Best carp reels? We review the best of Daiwa, Shimano, Fox, Sonik and TF Gear.

As with most fishing tackle these days, with so much quality product on the market today, it’s a buyer’s market. There are more brands now than I can remember and, with most of them now manufacturing in Asia, there is less and less to differentiate the best from the worst, just don’t mention the endless debate about which is better – Shimano vs Daiwa – or you’ll be there all week!!

These days, the fishing tackle you use is as much down to personal preference and the way something looks as it is a matter of quality, but if there is one piece of equipment where it can still be worth spending a bit more, it’s the reel. This has never been more apparent to me than on my first and only trip overseas chasing bonefish. The first fish I hooked – a six pounder at most – screamed off at such a rate that my old faithful trout reel literally exploded.

Of course, I’ve seen lines come apart and plenty of rods broken, but most of the time you can save a rod simply by playing a fish a little less aggressively. When your reel is emptying at a rate of knots, there isn’t much you can do except hold on and hope it’s up to the job.

The Best Carp Reels

That brings me on to carp reels – or large fixed spool reels in general. With so many reels on the market, and at such a broad range of price points, that it can be more than a bit confusing, especially for people just coming to the sport. In this article I am going to provide my selection of some of the best carp reels on the market today, costing anywhere from £50 to £600-plus. Whether you’re on a budget or have money burning a hole in your pocket, one of these reels should stand you in good stead. With this in mind we’ve split our reviews into 3 sections; under £100, £100-£200 mid-price and the high-end £200 plus.

Three tips to consider before you buy:

  • If you’re torn between two reels, save your money and get the more expensive one. This is something you’ll probably be living with for several years and by spending a bit more and getting something you’re really happy with, you’ll probably find yourself saving money in the long run.
  • Consider how much abuse you’re likely to give your reel. If you’ll only use it occasionally and treating it with love, you can probably get away with a cheaper model. If you’re using it every week, lugging in monster French carp and bashing it around, get something more robust. (Also, when getting the opinion of others, ask them how much they use theirs before making up your mind).
  • If you can’t be bothered to read the rest of this article, get yourself a Shimano or a Daiwa. The other reels are good, but these two have been making the best reels for years. You really can’t go wrong.

Recommended Carp Reels under £100

Over the past fifteen years, the quality of reels has improved significantly and you can now purchase some excellent kit without remortgaging the house. Of course, there are hundreds more options out there and opinions vary considerably. All I can say is, unless you’re unlucky and end up with a dud, any of the following reels should serve you very well.

TF Gear V10 Big Pit

I’m starting with a slightly contentious reel here, as the TF Gear V10 seems to divide anglers. While some praise the reel’s practicality, value for money, casting and line lay, others talk of clutches jamming and reels exploding. Personally I’ve never heard anything but good reports and, although I know some people will never buy from a brand that isn’t a specialist reel manufacturer (in other words, Daiwa or Shimano), this reel has certainly thrown a cat among the pigeons.

The large capacity spool holds plenty of line and is great for casting, while to me the clutch seems silky smooth. The winding power is solid and the line lay very even, while the reel itself feels very solid and assured. Overall I’d say the quality is much better than you might expect from a reel of this price. They also look great – more important to some than others I know – but at the end of the day none of us wants to be the brunt of the jokes!

I have no hesitation in recommending this as a budget option – ideal for someone who hasn’t been very good at saving or perhaps for someone just getting into carp fishing. You can find it on Amazon by clicking the link below.

Shimano Baitrunner ST

It wouldn’t be a carp reel test without mentioning the stalwart of the carp fishing world – the Shimano Baitrunner ST. An all time best seller from the company that invented the very concept of freespool, it offers exceptional value for money – very smooth, reliable and full of features. Of all the reels listed here, this is the one I keep coming back to – it really is far better than the price tag indicates. I’d recommend a set of Shimano ST 10000s, which offer a slightly larger spool than the 6000, a powerful 4.6:1 retrieve, double handle and five ball bearings. Line lay is excellent thanks to Shimano’s ‘vari-speed spindle oscillation’ (don’t ask – it works!). As far as entry-level freespool reels go, it doesn’t get much better.

Okuma Powerliner 860

Not a brand everyone will have heard of, the Okuma Powerliner 860 is actually a lovely little reel. Used by Martin Bowler in his series ‘Catching the Impossible’, they deliver a nice, even line lay, solid cast-and-retrieve, and offer good value to the angler that wants something a bit different. Although possibly not quite as smooth as the equivalent Shimano Baitrunner, these reels are well balanced, nice looking and offer fans of freespool reels a serious alternative.

