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Complete Guide to Fishing Reels

Fishing reels are an essential component of a fishing setup. They are used to cast and retrieve fishing line. There are different types reels, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Below we walk you through the different types and how to choose the right one for your needs.

Types of Fishing Reels

1. Spincast Reel

Spincast reels are the easiest reels to use. If you have never fished before or are trying to teach kids to fish, a spincast reel is a good choice. The ease of use comes down to the simplicity of their design.

Spincast reels have a closed spool design which helps cut down on the line getting tangled. To cast, all you have to do is push the spool release button. It’s a fairly foolproof system that is perfect for beginners.

The downside to spincast reels is their durability. Even the highest-end spincast tends to break down much quicker than baitcaster and spinning reels. You won’t get much more than a season out of a spincast reel before it starts having issues.

Spincasting reels are great cheap options for introducing fishing to someone new. If you enjoy fishing and know you will stick with it for more than a year then I recommend you upgrade to a spinning or baitcasting reel.

  • Pros – Easiest to use, cheapest, hard to mess up.
  • Cons – Lack durability, struggle with larger fish, shortest casting length

2. Spinning Reel

Spinning reels are the most popular style of fishing reels and second easiest to learn. They are easy to use, dependable, and versatile. They are great for anglers that enjoy fishing for a wide range of species.

Spinning reels are open-faced and have a rotating bail that guides the line around a fixed spool. To cast, you open the bail and hold the line with your pointer finger. On the forward motion of your cast you release the line with your finger.

The advantage of a spinning reel is it allows you to use lighter line and lures. Lighter line like 4lb or 6lb can be difficult on other reel types.

The biggest issue with spinning reels is they can develop line twists due to being twisted around a fixed spool. This can be eliminated by using a braided line, which has no memory or by taking additional steps when spooling the reel.

  • Pros – Simple to use, very versatile, last for years, can cast lighter lures further.
  • Cons – Can develop line twist, less torque for fighting in large fish

3. Baitcasting Reel

Baitcasting reels are the most difficult reel to learn to use. They require more practice to cast efficiently and to master. They are worth the additional effort to learn though, because they offer some distinct benefits.

Baitcasting reels are the smoothest and most efficient reel that allows greater casting accuracy and can better handle larger lures. They also give you more power and control which is vital when targeting larger fish like bass.

To cast a baitcaster, you press the spool release button, once you press that you must control the spool by applying pressure with your thumb. This is what takes to most time to learn because you need to apply just the right amount of pressure. Too much pressure and your cast won’t go very far, too little and you may end up with backlash.

that have a spinning spool that takes in and lets line out. You control this spool by applying pressure to is with your thumb.This feature allows it to handle heavier lures and eliminates line twisting issues.

The main issue with baitcasting reels is backlash. Backlash is caused by the spool continuing to spin after the line stops being let out. Luckily backlashes can be prevented with practice but it can be frustrating when first learning.

  • Pros – More accurate casting, more torque for fighting in big fish and using heavy lures, very durable.
  • Cons – More difficult to lean, backlash can be very frustrating.

Baitcaster Vs Spinning Reels

Once you graduate beyond a spincaster you’ll use spinning and/or baitcasting reels exclusively. If your new to fishing a spinning reel is probably the best option as it will be the most versatile and allows you to try many different styles of fishing.

Baitcasters are great when you want to start using heavier lures to target bass and other large fish. If you plan to mostly fish for bass then you may want to consider going straight to a baitcaster.

This is a simplified explanation for new anglers, if you want a more detailed explanation check out our in-depth baitcaster vs spinning comparison. I also recommend you review our guide on building a rod arsenal. This will give you an idea of what rods you will want down the road and help save you money in the long run.

Best Lures to Use for Each Reel

  • Spinning reels are best for lures under 3/8 oz and finesse style baits like ned rigs, drop shots, and in-line spinners.
  • Baitcasting reels are best for lures 1/2 oz and heavier.

Fishing Reel Gear Ratios Explained

A reel’s gear ratio represents the number of times the spool turns per handle turn. For example, a reel with a gear ratio of 5.1:1 will turn its spool 5.1 times for every handle turn. There are three categories of gear ratios.

  • Low gear reels – Lower gear ratio reels are ideal for large baits such as swimbaits and deep diving crankbaits. These large baits cause a lot of drag that can tire you out quickly. Lower gear reels offer more toque in exchange for less distance per turn.
  • Medium gear reels – Medium gear reels are your do everything reels. If I could only have one reel it would be a medium gear ratio. You can speed up or slow down depending on the needs or the lure you are fishing
  • High gear reels – Higher gear ratio reels are primarily for lures you work with your rod like jigs or soft plastics. High speed reels like a 7.1:1 let you quickly take in slack line that you produce when working the bait with your rod. High speed reels can also help quickly get bass away from cover.

Fishing Reel Sizes

Fishing reels come in a variety of different sizes. Reel sizes determine what strength line it is designed for and the length of line it can hold. Spinning reels range from size 500 – 8,000 for freshwater reels.

Baitcasters come in sizes ranging from 50 to 400.

Fishing Reel by Species

Fish SpeciesFishing Reel
BassBaitcasting, Spinning
CarpBaitcasting, Spinning
GarBaitcasting, Spinning
MuskieBaitcasting, Spinning
PikeBaitcasting, Spinning
WalleyeBaitcasting, Spinning

Both baitcasters and spinning reels have their benefits and uses. A well rounded rod arsenal should include both types of reels.