The best barbel fishing reels

The 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 offeron 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 accurate description of the Daiwa Black Widow 5000BR reel. Modelled on the incredibly popular shape of the Emcast BR, the Bite ‘n’ Run technology is backed up with a host of other features.

These include Airbail, which allows even loose line to slide onto the line roller without hooking or snagging, and Twist Buster which reduces line twist on the line roller.

The Black Widow BR is fitted with an aluminium spool and handle as standard, and the handle knob is soft touch for ease of grip. Finished in a stunning all black, this reel looks great as well performing well.


  • 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 graphite body, and it boasts eight ball bearings, which give the reel a silky smooth performance.

The reel comes supplied with a full specification spare spool, as well as both a single and double handle. The Bite ‘n’ Run system is fully supported with an additional front drag system, allowing for the precise increase of drag during the fight, which is vital when trying to control a powerful barbel.

Other features include Daiwa’s hollow tubular bail system known as Air Bail. Completely protrusion-free, Air Bail is lightweight and ensures you don’t experience any snagging. TwistBuster technology is also utilised to ensure you don’t suffer from line twist. Finally, eight ball bearings give the reel a silky smooth performance.


  • 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 S-Stroke technology, which helps to deliver a perfect line lay, a sealed drag system and an anti-friction spool lip, which aids longer and more accurate casting.

Other features include a high-strength graphite body and rotor, anti-twist titanium line roller and a machined and anodised aluminium spool with a line-friendly clip.

The handle can be attached on either side of the reel making it perfect for both right and left-hand use.
The 5000 size model is perfect for most barbel fishing scenarios, but if you’re fishing big powerful rivers such as the Trent, the 6000 model would be your best choice.


  • 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 advantages of a freespool facility but on a smaller reel body.

The reel comes with an alloy spool as standard, plus a shallower composite spool and a useful set of line identification buttons, so there’s no risk of forgetting what strength line you’ve put on each spool.

The spools are fairly shallow, so this reel is better suited to smaller rivers where long casts aren’t required.
The reliable front drag system is backed up with nine ball bearings and a single, reversible handle.


  • 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 than the standard Baitrunner spools, which results in an improved casting performance. Range and accuracy is also aided by the spool’s angled lip, which enables the line to leave the spool with less friction and in smaller coils.

An impeccable line lay is produced by the slow oscillation which puts down 32 lays of line with each oscillation. Inside the reel, you’ll find six A-RB corrosion-resistant bearings plus one roller bearing.

The balanced double handle gives you plenty of control when you’re attached to a hard-fighting barbel, and the hybrid body has a stylish black satin finish. There’s even an easy maintenance small lubrication port that enables direct lubrication of the inner workings of the reel.

Supplied with a spare cold forged aluminium spool.


  • 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 ST-RB Baitrunner 6000 is the reel to go for.

The XT-7 body and rotor is covered with understated graphics, a traditional easy-to-use rear Baitrunner system, balanced double handle, aluminium AR-C spool and Varispeed line lay all combine to produce an affordable reel packed with technology that won’t let you down.

A single turn of the handle will retrieve 85cm of line so you can quickly wind in leads and swimfeeders.


  • 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 one of the best reels on the market for barbel anglers.

The famous, easy-to-use Shimano freespool facility is a reassuring advantage when fishing bolt rigs and feeders, especially for barbel when bites are often sudden and very aggressive. When engaged, the spool will give line with minimum friction until you pick up the rod and turn the handle, which instantly engages the front drag and enables you to continue the fight. Although relatively small in size, the Baitrunner X-Aero 4000 FB is remarkably powerful, and over the years, it has been responsible for catching many exceptionally large specimen fish.

The X-SHIP gear provides efficient smooth winding when under pressure and combines with the hi-torque 4.8:1 gear ratio and S A-RB bearings to produce impressive winding power. The large diameter AR-C spool enhances casting performance and enables large diameter mono lines to be used with minimal trouble.


  • 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 cover pretty much any barbel fishing situation.

The adjustable freespool facility allows line to be taken with ease when you get a bite. Subtle grey cosmetics are supported with a double-handled reel handle, an aluminium spool with line-friendly clips and a smooth front drag system to play fish off the clutch once the freespool system has been disengaged.

The handle can be positioned on either side of the reel for left or right-handed use, unfortunately, there is no spare spool supplied with these reels.


  • 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 fishing without spending a fortune on tackle. The freespool facility makes it perfect for use on large barbel rivers such as the Trent and Severn.

Aesthetically pleasing and functional, it delivers an impressively flat line lay for such a cheap price, even when spooling up with heavier lines. Inside the corrosion-resistant body, you’ll find a quick set infinite anti-reverse system, S-curve oscillation system, machined cut brass pinion gear and a computer-balance rotor system.

Not bad for less than 30 quid! Oh, that price also includes a free spare spool.


  • Super cheap.
  • Includes spare spool.


  • Not the best cosmetics.

Best Compact Barbel Fishing Reel

The compact Sonik Vader X 6000 FS freespool reel is perfect for targeting small to medium-sized rivers. It has a micro-adjustable front drag and an independent freespool rear drag adjustment.

Build quality is impressive, and the reel is made from a light but hardwearing graphite material (with a stainless steel main shaft), and come with solid aluminium handles, oversized line-friendly line clips and two anodised aluminium spools. With a gear ratio of 5.5:1, there’s no lack of cranking power either, which is handy when retrieving heavy leads and swimfeeders at long ranges, and the wide spool can easily hold heavier lines.

The clutch adjustment on the front of the spool, and the tension settings for the freespool facility, are functional rather than precise, but they won’t let you down. All-black aesthetics and understated graphics give these Soniks a classy look, and for the asking price, you’ll struggle to find better.


  • 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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