The chances are that most of us were just handed a fishing rod and reel as young children, and we didn’t have much say in the type of reel.
There are several different types of fishing reels that are available. While initially, we may not have had a say in the reel we used, we do now. Every reel out there can catch fish, and I think they can catch a lot of different fish and perform much better than we give them credit for. Regardless, we can’t deny that certain types of fishing reels were designed to perform better in certain situations.
That’s what we want to address in this article. If you understand the basics of each type of fishing reel, it makes it a lot easier to decide on a reel that will serve you best a specific type of fishing.
4 Main Types of Fishing Reels
- Spincast Reels
- Spinning Reels
- Baitcasting Reels
- Trolling Reels
Spincast reels, more often called closed face reels, are the type of reel young anglers are introduced to fishing with. And while those initial spincast reels are often cheap and covered in cartoon designs, there are higher quality spincast reels that offer a lot of benefits.
Who’s it for
The spincast reel, as we mentioned, is an excellent fishing reel for beginners and we will get to the reasons why.
Don’t make the mistake that only children should be using a spincast reel. I watched my WWII veteran great-grandfather land catfish after catfish for years on an old Zebco spincaster.
Spincast reels are also a good option for the casual, take the family out fishing. They are easy to maintain and use. These qualities make spincast reels perfect for a family trip to the lake bank. They do have their limitations, though.
Spincast design and use
The spincast reel is known as a closed face reel because of the nose shaped cone that covers and encloses the spool, gears, and drag system.
Spincast reels were designed to solve some of the problems new anglers run into with baitcasters and spinning reels such as line backlash and difficulty casting.
Like a spinning reel, the spincast uses a fixed spool that does not rotate.
When the lure is thrown, its momentum pulls line off of the fixed spool through the opening on the cover.
This design limits the amount of backlash and tangling that occurs with other reels. When the lure stops moving, so does the line.
To disengage the spool lock, spincast reels use a simple push button located on the reel where the thumb would naturally sit.
When the button is pressed and released during the cast, the pins that lock onto the line are pulled away from the spool and line can freely leave through the front opening.
When you turn the handle, the pins are re-engaged on the spool and line can be retrieved. When the handle is rotated during retrieval, this turns the main gear located beneath the spool.
This gear rotation causes a rotor that the take-up pins are attached to pull the line in and lay it back onto the spool.
Most spincast reels sit on top of the rod, but there are versions that use a trigger and tend to sit beneath the reel and are a good transition to spinning reels.
There are some spincast reels that are being produced that can handle heavier line and even braid and are designed for handling larger fish.
You still run into some of the same problems though such as line management with the spool and poor drag.
What fish can it catch
Contrary to what most people think about spincast reels, they can catch a wide array of fish:
- They can handle all of the panfish species including bluegill and crappie with no issue.
- They can handle your typical trout species such as brook, rainbow, and smaller brown trout and also smaller bass and catfish.
Spincast reels are great for ultralight tackle and using live bait that does not require fast retrieval speeds.
The problem is that spincast reels do not have great gear systems and they have smaller spools. The way the spool is designed with the cover means that you get a lot of friction making throwing heavier lures over increased distances difficult.
- Keep these reels away from saltwater. They will corrode within a week, and there is no way one of these reels could handle a larger saltwater fish.
What to look for when buying a spincast reel
If you want a spincast reel that will perform on the water and last for more than a few outings, there are several key features that you should look for before making a decision.
The cheapest spincast reels are going to be made from a type of plastic. If you’re buying a spincast reel for your three year old the plastic will stand up to a 6oz perch.
If you’re looking for a reel that will stand up a little better you are going to want graphite or aluminum. These materials are much lighter and stronger and will allow you to get a little power behind a fish.
Take up pins
The take up pins are what lay the line back onto the spool during retrieval. If a spincast reel only has one take up pin, you can guarantee that you are not going to get an even lay around the spool, and eventually, you’re going to have to pop that cover off and deal with a mess. 2-4 take up pins are a better option.
I have never run into a decent drag system on a spincast reel when compared to systems on other types of reels. We will focus on drag for reels meant to catch larger fish.
You do want some control over the drag so that you won’t break fish off, but as long as you have a couple of pounds max drag and a decent range, you will be fine.
Most drag systems can be adjusted on spincast reels through a star design adjustment located on the handle or a rotary style adjustment on the side of the reel housing.
We will come out and say that spincast reels have low gear ratios. What this means for you is that they have poor line retrieval rates.
If you find a spincast reel that has a gear ratio of 3.0:1 or higher then you are looking at one of the top models. This low gear ratio is a reason why spincast rods are not popular to use with lures.
If you have ever used a cheap spincast reel you know what I’m talking about when I saw they can be jerky.
