Types of Fishing Reels, Different types of fishing reels

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There are several types of fishing reels on the market today. For the new angler this can be overwhelming. The day has come that you have decided to take on the adventure of fishing. You arrive at the bait and tackle shop only to find that the options are enormous! The first thing on the shopping list is a rod and reel.

Rods and reels are sold individually or in combo packages. In this article we will be discussing the main fishing reel types, and which type is best for different kinds of fishing.

There are four basic types of fishing reels:

We will not be discussing fly-fishing reels but will keep that for a separate article. All of the fishing reels we will discuss in this article are used for both freshwater and saltwater fishing.

Different types of fishing reels for different types of fish

different types of fishing reels

The different types of fish species will answer a lot of the questions about what are the best types of fishing reels you will need.

The line that goes on the reel is rated for different weights. This is referred to as the “test” of the line. For example, a 10-pound test line is rated for fish up to ten pounds. A heavier test line takes up more room and requires a larger reel.

The average size of the targeted species will determine a desirable drag strength. Heavier, stronger species will require fishing reel types with stronger drags. Spinning, baitcasting, and trolling fishing reels have a variety of sizes available to accommodate different sizes of fish species. Spin-cast reels have two basic sizes, children’s and adults.

Little Fish

If you are targeting a small species of fish, any of the four basic types of fishing reels will work. You can get away with a smaller size reel, with a weaker drag. The most commonly used reels for Bass, Walley, or any other small to medium size species that like to fight are spinning reels and bait casting reels. It requires a reel with enough line and a drag system that will accommodate the fight.

Big Fish

Catfish, Muskie, Sturgeon and other large freshwater species will require a fishing reel that has a drag that is strong enough to handle the weight and a reel size that can hold line that is rated for a larger weight. The different types of fishing reels that work best for the big boys are spinning, bait casting, and trolling.

Bigger Fish

If you are out to find the thousands of saltwater species in the wild blue yonder, trolling and baitcasting reels have been the fishing reel types of choice. Trolling reels are basically baitcasting reels on steroids.

Technology is always evolving and now spinning reels are making an impact on the saltwater fishing arena. They are not durable enough for the really large species. So, it really depends on the targeted fish species as to the different types of fishing reels that will be needed.

Freshwater or Saltwater

The type of water you are fishing in is just as important as the species of fish you are targeting.

Spending a little more money at the front for quality materials will pay off in the long run. Keep in mind the housing and bearing materials.

In saltwater, you will want a fishing reel that will hold up to the corrosion effects of salt.

Will you be fishing in calm waters or rough waters? Rough waters will put more of a strain on the gears.

What to consider when buying different types of fishing reels.

Each type of reel has several components to consider. Making your decision will be easier if you are familiar with each of these.

Body type: Spin-cast reels are considered closed faced reels. Baitcasting, spinning and trolling reels are considered open faced reels. This refers to whether there is a cover over the line or not.

Material: Children’s spin-cast reels are usually made of plastic. Adult spin-cast can be made of aluminum or graphite.

Most other types of fishing reels will be either aluminum or graphite. Aluminum is stronger and can handle more abuse. Graphite is lighter.

Having a spool that is forged aluminum is ideal because it doesn’t get damaged as easily.

You need to take into consideration the types of fishing you will be doing when determining what type of material, you want your reel to be made of.

Size and Ratio

Reel size: Fishing reels come in a variety of sizes. The size of the reel will determine the size of the fishing line you can put on it. Fishing for larger fish will require a heavier test line and a larger reel. You can use smaller reels for medium and smaller species.

Gear ratio: This refers to the number of turns your reel’s drive shaft takes in with one rotation of reel handle. For example, a 5.1:1 ratio means your reel takes in 5 wraps for one turn of the handle. The low gear ratio is 5.1:1. It is ideal for in-depth fishing, and crankbaits.

The medium gear ratio is 6.1:1 and works well for jigs, jerk baits, and spinner baits. This ratio is excellent for bass fishing.

The high-speed gear ratio is 7.1:1 and above. This ratio is often found in baitcasting, and trolling reels. It results in quick line retrieval with around 30” of line retrieved per turn of the handle.

Drag systems:

Drag systems on different types of fishing reels is used to create tension. This will help during the fight to get the fish into the boat or back to shore. A smooth quality drag is needed to reduce the chances of broken lines and lost fish.

Ball bearing: These provide smoothness and consistency during reeling. There are two types: closed stainless steel ball bearings, and bushings.

The more bearings, the better. Two is on the low end of the scale. Six or more is ideal but costlier. They are in all fishing reel types. You just need to decide how much your checkbook can handle.

Bails: A Bail releases the line for casting and wraps the line around the spinning reel’s spool when reeling in the fish. When looking at a spinning reel they are the piece that is shaped like a rainbow and flips back and forth.

Handles: You want to make sure the handle fits your hand. Fishing all day with a reel that has child size handle would get tiresome. They are made for right and left-handed people. Trolling reels have large handles to make it easier to fight the big fish species.

Best fishing reels for young and new anglers

zebco spin cast reel

The best fishing reel for the beginner is the spin-cast reel, also known as the closed reel. These reels are excellent for new anglers, from young to old. For a new angler that wants to use a bobber and bait these are an excellent choice. Some of the main frustrations a new angler can encounter are backlash, line twist and snare issues. The spin-cast is designed to solve these problems.

