Carp Fishing Reel

What to Look for in a Carp Fishing Reel

Big Pit Reels, Quick Drag Reels, Bait Runner Reels and Spod Reels are just a few of the many specialty Carp Fishing Reels available for purchase. A good quality carp fishing reel is one of the many pieces of equipment that can make or break a good fishing session. Knowing which one to use and when to use it is a very important decision.

Those new to carp angling can become overwhelmed by the different choices and features available, not knowing exactly what features to look for; the task of matching the right reel to your specific situation can be quite daunting. Outlined below are some key features and terms that, once explained, will make the process of choosing a reel much simpler and more understandable.

Quick Drag Reel 2
Shimano Ultegra 14000 Carp Fishing Reel

What to look for in a Carp Fishing Reel?

Carp Fishing Reels differ significantly from other forms of fishing reels. There are key differences in characteristics such as the drag, gear ratio, spool size, line clip, line lay, ball bearings, handles and materials that should all be taken into consideration when choosing the proper reel to fit your situation. Below we go over these points in great detail to aid you in choosing the perfect reel.

When I first began fishing for carp, I was quite naive. I did not spend the time to research carp fishing reels. I just spooled up my trusty bass fishing rod and reel combo with a strong carp line and hooks.

As soon as I hooked my first carp, I realized I had made a BIG MISTAKE. After a short battle with the powerful fish, the gears in my reel were stripped…at one point, I thought my spool was going to snap in half. Aside from my reel being ruined, the threads on the handle of my rod that secure the reel were also stripped beyond repair.

What is the Difference Between a Carp Fishing Reel and a Normal Fishing Reel?

There are many aspects of carp fishing reels that make them different from ordinary fishing reels. The main factor is that they’re designed with heavier and stronger parts to hold up to the strength and power of BIG fish. Regular spinning reels just can’t hold up to the fight of a big carp.

There are four main “types” of carp fishing reels which will be explained in greater detail below. A different type of reel is required for carp fishing due to the nature of the sport. Standard fishing reels are designed to cover a lot of water by casting short distances many times. Carp angling differs due to the fact that the majority of the time, anglers target longer distances and make fewer casts as they fish with stationary bait.

Types of Carp Fishing Reels

In this section, we will cover the different types of carp fishing reels in detail to give beginners a starting point when choosing which reels to purchase and use.

Bait Feeder Reels for Carp Fishing

These types of carp fishing reels usually work on a dual-drag system. They are named differently depending on the manufacturer. Commonly referred to as Baitrunner, Baitfeeder or Bite n Run Reels, these are go-to reels for the majority of carp anglers around the world.

Bait Feeder Reels allow carp anglers to efficiently make use of rod rests and bite alarms for bite indication while on the bank. The two drag systems will be outlined below in greater detail, or you can check out this other post on Baitrunner Reels for Carp Fishing.

Quick Drag Reels for Carp Fishing

Gaining in popularity, quick drag reels have an advanced drag system that tightens down very quickly. Instead of having two drags which can be set to loose and tight, quick drag reels have a drag on the front which can be adjusted from loose to tight with only one spin of the dial. Being able to adjust the fighting pressure of the drag with a few clicks is one advantage most carp anglers love.

For more information, check out this detailed article on Quick Drag Reels for Carp Fishing.

Big Pit Reels for Carp Fishing

Specially designed for the specimen carp angler. Big Pit Reels are heavily geared and equipped with very large spools. These characteristics allow carp anglers to easily target big carp at long range.

These are some of the most expensive types of carp fishing reels. Big Pit Reels come with larger, more advanced parts. Mainly they have a larger spool that allows for a more effective line lay. Carp that have been subject to high fishing pressure learn to feed outside of casting range. The Big Pit Reel allows for greater casting distance and greater accuracy due to the less effort required to cast, which is ideal for large bodies of water.

These reels also have larger gears and handles to quickly land fish that are caught at longer distances. Big Pit Reels are on the top of most carp anglers’ lists for which reel to use. The only downside to them is the added size, weight and cost.

