Baitcaster Reel Sizes Explained – How To Choose The Right One

By now, most anglers have realized that size standards in fishing equipment are a little loose. It’s probably fair to say that there aren’t any exacting standards at all.

The fishing industry has managed to function very well without strict size codes. 

For example, the critical dimensions of a 3000 size spin reels can vary quite significantly between manufacturers.

Nonetheless, when we anglers see a spin reel size of 3000, we immediately have a picture of its proportions and applications.

Spin reels are by far the most popular reel style, therefore most of us are pretty comfortable with size designations. 

While baitcasters are very popular, I would argue that fewer anglers have a good grasp of baitcaster reel sizes and what the numbers mean.

In this article, we’ll clear this up.

Despite the arbitrary nature of size designations for baitcasters, it isn’t difficult to get your head around them…once you know how.

Let’s cast a lure or two at baitcaster sizes and see if we can’t catch a keeper. 

To keep things simple for illustrative purposes, we’ll narrow our focus to the popular low-profile baitcaster.

Baitcaster Reel Sizes. The Basics

The information in the following section is pretty well all you need for a basic baitcaster reel size understanding. It’s not complicated, and it’s very useful, if not critical knowledge to have.

Low profile baitcasters start at size 50 (smallest), topping out at 400 (largest) 

Size increments can be a little nuanced, depending on the manufacturer, but by and large, size increments generally progress as follows: Smallest, 50, 70, 100, 200, 300 and 400, Largest.

Not all brands use the same numbering system. I don’t know why; it just makes things harder for the uninitiated. However, the differences are minor and easily understood.

For example. Some brands will label a 200 size as a 20, and a 400 as a 40. 

I’m not sure there’s any great scientific or marketing benefit to this, but while confusing at first, it’s no big issue to get your head around.

Round baitcasters, including overhead/traditional reels, are, more or less, the same as spinning reels. They start at 1000 moving through to 10,000 and greater.

Again, there is a proprietary variation on these numbers, such as 6600 or 5600, as used by Abu Garcia. 

But by and large, progression is reasonably logical and easy enough to follow – small numbers denote a smaller reel, with a progression upward, to larger numbers indicating larger reels.

Also Read: Best Gear Ratio For A Baitcaster

Is a Shimano 400 the same as a KastKing 400?

As I mentioned earlier, there is a size correlation between brands. The correlation is reasonably consistent across brands, and between reel series within brands, but correlation is where “sameness” stops.

Effectively, there is no one reel measurement that confirms a size designation. This means that it is unlikely any two reels in the 400 size will have identical measurements, unless by chance.

However, between series within a brand, it is likely that a 400 size from one reel series will have several key components measuring the same as another series. 

There’s a manufacturing cost efficiency to such a practice. Essentially, rigid size/measurement standards are not viable with fishing reels.

If a standard were to be employed that enforced all 3000 reels should have this size body, or same size rotor, or weight between certain parameters, manufacturers would lose a significant amount of design flexibility.

For example, Reel manufacturers, particularly the big Japanese brands, are on a mission to make reels as lightweight as humanly possible.

If reel sizes had industry-wide stringent weight standards, there’d be little point in trying to make the lightest 400 baitcaster ever, if doing so would turn the 400 into a 300.

In summary, while size standards are indeed arbitrary, with significant variation across the industry, the designation still provides us with critical indicators.

Importantly, reels sizes, despite variations, give us a very good indication of the fishing reels’ application. 

For example, we know immediately that a 1000 size conventional reel will be good for inshore and nearshore fishing applications. 

When we see a size 10,000, we know this is a blue water or big fish reel.

Despite nuance and the fact that no two reels will have the same dimensions, the reel sizing system works really well. 

Baitcaster Reel Size Chart

Reel SizeWeight (oz)12 lb Mono Capacity (yds)Retrieve (Indicative)Drag (Pounds)Applications
505-6.560-7527”7-10Light Inshore
705.5-780-10030”7-10Finesse inshore
1006 – 7.5110-13033”8-14General Purpose inshore
2007-9.5150-22035”10-15Medium inshore
3008-11240-27035”12-18Medium-heavy inshore
40010 – 12+290-34540”16-22Heavy inshore, nearshore sport

What Size Baitcaster for What Application?

This is as simple as you imagine. Use a small baitcaster for small fish, and a large baitcaster for big fish. 

Yes, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule, but this is the driving consideration when selecting a reel for an application.

It’s important to note that there is plenty of application crossover between reel sizes. 

For example, a bass angler can effectively fish every reel size from 50 through to 400.

Some anglers like the landing assurances afforded by a larger reel, many other anglers prefer the sport of a much lighter reel.

The water you fish, including weather conditions, will also play a determining role in baitcaster reel size selection. Fishing heavy weather and heavy structure are better suited to heavier/larger reels.

Dragging fish from snag-infested cover, in monsoonal conditions, as the wind blows hurricane-style, are big reel conditions. 

This is because you will likely require heavier weights, and heavier mainline.

However, when conditions are good, we are always best served to fish as light as possible. Fishing light always allows for better presentation which is absolutely critical to successful sessions.

