 has a serious rival in terms of drag quality.

The crank is no less impressive, and the bail opens and closes flawlessly. And for left-handed anglers, be aware that the crank position is reversible.

Both reels are geared to a ratio of 6.2:1, with the smaller 2000 picking up 32 inches of line and the larger 3000 fully 35 inches of line per turn. That’s pretty fast for a spinning reel this size, and if I were chasing big, mean walleye, that’s the kind of speed I’d be looking for.

Overall, the CS-8 is a very, very good reel, demonstrating why Cadence is crushing its competitors.

Pros:

  • Excellent value for the price
  • Excellent drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Excellent casting
  • Blazing retrieve!
  • Silky-smooth operation
  • Very light-weight

Cons:

  • Cadence isn’t telling us about the gearing material

Pflueger President

Pflueger PRESSP30X President Spinning Fishing Reel
Amazon 

PRESSP30X

Drag: 10 lbs. maximum
Gear ratio: 5.2:1 (25.3” per turn)
Line capacity: 255/4, 145/6, 130/8
Bearings: 9 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 8.8 oz.

PRESSP35X

Drag: 12 lbs. maximum
Gear ratio: 5.2:1 (28.1” per turn)
Line capacity: 230/6, 185/8, 155/10
Bearings: 9 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 10.7 oz.

Pflueger has a hard-won reputation for excellent reels, and plenty of walleye anglers swear by the President. Redesigned in 2011 to reduce body weight, these relatively inexpensive reels provide respectable performance at a very reasonable price.

The size 30 and 35 reels are about right for walleye, providing the capacity anglers need. The 30 might be a tad small, but for fishermen concerned about weight, its svelte 8.8 ounces just might be ideal.

The 35 is certainly more capacious, holding 85 more yards of 6-pound line at a gain of only two ounces or so.

Both offer a 5.2:1 gear ratio, though spool sizes result in different retrieval rates. The 30 provides 25.3 inches per turn, while the larger 35 pulls in just over 28. Whether that’s a substantial difference is mostly in the mind of the angler, I think, and I’ll leave you to be the judge.

Performance is very nice. The bail opens and closes well, and casting with light lines is excellent. The 30 is built around 6-pound mono diameters, while the 35 handles 8-pound mono diameter line with aplomb. Here, I’d make my choice based on the size line I usually throw.

The drag on these reels is quite nice, as well. Factory sealed to prevent water intrusion, they deliver smooth tension with no skips, stops, or problems.

Nine bearings make cranking the handle satisfyingly smooth, and the instant anti-reverse bearing works flawlessly and holds tight.

I like both of these Pflueger Presidents a lot, and given their reputation on the water, I can recommend them with no reservations.

Pros:

  • Great value for the price
  • Great drag
  • Excellent casting
  • Good retrieval rates
  • Good capacity, especially in the size 35

Cons:

  • Not as smooth as more expensive options
  • Heavier than more expensive options

Shimano Ultegra

SHIMANO ULTEGRA Freshwater Spinning Fishing Reel
Amazon 

ULT2500HGFB

Drag: 20 lbs. maximum
Gear ratio: 6.0:1 (35” per turn)
Line capacity: 6/200, 8/140, 10/120
Bearings: 5 + 1 roller bearing
Weight: 8.47 oz.

Shimano’s name is essentially a synonym for quality, and though not every reel they’ve produced is a winner (I’m looking at you, Sedona), the Ultegra sets the bar pretty high for walleye. Indeed, legions of anglers are Shimano fans, and it’s easy to see why.

The 2500-size is the best walleye fit in the Ultegra line-up, falling just under the Cadence CS-8 3000 in size and capacity. Holding plenty of 6- to 8-pound mono diameter line, there’s no question about whether you’ll have enough to cut line when necessary and still fish all day.

That said, the Ultegra does give up a few ounces to the larger CS-8 3000, tilting my recommendation toward the Cadence.

Shimano’s drag systems are typically very, very smooth, and the Ultegra series is just what you’d expect. From light to heavy settings, drag performance is reliably even. Cranking is smooth, too, no doubt due to Shimano’s Hagane all-metal gearing. They also have included a waterproofing seal around the gearing, a step in the direction of increased durability.

Offered with a high-speed gearing (designated by the HG) of 6.0:1, the Ultegra picks up 35 inches per turn, a blazing retrieve that holds neck-and-neck with the Cadence.

Is this the best spinning reel on our list? It just might be, but it’s also twice the price of the Cadence. If all-metal, sealed gearing is important to you, that price might be justified. If not, I’d spend my money on the Cadence.

