Best Musky Reels of 2023

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Updated Sep 6, 2023 1:14 PM

Musky. The name alone elicits a variety of reactions from anglers, some good, and some painful. However you feel about musky, there’s no denying their appeal as a top-tier freshwater sportfish that puts tackle, especially musky reels, to the test. The work to land these freshwater beasts often has anglers screaming in agony more than joy, and even with the proper gear, fishing for musky is a challenging enough pursuit on its own. The last thing you need is to hook into the fish of your dreams and find your reel isn’t up to the task. To help you avoid that fate, I’ve used my musky fishing experience as well as input from trusted guides to compile a list of the best musky reels. 

How to Choose the Best Musky Reel 

Choosing a musky reel will depend on your style of fishing. Kevin Hughes

To make your musky reel decision ask yourself two questions:

  • How often will I be fishing for musky?
  • How will I fish the reel and with what type of lures?  

There’s no denying musky gear can get expensive quickly, so there’s no need to spend a ton of money if you’re only going to fish for them a few times a year. You’ll probably be fine with one of the less durable but still extremely capable reel options. But, if musky are your new favorite species then it’s worthwhile to invest in the best musky reel you can afford. 

If you’re throwing larger lures and casting all day, something lighter and smoother is probably the best choice. If you are trolling and not casting as much, weight and castability are less of a factor. 

Best Musky Reels: Reviews & Recommendations

Shimano Tranx 300 and 400 baitcasting reels

Key Features (400)

  • Max Drag: 18 pounds
  • Weight: 12 ounces 
  • Briad Capacity: 65/170
  • Gear Ratio: 7:6:1 and 5:8:1

Pros

  • Top tier quality
  • Durability
  • Variety of sizes and options for many lure styles

Cons

If you’re a serious musky angler who throws a variety of lures and spends a lot of time and effort chasing these fish, this is the reel for you. While pricey, it’s a step above all others in quality and functionality and well worth it for the dedicated musky angler. 

The Shimano TranX line has been around for over a decade, and when it first appeared, it immediately made a statement about the ability of low-profile baitcasters. While they had previously been in the realm of bass fishing, the TranX helped pioneer the new generation of purpose-built low-profile reels capable of handling big gamefish. 

Shimano Tranx
The power handle is excellent for reeling in large baits and fish. Scott Einsmann

The 300 and 400 models are ideal for throwing smaller finesse glide baits and spinners, as well as capable of handling some of the best musky lures like larger swimbaits and plugs that are notorious for making musky fishing so painful. The 500 is a reel designed to handle big saltwater gamefish. Still, its indestructible design and robust frame make it ideal for heaving the heaviest musky baits on the market while still allowing for a smooth retrieve and delicate touch during the fight.

The only downside to the TranX series is the drag for the 300 and 400 sizes. While the reels are significantly lighter and easier to use than the 500 (around 12 ounces), they range from 18 to 22 pounds of drag, which is less than some competing reels in the category. The 500 tops out at 25 pounds of drag, which is solid but still not enough to target anything that swims. The TranX is also a great reel for throwing the best swimbaits for bass.

Most Versatile: Daiwa Lexa HD 400

We tested the Daiwa Lexa HD 400.

Key Features 

  • Max Drag: 25 pounds
  • Weight: 17.1 ounces 
  • Braid Capacity: 200/65
  • Gear Ratios: 5.1:1, 6.3:1, 7.1:1 and 8.1:1 

Pros

  • Designed for heavy-duty use
  • Versatile range of ratios
  • Power handle equipped

Cons

Honestly, it was a toss-up between the Daiwa Lexa HD and the Shimano Tranx for best overall. Many anglers and guides are split on which they prefer, with the slight edge going to the Shimano. With a proven design and high-end capability, the Daiwa Lexa HD is no slouch. 

Being built for both fresh and saltwater use, the Lexa HD can withstand a lot of abuse and keep on cranking. The light aluminum frame and side plate are complemented by stainless steel gearing, which helps maintain strength and enhance durability. It comes stock with a counterbalanced power handle and EVA foam grip, which both enhance comfort and help with cranking ability. 

Most impressive, the 400 size alone comes in five different models and gear ratios, allowing the Lexa HD to be tailored to any task the angler needs. 

Guide Austin Conrad of Virginia Trophy Guides prefers the 400 size Lexa HD in the 7.1:1 and 8.1:1 ratios. “I’ll throw anything from jerks to glides to heavy rubber on them,” he says. Conrad is also a fan of the Lexa HD’s durability. “The hardware is more bombproof than other models because its designed for use in salt,” he says. Conrad has a full lineup of Lexa HD reels that have held up great through the years.

