Fishing Reel Types – Which One Is Best?

If you’re new to angling, understanding the different types of fishing reels that are on offer can be confusing. However, once you start learning about the different reels and what they’re used for, it can be pretty easy to choose the one that is right for you. 

Choosing the right fishing reel is important, and there are a few things that you need to consider before doing so.

fishing reels vintage

The most important question you need to ask yourself is what style of fishing it’s best suited for, as choosing the wrong reel can ruin your day on the water.

You also need to think about how easy a rod is to operate, how long it will last, and how much it will cost. 

In this guide, we’re going to cover all of these questions and more, so, by the time you’ve finished reading you’ll know which reel is best for you. We’re also going to look at whether there is one fishing reel which is better than the others. 

What are the 4 Types of Reels? 

There are four main types of fishing reels. These include spinning reels, baitcasting reels, spin casting reels, and fly fishing reels. These types are also further divided into different subcategories. 

The basic build of baitcasting reels are pretty similar to surf casting and big game reels, so these two reels are typically classified as variants of a baitcaster reel.

However, as these reels are used for very different purposes, we are going to discuss them as separate reels. 

Similarly, offshore reels are commonly referred to as extra large spinning reels which have been made for heavy duty fishing.

However, as they are used for different purposes, we will also discuss them as their own separate category.

Types of Fishing Reels Compared 

Spinning Reel 

The spinning reel is arguably the most popular kind of fishing reel type all across the world. Not only are these reels known for being pretty easy to use, they are also incredibly versatile and highly dependable, which makes them a firm favorite for a lot of anglers. 

A lot of anglers like to use spinning reels as a general purpose reel, as well as some specific fishing applications. These are great reels for beginners to use, but there are also a lot of experienced anglers who simply refuse to fish without one. A lot of angels like to have around 3-4 different spinning reels with them on a fishing trip, and like to make sure they have some in a variety of sizes. 

Design 

Unlike a lot of other reel types, the spool of a spinning reel doesn’t rotate. Instead, the bail arm of the reel will rotate around the spool, and wrap the line on to it.

Because of this, you have to be careful to spool the line onto the spinning reel correctly, otherwise there will be a lot of line twisting during the spooling process. 

Spinning reels are also unique in the fact that they attach to the rod from below. Not only does this provide a natural holding position, it also helps to give you a nice balance when casting, which makes casting with a spinning reel pretty easy. 

Pros and Cons 

Spinning reels are pretty capable pieces of fishing equipment, and can work well with both lures and smaller baits.

You can use a spinning reel to target a number of different fish species in a number of different habitats. They’re a handy piece of equipment for both beginners and seasoned anglers alike. 

Once you get the hang of using a spinning reel, you can achieve some pretty impressive casting distances.

They’re also evenly priced, as a good quality model is usually somewhere in the middle range for most anglers. 

Although they’re great all round options, there is one or two downsides to spinning reels. If you’re not careful when handling the bail, you can easily introduce line twists and tangles, which can cause you a whole lot of problems in the water.

Also, spinning reels can be limited to using lighter gear, as heavier lures and lines will decrease their performance. 

Open Face Spinning Reels 

Some anglers tend to get confused when they hear about open face spinning reels, however these reels are exactly the same as normal spinning reels. This was the original name given to spinning reels as fishing reels had previously always had a closed faced design. 

Baitcasting Reels 

Baitcasting reels are probably the most advanced type of fishing reels, and are often used by experienced anglers and fishing pros.

Compared to spincast or spinning reels, baitcasting reels have a lot more moving parts, which means that it can be trickier to get to grips with one. However, when you do manage to master using a baitcasting reel, it can take your fishing to a whole new level. 

Design 

One of the first things you’ll notice about a baitcaster, is that the reel sits on top of the rod handle. It also features a semi-enclosed design, which helps give the reel a sturdy build.

On top of the drag mechanism, there are two components which allow for extra performance and customization. 

These components are the spool tension knob and the braking system. These two mechanisms can be customized to adjust how fast the line is going out of the reel.

This is useful as you are able to throw the line as far as you need to. 

You can also use these components to prevent the spool from turning faster than the line is going out. When this happens, you get something that is called a bird’s nest, which is where the line becomes tangled up. 

Unlike spinning reels, baitcasting reels don’t have a bail. So, if you want to stop the line from spooling, you actually need to press your thumb against the spool.

You may have to do this whilst the line is in mid-flight in order to get a precise cast. Once the bait has hit the spot, you simply press a clip to lock the line, and you should be good to go. 

Pros and Cons 

Hands down, baitcasting reels are the most powerful fishing reels. These reels can handle some pretty heavy lines, and are able to produce a lot of pulling power if you’re chasing down some larger fish.

With baitcasters, you are also able to feel the line as you cast it out, so you’re able to stop it exactly where you need to. 

As we mentioned previously, baitcasters are highly customizable, and this reel can practically do it all. 

One of the trickier things about using a baitcaster, is that different weights and lures need different settings for the spool tension.

This means that every time you change the lure, you have to adjust the settings. This may take you some time to get used to, so baitcasters aren’t usually recommended for beginner anglers. 

Another drawback of baitcaster reel is the price. For a decent reel, you can be looking to pay anywhere from $100 to $500, as they’re the most expensive fishing reels you can buy.

However, the costs can be worth it, as these reels deliver on performance – if you know how to use them. 

Spin Casting Reel 

Fishing reel

The spincast reel is the simplest of all modern fishing reels. Spincast reels boast a basic design which is perfect for those who are just starting out, or for anglers who are on a budget.

Over the years, the spincast reel’s popularity has dwindled drastically, but a few decades ago, these things were all the rage. 

Design 

Spincast reels have a metal nose cone design which hides all of the important components of the reel. On the back, there is a button which works as a toggle on the line between free-spool and locked. 

