Different Types of Fishing Reels: What You Need to Know
The open water, Mother Nature, wind in your face and line in the water…then a quick tug at your line, could it be the next big lunker just waiting to be mounted on the wall with pride?
If the above sentence got your blood flowing just a little bit faster, then you, my friend, have fishing fever. But before you can hit the water with an enthusiastic optimism that today will be the day you land that record-breaking catch, you’ll need to find the perfect reel to combine with your rod.
Is There Really That Much to Know?
For most of us who have experienced the joy of recreational fishing, the basics of reels and general information about them are somewhat common knowledge. That said, there is a wide range of reels on the market, each with their own use for various types of fishing scenarios and situations.
And in the world of fishing, technology and engineering have been pushing the limits of performance and features that make the reels of the past look quite primitive.
The Right Tool For the Job
You might be wondering how much of a difference a reel switch can really make. Well, using a different reel can actually have quite a significant impact. Each type of fishing reel is designed and built with a specific use case in mind. Much in the same way you wouldn’t use a seven iron on the tee next time you hit the links, or a driver on the fairway.
Likewise, you wouldn’t want to go fishing for Marlin using a spincast reel, or use an offshore reel when you’re trying to catch panfish…at least we hope you wouldn’t.
Today we’re going to go over the most popular types of fishing reels available to anglers, along with which reel is best for each type of fishing.
So grab a beer (or energy drink), because we’re about to dive overboard and net you some solid information you can take to the bank of your favorite little fishing hole.
History of the Types of Fishing Reels
Over the past millennium, there have been numerous breakthroughs in the technology that fishing reels use. You heard that right; millennium.
In fact, studies show that fishing reels have been used as early as 1195 AD. Historians came to this conclusion after seeing a reel illustrated in a Chinese painting from the period. In that era of fishing, the reels were attached with twine to a bamboo pole.
The appearance of these early reels is akin to that of the modern fly reel and often featured a manual or hand-wound movement. During that time, fishing was a means to provide food for one’s family, not just a pastime or a hobby to enjoy with friends.
With the invention of the reel, fishing became far easier for the common man which allowed him to feed his family while still having enough fish left over to trade for tools or weapons.
Introduction to the Modern Western Hemisphere
Historical records show that fishing reels were first used in the Western region around 1651. George Snyder of Kentucky, USA first manufactured the commercial version of fishing reels in the 1820s. His designs laid down the foundation for most of today’s fishing reels.
While fishing is no longer a means of survival for most, it has become popular as a recreational activity since it gives people a chance to take a break from the stressful city life and bond with their friends and family.
It’s truly an opportunity to escape the urban jungle and become one with nature once more. Modern fishing reels were originally created to allow people to use lures which were too light to cast using baitcasting reels.
Since you don’t need to pull the line using the rotating spool, you can cast lighter lures without running into problems. Backlash isn’t a problem when you use fishing reels but the line may become trapped under the spool at times.
The line can even be detached in loose loops of line. Over the years, there are some level wind mechanisms that have been released to try and solve the issue. That said, most fishermen would manually reposition the bail after they cast it to minimize the chances of the line twisting or at least the extent to which it twists.
What is a Reel – Stupid Question Right?
Despite the obvious answer, it’s usually good to take a foundational approach with these types of topics (especially for those new to the sport). If you don’t fall into the “newbie” category, feel free to jump ahead (permission granted).
A Little Mechanical Assistance Never Hurts
A fishing reel is a mechanical device that is used to store, release, and collect fishing line with a rotating arm. Having been first developed in the 4th century, reels are now commonplace in the fishing community and have become standard equipment for most anglers.
Before the reel was invited, fishermen had no easy way to fish from long distances. The only fishing area available to you would be the waters within your immediate area. Fishermen were limited to a simple rod with a line tied to the end of it.
Species that were easily spooked were extremely hard to catch using these early fishing techniques. Until the advent of the reel, a large portion of fishing waters was left out of reach. It was also rather hard to bring fish in after getting a bite which led to the loss of many would-be catches.
Once anglers started using reels, they were finally able to cast their baits and lures over long distances using a variety of techniques. Many fishermen cast their lures over distances exceeding 40 yards, and that’s just freshwater fishermen, saltwater fishermen can cast their lure to distances of over 200 yards.
This is in part a result of the long rods that anglers use to fish from the beach. Once the lure has reached the area of your choice, you can keep the line taught and easily control the lure by use of the reel.
Choose Your Weapon Wisely
There isn’t a “holy grail” of reels (though some might come dang near close to it). Fact is, as mentioned, reel types are designed for specific uses and while one might be perfect for lake fishing for bass, another might be more appropriate for bottom baiting catfish.
There is certainly more than one way to get the job done, but here are a few basics to consider:
- Baitcasting reels are generally better suited for heavy lines and/or heavy lures
- Spinncast and Spinning reels are generally better for lighter rigs
The definition of light and heavy is bound to vary from one angler to the next but a fair estimate would be around the 10-pound-test line or ¼-ounce lure range.
