Best Baitcasting Reel Picks
January 20, 2015
Not long ago, round reels dominated the baitcasting reel scene. Classics come to mind — Abu Garcia's Swedish-designed Ambassadeur, first introduced in the 1950s, which set the benchmark for craftsmanship and performance. A little over a decade later, Daiwa's R&D brought anglers the rugged and reliable Millionaire. In 1991, Shimano introduced Calcutta, another industry standard.
And while there are countless round baitcasters in rotation today, low-profile sales now eclipse the classics. "The unfortunate thing about round reels is sales continue to decline every year, says Trey Epich, Shimano's Product Manager for reels. "Based on our estimates, there are 12 low-profile models sold for every round reel. That's big odds. But round reels tend to be technique- and fishery-specific, so there will always be a place for them in fishing big swimbaits, hefty spinnerbaits, deep-diving crankbaits, A-rigs, and big baits for muskies and pike." So, despite the shrinking market, manufacturers continue to introduce round reels.
"Traditionally, round reels are geared to handle larger fish," Epich continues. "Their drags are heavier to apply more pressure than low-profile models. The combination of drag strength and gear power make round reels the best choice in those situations. You can fish bigger, heavier baits without feeling torque in the rod and reel. In the bass realm, a lot of guys prefer a round reel for throwing deep crankbaits because they also typically have greater line capacity."
Bass fishing pundit and TV host Mark Zona agrees: "Any time you're casting big baits that might wear you out, you're better off transferring that fatigue to the reel's gearing. Round reels are the only way to go when chucking 20-foot diving plugs. But am I going to use a round reel for sniper casts? No, it's for power and heavy-winding. A round reel keeps you fishing with the same amount of energy you had during the first hour on the water."
Bassmaster Elite angler Jonathon VanDam has been using round reels for the past several years. "They have tremendous power and rigidity, which is important whenever you're making long casts with hefty baits," he says. VanDam alsogoes round when fishing frogs: "Coupled with a heavy rod, I like their winching power for getting big bass out of the slop."
13 Fishing Concept
- 13 Fishing released its three-model Concept baitcaster family in March, 2014. With price points from $170 to $380, Concept A, C, and E reels offer anglers medium-priced options with gear ratios from 5.3:1 to 8.1:1.
At ICAST 2014, they launched their flagship baitcaster, Concept KP, brainchild of designer Matt Baldwin. A mere 5.14 ounces, it features proprietary FeatherWeight Magnesium and Airfoil Carbon construction, and Hybrid Ceramic spool bearings. Other features include a Bulldog Carbon Drag, Japanese Dead Stop anti-reverse, Hex13 spool, Hex13 drag star, and Arrowhead line guide that reduces line drag for maximum casting. It has a carbon handle with lightweight EVA Tech knobs. The Concept KP will be compatible with customization options at 13 Fishing's TrickShop coming in Spring 2015, including red, white, and blue 'œPatriot Package' styling. It's available in 5.3:1, 6.6:1, 7.3:1, and 8.1:1 gear ratios. Line capacity: 12/80 (mono), $480.00.
Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Morrum ZX-3600
- Abu-Garcia's Ambassadeur Morrum ZX-3600 has a compact design, machined aluminum frame and sideplates for strength and reduced weight, and bent carbon handle with flat EVA knobs. It includes Abu's Infinitely Variable Centrifugal Brake (IVCB-IV) system for quick and accurate adjustments to match lure weight and fishing conditions. The Carbon Matrix drag system provides smooth, consistent drag pressure across the entire drag range. Infini II spool design extends cast distance and performance under extreme loads. With 10 stainless-steel HPCR bearings plus 1 roller bearing for increased corrosion protection, it's available in right- and left-handed versions, 6.3:1 gear ratio, 28 inches per turn, $499.99.
Abu-Garcia C3 Striper Special
- New for 2015, Abu-Garcia's latest, the Swedish-made C3 Striper Special, was designed to meet the needs of both freshwater and marine anglers. Though it was designed for striped bass, it will be popular with catfish and inshore anglers, too. It's built on the Abu C3 frame, but has an extended handle with power knob for maximum cranking power. It has 3 stainless-steel ball bearings plus a one-way clutch, Carbon Matrix drag system, 6-pin centrifugal braking, and synchronized level-wind to keep line neatly on the spool. There's a bait clicker for freelining livebait, $149.99.