Regardless of where and how you’ll be musky fishing, the Daiwa Lexa HD likely comes in a model that will be an exceptional option. 

We tested the Shimano Curado DC 200.

Key Features 

  • Max Drag: 12 pounds
  • Weight: 8.1 ounces 
  • Braid Capacity: 120/50
  • Gear Ratio: 7.1 and 8.5

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • High line capacity and retrieve rate for size (32 and 37 inches for each ratio respectively)
  • Digital control allows for simplified casting of wide variety of lures

Cons

  • No power handle option
  • Limited drag 

While musky fishing is typically a game of “bigger is better,” that’s not always the case. Sometimes the fish are keyed in on smaller presentations or exceptionally spooky. The Shimano Curado DC 200 is the perfect reel for this scenario, built specifically for heavy duty use while maintaining its lightweight, functional design. 

The spool of the Curado DC holds 120 yards of 50-pound braid, which is impressive for a 200-size reel. Additionally, the Digital Control allows anglers to throw a larger variety of presentations and sizes with less fear of backlash. Guide Sam Scott of Blue Ridge Musky uses the Curado DC specifically for smaller lures with his clients. Smaller, lighter lures are notorious for causing backlash, and the Digital Control helps eliminate that worry for clients who may not be as familiar with baitcasters. 

While it certainly isn’t as durable as other reels on this list, the Curado DC 200 is more than capable of handling the rigors of fishing for and fighting musky. Its lightweight size and versatility should be appealing to any musky angler looking to expand their arsenal with something different.

Read Next: Shimano Curado DC Review

Most Comfortable Baitcaster: Daiwa Lexa WN

Daiwa Lexa WN is a low profile casting reel with comfortable handles

Key Features (400)

  • Max Drag: 25 pounds
  • Weight: 16.2 ounces 
  • Braid Capacity: 200/65
  • Gear Ratio: 5:1:1, 7.1.1, and 6:3:1

Pros

  • Reasonably priced
  • Comfortable to fish
  • Wide variety of sizes and styles

Cons

The Daiwa Lexa WN is an incredibly comfortable and reasonably priced reel with the versatility to handle many different fishing styles. It’s a great choice for the average angler who has musky on the mind but may not spend 365 days a year on the water. Sporting custom Winn Grip handles, you’d be hard pressed to find a musky reel that’s more comfortable to crank for hours during a long day on the water. When you’re talking about musky fishing, an endeavor notorious for its hours of grueling casting with large lures, having that extra bit of comfort can be a day saver.

Additionally, the Lexa WN has the option for both a traditional symmetrical baitcasting handle as well as a counterbalanced power handle for extra torque when working large lures or fighting big fish. In fact, the handle options are just one example of another feature that makes this reel series stand out: an impressive variety of size and style options. Sporting ten different models that run the gamut of gear ratios, retrieve styles, and sizes, the Lexa WN is a versatile and affordable option. 

Daiwa Lexa WN 300 is an affordable and comfortable musky reel
The Lexa’s comfortable reel handle makes it ideal for long days of musky hunting. Kevin Hughes

While this reel is certainly intended for targeting big fish and throwing big lures, I did notice after several hard days on the water that it was beginning to show a little more wear and tear than some of the more expensive reels in the category. While no day-ending fatal flaws emerged, the amount of plastic and lighter material in the frame may not lend this reel to as much abuse as some others. 

The Lew's Super Duty 300 is an affordable reel

Key Features

  • Max Drag: 24 pounds
  • Weight: 9.2 ounces 
  • Braid Capacity: 150/65
  • Gear Ratio: 7.2.1, and 6:5:1

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Impressive drag and components for the price
  • Comfortable to fish

Cons

The Lew’s SuperDuty 300 is a functional reel in an affordable package. It offers many of the same great features as higher-end models and would serve as a solid option for most casual musky anglers. It’s ideal for throwing smaller to mid-size musky lures but may not be suited for throwing larger lures on a consistent basis.

