Baitrunner Spinning Reels – Top 3 Best Fishing Models Reviewed in 2021

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Although slow to catch on, the Baitrunner spinning reel now enjoys a lot of popularity, especially among carp anglers.

As a spinning reel configuration, it’s not as widely used as it should be, but it’s here to stay.

In the following article, we’ll look at 3 of the best baitrunner spinning reels worthy of your consideration. 

If you’re a live or cut baiter who prefers spin reels, this article is particularly relevant to you.

But before we launch into the products, we’ll take a little dive into the Baitrunner and revisit Baitrunner purposes and fishing applications.

We will then identify anglers who might benefit from using a Baitrunner style spinning reel.

I’ve had a Shimano Baitrunner in the arsenal for over 20 years. While I use it all year round, it doesn’t get much use, and it’s by no means my go-to reel.

However, for those anglers who like a complete arsenal of reel options, it’s a reel you really should consider. 

You might be surprised to learn that there is a huge number of anglers whose fishing approach is well suited to Baitrunner fishing reels. Let’s find out why. 

Let’s have a look at 3 great Baitrunner style reels that will enhance the potency of any spin reel arsenal.

What Is The Best Baitrunner Reel On The Market?

While the heading says best, it should be taken with caution. The term “best” is highly subjective, and it’s nigh on impossible to provide a scientific determination of “best” without rigorous and impartial comparisons.

I can assure you; I’ve not done that. What I can say with a level of certainty is that the reels listed below warrant serious consideration. They’ve earned a place on this list.

OKUMA Ceymar Baitfeeder Graphite Lightweight Spinning Reel- CBF-3000, black
OKUMA Ceymar Baitfeeder Graphite Lightweight Spinning Reel- CBF-3000, black
Product Type: Fishing Reel; Package Dimensions: 5.75" L x 3.75" W x 0.3" H; Country of Origin: China
Shimano Big Baitrunner 14000 XT B LC Longcast Surfcasting and Carpfishing Reel Model 2018, BBTRXTBLC
Shimano Big Baitrunner 14000 XT B LC Longcast Surfcasting and Carpfishing Reel Model 2018, BBTRXTBLC
Reelsize: 14000, Longcast surf and carpfishing reel. Gear ratio: 4.6:1; Bearings: 4 S ARB and 1 Rollerbearing

Last update on 2021-10-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

1. Shimano Thunnus CI4 – Editor’s Choice

The Thunnus is a beautiful reel loaded with features and versatility. Performance across all key criteria is outstanding, and unfortunately, this is reflected in the price.

The Thunnus isn’t a cheap reel and is unlikely to sit comfortably in the budgets of most anglers. However, you get a lot of reel for the money.

SHIMANO Thunnus 6000 CI4 Offshore Saltwater Spinning Reel

There are 4 sizes from which to choose, starting at the 4000, with the 12,000 being the largest with offshore capabilities.

The 4, 6, and 8000 cover the lion’s share of inshore and nearshore applications, with each of them being ideal for rock and surf work.

The 4000 makes for an ideal catfish and big carp reel. The 6000 is well suited for general to heavy surf work, with the 8000 a great option for the rocks and surf monsters.

The 12,000 is designed for big fish with generous spool capacities and powerful drag systems. The combination of both delivers robust fish fighting capacities.

If I have any criticism of the Thunnus, it’s the carbon body. At this price, I would expect a metal body. While modern synthetics are strong, I’d prefer metal for increased rigidity.

When you’re fighting a larger class of fish from the ocean rocks, sea walls, or piers, rigidity is very important. 

The Asian manufacturer’s quest for a lightweight feel is possibly coming at the expense of rigidity.

This is a small criticism only.

You will find the crank tight, smooth, and powerful. The drag is predictable and smooth, and the Baitrunner system is very easy to operate.

This is a great reel for bigger live baits and dead baits. 

Casting manners ensure those needing distance will be well served when casting heavy baits, depending on the rod selected.

Pros

  • High performance
  • Powerful smooth crank
  • Feature-packed

Cons

  • At this price, I would prefer a metal body over the Ci4 body

Features

  • A-RB (bearings) 6+1 System
  • Thunnus CI4 Construction body
  • Hagane Gearing
  • Dyna-Balance
  • Fluidrive II
  • One-piece bail wire
  • Propulsion Line Management System
  • Super Stopper II
  • SR-Concept
  • Shimano Baitrunner system

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

2. Okuma Ceymar Baitfeeder – Best On A Budget

I’m an Okuma fan, and I have always been impressed with the accessibility of the Ceymar series. 

The Ceymar sits at the very top of the entry-level price point, yet offers features you are likely to see in more expensive reels.

OKUMA Ceymar Baitfeeder Graphite Lightweight Spinning Reel- CBF-3000, black

There are 7 (+1) bearings, machined brass pinion, alloy handle, and a heavy-duty bail arm. 

These features might not sound like much, nor is it a huge list. However, they deliver core strength and smoothness, which not only delivers high performance but also durability.

