How to Buy a Fishing Reel

Getting ready for a trip to the water? Find the correct fishing reel for your outing. Whether you’re after a steelhead or a scrappy trout, learn about different types of fishing reels and how they work for you.   

Casting a Fishing Reel

Find Your Perfect Freshwater Or Saltwater Reel

Freshwater reels are for use around inland lakes, streams and rivers, while saltwater reels are for large bodies of water, including oceans and bays.

Reels come in three basic styles: casting, spinning and fly fishing. Whether you’re after a largemouth bass or a scrappy trout, you should understand the way your fishing reel works.

Baitcasting & Conventional Reels: These reels work with the weight of your bait or lure as it pulls on the line and turns the spool. They are typically preferred by more experienced anglers, especially when using heavier lures and lines for large game fish.

  • Most baitcasting reels now incorporate a drag system, which adjusts the resistance or drag on your spool and controls the level of resistance needed to pull the right length of line off the spool.
  • Many anglers prefer baitcasting reels for larger, stronger game fish, particularly if they’ll be out on the water for an extended period of time. Many saltwater anglers use baitcasting reels.
  • Some baitcasting reels come in one-piece designs that lessen the corrosive effects of saltwater

These five styles of freshwater and saltwater baitcasting reels are available to fit your needs:

fishing reel 1

How to Buy the Right Reel

Spinning Reels: These devices are great for beginners or novice anglers. They are simple to use and mount on the underside of a spinning rod. The handle of a spinning reel is located on the left instead of the right. The spool is parallel to the rod and does not rotate as you cast, reducing tangles.

  • Spinning reels can handle smaller bait.
  • They have anti-reverse, a simple mechanism you can set by letting go of the bail wire after casting. This keeps your line from spooling off when you get a bite.
  • You may prefer a skirted spool in saltwater environments. These increase line capacity, allowing longer casts and reducing tangles. They also protect the inside mechanisms of the spool from salt and moisture.

Spincasting Reels: With these reels, the line comes off the top of the spool while casting. The spool remains enclosed by a cover that features a port, where the end of your fishing line exits the reel. The spool remains stationary until you use a thumb button to cast. As you release the button, your bait or lure will propel your line.

  • The ease of spincasting reels makes them a good choice for novices. They’re reliable and lack complexity.

Drag Systems

The drag system of your reel applies friction to the spool. This helps as you cast and while you are attempting to bait a fish, particularly larger species.

  • Older models traditionally have a fixed drag that cannot be adjusted.
  • Spring and pawl drag systems offer some adjustment and have a distinct clicking sound when line is pulled off the reel.
  • Disc drag systems provide the smoothest type of drag. They are used in many modern fly reels.
  • Adjustable disc drags allow anglers to make fine adjustments to the level of drag pressure.

There are three types of drag systems.

  1. Spring and pawl, or “click and pawl” systems feature a spring that pushes the prawl into a gear on the reel spool to produce a drag. Spring and pawl is best for light fishing, like panfish.
  2. Disc drag pushes a large-diameter pad against the reel spool’s braking surface. Pressure is applied directly to increase overall control and efficiency. Cork or synthetic materials, like Teflon, are used in disc drag systems. Cork provides a smoother, more consistent pressure and can be easily adjusted. These systems are great for fighting large, strong fish.
  3. Caliper drag systems fall between disc and spring and pawl. A caliper pad pushes against the braking surface of the spool. This friction slows the way the reel spool spins.