These simple reels also have a drag adjustment mechanism. This mechanism will allow you to adjust the amount of resistance a fish feels when it pulls on the line.

The “drag” is usually located on the side of the reel, or next to the reel handle. 

When it comes to casting, all you need to do is press the spool control button, take a swing, and release. Once the button is released, the line will fly to wherever your rod is pointing.

Once you’re ready to stop the line, you simply have to press the button one more time. 

Pros and Cons 

Spincast reels are amongst the simplest of fishing reels, which makes them easy to operate. They also rarely ever cause line tangles, which is another great feature for beginner anglers.

These reels are also the cheapest of all fishing reels, and you can pick one up for as little as $20 nowadays. 

There are some disadvantages to spincast reels, however. The close-faced design means that water and debris tends to get caught inside the reel, which can cause damage over time.

In addition, a lot of spincast reels aren’t very well made, so they tend to only last for one season. 

Another big drawback of spincast reels, is that they have a pretty limited casting range, which means they aren’t as precise as other reel types.

You can use spincast reels for light freshwater fishing, but you won’t be able to use them for most saltwater situations, including going after large fish species. 

With that being said, a spincast reel is a great reel to use by those who are just starting out. 

Fly Fishing Reels 

As you can probably already tell by their name, fly reels are used for fishing with artificial fly lures that weigh next to nothing.

In order to effectively cast this lure, you have to depend on the weight of the fishing line rather than the weight of the lure.

So, fly fishing line is normally thick and strong, and tends to resemble rope rather than fishing line. Because of this, a fly fishing reel has to be able to support the fishing line.

Design 

Fly reels look pretty similar to a centerpin reel, which is a traditional fishing reel which was used by anglers back in the day (you don’t see many of them anymore).

The reel consists of a single spool which rotates around a center pin. They are designed to effectively handle thick fly fishing line. 

In the past, these reels were built without a drag system, so anglers had to apply drag to the line by pressing their thumb to the spool. Nowadays, most fly fishing reels include a drag system. 

These reels come in a wide variety of sizes and strength, and are built for a range of various fish species and sizes.

Fly fishing reels have even been adapted to be used for saltwater fly fishing as well. 

Offshore Reels 

Offshore reels are commonly referred to as large spinning reels which are extra powerful and extra durable.

This is because they must be able to handle conditions which would normally ruin other fishing reels. These conditions include battling against strong fish, like tuna or sailfish. 

Offshore reels also need to be able to deal with corrosive saltwater conditions, without having their performance affected.

As these reels need to be able to handle the harshness of offshore conditions, they tend to be amongst the priciest reel models around – especially if you’re looking for the best quality. 

With that being said, offshore fishing reels are perfect for those who are looking to take to the ocean in order to catch some of those bigger trophy sized fish.

If that’s the case, you’ll want a strong fishing reel – like an offshore reel – that won’t let you down. 

Trolling Reel (Conventional Reel) 

Also known as conventional or big game reels, the trolling reel is typically used when offshore trolling for big game fish.

This includes marlin and sailfish, as well as deep sea fishing. In some cases, experienced anglers will use a trolling reel for heavy freshwater trolling for muskie or salmon. 

This reel has a very simple design which features a rotating spool. It is built for strength, size, and to hold a lot of heavy-duty braided lines.

These reels are also designed to have a powerful and smooth drag system so that they are able to handle long battles with large and strong fish. 

Another useful feature of trolling reels is their dual speed system. You can switch to a low speed if you’re fighting strong fish, or change to a high speed if you need to rapidly retrieve your lure. 

Surf Casting Reel 

Surf casting reels are usually either a spinning reel or baitcaster reel which has been modified to have a long distance casting performance. 

These are typically based on the baitcaster design, as they have big, round spools which are able to hold a lot of line – which is what you need for long distance casting.

Once you’re able to master a surf casting reel, you will achieve some record distances. 

These reels are also designed to be able to handle some heavy line strength, and be able to withstand the tougher conditions of the saltwater environment.

Because of this, they’re usually made with graphite as it has anti-corrosive properties. Alternatively, you can purchase surf casting reels which are made from aluminium.

However, you will need to wipe away the saltwater after every use to prevent corrosion. 

In order to get the most out of a surf casting reel, it’s also important that you choose a rod which has been specifically designed for surf casting. 

Which Type of Fishing Reel is Best? 

When it comes to picking a fishing reel, a question which gets thrown around a lot is “which is the best fishing reel?” Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question as each reel has their own advantages and disadvantages. 

Similarly, most fishing reels are designed for a specific purpose, such as fly fishing reels and trolling reels, so you can’t pick one simple winner. 

With that being said, when it comes to picking the best reel for you, you have to think about the kind of fishing that you plan to do.

There’s no point choosing a reel that is designed for saltwater fishing when you’re going to be fishing in freshwater.

Also, once you’ve decided which type of reel you’re going to use, you need to look at what line strength you’re going to need, so that you can choose a model that has the right line capacity. 

Baitcaster vs Spinning Reel Comparison 

A very hotly debated topic in the angling community is whether a baitcaster reel is better than a spinning reel and vice versa.

Once again, there is no simple answer to this question as each reel has their own advantages and disadvantages. 

If we look at it simply, baitcasters are lighter than spinning reels which means that they have greater casting distances and accuracy. However, spinning reels are more versatile and can be easier to use. 

If you would like to look at a more in depth comparison between the two, check out our guide here. 

Conclusion 

We hope this guide has helped you to learn about and distinguish between the different fishing reels that are available today.

Before you decide which reel you want to get, make sure you think about the type of fishing you want to do.

It’s important that you get the right type of reel for the fishing you’re doing, as this can improve your success, and affect your experience.  

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