How to Choose a Kite Reel

We compare 14 electric kite reels to help you make the best choice.

How to Choose a Kite Reel
Kites give offshore anglers a real advantage. Having the right dedicated kite reel is critical when the action heats up.Jason Stemple

I’ll never forget my introduction to kite-fishing, some 20-plus years ago on a Contender 31 during the Yamaha Contender Miami Sportfish Tournament. Having traveled south from the mid-Atlantic for this event, I found ­kite-fishing both completely foreign and utterly fascinating. From the moment we arrived at the fishing grounds, the Contender’s crew sent multiple kites aloft and kept six live baits deployed at all times, even as an unsteady wind forced constant throttle jockeying, line adjustment, and spar changes.

To say the captain and crew worked like a carefully oiled machine would be like saying a Swiss watch works pretty well. This level of kite-fishing demanded the same level of professionalism needed to catch all four billfish in a quad hookup, and deploy a tournament-level trolling spread in three minutes flat. The crew delivered that day. And from what I saw, it was immediately evident that one of the most important tools they depended on were their kite reels.

How to Choose a Kite Reel
Center console boats can be equipped with ­12-volt outlets in various locations, making it easy to plug in a kite reel in the bow as well as astern or amidships.Jason Stemple

Making It Reel

It’s easy to break down kite reels into two different categories: electric and manual. But talk with any serious kite angler and you’ll quickly realize that to some degree, this is a false dichotomy. Manually cranked reels simply can’t keep up — literally — with the demands of fishing on a competitive level.

“Speed matters,” says Capt. Ray Rosher, who’s not only a recognized expert at kite-fishing but also builds and sells kite-fishing accessories through his company, R&R Tackle. “Whether I’m in a tournament situation or on a charter, every bite counts, and kite retrieval is very important. If I miss a bite or catch a fish quickly, and I need to reset on fish that are tailing south on a north wind, I need to get the kite line in fast and reset it — and that might mean winding in 300 to 400 feet of line. Or there might be a weather change — rain might be coming— and I need to get line in fast. Speed matters.”

How to Choose a Kite Reel
Shimano ForceMaster 9000Courtesy Shimano

For serious anglers, this speed factor alone eliminates manual-crank reels from contention. Yes, many beginners who are trying to set up a basic, no-frills kite rig will clamp a Senator onto a homemade kite rod that began life as a 6-foot trolling stick before being broken off or sawed down. But even with a fairly fast reel, taking up 2.5 feet of line per crank at a sweat-inducing one crank per second, best-case-scenario retrieval speed is going to be around 150 feet per minute. That’s far less than most electric reels, and not even one-quarter the speed of some. After a few trips filled with frantic cranking, it doesn’t take long to realize that an electric reel is a ­necessity to properly run a kite spread.

“In all cases, it’s important to point out that open reels without levelwinds will allow you to run more clips,” Rosher continues. “The marks that stop the clips get larger and larger as you add additional clips, and larger marks sometimes have trouble passing through a levelwinder.”

Kite Reels Line Capacity (Braid) pound-test/yards # Sizes/Models Max Drag (pounds) Max Speed (feet/minute) Weight (pounds) Price (MSRP)
Daiwa Marine Power MP 3000 *** 120/1500 1 88 279-328 12.2 $3,499-$3,999
Daiwa Tanacom 100/440-100/660 2 48 426-459 2.8-3.3 $549-$599
Daiwa Seaborg 100/550-100/850 2 72.8 509-541 3.9-4.4 $1,599-$1,699
Dolphin Electreel Penn * 50/475-130/1000 9 21 250-350 2.8-11.0 $700-$3,500
Dolphin Electreel Shimano* 50/600-130/1000 3 28 -79 350 5.2-10.9 $2,100-$3,500
Electra-Mate Sportsman** Varies by reel used 5 Varies by reel 321 6.0 $270-$550
Electra-Mate XP ** Varies by reel used 9 Varies by reel 508 9.0 $460-$740
Hooker Electric Penn * 80/700-100/700 2 40 800 12.8-14.8 $1,375-$1,975
Hooker Electric Shimano * 80/525-80/770 2 36-40 800 10.0-11.0 $1,375-$1,974
Kristal Fishing 600 Series 80/3000-200/4500 8 90-140 280-420 6.0-25.0 $1,500-$3,499
Lindgren-Pitman*** 200/1200-80/2500 2 60-150-plus 500-750 25.0 $4,995-$8,750
Precision Auto Reels** Varies by reel used 4 Varies by reel 60-72 5.3-5.8 $399-$560
Shimano Forcemaster FM6000 80/720-80/1030 2 55 444-459 3.0-3.3 $1,100
Shimano Beastmaster 9000 100/940 1 55 540 3.3 $1,700