For more information, check out our resource on Big Pit Reels for Carp Fishing.

Spod and Marker Reels for Carp Fishing

When I first began carp angling, I just used the same reel for everything. I always thought it was a waste of money to purchase a reel just for baiting and scouting, that is, until I actually tried one!

The main advantage of spod and marker reels is the fact that they have a higher gear ratio and larger handles than standard carp fishing reels. These qualities will allow anglers who bait often to do so with greater ease. After casting a fully loaded spomb or spod multiple times, it can be a blessing to use one of these specialty reels. Your arms and hands will thank you.

Spod and Marker Reels also allow anglers to equip their spools with stronger carp fishing line to prevent baiting tools and marker leads from cracking off. There can be a lot of force exerted upon your line and reel when casting a fully loaded spomb. A proper shock leader and heavy braid are a must which many anglers don’t equip their actual fishing reels with.

For more detailed information check out our other article on What is a Spod Reel, where we compare the advantages of using a Spod Reel for baiting instead of a regular carp fishing reel.

Drag System – Front, Rear, Double or Quick Drag

In simple terms, the drag on a reel controls the amount of force it takes to strip the line from the spool. It is essential to have your drag set correctly. You want to set the drag tight enough so it strips the line slowly and tires the fish quicker. On the other hand, you don’t want to set it too tight, or the fish could run and break your line.

Some reels have the drag adjustment located on the front of the spool, and others have it located on the rear of the reel.

Sonik FRS Pro 10000 Reel
Sonik Vader X 10,000 FRS Pro Reel

The drag can vary from reel to reel; once again, it can come down to personal preference. I have met some anglers that prefer to adjust the drag on the front of their reel, while others prefer rear drag systems.

Rear Drag Reels

Sonik VaderX Freespool
Rear Drag Reel

The main downside to rear drag reels is that they require gears to connect to the spool through the reel. This can slow things down in the crucial seconds of a battle.

Quick Drag Reels

Quick Drag Reels offer a lot of flexibility for carp anglers. They’re specifically designed to provide further control to carp anglers in varying situations. They negate the need for a double drag reel when using rod holders and bite alarms. Anglers simply set the drag loosely and place it in their rod rest. When there is a take, you simply pick up the rod and set your drag with a few clicks of the dial.

Front Drag Reels

Sonik VaderX freespool 2
Front Drag Reel

Front Drag Reels have the drag adjustment dial located on the top of the spool. Drags situated on the front can give an angler quicker control due to being located directly on the spool.

Dual Drag Reels

As mentioned above, there are also specialty reels for carp fishing which are called Baitrunner or Baitfeeder Reels. These reels take advantage of a double-drag system. One drag on the front for fighting a fish and another drag on the rear to create a free spool setting where a fish can freely strip line when it is first hooked. These types of reels are best for beginners as they are easily adjusted before the fish is hooked.

These carp fishing reels can come in a variety of names, and they vary slightly due to the different manufacturers but overall provide the same function.

These reels are specifically for carp, catfish or deep-sea fishing. They provide a two-drag system. A switch is typically located near the rear drag to switch between the two modes.

One drag set to free spool to let line play out freely when a fish runs with your bait. A second drag is on the reel to be set tighter to play the fish once it is hooked. There is a clutch in-between the two drags that engage the stronger drag to fight the fish once the handle is turned.

The free spool drag is a great option to have on a reel when used in tandem with bite alarms. It allows for enough tension to hold the line securely on the bite alarm wheel while also being set light enough to allow the line to be pulled freely over the wheel.

If you place your rod in a rod holder without using a reel with a free spool option, you risk the chance of losing your entire rod, reel and rod holder. I’ve heard stories of carp taking off so strongly that the angler didn’t have time to get out of his chair before his entire setup was gone.

