Set Your Hook

Types of Freshwater Fishing Reels

If you’ve ever gone walking down the fishing aisle of any sporting goods store, you’re sure to be AMAZED at the variety of fishing poles and reels available. To make life easier, I thought I should probably explain about the three (FOUR!) main types of reels.

  • Spin cast
  • Spinning
  • Baitcasting
  • Fly (I’m not even going to get into fly fishing in this article, just know that they are wildly different!)

You’ll want to match your pole, reel, and tackle to the type of fishing that you’ll be doing. But, for the beginner, it’s easiest to just find a rod-reel combo that works for you and then get comfortable with it!

Spin Cast Reels

Also known as a closed-face reel, spin cast reels are the best choice for beginning fishermen due to their ease of use. To this day, this is the type of reel I use. It is PERFECT for kids and novice anglers since it is easy to use and hard to screw up!

Spin cast reels are typically inexpensive. Another plus if you’re just getting started fishing!

A spin cast reel sits on top of the fishing rod.

Using A Spin Cast Reel

Spin cast reels combine spinning and casting. The spool of line remains stationary until you use a thumb button to cast. When you release the button, your bait or lure propel your line.

Pros of a Spin Cast Reel

  • They can be inexpensive
  • Easy to use
  • Not a lot that can go wrong with them
  • Are usually easy to cast

Cons of a Spin Cast Reel

  • Aren’t high-capacity so don’t hold a lot of line
  • Are typically only good for light to medium weight line (small to medium sized fish)
  • Drag systems aren’t always reliable

Spinning Reels

Also known as an open-faced reel, spinning reels come in a variety of sizes and can be used for a variety of fish species, from small panfish to large saltwater predators.

The reel is mounted below the rod.

The reel is mounted under the rod.

Using A Spinning Reel

A spinning reel has a fixed spool which doesn’t turn during the cast or retrieve. Instead, line is retrieved through a pickup mechanism called a bail, which turns around the spool as you turn the reel’s handle.

Pros of a Spinning Reel

  • Variable-sized spool that can accommodate varying amounts of line
  • From or rear drag systems (helps to keep the fish from breaking the line)
  • Good at casting light lures
  • Lures can be cast accurately (if you know how!)

Cons of a Spinning Reel

  • If you’re not careful, you can get the line completely tangles
  • Not (usually) a good choice for beginners to kids
  • Since the reel mounts under the rod, you might have to “relearn” how to cast
  • Can be expensive

Baitcasting Reels

Baitcasting reels are among the most specialized type of reels. They are best used with heavier lures than can be fished with a spinning reel. Baitcasting reels sit atop the fishing rod and come in a wide variety of sizes. They can be used to catch fish ranging in size from a pound or two to hundreds or thousands of pounds.

Not for the beginner, a baitcasting reel is used when fishing heavy cover. This type of reel is not meant to be used with light lures! A baitcasting reel has more uses than the others, but also requires more coordination to use.

Using a Baitcasting Reel

Baitcasting reels work with the weight of the bait or lure as it pulls on the line and turns the spool to release more line; the heavier the lure, the longer the cast.

The baitcaster reel mounts to the top of the rod. The line comes off these reels from the top, so it doesn’t twist, however, the angler’s thumb is used to help control the speed the line unwinds off the reel when casting. However, that can make it difficult to cast. Because, if you forget to put your thumb down over the line on the reel, or don’t use enough pressure, the reel spins faster than the line can go through the guides, so it creates a big mess of snarled, tangled line called a backlash.

Pros of a Baitcasting Reel

  • You can cast with pin-point accuracy (after you learn how!)
  • Can handle heavy tackle and line
  • Perfect for catching big fish

Cons of a Baitcasting Reel

  • Difficult to learn to use
  • Expensive
  • Can make a huge mess of your line if used incorrectly
  • Not good for fishing lightweight tackle or for small fish

When you’re in the market for a new reel, be sure it will incorporate with your fishing pole. Not all reels can be used on all poles; the styles need to match. Also keep in mind the type of fishing you’re likely to be doing before buying a reel: size of fish, line diameter, tackle weight.

Also make sure you get a reel that matches your dominant hand. Not all reels are reversible for right- or left-handed anglers!

My biggest suggestion with buying any type of fishing gear is to always start out in a moderate price range. I also recommending going to a good tackle shop and talk to an expert: explain the type of fishing you want to do and listen to their advice!

Readers Weigh In:

  • What type of reel do you use?
  • Do you have any horror stories of tangled line or the one that got away?
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