With cheap reels, they usually have 2-4 bearings, and they are not great quality. A good spincast reel will have between 3-5 bearings.
- Very affordable
- Easy to maintain
- Easy to cast
- Easy to learn
- Great as a starting reel
- Low line capacity
- Not very durable
- Line not laid evenly back on spool
- Poor cranking power
- Poor retrieval speeds
Some people think of spinning reels (open faced reels) as the next stepping stone to the baitcaster, but spinning reels can be the type of reel that anglers use for the rest of their life.
They are one of the more popular reels in the United States because of their versatility and relative ease of use, although they still require some practice to become efficient at using.
With a spinning reel, you will begin to have a lot more options regarding fish you can catch, lures you can use, and retrieval techniques. All three are important for the more serious angler.
Who’s it for
Spinning reels can be used and mastered by any angler who puts in the practice time.
Spinning reels do have a learning curve and can be difficult for those new to casting. With that being said, even tourney anglers will turn to a spinning reel from time to time.
Because spinning reels are better suited for heavier lures than a spincast reel and have better retrieval speeds and cranking power, more serious anglers usually turn to spinning reels than the casual fishermen.
Not that casual users wouldn’t enjoy a spinning reel, but they usually cost a bit more than a spinning reel and can be wasted if just used to toss a worm and bobber.
Spinning design and use
Spinning reels also utilize a stationary spool and rely on the weight and momentum of the lure being cast to pull line off of the spool.
Again, this helps with backlash although tangles can be common with improper casting.
Spinning reels are designed to sit on the underside of the rod, so it is important to purchase a rod designed to hold spinning reels.
Because of the openness of the spinning reel and the overall construction, they can have much deeper spools that can hold more and heavier line.
You are also to utilize different types of lines such as braided or fluorocarbon.
Instead of take up pins, spinning reels use a bail system to engage and disengage the lines ability to leave the spool. When the bail is flipped open, the line is free, and you are able to cast.
To cast, open the bail and grab cup the line in the first joint of your index finger to keep the lure’s weight from pulling too much line off the spool.
At the release point of the cast, simply release the line in your index finger to send the lure flying.
Once cast the bail can either be manually closed or in most cases, cranking the handle will close the bail and line can then be retrieved.
Like the spincast reel, the spinning reel uses a main drive and pinion gear that when rotated moves the rotor that lays line back onto the spool.
Ball bearings are used to support these gears, and high-quality bearings provide a much smoother retrieval and casting reel. They also provide support to give your reel a lot of cranking power when trying to retrieve large fish.
Spinning reel rotors are much more efficient at laying line down on the spool, although you will eventually run into line twist. While not a huge concern, too much line twist can hamper casting efficiency and it takes time to unspool the line and even it back out.
The drag adjustment often found on top of the spool. The drag is usually made of steel or carbon fiber washers in well-made reels while you will find cork or some plastic material in lighter reels.
As pressure is increased, it takes more power to pull line off of the reel. That’s the absolute basics of a drag system, and a well-made spinning reel drag will have a wide range of drag pressures that can be easily manipulated.
What fish can it catch
A well-designed spinning reel can catch any fish in fresh or saltwater.
When we say a spinning reel can catch any fish, we obviously say this with having the correct size model in mind.
People tend to associate reels with specific species of fish, but with the technology available today there are spinning reels for ultralight fishing for trout to landing tuna.
What to look for when buying a spinning reel
There are quite a few components of spinning reels that you should examine before making a purchase.
The first decision you have to make is deciding what type of fishing situations you intend to use the reel in.
Are you looking for saltwater species or hunting bass on freshwater lakes? Depending on your decision, the type of qualities you want in a reel will change.
The only material you want on a spinning reel is graphite or aircraft grade aluminum.
Both provide great strength while being light weight. You might find magnesium used in some reel designs and this is fine as long at it will not be anywhere near saltwater.
Most reels will have a mix of parts made from aluminum and graphite, with larger models designed for large saltwater species being almost all metal.
I think this is pretty self-explanatory, but you want a reel that can be spooled with enough line (at the correct weight) to deal with the type of fish you are likely to catch.
Most spinning reels can be spooled with more than enough line.
The drag system on spinning reels worth your attention are composed of a washer system made up of carbon fiber or stainless steel washers.
You also want to pay attention to if the drag system is sealed or not. A sealed system will keep water and debris out and result in a longer lasting drag.
The great drag systems feature large washers that are located on top and below the spool for even pressure distribution.
The adjustment knob is almost always located on top of the spool. Depending on the size of the reel, the max drag will vary, but most reels usually have more max drag than you will ever need to employ.
What’s most important with the drag is your ability to fine tune it. Drag is one of the most important, and underutilized, system for catching fish.