Abu Garcia Revo Beast
- Built around a durable, corrosion-resistant and lightweight X-Craftic alloy body, the Revo Beast has a deeper Infini II spool for extra line capacity, oversized handle, EVA power knobs, even a tougher exterior. Equipped with Carbon Matrix drag system for smooth and consistent drag pressure at any setting, it has a Duragear brass main gear and D2 Gear Design for extended gear life. Stainless-steel High Performance Corrosion Resistant (HPCR) bearings plus one roller bearing allow smooth casts, while an Infiniti brake adjusts for a variety of baits and wind conditions. A Titanium-coated line guide reduces friction when using superlines. It weighs 9.35 ounces with line capacity of 12/180 (mono) or 30/180 (braid). It has a 7.1:1 gear ratio, retrieving 29 inches per turn, $349.95.
Cabela's Verano BC
- Cabela's 6.9-ounce Verano BC has a rigid aluminum frame and sideplates, star drag knob, spool-tension knob and ported-aluminum spool for strength and minimal weight. It features a multidisc drag system and seven-point centrifugal cast-control with internal adjustment. It has 11 bearings (10 ball bearings and 1 roller bearing), machined-aluminum handle with EVA knobs, and lightweight zirconium line-guide inserts. Line capacity: 12/130 (mono) or 14/95 (braid). Available in 5.4:1 and 7.3:1 gear ratios for right- and left-handed anglers, $149.99.
Daiwa 'œHyper Speed' Zillion and Tatula Type-HD
- Daiwa's flagship 7.3:1 Zillion TWS features a rugged but light aluminum frame with 6 Point support system, T-Wing aperture to cut friction at the line guide, Magforce-Z cast control, free-floating aluminum alloy spool, durable Zaion side plate, Ultimate Tournament Carbon Drag, micro-click tension knob, and a 10-bearing system. A power handle has cutouts to reduce weight to 7.5 ounces. Line capacity: 14/120 (mono) or 40/140 (braid), $299.99.
Daiwa's new Tatula Type HD offers addition of two sealed ball bearings and increased line capacity. It has the T-Wing System, massive gearing anchored in a lightweight aluminum frame and side plate, Air Rotation, Ultimate Tournament Carbon Drag, Magforce-Z cast control, 8-bearing system, corrosion resistant clutch mechanism, and a power handle with cutouts and oversized knobs. Available in High and Hyper Speed models, 6.3:1 and 7.3:1, respectively, for 28.1 or 32.2 inches per turn. Hyper Speed version line capacity: 14/165 (mono) or 40/190 (braid), $199.99.
- For 2014, Okuma reduced the thickness of the left side plate of former designs by 3 millimeters, bringing the angler's grip in line with the rod. It features a machined aluminum frame, EVA knobs, 9 bearings plus a Quick-Set anti-reverse bearing, machined aluminum spool, and 24-point magnetic cast control for precise spool braking. An easy side plate access port allows quick spool changes. Right-hand models include the CR-266V with 6.6:1 gear ratio and CR-273V with 7.3:1 gear ratio, along with the left-handed CR-266VLX with 6.6:1 gear ratio $99.99.
Quantum Tour KVD 150
- The new 7.1-ounce Tour KVD 150 has 11 PT bearings (10 plus clutch), lightweight aluminum frame and side covers, infinitely adjustable centrifugal cast control (ACS), Continuous Anti-Reverse, stainless steel and ceramic drag system, high-capacity spool, aluminum PT main gear and drive shaft, and laser-etched EVA handle knobs. Available in three gear ratios (and left-handed models), including 5.3:1, 6.6:1, and 7.3:1 gear ratios, $229.99.
Shimano Calcutta Conquest
- Built around a cold-forged frame, the Calcutta Conquest features Shimano's Micro Module gear system, which reduces size, while increasing the number of gear teeth on the pinion and drive gear for increased power and long life. With X-Ship technology, the pinion gear is supported on both ends with bearings, which Shimano product manager Robbie Gant says leads to 'œbetter gear durability and also helps make long casts with light lures.'
Shimano's Stable Spool Design (SSD) reduces spool vibration, creates smooth rotation, an offers better rigidity and casting performance. The SVS Infinity brake system, also found on Shimano's flagship low-profile reels, controls spool speed for precision casting with feather-light lures. An external adjustment knob provides for quick and precise adjustments to match fishing conditions or lure size.
The 7.5-ounce Calcutta Conquest 100 and 101 have a 5.2:1 gear ratio and line capacity of 8/110 (mono) or 20/115 (braid). The 200 and 201 sizes weigh 8.4 ounces, with a 4.8:1 gear ratio, and handle 12/110 (mono) or 30/190 (braid), $549.99 to $569.99.
Shimano Curado I
- It's no secret that reel manufacturers' top technologies eventually trickle down to lower priced models. Shimano recently introduced the Curado I family with S3D Stable Spool Design, SVS Infinity Braking System, and X-Ship, which provides increased durability and smooth handle rotation through optimal placement of a large drive gear along with improved bearing support, features formerly available only in top-end models. The 7.4-ounce reel is available in 5.5:1, 6.3:1, and 7.2:1 gear ratios, $179.99.
