Finding the Best Spinning Reel for Catfishing

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Catfishing is a highly popular type of freshwater angling, but in many cases inexperienced anglers end up spending excessive cash in its pursuit. The popularity of this pastime is such that many of the top reel manufacturers offer dedicated products for it, leading to a good amount of confusion among newbies as to which one is the best catfish spinning reel for them.

I acquired a taste for catfish angling two summers past, while on vacation in Fargo, North Dakota. It is challenging, but also very rewarding, so in spite of an initial setback because I was packing the wrong gear, I resolved to do some homework, as well as a bit of trial and error practice, in order to find the right reel.

This guide is the summation of my research into the matter, and I have written it in the hopes of helping you pick a suitable spinning reel for catching catfish.

Best Catfish Spinning Reel Comparisons

Model

Weight
(oz.)

Build
Material

Bearing
Count

Our Rating

Okuma Avenger ABF 90 Spinning Reel

Okuma Avenger ABF 90

27.5

Graphite / Aluminum

6 + 1

Okuma Coronado CD-80a Spinning Reel

Okuma Coronado CD-80a

24.7

Graphite / Aluminum

4 + 1

Shimano Baitrunner D BTR1200D

Shimano Baitrunner D BTR12000D

30

Graphite / Aluminum

3 + 1

Yoshikawa Baitfeeder Spinning Reel 6000

Yoshikawa Baitfeeder 6000

18.6

Graphite / Aluminum

10 + 1

Daiwa BG90 Black Gold Spin Reel

Daiwa BG90 Black Gold

30.9

Aluminum

3

Spinning reels vs. Baitcasting reels and Spincast reels for catfish angling

It is sensible to objectively discuss this debate before moving on to the specific features you need to look for in catfish spinning reels:

  • Spincast reels
  • Baitcasting reels
  • Spinning reels
Plueger® President® Spinning Reel 6930

These reels strike a nice balance between user-friendliness and core performance, so they’re geared towards both beginners and professionals. Thanks to recent innovations in build materials and drag systems used in spinning reels, it is very much possible to find a reel that can go head-to-head alongside a mainstream baitcaster, while also remaining considerably easier to operate.

The major issues with using these reels for catfish angling is the somewhat limited selection of tackle as compared to baitcasters (they are still the most popular ones among pros, remember), and the fact that there’s an upper limit to the size of catfish you can catch.

When all's said and done though, spinning reels are still the go-to choice for anglers who want an easy, enjoyable experience catching reasonably bulky catfish in freshwater lakes, channels, and rivers etc., without having to fine tune their casting skills to perfection.

Species of Catfish

It is important to know beforehand the species of catfish you’ll be fishing for – there three major species of catfish (“the big three”) in North America: channel catfish, blue catfish and flathead catfish.

Channel catfish

Channel Catfish

One of the most sought after species of fish in North America, channel catfish dwell in larger lakes, reservoirs, streams and rivers, with a relatively slow current. They are characterized by their forked tails, and seldom exceed more than 30lbs. in mass.

This makes them the most suitable prey for spinning reels whose drag systems lie in the sub-25lbs. range.

Blue catfish

Blue Catfish

Native to big rivers such as Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio, and extending as far as Texas and Mexico, these are one of the most massive catfish in North America: having a 50 pounder bite your hook is a distinct possibility, and all but the strongest spinning reels will not be able to survive these encounters for long.

Flathead catfish

Flathead Catfish

Another bulky catfish species that is abundantly available in North American waters, the flathead is a popular trophy catch, and can exceed 100 lbs. in mass. In other words, you’ll need to spend some cash on a heavy-duty spinning reel (25+ lbs. of max. drag) if you hope to catch one successfully.

Build material

Yoshikawa Baitfeeder Spinning Reel 6000

While carbon fiber and composite materials are all the rage right now, catfish angling requires reels that are built like titans – this means a metal frame (aluminum and/or graphite) and metal handle that can weather the force exerted by powerful fish, and can easily work with heavy baits and lines.

If it can’t be helped, a spool made of plastic can be allowed but be prepared for looking for a replacement after the reel has been used for a while.

