8 Different Types of Fishing Reels Explained

Different Types of Fishing Reels Explained
Different Types of Fishing Reels Explained

Fishing for a lot of people is an irrefutable part of their childhood.  

It brings back fond memories of ambling along meandering trails with grandpa, a rudimentary fishing rod in hand, possibly made of cane. 

No fancy reels. Anything that was available easily would be used as bait. Worms, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, name it. 

The excitement as the bobber sunk for the first time after lying limp on the water surface all morning was unparalleled. 

The catch would be limited to sunfish and the occasional greedy catfish. 

Cut to today, fishing has evolved as a sport that features specialized gear and equipment that can be handpicked depending on the waters that you will be fishing in and on the fish that you intend to catch. 

As fun as it sounds, it can be pretty overwhelming, particularly for someone who’s never graduated beyond the basic spinning reel.  

Today, we will talk about 8 different types of fishing reels, one for every occasion and for every type of fish that you will ever encounter in the water. 

#1 – Spincast Reels

This one probably needs no introduction. 

The spincast is the most commonly used reel by beginners and casual anglers and it’s most likely the one that you grew up using the moment you were old enough to go beyond the pole and line setting. 

It’s basic, it’s simple, it’s inexpensive and it is one of the easiest reels to use. 

Spincast Fishing Reel Explained

The Design

The spincast consists of a fixed covered spool and a hole on the front of the reel through which, the line is pulled by the weight of the lure. 

The feeding stops the moment the line hits the water and this prevents the dreaded tangles and bird nest caused due to backlash on baitcasting reels. In the rare event that it does get tangled, just lift the bail and pull on the line gently to undo them. 

Push button or Pull Lever

Spincasting reels either have a lever positioned under the reel on the front (Underspin or triggerspin) or a button on the back of the reel, that can be pressed to begin feeding the line during a cast or to retrieve the line. 

This mechanism activates take-up pins which retract, allowing the line to feed freely.

Drag Adjustment

There are two types of drag adjustment systems. The external star drag is easier to use and is mounted right between the reel and the handle. 

The internal drag is a tad difficult to adjust and is better suited for more experienced anglers. This one features a drag wheel that can be turned to reduce or increase the drag as required. 

Gear Ratio

The gear ratio is a number that indicates the speed of the line retrieve and the cranking power of the reel. This typically ranges from 2.5:1 and 4.5:1. Not a very vast range, as you’d notice. 

Last but not the least, check the number of ball bearings on the reel. The more, the merrier. But most spincast reels have two to six ball bearings at the most. So you won’t be spoilt for choice there. 


  • Easy to use
  • Minimal chance of backlash or tangles
  • Reasonably accurate and can be used for small to medium-sized fishes


  • Limited line capacity
  • Not suited for bigger fish

#2 – Baitcasting Reels

Baitcasting reels are often unfairly maligned for being difficult to use. 

But the fact is that these can be mastered pretty easily with some practice. Also, these offer a much better feel of the line as compared to their spincasting counterparts.  

Club that with greater casting accuracy and you have a reel that is more likely to help you land that trophy bass. Here’s the best bass fishing baitcasters

Baitcaster Reel Explained

The Design

Baitcasting reels are positioned on top of the spinning rod and feature revolving spools, a trigger handle, a braking system, a knob to adjust spool tension and a drag adjustment system.

Beginner models have graphite frames while higher end ones are made of one-piece aluminum frames that can sustain a lot of abuse without as much as a scuff. 

Bearings and the drag system

Shielded or sealed ball bearings are the best in the business as are forged aluminum drilled spools. 

The drag system is one of the easiest to use. You can fine tune this depending on the application. Turn it down all the way for flip and pitch. Loosen it and allow the fish some play while working with lightweight lines or throwing drop shots. 

Braking System

Baitcasting reels can either have magnetic braking systems or centrifugal brakes that utilize pins positioned inside the side plate to reduce the rate of spool revolution. 

The choice is subjective more than anything else as both these systems are equally easy to use. 

The Tension knob

Beginner anglers should rely more on the spool tension knob than the brakes to adjust the spool speed. 

This allows you to really fine tune the speed according to the type of lure you are using. 


