Best Fishing Reels Selection Guide 2021

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Reel Selection Guide for the Inexperienced Angler


This guide is intended for those who are looking to purchase their first reel for a variety of fishing applications. This is not an endorsement for any particular product, however what is written may be an expression of opinion or preference.

The best action to take when shopping for a new reel is to visit an actual shop and sample the reels yourself. Get a feel for the weight, build quality, balance of the rotor/spool, smoothness of the bearings, etc. No matter how much information you gather about a certain reel, nothing will be able to give you a better idea of what you’ll be getting than physically sampling the product first hand.

Properties to Consider When Shopping for a Reel

Each reel is manufactured with a specific, unchangeable gear ratio, spool capacity, and maximum drag rating.

Gear Ratio:

You will see this displayed somewhere on the fishing reel. It might be printed on the body of the reel, or sometimes even on the spool, but it is an inportant property when shopping for a reel to suit your needs. Reels can vary in gear ratio from as low as 5:1, to as high as 8:1.

What this number determines is the speed with which your reel picks up line and places it along the spool. A 5:1 gear ratio means that with one revolution of the reel crank, the spooling mechanism rotates five times. An 8:1 gear ratio rotates eight times per crank revolution.

You can begin to see now that the higher the gear ratio, the faster you will retrieve line; which can definitely affect your lure’s presentation to the fish.

For casting long distances with swimbaits, spinner baits, and other visual presentation type baits, you may want to consider a lower gear ratio, to ensure that your lure gets maximum exposure in the water and that you aren’t retrieving your lure in a fashion that seems unnatural to the fish. If you are a bass angler that is pitching and flipping from a boat, you may want to consider a high speed reel to retrieve line fast and allow for more casts, which will lead to increased probability of catching a fish.

Spool Capacity:

This property is fairly self explanatory. It is the maximum amount of line of any given diameter that can be held on the spool. It is usually printed on the spool, or is designated by a number such as 200, or 2500, etc. Spinning and baitcasting reels can come in low capacity for short range fishing, as well as large capacity for bombing casts and trolling behind a boat.

As you might have guessed, the thicker the line you are using, the less line you will be able to fill your spool with. Be sure to consider your target fish species when making a decision about spool size. You definitely don’t want to be using a 200 series baitcasting reel for trolling off the back of an ocean boat, and you certainly won’t need a 4000 series spinning reel for bass fishing at your local lake.

Drag Rating:

This property isn’t always advertised when purchasing a fishing reel, however it is still a property that is often overlooked by anglers. The drag is what creates the resistance that the fish feels when fighting you in a tug-of-war. The higher the drag, the more resistance the fish will feel and the faster it will tire out.

Be aware though that if your drag is set higher than your line’s strength rating, you will most likely break off before you reach your maximum drag, so be sure to set your drag appropriately. It should not be so tight that you can break the line by pulling on it, but it should not be so loose that you wouldn’t be able to set the hook with a swift rod sweep.

A good general rule of thumb is: the larger the reel, the higher the drag rating. There are other factors that play into this of course such as manufacturing tolerances, drag mechanism, construction material, and other factors that can’t be controlled or even noticed by the end-consumer.

It is important to realize that your drag setting can be a very useful feature to use while actively fighting a fish. Loosing the drag and allowing the fish to run during surges will prevent your line from snapping, and tightening the drag after a surge will allow you to resume lifting and cranking the fish back towards you.

Types of fishing reels

Spinning Reels

Okuma Cedros High Speed Spinning ReelSpinning reels are the most common type of fishing reel on the market today. They are relatively easy to operate, easy to maintain, but can be more fragile than baitcasting reels due to the delicacy of the bail mechanism.

Spinning reels are typically used for light tackle applications, but can of course be upsized and used for heavy tackle as well. A spinning reel will be able to cast a light lure with much less issue than a baitcasting reel can.

Left or Right handed? Luckily, most spinning reels give you the ability to move the crank from one side of the reel to the other. This way you can choose what feels best when fighting and cranking in a fish.

Operation: Spinning reel operation can be finicky at first, but with a bit of practice you can easily master it. When casting, the reel requires you hold the line with your finger during the release of the lure. You also need to ensure that you have opened your bail, or else your lure won’t fly. After your lure has reached the desired depth, you should always close the bail with your hand – don’t turn the crank to close the bail as this puts unneccessary stress on the mechanism and can cause excess wear and tear.

