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Stepping up to a baitcaster is a signal that you’re ready to take your angling game to the next level. But that step doesn’t have to come with a trip to the bank. Even experienced anglers have a hard time shelling out serious cash for a single reel. Most of us have learned to spread our money around on a few budget-minded combos to have a variety of options on deck instead of constantly retying with every lure change.
Dozens of baitcasters are available under $100, but precious few offer the durability, fit, and finish to stay in your angling arsenal for more than a season. Novice and experienced anglers alike will appreciate any of the reels from the following list. In fact, I’m not sure I’ll ever spend more than a C-note on a reel again after putting the following baitcasters through their paces. Here are the best baitcasting reels under $100.
How We Picked the Best Baitcasters Under $100
Having more than 40 years of experience on the water, I’ve fished recreationally and in local bass fishing tournaments most of my life. The front deck of my first bass boat always had at least three baitcasting reels at the ready. Today, that number has tripled, with a different rig for every new presentation. And I spend, give or take, 50 days a year on the water, testing rods, reels, and lures to fine-tune my setups.
I’d love to say that I get products from manufacturers on a regular basis, but the truth of the matter is that, like many outdoor writers, I pay out-of-pocket for my gear, so budget friendly is a way of life. My selections are based on personal experience with these reels during the last year in pursuit of America’s number one game fish: largemouth bass. And all of my selections are based on freshwater bass fishing applications. If you’re looking for saltwater reel options, check out our guide for the best saltwater reels.
Best Baitcasters Under $100: Reviews & Recommendations
- Materials: Aluminum frame with graphite side plates
- Weight: 7.9 ounces
- Ball bearings: 7
- Braking system: Magnetic
- Gear ratios: 5.4:1, 6.6:1, and 7.1:1
- Extremely durable construction will outlast most reels in this price range
- Well-tuned magnetic braking system
- You may need to shop for sales to catch it at the $100 mark
I’ll admit to being a bit of a fanboy of Abu Garcia reels since my father put that first iconic round Ambassadeur in my hands roughly 40 years ago. But I’ve stayed with the brand because its gear has never disappointed me. As the base model of Abu’s Revo line, Revo X is the Ford F150 of the angling world. Sure, there are chromed-up King Ranch editions available, but this is the one I keep turning to for frogging, flipping, and cranking when I want a workhorse that isn’t afraid to get a little dirty. The magnetic braking system makes it easy to adjust cast control from the exterior of the reel, and the high-quality bearing sets keep things rolling smoothly. The recommended list price recently inched above that century mark, but you can still find sales nearly year-round to get it for less than a C-note.
- Materials: Aluminum frame
- Weight: 7.3 ounces
- Ball bearings: 6
- Braking system: Centrifugal
- Gear ratios: 6.6:1 and 8.1:1
- Durable aluminum frame
- Smooth drag
- Braking system underneath side plate
- White matte finish shows dirt and grime
With an aluminum frame and some added comforts of higher-end offerings, I can’t figure out how 13 Fishing keeps the price of this hidden gem so low. The bearing set offers a combination of two high-speed Japanese bearings at the spool and four standard stainless steel bearings for added durability and performance. The addition of a hook keeper on the frame is a nice added touch.
Making an adjustment to the braking system does require removing a side plate, and I almost fumbled it into the lake when I popped it loose. But the adjustments themselves are simple with a near idiot-proof numbered dial. After a year of use, I have noticed the white exterior tends to collect dirt from a day’s worth of use, but some minor cosmetic scuffs should be expected after heavy wear and tear.
- Materials: Aluminum alloy frame
- Weight: 7.1 ounces
- Ball bearings: 9
- Braking system: Magnetic
- Gear ratios: 5.6:1, 6.8:1, 7.5:1, and 8.3:1
- Excellent combination of top component features
- Aluminum wiffle spool and aluminum frame
A metal frame and spool plus a 9-bearing construction for $100 seem a little too good to be true, but that’s what the Lew’s LFS delivers. Like the Revo X, this Lew’s offering has an easy-to-adjust magnetic braking system that beginners may find helpful. The controls for the braking system are external, so there’s no need to tear the reel apart to make quick changes on the water to fine-tune your setup after a lure change. This reel also is available in four gear ratios for left- and right-handed users, which usually is not the case in reels at this price point, so I have to applaud Lew’s for the added options.
I have never been a fan of the wide paddle-style grips Lew’s tends to use on their reel handles. The narrow stem nearest the handle tends to be hard to grab securely when you’re surprised by a bite or have fallen into a chunk-and-wind routine. The drag also seems to play out line a little too easily for flipping or frogging until you have it almost maxed out. But for soft plastics, spinnerbaits, and crankbaits, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a better option under $100.
- Materials: Aluminum alloy frame
- Weight: 7.2 ounces
- Ball bearings: 9
- Braking system: Magnetic
- Gear ratios: 7.5:1, and 8.3:1 gear ratios
- Nice aluminum wiffle spool saves line
- Comfortable handle
- Externally adjusted braking system
- Only available in higher gear ratios
- Reel body is almost too small when palming
This metal-framed baitcaster skates in just under the $100 mark. Matched up with a medium-action rod, the CA80 might be the perfect weightless worm or light drop shot reel for those who don’t want to resort to spinning rods and reels. The compact reel body did take some getting used to when I palmed it, but the reel handled stress from hooksets well. The handle is a little smaller than other baitcasters on the list, but because it’s swept in toward the reel body, it performed well and delivered enough torque to turn fish.
The reel also has an aluminum wiffle spool like older, pricer models. This offers increased casting distance and saves you from spooling a bunch of backing line near the spool’s center. The CA 80 is only available in higher speed models. This isn’t too much of a hindrance, however, because its compact size and construction are much more suited to soft plastics and lightweight presentations than heavy cranking duty. If you want to pair up some finesse presentations with a power-fishing mindset, this might become your favorite reel.
