As with any other piece of fishing equipment, options and specifications for fishing reels are endless. Fortunately, there are only few important things that are really needed to know.
Baitcasting or conventional reels (also sometimes knows as 'multiplier' reels) have spool in horizontal position and are positioned above the rod. They are often used in fishing on larger prey by more experienced fishermen.
For big game fishing, these reels are must - they are fixed firmly on trolling rods and using strong cords (usually two of them) attached to the fishing chair.
Gear ratio between handle and spool varies - 1:1 in direct drive reels and up to 1:7 in reels with multiple gears. Reels with higher ratio retrieve the lines rather fast, but they can be problematic when larger prey is hooked due to lack of strength. Some reels have small gearboxes which allow changing the ratio according to the hooked fish. They tend to be more expensive and require more maintenance than ordinary reels.
When compared with other reel types, baitcasting reels are little bit harder to master, but it is not a rocket science :)
One of the most important things to keep in mind is to have line always under tension (with enough weight) - otherwise, line can 'spin up' and create a nice 'bird nest' :) This is very important during casting, but in some models it is solved with adjustable spool tension mechanism like some sort of centrifugal or magnetic brake.
Baitcasting Fishing Reel Parts
Fishing reels have some common parts, but they do differ in construction and hence, in parts.
Names of basic parts of fishing reels, more or less, explain their function.
Line Spool holds the fishing line. Amount of line depends on the size of the spool - the thicker the line, shorter its length and vice versa. Some manufacturers state the length of line and its holding break, while some manufacturers state maximum length of line and its thickens that spool can hold.
Line Guide is used for proper line spooling on and off - this way line is uniformly spooled and this increases the line length on the spool, decreases the possibility of backlash and having line issues etc.
Drag Control, usually in the form of star, is used to set maximum required force needed by hooked fish to pull the line out - this way, fish is prevented from breaking the line by just pull force.
Reel Handle is used for rewinding the spool and reeling in the line.
Spool Control helps in reducing the backlash. Some reels use ordinary break system, while some incorporate adjustable centrifugal or/and magnetic cast control.
There are many suggestions and advices on how to set baitcasting reel spool control, but generally one should hold the rod at 45° angle and slowly reduce the tension, until the lure/tackle starts to drop - goal is to stop the spool from spinning as soon as the lure/tackle hits the ground.
Of course, that is just starting point - whey you go fishing, when casting, start with maximum breaking tension (already set-up), then reduce from there until you are capable of casting to the desired distance without getting backlash.
Obviously, one needs practice with these reels and practice makes perfection ... :)
Reel Foot and Reel Support Arm are not shown on the above photo - reel foot is used for fixing the reel to the rod; reel support art connects reel foot with the rest of fish reel mechanism.
Spool Release is used to control the rotation of spool - this is where your thumb will be plenty of time during fishing. Again, some practice will be needed before getting backlash-free casts, but it goes with the territory :)
Centrepin (Center-Pin) Reels
These are very simple reels, positioned under the rod with horizontal spool. Most of them have 1:1 ratio with handle directly attached to the spool.
For controlling the line during fishing, common method is using - index finger!
More advanced models have casting drag mechanism to prevent line getting tangled during casting and to aid in fighting with a larger and powerful fish.
Centrepin reels with 1:2 or 1:3 gear ratios are available, but they are not as popular as 'ordinary' 1:1 reels with large diameter spools. They enable faster line retrieval, but they are more complex, heavier, more expensive etc. Most centrepins are ordinary 1:1 models used for fishing in shallows and in similar occasions.
There are several subcategories of spinning reels, but generally they are positioned under the rod and have vertical spool (spool and rod are parallel).
These reels are commonly used by recreational fishermen, especially by beginners fishing smaller fish. Of course, more expensive models are made from stronger materials and can handle more thick lines and more punishment during fishing.
They are cheap (more or less - there are spinning reels that are quite expensive and perform according to their price :) ), reliable, available with various transmission ratios, have very little problems during operation, drag mechanism is easily adjusted during fishing etc.
They are somewhat mechanically complex and most of the models are not suitable for larger fish, especially during trolling or deep sea fishing. These are my favorite type of fishing reels, since medium priced models often can tolerate significant punishment without plenty of maintenance.
Spinning Fishing Reel Parts
Spinning reels have some parts in common with other reels, but some parts are specific to them.
Reel foot, reel support arm, reel handle and line spool are common to other types of reels and have the same function.
Drag Mechanism Adjustment Knob is used for setting drag tension - very useful when larger fish is hooked on thin line.
