Types Of Fishing Reels – The Complete Guide

There is a lot of choice out there when it comes to types of fishing reels. Like with all your fishing gear, reels should be given careful consideration when you’re deciding what type of reel you would like to buy. It can be a little daunting and expensive, but I’m hoping to to make it a little clearer for you. Here is a guide to help you make the right choice about what type of fishing reel you need.

Conventional Offshore Fishing Reels


Conventional offshore reels are used primarily for deep sea fishing but can also be used to target large freshwater species such as sturgeon. They are brought out when trolling for big game fish such as marlin or fishing for huge bottom fish at serious depths. They are the strongest types of fishing reels in the world and have proven themselves time and time again against fish weighing over 1000lbs.

When looking at conventional offshore reels, price and quality go hand in hand. You do not want to scrimp or you’ll end up with tears in your eyes when your reel either breaks, or you lose that huge tuna you’ve always dreamt of catching. Look for a reel made from machined aluminum or very sturdy graphite with a smooth and strong drag system.

There are 2 types of drag systems, either a lever or star drag. Star drags work fine but you can’t really see how much drag you are adding or taking away with them. If you need to change your drag while fighting a fish, this could create a problem. A lever drag gives you an easily changed drag while showing you how much change you’re making. This gives you the advantage over a big fish in any situation.

The next question is how much line do you need. Every model of reel will come in different sizes and the rule goes, the larger the reel the more line it will hold, and the stronger the drag will be. A reel rated for 80lb line will be heavy, hold a lot of line and be designed to catch big marlin and bluefin tuna. A reel rated at 30lbs will be lighter and hold less line and would be suited more to catching sailfish or wahoo. If you’re buying a conventional offshore reel, think about what you want to catch with it when making your decision about size, and make sure you match the size of the reel to the rod. If you have a 30-50lb rod then match it with a 30-50lb reel, simple.

Gear ratios control how many times the spool turns per wind you make. They are also very important and a good conventional offshore reel will allow you to switch ratios at the click of a button. This is very useful when trying to lift big heavy fish from the depths.

Spinning Reels

Spinning reels are the reel most of us first started using and are the most popular reel used today. They are very versatile and can be used to catch a lot of different species in many situations.

Spinning reels are easy to use and if you are new to fishing then this will be the reel for you. They are very simple in design. The spool sits on a shaft and spins up and down when you wind. This reels in the line, guided through the bail arm. When you open the bail arm, the line is free to fall off the spool making it very good for casting as there is no resistance. To cast, simply open the bail arm, pinch the line in your finger to create tension and flick the rod, letting go of the line at the right time for maximum distance.

This type of reel comes with an adjustable drag system and some come with a free spool button, which allows you to feed line to a fish before striking. Like most types of fishing reels, quality and cost go together. The higher the price, the better the material, the drag system, and the gear features.

Baitcasting Reels

Baitcasters are a step up from a spinning reel. They are far more technical to use and require practice to master. Once you have put in the time to learn how to use a baitcasting reel, you will see the difference. Your casts will go further and with pinpoint accuracy. Baitcasting reels are made specifically for baitcasting rods, so be sure to have one of these in mind.

One of the key benefits of a baitcaster is that the line comes directly off the spool, unlike a spinning reel where the line twists off. This allows you to cast further. You will, however, have to thumb the line off the spool and this is where it gets a bit technical. If you put too much pressure on the spool, your cast won’t go very far. If you put too little pressure, your line will tangle up in your reel. Finding the sweet spot is key to casting well with a baitcasting reel.

Another advantage of a baitcasting reels is that it can hold heavier pound lines for targeting big fish and it has a higher gear ratio, allowing you to retrieve faster and put a lot of pressure on fish.

There are two types of bait caster reel, either round or low profile. Low profile fishing reels allow you to palm the reel when casting or retrieving, giving you a bit more control and are suited to smaller fish like largemouth bass. Round profile reels hold a lot more line and are excellent if you need to cast far or are catching fish which take long runs.

If you are looking to buy a baitcasting reel be ready to put in some practice and remember to choose the right size reel for what you are targeting.

Surf Fishing Reels

surf reel
Image courtesy of D@LY3D on Flickr

When you are surf fishing you are going to need the right bait and rod, of course, and a reel that can withstand the elements. It needs to be strong enough to handle the rocky and sandy terrain you’ll be fishing from and all the saltwater that is going to constantly punish it.

Surf fishing reels can be either baitcasters or spinning reels, the choice again is yours, depending on what suits you best. The reel you choose should be made from aluminum or graphite with sealed stainless steel ball bearings. This way it can handle the corrosion and the wear and tear of the surf environment.

Long casts are key in surf fishing, be sure to find a reel that holds a lot of line and matches your rod well so you can maximize your distance. The drag system is also very important. Big fish live in the surf and you’ll want a drag system that can put a lot of pressure on them. You will be fishing from the shore and won’t be able to follow the fish with a boat so a strong trustworthy drag is something you don’t want to be without.

