If you pony up the big bucks for a premium baitcasting reel, it’s pretty hard to find a lemon, but determining the best ones for under $100 is more of a crapshoot. There are plenty of workhorses and situationally-specific gems out there, but also more than a few lemons. If you’re not careful, that bargain will essentially be a paperweight after a year.
Fortunately, I’ve done the dirty work for you, finding the true workhorses and specialized tools that behave like more expensive reels at a fraction of the price. Whether you’re looking to get your first bait caster on a restrictive budget or need to put together a tournament-ready arsenal, here are my choices for the best baitcasting reels under $100.
How I Chose the Best Baitcasting Reels Under $100
I didn’t make my picks based on the out-of-the-box smooth cranking nor based on the honeymoon phase of the first few casts. The reels I chose were selected based on how they function after banging through big waves, falling on the deck of a boat, and muscling in a bunch of big fish.
Best Baitcasting Reels Under $100: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Tournament Reel: H2OX Evo Baitcast Reel
- Right-hand retrieve
- 7.3:1 and 8.1:1 gear ratios
- 10 stainless bearings
- 5.8 ounces
- The hinged side plate provides easy access
- No left-hand retrieve models
- No slower or mid-range speeds
I’d been fishing the $49 H2OX Premier baitcast reel for months and was consistently wowed by the fact that it performed better than many reels costing substantially more. I kept waiting for it to fail, and it never did. The only thing that made me put it down was the receipt of this still-economical Evo model.
It’s what multiple-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier Stetson Blaylock uses when he’s competing for six-figure checks, and I found it to be a workhorse. From flipping to frogging to “burning a trap,” it cast long distances and stayed smooth and comfortable in my hand. They’d benefit from a model in the 6:1 gear ratio range, but otherwise, you could build much of a tournament-ready arsenal around this model and be confident that you were ready to chase giants in any conditions. If this reel is good enough to be on the deck of a pro-angler and it survived everything I could dish out, it’s definitely worthy to be among the best baitcasting reels under $100.
Best for Small Hands: Daiwa CA80 Casting Reel
- Left- and right-hand retrieves
- 7.5:1 and 8.3:1 gear ratios
- 7.2 ounces
- 9 ball bearings plus one roller bearing
- Rugged but downsized aluminum frame
- Comfortable padded handles
- Adjustable cast control knobs
- No slow or moderate gear ratios are available
The downsized frame of the Daiwa CA 80 may make it look like a bait finesse reel, but despite being small, this will handle heavy-duty flipping and close-quarters cranking with the heart and soul of a much larger reel. It’s small enough for youth, women, and others with small hands to palm, yet holds quite a bit of 12 to 15-pound test line or braid of that same diameter. It’ll still handle small lures well, but the beauty of this tool is that it’s devised for a wide variety of weights. It has an aluminum frame and carbon side plates to handle stress. Even if you have a catcher’s mitt sized hands, this one should get the call, as it provides comfort all day. I particularly like it for square bill crankbaits, chatterbaits, and pitching weightless Senkos.
Best Multi-Speed Under $100: Shimano SLX 150A
- Left- and right-hand retrieves
- 6.9 ounces
- 6.3:1, 7.2:1 and 8.2:1 gear ratios
- Three ball bearings and one roller bearing
- Three popular and useful gear ratios
- Very lightweight
- SVS braking control system is easy and accurate
- Limited number of bearings.
When manufacturers invest in making a bargain reel with high-end features, they often limit the variations to one or two-gear ratios or eliminate left-handed reels. Shimano, on the other hand, is all-in on the SLX150A. They produce it in three of the most popular gear ratios, including a lightning-fast 8.2:1, without sacrificing much if anything in the way of features. It has its trademark Hagane body and, perhaps more importantly, the SVS braking system so you can adjust your cast control to deal with any weight in any wind conditions and feel confident. I’ve used the DC version of this reel for a while before getting this one and found it useful with lures from light unweighted plastics up to 1-ounce filling-rattling spinnerbaits. It holds plenty of lines in a wide range of sizes to make it a one-stop shop for building a tournament or weekend fishing arsenal.