Pros:

  • Excellent drag
  • Excellent capacity
  • Excellent casting
  • Blazing retrieve!
  • Silky-smooth operation
  • Hagane solid-bronze teeth
  • Sealed gearing

Cons:

  • The most expensive reel on our list
  • Slightly heavier than the CS-8 3000 for less line capacity

Trolling: Conventional Reels

Shimano TekotaOur Pick!

Shimano Tekota 700 Saltwater Star Drag Fishing Reel
Amazon 

300LC

Gear ratio: 4.2:1
RPT: 25” per turn
Capacity: 12/275,14/220,16/185
Maximum drag: 18 lbs.
Bearings: 3 + 1
Weight: 14.3 oz.

If you spend a day on the Great Lakes, trolling for walleye, there’s a good chance you’ll see Shimano’s Tekota in action. A popular choice among serious anglers, the Tekota delivers the performance modern trolling demands.

Only the smallest Tekota is appropriate for walleye: the 300LC (the LC indicates that this model is equipped with a line counter).

Unlike some of Shimano’s higher-end reels, the Tekota’s body is understated, combining graphite and aluminum to keep weight down, while skipping the bright gold trim that’s a hallmark of the company. For offshore applications, that additional graphite isn’t desirable, as fish weighing hundreds of pounds are going to stress the body of a reel to breaking.

But for walleye, that’s just not an issue, and the weight reduction is a nice touch.

Capacity is excellent, dwarfing comparable spinning reels as you’d expect. Keep in mind that a small conventional reel–and the 300-size Tekota is small–is still made to catch big fish. And it’s clear why you’d be able to run more than 500 yards of 6-pound line.

For fans of mono–and many fishermen who troll are–that’s good news. Stepping up to 8-pound test will still leave you with massive lengths of line, and the level wind on the Tekota will help to distribute your mono across the spool.

The 300LC features an accurate, easy-to-use line counter, allowing anglers to control their depth precisely. That’s a big deal if trolling is your go-to technique, and it would tilt the scales decidedly in favor of a conventional reel for me.

The Tekota is geared to 4.2:1. Featuring solid bronze gears, it’s got power to spare, allowing you to turn the head of even the biggest walleye and keep her where you want her. A 25-inch per turn retrieve is nothing to write home about, but it’s enough to keep a tight line.

Despite just four bearings–one dedicated to anti-reverse–the Tekota is plenty smooth. The crank, while not silky, spins easily and transmits torque with the best of them. It’s definitely a step-up from even the best spinning reels in terms of power and competence in a fight.

The Tekota’s drag system is excellent, as you’d expect from Shimano. Eighteen pounds is overkill for walleye, but then, this reel was built to handle bigger fish than that, too. At the lighter settings you’ll be using, the drag releases line well, maintaining steady, constant tension. And if you have trouble keeping your lures from taking line, you can always increase drag until they stay put!

Overall, a close look at the Tekota ably justifies its popularity among walleye anglers.

Pros:

  • Excellent, lightweight body
  • Massive capacity for walleye
  • Smooth, powerful cranking
  • All-metal gearing
  • Effective level wind
  • Accurate line counter
  • Nice drag

Cons:

  • The 4.2:1 gear ratio is a touch on the slow end, but still plenty for walleye

Okuma Cold Water Linecounter

Okuma Cold Water Linecounter Trolling Reel CW-303D
Amazon 

CW-153D

Gear ratio: 5.1:1
RPT: 23” per turn
Capacity: 10/330, 12/290, 14/240
Maximum drag: 13 lbs.
Bearings: 2 + 1
Weight: 14.6 oz.

Okuma’s Cold Water Linecounter series, as its name suggests, was designed from the ground-up for fish like walleye, steelhead, and lake trout.

Okuma isn’t forthcoming about the body material on the Cold Water, and I’d guess it’s aluminum and graphite. Build quality is not on par with the more expensive Shimano Tekota, but then, the Tekota was designed for sailfish, tuna, and shark, among other large, hard-fighting species. That’s not necessarily a knock against the Cold Water, but it’s something I think you should know going in.

Capacity is excellent, and the Okuma offers a big spool–especially if you’re used to spinning reels! With space to spare, stepping up to 8-pound mono is no problem, and even anglers running 10-pound mono will find space for 330 yards of line. This reel has a nice level wind with plenty of room for any line you might choose; it’ll be especially helpful if you run mono, however.

The Cold Water offers solid-brass gearing at a ratio of 5.1:1, picking up 23 inches of line per turn. That’s not terribly quick for that gear ratio and spool size, but it’s just enough to keep a tight line on a big walleye. Cranking power is excellent, and you’ll find plenty of reassuring torque in a fight.

