Fishing Reels 101: A Beginner's Guide to the Different Types

Different Types of Fishing Reels

Fishing reel, together with the rod, is the most important part of fishing equipment.

Different types of fishing reels exist for a reason and they are all meant to be used in specific situations.

Complete fishing beginners sometimes can’t distinguish their basic differences, and end up having a reel that is not suitable for a certain fishing technique.

This is the reason why I decided to write this fishing reel guide, and explain the basic working principles, together with descriptions of each fishing reel type, in the following chapters:



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What is a Fishing Reel Used For?

Fishing reel is an essential part of your fishing equipment ...

It is basically a device used for storing and winding the fishing line. It is attached to a rod and operated by the angler.

Reels evolved through time and the modern ones have features and design characteristics that allow greater casting distance to be accomplished.

These modern reels have quite large line capacities, casting abilities, and drag systems. All of these features make your fishing experience easier and more successful.

Technically speaking, fishing could be done without it, but your possibilities would be extremely limited, and the process would be a lot harder.

Interesting fact about the reels is that the first ones were invented more than 3000 years ago, but of course, those were the primitive versions.

Different Types of Fishing Reels:

To fulfil different fishing needs, various types of reels exist, and they all have certain advantages.

Not every reel is good for every fishing technique!

Different types of fishing reels have different characteristics, and the main one is the spool. In some types it is fixed, while in other types it is free and rotates.

Fishing reels can be divided into 4 main groups, although additional ones exist too.

So, here I am going to mention 7 different types, so that you can get to know their differences.

What are the 4 Main Types of Fishing Reels?

So, here are the main 4 different types of fishing reels.

These are baitcasting, spinning, spincasting, and fly reels.

If you are just starting your fishing adventure and learning about fishing and the equipment, I would advise you to focus on the spinning or spincasting one.

But, here you can read more ...

1. Baitcasting Reels

Baitcasting reels are mostly used by more experienced anglers, and for catching larger fish.

These reels are mounted on top of the rod, instead of hanging under it. This is the reason why baitcasting rods have line guides mounted on the upper rod side.

Their spool is in line with the rod. When you cast, the line goes out in line with the rod. Additionally, the spool is free and it is turning too.

Because of this, beginners often end up with knots and tangled line, especially if casting lighter lures or into the wind.

Baitcasting reels have two types; low profile and rounded. Rounded ones are mostly used by very experienced anglers, with heavy lines. Low-profile are easier to control (also good for beginners).

Baitcasting fishing reels have a braking system that can be centrifugal, magnetic or dual, which is a combination of both.

It lowers the possibility of backlashes. If there was none, when you cast and the lure falls into the water, the spool would just keep on turning.

In general, baitcasting reels can hold more line, they are lighter, enable really precise cast and more control for the angler, and can be used for heavier fish and lures.

2. Spinning Reels

Spinning reels are very different than the baitcasting ones - this you can see if you check the main parts of a spinning reel.

First of all, they are mounted on the bottom of the rod and they are hanging under. For this reason, rods used with these reels have line guides underneath the rod.

Their spool is fixed, positioned perpendicular to the rod, and when you cast, the line unwraps from it. There is the bail and a small metal roller, and before casting, you have to move the bail up, to allow the line to unwrap.

This reel is very forgiving to beginner’s mistakes, and while learning, you will not have to deal with numerous tangles. This is the main reason why it is an excellent first choice.

Spinning fishing reels are cheaper than baitcasting. They can be used with light lines and lures, and they are easier to use. But, some models and brands can be also very strong, so ...

Here you can check 5 Best Spinning Reels for Catfishing by my opinion ...

Different Types of Fishing Reels - Spinning Reel

3. Spincast Reels

Spincast reels are in a way similar to the spinning ones, when it comes to the fixed spool. However, these reels are completely closed.

There is no bail and the roller, and instead of that, spincast fishing reels have pickup pins and a metal cap to wind the line on the spool.

Because of the line guide that allows the line to “exit” this reel, casting distance is much shorter than with a spinning reel. This is because of the friction between the line and the guide.

