Rods and reels for musky fishing are stronger than traditional freshwater setups. Your standard bass fishing equipment won’t cut it, as musky are larger, heavier, and fight harder than bass.
Musky can be caught in lakes across the US, and they are an exciting species to target. While a heavy-duty rod is essential, a high-performance fishing reel is the most important factor of a musky setup.
However, you don’t need to get a second mortgage on your house to start fishing with decent tackle. This angler’s guide will discuss the best musky fishing reels of 2022, with reviews of baitcasters and spinning reels in every price range.
The team at Bass Tackle Lures has years of experience testing and reviewing fishing equipment. We’re confident we can get you set up with a musky setup you’ll enjoy for many years of fishing outings.
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Musky Reel Qualities
Musky fishing can be fatiguing. Throwing heavy baits all day can wear you out if you’re using the wrong equipment. Many beginners buy low-quality reels to save money, which isn’t ideal.
Most cheap reals have reduced performance, worse build quality, and break down faster. While you can get away with using a less expensive rod, picking up a performance-oriented musky reel is a worthwhile investment.
The best all-purpose musky reels are 300 to 400-size baitcasters with a 6.3:1 gear ratio.
Baitcasters are the most popular type of reel to use for musky fishing. While they have a steeper learning curve, baitcasting reels offer more power, precision, casting distance, and overall performance.
Size 300 reels can be easier to manage and have enough versatility for fishing larger baits. However, if you frequently fish larger baits and hook into a heavier musky, a 400-size reel could be the best option.
Regarding gear ratios, faster reels are ideal for lower resistance lures such as glide baits and jerkbaits. These reels help you keep baits moving quickly, but they have less strength, requiring more cranking power.
Slower, low gear-ratio reels will give you more torque, but they can make it difficult to fish baits at high speeds. Reels with a power handle and a large frame are ideal for fishing larger, high-resistance baits.
Overall, reels with a gear ratio around 6:3.1 tend to have the most versatility.
Musky Spinning Reels
Some anglers prefer to fish for musky with spinning setups. This type of equipment is ideal for fishing smaller baits such as the Mepps 5 and Mepps musky killer and also gives you more control when vertical jigging.
While you won’t get as much power and casting distance, spinning reels offer more sensitivity and control over lightweight presentations.
When searing for a spinning reel, look for 3000 or 4000 size reels with a well-made drag.
Reels like the Daiwa Fuego allow back-reeling and have enough drag strength to fight large musky. See our reviews of the Daiwa Fuego and other spinning reels below.
Best Fishing Reels for Musky
1. Daiwa Lexa HD 400 - Best Overall
4.5 Stars | 46 Angler Reviews
Our favorite reel for musky fishing is the Daiwa Lexa HD 400. This beast of a baitcaster has a 6.3:1 gear ratio, but it offers a ton of strength even with the faster retrieval speed. Whether you’re fishing blade baits, spinnerbaits, or big bucktails, this reel makes musky fishing nearly effortless.
Daiwa recently upgraded the clutch system for the Lexa HD, which increased the power and made it even easier to fight big fish. We’ve been fishing this reel for years; however, the new model is better than ever.
The Lexa HD features an “all-grease bearing system,” which makes the cranking action smooth and silent. While other smooth reels sometimes sacrifice casting distance, this bearing design ensures top-notch performance.
Daiwa also incorporated their proprietary “extended counterbalanced handle,” which provides more torque. It’s interesting how a change in the handle design can create such significant strength improvements.
300 vs. 400
Lastly, Daiwa offers a 300 model of the Lexa HD. This reel has a faster, 7.4:1 gear ratio, which is ideal for low-resistance lures such as jerkbaits. While we prefer the 400 models, the 300 can be easier to manage, and smaller reels can be easier to pair with rods.
2. Shimano Tranx 400 HG - Most popular
4.7 Stars | 407 Angler Reviews
The Shimano Tranx 400 HG has gained popularity among musky anglers. It’s a tank of a baitcaster that was designed for fishing big musky lures. This reel has more cranking power than the Lexa HD, but they have similarly smooth retrieves.
There are two gear ratio options for the Tranx 400 HG. We prefer the 7.6:1 gear ratio over the 5.8:1, making the reel more versatile for throwing fast-retrieve jerkbaits and glide baits. While the 5.8:1 has more torque, the Tranx naturally has more power than other similar baitcasters.
This reel has a lightweight aluminum body, an S3D spool, QuickFire II clutch bar, and six ball bearings. The handle comes from the brand’s CI4+ lineup, featuring double oversized rubber paddles.
If you’re looking for a tournament-ready reel, the Tranx has industry-leading technology. It’s slightly more expensive than the Lexa HD, but anglers with a higher budget will enjoy the upgrade.
3. KastKing Kapstan Elite 300 - Best budget casting reel
4.6 Stars | 508 Angler Reviews
You don’t need to spend over $150 to start musky fishing. KastKing’s release of the Kapstan Elite 300 provides a much more affordable option for anglers to get out on the water. The Kapstan Elite is one of the first budget baitcasters we can confidently recommend to beginner anglers.
KastKing is known for its exceptional build quality without charging outrageous prices. This reel was designed for competitions, with improved line capacity and increased torque for casting big lures.
Technology and Performance
The Kapstan Elite features a triple disc carbon fiber drag system usually only found in high-end musky reels. We found the drag is smooth and quickly reacts to adjustments.
A total of 9 stainless-steel ball bearings are featured in the housing. This design makes it just as smooth as other reels that cost twice the price. The spool is braid-ready, and there’s a line indicator attached to the housing.
KastKing also offers some of the industry's best customer service and fishing reel warranties.