Team Lew's BB2 Pro Wide Speed Spool
- Lew's is a major player in the reel game, following Lynn Reeves' purchase of the company in 2009. The re-introduction of the stalwart BB1 with a host of improvements was just the start. The company's focus is on performance, durability, and affordability. At ICAST 2014, Lew's introduced the BB2 Pro Wide Speed Spool, which offers 6.4:1, and 7.1:1 gear ratio options and a large aluminum double-anodized U-shaped spool design for greater line capacity and longer casts. It features a one-piece die-cast aluminum frame and sideplates for reduced weight, 10 double-shielded ball bearings and anti-reverse, externally-adjustable 6-pin, 27-position SpeedCast Adjustable Centrifugal Braking System, quick release sideplate for easy access to spool and brake adjustment, tension knob with audible clicker, carbon composite drag system, external lube port, and bowed 95-mm aluminum handle. Weighs 7.4 ounces. Line capacity: 14/190 (mono), $209.99.
Ultimately, round reels excel because they have larger gear boxes, gears, and spools. Recent low-profile design emphasis is on reducing size and weight, while boosting speed. But some low profiles aren't far behind. Abu's Revo Beast offers a stunning 22 pounds of drag and several companies are bringing low-pro models to the big-fish game.
Goin' Low Pro
The first low-profiles were the Lew Childre-designed Lew's Speed Spool manufactured by Shimano in the mid-70s. In 1978, Shimano's offered its own Bantam 100. Daiwa's Procaster hit tackle shops in the early 1980s, Gradually anglers adopted the more compact designs, which were easier to palm than round reels on pistol-grip rods and the emerging split-grip and blank-through designs.
Recently on the low-profile front, there's been a race to create the lightest reel on the market. Through creative use of aluminum, magnesium, and carbon fibers, aluminum gearing, carbon handles, and the elimination of non-essential material from the frame, guts, and spool, we've entered a new era. Although reduced weight aids fishability, sensitivity, and ergonomics, there's a limit. "The 5-ounce mark is about as light as you can get without sacrificing durability or going over the top on price," says Ricky Teschendorf, Product Manager of reels for 13 Fishing. "We're using materials that produce the most benefits without an outlandish price."
The focus has shifted to speed. Reels continue to get faster, with designs driven largely by tournament angler input. The rationale is: The more casts you make, the more potential for bites and the better the possibility of cashing a check.
Following the pros' lead, anglers have moved to faster speeds for applications like pitching, flipping, and punching, where speed and increased line pickup is important. Abu Garcia's introduction of the Revo Rocket last year raised the bar with its 9:1 gear ratio. Other companies have followed suit. "Here's an example of a feature that isn't just hype," Zona says. "I've told designers they can't build a reel that's fast enough. For any technique that involves fishing bottom, I want fast line pick up for better hook-sets, to turn fish quicker, and to make more casts in a day. When flipping, you can lose a fish in a microsecond if there's any slack in your line. High-speed reels pick up line faster. I'd like one with a 10: or 12:1 ratio."
Using fast reels, Bassmaster Elite pro Jared Lintner has noticed improvement in his grass game. "Since I converted to 7.2:1 and 7.6:1 ratios, I don't lose as many fish when fishing topwaters, frogs, punching, or lipless cranks in the grass. When you set the hook, a bass often goes directly away or right at you. A fast reel lets you catch up to them."
But not all speedy baitcasters are equal. Experts look for those with plenty of power via gear size, powerful drag, and other features for smooth, long casts and smooth retrieves with lures of all sizes. Savvy anglers look well beyond gear ratios because spool sizes vary among companies, so they look at inches per turn (IPT) and maximum drag power, too.
While reels with lower gear ratios have been widely used for deep cranking, there are exceptions. Bassmaster Elite pro and three-time Toyota Texas Bass champion Keith Combs says stepping on the gas with a 7.3:1 reel not only draws strikes but can "ignite" an entire school. "I grew up watching David Fritts win tournaments deep cranking with low-geared reels," he says. "But because mapping is so good today, and there are more anglers focusing on key features, there are a lot of situations where you have to ignite a school with a fast retrieve. When needed, I can still slow my bait by reeling slower. Fast or slow, the main thing is keeping slack out of your line when you're crankin'. I also like a big spool that holds plenty of 15-pound fluoro for long casts."
This much is certain — as baitcasters continue to get faster and more powerful, anglers will discover new ways to make use of their features. It's up to each angler to find out what works best.