Serious muskie reels are in a class all their own. They need the strength to heave and retrieve lures weighing up to 16 ounces a few thousand times per day; the capacity to hold 150 yards or more of 80- to 100-pound braided line; and a drag stout enough to stop a 50-plus-inch aquatic freight train. Muskie fishing always means covering lots of water, too, so slower round reels and beefed-up bass gear that pulls a wimpy 20 inches of line per handle turn need not apply. To see how some of the top muskie reels on the market stack up, I tortured the four models below all summer and fall on a variety of waters, from my local New Jersey hotspots to the legendary Lake St. Clair. Every reel was tested with a variety of baits and subjected to the short, powerful runs of 3- and 4-plus-foot muskellunge.
Abu Garcia Revo Toro Beast 60
SPECS: 4.9:1 gear ratio • 13.83 oz. • 27″ of line per turn • 25-lb. max drag • 190 yd. of 80-lb. braid
THE LOWDOWN: It is aptly named; the new Toro Beast feels indestructible. Every moving part, from the thumb bar to the level wind, is rock solid with zero play. The reel handles double-10s and big cranks well, and the powerful 25-pound drag is more than you’ll ever need to stop a hefty muskie. Three different handles are included: a power handle, a power handle with counterweight, and a paddle handle. I liked the last best.
HITS: Thoughtfully designed and incredibly rigid, it feels as if it will hold up forever, although I’ve only beat on it for a few months. There’s a left-handed model, the Beast 61.
MISSES: There’s no clicker, so if you’re looking for a trolling or sucker reel, this probably isn’t it.
WHO SHOULD BUY: Hardcore anglers who want a bulletproof reel for casting artificial baits to muskies.
Daiwa Lexa HD400XS-P
SPECS: 8.1:1 gear ratio • 17.2 oz. • 43″ of line per turn • 25-lb. max drag • 200 yd. of 80-lb. braid
THE LOWDOWN: With an aluminum frame and side plate and a stainless-steel drive and pinion gears, the heavy-duty Lexa will handle whatever punishment your muskie fishing can dish out. The XS Hyper Speed model has the best line pickup of any muskie reel out there, perfect for torching bucktails or scooping up line quickly when tossing rubber or jerkbaits.
HITS: The Magforce Cast Control dial makes on-the-fly adjustments a snap. Best-in-class line retrieval is ideal for speed freaks.
MISSES: The EVA custom knob was a little too big for me and took some time to get used to. Unless I’m cranking huge bucktails with a low-gear reel, I prefer a smaller knob or a paddle handle.
WHO SHOULD BUY: Guys who want to burn big baits with a low-profile reel. Plus, anyone looking for a high-end reel without the high-end price tag.
Okuma Komodo KDR-364
$220; okumafishing.com; Best Value
SPECS: 6.4:1 gear ratio • 10.6 oz. • 31″ of line per turn • 25-lb. max drag • 180 yd. of 80-lb. braid
THE LOWDOWN: I was immediately impressed by how well built the Komodo is and how smoothly it handles on the water. The shape and size are perfect for anglers who like to palm the reel. A true low-profile model that’s very comfortable to cast and hold, the Komodo is built like a tank and should get the respect of serious ‘ski hunters.
HITS: Lightweight, strong, and smooth, the Komodo delivered the best distance in my tests for chucking a variety of baits, including bucktails, cranks, and gliders.
MISSES: The combination of a high gear ratio and a long paddle handle can fatigue an angler who is pulling big blades for long periods of time.
WHO SHOULD BUY: The casual weekend muskie angler who likes to own quality fishing equipment or the budget-conscious muskie nut.
Shimano TranX 500PG
$500; fish.shimano.com; Best of the Test
SPECS: 4.6:1 gear ratio • 20 oz. • 30″ of line per turn • 25 lb. max drag • 210 yd. of 80-lb. braid
THE LOWDOWN: The low gear ratio, ample line retrieval per crank, and a big comfy power handle make this reel an absolute workhorse on the water. I was able to fish Cowgirls all day with the 500PG, which any seasoned muskie angler knows is no easy task. The TranX is bigger than your typical low-profile or conventional muskie reel, but I adjusted to it quickly, and the upsides far outweigh the added bulk.
HITS: No other muskie reel I’ve used pulls No. 10 double-bladed bucktails with the ease of this one.
MISSES: It’s the biggest and heaviest reel of the bunch, though its cranking power makes that easy to overlook. It’s also the most expensive, and there’s no left-handed model.
WHO SHOULD BUY: The hardcore trophy hunter who likes to throw big lures to target trophy fish—and who has extra bucks to burn.
Photographs by Ralph Smith