Best Musky Reel 2023 – [Buyer’s Guide]
Make no mistake about it big muskies require a super powerful rod and reel setup.
A musky reel is a completely different piece of engineering than a regular reel you might use for bass or trout.
And with good reason;
These large freshwater predators are built for the kill and with fishermen commonly taking fish up to 30 lbs and beyond they pack a mean punch once hooked.
Even a smaller adult musky in the 10 to 15 lb range is capable of giving regular freshwater spinning gear a real beating.
That’s why you need a heavier musky rod and reel in one of the following varieties:
- Baitcasting – A baitcasting reel paired with a good heavy fast action casting rod.
- Trolling – A trolling reel used with heavy trolling rod usually with either a down-rigger or lead core lines for targeting muskies when they are lying deep.
Although quite a few people will troll for musky especially if the are running deep, the preferred tackle is a baitcasting setup.
A good baitcaster for musky has got to be capable of handling lots of heavy line usually in the range of 50 to 80 lb braid and have a drag rating of 20 lbs minimum although you may get away with a reel with a drag of 15 lbs.
Types of Reels for Musky
Most anglers should be familiar with the three types of reels that are available for freshwater use:
- Spincast Reel – not suitable for musky
- Spinning Reel – not the best option for musky
- Baitcasting Reel(and to a lesser extent conventional reels) – top choice
All the reels share a few common attributes i.e the line is wound around the spool by the turning of the handle. They all also have some for of drag mechanism that can be adjusted and will also have some method or design that will allow you lure to be cast out.
However, they differ greatly in their usages. Understanding how each reel works and what it is suitable for is the first step in deciding what kind of reel you need for musky.
If you’ve never fished before you may not be familiar with the following types of reels so here is a brief introduction to them as why they are or are not good choices as reels for musky fishing.
Spinning Reels for Muskie
Spinning reels for muskie are a serious step up in terms of strength and performance over a spin cast reel.
A spinning reel using a bail arm that winds the line around the spool as you retrieve the lure. To cast you simply flip the bail arm open, hold the line with your index finger, swing the rod and release the line as the rod is pointing forward.
More to it than casting a spincast reel and not as difficult as a baitcasting reel.
Spinning reels are usually chosen by those that are using very light lures on ultralight tackle. Most freshwater spinning reels would not be suitable for using for muskie.
They are generally to light and the drag is not strong enough to handle a large 30 lb musky as it runs away from you with it’s nose down in the weeds.
You can of course use a heavier saltwater spinning reel.
Although these heavier spinning reels(in the appropriate sizes) will be more than capable of handling a musky they have one major drawback in that the weight of them will make casting all day very tiresome.
Casting large lures over and over as you try to cover a lot of water is not a lot of fun with a big, bulky and heavy spinning reel.
Another drawback is that if you choose a spinning reel you are also limited to the types of rods you can choose.
Spinning reels rarely work well on a baitcasting setup as they need the eyes lower down close to the reel to be large so as to accommodate the circular motion of the line as it comes off the spool during casting.
Baitcast Reels for Muskie
Without a doubt the preferred choice of reel for muskie fishing is a baitcasting reel.
Most muskie fishermen will opt for a level wind baitcasting reel as it will generally give the best casting performance and is also mush easier to use than a regular baitcaster.
The level wind feature is a small guide that move across the spool as the spool moves. It ensures that the line is laid on the spool in an even manner.
Reels without a level wind require the user to use their thumb to guide the line across the spool as you retrieve.
A baitcaster blends all of the best attributes you would want in a reel:
- Line capacity
- Tough drag
- Higher gear ratio’s
- Well built
Some fisher men will shy away from a baitasting setup as they think it is too difficult to learn how to cast a baitcaster.
Although there is a specific knack to it with a little practice it shouldn’t take long to learn how to throw a lure with these reels.
In fact once you learn how you’ll regret not having done it sooner.
Although best is always subjective below you’ll find a list of the top musky reels available on the market.
The Tranx 500 is one monster of a baitcasting reel and can do practically anything you may ever need. However it is a little on the pricey side and there are others that are cheaper and perform almost as well.
