Who doesn’t love fishing?
It has something for everyone, whether you just want to relax in nature, or whether you take the number of fish you catch seriously.
If you want to catch more fish, you’re going to need the right equipment—and that includes baitcasting reels. Get the right baitcasting reel and you can combine relaxation with triumph—but which is the right baitcasting reel?
Here, we’ve collected the best baitcasting reels available for under $100.
In a hurry?
This is our Winner!
In particular, we look at the most important features in a high-performance reel, so you can find the perfect reel for you.
Those crucial features include the maximum drag and the number of bearings. Alongside those, we’ll look at gear ratios, line capacities and reel weights.
That way, you can make your mind up on the features that matter most to you.
This combination of factors determines not only the performance of the reel, but the ease of its operation, its comfort level, and its durability in action.
How to choose?
Check out our comparison table, with its ready reckoner of details.
If you want to go into more depth about particular reels, we’ve also included a detailed review of each one.
Need to know the kinds of questions you should be asking before you click the ‘buy’ button? We’ve added a buyer’s guide and some frequently asked questions to help you narrow the field.
Hopefully, you’ll find everything you need to make your choice from among the best baitcasting reels on the market.
Our 7 Favorite Baitcasting Reels in 2021
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7 Baitcasting Reels on a Budget
If you’re looking for a high-quality baitcasting reel that’s low on cost, the Ardent Apex Tournament reel has your name all over it.
The combination of smoothness and compact construction in the Ardent Apex is irresistible. Plus, if you get it in the matte black finish, it looks extra cool.
Add to that the versatility of a reel you can use right- or left-handed, and it starts to make a name for itself as a contender.
None of that matters of course if it doesn’t perform like the winner you deserve.
Spoiler alert: it does.
It has a 9 ball bearing system. That translates into long distance casting and a smooth retrieval – again, count the ball bearings. All 9 are working for you to minimize backlash and improve the smoothness of your casting.
It also brings together the elements of light weight and a surprising durability, with a strong aluminum frame. How light are we talking about? Just 6.3 ounces. That’s not going to strain anyone’s cast or retrieval.
Want some tech? Of course you do.
How about additional magnetic brakes to help the performance of the braking system? That’s tech delivered with a practical purpose on any fishing trip.
If you’re an angler who’s happy to fish from dawn to sundown on any given day, Ardent Apex has you covered too: the reel comes with a swept-back aluminum handle, making it easy to use long term with EVA grip knobs.
Some users find the reel adjustment unwieldy on the Ardent Apex Tournament – an issue not helped by the lack of any instruction manual.
But ultimately, the Ardent Apex Tournament delivers a lot of great features without breaking the bank. And like most baitcasting reels, it comes with a three-year warranty on top. That’s why it’s our overall top choice as the best baitcasting reel on the market.
- Bearings: 9
- Gear ratio: 6:5:1
- Drag: 11 lbs.
- Line capacity (lb/yds): 12/150
- Reel weight: 6.3 oz.
- Extra features: Adjustable 270-degree magnetic brake; 3-year warranty.
Whether you’re a relative newcomer to baitcasting or an experienced angler, the Elite KastKing Royale can give you the kind of service that will improve your fishing.
Some users find adjusting the Ardent Apex reel difficult in the middle of a fishing session.
No-one says that about the Elite KastKing. Whether you’re after bass or inshore saltwater fish, you can adjust the brakes and the drag in a handful of heartbeats.
That means the Elite KastKing Royale is a highly intuitive baitcaster – you change and go. That endears it to anglers at every level, who don’t want to be held up in their fishing.
Even tournament anglers approve of this quick change facility, because it helps them rapidly swap out baits, and it can stand up to the rigors of hundreds of casts per day.
The KastKing ethos is to combine high performance angling with low consumer cost, and the Elite is a great ambassador for that mindset.
It’s built on a strong graphite frame with KastKing’s smallest profile to date.
Meanwhile, its main gear – where you need strength and durability if you’re to stand up to tournament angling – is made of heat-treated aluminum. That means it’s both strong and still lightweight.
Add a stainless steel kick lever, and the same steel in the main shaft, and what you have is a baitcaster performing way above what you’d expect from its price-point.
So does it work?
It moves smoothly, and while it’s hardly a stealth reel, it’s quiet enough to let you know how your cast is going to go, without ever grating on your nerves.
