The best carp reels

The best carp reels

by Aidan Bordiuk |
Updated on

To keep up with the demands of modern carp angling, quality fishing reel technology and development has been accelerating at an incredibly fast rate, the best carp reels need to cope with the increasing size and number of fish available to catch. Reliability and cranking power have had to improve vastly, along with their aesthetics, as all carp anglers know a bad looking setup results in less fish!

Today’s best carp reels need to be able to hold a significant amount of high-diameter line, and release it in a friction-free manner. It is also important that the reel provides a superior line lay onto the spool as this will further reduce the friction and the chance or crack offs when casting a long way. With many anglers discovering the action that can be had metres from the bank, there has been a surge in smaller reels that still have all the power and performance, but can be used on shorter rods or in tighter swims.

The best carp reels at a glance:

Best Mini Big-Pit Reel - ESP Onyx Compact Big Pit - View offer on Total Fishing Tackle

Best Baitrunner - Shimano Baitrunner DL 6000RB - View offer on Go Outdoors

Best Value Big Pit Reel - Nash LR 8000 - View offer on Total Fishing Tackle

Best Mid-Range Carp Reel - Shimano Ultegra 14000 XTE Reel - View offer on Total Fishing Tackle

Reliable freespool facilities are essential, as line needs to be released seamlessly from the reel on powerful takes to help prevent the set-up flying into the lake! Of course, a smooth and reliable clutch is another ‘must have’ to negate hook-pulls or line breakages during the fight. When starting carp fishing it can be a bit confusing what reels to choose so here is a look at some of the best available...

Best carp reel (2023 National Angling Awards Winner)

Built to the highest standards of quality and performance, the Shimano Power Aero 14000 XTC is designed to handle anything that you might want to throw at it. A super-slow 5 system oscillation, combined with a gear ratio of 4.3:1, provide plenty of power and retrieve speed.

Other key features are a parallel body shape for added balance and control, Hi Speed front drag, and a shielded A-RB system offering total protection against ingress from water and dirt. Every detail of this reel has been carefully crafted to ensure that it gives the best possible performance, from its cold-forged Hagane Gear system to X-Ship and Infinity Drive.

However, one of its most impressive features is the Silent Drive System, which delivers unbeatable power and performance, ensuring that it runs smoothly and quietly even when put under extreme stress.


  • Fantastic line lay.
  • High retrieve.


  • Quite a large reel.

Best in class carp reel

The Daiwa 20 Tournament Basia 45 SCWQD really is a feat of engineering and a formidable tool in any serious angler's armoury. Renowned for its casting capabilities, this reel can gain you those precious extra yards when required, it is definitely one of the best carp reels available for fishing at distance.

Daiwa have created their own material called Zaion carbon, which is 50% lighter than aluminium, meaning the total weight of the reel comes in at just 515g. This coupled with the immediately recognisable Long Cast spools, means you can push the reel through the air faster, increasing the power of the cast.

The Slow Cross Wrap technology ensures line lay is perfectly even along the spool and the Digigear not only ensures the reel will last, but it makes reeling truly effortless, whilst providing the reel with an exceptional cranking power that modern big carp fishing demands.

The Quickdrag system that is synonymous with Daiwa reels is included. A simple half turn of the front drag knob will make the reel go from freespool to fully locked up. This gives you complete control whilst playing a fish but also makes the process of setting the rods much more efficient.


  • Incredibly well built reel.
  • Perfect for long distance casting.


  • No folding handle option.

Best mid-range carp reel

Shimano says the Ultegra 14000 XTE will redefine the mid-priced long-range reel market. Packed with many of Shimano’s ‘long cast’ technologies, these reels boast Shimano’s Super Slow Oscillation 5 for perfect line lay, which will in turn reduce friction and increase casting performance.

Other technical features include HAGANE Gear and X-SHIP for amazing smoothness and lightweight rotation. Rigid Cast reduces spool deflection at the moment of release, while Parallel Body sends the line out at the perfect angle. If casting power and efficiency is what you want, without breaking the bank, these reels have answered every question in the book.


  • Offers superior line lay.
  • Incredible cranking power.


  • Prone to scratching.

Best Baitrunner

The Shimano Baitrunner DL 6000RB really is a stunning reel, not only to look at, but to use. Finished in a gun metal grey, they look fantastic matched up with any modern-day carp rod. The baitrunner option is simple to use, with a latch to the rear of the reel, and is disengaged by half a turn on the handle. 

When engaged the reel is in freespool, this can be manipulated via the rear drag if you wish to make the baitrunner tighter when fishing up to snags. Once you have your preferential settings, just flick the latch and the drag is set ready, no more fiddling around with front drags.