There are 3 sizes, a 500, 1000 and 3000. This Ceymar covers quite a spectrum of inshore applications from trout, walleye, and carp to bass and crappie, as well as estuary-dwelling salt species like flounder.

The 500 and 1000 sizes cover a host of finesse applications. Where the 3000 is a genuine inshore allrounder, with plenty of versatility.

These reels are ideal for setting cut natural baits and perfect for setting live minnows and shiners. This is a great reel for affordable live baiting for big bass.

While the drag system is powerful is very smooth, I’m not a fan of manufacturers retaining the old technology of oil felt drag systems.

 I can’t see how carbon washer technology can add so much to the price.

Carbon washers have far more durability, whereas oiled felt drag requires maintenance and replacement over time and use.

Having said that, it’s important to note that this oiled felt drag system is a Japanese design, and in my experience, these washers are pretty reliable, consistent, and retain performance, especially with regularly scheduled maintenance.

The Ceymar is a strong performer, and considering the accessible price point, you can’t really go wrong. 

For all intent and purpose, an inshore angler doesn’t really need any more than this for a very satisfying fishing experience.

Its Baitcaster credentials reflect the consistency shown in the core components and operation, delivering a seamless transition from set bait to hook setting. 

It should be noted that the anti-reverse feels excellent, further enhancing hook setting, turning bites into battles.

The Ceymar is a versatile inshore spin reel with a very smooth Baitrunner function. Why spend more?

Pros

  • Accessible price point
  • Inshore versatility
  • Value for money based on excellent performance for the price

Cons

  • While the oiled felt drag is a good performer, it’s time to relegate the old technology

Features

  • On/Off auto trip bait feeding system
  • Multi-disc, Japanese oiled felt drag washers
  • 7BB+1RB stainless steel bearings
  • Quick-Set anti-reverse bearing
  • Precision machine-cut brass pinion gear
  • Corrosion-resistant graphite body and rotor
  • Rigid metal handle design for strength
  • Machined aluminum, 2-tone anodized spool with LCS lip
  • Heavy-duty solid aluminum bail wire
  • RESII: Computer balanced Rotor Equalizing System

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

3. Shimano Big Baitrunner Xt B Lc – Best Surf And Rock

You shouldn’t be surprised that Shimano gets two listings in a best-of list. Shimano, after all, invented the Baitrunner feature.

I couldn’t leave this reel off the list, as it epitomizes what the Baitrunner feature is all about – letting big fish run off with your big bait so you have a better chance at a secure hook-up.

Shimano Big Baitrunner 14000 XT B LC Longcast Surfcasting and Carpfishing Reel Model 2018, BBTRXTBLC
  • Reelsize: 14000, Longcast surf and carpfishing reel. Gear ratio: 4.6:1
  • Bearings: 4 S ARB and 1 Rollerbearing
  • Line Capacity (lbs/yd): 10/660, 12/600, 16/440, 20/330
  • Line retrieve per crank: 43 inch

Last update on 2021-10-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

I like chasing a larger class of fish from sea walls, break walls, ocean rocks, and the surf. And I like to do it using live baits – the best bait there is.

This reel is perfectly suited to such a role as it’s large, robust, and capable of casting big baits a long way.

It’s important to note, however, that casting distance will be determined by the balance of your outfit and rig. 

You can’t rely on the reel to compensate for a poorly balanced rig, or poorly matched rod.

There are two versions, a 5500 and a 14000. The 5500 is a brilliant go-to for most surf, and seawall targets such as stripers and bluefish drum, and a very long list.

The 14000 gives you access to a particularly large class of fish as it allows you to propel big live baits into a distant strike zone.

The spool will hold over 500 yards of 50-pound braid and packs a whopping 20kg of smooth and powerful drag.

The combination of spool and drag power provides anglers with awesome firepower. If you drop a trophy fish, you won’t be able to blame your equipment.

The internals are very solid with Hagane gears and X-ship leading the feature list. While there are only 4 bearings, they are at least shielded – a real benefit in the surf environment.

The Baitrunner system is smooth, seamless, easy to operate, and offers plenty of adjustment. 

The adjustment is ideal for the surf and ocean rocks, as conditions can vary significantly, often radically during a session.

While this reel won’t cause the same level of wallet pain as the Thunnus, it’s still reasonably pricey. 

However, if you’re chasing big fish in tough conditions, reliable firepower is a necessity.

This reel is for the land-based live baiter chasing a larger class of fish.

Pros

  • Great casting distance with big baits
  • Fighting power
  • Big fish capability

Cons

  • Low bearing count for this price point

Features

  • Bearings 4+1
  • High crank power rating
  • Manual Bail Close System
  • Long cast spool
  • Baitrunner / front drag
  • X-SHIP / Hagane gearing system
  • Full specs

>>Check Price on Amazon<<

What Are Baitrunner Reels?

Let’s start with a little history. The term Baitrunner is another proprietary name owned by Shimano. 

Shimano was the first reel manufacturer to release the configuration back in 1987. It wasn’t long until other manufacturers followed.