  • With practice, you can cast much further with greater accuracy
  • Usually have a higher gear ratio (5.4:1, 6.4:1, and 7.1:1 are the common ones)
  • Can cast with heavier bait
  • Suitable for bigger fish as well


  • Requires some practice to master
  • Prone to backlashes and tangles
  • Skipping lures is difficult

#3 – Spinning Reels

Spinning Reels usually trump Baitcasting reels as the fishing reel of choice for beginner anglers. In fact, spinning reels are still my prefered choice for fishing lakes, rivers and ponds. I have a review here of my favorite fishing reel, the Penn Battle II.

To top it off, these can be used with a variety of lines and lures and work phenomenally well in a wide range of applications. 

Spinning Reel Explained

The Design

Spinning reels are positioned under the rod, an exact opposite of baitcasting reels. 

These have an open, fixed spool design and the housing can either be made of graphite or aluminum or a blend of both. 

Freshwater fishermen usually prefer aluminum housings as they are more durable. But if you fish primarily in salt water, then graphite might be a better bet as it is resistant to corrosion. 

Gear Ratio

Spinning reels are available in a wide range of gear ratios and you should be able to narrow down on one that’s best suited for your intended use. 

The standard ratios are 5.2:1 to 6.2:1. However, some manufacturers are offering a higher 7.0:1 ratio that’s better suited for fast tube bait retrievals or for drop shot rigs typically used by bass anglers in deep water. 

If you are a beginner, we recommend that you opt for a mid-speed model as it allows you to get the best of both worlds. As you gain some practice, you can select a slow speed model for more cranking power or a high speed one. 

Drag System

Drag systems are more of a personal choice over anything else. But if you are in it for the long run, then a front-drag system with multiple drag washers might be a better choice over a rear-drag one that tends to bog you down in a fight with a large fish. 

Anti-Reverse Handles

The Anti-reverse handle is a critical part of the spinning reel. It keeps your handle from spinning backwards and you need to pick one with a good quality arm and knob. 

Anything lesser and your time on the water will be spent fiddling with the reel rather than hauling in the fish.


  • Spinning reels are often defined as the point and click cameras of the reel world. They are incredibly simple to use. 
  • Having said that, they can be as accurate as baitcasters
  • They are perfect for a variety of applications including brackish water, freshwater and salt water.
  • Suited for a variety of fish species like bass, muskie, tarpon and sailfish
  • Can come in ultralight models such as these.


  • Difficult to pitch and flip
  • Difficult to slow down the bait
  • The drag system may not be adequate for certain fish species

#4 – Surf Fishing Reels

Surf Fishing Reel Explained

When it comes to surf fishing, you need a reel that has a sufficiently large capacity, casts accurately with weighted baits, has a durable drag system that can tackle fighting fish and is constructed to withstand harsh weather conditions. 

Sounds like too much to ask. 

You can use both spinning as well as baitcasting reels for surf fishing. 

Each one has their own set of advantages and presents a set of challenges that the angler must work around. 

We personally prefer the baitcaster over the spinning reel for surf fishing. 

It outperforms the spinning in terms of accuracy, crank power, drag handling and overall strength. We’ve nailed a 300 lbs. bull shark out of the water as if it were a 15 lbs. bass. Absolutely no problems whatsoever. 

Having said that, there are a lot of anglers who’d scoff merrily at that argument. There are many high performance spinning reels these days that can keep you covered no matter what the intended application. 

So rather than getting caught up in the everlasting ‘spinning vs. conventional’ debate, try both and make an informed decision based on your personal preferences.  

#5 – Offshore Reel

Offshore Baitcasting Reel Explained

Offshore fishing reels are the Cadillacs of the fishing world. 

These brutes are designed to endure some of the toughest fishing conditions and some of the most savage fish species that the water can throw at you. 

Yellowfin tuna, Bluefin, amberjacks, Blue marlin, Black Marlin, Sailfish and Albacore, you are talking about the best of the game fish world. 

You better ensure that the reel has enough maximum drag, good quality inside parts and tremendous casting power. 

Traditionally, offshore fishing has always been the baitcaster’s domain as it perfectly suits most of the offshore fishing styles like casting poppers, bottom fishing for snappers, rigging live baits, jigging as well as trolling. 

