The Different Types Of Fishing Reels

Written By James Smith

Keen fisherman here to offer advice and help for reels, rods and gear.

The main types of fishing reels are spinning reels, baitcasting reels, and spincast reels. Each type caters to particular styles and proficiency levels, as well as specific fishing conditions.

Understanding the distinctions and characteristics of these reels will help anglers select the most suitable option for their intended catches, maximizing their enjoyment and success on the water.

Basics of Fishing Reels

In this section, we’ll explore the different types of fishing reels available, and the key components that make up these pieces of equipment.

Types of Fishing Reels

  1. Spincast Reel: These reels are user-friendly and popular for beginners. They feature a closed face, which helps prevent line tangling and provides a straightforward casting experience.
  2. Spinning Reel: Spinning reels are versatile and widely used by anglers of all skill levels. They feature an open-faced design, allowing for longer casts and better accuracy. They also have a more efficient drag system than spincast reels.
  3. Baitcasting Reel: Baitcasting reels are a favorite among experienced anglers. They offer precise control and longer casts, but have a higher learning curve because of their more complex design.
  4. Fly Reel: Fly reels are specifically designed for fly-fishing. They have a straightforward, manual design, allowing the angler to control the line tension while casting and retrieving flies.

Parts of a Fishing Reel

Fishing reels are composed of several parts:

  • Spool: The spool holds the fishing line and rotates during casting and retrieving. It varies in size depending on the reel type and line capacity.
  • Handle: Used to turn the reel and retrieve the line. Handles can be single- or double-armed, and may feature different grip materials for comfort.
  • Bail: On spinning reels, the bail guides the line onto the spool evenly and helps control the line during casts.
  • Drag System: The drag system controls the line tension when fighting a fish. It can be front or rear-drag, with high-end reels offering smoother, more precise drag adjustments.
  • Gear Ratio: The gear ratio determines the speed at which the line is retrieved and affects reeling power. Lower gear ratios offer more torque for fighting larger fish, while higher gear ratios allow for faster line retrieval.
  • Line Guide: Found on baitcasting and spincast reels, the line guide helps maintain an even line spooling and prevents tangling during casts.
  • Rod: Of course, this isn’t a reel at all, but different rods match the fishing reels they’ll be used with.

Choosing the right fishing reel depends on the angler’s experience, target fish species, and fishing techniques. Understanding the different types of fishing reels and their components will help ensure a successful fishing experience.

Spincast Reels

Spincast reels are a popular choice for beginners and kids, as they are easy to use and relatively affordable. These reels are designed for simple casting and are a great option for those just starting out.


Spincast reels offer several advantages, such as:

  • Ease of use: They have a push-button system that makes casting simple and reduces the likelihood of tangled lines.
  • Suitable for beginners and kids: Due to their straightforward design, spincast reels are a great option for those who are new to fishing or for young anglers learning the ropes.
  • Affordability: Unlike some other types of fishing reels, spincast reels tend to be more budget-friendly.


While spincast reels have their benefits, there are some potential drawbacks to consider:

  • Limited functionality: They are primarily designed for casting, meaning they might not be the best choice for more advanced fishing techniques or for targeting larger fish species.
  • Less durable: Spincast reels tend to be made of less durable materials, such as plastic, which may not hold up as well under heavy use or in harsh conditions.

In summary, spincast reels are a good option for beginners and kids, offering user-friendly design, simple casting capabilities, and an affordable price point. However, they may not be the ideal choice for more experienced anglers or those seeking advanced functionality and durability.

Spinning Reels

Spinning reels, also known as open face spinning reels, are one of the most popular types of fishing reels. They are versatile, easy to use, and suitable for a wide range of fishing conditions.


  • User-friendly: Spinning reels are generally easier to master for beginners, and even experienced anglers appreciate their user-friendliness.
  • Versatile: They can be used with various types of lures and in different environments, making them suitable for targeting a variety of fish.
  • Adjustable drag: Most spinning fishing reels come with adjustable drag systems, allowing the angler to fine-tune their reel’s performance and control over the fish.


