How to Choose a Fishing Reel – Foundry Outdoors
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How to Choose a Fishing Reel

Having the right fishing reel is imperative for success on the water. A fishing reel’s basic purposes include holding line, controlling line tension, as well as casting & retrieving of line. There are a ton of reels on the market today, and trying to figure out which one is right for you can be extremely overwhelming. Here are some key ideas to keep in mind when looking for your next reel.

  1. Types of Reels
  2. Targeted Fish
  3. Spool Capacity
  4. Drag
  5. Bearings & Bushings
  6. Gear Ratios 

1. Types of Reels


Not all fishing reels are created equal. Based on experience and the type of fishing you are doing one reel might be more suitable then the other. The three basic types of reels are spincasting, spinning, and baitcasting reels.

Spincasting reels

A spincasting reel is mounted on top of the rod and is perhaps the most basic reel made available to anglers. This would be a perfect reel for a novice fisherman because of the way the reel operates. The spincasting reel boasts an in house spool that is completely enclosed. This eliminates a variety of issues that can occur when using an open ended faced reel. The spincasting reel operates with the push of a button; the angler simply holds the button down and upon casting the line comes free from the spool. Once the button is released the line is engaged and will not come off of the spool any longer. Keep in mind that spincasting reels typically have lower gear ratios due to the size of the spool making it difficult to fish bigger lures.

Spinning Reels

A spinning reel is a very popular reel that is mounted below a fishing rod. Unlike a spincasting reel a spinning reel has an open-faced bail where the spool is visible and more easily accessible. The major difference between a spincasting and spinning reel is in the casting. Unlike the push of a button on a spincasting reel, to throw a spinning reel you must open the bail, apply pressure to the line with your forefinger and then in one swift motion make a cast while releasing your finger. Line travels off of a fixed non-rotating spool. So essentially just the line is coming off of the spool making it easier to throw lighter lures, as it does not require an entire rotation of the spool itself. A spinning reel is great for a variety of fish including smaller sized fish like bluegills, perch, and trout.

Baitcasting Reels

Lastly one might consider a baitcasting reel. Baitcasting reels are mounted above the rod and are considered a great reel to use when accuracy is critical. The baitcasting reel is setup in a manner that allows smooth flowing casts that are easily controlled by the user. These reels are great for going after bass or pike. The caveat with this reel is that on older models controlling the line is done with a thumb, and if you’re not paying close attention a squirrels nest can happen very quickly. If you are a beginner a spincasting reel or spinning reel may be a better option. If you are set on a baitcasting reel, but do not have much experience consider going with a newer model that has technology in place such as a centrifugal brake system that helps prevent line coming off the spool at an uncontrollable rate.

2. Targeted Fish


One of the best ways to narrow your reel search down is to consider what type of fish you will be fishing for. Depending on the size of fish, line requirements, lures, and areas that you will be throwing will provide you with greater insight into your reel needs. Many of these reels will work on all types of fish but some are better then others. For example if wanting to throw up under docks looking to hook a largemouth bass you may want to consider a baitcasting reel as it will provide you with the ability to throw quicker casts and provide better accuracy with the lures used to target this species. If fishing for bluegill a spincasting or spinning reel would work well as you most likely won’t be casting a lot, and using lighter bait like worms you won’t have to worry about your reel not having enough wait to get the line out during a cast; especially with a spinning reel.

3. Spool Capacity


Spool Capacity is another important criteria to consider when picking out your reel. Do you require a lot of line or a little line? More line will require a larger spool, and also keep in mind the poundage of line you will be fishing with. Reels are marked with how much line can be adequately spooled depending on the weight of line. So you might see something like 8lb(225 yards), 12lb(175 yards), 20lb(100 yards). These numbers represent exactly how much line the reel can hold at any given poundage. So fishing with 8lb test you will be able to put 225 yards of line on the spool. If you jump to 20lb test you will be able to put only 100 yards of line on that same spool. So make sure to match up your reel with the poundage and length of line you will need for your type of fishing.

4. Drag


Drag is also a very important component to a reel, especially if you are planning on fishing for larger fish or in condensed areas like rivers or streams. The drag serves as a way to control the amount of line that comes off the spool and how easy it comes off when a fish is on. Having a good drag can be the difference between landing a fish or having to re-tie your line. On Spinning reels the drag is either located on the front of the reel or the rear of the reel. By adjusting the drag you enable line to come off of the spool very easily or very hard depending on how you set it. A good rule of thumb is to have a firm enough drag set that when you go to hook a fish you can do so while still having the drag be light enough that if a fish takes your line aggressively that the spool will let line out to ensure it won’t break off. An easy way to test your drag is to simply pull the line with your hand, think about the fish you are after and how aggressive they are and adjust your drag accordingly.

5. Bearings and Bushings


Bearings or bushings in a fishing reel represent how smoothly a reel actually reels (spool winds) when you engage the handle. The thought is that the more bearings a reel has the smoother it will be. In many cases this is the correct thinking and usually as the number of bearings goes up so does the price. Keep in mind that all reels are manufactured using different parts so do not completely rely on the idea that the more bearings a reel has the better the reel. Make sure to take the time to look at the raw materials used to build the reel. Like with anything else sometimes it is more about quality then quantity. Stainless steel bearings will last longer then say brass or plastic bearings.

6. Gear Ratios


Another thing to consider when choosing a reel is how fast you will want to retrieve your cast. Reels have gear ratios that represent how many times the spool turns per one crank of the handle. For example a gear ratio of 9:1 will be a very fast retrieval as per one crank the spool makes nine revolutions. Higher gear ratios generally work well for throwing say spinnerbaits where you want a lot of action where lower gear ratios like a 5:1 will be suitable for throwing spoons or crank baits.

Things to keep in mind...


Now that you have some of the key concepts to think about when purchasing your next reel remember to not overlook the simple things. Pick a reel that feels good to you and matches up well with your rod. Try to have a balanced rig so that it easy to cast and maneuver when fighting a fish. Also think about whether you will be sharing your reel with someone else. If sharing you may want to buy a reel where the handle can be fished both left or right handed. Last but not least enjoy your reel selection journey as it will lead to an unforgettable story on how you landed that big one in the near future!


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