*Frame integrates reel, which is included or is sold in kit form
**Frame attaches to a conventional reel's exterior
***12- and 24-volt models

Beyond that, Rosher points out that there’s a wide range of electric kite reels, and there’s a purpose for all of them. Exterior bolt-ons are sometimes noisy or slow, but they’re easy to use and inexpensive. Reels designed for deep-dropping might not be the best when used for kite-fishing but can certainly be repurposed for it. A Hooker electric on a Penn 30VSW is what Rosher uses. This can pack on both an 80-pound mono for heavy-wind conditions and an 80-pound braid line for lighter-wind conditions, simultaneously. It can handle any wind conditions and run four clips.

How to Choose a Kite Reel
While a primary focus for many kite-fishing fans involves sailfish, any game fish that feeds regularly or occasionally at or near the surface — certainly including mahi — is fair game.Jason Stemple

If the Shoe Fits

Keith Fraser, president of alltackle​.com, notes that a certain genre of electric kite reel seems to be currently dominating the market. “There’s a huge demand right now for electric reels and kite-fishing kits with reels that you might call light-duty, but they’re inexpensive and programmable,” he says. “You can set and reset your kites to the same distances, bring them in at a press of the button, and keep things ­consistent and metered.”

Fraser says that particularly in South Florida, the reels that offer this mix of programmability and low cost — such as the base Daiwa models and to a lesser degree the Shimanos — are in the greatest demand. Many of these are also being used on the West Coast, where kite-fishing saw something of a boom in recent seasons thanks to excellent runs of bluefin tuna, often targeted by skipping Yummee lures from kites pulled at a modest trolling speed. But Fraser also says that as you move northward up the East Coast, while more and more people are gearing up for kite-fishing, they show a different preference. Here, many opt for multiuse reels like the Kristal, which might not be ideal for kite-fishing, but have more pulling power and can be used not only for kites but also for towing dredges and deep-dropping.

How to Choose a Kite Reel
Hooker Electric offers a range of electric reels — modified Shimano Tiagras and Penn Internationals from 16 to 130 size — with kite reels in 16, 20 and 30 sizes. They can retrieve at 800 feet per minute.Courtesy Hooker Electric

“For many people, it really boils down to budget,” Fraser says. “You do have guys who get a Senator 114H, spend $150 on a cheap rod and kite, and they can go kite-fishing. More-serious anglers will want the Kristals, Daiwas and Shimanos. Professionals are at a different level, and they’re willing to spend the money on faster, heavier-duty reels like the Hookers. Then, at the far end of the spectrum, you have your anglers without budget constraints — they want the top-end reels, and they always get them in pairs so they always have spares.”

Whichever kite reel might seem best for your needs, both Fraser and Rosher caution against overreaching. They agree that beginners should keep it simple at first. Kite-fishing can get very complex very quickly, and it does require experience and knowledge or that well-oiled machine will look more like a Rube Goldberg. As Rosher puts it: “Focus on keeping it fun. Go slow, and enjoy the journey.”