Invariably, most of us take the middle road. We want the best presentation we can muster, but we also want a little backup to beat the structure, and land that once in a lifetime trophy fish that most of us are hunting.

There’s nothing worse than fishing a 50 size reel spooled with 4 pounds when a ridiculously large and belligerent bass takes a liking to our perfectly presented unweighted soft plastic.

Whatever the conditions and target, your rod has the ultimate say as to the reel size you select. 

Unless you’re buying a rod and reel, where you can balance the outfit at purchase, you’ll have to match a reel to the rod you choose.

Essentially, size choice is not just about the reel, it’s about the entire outfit – rod, reel, rig, and lure selection.

It is possible to match a reel to a rod outside of the specs listed on the rod blank. 

However, it’s not advisable, as unbalanced outfits tend to make casting far more difficult than it needs to be.

And this is important, because casting baitcasters, even with the most perfectly balanced outfit and rig, can be a challenge for many anglers.

In summary, while reel size selection is based on target size, there’s a long list of considerations that will influence a reel size selection, from weather and geography to matching new reels to existing rods.

When to Use Small Baitcasting Reels Under 100 Size

Reels of this size are used in applications such as ultralight fishing and finesse fishing. 

You’re chasing everything from trout, crappie, and bluegill, to bass, and flounder, as well as a long list of others, in saltwater.

While incredibly small, modern lightweight baitcasting reels under the 100 size are more powerful than you expect and have the capacity to battle a surprisingly solid fish. 

The challenge is that you’ll be fishing with a very light class of line, which puts a heck of a lot more pressure on your angling skills.

This is because spool sizes are less than capacious, and drags systems extend only to as much as 10 pounds. 

However, for many anglers, this is what it’s all about, catching bigger with smaller. It’s all about the sport.

The issue with fishing the really light stuff is that you are at the mercy of the elements. 

With heavy weather, gnarly structure, a heavy surface chop, and rain, you’ll often catch more frustration than you do fish.

Many anglers will argue that it’s silly to use baitcast reels for ultralight fishing, as it is clearly the domain of small spin reels. 

This is true, spin does ultralight better, however, you shouldn’t let it stop you extracting every bit of action from tiny baitcasters.

A good tip is to gain some serious casting experience in all conditions before you start casting ultralight rigs from tiny baitcasters.

The Shimano Curado 70 is an industry favorite. But the Daiwa Steez 700 attracts those anglers with particularly deep pockets.

Seel Also: The Lightest Baitcasting Reel

The 100 Size Baitcaster

The 100 size baitcaster is a very popular size for the regular baitcaster fan. For many, this is a go-to size for a variety of inshore applications.

It’s the ideal reel for fishing afloat, shooting lures of all types at close quarters. You can flip it, pitch it, or troll it while holding it or mounting it in a rod holder.

The 100 size is palmable and very light. It offers fatigue-free casting over intense sessions where you lose count of your casts.

While ideal afloat, the 100 baitcaster size also provides the land-based angler plenty of access from the bank or docs. 

A confident caster can get enough distance to a strike zone some distance from shore. Distance and accuracy can be maximized the lighter you rig.

The 100 size is perfectly suited for a host of applications on rivers, estuaries, creeks, ponds, land-based, or aboard your favorite vessel.

Drag power gets up to around 14 pounds. With a reasonable line capacity, you have plenty of fighting power for targeting a reasonable-sized bass, redfish, or black drum.

Such is the compact nature of the 100 it is also ideally suited for chasing a much smaller class of fish, such as brook trout. 

Even while targeting small fish, you’ll never feel overpowered with a 100 size. In that regard, the 100 size is a particularly versatile reel. 

This is why you’ll see this size deployed so widely. It’s a great size baitcaster on which to learn and develop casting skills. 

It offers kids the balance of strength and forgiveness while being compact enough for small hands to manage.

When deployed by a pro, a 100 size has devastating reach and power. In many respects, and in the right hands, the 100 can fall into the all-rounder category.

In my opinion, spool capacities are one of the more critical features on a 100. It’s best if there is room to spool up with as much mono or fluoro as possible.

Of course, braids will increase fighting capacity, as you will fit more of a heavier line class. With a decent size spool, you increase the number of applications for which you can deploy a 100.

Even though a 100 size is very compact, it’s large enough so that reels with considered ergonomics fit well in hands of all sizes.

Sizes under 100 don’t suit all hands. Many anglers find it difficult to get a fluid action with tiny reels, which is important for rapid-fire flipping and pitching. 

The 100 size seems suitable for a broad range of users. The 100 sits perfectly in the palm of your hand. This is a desirable and sought-after feature on most low-profile baitcaster reels.

The Daiwa Tatula and the Daiwa Fuego are very good, performance-driven reels, that offer excellent value for money in the 100 size category.

Also Read: Best Baitcasting Reel Under 100

The 200 and 300 Size Baitcaster

If you had a 200 or 300 and the size wasn’t written on it, many anglers would have trouble identifying the size.

The differences between the 200 and 300 are usually spool capacity, with some subtle variations in gear ratios and drag capacity.

If you want a bit more back-up with spool and line class, you’d go for the 300. If you want a bit more sport, with a focus on presentation, the 200 is probably the preferred option.