Any reel that falls squarely into the musky category is usually going to be on the more expensive side. That said, the Lew’s SuperDuty 300 is about as close as you can get to a reasonably priced option that still has all the function and backbone required to tackle those long, arduous days of musky fishing. Like the Lexa, the SuperDuty 300 has a solid variety of styles and options to choose from (though not as many). These include the counterbalanced Power Knob handle for better cranking power and torque, which is a real benefit when throwing big lures for big fish. Also, like the Lexa, the SuperDuty series includes custom Winn grips on the handles, which drastically improve comfort during use. Perhaps most impressively, the reel tops out at under 10 ounces, making it much lighter than any baitcaster on the best musky reel list. 

Fishing Reels photo
The power handle on the Lew’s SuperDuty makes cranking large baits and horsing fish much easier. Kevin Hughes

There’s no denying that weight matters when it comes to casting heavy gear all day long, and even a few ounces trimmed off can help alleviate some of the soreness inherent to the pursuit. Unfortunately, it’s hard not to notice that some of that weight may be due to a lack of structure-enhancing components. While the reel I tested has held up and done its job for a year of consistent use, some issues with the gearing and frame have led to slippage and warping. Particularly when using heavier lures or fighting bigger fish, the cranking ability seems to waver as the reel is under stress. This causes the reel to lose a lot of its smoothness and can lead to a jerkier fight that is less than ideal for musky. 

Shimano Stradic FL is an excellent big game reel

Key Features (4000)

  • Max Drag: 24 pounds
  • Weight: 9.2 ounces 
  • Braid Capacity: 180/30
  • Gear Ratio: 6.0.1, 6.2:1, and 6:4:1

Pros

  • Sealed, durable frame
  • High line capacity
  • Strong drag

Cons

  • Not ideal for large lures
  • Not made for cranking

Look, let’s get it out of the way right now; spinning reels generally don’t belong in the musky fishing category. This has always bothered me as a saltwater angler who targets fish considerably larger and stronger than musky with spinning gear. However, the reason for the lack of musky-oriented spinning gear is simple: it’s the size of the lures, not the size of the fish. When most people think of musky, they generally think of lures that are 1 to 2 ounces at the lightest and up to 12 ounces at the heaviest.

The complexity of a spinning reel and the physics of how it works are generally not designed to handle casting lures of this size. The bail and inner mechanics of spinning gear are designed for finesse, putting all the dirty work and heavy lifting on the rod. On the other hand, a baitcaster is essentially a glorified winch with mechanics that allow for a significantly higher workload. That said, modern spinning reels have come a long way, and many of the issues seen as inherent deal breakers for musky fishing have been alleviated or outright eliminated. Additionally, there are many anglers who are more comfortable fishing spinning gear or want something that’s more well rounded than the typical heavy-duty musky baitcaster. For those reasons, I think it’s important to include a spinning option on this list. 

All that being said, the Shimano Stradic FL, specifically in the 5000 size, is a great option for those looking to add a spinning reel to the arsenal. I’ve used the Stadic FL for tackling both fresh and saltwater giants and found it to be durable, well-sealed, and smooth. I’ve fought tarpon on mine so it’s more than capable of handling a musky on the line. With an impressive drag max of 24 pounds and 40 inches per retrieve, this reel is a formidable machine when paired with the right rod. While no spinning reel will be ideal for working the ultra-heavy swimbaits and plugs often used for musky, they can be a great choice for many of the lighter finesse musky lures, such as glide baits and smaller jerkbaits.

Read the full Stradic Fl review. 

The Redington Behemoth is a musky reel with a strong drag system

Key Features (9/10)

  • Weight: 10.8 ounces
  • Backing capacity: 275 yards
  • Drag: 30 pounds

Pros

  • Fast line retrieve
  • High line capacity
  • Heavy-duty drag
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Slightly heavy
  • Not sealed

While spinning gear may be out of place in the musky world, fly fishing gear certainly is not. In recent years it’s become so popular that many musky guides always have at least one fly setup rigged and ready on the boat. The Redington Behemoth is the perfect fly reel for those looking to target musky. As the name suggests, it’s a reel designed for tackling large fish in fresh or saltwater. The 7/8 or 9/10 sizes are what most anglers prefer for musky, and the large arbor allows you to use a size heavier rod and line than the reel size. So, the 7/8 will work well on 9 weight and the 9/10 will work on an 11 or 12 weight. 

The large arbor design allows for fast line retrieve, and the impressive carbon drag system boasts a 30 pound max, giving you serious stopping power with a fish on the line. The price is also remarkably affordable compared to many other reels in the category. Lastly, the unique V-shaped spool design holds an incredible amount of backing, making for an impressive line capacity. 

Best for Casting Large Lures: Daiwa Prorex TWS

We tested the Daiwa Prorex TWS.

