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Thinking about getting into fishing but not sure where to start? We've gathered all the basic information in one place to help you navigate the wide world of fishing gear.

In part 2 of our FISHING GEAR 101 series we take the mystery out of finding the right reel.

Basic Reel Components: These are parts found on all styles of reels, from basic spincasting to the advanced trolling reels.

  • Frame/Body: Usually made of graphite, aluminum or plastic the frame/body holds all the different parts of the reel.

  • Gearbox: Houses the gears that connect the handle to the spindle that set the rotation ratio of the spool.

  • Ball Bearings: Friction reducing system that includes balls that separate the stationary inner and moving outer part of the spool.

  • Spool: The cylindrical center of the reel that holds the line. Spools can be made of forged or die-cast aluminum (or other material) and are usually marked with their capacity: larger line capacity allows the spool to hold thicker or more line depending on what type of fishing is intended. On spinning reels, the spool moves up and down, while on biatcasting reels, the spool rotates.

  • Handle: How to reel the line back on the spool. Made of a variety of materials, handles can have one or two knobs.

  • Reel Foot: Attaches the reel to the reel seat on a rod. Depending on size and application, the foot can be secured by sliding collars or screws.

  • Line Guide/Roller: Allows the line to move freely in and out of the spool. On a baitcasting or conventional reel, the line guide moves in and out and the user may have to use their thumb to distribute the line evenly. The line guide is usually fixed on a spinning reel.

Advanced Reel Components: As you move from basic to more advanced reels, additional components come into play, especially in applications where you are fishing for large/deep water fish.

  • Bail: The c-shaped wire on a spinning reel that allows the line to be free or fixed. To stop the line from going out, the bail can be flipped with the hand or by turning the handle.

  • Drag Adjustment/Control: A pair of friction plates that put pressure on the spool to slow/stop line release when a fish takes the hook. It helps to prevent broken lines and aids is reeling a large or fighting fish in. Spinning reels have a dial on the front or back of the body, while baitcasting and conventional reels have the drag (usually star shaped) on the side. Some reels may have a lever drag which sometimes has pre-set positions and can be easier to adjust with a fish on. Other reels have a combination of these systems.

  • Level Wind Guide: Located on the front of baitcasting reels, this guide moves from side to side, distributing line evenly back on the spool when retrieving.

  • Anti-Reverse Switch: Locks or releases the rotation of the wheel by allowing the gears to move in one or both directions.

  • Brake: Found on baitcasting reels, the braking system allows the user to slow down the rotation of the spool during casting to prevent backlash/bird nests.

  • Bait Clicker/Line Alarm: Found on baitcasting reels, it creates a clicking noise when there is increased tension on the line to indicate a fish taking the lure, or the lure being hung up on an obstacle.

  • Line Counter: Shows the depth the bait is at to allow it to stay in the strike zone.

Reel Terminology:

  • Drag: The mechanism that sets the resistance a fish feels when pulling on the line. A tight drag = more resistance. Balance the drag so it tires out the fish, but doesn’t stress the line to breaking. In some cases a looser drag is desired to allow the fish to swim out, easing the tension on the rod and line until the fish is tired and easier to pull in.

  • Gear Ratio: The speed of the reel, or how many revolutions the spool makes per handle turn. For example a gear ratio of 5.1:1 means the spool will revolve 5.1 times with each handle crank. The higher the number, the more line is retrieved with the same amount of work.

  • Retrieve Rate: The amount of line retrieved for each turn of the handle based on the line size specified for the reel.

  • Capacity: The amount of line that the spool can accommodate.

Types Of Reels:

  • Spincast: Most common beginner reel, simple to use and inexpensive. Often found on rod/reel combos. It has a push-button release, closed face design and is easy to untangle. If line gets tangled, simply remove the nose and pull the line out. It does not have a large line capacity, so casting distance will be limited. Designed for smaller fish.

  • Spinning: Versatile and straightforward to use these reels can be used with most skill levels. This reel sits under the fishing rod and are ideal for lighter baits and light to medium test pound line. They have a metal bail, open face design with great line capacity, and handles that are able to be swapped to accommodate left or right handed preference.

  • Baitcasting: Designed for big game fishing and handles heavier pound test lines and heavy lures. The reel sits perpendicular to the rod and there is no line twist during the cast and produces greater casting distance than spincast reels. They rely on the weight of the lure for casting distance.

    There is a learning curve with baitcasting reels: the spool turns when you cast and the line must be manually stopped at just the right time to prevent backlash where tangled lines/bird nests can happen. These reels do have an accurate cast and fast retrieve rate which provides the speed to pull lures or bait across the surface easier than a spinning reel. Handle can not be swapped between left and right handed.

    There are two subcategories: Round Baitcasting with a large spool that holds more line to allow the user to cast as far as desired. For use with heavier line and baits. And Low-Profile Baitcasting that are ergonomic and lightweight, that are ideal for a range of gamefish. Line twist is greatly reduced.

  • Conventional/Trolling: Mounted above the rod and holds a high capacity of heavy fishing line, these reels are designed to drop line behind a boat vs casting line. For use with trolling rod to accommodate the larger reel feet. Traditionally made of graphite, they have tough drag systems (like star drag), release lever, level wind system and line out/bait clicker alarm. For use in heavy deep-sea/big game offshore fishing. Trolling and/or bottom fishing. Since they aren't meant for casting, they have a higher capacity to hold heavy test lines. Some conventional reels are equipped with line counters.

  • Offshore/Surf: Durable reels for harsh marine environments and designed for fighting large fish. Traditionally baitcasting reels, but can also be spinning reels. These reels have more drag power than other reels and for use with heavy test lines. The components are usually coated in corrosion-resistant finish and may have sealed elements to prevent salt and sand build-up. Offshore reels are commonly baitcasting style and have a heavy line power capacity. Surf reels tend to be spin reels for long casting and a tough drag system to combat currents.

Shop Reels:

Spin Reels
Baitcasting Reels
Trolling Reels
All Reels

Coming soon:

  • Part 3: Tackle Basics

Happy Fishing!

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