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BFS Reel Review


KastKing’s Kestrel Elite Magnesium Baitcaster Takes Flight (continued)

I have seen a few anglers modifying the brakes in the Kestrel in order to reduce the braking profile. The biggest impact I would see this modification having would be for stream fishing. The lower braking power should flatten the trajectory of the cast, resulting in even more casting consistency. This may be a path for the future but, testing reels in stock form gives myself and everyone reading this review the closest experience to real expectations.

The small rubber coated knobs provided solid grip thanks to the spiral ridges

Retrieve: The Kestrel Elite had acceptable smoothness for a magnesium framed, aluminum main geared reel. Rotating the handle did not produce any unusual clicks or vibrations. The lightweight aluminum main gear offers weight reduction while the softer brass pinion gear reduces vibration and adds durability to the gear set. Even after quite a few bass mercilessly horsed out of cover, the Kestrel Elite maintained its smoothness. I did have half a thought to take this reel out after pike to put more abuse on the gears but, that would definitely be outside of the reel’s intended uses.

A look inside what drives the Kestrel Elite

The handle of the Kestrel was designed with weight savings in mind. The 80mm handle with the skinny knobs felt very comfortable in all conditions I used the reel. The tolerances are tight and there is no noticeable handle movement. Knob rotation is smooth thanks to the 2 bearing per knob design.

Two bearings per knob to round out the bearing count to 11+1

Power: The Kestrel Elite had a nice warm-up when I was stream fishing. When rigging the reel for bass fishing, I thought I would take that time to abuse the Kestrel and see if all that weight savings was able to go the distance. Micro plastics were pitched into the deepest pockets of lily pads and laydowns. The drag was locked down and I set the hook with authority every time, using the reel as a winch to pull bass from their hiding spots. The Kestrel Elite felt as powerful as any traditional baitcasting reel with an 8+ gear ratio. A lower gear ratio would help with power however, for BFS fishing, most anglers prefer the convenience of speed.

Pitching finesse plastics into cover is addicting

I found a good pattern of using finesse jigs in and around cover during my time with the Kestrel Elite. Many of the fish refused to hit a frog or other presentation so, downsizing was the logical option. Fishing these areas with a spinning reel is cumbersome and quite frankly, not as efficient as a baitcasting reel. The ability to pitch softly to a target, reel back and immediately pitch back into cover is a big draw for BFS tackle. The Kestrel Elite’s ability to deliver my lure to weary fish and pull them out of cover really impressed me.

The Kestrel Elite provided consistently accurate pitching, even at distance

Drag: The Kestrel Elite’s drag consists of one carbon matrix washer capable of dishing out a whopping 13.2lbs of drag. I am not sure if the drag is as strong as rated but, the drag was locked down while pitching into cover and the drag did not budge when hooking into fish. One of my tried and true ways of testing smooth drag performance is hooking into big panfish in open water and allow their notable circle fighting pattern to take charge when hooked up. The nature of how they fight allows the drag to start and stop repetitively. Drags can be smooth with continuous pulling, even when the startup is shaky. The Kestrel Elite does a great job with start/stop as well as being smooth when a few bigger bass decided to take me for a ride.

Drag clicker pin resting above a single stack carbon drag washer

Design & Ergonomics: The overall design gives me major Aldebaran BFS vibes, especially the 2016 version. KastKing really did make the Kestrel Elite look futuristic and almost fighter-jet sleek. The brake dial is well thought out and is much easier to adjust than the Shimano Aldebaran BFS.

The small profile of the Kestrel Elite allowed for comfort when having extended pitching sessions along brushy shoreline. Making adjustments on the fly was easy due to the Kestrel having clicking adjustments and ample room to fine tune the performance.

A lot of similarities between the Kestrel Elite (left) and 16 Shimano Aldebaran BFS (right)

KastKing is really trying to make a statement with the Kestrel Elite. My time with the Zephyr BFS, although favorable, gave me the impression that KastKing put out products to cater to the masses. After using the Kestrel Elite, I can now say KastKing definitely has our attention.

Even with all the weight saving measures, KastKing added a grease port for the main gear

Price & Applications: KastKing is shaking up what the standard “pay to play” is for BFS fishing. For $219.99, the Kestrel Elite brings a lot to the table, pushing the boundaries with overall reel weight, low spool weight and overall performance. The biggest joy I got from using this reel was casting finesse soft plastics for bass. Although I felt the reel shined best with bass fishing, the Kestrel Elite is capable of fishing in streams and even for panfish.

The KastKing Valiant Eagle II compared to the Kestrel Elite

The biggest concern during my time with the Kestrel Elite was the release of the Valiant Eagle II by KastKing. Only a few months after the Kestrel Elite, KastKing released the Valiant Eagle II in their overseas market. This reel shares a similar frame, style and near identical spool. The major difference being the Valiant Eagle II sports a graphite frame versus the magnesium frame of the Kestrel Eilte. The real shock came from the Valiant Eagle II only costs about a third of the price of the Kestrel. The minor difference in features may or may not be worth the increase in price to some anglers.

No lures were lost in the making of this review!


KastKing Kestrel Elite Ratings (?/10)

Construction/Quality 11 bearings, feather weight spool and tight tolerances of the Kestrel Elite opened my eyes to KastKing. 8.8
Performance Versatile casting with a smooth drag and retrieve. This reel is designed for BFS and while it is best for open water conditions it can be used across the range of applications once the settings are dialed in and you get used to the reel, or opt to tweak the brakes with modifications 8.5
Price At $219.99, KastKing is putting some serious heat on the competition, most of which are offering aluminum reels at this price point, not lightweight magnesium based ones with features designed specifically for BFS. However, factoring in the Valiant Eagle II is about 90% of the Kestrel Elite at a third of the price, that is hard to ignore 9
Features Clicking drag, brake adjustments and grease port in addition to the 4.5oz reel weight places the Kestrel Elite in special company 8.3
Design (Ergonomics) Great overall product, even if some features were “inspired” by the competition. The small and lightweight magnesium frame and well designed brake dial really stand out to me 8
Application The restrictive brakes make the Kestrel Elite best suited for open water bass fishing 8.5

Total Score

Ratings Key: 1 = terrible : 2 = poor : 3 = lacking : 4 = sub par : 5 = mediocre : 6 = fair : 7 = good : 8 = great : 9 = excellent : 10 = unbelievable!
For More Details of the updated rating system visit our explanation here

Pluses and Minuses:



+ Forgiving casting while not being restrictive

- Brakes were restrictive at lower settings

+ Lightweight and comfortable


+ Open water casting is great


+ Great price for a magnesium framed reel


Even the small ones are fun with BFS tackle

Conclusion: KastKing is putting all their chips in with the Kestrel Elite, and it looks like they are on to something good. This reel really surprised me with its performance. Although the reel lacks some of the refinement of the Aldebaran BFS and Gekkabijin AIR TW, the Kestrel does much of what the other reels can at a significantly lower price point.

Designed for BFS the KastKing Kestrel is a lightweight magnesium based baitcaster that is great for a wide range of finesse applications, and is more aggressively priced than many competing options

The Kestrel Elite being available in the US market also helps drive the competition. While the brand is continuing to grow a following here in the Americas, KastKing has been winning over a lot of anglers with their strong focus on performance per dollar, and the Kestrel Elite continues that tradition, making a quality magnesium BFS reel available to anglers for only $219. I am looking forward to how companies such as Daiwa and Shimano will respond to KastKing’s flex in the realm of BFS.

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