You can actually feel the magnet system working through the motion of the cast, rather than it waking up towards the end of the maneuver, which boosts the angler’s confidence.
The KastKing will give you a long cast, and will surprise you with the power of its drag – at least, it will at this gear ratio.
Other gear ratios are also available in a range of easily identifiable colors. That’s another move that takes out guesswork and replaces it with speed and certainty in the baitcasting game.
All in all, the KastKing is a baitcaster that says ‘We’ve got this. You do your thing,’ letting you focus on your fishing.
That reliability, along with the dedication to making your life easier, earns the KastKing a place on this list.
- Bearings: 11
- Gear ratio: 8:1:1
- Drag: 16.65 lbs.
- Line capacity (lb/yds): 12/130
- Reel weight: 7.2 oz.
- Extra features: Versatility in bait-changing; strong thumb bar; choice of color-coded gear ratios.
Any angler will know good engineering when they feel it.
They’ll feel it in the Abu Garcia PMAX.
It’s built in to the smoothness of the cast and the drag. Which is why you get the sensation of professional performance from a baitcaster that won’t leave you gasping for breath at the price.
This is a baitcaster for the tough end of a day’s fishing. All those situations where lesser baitcasters might let you down? Deploy your Abu Garcia PMAX.
It’s a low-profile baitcaster, which feels ergonomically pleasing and won’t cause you pain if you use it constantly for hours.
It also offers you customizable casting, so you can meet the challenges of any fishing environment or prey.
Importantly, the Abu Garcia works with you to increase the accuracy of your cast.
The brake system exerts consistent pressure, rather than a jerky or sudden reaction. That means you get a cast which goes mostly where you aim it.
The Abu Garcia has a disk drag system engineered in, which means any harder-pulling, more independent fish will struggle to free themselves once you’ve caught them.
Is it the smoothest casting reel on the market? No.
Is it perhaps the quietest reel on the market? No, not that either.
But it is an extremely effective low-profile baitcaster you can use all day, with a joyously smooth drag and a durable construction. It’s a rod for years, if not for life, and it delivers more of the goods than you might expect at its price.
- Bearings: 8
- Gear ratio: 7:1:1
- Drag: 18 lbs.
- Line capacity (lb/yds): 12/145, 30/140
- Reel weight: 7.4 oz.
- Extra features: MagTrax brake system; brass components for long life; Power Disk drag system; anti-reverse capacity.
It would be one hell of a day’s fishing to pit the Abu Garcia up against the Pfleuger President XT. Both low-profile reels, they would nip and tuck it all the day long.
We’ve ultimately given the glory to the Abu Garcia.
But on its day, there’s every reason to suspect the dogged workhorse from Pfleuger could be triumphant as the best low-profile baitcaster on the market.
It’s really that close.
That’s why the Pfleuger’s on our list – it would be a sin of omission to leave it out. There’s little to choose between the two reels in overall performance in the low-profile end of the market.
The Pfleuger President has a little something for almost everyone. It will work well with topwater buzz bait, through spoons and spinners all the way to trollers. It’s more or less the butler of baitcasters – you tell it what to do, and it does it, with a minimum of fuss or frolic.
The magnet braking system is almost absurdly good, and if you give it a tweak or two, you can even cast this reel without thumbing the spool at all.
Exactly. Think about that for a moment.
That’s what persuades us we can’t leave the Pfleuger President off our list.
It’s a light reel at 6.8 oz, and the narrowness of its profile means with the right rod, you can use it for bass and salmon as well as other fish.
The President XT has a gear ratio that won’t disgrace it in front of the bigger kids in the playground, but its superpower is in its retrieval rate.
Turn the handle once.
That’ll pull in 31 inches of line for you.
We’ll let you do the mental math required to fully appreciate that, but what it means is this: any fish not happy with being caught is at least only unhappy about it for a very short space of time.
Such pulling power is contained inside a well-designed and well-built reel, with everything you need placed thoughtfully at hand. Cork tips mitigate hand cramping and fatigue, making the baitcaster a longer-use prospect than it would otherwise be.
All in all, while it’s a completely different baitcaster to the Abu Garcia, the Pfleuger gives it a heroically close run for its money as a low-profile reel.
- Bearings: 9
- Gear ratio: 7:2:1
- Drag: 11 lbs.