If I had to point out some negatives, I’d say that, despite their solid housing, the plastic bits give this a slightly cheaper feel. Also, from what I can tell, the reel seems slightly prone to chips. Forgetting the aesthetics though, they’re very good for the money. With a spare spool and 5-year guarantee, there isn’t much that can go wrong.

Recommended Carp Reels between £100 and £200

This is the area where there has been an explosion of high quality reels in the last few years. The standard has improved to the degree that you have to really want a more expensive one to justify the cost.

Daiwa Windcast BR LD 5000

If you want a new carp reel and you’re prepared to pay £100+, the Windcast might be the one for you. Do an Internet search and you’ll find heaps of positive reviews. The retrieve is silky smooth and the clutch positive and reliable. Everything just feels solid, no play , squeaks or noises in the handles and line guard. Although the Windcast doesn’t have as many ball bearings as many of the reels in this review, overall they just feel really well put together. Given their features and build quality there aren’t many reels that come close for the same money.

Sonik Tournos 8000

Aside from the fact that Sonik has an ongoing ’buy two get one free’ offer on these reels, there are a number of things I want to mention. It’s essentially a purpose-built, lightweight casting reel, that Sonik have released specifically to challenge the dominant big reel manufacturers. Sonik don’t have a long history in reel-making, but this is a lovely bit of kit, great value for money and the perfect machine for fishing at distance. The spool is angled for minimal drag to help you achieve maximum casting lengths, and there’s a neat little rotor lock, which stops the bail arm flipping over in the middle of a big cast. The line lay is nice and even and the retrieve is as smooth as you would expect in this price bracket, thanks to the 8 + 1 stainless shielded bearings. This reel is designed to be a work horse and everything about the way it looks supports that. Its design is minimalist and matt black – there’s no flash or silver trim – instead it’s meant to be rugged, reliable and durable. The Tournos features a rapid-drag system, which allows the angler to switch from freespool to normal operation in in just over half a turn of the chunky aluminium handle, and the reel is supplied with two aluminium spools: one deep and one medium, with an optional shallow (braid) spool available on request.

Fox 12000 FS

The Fox 12000FS is the direct successor of the old Stratos FS12000. Like the Tournos above, this is another work horse – strong and durable yet lightweight thanks to its graphite body. I heard that the earlier ones had some problems with clutches, and even a few handles breaking off, but since they’ve ironed out their teething problems they seem like really solid reels. If you’re the kind of angler who likes to own something unusual, these could be the reels for you. I also read somewhere that Fox team angler Ian Chillcott won the World Carp Championships in America with them, so they can’t be all that bad.

Shimano Big Baitrunner X-TA LC

As we get slightly higher in price range, the quality, feel and features of the reels improves markedly. Powerful, smooth, long-casting and pretty much faultless, the Shimano Big Baitrunner X-TA LC is the Rolls Royce of baitrunners and one of the best big pit reels on the market. A direct descendent of the original baitrunners, this is a reel that feels indestructible – truly awesome. As you’d expect from Shimano, the gears are silky smooth and the 5+1 shielded ball bearings deliver a retrieve that, enhanced by the slow oscillation line lay, is a real joy to use. The Big Baitrunner is a terrific all-round performer and can double up as a great sea fishing reel for anglers who don’t limit themselves to one species. If you like baitrunners but you want a big pit reel, they don’t come much better than this.

Shimano Baitrunner 12000D – ** OUR CHOICE **

…Unless you fancy a 12000D! Like many of today’s carp reels, these beauties began life as sea fishing reels. That means they’re designed to withstand not just corrosive salt water, but also the other kinds of abuse that come with fishing at sea – getting bashed around in boats, dragging up heavy loads from the sea bed and doing battle with the hardest fighting fish on the planet. Shimano Baitrunner 12000Ds are smooth, powerful, versatile and feel totally reliable. For me, they’re the ultimate all-rounder. I can use 12000Ds for pretty much everything I do – carping, pike fishing, spinning for salmon, fishing lures off the shore and more general sea fishing from a boat. Why buy a freshwater reel AND a sea reel when you can use these for both?

If any all-round reel deserved a 10-out-of-10 review, it would be this one. The latest in a long line of constantly improving Shimano Baitrunners, they incorporate all of the features you’d expect – super-stopper anti-reverse, ultra-smooth retrieve, shielded AR-Bs, maintenance port, single machined aluminium handle – and lots more besides. The reel has been completely redesigned, with an improved spool and bail arm for more reliable casting and fewer tangles, a waterproof drag, a more solid retrieve and better line lay (formerly a common complaint with Baitrunners).