Its drag is pretty good, providing 13 pounds of maximum braking, and allowing line to slip smoothly at lower settings. You probably won’t use the max it offers, but it’s nice to know it’s there if you have problems with your lures falling behind while trolling.

And of course, there’s an accurate line counter, allowing precise control of depth for precision trolling.

Overall, the Okuma Cold Water is a solid reel for walleye, but probably not in the same league as the Tekota.

Pros:

  • Lightweight body
  • Massive capacity for walleye
  • Smooth, powerful cranking
  • All-metal gearing
  • Effective level wind
  • Accurate line counter
  • Good drag

Cons:

  • RPT is a bit slow, just enough for walleye
  • Not as durable as the Tekota

What We Consider When Selecting a Walleye Reel

Casting, Trolling, or Both?

Your chosen techniques are one factor governing reel choice.

If you plan to cast jigs, spinners, soft baits, and the like, you’ll probably want to equip yourself with an appropriately-sized spinning reel. Easy to cast in the nasty, windy conditions walleye love, they’re proven tech everywhere from the Great Lakes to Missouri.

But if you plan to troll, you’ll want greater precision than a spinning reel can provide, and it’s best to turn to conventional reels that feature a line counter. Sized right for walleye, the best of the bunch will allow you to more precisely control your trolling depth.

In a pinch, both spinning and conventional tackle can handle it all, but it pays to align your reel choice with what you’ll be doing most.

Walleye Line, Capacity, and Drag

Walleye don’t demand particularly heavy line, and for the most part, 6- to 8-pound tests will get it done as main line.

Tony Roach, a pro walleye angler, usually runs 6-pound braid connected to a 10- to 12-pound fluorocarbon leader with a double uni. That fluorocarbon helps attract line-shy fish and facilitates break-offs when his jigs get hung-up.

However, he’s willing to step up when abrasion is a risk. As he explains, “In lakes that are infested with zebra mussels, though, I upsize to 8-pound braided line and up to a 14-pound leader. It stands up much better to the abuse.”

But don’t forget about mono, especially for trolling and slip floats. Being less abrasive, the mono runs more easily through a float. And when trolling, its cushioning effect helps load the rod for more positive hooksets.

Whichever you choose, a good walleye reel should be sized to hold about 150 yards of 6-pound mono. A little more or less is ok, but you can skip the monster offshore reels as well as the ultralights.

Drag

The drag is the heart of pretty much any reel, and that’s as true for walleye as it is for anything else.

Walleye don’t demand heavy line, and that means that you need a reliable, smooth drag that works well on the low-end. Maximum drag settings aren’t that important–you’ll never be cranking the drag down to that point. Instead, it’s important to assess how well the drag functions at (approximately) 2, 3, and 4-pound settings.

Generally, you’ll be setting your drag to about ⅓ the tensile strength of your line, and a walleye reel with a good drag should release line smoothly–no binding or skipping–whether you’re running 6-pound mono or 12-pound braid.

Gear Ratios

A reel’s gear ratio is a measure of how many turns of the spool are produced by each crank. For instance, a gear ratio of 6.0:1 indicates that each turn of the crank spins the spool six times.

This matters when you’re fishing the bottom, casting to cover lots of water, or fighting a big walleye that’s turned toward your boat.

In the first two instances, high gear ratios and fast retrieval rates save time. But in a fight, a gear ratio that can keep your line tight is critical.

I look for reels that deliver no less than 24 inches per turn, whatever their gear ratio.

Final Thoughts

Which style reel is best for you is something only you know. If you predominantly troll for walleye, a conventional reel is the best bet. But if you throw jigs and other lures, or run live bait under a slip float, I’d select a spinning reel.

Within these broad categories, you have plenty of solid choices, and all of the options on our list will deliver the performance you demand.

That said, if I were in the market for a spinning reel for walleye, I’d pick the Cadence CS-8 in either the 2000 or 3000 size. A remarkable reel for the money, it almost closes the performance gap with the much more expensive Shimano Ultegra. You’ll find the Cadence offers the capacity, speed, and drag to help you catch more fish, as well as the casting performance required by the nasty weather walleye love.

For trolling, the clear choice is the Shimano Tekota–as plenty of walleye anglers already know. There are many conventional reels out there, but most are simply too big–too much reel–for walleye.

The Tekota, while still overbuilt for them, is a top-flight choice for walleye, offering unbelievable line capacity, an excellent drag, and plenty of speed. If that wasn’t enough, its body is built real-world tough, and nothing you hook on the Great Lakes is going to be a problem for this reel. Finally, an accurate line counter seals the deal, making this an ideal pick for precision trolling.

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