Back and forth the fight went for 5, then 10, then 15 minutes, each time getting closer and closer to shore. Finally, with the fish within reaching distance, the tension on the line went limp and the fish unhurriedly swam away.
As my father turned the handle to reel in, he saw that the line wasn’t moving. The fish had not only snapped him off, but had broken the reel as well. It was here on a muggy Georgia morning I learned the importance of buying gear that matches your catch.
Before you hit the water, it is important to understand what type species of catfish you will be targeting as well as their size.
The needs of an angler who is fishing for 1-3 pound channel catfish is vastly different than say the needs of Jeremey Wade of “River Monsters.” Ensuring you have paired the correct rod and reel together is crucial for your success on the water.
What Are The Different Types of Baitcasting Reel?
There are three types of reels out in the market and that’s the spincast, spinning, and baitcast. Below is an explanation of each one is, its pro’s and con’s as well as which reel works best in different situations.
The spincast, or the closed-face reel, is great for beginners or the casual fisherman. They’re easy to use, cheap, and can be found at almost all local tackle shops as well as Wal Mart.
These are fine for targeting small channel catfish from the farm pond, but other than that these are not made to consistently handle anything over a few pounds.
When purchased they are typically outfitted with lightweight line, have poor drag systems, and the gears are plastic. The spincast works best when throwing the classic worm and bobber set up. If you’re throwing something that needs to be reeled in continuously, then you will eventually burn out the cheap internal working of the reel and will be forced to buy a new one.
That being said, these reels have their place in the catfishing world. They’re perfect for the novice or someone who only hits the water a few times a year.
If you eventually find yourself on the water more frequently, then its best to graduate to either of the reels below.
There are two types of spinning reels, freshwater and saltwater. The freshwater is what most people upgrade to once they have grown out of their spincast setup. This is due to the fact they can hold heavier lines and have a much better internal gear system than their spincast counterpart.
Because of this, they can be used to bring in much bigger fish. However, the issue is that they are typically not made large enough to use on a heavier rod, which you will need if you want to successfully fish tournaments or consistently land big catfish.
The bigger and badder version of the freshwater is the saltwater spinning reel. These are larger reels with heavier drags and gear systems that are built to withstand the fight of larger and stronger saltwater fish. With the correct rod pairing these reels can easily pull in big catfish.
The drawback is that the rod selection for these will be limited. More and more rod companies are making heavier rods specifically for baitcasters, which means the spinning reels are slowly being left behind.
The baitcasting reel is the most favored in the catfishing world. They come equipped with stronger features, and there is a larger overall selection of reels as well as rods to pair with them.
They come in a variety of different sizes and you customize your set up based on the size of the fish you’re catching. They make smaller models that can be utilized to catch smaller catfish, or “eaters,” as well as the larger sizes that allow people to pull trophy class catfish.
Benefits Of A Baitcast Reel
Baitcasters come with the ability to hold a large amount of line, strong gear ratios, as well as strong drag systems that allow you to win tournaments. The drawback is that these take slightly longer than normal to get accustomed to. When you first try these out you will have some backlash.
Don’t be discouraged though, this is easily solved with a quick afternoon practice. After that, you’re ready to hit the water and reel in a monster.
What To Look For In A Baitcaster Reel
When purchasing a baitcaster keep in mind what material you would like it to be made of. The lighter graphite models are great because they’re usually cheaper, and will help prevent arm fatigue. Their counterparts in aluminum are larger, heavier, and more expensive. However, these are the most durable of the two.
Durability is a key component in your decision making. Again, anything with an aluminum frame is going to last you the longest. It’s opposer, graphite is no lightweight though. These reels, when treated properly, can have decent longevity. But if you want the most durable on the market, then stick with aluminum.
Because of how long they last a good way to pick up a cheap baitcaster is to scour flea markets and garage sales. A majority of the time those 20-30 year old aluminum reels still work, they usually just need a little grease on their gears.
When attempting to catch record catfish you need to make sure you have a drag system that can hold up. The drag discs inside your reel begin to heat up when a fish starts taking line. This can cause lines to snap and hearts to break in a matter of seconds.