If you can fine tune the drag in small increments, you will have no problem working and landing any fish you hook up with. Of course, there is not metric that the manufacturer can provide you and takes experience and listening to other anglers to figure out.
This ratio is one of the first aspects of a spinning reel that you will run across when researching a reel.
What it indicates is the number of revolutions that the rotor will make per one turn of the handle. So, a gear ratio of 5:1 means the rotor makes five full revolutions per one turn of the handle.
A high gear ratio is not always better. It all depends on the style of fishing.
If you want a fast retrieval speed to work certain lures, a high gear ratio is optimal.
If you need more cranking power, a lower gear ratio is needed.
This is because low ratios indicate smaller gears that are more sturdy and will stay aligned better when putting a lot of force on the reel.
Ball bearings are what help keep gears in line and keep the spool spinning smoothly.
Most people assume that more bearings mean a better reel. This is not always the case, and you have to factor in the quality of bearings used. Five quality bearings are much more efficient than eight cheap ones.
Sealed, shielded, and corrosion resistant bearings are all terms often associated with the bearings of high-quality reels.
Reels should also have an anti-reverse bearing that keeps the spool from spinning in the opposite direction once engaged.
The rotor is moved by the gear system and oscillates up and down, around the spool to lay down line.
When you look at the rotor, you want a smooth oscillation that covers the entire height of the spool.
You can tell how good a rotor is by watching its rotation when a lot of pressure is applied. The best rotors will show no wobble or vibration.
- Very versatile regarding lines and lures
- Good all around casting. Can flip short distances and cast small to medium lures a fair distance
- Easy to learn and master
- Can be used from small trout to tarpon
- Difficult to cast long distances
- Line twist a common occurrence
- Not as efficient with heavier lures
Watch any professional fishing tournament on tv or take a peek at anglers on your local lake who look like they know what they’re doing and more often than not, they are using a baitcaster.
Who’s it for
Just about everyone will tell you that baitcasting reels are reserved for professionals and the most serious of anglers.
There is a pretty big learning curve when it comes to using baitcasters and the more serious anglers simply put the amount of time in that is needed to use one efficiently.
But unlike what others say, anyone can learn to use one of these reels, and when you become proficient with them, your fishing world expands greatly.
Baitcaster design and use
Most baitcasting reels that you will see in use are considered low profile. There are larger, more rounded models that are better for going after larger saltwater species as they can generate a more cranking power.
Baitcasters are designed to sit on top of the rod. This alignment with the rod provides a lot more momentum for the cast and is one of the main reasons for the baitcasters optimal casting performance.
Because this type of reel uses a free spinning spool when disengaged, the momentum of the cast will not stop the spool when the lure hits the water as is seen with spinning reels.
Because of this, baitcasters utilize a braking system that puts pressure on the spool to keep it from over spinning and creating a birds nest that will take time away from fishing to clean up.
This free spinning spool works well with heavier lures. The reason light lures are difficult to cast is that they just can’t provide the momentum and line tightness to keep the spool from exceeding it. Light lures with inexperienced hands lead to a lot of spool tangles.
This is the same reason wind can hamper baitcasting performance as it slows the lure but not the spinning spool.
A heavy line works well with baitcasters. Not only because they balance well with heavier lures, but they also help slow the spool down during casting.
Usually, you won’t have an issue with line capacity. Smaller spool sizes will give you more room, but if you are chasing fish that are known to make big runs, a round profile baitcaster offers a lot more line capacity.
There will be a thumb switch located right behind the spool on top of the reel that when clicked, frees the spool and allows you to cast. Turning the handle will reengage the locking mechanism. This is pressed down while initiating the cast.
It is important that your thumb is not just pressing down the switch, but also putting some pressure of the spool.
Braking, drag, and spool tension adjustments are located on the side plates of the reel. Sometimes the side plate might need to be removed to access the braking system to adjust.
What fish can it catch
More fitting would be what fish can they not catch.
Baitcasting reels can handle just about any sized fish and are especially great for larger species.
Because baitcasters are not great at working with small lures, you won’t see them used very much for small panfish or trout species.
What to look for when buying a baitcasting reel
You’re going to be looking some of the more common components of reels that we have already discussed such as gears, bearings, material, drag system, and line capacity.
There are a few special components of baitcasters that are not found on previously discussed reels that we want to address.
Feel and comfort
This is one of those components that you are just going to have to handle and determine for yourself. Low profile baitcasters are designed to sit low and be palmed easily while allowing enough room to adjust and retrieve without any impediments.
More conventional, rounded baitcasters are not as comfortable, it’s a tradeoff for the advantages they provide. Having a good fitting reel makes all day fishing much more enjoyable and less of a hassle.