If your lures or line is heavier than the aforementioned specs, then a baitcasting reel would most likely be the best choice for you. If you prefer lighter tackle than that, you should consider going for a spinning or spincast reel.
What Level of Experience do You Have?
If you’re a newbie and you’ve just gotten into fishing, or if you’re looking for a reel for your children, your best bet would be to start with a spincast reel. On the other hand, anglers with more experience often prefer a spinning reel.
Experienced anglers who have plenty of practice often lean towards a baitcasting reel, often finding that the payoff is well worth the time and effort that they put into getting the hang of it.
Are You Primarily Using “Power” or “Finesse” Fishing Techniques?
If you enjoy burning crankbaits and spinnerbaits through the water or fancy using other power fishing techniques, you’ll be best off using a baitcasting reel. For anglers who are more into finesse fishing, and enjoy using lighter lines with smaller lures, a spinning reel would likely be a better match.
Are You an “Active” or “Passive” Type of Fisherman (or Woman)?
Most anglers who target bass or trout tend to fish actively. What does that mean? It means that they keep their rod in their hand most of the time, and actively reel, either consistently or in spurts with varying accompanying rod movements.
On the flipside, anglers who target bluegill, catfish, or carp tend to leave their rod in a holder while they lay back and enjoy the view or sip on a few brews.
Anglers who like to lay back will find that spinning reels suit their needs more accurately than do baitcasters, as they work in a more simple manner and present less technical problems in comparison.
How Big Are the Fish You’re Targeting?
Yeah, yeah, we all WANT to land that big one. But let’s be real for a moment.
If your goal is to catch some crappie, trout, or panfish, you’ll need to use a light line and tackle. And in that case, a spinning or spincast reel might serve you best. However, if you’re trying to chase muskies or double-digit hogs (big bass), you’ll find it easier to bring the fish in using a baitcasting reel.
Different Reel Types
Spincast Fishing Reels
The spincast reel is the first reel that most anglers start out with when they’re still kids. The spincast reel is known for being a relatively inexpensive reel. It is also one of the easiest reels to use, making it a great option for first-timers who are just getting started in the world of fishing, especially because it isn’t expensive and doesn’t take very long to get acquainted with.
The spincast reel is most commonly used by children and casual anglers who treat fishing as a hobby. The push button release on the reel makes things so much easier, especially for novices.
Ease of Use and Relative Accuracy
The spincast reel gives you a fair casting accuracy and is by far the easiest reel to untangle. If you have any tangles on your line, just open the bail of the reel, pull on the line, and voila, no more tangles.
Spincast Reel Disadvantages
Bear in mind that like any reel type, spincasters aren’t perfect and they come with their own set of disadvantages. One of the biggest disadvantages of using a spincast reel is the fact that you don’t get too much room for line capacity due to their relatively small size.
Because of this, you may not be able to cast as far as you’d like to. The reel is also rather limited when it comes to heavy test lines. The limitations of spincast reels make it extremely hard if not impossible for you to fish for big game using it.
Spincast reels are meant for small fish so don’t expect to haul in some scale-topping tuna fishes. Most anglers have spincast reels left over from their childhood and while it served them well initially, most of them grew out of it and moved on to spinning and baitcasting reels.
Baitcasting Fishing Reels
Baitcasting reels are a popular favorite among millions of anglers — and for good reason. Let’s have a closer look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of using baitcasters.
Baitcasting Reels Eliminate Line Twist
The first major advantage is the fact that there’s absolutely no line twist — though tangled lines or bird’s nests are still an issue — when you cast your bait which makes the reel extremely useful and efficient.
Cast Greater Distances
When you use a baitcasting reel, you’ll be able to cast at greater distances which will extend your reach and increase your chances of getting a good catch. Baitcasters come in both heavy and light versions and the weight class that you choose will depend on what type of species you hope to catch.
Using a baitcasting reel will provide greater accuracy and control when you’re casting but wielding it requires more skill, practice, and experience when compared to spinning reels. Baitcasting reels are an excellent choice for big game fishing due to the fact that they can cope with heavier pound test lines.
One of the negatives of using a baitcasting reel as opposed to a spinning real is the fact that it takes longer for anglers to get used to. That said, both time and practice will quickly resolve the issue. Some anglers say that they mastered casting accuracy with a baitcaster reel after using it for no longer than two days.
A bit of a Learning Curve…
Once you become familiar with the baitcaster reel and no longer struggle to use it, you’ll want to use it quite often due to the fact that its accuracy when casting is so good and very helpful when trying to catch fish. So overall the learning curve isn’t a big issue but it’s something that you should factor in when deciding on whether or not you want to go with this type of reel.
Baitcasting Reels Come in Two Types
There are two types of baitcasting reels; the round baitcasting reels and the low-profile baitcasting reels. Round baitcasting reels have a larger spool than their low-profile counterparts which makes them ideal when you need to hold more line.
Having more line can help you cast further away and extend your reach when trying to catch specific species of fish. Beyond the realm of performance, there’s something about casting a line as far as you want that feels freeing and extremely fun.
Many anglers agree that there is nothing more satisfying in life than casting a line across a long distance. In the same way, a good cast that’s cut short due to an insufficient amount of line can be very disappointing and kill your mood.
