If you spend time Googling fishing reels, you’ll be surprised how often the types of fishing reels (in terms of how many there are) change from site to site. Some say there are five types while others are adamant that there are seven. Some say there are as few as three.
The reality is, there are five main types of fishing reels out there. That’s not to say there isn’t a variation of one of those five. To be honest, there are probably several variations of all five. But, to keep things ordered, the main five are the focus here.
You have your conventional reel, a spincast, a baitcast, a spinning, and a fly fishing reel. Variations or not, that covers the whole of the types of reels out there. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages. To be more accurate, each one has its purpose. A task demands a specific tool after all.
5 Types of Fishing Reels
There are some anglers out there that spend the whole of their lives on the water and will only ever touch one type of reel. It’s not usually because they hate the other types but because they’re comfortable with what works. There’s nothing wrong with that. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Others prefer a “do it all and use them all” approach, and that’s what this little guide is all about.
For the uninitiated, a spincast reel may sound just like a spinning reel. The two are drastically different. A spincast reel is meant for beginners and those who are on the move. It provides anglers with speed and efficiency without overdoing anything.
The best part about the spincast reel being a beginner reel is that it doesn’t cost a fortune. It’s difficult to tangle the line with the cone closed over it. It’s also extremely easy to catch with the simple push and release button on the top.
- Excellent beginner reel
- Push and release button cast
- Line doesn’t tangle easily
- Very affordable option
- Not as durable as other reels
- Limited range
We go from one of the easiest reels to operate and cast to one of the most difficult. Baitcast reels sometimes require you to use your thumb to guide the line. Fail to do so and you risk too much line on one side of the reel or a massive knot.
So long as you spooled the baitcasting reel correctly, the line will run off smoothly, with back-and-forth motions. The spool’s rotation also allows for longer casting and better accuracy. It’s considered to be one of the more accurate casting reels on the market unless they come up with something better down the road.
- Baitcast reels are highly customizable
- Excellent accuracy
- Good distance
- Great for shoreline fishing
- Takes a long time to truly master
- Gets tangled easily
The spinning reel is easily the most popular of all of them and its the one you see the most, whether its saltwater or freshwater fishing. The best thing about it, besides its popularity, is it’s only a step up in complication from the spincast.
Spinning reels are far more durable than spincast reels and more efficient in the long and the short run. The metal bail locks the line in place and, when it’s open, allows you to accurately cast. The bail also guides the line and spools it as you reel it back in.
- Natural position under the rod
- Simple to cast and reel in
- Highly versatile
- More expensive but not detrimentally so
- Plenty of power
- Spinning reels don’t like heavy line
If you’ve never been fly fishing before, fly fishing reels will look downright bizarre when you first lay eyes on one. It’s like someone combined the design of the spinning reel with a massive spool. In fact, ultralight spinning reels can be used for fly fishing.
“Arbor” is the official name for the spool on a flywheel. A flywheel works very differently from other reels, taking advantage of inertia while you hold the line (out and away from the reel) with your off-hand. The inertia from the back-and-forth cast mimics bugs on the surface of the water.
- The reel is not that complicated (the casting is)
- Holds a good deal of line
- Simple to operate
- Long-lasting and durable
- Nothing since a fly reel is barely a part of the process and reels in like a spinning reel
These are otherwise known as “trolling reels,” and they’re complicated to use, mostly because of the backlash you get from not putting your thumb down on the line when the weight hits bottom. You don’t cast this reel traditionally. It’s more like a release, keeping your thumb lightly on the spool, and a stop.
These reels are primarily for deep sea fishing—going after Grouper, Red Snapper, and trolling in for King Mackerel. It’s for when you want to go after the monsters of the deep—the big fish that far outweigh anything you’ll catch along the shoreline unless you’re fishing for sharks.
- About as straightforward as it gets
- Excellent torque for cranking in the big ones
- Usually includes anti-rust bearings
- Holds a lot of high-test line
- Come in a variety of sizes
- Easy to make a mistake, causing backlash
- Can be very expensive
- Have to use your thumb to guide the line in
Out of the reels on this list, the spincast reel is probably the simplest one to use, with the possible exception of a fly fishing reel. Fly fishing looks complicated, and so does the reel. However, most of the skill and complication comes from the rod and the casting, not the reeling.
Conventional reels have been around for a long time and come in a variety of sizes. You’ve probably seen the biggest ones used for shark fishing or going after Marlin and Sailfish. The baitcast is probably the most complicated, perhaps on par with conventional reels.
We mentioned in the beginning that some anglers stick with one reel all their lives. That’s very true. But, if you want to explore every type of fishing out there, it’s a good idea to have a working relationship with all five reels.
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