But more recently, there are some amazing spinning reels that can rival the baitcaster pretty easily. 

Offshore Spinning Reel Explained

Once again, your choice of a reel will boil down to what you are trying to target. 

A versatile reel that will allow you to toss poppers as easily as chunk tuna and even land a large amberjack, will cost a pretty penny. 

But it will be completely worth the extra buck that you pay for it when you hit the water. 

#6 – Trolling Reels

Trolling Reel Explained

Trolling or dragging the reel behind your boat is one of the most widely used fishing styles offshore. 

Not only does it allow you to cover greater distance, these reels also have a much greater spool capacity and often come with a line counter that allow anglers to know the exact depth at which the fish are holding. 

While looking for trolling reels, you need one that is solidly constructed and can handle the torque that the fish species can subject it to. 

Graphite is the cheapest and possibly the best option for beginners.

Anglers who will be targeting bigger fish species such as trout, salmon or saltwater fish like tuna need cast aluminum or a machined aluminum casing as it’s less likely to fail prematurely or give up on you in the midst of a fight. 

Other desirable features include a level wind, an audible clicker and a smooth drag. 

A dual-speed reel might be beneficial if you are targeting large fish species like marlin and sailfish. It allows you to switch from a high speed retrieve to a more powerful crank to drag big fish upwards from the bottom. 

Despite sounding like the be-all, end-all of trolling reels, a dual-speed may be overkill for most basic trolling applications. 

Just like electric line counters.  

In theory, electric line counters automatically calibrate the size of the line that you are using taking the guesswork out of it. But more often than not, programming these is a chore in itself. Hence, most new anglers prefer the ease of use that comes with a manual line counter. 

#7 – Fly Fishing Reels

Fly Fishing Reel Explained

Fly Fishing reels are one of the simplest types of reels that you can find. 

That’s because the purpose of these reels is to hold a lot of fly line and provide a bit of backing when that large fish tags on to your fly. 

Having said that, there are a variety of these reels each suited for specific fishing applications. There’s one for freshwater fishing, another for saltwater fly fishing and also according to the species of fish that you are targeting. 

Might sound a little overwhelming at first. But you can narrow down on the right one pretty easily. 

There are three types that you need to be aware of. There’s the standard arbor or SA reel that has the classic design and is best suited for small fishing rods. These have a very narrow reel diameter and offer more memory. But retrieval can be a chore. It is better suited for winching the fish in. 

Medium Arbor reels are best suited for beginners as these offer a convenient middle ground. The backing is decent and retrieval is not painfully slow. 

Large Arbor reels are the best of the lot. These offer excellent retrieval times and are easier to control. The only possible downside is the added weight and the steep price tag. But those are just tiny quibbles for someone looking for a reliable fly reel. 

Along with the arbor style, check the drag system. There are two types of drag systems that are used on fly reels. There’s the click drag system, best suited for freshwater applications and small fish and the disc drag system better suited for saltwater and larger fish species. 

#8 – Centerpin Reels

Centerpin Fishing Reel Explained

The ongoing relevance of something as simple as the Centerpin reel after almost a hundred years since its development says a lot about its effectiveness.

This remarkable fishing reel is nothing more than a simple spool on a shaft that runs on its own center pin. 

There’s no drag system. 

It is a free spinning reel that allows the current to pull the bobber. Most beginners use the hand as the line guide to feed the line as per the demand. 

Instead of using a conventional drag system, you will use your thumb to control the fish.

To be honest, centerpin reels are one of the most difficult reels to use. Also, you need a much longer rod to cast these reels. 12-15 feet is the normal size. 

Having said that, centerpins are one of the easiest reels to maintain without loops and tangles. Also, you can maintain an unrestricted movement of the bait and float without the latter even touching the water. 

Centerpin fishing is best suited for large game fish like King mackerel, kingfish, carp and steelheads. 

Closing Thoughts

There you go. These are some of the fishing reels that are used for different applications. 

There’s nothing like being armed with the right tools when you head out into the waters on a bright and sunny day.

We hope that this works as a great starting point for your research and allows you to narrow down on the right type of reel for your intended use. 

Do you think that we’ve missed out on anything? Do write to us in the comments box. We’d love to hear from you.  


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