Round baitcasting reels have been prevalent for most of angler history but in recent years the low-profile baitcasting reel has begun to increase in popularity.
The main selling points that have made this variation of the baitcasting reel famous is the fact that it is ergonomic, lightweight, and very easy to handle even for beginner anglers. You can catch many gamefish using a low-profile reel. It also greatly reduces the extent that line twist affects your cast when compared to round baitcasting reels. Get the full baitcaster guide here.
The most popular types of fishing reels currently in use today are spinning reels. The debate between baitcasters and spinning reels is one that has gone on for what feels like an eternity. That said, the versatility that spinning reels have to offer are what make it a top choice for so many anglers.
Whether they are trying to catch some bass or hunting tarpon along the beach, anglers tend to gravitate towards the simplicity of spinning reels. To cast a spinning reel all you have to do is flip up the metal bail wire to release the line and cast it out. After casting the line, you flip the metal wire down and it locks the line in its place.
This reel will spin as your line is being retrieved which is how it got the name spinning reel. Setting up a spinning reel requires very little effort — around the same amount of effort that it takes to familiarize yourself with it.
Best Reel Type For Novices
Many beginners choose the skip over spincast reels because spinning reels are easier for them to use which can reduce the steepness of the learning curve that comes with taking up fishing as a new hobby.
Affordable Options Available
These reels can also be very affordable if you know which models to look for. While they’re friendly enough for beginners to use, even veteran anglers who want versatility can use spinning reels with their light lures or even live bait.
One thing that can be rather annoying when you’re using spinning reels is the fact that some bails are rather trigger-happy. Lower end models can also easily break and wear down.
As for casting, they provide moderate accuracy and distance, but not as good as with a baitcaster.
Surf Fishing Reels
Let me start by saying that both baitcasting and spinning reels can be used for surf fishing. What it comes down to, is the angler and whichever type they prefer. Some individuals prefer spinning reels over baitcasters because they’re lighter, versatile, and have higher retrieval rates.
Regardless of which type you choose, any surf reel needs to be robust enough to endure the harsh conditions of the surf which include sand, sun, and saltwater to name a few.
Offshore / Ocean / Deep Sea Reels
Offshore reels are made to be very durable. They could be either baitcasting or spinning by design, but they are often located in the higher price range and built to survive the unforgiving offshore conditions that would easily destroy other reels. They aren’t just built to reel in monster catches, but also to withstand the constant exposure to saltwater.
Offshore reels have traditionally been baitcasters but as the market has advanced we see more and more offshore spinning reels being released to consumers. Due to the unparalleled durability that offshore reels offer, it’s not out of the ordinary to pay over a grand for a good unit.
Conventional reels — also called trolling or casting reels — are generally used for deep sea or offshore fishing. Whether you’re trolling or bottom fishing for big game in a large lake, conventional reels are always useful to you.
The key things that you should look at when buying a conventional reel are the heavy-duty graphite construction coupled with a powerful multi-disc system as well as a large enough line capacity that will allow you to win long struggles with large, powerful fish. They should also be strong enough to carry heavier test lines.
Fly Fishing Reels
Fly fishing reels were first invented with precision at the forefront of the mind. When you’re fly fishing, accuracy is an absolute must for proper lure placement just ahead of the target, allowing the stream to float the lure to the sightline of the fish. It is due to this that fly fishing reels are one of the most accurate casters that you’ll find (given that an experienced user is behind the rod).
There is a wide range of fly fishing reel styles available, with some models being tailored towards trout vs. salmon fishing. Fly fishing reels generally tend to have large arbors on the reel to raise the retrieval speed of your line.
Keep in mind that use of these reels and casting takes quite a bit of practice to master, but is well worth the effort.
Centerpin reels — a reel that has been in use since the early 19th century — run freely on their axle; hence the name. The spool of the reel is seated perpendicular to the fishing rod and offer long distance casting capabilities. What makes these reels so interesting is the fact that they are free-spooling and drag-free.
This allows the line to pay out when the current pulls or a float or bobber downstream. When combined with a centerpin float rod, this reel makes the lure or bait appear more natural to the fish you are targeting.
Electric reels can make deep fishing extremely fun for beginners and veterans alike. With electric reels, you’ll find two mode settings. The first setting lets you choose a speed mode. The second setting lets you maintain speed and load by adjusting it. Many fishermen have decided to switch to electric reels is the annoying chore of winding reels all the way in whenever your bait gets picked off.
The loss of time in between drops could cost you a big catch. If you want to catch large fish that reside in deep waters — such as swordfish or tuna — then electric reels will be a great choice for you.
Closing Thoughts – Reel ‘em in
That concludes today’s guide on the various types of fishing reels. We’ve covered the most commonly used reels that have been used for fishing and withstood the test of time.
If you’re still unsure which type is right for you, just remember that each reel will perform better at certain tasks, and you should always choose one based on your intended use and level of experience.
Having the right tool for the job is important in any field, and fishing is certainly no exception.
P.S. Be sure to let us know when you land the BIG ONE!