Featuring Shimano’s Dyna-balance, reel wobble when playing a fish no longer exists and the Varispeed oscillation makes for incredible line lay, important in preventing tangles with a freespool reel.


  • Super smooth drag.
  • Baitrunner is simple and easy to operate.


  • A bit small for really big carp fishing.

Best value carp reel

Keen carp anglers on a budget should keep an eye peeled for Daiwa’s superb value Black Widow reels, including the new all-black Daiwa Black Widow 25A version.

This reel combines impressive looks with technical features, including an abbreviated drag for swift engagement of freespool mode, a line-friendly clip giving perfect distance casting control, and a robust, light, graphite body.

This latest member of the Black Widow clan also delivers a geared-down retrieve of 4.6:1 that recovers 92cm of line for every turn of the handle. The larger-bodied LD Black Widow reel has a tapered ‘bucket’ spool holding an impressive 530m of 0.35mm line, making it the ideal tool for when baits are rowed out beyond casting range.


  • Superb drag system.
  • Feels far more premium priced.


  • Line clip could be more pronounced.

Best mini big-pit carp reel

The popular Onyx reel from ESP has a smaller, lighter version for anglers who don’t want a huge reel or who have switched to using the ever popular shorter rods, which these reels compliment perfectly. 

Whilst it is smaller in size, the ESP Onyx Compact Big Pit reel still has excellent cranking power thanks to 7 ball bearings, and will retrieve 0.95m of line per rotation of the handle, so even when you’re reeling big fish in from long range, this reel will make the whole process seamless. Slow oscillation ensures perfect line lay to improve your distance casting, the reel also features a one touch folding handle to help speed up packing away rods into a ready made holdall.

Two spools come with the reel, one shallow that will hold 300m of 15lb line and one ultra-shallow that will hold the same amount in 12lb, more than enough for any situation. The reels are finished in a matt black powder coating that will not only last, it makes them incredibly carpy.


  • Powerful Reels.
  • Look awesome.


  • A bit small for long range boat work.

Best beginner carp reel

Not only do these Sonik Xtractor Pro 5000 GS reels look the absolute nuts when on the rods, they boast some superb details too – and for a great price! 

The reels are incredibly light at just 445g, perfect for pairing up with shorter rods or stalking kits. They still have some impressive casting power, however, thanks to the superior line lay created by the Wormshaft gear system. 

Playing fish will be easy thanks to the Quick-Torque drag, instant anti-reverse and 4.7:1. gear ratio.


  • Quick folding handle.
  • Stunning aesthetics for the price.


  • Line capacities lower than most big pit reel.

Best budget big pit carp reel

While also available in 6000 and 10,000 sizes, we consider the Nash 8000 LR reels to be some of the best available for a wide variety of fishing scenarios (including floater fishing). Great with both mono and braided mainlines, these little blue beauties boast plenty of exciting features, including an extended stroke spool, fast drag and super slow oscillation. 

Despite being a more compact sized big pit reel, these reels pack a serious punch when it comes to casting, so will be suitable for open-water scenarios too, or just blasting big bolt machines out into the pond on a warm summer’s day. 

The reels have 8+1 ball-bearings and a beefy gear ratio of 4:9:1.


  • Compact and lightweight design.
  • Great line lay.


  • Not the best for casting extreme ranges (take a look at the 10,000).

Best for boat fishing

Just as visually impressive as Daiwa’s top-end reels, the stunning Whisker 45 SCW QD OT boasts some truly incredible casting characteristics for less than half the price of the company’s famed Basias. It’s the first Daiwa reel to feature the QDM drag system, where the drag switches from open to closed via one full turn. 

The 45mm spool stroke, in combination with the Slow Cross wrap tech, ensures friction-free line-lay to significantly improve casting. But the real bonus for anglers fishing at mega distances is the monster 700m of 0.35mm line that one of the two spare spools that come with this awesome reel will accommodate.

You won’t get arm-ache reeling in from afar with these reels either, thanks to Digigear II gearings!


  • Massive line capacity.
  • Two spare spools.


  • New drag design might take some getting used to.

Best carp reel for versatility

Fox’s flagship 12000 XC Big Pit reel has been updated and improved, and the result is an incredibly versatile carp fishing reel. Featuring a new carbon polymer body, the weight of the reel has been reduced to a mere 610g. The lighter weight will improve your ability to cast, whilst also make using the reels for spodding or playing fish far easier.

