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Using the right fishing reel is just as important as picking the right fishing line and lure. Use the wrong reel, and you could have a tangled spool. At worst, you could snag the game you’ve been stalking through the water only to have your line snap or your reel bind up. So, let’s compare the common reels – spincasters, baitcasters, fly reels, and spinners – and see what they’re best suited for.

Spinning Reel

fishing reel

Pflueger President Spinner

The most popular, do-it-all reel – The spinner is the most common reel you’ll find on any rod. Spinners sit below the rod and provide an excellent center of gravity, allowing for accurate casts, a comfortable grip, and fast, snappy movements to give good action to your lure. The open face of the spool means inspecting and managing your line is easy. It features a top-mounted drag adjuster and spring-loaded bail with plenty of leverage for quickly locking and releasing line.

Spinning Reel Advantages

Spinners are easy to learn and they’re forgiving. That makes them perfect for beginners who are learning to cast for distance and precision. The controls are simple and intuitive, and the exposed spool makes learning to manage lines easy. Spinners aren’t just for “newbies” and casual anglers. They’re capable of handling every from light jigs to heavy lures, and they work fine with both mono and lighter braided lines. Since spinners are the most popular, you can find a decent reel at a low price.

Spinning Reel Disadvantages

Spinners can quickly become tangled if you don’t set your drag correctly. The bail also provides another point of entanglement. The bail’s responsible for redirecting the line from perpendicular to parallel with the rod. This limits the overall size of the line and the fish you can chase with a spinner.

Spincaster Reel

fishing reel

Zebco 33N

The budget reel for beginners – You probably saw your first spincaster reel sitting underneath a “Scooby Doo”- or “Disney Princess”-theme children’s rod. That’s because spincasters are the bona fide beginner’s budget reel.

Spincaster Advantages

Its simple design, covered spool, and button-press lock makes the spincaster excellent for youth anglers. The button lock is foolproof compared to a spinner’s bail, and spinners come with a drag adjuster to prevent tangles under the hood. The hood/cover also helps to prevent tangles, and most spincasters are sold with line already spooled for convenience. Couple with low prices, the spinner provides a great way to get your kids or friend into angling without must cost or fuss.

Spincaster Disadvantages

Spincasters don’t provide much distance when casting, even if you’re using a light line and heavy lure. Their drag adjusters also struggle with big fish and heavy line, so they’re best suited for shallow waters and smaller game.

Baitcaster Reel

fishing reel

Shimano SLX DC

What the pros use – The baitcaster is the king of angling when it comes to power and precision. It affords compatibility with high-test lines, incredible casting distance, and sniper’s accuracy for planting your bait or lure.

Baitcaster Advantages

The baitcaster maintains the spool parallel to the rod. In place of a bail, a sliding guide hole threads the line between the reel and rod. This allows for much heavier-duty lines to be used than with a spinner or spincaster. This also allows for the line to be unspooled with less resistance, allowing for much farther casts. The reel sits atop the rod, allowing the thumb to be pressed against the line for “finger-feel” drag adjustment. The spincaster’s distance and accuracy make it the best choice for fishing from shore, getting into tight spots, and avoiding obstacles.

Baitcaster Disadvantages

Baitcasters have plenty of moving parts, so they tend to be more expensive than other reels. They also come equipped with extra adjustments – a spool tension and brake – which require some learning and finesse. Adjusting the baitcaster’s spool and brake depends on what line, lure, and weights you’re using. So, you’ll be making adjustments more often than you would with a spinner or spincaster. Used improperly, a baitcaster is more likely to get you in a tangle. Unlike the spinner’s bail and the spincaster’s button, there is no conventional “instant lock” for your line on a baitcaster. That’s why it’s so important to master using your thumb to control your cast.

Fly Fishing Reel

fishing reel

Orvis Clearwater Large Arbor

Fly reels are so large because, unlike traditional fishing line, fly line is heavy and rope-like. That’s because fly lures are basically weightless. So, to get good distance and accuracy, fly line compensates with added weight. Fly lines are incredibly simple. They’re basically large, simplified baitcaster reels with a single tension adjuster and parallel-to-rod placement.

Fly Reel Advantages

A fly reel’s design is intended to provide quick retrieval once you’ve hooked a fish. The large spool reduces line memory, and the simple design means fly reels are reliable and affordable.

Fly Reel Disadvantages

Fly reels are only used for fly fishing. So, investing in one means you’re only going to be using it for that purpose. You could technically use a fly reel for regular ole’ lure and bait fishing, but you’re putting yourself at a needless disadvantage.

Fly Reel Drag Systems

Fly reels use a variety of drag systems:

  • Caliper Drag: This forces a brake caliper against the spool to stop it.
  • Ratchet and Pawl: This method only allowing the spool to rotate in one direction.
  • Center-Line Drag: This method puts pressure on the reel’s center rod by pressing the drag button.
  • Disc Drag: This method places brake pressure on the reel’s plates.

Generally, we recommend sticking with a center-line drag. It provides quick braking, it’s reliable, and it’s convenient and intuitive. Using the right weights can help make sure your reel’s giving you the best distance and control. Check out our review of TSS Tungsten Putty. It lets you get the exact weight you need, without lugging around a bunch of lead shot.

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