You can rightfully look at a fishing reel as the engine of your fishing rig. Without it, you couldn’t reach a fish and bring it back home. It even sports gears, just like a car’s drivetrain. Like car engines, reels possess different levels of power, sizes and speeds.
They even have brakes. The trick to finding the best reel for your purposes revolves around what you fish for, where and how.
Let’s take a look at the most important factors and the different types of freshwater reels on the market that might best fit the type of freshwater fishing you prefer.
- What Are the Different Types of Fishing Reels?
- So What Is in a Reel?
- When to use a Spincast Reel?
- When Might a Spinning Reel Be Best?
- What are Baitcasting Reels used for?
- When Do You Need a Fly Reel?
- What Are the Best Fishing Reel Brands?
- Whatever Reel You Choose, Don’t Forget Balance
What Are the Different Types of Fishing Reels?
Four basic styles of reels exist: a spincaster (aka closed-face reel), a spinning reel, a baitcasting reel and a fly reel.
Not as prevalent, but available at fishing retailers, are various trolling reels which often house leaded or braided line, but can also accommodate monofilament.
They are used when tolling your lure and/or bait behind a boat and you normally cannot cast with them. We will focus on the more prevalent freshwater reel designs in this article.
As for mounting, baitcast and spincast reels are attached on top of the rod handle while spinning and fly reels are mounted below the rod handle.
So What Is in a Reel?
A reel features five components most relevant to casting and reeling in a fish: a handle, a spool, a drag, gears and, very often, a lock (i.e., brake).
However, a spinning reel features one exception: a bail that must be flipped with the non-casting hand before casting.
The bail halts and regains control of the line after it spools off on a cast once the angler turns the reel’s handle forward.
Components of a Fishing Reel
Handles vary, depending on the type of reel you use. Spincast and baitcast reels feature two grips at each end of the handle. These grips range from thumbnail size to nearly dollar-coin size. A spinning reel provides one grip at the end of what is usually a tapered handle, while a fly reel grip is usually round and connected directly to the spool.
Spools vary in capacities. Some can hold hundreds of yards of monofilament while others only 150 and sometimes only 100 yards, such as ultralight spinning or spincast reels. Most spools—outside of fly reels—hold around 200-300 yards of mono.
Drags vary in range and strength when it comes to reels of all kinds. The drag, either controlled by a round dial, a star-shaped dial or a dial atop the reel spool in the case of spinning reels, allows the angler to apply a particularly chosen resistance when a fish runs with the line.
Some reels, because of their gear ratio inside the housing, will retrieve line faster than other reels. Some fly reels actually feature a 1:1 ratio (i.e., one rotation of the handle wraps the line one time around the spool).
Spinning reels and baitcasters contain gears that sometimes attain a ratio of 16:1 or even greater. Ratio varies from model to model. Fly reels designed for large fish host ratios considerably greater than 1:1.
Locks appear most commonly on spinning, spincast and baitcast reels. They disallow the line from spooling out from the reel.
A lock comes in handy when still-fishing, trolling or if the drag is set for very little resistance. Sometimes, a strongly set drag can act essentially as a lock, which is especially so for fly reels that usually don’t feature a lock.
When to use a Spincast Reel?
Spincast reels are basically designed for the beginning freshwater angler, though you will sometimes see quite seasoned bass casters tossing plugs or other lures into spiny-ray habitat.
However, if you want to introduce your children to fishing or if you are trying the sport for the first time, a spincast reel proves a wise choice.
Spincast Reel vs Spinning Reel
Because of its closed-face design, the line cannot fly out of control on a cast and create the proverbial bird’s nest on the spool, more characteristic to a baitcasting or spinning reel.
Designed mainly for pan-sized fish rather than those tipping the scales at 3-10 pounds or more, a spincast reel’s relative ease of operation also draws the favor of beginners.
A button, easily reached by the thumb of your casting hand, is pushed as you begin your cast and released at the end of your cast.
If you are fishing for crappie, perch, bluegills, small trout or small bass, the spincast reel will suit your purpose.
When Might a Spinning Reel Be Best?
The most popular of reels, the spinning variety finds favor for some beginners but mostly for intermediate to advanced anglers. It is perhaps the most versatile of reels for whatever species you seek.
You can still-fish with it, you can cast lures or bait into pockets, pools or current slots with it and you can troll with one.
A spinning reel can cover considerable casting distance but not as far as some baitcasting reels.
Spinning reels can prove suitable for small fish and big fish. You will see perch anglers as well as some steelhead anglers using these reels, though most steelheaders choose baitcasting reels. From quarter-pound to six- or seven-pound fish, a spinning reel meets the challenge.
What are Baitcasting Reels used for?
Baitcasting reels best suit bass anglers, steelhead anglers and freshwater salmon anglers. For bass anglers, they can be more easily articulated for casting into tight spots; a simple application of casting thumb to the spool of line stops the cast in its tracks, much the same as the button on a spincast reel.
Spinning Reel vs Baitcaster
A spinning reel, because of a tick longer stop by a relatively clunkier bale, cannot stop the cast or line drop as immediately as a baitcaster.
When tackling big fish, many anglers prefer the baitcasting reel because the line is unfettered between the reel and fish’s mouth.
This direct connection helps the angler avoid the angle in a tightened line, which occurs in the bail of a spinning reel.
The straighter the line, the more control one can exert when a fish runs to and from or jumps from the water.
Some baitcasting reels come with a button for a fast, automatic retrieve after your lure or bait has covered the fishy looking habitat. This feature especially suits a bass caster or someone sight-fishing such species as bass. The faster you can get the line back in the water, the better in such cases.
When Do You Need a Fly Reel?
Fly reels are specifically designed for fly rods and mounted at the butt end of a fly rod. They all can handle floating, sinking, or sinking-head fly lines. If fishing for extremely large gamefish, you best use a fly reel with a greater retrieve ratio than 1:1.
Fly reels, of course, require an aptitude for casting a fly rod. Therefore, it is not a reel or style of fishing that a beginning angler usually chooses.
However, one can easily learn how to cast with fly gear by practicing a couple days in the backyard or—better yet—a local dock on a lake.
Like all the reels noted here, a fly reel and fly rod can be used in lake, pond or river.
Also read: How to Fly Fish – The Beginners Guide
What Are the Best Fishing Reel Brands?
You will find lots of brands on the shelf, especially at larger outdoor retail stores. The tried and true—for durability, performance and value—include Shimano, Penn, Pflueger, Daiwa and Shakespeare for spinning, spincast and baitcast reels.
For fly reels, you can hardly go wrong on a Hardy, Lamson, Orvis, Redington, Galvan or Ross.
Whatever Reel You Choose, Don’t Forget Balance
To wrap it up, we finish with perhaps the most important subject when it comes to reels: balance.
You will not find ease of casting, reeling or catching unless the weight and size of your reel matches the rod, especially in the case of fly reels.
Just imagine the difficulty of casting a 5-1/2 long graphite rod with a baitcasting reel meant for steelhead, salmon or muskie fishing.
Balance is everything when choosing your gear. If you need an easy index to gain a visual on what balance means, simply browse through your local tackle shop or outdoor retailer and look at the matching rod-and-reel packages for sale.
If you see the kind of reel you want and it is matched to a rod you like, buy the package to save yourself some time.