The different types of fishing reels: tips from an expert


October 3, 2022


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types of fishing reels

SAIL carries a wide selection of fishing reels for all of your adventures this season. In this article, SAIL collaborator and fishing expert Ashley Rae of will discuss the various types of fishing reels, share the differences for each reel style, and outline what each type of reel is used for.

In this article, you will learn about every type of fishing reels:

  1. Spinning reels
  2. Spincast reels
  3. Baitcasting reels
  4. Ice fishing reels
  5. Fly fishing reels
  6. Centerpin reels

What is a Spinning Reel?

Spinning reels are most popular due to their versatility and ease of use, even for new anglers. They feature an open-face design and a drag adjustment that is located on the front or rear of the reel. There is a metal bail arm which is opened when making a cast to allow the line to come off the spool. When the bail arm is closed (after completing your cast), it forces the line to pass through the line roller where it feeds back onto the spool evenly when the reel handle is turned. The handles on most spinning reels can be swapped to accommodate for right or left hand retrieve. There is a foot on top of the reel for fastening them onto spinning rods. Spinning reels should always be positioned below the rod (not on top like spincast or baitcasters). They are available in various sizes for a wide variety of fishing scenarios. This ranges from smaller reels designed for casting tiny lures on light lines, to large reels that hold tons of line for casting big lures on heavy lines for big game species. There’s options for everything in between as well! Check out some options from one of Ashley Rae’s favourite brands, Daiwa.

What is a Spincast Reel?

Spincast reels provide a very basic option, common for beginners and children. They feature a closed-face spool with the drag adjustment located on top of or at the rear of the reel. Due to the enclosed design, the fishing line is contained which makes casting and line management a little easier. There is a line release button located at the rear of the reel. For the underspin-style reels, there is a trigger-style line release on top of the reel. Spincast reels have an opening at the front of the closed-face spool where line comes off the spool. There is a foot on the bottom of the reel for fastening them onto baitcaster rods. Spincast reels typically are fastened on top of baitcast rods with the reel sitting on top, however the underspin-style spincasters are meant for spinning rods and therefore are fastened to the bottom of the rod.

What is a Baitcasting Reel?

Baitcasting reels are a little more advanced but perform well with heavier lures and larger diameter fishing lines, as well as in heavy cover scenarios. These reels feature a spool release button, line guide (where the line comes off the spool), and drag adjustment. Unlike most spinning reels, the handle cannot be swapped on baitcasters for righties or lefties. The spool on baitcasters is housed inside the frame, however, it is exposed. When casting or reeling in line, the spool rotates. The learning curve when casting with baitcaster reels is managing the line as it exits the spool by controlling it with your thumb. This prevents the line from coming off the spool faster than the spool is turning. When the line piles up too quickly, it is referred to as a ‘bird’s nest’. Baitcasting reels also feature a tension knob which applies constant pressure on the spool to help control how freely the line comes off the spool. There’s also a braking system which helps fine-tune the speed of the spool. There are three braking system types including: magnetic, centrifugal, and manual. The foot is located on the bottom of the reel for fastening onto baitcasting rods. Check out another of Ashley Rae’s favourite brands, 13 Fishing.

What is an Ice Fishing Reel?

Spinning reels and baitcasting reels are also used for ice fishing. Often smaller-sized reels are more popular for ice fishing as less line is required for vertical, shallow-water fishing scenarios. That being said, some species, such as lake trout, roam deeper waters and having more line capacity may be required. In this case, a large reel would be more suitable.

Inline fishing reels are another option and were designed specifically for ice fishing. They excel in reducing line twist when using tiny presentations for panfish and other smaller fish species. There is a drag adjustment on the handle, along with a free spool release button. The spool is exposed, and there’s a spool tension adjustment on the side of the reel. The foot is located on top of the reel. Inline fishing reels are compatible with spinning rods.

What is a Fly Fishing Reel?

Many anglers are drawn to fly fishing for the serenity it offers, and for the natural approach using realistic looking presentations (flies). While standing wading in a river is popular, fly fishing is also done from watercraft as well. Fly fishing reels feature an arbor where line is stored, and is surrounded by an external frame. There is a drag system, and some models feature handles that can be swapped to accommodate right or left hand retrieve. The reel foot is located on the top for fixing onto fly fishing rods.

What is a Centerpin Reel?

Centerpin or ‘float’ fishing is very popular on rivers for trout, steelhead and salmon. Centerpin reels resemble a large-diameter fly reel with an arbor, external frame and handle but have no drag system. This allows presentations to float freely and naturally in the water and without the drag, makes for a fun one-on-one, angler versus fish. These reels are paired up with long float rods which aid with long casts and absorbing jumps and headshakes from these powerful species. It takes practice to learn to cast and manage lines using a float set-up, but it’s a ton of fun once you get the hang of it!

Now that you know more about fishing reels, don’t forget to check out Ashley Rae’s article on fishing rods as well.

If you’re new to fishing, she also put together an article on what to know before heading out on the water this season.

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