Baitcasting Reels

Okuma Calera Baitcasting ReelBaitcasting reels have a spool that is positioned to rotate in the same direction as the cast. These reels are popular among bass fishermen, as they provide you with a compact, sleek, and efficient mechanism for casting. With the push of a button and a little finesse from your thumb, you can accurately and smoothly place your lure where you want it to go. This is especially important when fishing for bass with reaction baits.

Spinning reels don’t allow you to slow down the speed of the lure as it enters the water, but a baitcasting reel gives you the ability to regulate the speed by allowing you to apply thumb pressure directly to the line as it comes off of the spool. This will allow you to soften the entry of a lure into the water to prevent from spooking the fish. This is extremely important when fishing calm waters for bass.

Left or right handedness in a baitcasting reel isn’t as easy to decide on as it is with a spinning reel. Because of the bulk of the gears and the braking mechanism, the crank is permanently placed on just one side of the reel, so be sure to get a feel for which side you like it on best.

Drawbacks: Baitcasting reel operation relies heavily on the weight of the lure you are throwing. The heavier the lure, the easier it will be to cast using this reel. The versatility provided by a baitcaster doesn’t come without drawbacks of course. Because of the necessity to control the spool with your thumb, the user can experience incidences called backlashes. This occurs when the spool is letting off line very fast but isn’t able to stop rotating after the lure has already hit the water. The spool will continue to rotate and push off excess line, therefore jamming your reel with a jumble of line resembling a bird’s nest.

To combat this issue, manufacturers have built their reels with one or two spool braking systems which need to be adjusted with every lure change. By adjusting the centrifugal or magnetic brake, the reel can slow the spool down on its own without much input from the user, however it is still advised to maintain control with your thumb at all times.

Mastering this reel takes practice, and every baitcasting reel has differences in braking mechanism and feel, so if possible try before you buy.

Operation: Before casting with a baitcaster, ensure your brakes are set properly to avoid a backlash. To do this hold your rod out in front of you and push the bail button. If your lure falls too fast and hits the ground, you will get a minor backlash. Reel the line back in and set the brake tighter and tighter, up until the point your lure falls about one foot per second. As you get more comfortable with the reel, you can loosen it up more to extend your casting distance.

After your brake has been set, push the bail button, and hold the spool in place with your thumb. When you are ready, cast and release your thumb from the spool at the optimal moment. Watch your lure! This is important because to absolutely make sure you won’t get a backlash you must put your thumb back on the spool once the lure hits the water. This will help make up for too light of a brake setting.

Once the lure hits the water you can release the spoon once again and allow the lure to sink to your desired depth. You may need to pull some line out manually if the brake is set too tight to allow the spool to spin freely. To engage the spool, simply begin reeling.

Spincasting Reels

Spincasting reels are often associated with beginner anglers, as they are very forgiving and simple to operate. They combine the push button bail control of a baitcaster, with the line release of a spinning reel. This means you won’t have to worry about backlashes, and you won’t have to worry about opening and closing a bail or putting your finger on the line to cast. With a simple push and release of a button, you can cast just about any lure of any weight. Kids love this type of reel as well because of it’s non-intimidating appearance, and because of the wonderful cartoon designs they are often manufactured in.

Left or righthandedness will depend on the manufacturer. Most manufacturers place the reel handles on the right side of the reel, which means you will need to hold the rod and fight the fish with your left hand, while cranking with your right.

Operation: Spincasting reels should be mounted on baitcasting rods only. To cast, simply push and hold the bail button with your thumb, aim, and cast. You need to release the button during your cast at the same time you would release the line when casting with a spinning reel, or a baitcasting reel. When your lure hits the water you don’t need to worry about stopping the line with your thumb or closing the bail before you reel, just start reeling when you’ve reached your desired depth.

I hope this guide will help you in making an informed decision when looking to purchase your first (or second) fishing reel. There are many factors that go into selecting a reel, some which are not covered in the scope of this guide; however, with any reel you purchase, practice will always be the determining factor of your success with it. The more you are accustomed to the operation principles and quirks of your reel, the more confident you will be on the water and the better you will be able to fight and land a fish.

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Hi! I’m Steven!

I am an avid life long fisherman, having caught over 25,000 fish over the years. My life-long passion for fishing began when my father taught me how to fish at the age of ten. I started to share my extensive knowledge of all things fishing.

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