Drag systems – the stronger (and smoother) the better

The discussion above should have gotten across the point that even the lightest catfish are bulky compared to other species. Bulky fish will put up more of a fight once you start reeling them in, and in order to bring them in, you’ll need to use heavy braided line. If your reel’s maximum drag limit is too light, a monster catfish (70 lbs. +), may pull out too much line, or even break it and escape!

At the very least, you should consider a reel with a 20lbs. max drag output – and this will only be good enough for catching moderately sized channel catfish! If you’re interested in competitive catfish angling where the catch can go beyond the 70 lbs. mark, you’ll need to get closer to the 30 lbs. mark for your reel’s drag.

Besides the rating of the drag system, you should also keep an eye out on the type of drag washers used in the reel. Felt washers, common with cheaper reels, won’t last long at these high ratings and you’ll eventually need to replace them with more durable carbon fiber washers. Old-school catfish reels may utilize stainless steel washers instead of felt ones, which are also quite effective in their own right.

The importance of drag limit notwithstanding, the smoothness of the drag also plays a role in how well it will be able to conserve your line and tire out the catch.

Gear ratio

Yoshikawa Baitfeeder Spinning Reel 6000

You’ll need to consider the gear ratio based on the specific technique you’ll be using, and also in relation with the spool size of the reel you’re targeting. In broad terms, a lower gear ratio (less than 5.4:1) is biased towards torque whereas higher gear ratios (over 5.4:1) are leaning towards speed.

Torque is instrumental in bottom fishing techniques that would otherwise place strain on the reel and consequently on your wrist. It is also useful in situations that require a slow and steady retrieve.

Higher gear ratios are suitable for techniques that require rapid pickup and zipping through thick vegetation. Torque is useless in these situations – what’s needed is a fast retrieval rate that is guaranteed by a higher gear ratio.

Baitclicker

Also known as a fish alarm, this feature produces a clicking sound when a fish is pulling at your bait, so you know when it’s time to start reeling it in. While it isn’t present in all spinning reels, I’ll recommend going for a reel that does have it if you want to catch some R & R while waiting for a catch.

Baitclickers have been known to fail in certain spinning reels so it’s better to find one that comes with a ‘replaceable’ version.

Baitfeeding system

When you’re dealing with an especially troublesome or panicky fish, it is sometimes smarter to let it tire itself out by running away with the line at a light drag, and afterwards shift to the primary drag system to pull it back in.

This is exactly what a baitfeeding system allows you to do, by pushing a lever switch, you let the fish run with a loose drag, and once you’re certain that the fish has swallowed the bait, you re-engage the primary drag and reel in the catch.

Given the size of prize catfish, this technique can be quite useful if the fish is putting up a fight.

Ball bearing count

Ball Bearing

The same rule which applies to fishing in general applies to catfishing: the greater the number of bearings the better. Strategically positioned ball bearings ensure efficient transfer of motion between the various cogs of the reel, which translates into lesser effort on your part.

This is what allows you to reel and cast smoothly, and over longer distances. I recommend picking a reel with stainless steel bearings that have been given corrosion resistant coatings – this will ensure maximum lifetime of the reel.

Besides these friction-reducing ball bearings, you should also look for an anti-reverse roller bearing in the reel – this eliminates play in the handle, which can be distracting when you’re reeling in a fish, and may even lead to lost catch.

Line capacity and spool size

When you’re going after a massive fish, you’ll need a line that can handle the stress it’s going to put out. This means that the minimum line rating you should consider is 30 lbs. mono (or a braid equivalent if you want greater yardage).

Naturally, if you’re going after a prize weight, you’ll have to pack ultra-heavy duty line rated for 80lbs. or more. Unless the reel you pick has a super-sized spool, line in this test range needs to be of the braided variety so the spool can hold a meaningful length.

If you’re opting for braided line, it is recommended to pick a reel with a modified gear system that ensures even line lay and minimal slippage (braid, being a lot rounder and thinner than mono, is more prone to these problems that can lead to knotting and looping mid-cast).