Read Next: Baitcaster vs. Spinning Reel
Best Bait Finesse Baitcasting Reel: KastKing Zephyr Bait Finesse Casting Reel
- Left- and right-hand retrieves
- 7.2:1 gear ratio
- 5.6 ounces
- Six ball bearings, one roller bearing
- 1-year warranty
- Solid 10 pounds of drag
- Refined spool braking system
- Only one gear ratio choice
KastKing has gone all-in on the trendy and productive bait finesse technique, allowing anglers to employ casting gear in situations where previously only spinning tackle fit the bill. The Zephyr is a baitcasting reel well below $100 and is still a remarkably machined tool. If you’re just dipping a toe into bait finesse, it’s an entry point with no downside, but even if you’re a master of light line casting techniques, you don’t necessarily need to go more expensive to have incredible success. I found the cast control system to be easy to tune and remarkably useful, especially as I got into the lower lure weight ranges, and even with hard-pulling drag smashers (I inadvertently tangled with a 10-pound blue cat while testing the reel), it never stuttered or slipped inappropriately. It won’t hold a super-heavy line (unless you’re transitioning to braid), but it’s not meant for that. With micro jigs and balsa crankbaits, it’s a treat to cast all day and won’t tire you out. If you’re in the market for a BFS setup, the Zephyr is the best baitcasting reel under $100.
Read Next: Best Baitcaster Combos
Best for Color Coding: Dobyns Maverick Casting Reel
- Left- and right-hand retrieve
- 7.4 ounces
- 6.5:1, 7.2:1 and 8.1:1 gear ratios
- 11 ball bearings and one roller bearing
- Accent colors are a distinctive feature
- Varied retrieve speeds
- Overbuilt with extra bearings
- Despite the extreme range of options, all of them have the same line capacity
West Coast native Gary Dobyns made his name in the tournament game before turning to rods, and now he’s added reels that meet his strict performance standards. The array of options in a single frame and spool size is awe-inspiring, and whether you like them for fashion or function, the different color accents are a nice touch. You can choose to have all reels of a single speed or line type in the same color, so you immediately know what you’re picking up. Beyond that feature, the reels themselves are solid and long-lasting. They’re not the lightest models in this review, but they’re still airy for a reel that has 12 total bearings, a titanium line guide, and a modern magnetic cast control system.
Read Next: Best Baitcasting Reels for Beginners
Best for Big Fish: Lew’s Laser XL Round Casting Reel
- 11.7 ounces
- Right-hand retrieve
- 4.2:1 gear ratio
- Three ball bearings and one roller bearings
- Stout drag system
- Brass gearing and crankshaft for durability
- Comfortable EVA handle grips
- Great for throwing big lures or bait
- Only one speed and retrieve hand is available
If you like the old-school round reel design, there aren’t many left, and certainly not many under a hundred bucks. I strongly prefer low-profile reels, but if you’re looking for something you can beat the crap out of, this is it. It has the toughness and look of reels from the 1950s and 1960s but with features more befitting modern tools. You’ll get updated features like an advanced centrifugal braking system and an ergonomic 100mm handle with EVA grips. Bass anglers will like it for giant swimbaits and castable umbrella rigs, but it’ll handle giant stripers and muskies, too. There’s even an audible bait clicker so you can “set it and forget it” until the catfish of a lifetime has picked up your live or cut bait and starts moving away.
Things to Consider Before Buying the Best Baitcasting Reel Under $100
At what is admittedly the lower end of the modern price spectrum, you sometimes have to give something up to get under the hundred-dollar mark. Clearly, the manufacturers and retailers think that the more expensive reels from the same lineup are worth more, or they wouldn’t mark them as such.
Accordingly, while the reels listed above are light years better than even the best models from a generation or two ago, the key to choosing a baitcasting reel under $100 is prioritizing the following:
- Gear Ratio
- Line Capacity
- Braking System
By spending on the budget reels that provide the most of what you like best, you’re less likely to miss their admittedly minor shortcomings.
Read Next: How to Cast a Baitcaster
What is a size 300 baitcaster good for?
A reel in a 300 size is ideal for big baits and heavy line. It will provide you with plenty of line capacity for 20+ pound mono or fluorocarbon and have the braking system to control heavy lures.
Are baitcaster reels worth it?
Baitcasting reels offer more accuracy, casting distance, and control over spinning reels.
Is 20 pound line good for baitcasters?
20 pound is a good all-around line weight for jigs, big swimbaits, and saltwater.
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Final Thoughts on the Best Baitcasting Reels Under $100
I’m a reel snob, embarrassed to admit what I’ve unflinchingly paid for a number of baitcasting reels in certain years. I like to think that the extra money is worth it and that I can tell the difference, but after testing a fleet of sub-$100 reels, I’m less convinced. There were some absolute stunners in this review that I would’ve sworn cost $200, $300, or even more in a blind test. It’s not just how they feel the first time you use them because most reels are pretty impressive at that point, but rather how they function after banging through big waves, falling on the deck of a boat, and muscling in a bunch of big fish. These ones passed my grueling test, and are in my opinion, the best baitcasting reels under $100.