Fishing Reel Buyers Guide

Important Factors when Choosing a Rod

  • What reel fits your experience level?
  • What are the strengths and features of each type of reel?
  • How does the gear ratio factor in?
  • Do you need to pay attention to line requirements?
  • How do the amount of bearings effect the reel?


What reel fits your experience level?

Fishing reels can be loosely classified into three levels.  Spincast reels are popular among beginners and kids because they are extremely easy to use.  Just push a button and cast.  Its as easy as that.  Spinning reels would fall into the intermediate level, not because experts don’t use them but because they are generally easy to cast.  Baitcaster reels however, are not so easy to cast so they receive the advanced level classification.  Baitcasters can be difficult to use because they rely on a spool that must spin in order to let line out.  Because the spool spins if you put too much force into the cast the spool spins faster than the line is being let out leaving you with a tangled mess called a “birds nest”. 


What are the strengths and features of each type of reel?

Spincast reels feature a closed face and most often sit on top of the rod.  The strengths of these reels are their ease of use.  The closed face help guard against line tangles and the push button line release makes them very easy to cast. 

Spinning reels feature an open face and a wire bail that opens to let line off the spool.  The strengths of these reels are their relative ease of use and they can handle light lures effectively.  During casting the spool remains fixed preventing most line tangles.  Spinning are made of graphite, aluminum, or a combination of both.  Graphite reels will be lighter while aluminum will be more durable.  They also feature anti-reverse mechanisms that prevent the spool from spinning in reverse when landing a fish.

Baitcasting reels sit on top of the rod and feature a spool that turns as you cast to let out line.  That is what makes these more difficult to use, you have to manage how fast the spool turns so it doesn’t spin faster than the line is being cast out.  The strengths of these reels is the power they have when reeling in a fish as well as increased accuracy when casting.  Baitcasting reels work best with large lures and 8 pound test or greater.


How does gear ratio factor in?

Spinning and baitcasting reels have gear ratios that tell you how many revolutions the spool makes for each complete turn of the handle for baitcasters or how many revolutions the bail makes around the spool for spinning reels.  The higher the gear ratio the faster a reel can pick up line.  A lower number, like 5.3:1, means the reel picks up line at a rate of 5.3 revolutions of the spool or bail per turn of the handle.  Slower reels are preferred when using lures that need to be worked slow such as crankbaits, slow rolling spinnerbaits, or big swimbaits.  A 6.3:1 ratio works well for a variety of situations and is a good all around gear ratio for a multi purpose reel.  Gear ratios on the higher end, like 7.1:1, excel when using techniques that create slack in the line.  Jigs, soft plastics, topwater, jerkbaits, and blade baits are all fished with techniques that create slack in the line, higher gear ratios allow you to pick up the slack quickly for solid hook sets. 


Do you need to pay attention to line requirements?

Each reel will have a guideline of how much fishing line can be spooled onto it.  It is important to know these guidelines are set using monofilament diameters.  For example it is common to see a chart like this; 220/2, 110/4, 90/6.  This means the reel can hold 220 yards of 2lb monofilament.  It is important to follow these guidelines because if you use higher pound test it will stress the drag system of the reel eventually causing it to fail.  Also it is important to keep the line spooled to the correct capacity because when they aren’t they perform poorly.  An over spooled line is susceptible to tangles or can slip off the spool.  An under spooled line will cast poorly and reduce your retrieval speed. 


How do the amount of bearings effect the reel?

Generally speaking the more ball bearings a reel has the smoother it will operate.  This is especially true when reeling in a big fish, the stress off a large fish can cause bad reels to be unstable and have creaky, jerking resistance when turning the handle.  However you must also keep in mind the quality of the bearing.  Most bearings are made out of stainless steel but some are made from brass.  Stainless steel bearings will always be a better choice than brass.