But is it the best carp reel on the market? Well, if I had to pick out some negatives, I would start with the fact that this is not actually a great casting reel. The spool is relatively shallow compared to some of the big pit reels, which means this is not the ideal tool for reaching maximum distance. What’s more, it’s heavy. At 30oz the 12000D is a fraction under 2lbs. Compared with the much cheaper Baitrunner ST, it’s a tractor. And then there’s the drag: Shimano have changed the shape and size of the drag, making it slightly smaller, which can actually be a bit fiddly until you get used to it.

Of course it all comes down to personal preference. For my sins, I like a reel that doesn’t require too much care and attention and I appreciate the versatility to be able to pack up my carp rods, swap spools and try something totally different. If the size is an issue, don’t be put off, there are several size options available – 4000, 6000, 8000 and 12000. Here’s a short review of the Shimano 8000D ‘mini big pit reel’:

This is our choice of reel because we’re not out-and-out carp fishers and we like a reel that can be used elsewhere. For an all-round carp, spin and boat reel, you won’t find better value.

Break the Bank Carp Reels

Now we are entering the premium end of the fishing reel world. In much the same way as you don’t really need a BMW as a Mondeo will do everything it will for less, it doesn’t stop you wanting the BMW and the same is true of these reels….you just want them for that extra bit of quality you only really get from Shimano and Daiwa.

Daiwa Tournament Entoh QDA 5000

The Daiwa Tournament Entoh QDA is the latest edition of longstanding best seller, the Daiwa Tournament Entoh. It is arguably the best specialist carp reel you can buy without reaching the heady heights of the Technium and Basiair price tags. As opposed to the previous Entoh, the QDA comes with new black cosmetics and a few added features, such as ultra responsive Quick Drag (QD) spools, Twistbuster and AirBail, which are now standard. Supreme line-lay, classic smooth motion, zero play in the retrieve and perfectly balanced, there is really very little to split the QDA from the most expensive carp reels on the market. It’s also lovely looking – a definite move away from the slightly blingy reels that dominated the last few years.

Unlike the Baitrunners we discussed above, this reel is not an all-rounder – it’s an out-and-out long distance casting reel – with deep, forward-tapered spool and wonderfully responsive front drag. If you’re a passionate carper, want to treat yourself to the best distance reel money can buy, but don’t have £1000+ to burn on a pair of wonder reels, the Entoh QDA 5000 is the reel for you. I’d own a pair of these in a heartbeat.

Shimano Aero Technium XT-B12000

Now it’s getting serious. At £550+ per reel, to say the Technium XTBs are fantastic is a given. They look gorgeous, they’re ultra-smooth, they have more power than you can believe and they incorporate the best of everything Shimano can produce. They are one of the very best fixed spool reels ever made.

At this price point the only question you should be asking is ‘do I buy Techniums or Basiairs?’ and that question is very hard to answer. Although some anglers claim the difference is night and day, they seem pretty evenly split over which one is night and which one is day! Unfortunately it all comes back to the timeless argument of Shimano versus Daiwa, which I have no desire to get into here.

Have a quick watch of this review:

If you want to read the technical stuff, have a look here.

Daiwa Tournament Basiair

Like the Technium, the Daiwa Basiair is the ultimate long distance carp fishing machine. At 445 grams it’s slightly lighter than the Shimano, but it’s every bit as smooth and powerful. If you want to cast a long way and spend hours staring at your beautiful kit, this is probably the reel for you.

By the way, if you’re wondering how the Basiair fits in with the Basia 45 QDX and Basia 45 QDA, the basiair is the top of the range. You can see them side by side in this short review:

Summary

Best Carp Reels Comparison Chart
Some people will tell you that paying a premium for the best reels on the market is well worth it. They may even go so far as to say it’s a false economy NOT to go high-end, as buying cheap means buying twice. That may well have been the case a few years ago, but today’s carp fishing reels are so good, it really doesn’t apply any more. What is true, however, is that this is really just a psychological issue. If there’s a reel you really set your heart on, but you feel it’s too expensive, my suggestion would be wait a while, save a bit more, then treat yourself. There’s no better feeling that setting up a rod with the reel of your dreams, and that’s a feeling that takes many years to fade away. If money were no object, of course you’d have a set of Aero Techniums or Basiairs, but realistically, most anglers would end up bankrupt or divorced after making such a purchase. Whatever your budget, there are some truly fantastic reels available and I hope the list above will give you a useful steer.

Good luck, happy angling, tight lines and maybe I’ll see you on the bank one day. I’ll be the bloke with the Shimanos… 😉