- Line capacity (lb/yds): 12/145, 14/125, 17/100
- Reel weight: 6.8 oz.
- Extra features: stunning retrieval rate; narrow profile gives it fishing versatility.
When you start out on any hobby, you need encouragement and forgiveness as you learn the basics. As you master the techniques that bring success, you don’t want to meet with failure too often, or it will deter you from carrying on.
The Cadence CB8 (Ultra Lightweight) is a great reel for beginners.
Why especially beginners?
The braking system on the CB8 is reliable and instructive, without ever going wrong enough to seem like it’s scolding. It delivers the absolute minimum of backlashes, so new baitcasters won’t get discouraged with the whole business.
What’s just as important is its KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) design. It’s uncluttered, without too many knobs, dials, or gears for the new angler to worry about.
That means they can focus on simply Doing The Thing – getting their casts right, and where necessary, learning the techniques of dragging.
It also weights the drag in the angler’s favor. That means that newcomers to the hobby will be able to drag bigger fish than they’ll expect, and gain confidence when they do it.
To deliver that much kindness in a reel, you need some fairly sturdy materials and a strong but well-intentioned build. Here, the reel is built on a graphite frame, with main gears forged of brass and the rest of the piece realized in lightweight aluminum.
Yes, the handles are oversized – again, this is a reel that errs on the side of kindness to the newcomer. It all combines to create a reel that makes casting something which appears to come ‘naturally’ to the new angler.
That in turn encourages them to do it more often, and eventually move on to baitcasters with less forgiveness and more demanding strength and accuracy. It’s more or less a system to take civilians and turn them into anglers.
Is it a perfect baitcaster?
Not by any means.
It’s the friendly, forgiving first reel that bridges the world of the civilian and the angler. But it also has an almost endearing gear-grinding noise when you use it.
Nevertheless, as a reel forged in kindness and determined to introduce newcomers to the magic of angling, you can’t really do better than the CB8.
- Bearings: 9
- Gear ratio: 7:3:1
- Drag: 20 lbs.
- Line capacity (lb/yds): Mono: 12/120. Braid: 30/140
- Reel weight: 6.7 oz.
- Extra features: Strong drag; braking system minimizes backlash.
Just because something’s inexpensive, it needn’t mean it’s cheap.
Welcome to the Piscifun New Phantom reel.
It costs you barely a handful of clams, but then delights – and makes it onto our list – by outperforming the expectations you have of something that only costs that much.
Did you read the reel weight? Under 6 ounces reel weight has got to be a statistic to prick up your ears, right? How does Piscifun achieve that while still creating a reel that’s practical to use?
Carbon fiber, that’s how – essentially the same thing they make supercars out of, precisely so they can make them both light and strong.
The reel has a low profile too, which translates to extra comfort on a long fishing trip.
Seven stainless steel bearings and precision gears mean you get a smooth cast from this featherweight reel, and the retrieve is a thing of beauty.
Where it gets extra clever is in the dual braking system.
What’s so clever about a dual braking system?
It makes it easy to adjust the real so you can get maximum casting, whatever your angling environment.
The magnetic brake gives you the potential to make precise adjustments to avoid backlash, and that whole carbon fiber drag system delivers a drag that’s both smooth and reliable.
Some baitcasters are great with heavier lures, but choke a little on the lightweight end of the fishing spectrum. Stop choking: let the Piscifun handle it – it’s used to lighter lures.
So why isn’t everyone using the Piscifun, if it delivers all this and keeps its price-point low?
More people should than do, certainly.
But there are a couple of notes of caution. Like some other reels, there’s no instruction manual included with the Piscifun reel. Zip. De nada. Bubkis.
That means you’re left alone to work out the ups and downs of the Piscifun reel.
And also, in a baffling move given the overall quality of the reel, the frame screws are less impressive than the rest of it – which is a real weakness in a reel you’re intending to use for years.
Overall, the Piscifun delivers a heck of a lot of reel for a bare handful of notes. But be aware – you might end up replacing it sooner than you thought.
- Bearings: 7
- Gear ratio: 7:0:1
- Drag: 17 lbs.
- Line capacity (lb/yds): 10/120
- Reel weight: 5.7 oz.
- Extra features: Combination magnetic and centrifugal braking systems; large line guide.
There are two approaches to life and reel-building.