These reels are mounted on top of the rod, similar to baitcasting reels. Their spools are narrow because of their shape, and these reels can’t accommodate as much line as the same size spinning reels can.

They are excellent for very light lures and lines or for children and for saltwater fishing too.

Spincast reels are mostly used with monofilament lines, for very basic fishing techniques. They can also often be found on fishing rod and reel combos for beginners.

4. Fly Feels

And the last among the main reel types is the fly fishing reel.

These reels are completely different than previously mentioned types, and are used for one purpose only, and that is fly fishing.

Many of fly reels are single action which means that with one handle turn the spool rotates once.

There are multi-action ones too, but that feature is mostly unnecessary, and it just adds weight and complicated parts into it.

Fly reels have interchangeable spools, which means that you can take it out, and put another in.

The majority of these reels are a direct drive, which mean that when the line goes out, spool and handle are turning together.

Unlike reels mentioned before, fly reel has no purpose while fly casting. When casting, angler use one hand to hold the rod, and the other one to strip the line.

Fly reels have less parts are more simple devices when it comes to their construction, but fly fishing, especially casting, is one of the hardest fishing techniques to learn.

Different Types of Fishing Reels - Fly Reels

What About the Other Types of Fishing Reels?

So, I covered the main 4 different types of fishing reels, but as already mentioned, that are not the only ones.

Here are the three more, which are also frequently used by numerous anglers.

5. Baitrunner Reels

Beginners sometimes confuse baitcasers and baitrunners, because of a similar name.

Baitrunner reels, also known as free spin reels, looks similar to spinning reel, but with some differences.

These have an additional clutch feature, that lets the line unwind freely from the spool with an engaged bail. With a handle turn or a switch these can instantly be returned to the drag tension again.

It is called a baitrunner because anglers mostly use it with live bait, and this additional drag setting enables the fish to bite the bait and run away.

This reel is also used in carp fishing for fishing with boilies. And here you can check best carp fishing setup for beginners ...

6. Surf Reels

Surf fishing is a fishing technique used mostly on saltwater, where anglers cast into the surf from the beach.

This technique sometimes needs to be done with very long rods, and anglers have to achieve extremely long casting distance. Surf reel is there to enable that.

These reels also have larger line capacity and are made from materials than enable relatively low weight. Their drag system is also more powerful because it can be hard to get the large fish into the shallow water.

Surf reels are very similar to regular spinning reels when it comes to their operation and look. Among small differences, there is a lip construction.

In surf reels, the lip is made in a way so that the line can peel off the spool easier, to enable longer casting distance.

Those who use monofilament lines will see a huge difference between casting with a regular spinning reel and with a surf reel.

7. Trolling Reels

Trolling is a fishing technique where anglers fish in deeper water, and the lure used is drawn through the water.

This may be done by simply reeling it on, or you can be in a moving boat and drag it behind. If you are practicing the second option and catching large fish, you are going to need a trolling reel.

Reels used for this technique are similar to baitcasting reels. They are divided into two types; star drag and lever drag.

Star drag are almost the same as baitcaster, and have a knob that applies drag, and a lever that puts them in free spool.

Lever type has a drag lever that is used to perform both tasks; applies drag and puts the reel into free spool.

Smaller ones can be used similar to baitcasting reels, and you can cast your lure.

Larger ones are made to be used for very big fish, frequently offshore.

These are not constructed in a way for you to be able to cast them efficiently. Instead of casting, you simply drop the line behind a boat. They are designed to be able to pull the large fish in, and are big and heavy.

Different Types of Fishing Reels - Trolling Reels

FAQs About Different Types of Fishing Reels

Fishing reels may seem like simple devices, however, there is a lot about them you should know.

Here I am going to answer some common questions, and you can use this as a basic knowledge while researching more about items interesting to you.

What Should I Look for When Buying a Fishing Reel?

Reels have many features, and all of them are important when choosing a reel. And these features also depend on a reel type.


Size of the reel determines how large fish you can catch.

Larger reels are stronger, can accommodate heavier lines, have a higher drag, and are suitable to be used with larger lures as a result.

