Choosing the correct reel for you

Friday, June 17, 2016

As we head into Father's Day weekend, family members often think this is a great time to get their "man" a new fishing reel. Since it is a gift, people will often not ask what type of reel dad prefers, so it becomes ask a friend, ask a baitshop or just plain guess.

Over my 60-plus years of fishing, I have used a lot of different types and models of reels. Here is my list and my successes and failures.

One of the most difficult that I ever used was the old time baitcaster, and, of course, that had to be when I was a youngster. They were a direct-drive, so that when you cast it everything moved. As the line spooled off, the spool and handle both turned. Your thumb on the spool controlled distance. It was a "bird's nest" looking to happen. I must admit, I did get better, but it was always a challenge.

Then along about the early '60s, my dad introduced me to the Johnson Century and Citation spincast models. They were also known as closed-face spinning reels. It was simply push the button, point and cast ... much easier, for sure.

Then in the early '70s, I met my father-in-law, and he introduced me to the spinning reel. It was open-faced with a bail that you flipped open, held the line in your index finger and then cast by letting the line come off the index finger.

Now after all of these years, I reflect on my "reel experience" and believe that today's reels are so far advanced from my first reel experiences. They all have a purpose, and it becomes the anglers' decision to make their choice based on their style of fishing. Let's take a look at the options and reasons to choose them.


First, there is the spincast, also known as a closed-faced spinning reel and probably the easiest one to use. As a result, the spincast works great as a first reel choice, especially for kids or adults just learning to fish. It features a thumb button that opens the bail for easy casting and a cone-shaped cover over the spool, which is mounted vertically. The reel sits on top of the base of the rod. The line comes out of a small hole in the cover.

You simply press the button on the back of the reel, (keeping the pressure on the button) as you move the rod back to the 1 o'clock position to prepare to cast. As the rod comes forward to 11 o'clock, just let up on the button, and the line peels out and goes until the bait hits the water. It's very easy to get the hang of this reel, but you do sacrifice some accuracy and distance. The spool of a spin casting reel only rotates when a fish takes the drag. The drag on a spin casting reel is often a dial just above the thumb button.


Probably the most versatile is the spinning reel, which is also known as an open-faced spinning reel. It has a bail "wire" that spins around the vertically mounted spool. The bail grabs the line when you crank the handle and lays it back on the spool.

When casting, you open the bail manually by flipping it up while holding the line with the index finger. You continue holding the line as you prepare to cast. Then it's a matter of letting the line come off of the index finger when the rod comes forward on the cast. This can be a little tricky, but a little practice will help you determine when to let the line go. Cranking the handle flips the bail back closed or you can take the free hand and close it.

Be careful, though, with the retrieve. Sometimes the line will get kinked as it comes onto the spool and cause snarling issues. The drag is usually at the front of the reel. This is my most often used reel. I find it works well when casting light lures for panfish. I also like it for casting jigs and small stick baits for walleyes. I have also used it for trolling with spinners.


Probably the most species-specific reel is the baitcaster. This is the most often used reel for bass and larger models for big pike and muskie. If you're throwing a heavier lure, a baitcaster reel is often the best fishing reel, but it takes a bit more practice than other types of reels to dial in your accuracy.

I have also found the baitcaster to work better than the spinning reel when it comes to trolling in a boat. Instead of fighting the bail of the spinning reel, simply push the button of the baitcaster and the line releases from the spool. The spool on a baitcaster reel is mounted horizontally, and the reel is mounted above the rod. Unlike spinning reels, the spool rotates when you cast to let out line.

Baitcasters have a thumb button for putting the reel into free-spool before a cast, and the thumb is placed on the spool to control when the line goes out. If you don't control the motion of the spool with your thumb before the lure hits the water, it can still cause a backlash, although not nearly as easily as the ones I used as a kid. The drag is mounted on the side of the spool, either a star drag or a lever drag.

A lot of anglers will use baitcasters to flip the lure under and around docks. Bass tournament anglers use these pretty much exclusively.

Level wind

Another type of baitcaster is the level wind reel. This reel shares most of the characteristics of a baitcaster, but lacks thumb buttons. A simple lever puts the reel into free spool for casting or letting line out. Often used for trolling and pulling crankbaits, level winds get their name from a mechanism that moves back and forth across the spool during the retrieve so that the line distributes itself evenly on the spool. I prefer using this type of reel when I am trolling or drifting with bottom bouncers for walleyes, because it is so quick and easy.

There really is no right or wrong answer when it comes to picking a reel. It all comes down to choice and the types of fish you will be targeting. No matter which one you choose, it takes practice to become comfortable with the way the reel works. Perhaps you will do what I have done. I actually have all of the choices and use them depending on the type of fishing I will be doing. After all, you can never have enough fishing rods and reels, right?

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