Key Features (400)

  • Max Drag: 28.7 pounds
  • Weight: 12.2 ounces 
  • Braid Capacity: 235/50
  • Gear Ratio: 5:3:1, 7.1:1, and 8.1:1

Pros

  • High line capacity
  • Light for its size
  • Smooth casting
  • High line retrieve rate (37.6 inches for 7.1:1 and 42.9 inches for 8.1:1 ratio models)

Cons

  • Limited size range
  • Lack of versatility

Musky fishing can be highly specialized, so having a reel dedicated specifically to the task can be a smart move for anglers willing to expand their arsenal. The Daiwa Prorex TWS was designed with this dedication in mind, as it’s the only reel on this list designed and sold solely to target musky. Even more to the point, this reel is built to be the ideal tool for casting large lures all day long with minimal hassle and maximum effectiveness.

The Prorex has several features that make it well suited for targeting these giant, toothy fish. First, it’s exceptionally light for its size, coming in at only 12.2 ounces despite being a 400-class reel. Being built of an aluminum frame with an aluminum side plate helps keep the weight down while keeping the strength intact. This is a beneficial trait, especially when you consider the size and weight of many musky lures. Anything to help ease the strain on an angler’s arms and shoulders after a day of casting is a win. 

This reel also comes equipped with an adjustable length power handle out of the box. The adjustability is what separates the Prorex from other reels with power handles, as the length adjustability is both simple and incredibly helpful for adapting to different lures and anglers on the fly. 

While it may be the simplest feature, Daiwa’s T-Wing line guide system is perhaps the most beneficial. The line guide has a unique “T” shape (hence the name) that allows for heavy line to be cast more cleanly and helps prevent friction and backlash. 

It may be a drawback to some anglers who value versatility, but the single-purpose design of the Daiwa Prorex TWS makes it an exceptional tool for the dedicated musky angler. 

Abu Garcia Revo Toro musky baitcasting reel

Key Features 

  • Max Drag: 25 pounds
  • Weight: 13.8 ounces 
  • Braid Capacity: 200/50
  • Gear Ratio: 4:9:1 and 6:2:1

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Powerful drag
  • Advanced gear system for extended life and less maintenance

Cons

  • No power handle option
  • Expensive
  • Limited size range

The Abu Garcia Revo Toro Beast is an exceptional reel with an obvious purpose: to tackle big fish. This will be a good choice if you’re looking for one reel to target musky specifically. But if you’re trying to outfit an entire lineup, the lack of versatility may not work for you. The name may be a mouthful, but it’s certainly an accurate reel description. As it implies, this reel is more than capable of wrangling beasts, particularly musky.

The Abu Garcia Revo Toro Beast is another reel that pushes the boundaries of what a low-profile baitcaster is capable of, and it packs a ton of punch into a compact design. Weighing only 13.8 ounces, the reel boasts an impressive max drag of 25 pounds with a carbon fiber drag system. The exceptional drag and gearing system combined with a lots of line capacity gives this reel a ton of torque and versatility in a surprisingly sleek package.   

One of the few downsides to the Revo Toro Beast is the limited range of sizes. While it does come in a regular and high-speed model (gear ratios 4.9:1 and 6.2:1, respectively), it does not have a range of sizes for handling a wider array of fishing styles. When musky is the target, it’s generally better to be overpowered than under, and the Toro Beast more than fits the bill. 

FAQs

Fishing Reels photo
Musky can be caught on fly, spinning, and baitcasting reels. Kevin Hughes

Q: Do I need an expensive reel for musky fishing?

Not at all. While the old adage “you get what you pay for” is true in many ways, there are plenty of quality options on the market for someone looking to target musky on a budget.

Q: Do I have to use a baitcaster for musky fishing?

While baitcasters are ideal and preferred, there’s nothing wrong with branching out into spinning or fly gear in the right situations. 

Q: Is drag really that important for musky fishing?

While having a powerful drag is certainly helpful for stopping big fish, the more important factor is the quality of the drag. A good drag system allows for a smoother fight and increases your likelihood of landing the fish.

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Final Thoughts on the Best Musky Reels

Musky fishing is one of the most daunting freshwater fishing pursuits in North America. There are many ways to target these fish, and most of them require serious dedication. The proper gear is critical to help ensure you make the most of every opportunity on the water, as musky don’t offer many. It’s important to have the best musky reel for the task to ensure you avoid heartbreak and hoist a trophy after a long day of musky fishing.



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