Carp Fishing Reel Gear Ratio

The gear ratio can be one of the complicated terms on reels as it is stated as 5:1 or 4:1, for example. Simply put, in a 5:1 gear ratio, the bail will turn five rotations when the reel handle is turned once. Likewise, with a 4:1 ratio, the bail will turn four times with one crank of the handle.

The lower retrieval ratio will give the reel more cranking power due to the stronger gearing, while the higher retrieval ratio will allow anglers to cast and reel in their line much quicker.

Number of Ball Bearings

One will quickly note that the more ball bearings a reel has, the greater its cost will be. The number of ball bearings a reel has will have a direct impact on the smoothness of the reel.

The more ball bearings, the smoother the action will be, and thus the reel will perform much better. This will also increase the lifespan of the reel due to less wear and tear on other parts as there are more bearings to carry the brunt of the weight, a key factor when targeting big fish.

If you can afford it, go with a reel with more ball bearings.

Carp Fishing Reel Reel Handles

Handles on a reel come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The two main handle styles are single or double. Single handles have greater torque and are better for reeling in large fish, while double handles are weighted better and, in my experience, provide a smoother action.

Single Handle Reel
Single Hande Reel
Double Handle Reel
Double Handle Reel

The grips on the end of the reel handle come in a variety of colours and styles as well. The most common are plastic and rubber handles. Higher-end reels may have metal or wooden handles.

I remember some of the first reels I owned only had the handle on the right side. This can complicate things for left-handed anglers. Nowadays, on pretty much every reel, I see that handles are interchangeable and can be used on either the left or right side.

Some reels also come with a switch that allows the angler to back reel. Back reeling will enable anglers to play out the line by spinning the handle backwards. It takes some practice to get used to fighting fish this way, but it has one significant advantage, it prevents line twist that occurs when the line is pulled out through the drag.

When looking at handles, it mainly comes down to personal preference. Colour, shape and style. Whatever feels most comfortable for the angler.

Carp Fishing Reel Spools

The spool on a reel can seem quite the same from reel to reel, but once one looks closer, there can be key components that are quite different on each one.

  • Spare Spools will sometimes be included with the initial purchase of some carp fishing reels. This can be the deciding factor for anglers that have a weakness for carrying different pre-lined spools for different fishing situations they may face. Purchasing additional spare spools with the reel can significantly increase the cost. It can be quite advantageous for competitive carp anglers to carry more than one spool for their reels. During tournaments, carp anglers can face many different situations depending on the peg they draw. It can save a lot of time on the bank being able to switch between braid, monofilament, fluorocarbon or even strength of line with a spare spool.
  • Spool Size is one of the main factors for spools on carp fishing reels. You want to have a large spool to be able to hold enough line to cast long distances where carp in pressured areas are used to feeding outside normal casting ranges. Longer spools also allow for greater line lay, as outlined below.
  • Spool Backing – Many fishing reels have spools with a smooth alloy finish on the inside. This can cause issues for carp anglers who fish with braided lines. Freshly spooled braid can slip on the smooth finish and cause casting issues as it tightens in on itself. A quick fix that I use is to spool some cheap or old monofilament line onto the inner portion of the spool. This will allow for the braided line to grip better and prevent tangles. I see more and more manufacturers incorporating a rubber backing on the insides of their spools now to prevent this issue from happening in the first place.

Carp Fishing Reel Line Clips

Line Clips are also important features on carp fishing reels. When I was mainly targeting bass or pike in my early years of fishing, the only reason I used line clips was to hold my line while transporting my rod and reel.

When I began carp fishing, I realized that the primary purpose of the line clip was to adjust your casting distance. You simply clip the line in at the distance you want to fish. More importantly, the range at which you have pre-baited where the carp are actively feeding. With the use of distance sticks, carp anglers can easily set their line to the exact distance on all the reels they use.

Line clips come in all different shapes and sizes, mostly to protect the line from being damaged while casting to preset distances. Bigger carp fishing reels will be equipped with sturdier line clips that can hold up to the added pressure and weight from long-range casts.