  • Limited line capacity: Spinning reels tend to have less line capacity than other types, which might not be suitable for larger species or deeper fishing.
  • Reduced casting distance: The open design can sometimes limit casting distance, as the line can catch on surrounding objects or create friction with the bail arm.

In summary, spinning reels are a versatile and beginner-friendly choice for many anglers. With adjustable drag systems and the ability to use different lures, they are adaptable to various fishing situations. However, they do have some limitations, such as reduced line capacity and casting distance.

Baitcasting Reels

Baitcasting reels are designed for experienced anglers who seek precision and control. These reels offer excellent casting distance and accuracy, making them a popular choice for bass fishing.

baitcaster reel with thumb alignment guide


  • Casting Distance: Baitcasting reels often provide longer casting distances compared to other types of reels, allowing anglers to reach spots they couldn’t otherwise.
  • Accuracy: These reels offer greater precision due to the spool tension knob, which can be adjusted for different lure weights.
  • Performance: Baitcasting reels typically have more powerful gears and drags for handling larger fish species like bass.
Casting DistanceReach remote spots
AccuracyIncreased precision
PerformanceHandles larger fish species


  • Backlash: Baitcasting reels may experience backlash or bird’s nests, which occur when the spool spins faster than the line can be released. This issue requires anglers to develop their thumbing skill to control the spool.
  • Complexity: It takes time to master baitcasting reels due to their steep learning curve, making them less suitable for beginners.
  • Price: Baitcasting reels tend to be more expensive than other options because of their advanced features and higher performance.
BacklashRequires thumbing skill
ComplexitySteeper learning curve
PriceMore expensive than other options

A baitcasting reel’s braking system helps to minimize backlash, making it more user-friendly for beginners or inexperienced anglers. However, learning to use it effectively still takes time and practice. Ultimately, baitcasting reels offer excellent performance and precision, especially for those targeting larger fish species like bass.

Fly Fishing Reels

These reels are essential for successful fly-fishing, as they hold the line and control the tension while casting and reeling in fish. Fly reels are used in pursuing trout and other species where finesse and control are required.

fly fishing reel attached to rod

Customization and Maintenance

One benefit of fly-fishing reels is the high level of customization they offer, allowing anglers to tailor their equipment to specific fishing environments and conditions. Various aspects, like the reel’s drag system, spool size, and material, can be customized based on personal preferences and the target fish.

Fly reels require regular maintenance to keep them in optimal condition. This includes cleaning, lubrication, and occasional replacement of parts. Proper maintenance ensures the longevity and smooth performance of the reel, contributing to a more enjoyable fishing experience.


  • Precision: Fly reels offer a high level of control, helping anglers to cast their fly in the desired location and make delicate presentations.
  • Versatility: They are suitable for a wide range of fish species, including trout, making them a popular choice among many anglers.
  • Customization: As mentioned earlier, fly reels offer many opportunities for personalization to match specific fishing conditions and environments.


  • Cost: High-quality fly-fishing reels can be relatively expensive, making them potentially inaccessible for some anglers.
  • Learning curve: The use of a fly-fishing reel requires skill and practice, which may be challenging, particularly for beginners.
  • Maintenance: Regular upkeep, including cleaning and lubrication, is essential to ensure the reel remains in good working order.

In summary, fly-fishing reels are an important piece of equipment for anglers pursuing trout and other species where a gentle touch and control are needed. They offer many customization options, as well as a high level of precision and versatility. However, they can come with a steeper learning curve and maintenance requirements.

Trolling and Offshore Reels

Trolling and offshore reels, also known as conventional reels, are popular choices for offshore fishing enthusiasts targeting larger species like salmon and marlin. These reels are specifically designed to handle the challenges of the open ocean and make it easier for anglers to battle bigger, stronger fish.


  • Durability: Trolling and offshore reels are built to withstand the harsh conditions of the open ocean, often featuring corrosion-resistant materials and sealed components.
  • Strength: These reels are designed for heavy-duty use, so they can handle the physical demands of catching large, powerful fish like marlin and salmon.
  • Line Capacity: Conventional reels typically have a larger line capacity, which is essential when targeting deep-dwelling species that require a significant amount of line to reach their depth.
  • Drag System: Offshore reels usually have advanced drag systems, providing smoother and more consistent resistance to control the fight with the fish.