The spool tension determines how easily the spool can spin.
The spool tension is used to adjust the spin of the spool to match the weight of the lure, so you don’t end up with a bird’s nest or a cast that will only go ten feet. Both can be embarrassing.
Don’t confuse the spool tension with the breaking system. If you use this as a breaking mechanism, you are going to wear down your reel quickly. There is often a tension knob located beside the drag adjustment.
The level wind is a small apparatus on the front of the spool.
It usually consists of a small aperture that allows line to pass through it when casting. Its main function is to move back and forth along the width of the spool and lay line evenly during retrieval.
There are models that do not have a level wind. For surf casting or fishing scenarios where you need to cast far distances you might opt to go with a model that does not contain a level wind. It is thought that the small aperture impeded casting ability.
The braking system on baitcasters is what allows you to control spool speed during the cast and cut down on line tangles.
Some of the more popular breaking systems are centrifugal brakes and magnetic braking systems. I don’t think there one is better than the other and it really is a personal preference for which you prefer.
Some reels might use a dual system using both centrifugal and magnetic braking where each type engages during different parts of the cast.
We also can’t forget the manual braking system, your thumb on the spool, and with some practice, is the best braking system.
- Very powerful
- Accurate casting
- Distance casting
- Versatility in lines and lures
- Pretty steep learning curve
- Lots of adjustments for different situations (A pro once efficient in its use)
- Difficult to cast light lures
If you just look at a trolling reel can immediately tell that these things are durable and built to handle big fish.
Unlike other reels we have discussed in these articles, trolling reels are quite a bit different and serve a very specific function.
Who’s it for
Absolutely anyone can use a trolling reel.
There is nothing complex about them, but they are for a very specific niche of fishing, and unless you are focused on that niche, a trolling reel is not going to be for you.
Because of the type of fish, these reels are designed for, you do need to have quite a bit of strength to handle the fish properly so putting a small kid behind these reels and letting them fend for themselves is not a good idea.
Trolling design and use
Trolling reels look more like the conventional baitcaster, not the low profile models that we focused on, but unlike baitcasters, trolling reels are not meant to cast lures.
Instead, they are designed to let out line as the boat moves.
Trolling reels are built to have a huge line capacity.
Because they are used to target large fish that reside in deep waters, your probably going to have a lot of line out when you hook on, and there is a good chance the fish is going to run out a lot of line on top of that.
Trolling reels simply release the spool and allow line to be pulled out by the movement of the boat.
To do this, they use a simple lever release system. Once you the wanted amount of line is release you simply use the lever to reengage the lock.
Because these reels have a lot of cranking power, they also have a very low line retrieval speed.
Some reels utilize a dual speed mechanism that allows the gear system to switch to a higher retrieval speed. This is extremely useful when you are fighting a large fish that suddenly makes a run towards the boat.
What fish can it catch
Trolling reels are used for both fresh and saltwater species. They are designed to deal with trophy fish that get up there in the weight range.
Huge running salmon, striped bass, sharks, tuna, and marlin are all the type of fish species routinely caught on one of these reels.
What to look for when buying a trolling reel
As with other reel models, high-quality bearings and durable gear systems are all important qualities to look for in a trolling reel.
Here we want to take a look at some unique aspects you should look for in trolling reels.
You need lots of strength and lots of power in these reels. You will find aluminum and stainless steel in a lot of these reels. They can be very heavy, but you’re not casting this reels, so the weight doesn’t matter. These materials are also very corrosion resistant for saltwater applications.
When trolling, you usually have several outfits going at the same time.
You want a trolling reel that is going to alert you when the drag is engaged. This is usually in the form of a loud clicking system.
Drag, drag, and more drag
I know we have talked about drag a lot in this article, but it is extremely important for trolling reels. You are going to be working huge fish, like back brace sized fish with these reels.
If you want a shot at landing these fish you are going to need a top notch drag system. You’re going to want max drag pressure of 25lbs or greater with easy to access and tune adjustment knobs.
You also want a drag with almost no start up inertia. What we mean by this is when the fish is engaged the drag engages smoothly and doesn’t jerk.
A huge fish with a tough drag that doesn’t engage smoothly leads to a lot of line breaks.
- Incredible power and strength
- Huge line capacity
- Limited in its use
- Can be difficult to handle
Fishing can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It can be a job, a hobby, an addiction, a stress reliever, or a lifetime pursuit. One of the most important pieces of equipment is the reel. What your preference will be depends on your level of interest and fishing situations.
We hope this article gives you a clear and in-depth reference for the most popular fishing reels and that we have explained the benefits and disadvantages for some of the more popular types of fishing reels.
Whatever reel you decide to outfit yourself with, we bid you good luck and happy angling!