Last updated on June 27th, 2022
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8 Most Used Types of Fishing Reels by Anglers
Most of us who are involved with recreational fishing know what a reel is and the basics of what it does. However, we have many types of fishing reels, used for different types of fishing and situations.
You might be asking yourself, what difference does it make what reel I use? Well, it does make a difference, because each type of fishing reel is designed with a specific use or experience in mind.
After all, you wouldn’t go marlin fishing with a spincast reel or take an offshore reel to go catch panfish… well, hopefully not. Today we are going to take a look at some of the most popular and widely used types of fishing reels available to the angler, as well as what makes each the best tool for a particular type of angler or style of fishing.
A Closer Look at the Different Types of Fishing Reels
1. Spincast Reels
Remember the spincast reel? It was the first reel many of us started out fishing with as kids. As a whole, the spincast reel is known for being an inexpensive reel.
It is also an easy reel to use, and a great reel to use for the first-timer just getting started, mainly because it requires minimal investment. The spincast is commonly used by children and casual anglers.
There is a push-button release (…ah, how I get nostalgic over these reels!) on this reel for simplicity. This reel provides decent casting accuracy, with a little practice, and is also one of the easiest reels to untangle.
Should you have a stubborn tangle in your line, all you have to do is open the bail of the reel and pull on the line – that should do it most of the time.
However, it is important to realize that like any reel, this reel does have some disadvantages that come with using it.
One of the major disadvantages of spincast reels lies in their basic design, which falls a little short on quality and durability. These are essentially beginner and kids’ reels costing as little as $20 depending on the brand/model. They are not made for anything but light use. As a closed reel, they can also easily collect damaging water and debris inside.
One of the major disadvantages of spincast reels is that they do not have great line capacity (they’re small). Nor do they allow for heavy test lines. This means that sometimes you cannot cast as far as you would like or target some of the larger fish species. Don’t expect to haul in tuna with this. It is meant for small fish.
I had one of these as a kid, and it served me well, but as I got older and gained experience I quickly moved on to spinning and baitcasting reels. Even so, they serve an important niche.
Spincast Reel Pros:
- Inexpensive, great for beginners and budget-minded anglers
- Basic design makes them easy to operate for anyone
Spincast Reel Cons:
- Inferior strength and durability compared to other reels
- Limited line capacity and casting distance
2. Baitcasting Reels
Baitcasting reels are favorites with millions of anglers for good reason.
Let’s look at some of the advantages of using baitcasters. Well, for one there is no line twist like you have with spinning reels (tangled lines, or bird’s nests, are another matter, however) during the release of a cast. That is a performance plus (more on that below).
With a baitcasting reel, you will also get more power and greater distance casting than with most other types of reels.
They come in light and heavy versions, depending on what you are fishing. This type of reel will give you more control and accuracy in casting over spinners but also requires a little more skill to fish optimally.
A baitcasting reel is an outstanding reel for big game fishing because it can handle heavier pound test lines. The one possible negative of using the baitcasting reel is that it does take some time to get used to. Nothing that a little time and practice can’t resolve, though.
I remember learning how to use this reel, and it took me a couple of days to master the accuracy part of the casting. After you get the feel for it, however, you will want to use this reel frequently due to its high casting accuracy. Again, just keep in mind there’s a slight curve in learning how to use a baitcaster.
Baitcasting reels basically fall into 2 sub-categories:
- Round Baitcasting Reel: This reel will have a larger spool, which makes it ideal for holding more line. Ideal when you want to cast a line as far as you want. There are few things more satisfying in life than a long-distance cast. Also, few things in life are as disheartening as a cast that is cut short due to a shortage of fishing line.
- Low-Profile Baitcasting Reel: This is an increasingly popular type of baitcasting reel because it is compact, ergonomic, lightweight and easy to handle (here’s a radically new design). You can catch a wide variety of gamefish with the low-profile reel. As a bonus, it also greatly reduces line twists.