You can either see what everyone else is doing, cut out some of the things than make them costly or difficult, and market yourself as a cheaper alternative that’s good enough for a mass market.
Before we sneer at that, it’s probably worth remembering that that’s the strategy which made McDonald’s one of the richest companies on Earth.
Or you can see what everyone else is doing, do the same things, do some extra things that nobody’s thought of yet, and market yourself as a better alternative.
The Way of the Apple, as it should probably be known.
Lew's has brought that second world-beating philosophy to the baitcasting world with the Speed Spool.
You’re looking at a one-piece aluminum frame for lightness, strength and comfort in use. So far, so similar to other reels on our list. Where Lew’s makes its Apple difference though is in a bearing-supported pinion which reduces friction and ensures the gears of its reel won’t wear down.
That’s an innovation that means the reel can offer smooth casting with a more or less indefinite expiration date.
There are nine stainless steel bearings, all of them double-shielded, at work in the Lew’s reel. What difference does the double-shielding make?
It keeps out debris and corrosives like salt, that’s what.
Again, that plays into the notion that the Speed Spool is destined for a longer lifespan than many of the reels on the market. And that it’s destined to survive longer because its manufacturer has gone to pains to make it so.
The Speed Spool also comes with an external lube port, so you can add some drops of oil every now and then – and crucially, do it easily.
That involves the owner in the legend – maintain your Speed Spool against grinding, and it’ll continue to give you good service indefinitely. The indefinite nature of its lifespan means Lew’s can rightly claim to have increased the value for money of its reel hugely.
Unlike some other reels on our list, you get some torque here from a bowed handle. But these things are a balance – you also get less drag than in some other reels, so it evens out in the end.
There are some noise issues with the Speed Spool to listen out for too, but bottom line, Lew’s has gone above and beyond what it needed to do to give you the best value for money baitcaster reel on the market.
- Bearings: 9
- Gear ratio: 5:6:1
- Drag: 15 lbs.
- Line capacity (lb/yds): 12/140
- Reel weight: 7.2 oz.
- Extra features: Bearing-supported pinion to stop the gears from winding down; easy-access lube channel for ease of maintenance.
How to Choose a Baitcasting Reel
The market in great, relatively inexpensive baitcasting reels is huge. We’ve chosen our favorites – but how will you choose from among them? There are some questions to consider.
Having read our list, one thing should be clear. You don’t need to break the bank to get a great baitcasting reel. The trick is to choose the reel that has the features that are most important to you.
Nobody wants to pay out money unnecessarily. But treat your baitcasting reel as an investment – be prepared to pay for the features that will make your fishing trips better, more enjoyable or more successful.
Do you need:
- Smooth performance?
- Exceptional drag power?
- Reasonable warranty periods?
- Adjustable functionality?
- Ease of operation?
- Comfortable handling?
Features to consider
Baitcasting reels often look more or less identical apart from the occasional snazzy paint job.
We’ve shown in this list that they’re absolutely not all the same though. Look out for the following features and use them as your guide to buying the reel that’s right for you.
We know what it looks like. More bearings=smoother casting, right?
It’s not that simple.
Fewer bearings actually translates to more backlash. You want to minimize backlash, especially if you’re new to baitcasting, so when you’re fresh to the hobby, get every ball bearing you can lay your hands on.
What’s more important across the length of your angling career though is making sure you set the spool and the brakes correctly.
As is often the case, go quality over quantity when it comes to ball bearings. Stainless steel is best in terms of durability – and several reels on our list feature stainless steel bearings.
Know what a gear ratio is?
It’s the number of times a bail goes round a spool in one rotation.
But of course. It’s obvious now you know, isn’t it?
Why would the gear ratio be of any importance in choosing a baitcaster reel?
Because the gear ratio you want is directly linked to the type of fishing you intend to do.
If you want fast retrieves, you need a higher gear ratio. For example, a ratio of 6:1 is faster than a ratio of 4:1. So if you’re all about a rapid retrieve, crank up the gear ratio.
The difference between a reel that works smoothly and a reel that works roughly is all down to the drag.
In most cases, you’re looking for a high drag number. The higher the drag, the more smoothly your line is let out, with fewer snags, jerks and pulls. You should find most of the reels on our list have a more than acceptable drag number for your purposes.
In terms of baitcasting, line capacity equals casting distance. More line means more distance between you and the furthest point to which the line can go.