Whichever way you go, It’s a pretty decent step up for the 100 in terms of fighting and casting power, allowing you to target some trophy inshore fish.

The 200 and 300 will be a popular choice for anglers chasing big bass in more difficult conditions. 

They are still palmable and light, yet you have significant capacity for tackling fish well past the 10-pound mark.

An inshore hunt for reds or blacks assumes a particular target size well within the capacities of a 200 or 300.

The beauty of the 200 and 300 is you have plenty of backup should you hook into a much larger specimen.

You might not have much more drag capacity, but you will have the spool capacity to fish heavier braids, hold more of it, and tire a motivated fish.

With a 300 often delivering in excess of 18 pounds of drag, anglers can cast larger lures for larger fish with confidence. 

You also have the power to wrestle them from heavy structure, should they employ dirty tactics.

If you’re a fan of mono and fluoro lines, I would always recommend the extra spool capacities on the 300. 

Braid anglers will fit more than enough, but the extra girth of mono can make a liar of a deep spool.

Relative to spin reels, low-profile baitcasters aren’t gifted with copious amounts of max drag. 

When drag is lacking, your next best weapon is your line capacity. Fill up your 300 to capacity, and you’re looking great for a fish with a huge drum.

Check out the Shimano Tranx, 300. It’s a little expensive but built to last. I’m a bit of a Quantum fan, and I like the Quantum Smoke HD for a 200. 

It’s versatile and offers excellent value. 

The 400 Size Baitcaster

As a saltwater specialist, this is the size that I prefer. I also prefer the larger feel, as my less than delicate hands can manage the reel layout with greater dexterity.

Because I chase a larger class of fish, I tend to select larger reels over smaller reels. I prefer to travel light, so I’ll have one reel to cover a host of applications.

The 400 baitcaster size gives me access to a much larger class of fish, but with spare spools of lighter lines ready to go, I don’t feel as though the 400 is overkill for a smaller fish.

You will often see the 200 and 300 reels labeled as heavy duty. Don’t confuse heavy duty with large capacity. 

It’s the 400 that is purpose-built for heavier fishing applications. If you’re after a tarpon from a sea wall, I’d be much happier with a 400 in my hand.

The 400 has the inshore covered while offering some nearshore sports action. With a 400 fighting capacity, there’s quite a number of fish worth targeting outside the heads. 

For the brave, you might even find some very cool options for fishing shallow offshore reefs.

With 285 yards of 30-pound braid and 25 pounds of max drag, you’re not going to be bouncing the bottom in the blue water.

However, with higher gear ratios, you can certainly cast metal slices, stick baits and poppers, for some offshore topwater and surface action.

Feeling brave? 

Why not tackle some mahi-mahi, or tackle a GT. Why not take your kayak into the bay towing a swimbait behind you.

Surf anglers with decent casting skills will get awesome spot casting metals at bluefish. You’ll be surprised at how the 400 will handle pretty tough conditions.

You’ll often see anglers chasing big spillway fish with live baits sporting a 400 reel. 

They’re great for chasing bridge monsters too, as it’s pretty well close quarters fishing so you can spool up with heavier, abrasion-resistant fluoro.

The PENN Squall and Fathom are worth considering for heavier applications. The ABU Garcia Revo Beast X also delivers on the power front.

What Size Baitcaster Should You Use for Bass?

You can effectively use any size low-profile baitcaster for bass. It depends on the experience you’re chasing.

I like the 200 for chasing bass. It gives me the versatility to fish from anywhere and allows me to target the average size bass yet gives me the back-up for a monster.

I might up the size if I were fishing in poor conditions and heavy, gnarly structure. If it were a sports-only mission, I’d go 100 or lower just for fun.

What Size Baitcaster Reel Should I Get?

The 200 size baitcaster comes out on top as the ideal inshore allrounder. The 200 offers awesome versatility land-based or afloat.

If you’re looking for a larger class of fish, and need saltwater versatility, the 400 is probably your best option.

For inshore lightweight action with a little bit of back-up, the 100 keeps you rapid firing all day long without a hint of fatigue.

Anything under 100 is for sports-driven performance only, and you should make sure your skills are up to scratch to ensure trouble-free casting.

Remember, if you are fitting up to an existing rod, be sure to know its specs, or take the rod with you to the tackle shop. Balance is key!

The Baitcaster Size Wrap Up

Baitcaster reel sizes are a mystery to many. With a little research and observation, you’ll find it’s not that difficult to get your head around.

If in doubt, always remember little reels for little fish and big reels for big fish. Importantly, the reel MUST match the rod on which you intend to mount it.

With there being no particular scientific standard in fishing reels, I always advise that you feel a reel before you purchase. While specs and size are important, feel is everything.

See Also: Baitcasting Reel Vs Spinning Reel

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Sean Ward

Sean Ward

Hey there, my name is Sean – OnTrack Fishing is my site. I’m based in the UK yet I’ve been fortunate enough to catch bass in the States, barramundi in Australia, trout here at home and carp on the Danube delta. If I’m not fishing, or talking about fishing, then….I’m probably asleep.

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