The Daiwa Lexa and the Okuma Komodo are both very popular mid-priced reels and are the go to for the average muskie fisherman. So if you are on a budget then these are the ones to go for.
Best Musky Reels
The Shimano Tranx 500 is considered the ultimate musky reel if you want to throw large lures a long distance and have enough line capacity and drag power to land just about anything.
There are two models in the series:
- TRX500HG – High speed model
- TRX500PG – High power model
The TRX500HG has a whopping 43″ of line retrieval for every crank of the handle thanks to a 6.6:1 gear ratio. If you are looking to retrieve lures quickly this is a serious contender and is on of the best musky reels for burning bucktails.
The TRX500PG is a real power house with it’s 4.6:1 gear ratio offering a lot more torque, that extra power does result in a loss of retrieval speed as you would expect down to 30″ per crank
Both models have a 25lb drag that is more than enough for any muskie. With an all metal construction the reel housing is super stiff and suffers from very little flex even under very high loads.
Line capacity is big. In fact for a baitcasting reel it exceptional. Both the TRX500HG and the TRX500PG can hold up to 420 yards of power pro braid.
With the Tranx you get all of the casting ease of a baitcasting reel and the line capacity of a conventional reel.
Casting is extremely slick thanks to the VBS breaking system. VBS is a departure from the more common magnetic breaking system found on today’s baitcasters.
Instead of magnets it uses centrifugal force to apply more pressure at the start of the cast which is where there is a higher probability of backlashes.
The break weights lessen their pressure on the spool as it begins to slow towards the end of the cast. This allows it to spin more freely when you want it most.
The only major negative to the Tranx 500 line is the price if you are on a budget then this really isn’t the best option. However, if you are looking for what is effectively the Ferrari of the musky fishing world then the Tranx is the best muskie reel for the money hands down.
- S A-RB shielded bearings
- VBS break system
- Dartainium II Drag
- Super speed spool
The appropriately named Revo Toro “Beast” from Abu Garcia most certainly lives up to it’s name.
Available in two sizes a 50 and 60 model it is second only to the Tranx 500 in terms of hauling large musky. Although it is a slower reel in terms of retrieval speed than the Tranx it makes up for it in brute strength and pulling power.
For each size there are two available retrieve ratio’s:
- 4.9:1 – 23.5″ retrieve per crank
- 6.2:1 – 30″ retrieve per crank
The exact amount retrieved per turn will of course depend on which handle you opt to use and how much/diameter of line you are using.
All editions are available in either a left or right hand versions giving a total number of eight different variations available.
The Beast is built for a combination of casting performance and retrieval power.
It comes with two power handles that are fairly simple to swap out. A longer handle gives you a lot more torque so if your game is hauling heavy baits in search of trophy musky then it is preferred over the shorter handle.
The max drag rating is 25 lbs and uses Abu’s Carbon Matrix Drag System which gives a super smooth drag performance that remains consistent even under full pressure.
- 7 HPCR stainless steel bearings
- Power Stack Carbon Matrix Drag System
- InfiniMax braking
- Power or Casting handle
- Aircraft grade aluminum spool
Both the Lexa 300 and 400 from Daiwa are what’s described as low profile baitcasting reels. Unlike smaller reels for bass fishing the 300 and 400 models are high capacity and are capable of holding a large amount of high diameter line.
On the 300 for example you can hold about 240 yards of 40 lbs braided fishing line.
They come equipped with an all aluminum spool and MagForce cast control ensuring a smooth spool speed all the way through the casting range.
The “Ultimate carbon drag” provides up to 22 lbs of pressure which is pretty considerable for a low profile baitcasting reel.
- MagForce cast control
- Aluminum spool
- Ultimate carbon drag
- 22 lb drag presure
Ultra-low profile baitcasting reels were once reserved for much smaller capacity sizes but the times are changing. The introduction of the Komodo SS from Okuma coincided with lots over other offerings in the 300 and 400 sizes being released by all of the major brands.
Essentially a newer, larger version of the well received but little known Komodo 364P(still available).
The SS gets upgraded to all stainless steel hence the ‘SS’ in the name. The main gear, spool shaft, drive shaft and pinion gear are now all heavy duty stainless steel.