When looking at reels make sure to purchase something that has a drag system made with a material that allows heat to dissipate quickly. These would include ceramic, carbon, and graphite.
Gear ratio determines how quickly line is reeled in based on one turn of the handle. When looking at ratios if you see one that is 5:3:1 that means that the spool is turned 5.3 times for every 1 turn of the handle. So, a 6:3:1 turns the spool one extra time for each turn of the handle, which makes it a faster reel.
It’s key to have a fast ratio so you can fight larger fish. This allows you to pull in a large amount of line quickly, as well as have the power to pull up the giants that live down deep. You can catch big cats on a low ratio, but the extra effort and strain will wear out your reel much faster.
There are two types of handles out there: standard and power. The standard handle will have two knobs, and the power will just have one knob with a counterbalance. Usually the bigger reels come equipped with the power handles, while small to medium set ups have the standard. In general, it doesn’t seem that the handle plays too big of a role. It comes down to personal preference.
Something to keep in mind is that when catfishing you will typically be using heavier line. This means that the diameter is going to be thicker than normal. If you don’t have a large enough spool then you’ll be replacing line all day; especially if you wind up breaking a fish off. It’s key to have a reel that can hold exactly what you need as well as a little extra for when you need to cut off or a fish breaks you.
Don’t Cheap Out
It’s tempting to go out and purchase a cheap baitcaster because it looks just like the more expensive one. While it looks the same, the issues lie within. The internal parts are nowhere near the same quality as some of the more expensive reels. It may be a few months or it might be a year, but it will eventually break and you’ll be forced to throw it away or purchase a replacement part.
Higher quality reels are built for longevity as long as they are treated properly. It’s tough to throw down a couple of Jacksons or a Benjamin on one reel, but if you want a piece of equipment that will treat you right then you might need to open the wallet a little.
Below is a short list of reels that you can use to go out and try to land some monster cats.
Catfish Baitcast Reel Reviews
Quantum Accurist S3 PT Baitcast Fishing Reel
6:3:1 Gear ratio
10+1 Bearing system
125 yards of 12 pound monofilament
The 6:3:1 gear ratio is solid and will hold up to any big fish. The 10+1 bearing system means that one of the bearings is supporting the handle, four are supporting the knobs and the remainder are in the reel. A good rule of thumb is that the more bearings a reel has the smoother it will perform.
12lb monofilament is the same diameter as 40lb braid, so be careful going with heavier line. You want to keep around 100 yards on the reel.
It has a strong aluminum frame and spool to ensure durability. There is also a 20lb drag system that is perfect for wearing out those larger catfish and getting them to the boat.
The gear ratio is slightly lower at 5:3:1, but the smallest model of this reel is capable of holding 200 yards of 40lb braid, where the largest size can hold 350 yards of 45lb braid. Despite the lower gear ratio this reel is durable with solid internal components.
Same as the Hellcat, it comes with a 6:3:1 gear ratio and a 10+1 bearing system. It is an aluminum spool and the reel will also come with a lifetime guarantee. It is also able to spool 45lb braid at 130 yards, and the 22lb drag system is the strongest on this list. This reel is set to handle just about any fish you hook.
This is the burner of the group. The 7:0:1 gear ratio is perfect for winching those big cats off the bottom of a river. The 17 ball bearings make for a very smooth cast and operation. The body is not aluminum so it is lighter than some of the others on this list, but that should make you question the durability of it.
It also has a strong magnetic braking system which is beneficial to the new baitcasting angler. This would be a nice reel to learn on and then advance as you begin fishing more.
There are many different types of reels. The ones listed above are just a small sample size. Just remember, had my father been using even a mediocre reel he would have more than likely landed the biggest catfish of his life.
When attempting to catch big time catfish you need a big-time reel. If you want to go farm pond hopping and dangle some chicken livers for 1-3 pound channel cats then yeah, you’ll be ok with something small and cheap. But if you’re looking to hook into a river monster, then well, you’re going to need something a little bigger.