Best New Baitcaster Under $100: Shimano SLX A150
- Materials: Hagane alloy frame
- Weight: 6.9 ounces
- Ball bearings: 3
- Braking system: Centrifugal
- Gear ratios: 6.3:1, 7.2:1, and 8.2:1
- Extremely lightweight
- Sideplate retainer helps keep things together
- Low bearing count
- Must remove side plate to adjust braking
The SLX series has been around for a few years, but this latest iteration has seen significant changes. Some seem like small downgrades to keep the price under that magical $100 mark, but Shimano streamlined a few things in the process. It’s still based on Shimano’s Hagane frame—a fancy acronym for a stout aluminum alloy frame that is extremely durable. The old-school 6-pin centrifugal braking system may take a little tweaking to get dialed in, but it’s a classic feature that you appreciate once you learn how to adjust it. The side plate still needs to be removed to alter the brakes, but there’s a handy retaining rod to prevent you from dropping it. The low bearing count might look bad on paper, but thanks to the rest of the reel’s design, I haven’t really noticed a terrible difference between this reel and others I keep on deck.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Baitcaster
Buying a quality budget baitcaster takes a little more thought and inspection than buying a high-end reel. Anglers need to know what materials, gear ratios, and bearings to look for to make sure that the reel won’t stop working after one season. Remember these considerations before buying a baitcaster under $100.
Most manufacturers will save money on their price-conscious options with frames and internal components of polymer, graphite, carbon composite, or some other fancy way of saying plastic. There’s a reason you won’t find any reels designed for musky and other big game targets made of these materials. They just don’t have the rigidity or durability needed for a lifetime of cranking and winding or fighting big fish. Add in the extreme stress most baitcasting reels receive from a day of palming the reel and working a bait and you’re going to wind up with a cracked or weakened frame and grinding gears. Magnesium and a few other high-end alloys aren’t accessible under the $100 mark, but with some searching, you can find aluminum-framed reels that retain excellent durability and don’t feel like an anchor at the end of the day. Don’t settle for anything other than a metal frame.
Reels are usually offered in a few gear ratios. Not only does gear ratio impact the speed the lure is retrieved with a single crank of the handle, but it also can play a part in how much effort is needed to pull against a hard-fighting fish or deep-diving crankbait. Reels with low gear ratios, like 5.4:1, may seem like snails compared to some of the latest line burners that boast 9.1:1 retrieve rates. But crank a Strike King 6XD all day with one of those rockets, and you’ll understand why those slow-pokes still have a home on the deck of a deep-water angler’s boat. Faster reels offer two great advantages: They let you take up slack line quickly to set the hook with jigs and soft plastics, and they also prevent your arm from feeling like you pitched a full game of baseball at the end of the day.
Bearing count and quality are both important to the smoothness of the cast and retrieve. As the bearing count increases, friction points are reduced, adding to the smoothness. But don’t be sold simply on high numbers here. Cheaply made bearings may have pitted surfaces or deformities that lead to poor performance. Japanese-made bearings like those found in Shimano reels are the gold standard for reel manufacturers. Stick with bearings made by reputable companies like Shimano, Daiwa, and Abu Garcia, as they have a proven track record with high-tolerance bearings.
Keep things light. Most of today’s fishing rods have lightened up to the point that the heaviest thing in your hand is going to be the reel. Baitcasters are going to be a little more substantial than most spinning reels because they’re built to take a little more punishment from both the fish and the fisherman. Still, reels in the $100 price range often lighten things up by using graphite (yes, plastic) side plates. As long as it doesn’t go any further than that, this is a great way to maintain the durability you need and shave a few ounces of unwanted weight that you’ll notice after a full day of casting in the hot sun.
Q: Why do pro fishermen use baitcasters?
Baitcasters are the primary style of reel used at the professional level because they are extremely versatile and efficient. Baitcasting reels are preferred for any presentation that requires covering water quickly to find the fish. Another advantage baitcasters have over spinning rods is the additional accuracy and control the angler has on each cast. Pinpoint precision is much easier to attain when flipping, pitching, or roll-casting to brush piles, docks, or other structure.
Q: Is baitcasting better than spinning?
Both baitcasters and spinning rods have their place in angling, and a smart angler will become well-versed in both. Spinning rods excel with light line and finesse techniques, but the added flex in these light setups makes an angler feel less in control when a large fish is on the line. Baitcasting reels are much more suited to fish crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and presentations that require reeling quickly to set the hook, such as Carolina-rigged and Texas-rigged soft plastics and flipping jigs.
Q: What is the easiest reel to cast?
There’s no doubt that baitcasting reels take a little more time to learn than other reel types, but the added benefits they offer are worth the extra trouble. Spinning reels and those old Zebco closed-face push-button setups will let you get on the water quickly, but a baitcaster will keep you there. If you’re just starting out, look for a baitcaster that has a centrifugal braking system and set it to the maximum amount of braking. Use a lure presentation with a heavy weight, like a Carolina rig, and set your spool tension properly. Keep that thumb floating over the spool on the cast to prevent the dreaded backlash.
Best Baitcaster Under $100: Final Thoughts
The phrase you get what you pay for has never been more true when it comes to fishing equipment. High-dollar reels come with many bells and whistles die-hard anglers appreciate when they spend hundreds of days on the water each year. Weekend anglers may not get to the lake enough to notice those added features, especially if you’ve dipped into your gas money to swing the extra cash for a new reel. The reels recommended above offer great features and rock-solid performance without cutting into your fishing fund.
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