Size is usually marked in 1000`s. The higher the number the larger the reel. For example, 8000 is much larger than 2000. Sometimes the marking can be in 10`s, but it is the same.

Materials and shape

Housing, spool, drag and other parts can be made from different materials. Aluminum is heavier, sturdier and more expensive. Graphite is lighter, cheaper but also weaker.

Baitcasters, as already mentioned can be low profile or round. Spinning ones can have shallow and wide, or deep and narrow spool. It influences casting distance and retrieving. The deeper it is, the more friction it creates.


Ball bearings are a part of every reel, and you will always find this info when buying a reel. If all of them had the same quality, those reels that have more would be better.

However, if they are poorly done, that is not the case. Reels with less bearings that are well made can be better than those with a lot of bad ones. Bearings ensure smooth operation.

Line capacity

Line capacity is important and it is influenced by the spool size.

Also, heavier and thicker lines occupy more space, so if you are using thicker ones, you will be able to spool less length.

Casting distance is important when using lures like crankbaits, or when surfishing. It is usually marker as lb/yd or mm/m.

Gear ratio and IPT

Gear ratio shows you how many times the spool rotates with a single turn of a handle.

So, for example, 3.1:1 means that the spool will rotate 3.1 times. It is considered to be a slow reel. Medium ones are between 5 and 6.5:1, and fast ones are above 7.

IPT (inches per turn) shows you how much line you will retrieve on a single handle turn. It is influenced by gear ratio and spool size.

Baitcasting reels can have lower IPT than spinning ones of the same, or even lower, gear ratio, due to smaller spool.


Drag has a pressure applying purpose.

The larger the fish you are fighting, the higher the drag should be. It is marked as a max drag, and shown in lb or kg.

PRO TIP: When buying a new fishing reel don't forget to check where it came from - really good reels are made in the USA.

What is the Easiest Fishing Reel to Use?

Among reels mentioned here, spinning and spincast reels are the easy ones to use.

Spincast is the easiest because it is completely closed and you don’t have to worry about tangles and similar problems.

However, I would recommend this either for kids or someone who is a complete beginner and just wants to try fishing.

Those who have no experience, but are interested in making progress and learning about fishing should opt for the spinning ones. Those are easy to use and can be used in various situations.

Which Type of Fishing Reel is Best?

What reel is the best among different types of fishing reels is hard to say!

Some of them you can’t even compare because they are used for just one specific purpose, like a fly reel.

Mostly, people can’t decide between baitcasting and spinning ones when considering the best one. And this also depends on a few factors.

For experienced anglers who are catching large fish, baitcasting reels are the best.

For less experienced anglers, and those who like to have budget-friendly and very versatile equipment, spinning reels are the best choice.

If I had to single out a model, it would be it Pflueger President Spinning Reel.

Spinning Reel vs Spincast Reel - What is The Difference?

So, spinning reel vs spincast reel?

I already explained that in the previous chapters, but I will do it briefly again.

They both have fixed spool, however, spincast does not have a roller and a bail. It is completely enclosed. Instead, it has pick up pins and a cap.

Another difference is that the spincast sits on top of the rod, while spinning is mounted underneath. Spincast are also smaller and suitable for small fish.

Is There a Difference Between Freshwater and Saltwater Reels?

Yes, there is a difference! Saltwater reels are made from materials that are corrosion resistant, and sensitive parts are usually sealed much better, to prevent saltwater from entering the reel. Because of that they are also more expensive.

Despite this fact, you should always remove the salt after fishing.

Additionally, saltwater reels can be used in freshwater, but not the other way around.

Saltwater reels are more durable and sturdier. Many reels are advertised for both saltwater and freshwater use, but some of them do not survive a lot of saltwater use.


Knowing the different types of fishing reels enables you to make a right decision when choosing the one that suits your needs the best.

There is a lot of manufacturers on the market, and make sure to choose models from the reputable ones.

There are numerous articles you can find that compare different products, and those can help you to see the differences between items that seem the same.

But the best way to really get to know your equipment is to head out to the nearest water and start fishing!

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