Body Type:

The most noticeable difference in the spin-cast and other fishing reel types is the cone over the line on the reel. This cone shelters the line and can keep debris from getting in-twinned with the line. This can be especially helpful for young anglers that might lay their fishing pole down without paying attention. Spin-cast reels are often referred to as closed reels. They can be made of plastic or metal.


The child size spin-cast reel is often times made of plastic. Think of the rod and reel packages and the local Walmart. An adult size spin-cast reel can be made of aluminum or graphite.

Casting a spin-cast reel

Casting a spin-cast reel takes minimal practice and is relatively easy compared to other fishing reel types. The angler presses a button with their thumb, which controls the release of the line from the spin-cast reel. The angler holds the button down through the forward momentum of the cast. At the end of the forward motion, the button is released and the line will leave the spool. When the line has settled on the water, turn the reel handle one time to re-engage the spool and stop the line from leaving the reel. The line is thrown from a fixed spool and can be used with relatively light lures and baits.

Baitcasting Reels

Body Type/Material

The baitcasting reel is considered an open-faced reel. The majority are made of graphite and aluminum. Aluminum is stronger and will withstand more abuse, but the graphite is lighter. A one-piece frame is recommended. They maybe tear drop shaped or round.

Reel size:

The placement of the reel above the rod allows for larger reels. A larger reel allows for larger spools. Larger spools will accommodate a heavier test line and you are able to bring in larger fish. Larger reels will also allow for more line to be put on the spool and makes longer casts possible.

Bait Casting Reel Properties

Gear Ratio

Baitcasting reels can be found in all gear ratios. It really depends on what type of fishing and how fast you want to bring the fish in. See the explanation of gear ratios above.

Break system

The break system needs to be adjusted for each type of lure. You do this by pushing the button and allowing the lure to free fall until it hits the water. Once it hits the water your spool should stop spinning. Most baitcasting reels have a magnetic mechanism that you can adjust to allow for you to cast farther without causing a bird’s nest.

Ball bearings

The ball bearings are concealed inside of the reel. They may have bushing instead of bearings, but they both serve the same purpose.


Like most fishing reel types, there is a learning curve to casting a baitcasting reel. You don’t want to whip your line out. This results in the spool traveling at a faster speed than the lure. When this happens, it makes a bird’s nest mess on the spool. Keep your thumb on the spool when you cast. When the lure hits the water press down and stop the spool.

Trolling Reels:

Trolling Reels

Trolling reels are similar to baitcasting reel in function and are commonly known as conventional reels. Specifically designed for use in offshore trolling, they have a large line capacity and stronger drag than other types of fishing reels.

When choosing a trolling reel, you want to choose one that is made for the saltwater environment.

These types of reels will have a large paddle shaped handle, that will make it easier to grip and turn when you are reeling in a big one.

Spinning Reels:

Spinning Reel  Open Face Reel

Our next fishing reel type is the spinning reel. This is becoming the reel of choice for most anglers. They are easy to use and don’t have the learning curve that the baitcasting reel has. They are ideal for light line and live bait fishing.

Body type and weight

These are open face reels and are mounted to the underside of the rod. They can be found made of aluminum for freshwater or graphite for saltwater. Graphite has more corrosion-resistant qualities. All the moving parts should be smooth and have no back play. Choose a reel with fewer parts. The weight will depend on the material the reel is made of and its size.

Spinning Reel Size

Determine the size fishing line you need for the species of fish you want to go after the most. This will help you to decide what size reel is the best. For lighter line you will need to use a smaller reel, for heavier line a larger reel.

Spinning Reel Properties:

Gear ratio

The spool on a spinning reel is fixed and a bail wraps the line onto the spool as you turn the handle. The gear ratio refers to how many times the bail rotates around the spool with one turn of the reel handle. For spinning reels 4:1 is considered slow-speed and 6:1 is considered a fast ratio. The term “line recovery” is the length of line that is wound onto the spool for each turn of the handle, as you reel the line back in.

Drag system

A high-quality drag is necessary to avoid broken lines and lost fish. The line should pull out steadily at the tension you set the drag at. On spinning reels there are two types of drags. They are the front and rear drag. Front drag systems are more durable than the rear drag systems. This is because of the multiple, large drag washers. The rear drag systems are easier to access. If you are fighting large, hard fighting fish than the front drag system would be the way to go.

Ball bearings

You have your choice of bearing or bushing placed within the body. Sealed stainless steel bearing are preferable. Many spinning reels will also contain a roller bearing within the line roller. The more bearing a spinning reel has the smoother the reel will perform.


Here again the spools can be made up of aluminum or graphite. There are different spools styles: internal or skirted. Internal spools are mostly a thing of the past because of the ease with which the line can become entangled within the housing of the reel. Skirted spools were designed to fix this problem.


For a spinning reel you want to have an anti-reverse handle. It will prevent the handle from spinning backward, resulting in hook sets that are deep and accurate.


In part 2 of this series, we will review our top choices for the Best Fishing Reels for each of the different types of fishing reels. In the meantime go out and relax by the water, cast a line, and start reeling those fish in.

If you would like to learn a little bit about Bowfishing Reels, Check out this article about the Best Bowfishing Reel

1 thought on “Types of Fishing Reels, Different types of fishing reels”

  1. Dude! Awesome stuff. Please keep writing more things like this. I really like the fact you went so in depth on this and really explored the topic as much as you did. I read a lot of blogs but usually, it’s pretty shallow content. Thanks for upping the game here!


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