You’ve found just the right reel for your rod and are ready to go out on your first fishing trip. But, wait. You haven’t loaded your reel with line yet. It may not be as simple as you think, especially if your new purchase is a spinning reel. It’s not rocket science, but you need to understand a few basic steps to ensure your reel produces a clean cast and retrieve.
Let’s look at the correct ways to fill both a spinning and baitcasting reel with line.
Putting new line on your reel for the first time can seem too simple, until you actually start to attach it to your spool.
Lesson 1: Know your line
Know what type of line is appropriate for your reel and type of fishing before you even guess how it is correctly spooled onto your reel.
For freshwater fishing, unless you are using flies, monofilament or fluorocarbon line will most likely be your choice. They cast well, flex well on the spool and present the perfect balance between stretch and rigidity as catching fish goes.
Fluorocarbon line boasts lower visibility under water than mono and excels in clear, shallow lakes, ponds or rivers. It also resists abrasion, demonstrates more sensitivity and stretches more than mono.
A trolling reel or even some high-capacity baitcasting reels, used for trolling or large freshwater fish, might be best spooled with strong braided line or leaded line in the case of trolling.
These lines don’t retain as much coil memoryas mono and therefore aren’t as tricky to spool. However, casting is clunkier than with monofilament.
Also pay heed to the line capacity of your reel. Often, a stick-on stipulating line capacity in accordance to line strength (pound test) is attached onto the reel’s spool casing.
Remember that the heavier the line or pound test, the less line you can spool onto your reel.
It’s all about balance: Know the average weight of fish you are trying to catch and match the size of line to reel and rod for that particular fish.
Line capacity will mostly range from 150 to 300 or more yards, depending on the size of the reel. Line test will usually range from 6 to 15 pounds for most freshwater fishing.
Now you are ready to learn how to correctly fill a spool on a spinning reel and a baitcasting reel.
How to Spool a Spinning Reel
Except in rare cases, monofilament is used to fill a spinning reel spool. Some advice up front: Unless you are in dire need and too far from a store, don’t use old fishing line. Monofilament ages over the years. Sun, strain, dirt, snags and its mere coil memory on a spool render old mono a poor choice for filling your empty reel.
Carry new line with you when fishing far-off places just as a backup, should your currently spooled line fail you somehow.
The first step to filling a spinning reel correctly is to mount the reel to the butt section of your rod. Just make sure the section includes at least two line guides or eyes.
Then take note of the direction your spool turns when turning the handle forward, as you would when reeling in your line. Most often a spinning reel turns clockwise, when facing it from the front, as you reel in your line.
Now that you know the direction your spool turns, point the new spool with the label pointed toward you. Remove the rubber band, light plastic collar or other device that keeps it from free spooling. Sometimes the line is simply pinched inside a slit of the new plastic spool.
Then, gently tug the tag end of the new line to see if it will spool off counter-clockwise. Simply place the new spool vertically on a tabletop within your reach—enough so to be able to hold the your rod section over the top of the spool—while keeping in mind to face the end of the new spool with the correct direction of release upward.
Now thread the new line through the two or three line guides of the butt end of your rod. Then tie an arbor knot (see this how-to) or something close to it around your bare spinning reel spool with its bail arm wide open. Otherwise you will need to push the tag end of the new line under the closed bail before tying it to the core of your reel’s spool.
If you are all thumbs with knots in tight spaces, you can cheat by using a small patch of tape to secure the line to your reel. Clip off any excess line from whichever way you attach the new line to your reel.
Next, position the rod and reel as close as you can to the upright spool of new line and just above it. Move your free hand up close to the first line guide to apply some gentle pressure as you start reeling in with the other hand. This ensures a tight spooling on the reel; otherwise you risk the chance of the line crossing over itself and fouling your cast if not losing a fish.
Keep spooling until the line comes within roughly an eighth of an inch from the spool’s lip, which will allow optimal casting.
If you feel that spooling your own line seems like a hassle, you can find some sporting goods stores that will spool your line for you with a customized spooling machine, especially when you purchase the line and reel from one of those stores. If fact, you can sometimes find a manual spooling device for home or order one online.
Crafty anglers build their own spooling devices from wood, PVC or similar materials.
You can easily find videos on how to spool a spinning reel on YouTube.
How to Spool a Baitcasting Reel
A baitcasting reel shares some procedures in common with a spinning reel; but it is much more straight forward.
You need to identify the type of line you need—mono, fluorocarbon, braided or even leaded in this case—as well as the reel spool’s capacity for a particular strength of line. You also need to make sure the line rolls off the new spool in the same direction as you are reeling it in on your reel.
As with a spinning reel, you need to run the line from the new spool through the guides on the butt end of your rod and tie the arbor or similar knot to the spool of your baitcasting reel.
Instead of opening a bail, however, you simply push the line through the roller that runs horizontally along the width of the baitcasting spool as you turn the reel handle.
Because the line rolls more directly onto a baitcasting reel than a spinning reel with bail, line twist is virtually non-existent. Therefore, you can simply poke a pencil or similarly thin device through the hole of the new spool and wind it onto your reel.
You might, however, need a partner to hold the pencil and spool while you reel in line and apply some pressure between the fingers on your free hand. and not as much of a worry.
Reel the new line on until it runs even with the sidewalls of the reel’s spool. Again, refer to YouTube videos to learn more about spooling a baitcasting reel.
How to Spool a Fly Reel
A fly reel is spooled very similarly to a baitcasting reel. You need to create resistance on the spool (the pencil method works). However, a new spool of fly line is much more narrow than those of mono or braided line.
Therefore, worrying about the direction of line coming off the new spool becomes moot. Just make sure you thread the line through the guides of the butt section of your fly rod and apply finger pressure as you reel in the line.
Some Tips and Tricks
If you can’t find someone to assist you by holding the new spool of line while reeling it onto your reel’s spool, don’t fret. You can achieve the same effect by couching the spool between two heavy pillows on a bed, table or sofa.
Just make sure the spool is not place too close to the edge of its platform where it might be pulled off from the force of reeling. If it nudges toward the edge, simply stop and reposition it to the rear of the bed, table or sofa.
As for reel spools that run too deep for the amount of line on the new spool, some new reels come with a backing ring that can be slipped over the reel’s spool—effectively making the reel spool shallower.
Otherwise you can tie on backing line—braided, nylon or similar—to eliminate the void on the reel’s spool while gaining extra line should a fish or snag threaten to spool your entire line. In fact, many fly fishers use backing line because fly line only comes in 30 to 35 yard lengths generally.
To attach backing line to your main fishing line, use a blood knot.
Should your line form a bird’s nest while on the water, despite your best efforts at spooling it, don’t exacerbate the tangle by pulling on the line or reeling any farther. Try to pull out bands of line from the reel until the original crossover of line is found.
Then continue to feed line outward toward the water and even in the water—where it can actually untangle itself—before fixing the crossover and reeling it all back onto your spool.
Correct Spooling Will Result in More Catching
Just remember, as you spool on new line, that correctly and carefully spooling it onto your reel will result in fewer tangles, twists and knots while fishing. This means your line will spend much more time in front of fish than out of water—a critical factor in catching more fish.