Most anglers will know the configuration as a Baitrunner. However, as it is a trademark, Shimano is the only one allowed to use it.

This means the configuration is known by other terms, either generic or trademarks of the respective manufacturers.

For PENN, the configuration is known as Live Liner, for Okuma, it’s Baitfeeder. Other generic terms such as bait and run and free spool are common.

For the purpose of this article, we’ll refer to the configuration as Baitrunner for simplicity regardless of the manufacturer.

Manufacturers, particularly Shimano, have stand-alone Baitrunner reel series. It is common for manufacturers to offer a Baitrunner option to complete spin reel series.

The option doesn’t add a significant amount to the price. Nevertheless, it is enough that you’d most likely want an application that would benefit from the feature to justify the additional expenditure.

What Are Baitrunner Reels Used For?

So what is the Baitrunner function, and what applications and anglers are best served by the function? Is it a feature that will suit you?

The Baitrunner feature is essentially a second drag system that is designed to allow the reel to free spool with very limited pressure.

It’s engaged when baits are deployed and rods are set. Fish can take baits feeling little to no resistance at all. 

This provides hook setting benefits, as the fish will hold a bait far longer, as they’re not spooked by unnatural resistance.

When the angler is confident it’s time to set the hooks, a turn of the handle or the flick of a lever disengages the Baitrunner feature, reverting the reel to its main drag system.

This system delivers a seamless transition from free spool to the main drag, preventing several issues that are common when free spooling with a standard spin reel. 

Let’s look at the problems a Baitrunner can mitigate.

Many anglers will set a bait and set the rod in a rod holder. They’ll flip the bail arm open allowing the line to peel off should a fish take the bait. There are several problems with this approach.

Firstly, wind and current can pull or blow the line from the spool, which can lead to tangles. It can also move the baits from the chosen strike zone.

You also face the issue of a large fish striking aggressively, promoting line to initially peel off in multiple bunched hoops. 

This invariably leads to tangles and lost fish. Even the action of engaging the bail arm can cause problems of tangles, poorly timed strikes, and clumsy hook setting.

The alternative to an open bail arm is to wind off the drag so that a fish feels little to no resistance when taking the bait.

While this approach is simpler and less likely to cause tangles, it’s not without issue. 

Setting your drag to a point of near-free spool means that you must physically grip the spool to set the hooks.

You then have to reset the drag to fight mode, and it can be difficult to achieve drag accuracy under the pressure of a blistering run. 

Remember, your drag is wound out to near zero pressure.

You’ll have quite a few turns of the drag knob to get to the appropriate pressure to win a fish fight. 

In this time, pressure needs to be maintained with hand pressure on the spool, or you risk a lack of line tension which allows fish to throw hooks.

This is where the Baitcaster comes into its own.

You can free spool without leaving the bail arm open, or winding the drag off. You set the baitcaster function once the bait is deployed, and flick a switch, or crank, to engage the reel’s main drag. It’s simple really.

This feature is useful for any angler who sets natural baits, live dead, or cut. Interestingly, that’s a lot of us.

The safety of this mechanism allows us to set and forget a rod, or multiple rods and cast a lure with another. 

Even though you’re busy with many baits, a strike on a set rod will be easy to manage with limited movements and fuss.

Importantly, you can allow a bait to be taken without the feel of resistance increasing hook-up rates while mitigating dropped baits and possible spool tangles.

How Do You Use And Cast A Baitrunner Reel?

A Baitrunner reel is just a spinning reel with an extra drag system. It is cast the exact same way as any other spinning reel.

You use a Baitrunner by engaging the Baitrunner drag when setting your rod. 

When the fish runs sufficiently, you time a strike, crank, or flick the lever to revert to your reel’s main drag system. Game on!

What is the Difference Between a Baitrunner and a Spinning Reel?

A Baitrunner system is a feature added to a spinning reel. Baitrunner reels are spin reels with the additional function of a second drag system.

Can you use a Baitrunner Reel for Float Fishing?

The short answer is yes, you can use a baitrunner reel for float fishing. However, I can’t say I have ever done it. I wouldn’t have considered it, for that matter.

If the use of the float was purely to keep the baits suspended at a particular position in the water column, as opposed to a purely visual cue, I could see why somebody would still find value in the Baitrunner function.

After all, regardless of the float system, a big fish will take off the same way, float, or no float. 

Having never done it, I can see, at least on paper, there would be benefits to using a Baitrunner with a float rig.

The Baitrunner Wrap

Yes. Get yourself a Baitrunner. If you use set rods with live, dead, or natural baits, a Baitrunner delivers benefits.

The Thunnus is a beautiful reel, yet a little beyond the budgets of many. Given ready cash, it would definitely be my first choice.

For an inshore option on a budget, it’s nigh on impossible to beat the Ceymar. It’s a great reel for the money.

For those chasing big fish, and not wanting to pay the Thunnus price tag, the big Baitrunner XT B LC is a sure path to all-round surf and rock perfection and land-based big fish battles.

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