Top Five Catfish Spinning Reel Reviews

Okuma Avenger ABF 90 Spinning Reel

  • Drag Limit / lbs: 22
  • Gear Ratio: 4.5:1
  • Line Retrieve / IPT: 40
  • Bait Clicker: Yes
  • Line Capacity / yards/lbs.:
    590/20, 440/25, 330/30 [mono]
Okuma Avenger ABF 90 Spinning Reel

The Avenger Baitfeeder series from Okuma has garnered a name for itself as an excellent all-purpose spinning reel, but it will serve you equally well as an affordable and dependable tool for catching medium-weight catfish.

Featuring the manufacturer’s signature Baitfeeder technology, the reel is particularly adept at dealing with bothersome catfish that make a break for it the moment they pick the bait. By letting them run with the line freely, the reel lets you lull the fish into a false sense of security before switching back to primary drag and reeling it in.

Thanks to the 22 lbs. of drag, you’ll easily be able to conquer 30 to 40 lbs. catfish, especially given the large spool size that lets you pack plenty of heavy weight line (330 yards of 30lb. mono). Even though the gear ratio inclines towards torque at 4.5:1, the spool size ensures a blazing fast line retrieve at 40 inches per turn, allowing the reel to be used in a wide variety of catfishing techniques.

Smooth and efficient long distance casting is ensured through the integration of 6 stainless steel ball bearings into the drive system, while looseness in the handle is eliminated through an express stainless steel anti-reverse bearing. An S-Curve oscillation system provides consistently uniform line lay, even when you’re using slippery braid.

The ABF 90’s frame is made almost entirely from graphite (which is corrosion resistant), whereas the spool is made out of aluminum, so it strikes a decent balance of weight and strength. The rigid die-cast aluminum handle is definitely strong enough to weather the stress of pulling in 30+ lbs. of catch.

My only issue with this reel is its drag system, which despite being waterproof, features inferior felt drag washers that will have to be replaced sooner or later (likely sooner when you’re dealing with catfish). Also, given the economic price-point, this reel does come with the risk of manufacturing defects – fortunately, it has a 1 year warranty that you can avail in such an eventuality.

PROS

  • Lightweight yet sturdy aluminum construction.
  • Sufficient drag for catching moderately heavy catfish.
  • Baitfeeder system for easily luring troublesome fish.
  • Torque and quick-retrieve combination make it diversely applicable.
  • 1 year warranty.

CONS

  • Low quality drag washers.
  • Risk of manufacturing defects stemming from low budget.

Okuma Coronado CD-80a Spinning Reel

  • Drag Limit / lbs: 33
  • Gear Ratio: 4.8:1
  • Line Retrieve / IPT: 34
  • Bait Clicker: Yes
  • Line Capacity / yards/lbs.:
    420/15, 350/20, 280/25 [mono]
Okuma Coronado CD-80a Spinning Reel

The Coronado Baitfeeder reel packs considerably more muscle than the Avenger series, thereby enabling you to go after prize catfish, while retaining the same sturdy yet manageable graphite construction of its cheaper cousin.

As mentioned above, the biggest selling point of the Okuma Coronado Baitfeeder is its robust Dual Force Drag system. For the CD-80a model, it can handle a hefty 33 lbs. of max. drag, which will let you go after heavier species such as blues. The waterproofed DFD system maximizes the utilization of the spool surface to enhance the smoothness and efficiency of the drag over conventional drag systems.

For the Coronado, the manufacturer has used a higher 4.8:1 gear ratio, but with a downsized spool size (280 yards of 25 lbs. mono tops), so you end up with a slightly reduced retrieval rate as compared to the Avenger series. Nonetheless, the 34 IPT retrieval is still quite decent on its own, and will let you to perform the majority of catfish angling techniques easily.

Another noteworthy feature of the Coronado Baitfeeder is its Precision Elliptical Gearing system that greatly improves line laying so you don’t have to experience looping and knotting problems. The gears in this system are continuously engaged, thereby yielding an exceptionally fluid spool stroke free of jerks present in inferior gear configurations.