Baitcasting Reel Pros:
- Powerful, durable construction for a variety of species and environments
- Excellent line capacity, casting distance and accuracy
- Comes in standard round and low-profile designs for increased versatility
Baitcasting Reel Cons:
- Line tangles/dreaded birds nest can be a problem
- Requires a slightly steeper learning curve to master
*(Check out this review of 4 top budget low-profile baitcasting reels)
3. Spinning Reels
Most of the reels I use reels today are spinning reels. The debate about baitcasters vs spinning reels aside (which one is better and so on), I just love how they feel… and the versatility they give me.
They are the reel of choice for many anglers, whether they are fishing for bass on the lake or targeting tarpon along the beach.
The way you cast a spinning reel is you flip up the metal bail wire, which releases the line for the cast. After completing your cast, you then manually flip the metal wire down or turn the handle to lock the line in place.
One thing that does bug me, though, is a trigger-happy bail on some of these reels… oh no, there goes that brand new lure!
Lastly, this type of reel spins as your line is being retrieved, which is how it got its name. The setup with the spinning reel is straightforward and simple, and It is an easy reel to learn to use.
The spinning reel is also a good choice for beginners who want to skip over the spincast reel because, again, it is fairly easy to use. They can get pricey but can also be equally affordable depending on the construction and brand.
Spinning reels also make a good choice for the seasoned angler looking for versatility and those who may want to work light artificial lures or fish live baits.
Spinning Reel Pros:
- Most popular and versatile type of reel today – good for braid, light lures, all types of styles
- Fairly easy to lean and use – great for beginners and experienced anglers
- Provides good casting distance and accuracy
Spinning Reel Cons:
- The bail is sometimes an issue with premature/accidental closing
- They can be a bit more expensive than baitcasters depending on brand/features
4. Surf Fishing Reels
Both baitcasting and spinning reels can be used for surf fishing. It really comes down to the angler and which type he or she prefers. I prefer spinning surf reels because I like the lighter feel (though still heavier than regular spinning reels), versatility and higher retrieval rates they generally provide.
The best Surf reels are designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the surf, among which salt water, sun, and sand are but a few of the challenges.
Good surf fishing reels are made of either anodized aluminum, graphite, or a combination of both materials, and have sealed drags and sealed stainless steel ball bearings for maximum corrosion resistance. Expect to pay more for these features, however.
In addition to durability in the surf, they must also be able to hold a lot of fishing line and provide accurate and long casts when paired with a quality surf rod.
Again, versatility is a key consideration with surf reels, as they are used for a broad range of fishing techniques and fish species. The surf fisherman will want a reel that can handle fishing different types of artificial lures, as well as live and cut baits while chasing everything from speedy Spanish mackerel to big, powerful Striped bass in the surf.
Surf Reel Pros:
- Premium components and anticorrosion features such as drag and bearing seals
- More line capacity and powerful construction/drag to handle bigger fish
- Can handle heavier lures and baits than standard reels
Surf Reel Cons:
- They are heavier than regular reels due to their more durable construction
- Premium build and anti-corrosion components make them pricier than other reels
A surf reel needs a good surf rod to go with it – here are 5 of the best
5. Offshore Reels
Offshore reels are made tough! They can be baitcasting or spinning reels. These durable, often more expensive reels, are designed to handle the harshest offshore conditions, ones that would decimate other reels.
Not only are they built to battle monster-sized fish, but they also must stand up well to the frequent saltwater splashes that come with the territory.
Traditionally offshore reels were baitcasters; however, today we have many quality offshore spinning reels on the market.
Because of the enhanced saltwater corrosion protection they offer, It is not uncommon to pay over $1,000 for a top-of-the-line offshore fishing reel. However, you can pay much less than that if you are a smart bargain hunter.
Offshore Reel Pros:
- Spinning and baitcasting offshore reels offer the best anti-corrosion, strength and durability of any reel
- They can handle large amounts of fishing line and heavy baits/lures
- Built for the biggest and most aggressive species – mahi-mahi, amberjack, wahoo, etc.
Offshore Reel Cons:
- Reels like the Shimano Stella can easily cost more than 2 or 3 really good surf reels
*(See in-depth review/comparison between Saragosa SW and Penn Slammer III)
6. Conventional/Trolling Reels
The conventional or trolling reel (or casting reel as it’s often called), is generally used in heavy deep-sea/big game offshore fishing. Whether trolling or bottom fishing for big game fish in the deep blue or just a deep lake, conventional reels are useful.