Super slow osscilation and Mesh-Tec gearing create superior line lay whilst providing maximum cranking power with 96cm of line retrieved per turn. No matter the size of the fish, you always feel the reel has it under control with much more to give. 

The spools on the reel have some nice features included too. A pro cast lip has reduced the thickness at the top of the spool to help minimise friction, whilst the reel also incorporates two line clips, particularly useful if you use the reel for Spombing or feature finding. Spare spools can be bought in shallow and deep, with the deep spool holding 515m of 18lb line.


  • Packed with clever little features.
  • A great casting reel.


  • No deep spools supplied, must be bought separately.

Best floater reel

The Shimano FX 4000 reel is a perfect addition to any floater fishing setup. Lightweight and compact, whilst still having all the necessary attributes to land big fish on light tackle, this reel is superb.

Available in different sizes, the 3000 and 4000 sizes are generally best for larger fish as they hold more line and have a bit more cranking power to tame the carp. They are a front drag reel and as it is a Shimano, it’s a lovely smooth drag that will give you full control over anything you hook. 

The body is made from a strong XT-7 Aluminium, so it will take the punishment of being laid on the ground and dropped, as often happens when fishing on the surface. The reel is so compact and light it will balance with any rod perfectly making it easy to hold for prolonged periods of time.


  • Spare spool included.
  • Very lightweight.


  • Lacks a bit of power for really big fish.

What to look for in a carp reel

When buying a new set of reels for carp fishing, there are so many options available to the modern angler it can be hard to decide which to choose, the best carp reel for one discipline, won't perform as well in another. It is always best to ask yourself what type of fishing you do the most, if you do a lot of long range casting, then a compact reel will be of no use as it will hinder your performance. Look for a reel that has a long spool and superior line lay as this will allow the line to flow off the reel much more smoothly, helping you cast further. Your long-range angling will also benefit from a reel with a high retrieve rate as reeling your rigs in from distance will be much more efficient.

Similarly, if you are often fishing at short range or in the margins with a smaller rod, a big pit reel unbalance the rods and make them cumbersome to use. A more compact reel or baitrunner would be far more suitable as they would sit far better on the rods whilst still having the cranking power for large fish. The baitrunner setting would also allow the line to be taken easily by the often, ferocious runs you experience when fishing in the margins, preventing your tackle being dragged into the lake.

If boat work is regular in your angling, you will need a reel with a good line capacity to ensure you can get the rigs out the distance you require, as a compact reel that can only hold 100m of your favoured line will limit your options. Thankfully there are lots of great reels in all categories now, so be realistic about your fishing and there will be a reel to suit you and your budget.


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.

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.

Baitrunner: A type of reel that has the option to put the reel into freespool mode with a switch mechanism. The reel can't be turned until the mechanism is disengaged.

Quickdrag: The ability on Daiwa reels to change from 'locked up' to freespool with half a turn on the drag knob.

Locked up: This is when the drag is set to its maximum so no line can be pulled from the reel.

Frequently asked questions on carp reels

What is the difference between a normal reel and a Baitrunner?

Most reels for carp fishing have one drag system located at the top of the spool, which is managed by turning the knob to tighten or loosen it, Baitrunners work slightly differently, as they have two drag options. Using a lever at the back of the reel, the angler can choose to put the reel into freespool, this is only disengaged with a full turn of the handle or by flicking the lever back off. Once the Baitrunner option is off, the reel then works on a normal drag system the same as in any other reel. The Baitrunner saves time as you don't need to twist the knob to set the drag, you only have to flick the lever and your preferred fishing drag is set and remembered until you need to change it.

What is the best size reel for carp fishing?

As a starting point, we would suggest you look for at least a 10,000 sized reel to start carp fishing, if purchasing a Baitrunner style product. You need a reel that can hold several hundred metres of high diameter line, this will help you cast the heavy end tackle further and more accurately. Alternatively, you could look at a 'Big Pit' style reel that is designed for maximum line capacity and friction free exit from the spool. It is important to balance reel choice with the best carp rods for the job.

Do your carp reels need to all match?

There are several benefits to having matching sets of reels on your carp rods. First, it looks fantastic and very carpy! Secondly, having reels that perform the same and are loaded equally with the same reel lines can really help you familiarise yourself with your tackle, which is particularly important at night when you can't see where you are casting, as well as letting you know how to set the clutch when playing your hooked fish. But in reality, you will still be able to fish without matching reels, so if money is tight, this is something you can build towards whilst still enjoying your fishing.

Author Aidan Bordiuk is an enthusiastic angler who enjoys all fishing disciplines from match fishing to beach casting. He is currently occupying the position of Commercial Content Writer at Angling Times.

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