The best barbel fishing reels

best barbel fishing reels

by Mark Sawyer |
Updated on

Barbel are one of the hardest-fighting freshwater species and will test your tackle to the limit, you can’t afford to go in under-gunned when targeting barbel, so a good quality barbel fishing reel is a must if you’re going to stand any chance of landing a specimen. Fishing for barbel often involves travelling light and roving along a river, so you need to strike a balance between a reel that will pack a punch yet is still fairly light and won’t weigh you down.

For smaller rivers, a 4000 – 5000-sized reel should be perfect. On larger, more powerful rivers, such as the River Trent, you may need to step up to a 6000-sized reel. Key features to look out for when purchasing a barbel fishing reel include a good quality drag system, so you can apply the right amount of pressure during the fight, and a fairly deep spool capable of holding plenty of line.

The best barbel fishing reels at a glance:

• Best Value Barbel Fishing Reel**:** Daiwa Emcast BR - View offer on Fishing Tackle and Bait

• Best In Class Barbel Fishing Reel: Shimano Baitrunner X-Aero 8000RA - View offer on Total Fishing Tackle

• Best Compact Barbel Fishing Reel: Sonik Vader 6000 FS - View offer on Go Outdoors

• Best Barbel Fishing Reel For Beginners: Drennan Series 7 BR 9-40 Specimen - View offer on Ebay

While not essential, many top barbel anglers prefer to use a reel with a freespool facility when fishing for barbel. This allows line to be taken with ease on the take, which can then be disengaged to play the fish from the clutch. Here is our pick of some of the best barbel fishing reels currently on the market...

Best budget barbel fishing reel


Daiwa describes their Black Widow range as high value for money. And we’d say that’s a pretty


  • Looks like a reel of twice the price.
  • Features to reduce line twist.


  • Line clip could be better.

Best value barbel fishing reel


The elegant Daiwa Emcast BR is an incredibly lightweight reel, thanks to its feather-light


  • Incredibly smooth performance.
  • Reliable drag system.


  • The spool is quite deep.

Best barbel fishing reel for casting


The Korum Latitude Freespool is a real step forward in freespool reel design. The reel boasts


  • Two models to suit different needs.
  • Good line lay.


  • Drag knob isn't the most responsive.

Best barbel fishing reel for beginners


The Drennan Series 7 BR 9-40 Specimen is an excellent choice for the angler who requires all the


  • Good drag system.
  • Reliable freespool facility.


  • Shallow spools, won't hold much high breaking strain line.

Best in class barbel fishing reel


The spools on the Shimano Baitrunner X-Aero 8000RA reels have a 30 per cent larger circumference


  • Superb line lay.
  • Great casting reel.


  • Pretty heavy in the hand.

Best Barbel Fishing Baitrunner Reel


If you want to use the famed Shimano Baitrunner technology but you’re on a budget, the Shimano


  • Easy to use and reliable baitrunner system.
  • Tough construction, suitable for the roving angler.


  • No spare spool.

Best all-round barbel fishing reel


The Shimano Baitrunner X-Aero 4000 FB is Shimano’s top-of-the-range compact Baitrunner reel and is


  • Flawless freespool facility.
  • Good cranking power.


  • Double handle not for everyone.

Best small river barbel fishing reel


Available in 4000 and 6500 sizes, the new Shakeseare SKP FS reels from their specimen range will


  • Available in two sizes to suit all needs.
  • Adjustable handle position.


  • Not the best for cranking big feeders in.

Best bargain barbel fishing reel


This low-price Okuma Carbonite B Feeder Reel is perfect for anyone looking to get into barbel


  • Super cheap.
  • Includes spare spool.


  • Not the best cosmetics.

Best compact reel


The compact Sonik Vader X 6000 FS freespool reel is perfect for targeting small to medium-sized


  • Great cranking power.
  • Good price.


  • Not the most precise clutch/freespool system.

What to look for in a barbel fishing reel

Barbel are incredibly powerful fish that will test your tackle to its limits, so it's imperative you choose strong and reliable tackle if you intend on targeting them. A good quality barbel fishing reel will make all the difference when it comes to taming big barbel, lots of cranking power is essential to pull these fish away from underwater snags and guide them against the flow into your net.

A reel with a Baitrunner is always a good option to choose as bites can come after hours of nothing, usually when you least expect it, and they are more than capable of pulling your rod into the river. By utilising the Baitrunner function on a barbel fishing reel, it acts as an insurance allowing line to leave the reel preventing the rod being dragged in, a simple turn of the handle puts you back in direct control so you can fight the fish.

Smooth and reliable drag systems are also useful with barbel, as they will help absorb the powerful lunges and runs these fish can go on, and will prevent your line breaking. Their turn of pace can be lightning-fast and sometimes you don't have time to backwind, a good drag stops this happening as it automatically releases the pressure on your line.


Drag/clutch: An adjustable tensioning system that allows a hard-fighting fish to pull additional line from the reel instead of breaking the line.

Freespool: Similar to a clutch but working at far lower tensions, the Freespool will allow a running fish to take line, preventing a rod on a rest from being pulled in. Once the rod is picked up and the reel handle turned, it will disengage, putting the reel back into 'fish playing' mode with the drag working as normal.

Baitrunner: A switch generally at the back of the reel that allows the reel to operate in freespool, turning the handle dis-engages it.

Spool: The cylinder at the front of a reel which holds the line.

Big pit: A reel with a long spool designed for extreme long-range casting by reducing the resistance of the line.

Frap up: A tangle during a cast where a ball of line catches in the guides of the rod, typically causing a crack off.

Crack off: Named after the loud cracking sound made as line breaks during a cast.

Line clip: A small clip on the spool that line can be placed under, stopping it from leaving the reel. Originally designed to stop lines from falling off in transit, they are now commonly used to repeatedly cast a set distance.

Line twist: Casting, retrieving and using the freespool and clutch adds twist to your line, which can weaken it and reduces casting distance. In extreme cases, the line will bounce off the spool and ball up as it untwists. More expensive reels incorporate various technologies to minimise line twists.

Frequently asked questions on barbel fishing reels

What size spool should I use for my barbel fishing reels?

Barbel fishing doesn't typically require very long casts, so spool size is less important. The reel does, however, need to be able to hold thick and heavy line to land the fish safely. For this reason, we suggest a 4000-8000 sized spool for barbel fishing, most Baitrunner systems being perfect for the job. You certainly don't need huge, deep long cast spools designed for feeder fishing and carp fishing.

Should I use a Baitrunner reel for barbel fishing?

If you are going to be watching the rod and roving the river, perhaps rolling baits, then a Baitrunner is not essential. However, if you are an angler who likes to sit back and relax, or kip in the bivvy, a Baitrunner reel is essential to stop your rod being dragged in on the take. A barbel bite is typically far more savage than anything any other fish will give.

What line should I use for barbel fishing?

Barbel in the UK now grow to pretty impressive sizes of up to 20lb, they fight incredibly hard and live in challenging fishing environments with strong flows. For this reason, you really need to be using stronger line to land them safely. We would recommend anything from 8-15lb depending on the conditions.

Author Mark Sawyer holds the position of Tackle Editor at Angling Times, boasting more than thirty years of experience working within different fields of the angling industry.

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