Offshore Reels

Offshore reels can again be baitcasters or spinning reels. Spinning reels have certainly taken over the market due to their increased quality and I would recommend them over a baitcaster in this situation.

Offshore spinning reels are used to stop the biggest of fish. To do so, they are made with the best materials and have the best drag systems a spinning reel can have. If you tighten the drag to the max, there is no way you are going to be able to pull any line off it but a big tuna will with ease. These types of fishing reels are made to hold up to 600 yards of 80lb braid with a stopping power of 60lb of drag, which is some machine and it will subdue all the game fish you are after.

The capability of these reels makes them expensive, don’t be surprised to pay up to $1000 for one. The quality is worth it though, they will last for a long time and keep catching you fish without fail.

A reel with that much stopping force needs a serious rod to go with it. Don’t go putting your drag on max when using a rod that does not suit the fight, it will snap very quickly.

Fly Fishing Reels

Fly reels are specifically designed for fly rods. Fly fishing used to be known as a method for catching trout and salmon but nowadays all fish can and are being caught on a fly. This has made the range of fly fishing reels available increase dramatically whilst also becoming very sophisticated.

The purpose of a fly reel is to balance the rod, store line and provide drag when a fish goes on a run. To balance your rod and reel, you’ll need to buy the correctly weighted reel for your rod. All fly rods, reels, and lines come in weights, or wt, and range from 1-14wt, 1wt being the lightest. If you have a 5wt rod then you need to buy a 5wt reel and a 5wt line to go with it, and you’ll end up with a perfectly balanced setup.

The higher the weight the more power the rod, reel, and line have.

  • A 1-3wt set up would be ideal for catching trout in small streams.
  • A 4-7wt set up is great for big lakes and rivers and bigger fish.
  • 8-14wt set up is predominantly for saltwater fly fishing and can handle bonefish, tarpon, sailfish, and giant trevally.
  • Some fly reels are offered as large arbor which means the diameter of the spool is bigger than usual so it can hold more line.

Be sure to choose the right setup for what you are trying to catch.

Spincasting Reels

Spincast reels have long been known as the kiddies reel and are perfect for first-timers. They are inexpensive, extremely simple to use and setup and if it is your first time fishing this is the reel for you. A spincast reel is basically a spinning rod with a cover on it to shield the line which helps prevent tangles. They are very easy to cast with, to let out the line when casting you just press a button. Much simpler than opening a bail arm and holding the line like you would on a spinning reel.

There are some disadvantages to their simplicity. The spool on a spincasting reel is very small and will not fit a lot of line on it. This means you can not cast very far and you will have to target small fish, as a big fish will wipe you clean.

All in all, spincast reels are the perfect reel to start on until you want to cast further and catch bigger fish.

Centrepin Reels

Centrepin reels were one of the first reels ever used. These types of fishing reels were originally used for float fishing in rivers. The zero drag system would allow the bait to go downstream unhindered, creating a more natural presentation.

They have the simplest design possible and consist only of a spool sitting on a centrepin with no drag system. This is very popular among some anglers as it makes fighting a fish an extremely skillful affair. You have to palm your reel with your hand or thumb to create enough drag to land the fish but not break the line.

They are tricky to cast with and are certainly not for the beginner.

How to Keep Your Reels Alive and Well

As we now know, a lot of fishing reels are expensive and keeping them going is all about consistent maintenance. No matter whether you fish in freshwater or saltwater, your reels need some TLC. These are the type of fishing reel that are used exclusively in fresh water should be looked at now and then, and reels used in saltwater should be cared for after every use. Follow these simple steps to ensure your reel lasts as long as possible.

  • Clean your every section of the outside of your reel with a warm soapy fresh water and a sponge. Be sure not to submerge it.
  • Rinse it off gently with fresh water. Don’t use too much pressure as it can force water into the inside of the reel.
  • Let it dry thoroughly.
  • Use a lubricant like WD40 on all the moving parts.

This is the standard care package for all reels. Some more sophisticated reels like conventional and offshore reels will need yearly servicing. The manual for this comes with the reel and you will need specific tools, lubricants, and sometimes spare parts to get it right. It can be very complex and time-consuming but it is worth it. You can also send your reels away to a professional if you don’t fancy diving into the detail.

Reeling Up – Does It Matter What Reel I Use?

Well yes, it matters a lot. There are a whole host of reels out there and each is designed to handle a different fishing situation, and to make fishing more fun. You do not want to be underpowered against a big fish or you might lose it. We fishermen know that losing a fish is one of the most gut-wrenching feelings you can experience and it needs to be avoided. That being said, you do not want to be overpowered either. It is more fun to feel and enjoy the fight and make it a challenge.

Making sure you’re using the right reel is important and it can be a challenge to pick the right one. But don’t worry! Always remember these four things and so can be confident in the choice you make.

  • Your reel matches your rod in terms of size and line weight.
  • Your reel will hold enough of the weight line that you want to use.
  • Your reel is suitable for the way you want to fish.
  • Your reel is good enough to catch the fish you are targeting.

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