The spool, frame and side plates are all made from high quality machined aluminum.
Depending on the size you opt for the Komodo comes with either six or seven HPB High Performance stainless steel bearings.
The drag is made from high output carbonite and is capable of a max force rating of 30 lbs which is one of the highest you will find on a low profile baitcaster musky reel.
- 30 lbs max drag
- Carbonite drag(multi disk)
- Heavy duty stainless steel internal components
- Machined aluminum spool and frame
If the Tranx is just too big for your needs then the smaller 300 and 400 sized models are a great alternative if you are not hunting massive muskie.
The Tranx line up has replaced the much loved Curado series that was quite popular for many years as an all round musky fishing reel.
There are currently eight different models available across the 300 and 400 sizes.
- 300A – 5.8:1 gear ratio(right handed)
- 301A – 5.8:1 gear ratio(left handed)
- 300AHG – 7.6:1 gear ratio(right handed)
- 301AHG – 7.6:1 gear ratio(left handed)
- 400A – 5.8:1 gear ratio(right handed)
- 401A – 5.8:1 gear ratio(left handed)
- 400AHG – 7.6:1 gear ratio(right handed)
- 401AHG – 7.6:1 gear ratio(left handed)
So you effectively have a choice of a 300 or 400 in left or right handed version and also with a high or a low geared ratio.
The low gear ratio 5.8:1 has a 30 inch retrieve per turn of the handle and the high gear 7.6:1 has a 40 inch retrieve per turn of the handle.
Of course the line capacity will be lower than on the Tranx 500, with the 300 model holding up to 190 yards of 50 lbs power pro braid and the 400 model holding 170 yards of 65 lbs.
Note: these reels have a lower max drag of about 18 lbs
- Super rigid Hagane body has minimal flex
- HEG oversized gears
- 5+1 S-ARB stainless bearings
- Variable centrifugal braking system
The Okuma Coldwater series of trolling reels have been a massive hit with freshwater fishermen whether that’s for large lake trout of hunting walleye deep down on the great lakes it comes as no surprise that they make a great musky trolling reel.
There are seven models to choose from, the DLX variations are left handed ones and there are three of those available.
The Coldwater are a very low maintenance trolling reel and have a self lubricating gear system.
Built with trolling specifically in mind the internal gears feature a mechanical stabilizing system which helps eliminate flex and warping under extreme loading.
- Multi disc carbonite drag
- Great value line counter
- Gearing system is self lubricating
- Can take lead/copper lines
Muskie along with catfish are the two species of freshwater fish that require the use of heavy fishing reels that are capable of housing a large capacity of heavy braided fishing line.
As stated early your best choice is probably going to be a low profile baitcasting reel in the correct size.
If you are only used to spinning reels then the thoughts of casting with a baitcaster for the first time can be a little unnerving.
But fear not;
It is not that difficult to learn how to cast a baitcaster. With a little practice and perseverance you be amazed just how quickly you get the hang of it.
In fact once you make the change you’ll regret not having doing it earlier.
Having the ability to toss a lure with the flick of the wrist will mean a lot more accurate casts and it will also mean less arm fatigue as the day wears on.
Shimano Musky Reels
Shimano have established themselves as one of the top reel manufacturers in the world. They have earned a lot of trust from fishermen by producing some of the most innovative and high tech reel available.
If you are looking for a Shimano musky reel then there are a number of options available on the market:
- Shimano Calcutta D
- Shimano Tranx 300/400
- Shimano Tranx 500
- Shimano Tekota
Personally Shimano are my go to brand for reels and have been for many years whether that’s on the hunt for large muskie or throwing small Rapala’s on ultralight gear for trout.
Cheap Musky Reels
Muskie reels are generally built to a very high specification and as with a lot of things in life you will generally get what you pay for.
Whatever about your rod purchasing a cheap reel is a recipe for disaster. A cheap musky reel is probably going to fail once it is put under any kind of real pressure.
A large muskie that keeps it’s head pointed down into a reed bed once hooked is going to put a huge strain on the drag of any reel and low quality components will usually mean one thing:
A seized up reel and a musky still on the hook
You are probably best staying away from any reel that is under a $100 as the quality and durability quite simply won’t be there.