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Beginners Guide to Spinning Reels

Spinning reels are great for beginners. In this article, we’ll cover the basics, including its components, and an explanation of the different numbers and ratings listed on a spinning reel.

Anatomy of Spinning Reel

  • Bail
  • Drag
  • Anti reverse switch
  • Handle
  • Spool


The bail is a thin, metal arm that rotates around the spool. It guides and manages the line during both casting and retrieval, helping to prevent tangles and ensure a smooth fishing experience.

To cast, you open the bail, allowing the line to flow freely off the spool. After casting, you close the bail, which will prevent more line from coming off the spool.

As you retrieve, the bail guides the line back onto the spool, keeping it tight and preventing it from tangling or bunching up.

Drag System

Drag is a mechanism that controls the amount of tension required to pull line off of the spool when fighting a fish in. Drag set to low requires less force to pull line off, setting it on high will require more force.

When a fish pulls on the line, the tension created by the drag system will help tire the fish out by preventing it from swimming away too quickly. It also helps prevent the line from breaking due to excessive tension.

Setting your drag is a balancing act of being low enough so that it will release line before the line breaks and being high enough so you can fight your fish in.

The drag system is particularly important when fishing for larger or stronger fish that can generate enough power to break the line if the drag is not set correctly.

Anti-Reverse Switch

Some spinning reels come with an anti-reverse switch that is located on the back side of the reel. It can be turned on or off using a switch or lever. When the switch on, the handle will only turn in one direction, allowing line to be retrieved.

If switched off, the handle can turn in both directions. This allows you to back-reel and let line out manually if you are fighting a large fish. This gives you more control than relying on drag but takes a lot of experience to master.

Nowadays the drag system on modern reels is good enough so most anglers don’t mess with back-reeling and instead trust their drag.


The handle is what you use to control the rotation of the bail. The unique thing about spinning reels is most allow you to change which side the handle is on.

The reel handle is one of the most important fishing reel parts. Since the handle is rotated by hand to retrieve line back to the rod after making a cast, the handle should be smooth and comfortable to hold. Most reel handles are either round or T-bar shaped and can be operated by either the right or left hand (depending on which socket is used to secure the handle to the reel body).


The spool is the cylinder part that holds the fishing line. Spools come in different sizes which determines how much line it can hold and the ideal line size.

Spinning Reel Numbers Explained

When shopping for a spinning reel you will come across a few ratings listed product pages or within the manual. Below is a simple guide to understanding what the numbers mean on spinning fishing reels.

Spinning Reel Size

Spinning reels are most often measured in thousands (i.e. 2000) but they will occasionally be measured in double digits (i.e. 20) or hundreds (i.e. 200).

These are all essentially the same sizes, it’s just comes down to the reel manufacturer and how they rate their reel size. Most manufacturers include the reel size in their model name, for example:

  • VF1000F
  • VF2000GF
  • VF2500GF
  • VF3000GF
  • VF4000GF
  • VF5000GF

The smaller the model number the smaller the reel, and the less length of fishing line the reel can hold.

Line CapacityGear RatioBearingsWeightMax DragInch Per Turn
2/270, 4/160, 6/1105.1:112+15.87lb25

Spinning Reel Line Capacity

The line capacity rating of a spinning reel gives you a general idea of the length of line the spool can hold without overloading.

Most manufacturers print the line capacity on the side of the spinning reel. It will be displayed in two numbers, the first will be either the lb test of mono or diameter of line. The second is the length of fishing line in yards. For example:

  • 6/110
  • .23mm/110

Both of these ratings are saying the reel will hold 110 yards of 6lb mono or 110 yards of .23mm diameter line.

This isn’t an exact measurement because each brand of line will have slightly different diameter size. Also each line type has a different diameter for a given lb test.

Spinning Reel Gear Ratio

Gear ratio refers to the number of times the bail rotates around the spool with a single turn of the reel handle. For example the gear ratio of 5.2:1 means the bail rotates 5.2 times for every handle turn.

Most spinning reels have a gear ratio of 5.1:1 to 8.1:1. The lower the gear ratio, the slower the reel is. The benefit of a slow speed reel is that they provide more torque for reeling in large fish. The benefit of a fast speed reel is you can reel in line faster.

Spinning Reel Bearings Rating

The bearings rating tells you how many bearings are in the reel. For example a rating of 5 + 1 BB means there are 5 ball bearings and 1 anti-reverse bearing.

The number of bearings can range from 4 to as many as 13. In general, the more bearings a reel has the smoother it will be. The caveat to this is not bearings are created equal. A high end reel with 6 bearings will be smoother than a low end 10 bearing reel.

Spinning reel ball bearings on a white background

There are three types of bearings used in fishing reels: open, shielded, and sealed. Open bearings are exposed which causes less friction, allowing them to spin faster. The downside is they are more susceptible to corrosion from water and sand.

Shielded bearings typically have a metal shield covering the bearing. Sealed bearings have a rubber seal, which provides the most protection against the water and sand.

Spinning Reel Weight

This one is pretty straight forward, it tells you the total weight of the reel. Lighter reels will cause less strain on your wrist and forearms. This is more important for those that spend a great deal of time on the water or those with health issues.

Spinning Reel Max Drag

The max drag rating tells you the amount of drag pressure they can withstand in pounds or kilograms. In most cases larger reel sizes will have a stronger the drag system. Setting your drag is a balancing act depending on the type of fish you are targeting and the line you are using.

How to Setup & Spool a Spinning Reel