Overall casting performance is guaranteed by 4 higher performance stainless steel ball bearings, whereas a one-way roller bearing yields an instant anti-reverse. It is quite praiseworthy that the manufacturer has reduced the weight of the reel (24.7 oz.) while upping the drag as compared to the lower-tier Avenger!

All in all, the Coronado is a remarkable catfish spinning reel that provides incredible value for the money and can be used in a wide range of settings. There have been only a few complaints about quality control problems with this reel, but the manufacturer has held true to their 1 year warranty according to angler reviews.

PROS

  • Balanced price point.
  • Remarkably strong drag that can bring in trophy catfish.
  • High end elliptical gear system greatly enhances casting efficiency and reduces typical line issues.
  • Sturdy and lightweight frame.
  • 1 year warranty.

CONS

  • Some QC issues.
  • Weaker drag washers.

Shimano Baitrunner D BTR12000D

  • Drag Limit / lbs: 25
  • Gear Ratio: 4.4:1
  • Line Retrieve / IPT: 37
  • Bait Clicker: Yes
  • Line Capacity / yards/lbs.:
    550/12, 350/16, 265/20 [mono];
    505/50, 310/65, 230/80 [braid]
Shimano Baitrunner D BTR1200D

With its powerful drag, free spooling system, and sterling track record with anglers, the Baitrunner D BTR12000D is one of, if not the best spinning reel for big catfish.

In the context of catfish angling, the most meaningful feature of the BTR12000D is its high-end waterproof drag system with its 25 lbs. top limit and carbon fiber drag washers. The combination means that not only will you be able to halt beefy prey in its tracks, you will also be able to do it consistently and efficiently.

As expected from a reel of its heritage, the Shimano’s free reeling mechanism works exactly as intended: you disengage the primary drag, let the cat run with the reel for a while and after you’re certain of a hookset, put the force of the primary drag on it to bring it in. Anglers have also been perfectly happy with the audibility of the bait clicker, which happens to be repairable too.

The sizeable spool can sustain a healthy 265 yards of 20 lbs. mono, or 230 yards of 80 lbs. braid, and in spite of the torque-centric 4.4:1 gear ratio, is able to churn out an ample 37 inches/turn of line retrieve. Put another way, you’ll be able to apply any kind of technique / lure you want to capture catfish with this reel.

The manufacturer has used a custom spool lip design, as well as their signature Power Roller and Varispeed features to ensure kink-free laying of the line, even if it is an ultra-thin braided variety. 3 high end corrosion resistant bearings have been used to enhance the overall castability, and reverse play in the handle is dealt with satisfactorily through a one-way bearing.

It goes without saying that the reel’s slightly bulky design (in spite of the liberal use of graphite in its frame) is an advantage when dealing with larger catfish species that put strain on the entire setup.

PROS

  • Excellent value for the money.
  • Durable, corrosion resistant design that can hold out against forceful fish.
  • Drag system is waterproof.
  • Drag and line capacity ideal for catching big catfish.
  • Effective spooling feature with audible baitclicker.

CONS

  • Not for budget bound anglers

Yoshikawa Baitfeeder Spinning Reel 6000

  • Drag Limit / lbs: n/a
  • Gear Ratio: 5.5:1
  • Line Retrieve / IPT: n/a
  • Bait Clicker: Yes
  • Line Capacity / yards/lbs.:
    220/16, 170/20, 140/24 [mono]
Yoshikawa Baitfeeder Spinning Reel 6000

If you’re strictly limited in your budget but want to indulge in some casual catfishing nonetheless, the Yoshikawa Baitfeeder 6000 is a refreshingly solid low-end spinning reel you could consider.

As is a staple feature of catfish spinners, this reels incorporates a bait-running mechanism that will help you lure panicky catfish into your trap. The clicker is also nicely audible within a 30 feet radius too, so you’ll know exactly when a fish is pulling on your bait.

The reel is made predominantly from graphite, so it’s lightweight and durable enough to handle a respectable degree of stress. However, given the fact that the manufacturer has not disclosed drag limit and line retrieval rate, I’ll advise you to stick with lighter channel catfish.