The important things to look for in a good trolling reel are heavy-duty graphite or machined aluminum construction, a smooth and powerful multi-disc drag system and generous line capacity to handle prolonged combat with bigger and more powerful fish.
They not only have to be able to handle more fishing line, but they also have to be able to pack on heavier test lines. These reels are heavy beasts.
Conventional reels come in either star or lever drag systems. Other features to look for in trolling/casting reels include a dual-speed reel, which lets you easily switch from fighting large, reel-smoking brutes like tuna and marlin to power-cranking up big fish from the bottom with the flick of a lever.
A loud audible clicker will also come in handy so you can hear the line being pulled over the engine noise.
Casting/Trolling Reel Pros:
- Built for heavy-duty deep lake and ocean fishing – for monster muskie, tuna, marlin, etc.
- Can accept prodigious amounts of heavy test lines
- Powerful oversize sealed multidisc drag systems for the toughest environments
Casting/Trolling Reel Cons:
- The best brands/models are expensive, to say the least
- These reels are not light – they are big, bulky workhorses
*(The new International VI Series has some exciting upgrades – check them out)
7. Fly Fishing Reels
Fly fishing reels were designed with finesse and precision in mind. When fly fishing, you need to accurately cast an extremely light lure (the fly) to your desired spot. So fly fishing reels offer some of the most accurate casting you will find in a reel.
There is a variety of different styles of reels for fly fishing. For example, you have certain reels that are designed specifically for trout fishing, and then you have other reels that were designed to catch salmon.
With fly fishing reels, you also often have large arbors on the reel, which increase the retrieval speed, another positive feature.
The fly fishing reel, going back to the first Loomis patented reel in 1880, has become an integral symbol of American angling. Fly reels are simple, reliable and durable, with an emphasis on quality. It is not uncommon to see certain fly fishing reels that have been around for over 40 to 50 years still being used today.
But be warned, fly fishing, in addition to the extended learning curve, is addictive and the equipment is not cheap. A good fly reel will have to be paired with an equally good fly rod and, of course, there’s the costly line and so on.
But if you are looking to just make a one-time investment in a fishing reel, then a fly fishing reel is one of the best you can make.
Fly Reel Pros:
- Associated with American angling tradition, skill, and mastery
- Durable and reliable, quality reels that can be fished for a lifetime
- Indispensable in fly fishing outfits for targeting trout, salmon, and many other species
Fly Reel Cons:
- Expensive, particularly as part of an already costly fly fishing setup
- Limited in the types of fish and environments for which it can be used
8. Centerpin Reels
The centerpin or centrepin reel, which dates back to the early 19th century, is a type of fishing reel that runs freely on its “center pin” or its axle. The reel’s large diameter spool typically sits perpendicular to the fishing rod and allows for long-distance casts.
Two interesting features of these reels are that they are free-spooling and drag-free reels. This lets the line payout as the current pulls a “float”, or special bobber, downstream.
Combined with a centerpin float rod, the reel allows for a presentation that appears more natural to the fish being targeted.
More on the drag: instead of having a mechanical drag, the angler’s thumb is generally used for controlling the fish that is on the line. There are, however, some centerpins that do have a sort of a drag or resistance system. Centerpin reels are fantastic reels for big game fish like carp because they give you a lot of control over them.
The centerpin reel, an essential tool of the “float fishermen”, was at the height of its success during the 1960s in Great Britain. During that time, it was not at all uncommon to see people fishing with them.
Today, the centerpin reel is still fairly common among Australian and European saltwater and freshwater anglers, and also remains popular with some anglers who fish the many rivers around the Great Lakes, both on the U.S. and Canadian sides. Otherwise, this reel is not as widely used as many of the other types and is a reel that is mainly used nowadays for coarse fishing.
Centerpin Reel Pros:
- Excellent reel for float and carp fishing
- Durable and reasonably priced
Centerpin Reel Cons:
- Not popular in the USA/North America, though still in limited use in Europe for coarse/carp fishing
Well, there you have it. These are the top types of reels that are commonly used for fishing today and that have stood the test of time. You should choose a reel based on the type of fishing that you plan on doing. Nothing beats having the right tool for the job, and fishing is no different. Happy fishing!
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