Even while fishing reels for bass, walleye and saltwater species continue to evolve, advance and virtually launch into outer space, catfish reels still stake their claim on straightforward descriptors: tough, reliable, simple and powerful. No fuss. No muss. Casts with these reels don't require the user to read a technical manual. Drags yield line grudgingly, yet smooth as running water. Strap the tool to a favorite rod, load it with line, and simply start catching catfish. Gotta love, too, that some of the best cat reels ever made came into being decades ago; they're the same ones you rely on after years and even a whole generation of catfish battles.
While we mostly don't need to heed such technological "advances" as carbonite drags, micro module gears or aerowrap oscillations, some features do give us an edge over our whiskered quarry. Line-counter reels, once primarily the property of bigwater trout and salmon trollers, now offer outstanding advantages for catfish anglers. Imagine marking a hotspot on your GPS, 120 feet behind the boat. With a line-counter reel, you can walk your bait downstream, watching the counter dial up exactly 120 feet, at which point your rod is likely to THUMP from the bite of a big catfish. Even for shore-fishing, a line counter reel offers the advantage of repeatability — placing casts at the exact distance from shore where catfish previously ate your bait. Or imagine similar scenarios for drifting or trolling applications. Line counters equal precision; keeping baits in high percentage spots for extended periods.
And who hasn't delighted in the music of a bait clicker; that audible reel alarm that alerts anglers that a sizeable cat has seized the bait? Nearly every top cat reel has one — whether it's a classic Abu Garcia casting reel or a Shimano Baitrunner spinning reel. This key accoutrement has likely lead to millions of fish for America's 7-million catfish anglers. Simple. Reliable. Tough as nails. Gear that just plain works. It's all a part of why we love to chase big cats.
Abu Garcia 7000i
- No flatheader worth his salt hits the river without one of these classic round bait-casters. Armed with a synchronized levelwind system, brass gears and dual anti-reverse, the old 7000 is as tough and reliable as reels get. An oversized power-handle supplements the reel's muscular 6-washer drag system — enough torque to drop the hammer on the planet's toughest catfish. The 7000 has one other unforgettable feature — an extra loud line-out alarm; what catmen call a 'clicker. ' When a big fish grabs the bait and bolts, the reel grudgingly yields line while audibly alerting you that something awesome is about to happen. Load it with 300 yards of 20-pound mono or 600 yards of 30-pound braid and brace for impact. Retail price is $150.
Bass Pro Shops CatMaxx
— Another fine no-frills spinning reel, the CatMaxx CM80 features an aluminum long-spool design that holds almost 300 yards of 25 pound test mono. Built on a tough graphite body, the reel's guts include a 4-bearing system with PowerLock instant anti-reverse. At 26-ounces, this big fish brawler dishes out almost 40 pounds of drag pressure, or enough to winch small trees out by the roots. An oversized paddle reel handle offers comfort and leverage over big cats. Retail price is $45.
Daiwa Black Gold
— What can you say about a reel that's been with you through small fish and monsters, thick and thin, for over a quarter century? If you're smart, you call it one of your favorite catfish reels. A classic saltwater tool, the Black Gold is a throwback — a simple collection of reliable components and proven parts that perform so well that the company simply can't retire it, despite the reel's slightly old-school facade. It's not the prettiest, nor the lightest reel you'll ever own, but buying one is like making a longterm can't-miss investment. All metal construction envelops three stainless steel ball bearings and a high performance drag built with Teflon and stainless steel drag washers. The BG 30 and BG 60 hold plenty of 14 to 25 pound test line and pick up 36 and 39 inches of line per handle turn, respectively. Retail price is just over $100.
— A tremendous value in line-counter reels, the Convector sports a lightweight, corrosion resistant frame with a machined aluminum anodized spool. A ratcheting star drag allows the angler to dial into precise drag settings. A patented Mechanical Stabilization System maintains parts alignment over the long term, while a self-lubricating gear system enhances smoothness and overall performance. The reel's mechanical line counter function measures in feet, perfect for drifting, trolling and bait-walking applications. Six reel model sizes include both left and right handed retrieves. Retail price is $85.
Okuma Epixor Baitfeeder
— Featuring affordability and high level performance, the Epixor Baitfeeder is a tremendous tool for light to medium duty catfishing situations. Nine stainless steel ball bearings and 1 'quick-set ' anti-reverse roller bearing provide seamless operation. A waterproof drag seal and a 30-percent larger drag system bolster the reel's stopping power, despite it's dainty weight. The Epixor's special on/off auto trip bait feeding system provides measured resistance to biting fish, and disengages simply by turning the reel handle. Spools are extra wide machined aluminum and are topped with a titanium coated lip for smooth casting. Four models from a size 30 to 80 are available. Retail prices range $100 to $110.
— Any reel labeled 'workhorse ' more or less describes those intangible elements catfishers seek. Built with 6 stainless steel ball bearings and weighing much less than you'd expect, the Trion provides years of no-frills performance. Cast, set hooks, and deliver catfish beat-downs — period. An aluminum handle and spool is complemented by a smooth multi-disc drag system and instant anti-reverse. Trion 135 and 140 sizes match most medium catfish scenarios. Retail price is $40.
Quantum Bill Dance Big River
— Built to tackle freshwater monsters, this tough reel torques hard pulling cats with its powerful 4.2:1 gear ratio. Two stainless steel ball bearings keep things running nice and smooth, while a synchronous levelwind prevents line from 'piling up ' on the spool. The high-capacity aluminum spool (360 yards / 20-lb test) holds plenty of line to outlast even the most extreme drag screamers. While an extended power handle gives you extra leverage over your quarry. The reel's selectable bite-alert rounds out a list of fine features, making this reel a good value — iconic Bill Dance baseball cap not included. Retail price is $55.
Shimano Baitrunner OC
— Perfect for set rigging from shore or in a boat, the Baitrunner OC allows cats to strip line freely from the spool without disengaging the spool. This saltwater-approved reel offers ample power, durability and toughness to tame any catfish. Key features include a fully repairable bait-clicker, stainless steel ball bearings and Shimano's amazing Varispeed Oscillation. Baitrunner models 6000 and 8000 provide 20-pounds of drag and retrieve up to 36 inches per revolution. An essential tool for every serious cat-head. Retail price is approximately $130.
— Palm-sized line-counter reels may be the best kept tackle secret in catfishing, and Shimano's Tekota tops the list of proven performers. This tough-as-nails, full metal weapon is loaded to the gears and beyond: diecast aluminum frame, sideplates and spool, an oversized clicker button and anti-rust bearings. The TEK300LC and TEK500LC are perfectly suited to medium to heavy-duty catfishing situations, boasting max drag ratings of 18-pounds and 3 +1 ball bearings. Line counter mechanisms are smooth and work with all types of fishing line. Hundred-plus-pound blues have fought these reels and lost. Retail price is $180.
Team Catfish Gold Ring 400
— Putting power and smoothness at your fingertips, this specialized catfish reel performs reliably while proudly trumpeting your passion for barbels and adipose fins. Custom specs include one-piece aluminum frame and side plates, 5 stainless steel bearings and a dual magnetic cast control with a special dial for tossing extra heavy baits. A recessed, low-profile bait clicker prevents accidental activation. Extras such as an aluminum power handle and extra heavy reel foot ensure seasons of flawless operation. Retail price is $140.