Different Types of Fishing Reels

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Dale Shetler
By Dale Shetler
Updated February 7, 2020

If you're interested in fishing, you've probably checked out some of the different kinds of fishing reels available. If there's a kind of reel you've never used, it may not be obvious how it works or when you should use it.

There are some pretty major differences between baitcasting reels and spinning reels, for example. It might help to know more about how the design of different reel types impacts how they operate and what kind of fishing they should be used for.

That's what this article will cover.

We'll look at three very common types of fishing reels and give you a brief description of how they work and why you might choose one over another.

Choose the Right Type of Reel for the Job

Different types of fishing reels exist because there are techniques that call for specific reel features. Some types of reels are better at casting extremely light lures, some are designed to improve the angler's ability to control the fish, and some reels are made for brute force.

Within all reel varieties, there is a large range of sizes. Reel size, even more than reel type, is crucial in determining if a reel is suitable for a particular fishing scenario.

The rule is fairly straightforward. Use a larger reel when angling with large lures or bait and targeting large fish. Use a smaller reel when casting small lures and going after smaller fish.

As we'll explain, for most fishermen, reel choice will be between two types, baitcasting, and spinning. However, both types can be used for practically every kind of fishing—it's reel size that will end up being the more important decision.

Read on to get an overview of the three most commonly used types of fishing reels.

Types of Fishing Reels

There's a good chance you've seen or held a reel of at least one of the types we're covering here. While there are other kinds of reels used in less common types of fishing, such as fly reels and specialized trolling reels, we're limiting our discussion to the three most common types: spincast, spinning, and baitcasting reels.

As you'll see, unless you're a youngster or an extremely casual fisherman, you'll want to avoid spincast reels. Nevertheless, those tried and true bluegill busters have their place, and that's the type of reel we'll look at first.

Let's get started!

Spincast Reels

Abumatic S Spincast Reel

A spincast fishing reel is the cheapest and simplest to operate of all reel types. It's closed-faced, with the fishing line wound around a spool inside. The line exits the reel through a hole in the cover and a push-button located on the back of the reel allows the user to disengage the spool. With the button held down, the fishing line stays put, and when you release the button at the top of the cast, line will begin to come off the reel as your bait flies toward the target.

Their ease of use makes spincast reels great for fishermen who are new to the sport, but this type of reel has some major limitations.

Spincast reels don't hold much line, and the design means there's a lot of resistance when the line is coming off the spool. That adds up to short, inaccurate casting.

If you're drowning worms under a bobber to fill a cooler with panfish, a spincast reel would be fine, but any fishing more serious than that will require one of the other reel types.

Spinning Reels

Spinning reel 3d render

The second reel type we'll look at, spinning reels, also happens to be the second-easiest kind of reel to use. A spinning reel features an open-faced design where a rotor and bail turn around a fixed spool and the spool oscillates forward and backward as you crank the reel. That movement is how the reel can lay line on the spool in even wraps across the length of the spool.

A spinning reel is mounted on the underside of a rod and the casting procedure is pretty simple. With one finger, the angler picks up the line just in front of the reel and presses it against the rod's handle, then opens the bail. After making the cast, the angler cranks the reel handle to close the bail.

You can get an ultralight spinning reel that, when paired with a short, whip-like spinning rod, can cast the lightest lures in your tackle box. In fact, the ability to cast lighter lures is one of the main benefits of spinning reels.

While they're great for lighter fishing scenarios, spinning reels can handle big baits and big fish too. They’re a popular choice among saltwater fishing reel types. There are spinning reels large enough to handle surf fishing or offshore fishing for huge saltwater species.

Though spinning reels are easy to use, they're also prone to line twists. Therefore, it is important to know how to put line on your spinning reel properly.

Baitcasting Reels

KastKing Speed Demon - Worlds fastest baitcaster

The last reel type we'll cover is baitcasting reels. This kind of reel is the go-to choice for many bass fishing enthusiasts, and they're popular with saltwater anglers too.

A baitcasting reel is mounted to the top of the rod and looks like a small winch. When you crank the reel, the spool turns and, with the help of a line guide that sweeps across the spool, the line is evenly laid on the spool.

To cast with a baitcaster, the angler depresses a bar located over the spool. This disengages the spool and now the angler's thumb controls the line—when released at the top of the cast, line rockets off the spool. As the bait sails through the air, the angler can apply thumb pressure to the spinning spool to control the cast.

That ability to fine-tune the speed of the line coming off the reel is what helps anglers make accurate casts, and it's one of the more important features of baitcasting reels. In addition, most baitcasters are equipped with a braking system that's capable of dynamically slowing down the spool speed during your cast to help you avoid problems.

The design of a baitcaster is suited for reels of all sizes and intended uses, from light fishing scenarios where an angler delicately presents small baits in cover, to heavy-duty applications like trolling for saltwater giants.

The Reel Deal

All three of the reel types we covered here have their place.

Most anglers start fishing with spincast reels, then move on when the thrill of catching panfish fades.

That's when the endless question of whether to use a spinning reel or a baitcaster begins. Both reel types are extremely versatile, and it's almost impossible to decide which type is "better." It's common for anglers to end up with a collection of both kinds of reels in various sizes.

A fisherman may use his ultralight spinning rig for mountain trout, then drive to the coast the next day to battle huge saltwater predators with a massive baitcaster. The locker of most bass boats contains a few spinning rods for topwater and finesse fishing, along with a collection of baitcasters for everything else.

We hope this overview of fishing reel types has been helpful. If you think about what you'll be casting and the size of the fish you're targeting, it should be easy to choose the right reel for the job.

As a final reminder, make sure your reel is compatible with the type of fishing rod you intend to use it on.