A Gear Addict’s Guide to Musky Reels

Finding the right musky reel for the task at hand leads to more fish in the boat!

It’s fishing equipment purchase time in Wisconsin!  The March and April lull in the angling action allow for the active mind to plan and prep for the upcoming season’s musky fishing trips.  I’ve found a limit to the amount of time one can spend staring at lake maps and google directions to boat launches.  Invariably, thoughts turn from exploring new waters and instead focus on rods, reels, and other equipment.  

Any musky angler will tell you they’ve made some awful decisions when purchasing gear during these seasonal cerebrally deficient moments of early spring.  The excitement levels surrounding pre-season reach a fever pitch. The musky anglers reactionary reach for the wallet is like no other.  It’s a reflexive action, brought about by years of conditioning. 

The Search Begins

With this in mind and a couple hundred dollars to my name, I started a search for a new musky reel.  I promised myself I would not make a snap judgement on a new reel based on keeping up appearances or throwing money at another reel I didn’t really need because it was simply on sale.  

I instead spent all my free time, as a father of three with a full time job and a yard full of leaves still from last fall, researching reels and dividing my search into categories based around the almighty dollar. 

Don’t mistake this for some farfetched idea of actually saving money, but the less spent on the reel, the more money remaining for more equipment and baits!  That leads to more research!  Really, how else should you while away the late winter hours when the weather is twenty degrees and snowing or forty degrees and raining?


The Process 

Gear ratios are essential when purchasing a new reel.  Musky fishing reels are a tool that fit a specific job.  Don’t buy a circular saw if you need a belt sander.  Understand the application, and purchase accordingly.  

Topwater, bucktails, crankbaits are suited best with lower gear ratios and a solid reel that can withstand some abuse.  Think of these reels as a pickup truck

Soft plastics and jerkbaits need a higher gear ratio so you can pick up slack quickly when providing the action to the lure.  Fish tend to crush these types of baits on the pause, so use a reel that gathers line with high speed.  To continue the analogy, this reel would be a sports car.

I gathered materials from word of mouth, reviews on websites, and my previous experiences and purchases.  Lots of excellent reels are available.  This is by no means an exhaustive list.  Any reel not mentioned doen’t exclude it from being a top notch piece of equipment.  To be clear and concise, I narrowed the field to include two reels with different gear ratios from each money tier.  


Bottom Tier Reels

These reels come in around one hundred fifty dollars.  They suit the beginning angler just fine.  A purchase in this tier also provides a budget friendly functioning reel.  This allows more ‘cap space’ to purchase baits and other musky fishing equipment for those on a restricted budget.


Shimano Cardiff: If you’re lucky enough to find these in stock, feel comfortable that your purchase includes Shimano musky pedigree.  Along with a dependable name, the Cardiff boasts a tank-like 5.2:1 gear ratio.  That’s perfect for those twin ten bucktails and water frothing topwaters.  


Abu Garcia C4: The value and ease of use with the Abu Garcia C4 can’t be overstated.  I learned to fish muskies on this rig.  I’m using one to teach my kids about the sport. The high gear ratio of 6.4:1 allows for quick line pickup when using jerkbaits and soft plastics.  The Abu Garcia name has been around for a very long time, and for good reason.  The Swedish made models are the pinnacle of value and performance.


Mid Tier Reels

The more serious approach to musky fishing is to spend more money.  This tier of reels offer better durability, more torque, and a general feeling of happiness when used on the water.  These two reels are nothing fancy, but are extremely well built. When you fish with them, you’ll know where that extra hundred bucks went.  They fit that tasty and affordable spot in the low two hundred dollars and will last a lifetime with proper care and maintenance.


Shimano Calcutta 400B: The true smashmouth round reel of the industry.  The Calcutta yanks in line with a slow and steady 5.0:1 gear ratio.  It can handle blunt force trauma from brute muskies and big double ten bucktails all day long and be just as ready in five years as right out of the box.


Okuma Komodo 463 SS: The SS stands for a stainless steel main gear  The durable Komodo is heavy built for heavy use.  The 6.3:1 is tanky and full of torque for super smash hits on soft plastics, but with thirty-one inches per turn of the reel, you can keep the line tight on your retrieves and not miss fish.  The Okuma brand is just getting started in the musky industry, but so far the word from owners is positive.  

Honorable Mention: Shimano Curado


This hefty early fall fish was taken on soft plastic. The proper reel gear ratio allowed for a good hookset even though the fish hit lightly on a pause during the retrieve.

High Tier Reels

If you’d like muskies to take one look at your reel and just give up and swim quietly into the net, look no further.  The Shimano Tranx 400 and the Abu Garcia Revo Beast are the cream of the crop for the avid musky hunter. Both are available in low and high gear ratios to suit the application. You simply won’t be disappointed if you drop the three hundred coins for one of these reels. Just make sure you purchase the gear ratio to match the baits you plan to use with it.    


Elon Musk Tier Reels

Shimano Calcutta Conquest: If you’d like to purchase a reel that does it all and you’ve still got a credit card left to max out, the Conquest will make your eyes pop.  It’s virtually indestructible.  The Conquest utilizes twelve ball bearings and hammers thirty-thee inches per turn of the reel on a 6:2:1 gear ratio.  You can use this for just about anything.  Just be aware you’ll have to tow your boat with a gold plated Rolls-Royce to match the beauty and awe-inspiring fishing perfection of this reel.  


Support Local!

You can purchase all of the above reels at Rollie and Helen’s Musky Shop in Minocqua.  Stop by and see them, or feel free to reach out at info@muskyshop.comYou can also shop from the comforts of home at https://www.muskyshop.com/ 

It’s vitally important that anglers support local Wisconsin business at every opportunity.  Skip the impassive big box stores.  Instead use the excellent customer service and knowledgeable staff at The Musky Shop or any other small business in your area.  Shop local!


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