It also plays a part in dictating which lures you can use. That’s physics for you. Tie an apple to a piece of rope and throw it. The weight of the apple will pull it down faster than if you tie, say, a feather to the piece of rope. The same is true of heavier lures. To get them as far as lighter lures, you’re going to need a bigger line capacity and more energy in the casting.
Reel handle position
Are you a lefty or a righty? Or are you ambidextrous?
It’s an important question when choosing your baitcasting reel, because some are designed specifically for right- or left-handed use.
Choose the right handle position for you, or go for a reel that can be used either way.
Check whether the braking system is magnetic or centrifugal.
Wondering what’s the difference and why it matters?
You’re not the first.
Any braking system in baitcasting exists to prevent or minimize the backlash you experience. Backlash is a way of wasting minutes of your lifetime that you’ll never get back.
You get backlash, you get a tangled line. Untangling lines is like separating clothes hangers in a closet - inevitable, irritating and a poor use of time when you could be fishing.
The type of braking system on the reel you choose will dictate how easy it is to adjust the braking speed.
Obviously, the type of braking system you choose is up to you. But centrifugal brakes generally apply braking forces at higher speeds, which is worth knowing when you’re choosing a reel.
If you’re going to be fishing for a whole day or longer, you need to consider your own health and safety. That means considering reducing the effort you put in at every stage – and using lighter equipment.
A lightweight casting reel can help you minimize the fatigue and muscle strain of long angling sessions. Of course, there’s only so far you can take this principle – you need a reel that can work with whichever rod you use. Heavier rods will need heavier reels.
Retrieve rate and gear ratio are the yin and yang of baitcasting. The higher the gear ratio of your reel, the higher your retrieve rate will be. You’ll be able to judge your retrieve rate and gear ratio according to the type of fishing you want to do.
As a general rule, freshwater fishing requires a slower retrieve.
Whatever reel you choose, it will be housed in a frame of some sort.
There’s an inevitable cause and effect at work here. The materials of which your frame is made will determine how long your reel will last. Whenever possible, go with an aluminum frame (as with our top pick on this list), which combines strength and protection with a lightness that won’t be too much of a burden in your fishing bag.
How to get the most out of your baitcasting reel
The best baitcasting reel is useless if you don’t know how to get the most of it when you have it.
Match the rod to the fishing situation and aim to get it just right. Not too heavy, not too light. Think of yourself as Goldilocks…only fishier.
Get into the habit of reel maintenance. Clean and lube your gears to minimize friction and protect against water, salt, mud – basically anything that isn’t supposed to be in your gears.
That’s a defence against friction. Friction in the bearings reduces your casting distance.
Clean your reel after every use, so nothing that shouldn’t be in the gears has the time to sit and make the reel less effective than it should be.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How do I avoid backlash?
Use the right lure for the reel, so it doesn’t encourage backlash. Also, set your braking system to its maximum setting to minimize the backlash you get.
2. Can I use a left-handed reel if I’m right-handed? Or vice versa?
Technically, you can use any reel you like, irrespective of circumstances. Lots of anglers use the reel handle position opposite to their leading hand, claiming it’s more comfortable. But if it would cause you discomfort or anguish, stick to a reel designed for your leading hand.
3. How do I guard against damage from using my reel in saltwater?
First, catch your reel. If you’re using it in saltwater conditions, you really should be using a saltwater-appropriate baitcasting reel. If that’s not possible, imagine the saltwater is acid – wipe the reel down with fresh water immediately you’re done using it, and later, treat it with a special protective solution.
If you’re going to get just one of the baitcaster reels on this list, we recommend the Ardent Apex Tournament Baitcasting Reel. Our top pick delivers performance, affordability and durability. It’ll give you a smooth drag and is a good-looking reel into the bargain.
Second on the list is the Elite KastKing Royale reel. With its ease of bait-change and its range of gear ratios, it’s a friendly, encouraging reel that’s good enough even for tournament anglers.
And finally, it’s worth checking out the Abu Garcia Pro Max Low Profile Baitcasting fishing reel. Sturdily-built and delivering smooth performance, it’s also designed for longer fishing trips without any of the pain or discomfort they can sometimes cause.
Those are our top picks.
- The question is – which will you choose?
- Which one best matches your particular fishing needs?
- Whichever reel you choose, take the message of regular maintenance to heart, and happy fishing.