Carp Fishing Reel Line Lay

Line Lay is an important feature of carp fishing reels. It is one feature I never really considered while fishing for other species. The better line lay a reel has, the farther and smoother it will cast. It will also prevent the line from tangling.

Line lay is often determined by the length of the spool. Longer spools will have greatly improved line lay. Some specialty carp fishing reels, dubbed “Big Pit Reels, ” are much larger than regular reels. The oscillating feature of Big Pit Reels also lays the line better on the spool allowing it to play off smoother when casting.

What Materials are Used in the Construction of Carp Fishing Reels?

As you take a closer look at carp fishing reels, you will notice that not all are made the same. As you look at the higher-priced reels, you will note that they are made out of much higher-quality materials.

Many different materials, such as plastic, rubber, carbon, aluminum, etc., go into carp fishing reels as they’re manufactured. It is best to look at the materials used in the construction of a reel when deciding which one will suit you best.

When choosing a reel, it is best to go to a store that stocks a wide variety of reels. There can be a significant difference in the weight and balance of a reel depending on how it is made. Obviously, cheaper plastic reels will be much heavier than advanced carbon or aluminum machined reels. Personal preference as to how the reel feels in your hand and how it is balanced with your rod will be the main factor as to which reel you choose.

Top Brands and Manufacturers of Carp Fishing Reels

All the big manufacturers of carp fishing reels produce many different types of reels to suit every carp angler’s needs. There is almost always an option from budget to mid-range and all the way through to high-end carp fishing reels.

Here is a list to help beginners narrow down their search and know which names to look for when searching for a quality carp fishing reel:


  • Baitrunner – Free Spool Reel.
  • Ultegra – Quick Drag Reel.
  • Ultegra – Spod Reel.
  • Aero – Quick Drag Reel.


  • Vader X – Free Spool Reel.
  • Vader X – Spod Reel.
  • Dominator X – Quick Drag Reel.
  • TournosQuick Drag Reel.


  • Emcast BR – Bite N Run Reel.
  • Regal – Bite N Run Reel.
  • Tournament Basia – Quick Drag Reel.


  • EOS – Free Spool or Quick Drag Reels, Depending on the Model.


  • Longbow – Baitfeeder Reel.
  • Pulzar – Baitfeeder Reel.
  • CeymarBaitfeeder Reel.


  • Dispatch – Quick Drag Reel.
  • Extricator – Quick Drag Reel.
  • Riot – Big Pit Reel.
  • Exorcist – Big Pit Reel.

If you’re ready to buy a carp fishing reel, you can’t go wrong if you choose one from one of the major manufacturers listed here.

How Much Should a Carp Fishing Reel Cost?

As you can see, there are many different types and options for Carp Fishing Reels. There is pretty much a reel for every situation. If your budget is unlimited and you want the top-of-the-line, you will most likely go with one of the Big Pit Reels from one of the big-name manufacturers. These reels can cost anywhere from $400.00 to over $1000.00.

When you look closely at the different types of Carp Fishing Reels, you will notice a drastic price difference between some models. This can be due to the different uses for different carp reels.

The reels used for actively fishing will be much more advanced and have more features than those used for pre-baiting a run by spodding, spombing or marking key features.

There are basically three price ranges for carp fishing reels:

  • Low-End Entry Carp Fishing Reels – $50.00 – $100.00.
  • Mid-Level All-Purpose Carp Fishing Reels – $100.00 – $400.00.
  • High-End Specialty Carp Fishing Reels – $400.00 +.

I was on a tight budget when I picked up my first set of dedicated carp reels, so I chose two basic Shimano Baitrunners. The low-priced one or two-ball-bearing models ran around $60.00. The two I purchased had more ball bearings and a few more features for about $175.00 each.

I have since purchased and used many different types of carp fishing reels, from bait runners to big pit reels. There is quite a difference in performance and price. If you’re interested in the reels I have been most impressed with, check out our Best Carp Fishing Reels page for specific information.

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