fishing reel
buying guide

the basics

One of the most important pieces of equipment you'll need is a sturdy fishing reel to help you bring in your next catch of the day. Take a peek at this guide to figure out which reel best fits your skill level, lifestyle and ideal catch. Experienced deep-sea anglers, teaching the kids ins and outs of fishing down by the creek – no matter the situation, there's a reel built to meet your needs.

what to look for in a reel

As you're in the market for your next fishing reel, it's important to understand the different components. There are a slew of different models available, and they're all configured with largely similar parts built for the same purpose: helping you land the perfect fish. While you're browsing for your next reel, familiarize yourself with a few basic parts and industry terminologies.

frame

The frame can be made of aluminum, graphite or a combination of both. One-piece aluminum frames are extremely durable and are generally of higher quality. Graphite frames are lightweight and easier to handle.

bail

This works to minimize the likelihood of your line spooling out and is operated by pressing a button or a manual switch.

line capacity

The fraction printed on your reel serves as a guideline for the amount of fishing line the spool will hold. The first number signifies the pound test, while the second number represents the number of yards. A line capacity of 15/100 indicates that your reel can accommodate 100 yards of a 15-pound test line. However, reel specs will often list line capacity for both braided and monofilament line because these numbers will differ.

gear ratio

The number of times the spool turns for every turn of the reel's handle. If a reel has a gear ratio of 6.2:1, each time you turn the handle the spool will turn exactly 6.2 times. Lower ratios provide more power when fishing in deep water with bigger baits with significant pull and heavy torque, such as big swimbaits or deep crankbaits. Your baits will spend a longer amount of time in the strike zone, giving you more time for bites to roll in. Generally, higher ratios are better for fishing closer to the surface with lighter lures like jigs, rigs and jerkbaits and provide a faster retrieve.

inch per turn (ipt)

A term you need to be familiar with. The speed of the reel is measured by the inches of line recovered per turn of the handle. This can be influenced by multiple factors – gear ratio, spool size and amount of line on the reel.

drag

A friction-powered brake that advances your line with minimal resistance. It controls the amount of pressure required to pull line from the reel, which is especially important when you have a fish on your line. Drag enables your rod and line to fight fish without breakage or backlash. On the loosest setting, rotation is fluid and easy, and on the tightest setting, the line is more likely to snap before your spool furthers any more line.

bearings

The internal mechanisms that rotate to encourage a smooth, steady cast. Pay mind to not only the number of bearings, but also the quality and material. As well, corrosion-resistant bearings will be especially important if you plan on fishing in saltwater.

anti-reverse

This prevents your handle from turning backwards as the line is advanced from the reel while the drag is used. Usually, a reel with a "+1" at the end of the number of bearings indicates an anti-reverse bearing.

seat/foot

Secures your fishing rod to your reel.

types of reels

Now that you've seen the working parts of your fishing reel, figure out which combination of parts best suits your needs. When it comes to reels, there are spinning, spincast, baitcast, fly fishing and conventional saltwater varieties, so consider all the pros and cons of each before arriving at a decision. Generally speaking, it's best to start with a less complex spinning or spincast reel and then move your way up to more multifaceted baitcasters as you become more comfortable on the water.

spincast reels

Targeted toward beginning and occasional anglers. Usually mounted on top of the rod for easy access, closed-face spincast reels are characterized by a nose cone that protects the reel's internal fixed spool. Designed with a straightforward push button or a trigger pull, these reels boast intuitive, easy-to-use designs that are great for children getting used to the sport. Spincast reels usually have minimal line snarling while casting out, too. However, these reels usually have lower gear ratios, which will sacrifice a faster retrieve.

spinning reels

Also called open-faced reels, these are simple and straightforward. To cast, flip the bail over, hold the line with your index finger, then release as you snap your rod forward. While they may be more prone to line snarling (the bail tends to have a slower close after casting), you can remedy this by manually closing your bail after every cast. Precisely cut spools, ball-trip mechanisms and multiple bearings help you cast smoothly and snag free. These spinning reels, which pair best with lighter lures and baits, as well as lighter lines, are mounted to the underside of the rod and most have an interchangeable handle for left-handed or right-handed retrieval

baitcast reels

Best for angling scenarios that require heavy cranking power. Boasting versatility for plenty of fishing applications, these reels are known to "do it all.” Baitcast reels come in two designs – low profile and round. The low profile is the more popular because of its ergonomic design and it is easier to handle, which is ideal for bass or crappie fishing. The round baitcast reel holds more line and is better for heavier lines and larger lures. The baitcasters are generally larger in stature than other reels and can accommodate amply sized spools of larger lb. capacities, helping you bring in bigger fish with larger lures like spinnerbaits and crankbaits. But, because of their steeper learning curve, these complex reels are best reserved for seasoned anglers. When casting out, you thumb your line to regulate your spool's speed, and then stop at the end of your cast. Baitcast reels also come with varying braking systems – spool tension knob (STK), magnetic braking system (MBS) or centrifugal braking system (CBS). The STK is the first line of offense to adjust your spool speed. The MBS, which relies on magnets and the spool for braking, works on the back end of the cast by slowing the spool to prevent over spinning at the end of the cast. Finally, the CBS, which consists of four to six pins that can be adjusted on and off, works during the first part of the cast to keep the spool from over spinning and as the spool slows, the brakes reset.

other factors to consider

Consider your complete fishing setup, too. Take care to double check that your fishing rod and reel are compatible. Ensure that the combination of the two (often referred to as a "combo") is complementary. You want these two parts to be balanced; a heavy reel and a light rod won't make for an easy day on the water.