  • Learning Curve: Trolling and offshore reels can be less beginner-friendly than other fishing reels, often requiring a more experienced touch to avoid complications like bird’s nests and line tangles.
  • Size and Weight: These reels are often bigger and heavier than other fishing reels, which may be a drawback for some anglers looking for a more compact, lightweight option.
  • Price: High-quality trolling and offshore reels can often come with a higher price tag, which can be a deterrent for those on a budget or just starting out in offshore fishing.

In summary, trolling and offshore reels offer several benefits for anglers targeting large species in deep, open waters. Despite some drawbacks, such as a steeper learning curve and a potentially higher price, these conventional reels are well worth the investment for serious, experienced offshore enthusiasts.

Surf Fishing Reels

Surf fishing reels are a crucial component of any angler’s gear when tackling the challenges of surf fishing. The best surf fishing reels can make a significant difference in the success of your fishing experience by reducing tangles and improving your casting distance.


One advantage of surf fishing reels is their ability to handle the sand and saltwater environment. These reels are specially designed to resist corrosion and avoid issues caused by sand particles getting inside the gears.

  • Improved casting distance: Surf fishing reels often feature a larger spool, allowing for longer casting distances, which increases your chances of reaching the targeted fish, such as tarpon.
  • Smooth retrieval: These reels offer smooth retrieval mechanisms that reduce the chances of line tangles, making it easier to reel in your catch.


However, there are some drawbacks to using surf fishing reels:

  • Bulkiness: Surf fishing reels can sometimes be bulkier than other types of reels, which could affect portability.
  • Price: These reels often come with a higher price tag due to their specialized features and materials.

In conclusion, surf fishing reels can greatly enhance your surf fishing experience, but it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons before making an investment.

Alternative Reels

Centerpin Reels

Centerpin reels, also known as float reels, are a traditional and simple option for anglers. These reels feature a large diameter spool that lies parallel to the rod, allowing the line to flow freely off the spool when casting. This creates an almost frictionless line release, allowing for long and accurate casts.


  • Smooth and accurate casts
  • Direct control over line tension
  • Great for float fishing and drifting techniques


  • Limited line capacity
  • Less versatile compared to other reel types
  • Takes practice to master

Choosing the Right Reel

When it comes to choosing the right fishing reel, several factors play a crucial role in making the decision. These include the type of fishing line, power, angling techniques, and price. This section will help you navigate through these different factors to make an informed choice.

First, let’s consider the type of fishing line. There are three main types of fishing reels: spinning reels, baitcasting reels, and spin casting reels. Spinning reels are best suited for light lines, whereas baitcasting reels can handle heavier lines. Spin casting reels, while not as versatile as the other two, are beginner-friendly and work best with medium-weight lines.

Next, the techniques you plan to use will determine the best reel for your needs. Spinning reels excel with lighter lures and delicate presentations, allowing for greater casting accuracy. Baitcasting reels offer more power and control for heavy lures and long casts. Spin casting reels provide a straightforward and hassle-free angling experience, making them ideal for novice anglers.

close up of spinning reel attached to rod

Now, let’s discuss the reel’s features, such as the spool tension knob, metal bail, and moving parts. A baitcasting reel offers more control with a spool tension knob, which allows for better casting accuracy. The metal bail in spinning reels helps in managing the fishing line and avoiding tangles. Moving parts within a reel can affect its durability, so it’s essential to strike a balance between functionality and longevity when choosing your reel.

Price is another important consideration when selecting a fishing reel. Spinning reels have a wide range of prices, from affordable to high-end models. Baitcasting reels tend to be more expensive due to their advanced features and greater power. Spin casting reels are generally more budget-friendly, but they may not offer the same level of performance as other reel types.

Lastly, be sure to evaluate the durability and drag adjustment feature of the fishing reel. High-quality reels made from strong materials like aluminum or graphite will last longer, while the smooth operation of drag adjustment is vital for efficient fighting and landing of fish.

In summary, to choose the right reel, assess your preferred angling techniques, fishing line, power, and desired features like spool tension knobs or metal bails. Additionally, consider the price range and focus on investing in a durable reel with effective drag adjustment.

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