5 Most Common Types of Fishing Reels Explained

In this article, we will discuss 5 of the most used types of fishing reels on the water today.

I have personally used each type of fishing reel discussed below extensively. I hope the knowledge I share will be helpful for you as an angler.

Most explanations of fishing reels online tend to target the 3 main types of reels (spincast, spinning, and baitcast). I’ve chosen to include fly fishing reels and trolling reels to cover any application that you may need a reel for from freshwater to saltwater. 

Spincast Reels

The spincast reel is one of the simplest and most well-known reels in the world. If you’re like me, then some of your fondest memories are taking out the Zebco 33 with Grandpa. This reel is perfect for beginners due to its ease of use and forgiveness. Anglers of higher skill levels may want to read on. But the spincast is great for those of you targeting smaller species and those of you wanting affordable options. 

Common Features and Design: 

  • Components housed in a metal nose cone 
  • Drag adjustment mechanism on the housing to control drag pressure
  • Button for casting located at the bottom of the metal housing 
  • Most often have double reel handles 

Pros: 

  • Cheap 
  • Hint of nostalgia
  • Ease of use 
  • Forgiveness

Cons: 

  • Lesser quality than other types
  • Cleanability
  • Accuracy
  • Casting distance

Spinning Reels

The spinning reel is one of the most popular reels in existence. Known for its versatility and range of uses, it can handle most any application. Personally, I have never been in a situation where I felt like the spinning reel was the wrong choice. Spinning reels are an affordable option for those on a budget. For those of you desiring higher quality spinning reels, fear not! Prices increase based on the ball bearings and gear ratio. High quality reels sport impressive options. If you are new to spinning reels, make sure to watch a tutorial on how to spool the line onto your reel. It will save you from dealing with that awful bird’s nest in the long run. 

Common Features and Design: 

  • Open-faced design
  • Metal bail 
  • Anti-reverse handles (higher quality)
  • Ball bearings (more bearings = smoother retrieval) 

Pros: 

  • Affordable 
  • Casting ability
  • Power
  • Versatile

Cons: 

  • Can tangle easily 
  • Doesn’t handle heavier lures/tackle well

Baitcast Reels 

Of the reels discussed so far, the baitcast reel is the most difficult to master. While it is the most difficult to master, it may also be the most rewarding. I know I had some tough days on the water when I first started using the baitcaster. But time and experience are your best friend when transitioning to this type of reel. The baitcast reel allows for enhanced casting distance and accuracy. It is also highly customizable, and like the spinning reel, can handle most any application that you would need it for. The higher quality baitcast reels sport insane gear ratios and smoothness. They are not the most budget friendly however. Whether you are a professional, or weekend warrior, check out the baitcast reels to take you to the next level. 

Common Features and Design: 

  • Spool tensioner (used to adjust for baits of different weights)
  • Braking system (used for casting ability; regulates spool’s rotation during the cast)
  • Thumb bar (used to release line when casting)
  • Star drag (located between the reel and reel body; controls drag pressure)

Pros: 

  • Powerful
  • Customizable
  • Casting distance 
  • Accuracy

Cons: 

  • More expensive than other options
  • Difficult to learn
  • Tangles easily
  • Must adjust for the weight of different tackle 

Fly Fishing Reels 

The next type of fishing reel, the fly fishing reel, is more application specific than the other reels that we have discussed so far. Many still think of it as a reel specific to trout, but other uses have been commonly used for fly reels such as fishing for bream and speckled trout. One of the most characteristic traits of the fly reel is the “click”. More modern reels have eliminated the click to meet the needs of those who prefer silent reels for stealth. The click and pawl reels still exist for the traditional fly fisherman and are unmatched in terms of low-maintenance. However, there is no drag to help the fight against large fish, so be mindful when chasing larger saltwater species [1]. 

Common Features and Design: 

  • Adjustable Drag (modern reels)
  • Fly Line Noise (click or silent)

Pros: 

  • Affordable options
  • Rewarding and fun
  • Unlikely to tangle

Cons: 

  • Application specific 

Trolling Reels

Trolling reels, often referred to as conventional reels, look like a beefed up version of a baitcast reel. The trolling reel is most often used in offshore applications. It is very application specific in that sense. It excels in its durability and amount of power that it can generate, but lacks in the category of casting ability and affordability. Trolling reels must be able to handle the abuse of the sea and salt water. The features can be quite impressive with line counters available on higher end reels when depth control is required. Chances are if you head out with a charter, this is the reel that you will be using. 

Common Features and Design: 

  • Paddle handles 
  • Spool release levers
  • Line counter (depth control)

Pros: 

  • Powerful
  • Line capacity
  • Durability

Cons: 

  • Casting
  • Rod specific
  • Expensive

What to do next? 

Now that you have a better understanding of the types of fishing reels, shop around to find the reel that best fits your needs. Check out our articles on the types of fishing line and types of fishing rods to learn more.

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