The 6000 model utilizes 10 corrosion free gears to make things smooth; indeed, the reel’s fluidity has been complimented by most anglers who have used it, especially considering its price point. However, the spool line capacity is a bit stifling, at 24 lbs. / 140 yards of mono max – again, I’ll reiterate that this reel is only suitable for lightweight freshwater catfishing.

With all said and done, one thing to bear in mind is that this is a budget reel of Chinese manufacturer (even though the name seems Japanese in origin), so there’s an inherent risk of defects. However, it is worth noting that the manufacturer’s support team is quick to respond to negative feedback and offers complete assistance in fixing issues.

PROS

  • Extremely inexpensive.
  • Baitfeeder system for nuanced angling techniques.
  • Surprisingly smooth drag and casting.
  • Audible baitclicker.

CONS

  • Restrictive in terms of upper drag limit and line capacity.
  • Possibility of manufacturing defects because of cheap cost.

Daiwa BG90 Black Gold Spin Reel

  • Drag Limit / lbs: 33
  • Gear Ratio: 4.3:1
  • Line Retrieve / IPT: 37
  • Bait Clicker: No
  • Line Capacity / yards/lbs.:
    275/25, 225/30, 175/40
Daiwa BG90 Black Gold Spin Reel

If you’re strictly limited in your budget but want to indulge in some casual catfishing nonetheless, the Yoshikawa Baitfeeder 6000 is a refreshingly solid low-end spinning reel you could consider.

Sporting a corrosion resistant rigid metal frame that does not yield even to the toughest of forces, the reel keeps its drive train in precise alignment even after prolonged use. The handle is large, with a wooden grip, and is clearly focused towards power reeling. It can be folded for convenience when you’re transporting the reel.

The reel’s 4.3:1 gear system is able to achieve both remarkable torque and a decent retrieval rate (37 IPT), and combined with its 33 pound maximum drag limit, it will let you do serious catfishing on par with baitcasters. The line capacity too, is quite generous at 175 yards of 40 lbs. mono – this translates into an incredible capability for pulling in massive catch if you switch to braid.

The reel uses a combination of stainless steel and Teflon drag washers, which may not be as high quality as carbon fiber varieties, but are more than able to ensure lasting smoothness according to consumer feedback.

The BG90 is one of the heaviest spinners in the market – at 30.9 ounces, but when you’re fighting with powerful fish, this can be an advantageous feature which protects the structural integrity of your tackling setup, and ensures stability when casting large bait and heavy line.

This heavy-duty yet reasonably affordable spinning reel is rated very highly by veteran anglers, and its robust design does not suffer from even minor design flaws. However, it does lack the free-spooling feature present in the majority of catfish reels, so you’ll have to manually adjust the drag as you go after the fish.

PROS

  • Balanced price for quality features.
  • Large drag limit and line capacity that can perform against bigger catfish species.
  • Old fashioned drag washers still get the job done.
  • Sturdy, bulky metal construction.

CONS

  • Lacks baitfeeding system so requires more micro-management on the angler’s part.

Conclusion


Now that you’ve finished the guide (and read my take on some of the best spinning reels for catfishing), you’ll note that reel selection for this branch of angling follows a simple rule: get a spinning reel that has the smoothest, most powerful drag; the greatest line capacity; a swift yet forceful retrieve; and the toughest construction that your budget allows.

You have to be prepped for a fight and there’s no way around it. Having said that, you may already have guessed the reel that I consider the best catfish spinning reel: the Shimano Baitrunner D. This reel has a track record for reliability and is versatile in action thanks to its exceptionally strong and smooth waterproof drag system, brisk retrieval rate, more than decent line capacity, free spool switch, and rigid metal body.

Shimano Baitrunner D BTR1200D


While it is a bit expensive, the value it provides on your investment is tough to match. It is also quite reassuring that professional saltwater anglers swear by this reel.

About the Author Jimmy Bruce

Loves everything to do with fishing and gear.

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