Pick-Up or Bail Arm is used 'picking-up' the line after casting and for freeing the line before casting.
Line Roller is used for winding the the line on the line spool - line spool moves up and down, while line roller rotates around the line spool - this combination enables proper spooling of the line.
If you are interested in spinning reels, feel free to check our Best Saltwater Spinning Reels article.
Spincast reels are one of the easiest reels to use - many of us have started fishing using rods equipped with spincast reels. Reel is positioned above the rod with the spool parallel to the rod.
This type of fishing reels have all important parts enclosed - even line is under the nose cone. One of the advantages of spincast reels is that they almost completely eliminate possibility of line backlash and getting a 'bird nest' (usually at the worst moment!).
These reels usually don't have great line capacity, but most of them can handle at least 100m of 5-10kg line. Spincast reels with greater capacity tend to be bigger. Spincast reels usually have 2.5 to 4.5:1 gear ratios.
Also, with spincast reels, use monofilament lines, since braided lines can cause certain issues.
These reels can be found at great prices.
Spincast Fishing Reel Parts
Spool Cover encase line spool and other parts. It has s hole in the middle for line to be released and retrieved. Often, manufacturers write reel/spool line capacity on the spool cover.
Other parts of these reels are just as same as in other types of reels and have exactly the same or very similar function.
Note: Fishing reel on the photo doesn't have Drag Star for adjusting the tension of drag force.
Electric Fishing Reels
Electric fishing reels are reels with small electric motor that helps in retrieving long line. These reels are suitable for big game fishing and deep sea fishing. Often, such reels are used during kite fishing - some models quickly winds in the kite and stops automatically by itself(!) freeing fisherman to fight with the hooked fish. Some models have jigging option - great for fishing when such motion is required to attract game fish to strike the bait.
They can be powered with external power source, mostly from 12 or 24 V power supply or have on board batteries - if electric fishing reels are powered with on board batteries (cordless), don't expect great pulling force and/or autonomy when operating on batteries only. Practically, every 'serious' electric reel is powered by external electric source.
Electric reels can have small LCD screens for displaying information like pulling weight, length of drawn off line and similar.
Electric fishing reels are usually conventional (baitcasting) reels. Obviously, such reels are more complex and require more maintenance, when compared with other reels.
Fishing Reel Drag Mechanism
Drag mechanisms are sometimes used for casting to prevent problems with line tangling - not all types of reels have such mechanism.
More importantly, drag system is used for creating constant resistance to the line after hooking a fish to help in landing the fish without the line breaking. This comes very handy when wishing for larger predatory species that can put a tremendous fight for a long time (hours!). Because of that, more expensive reels have drag mechanism made out of very strong and durable materials and are design to provide constant resistance, regardless of usage.
Such systems can generate plenty of heat which is taken away from line in order to prevent heat damage. Some of the trolling baitcasting reels are even designed to be cooled with water, if needed.
When setting drag resistance, it is common practice to set the drag to the half or just the third of line breaking strength. It is good starting point, but it depends on numerous conditions like line length, type of hooked fish, type of used rod etc.
Note: reel drag mechanism vs. reel break - when reel break is applied, line can be drawn off the spool only if hooked fish pulls the line with force larger than drag resistance is set. This, in combination with rod flexibility enables catching a game fish larger than line strength breaking weight. Just be patient ... :)
Fishing Reel Materials
Materials used for manufacturing fishing reels vary - various steels, aluminum alloys, titanium, ceramics, carbon fiber, kevlar, aramid fibers etc. Of course, for various parts, various materials are used.
It is important to know that saltwater reels operate in very harsh, corrosive conditions. Materials must be strong enough to withstand stress and forces during fishing and be resistant to corrosion.
Fishing Reel Covers
Fishing reel covers are made out of neoprene and similar materials. Thickness ranges from 2 up to or even more than 6 mm.
They protect reels during transport and storage from both mechanical impacts and weather elements. They are designed to protect reels without having to remove them from the rod.
They are available in different sizes and for different types of fishing reels. It is best practice to buy fishing reel cover from the reel manufacturer - that way you are certain that it fits perfectly.
They are not expensive and can be quite useful during camping fishing trips and on similar occasions when rods and reels are exposed to the weather even when not in use.
Fishing Reel Use
According to the use, fishing reels can be specialized for several uses:
Big Game Fishing Reels
Big game fishing reels are strong, big and sturdy reels, made out of strong and durable materials - and they can be very expensive. After all, don't expect that reels made fighting with 100 pound or more predatory fish come cheap. If they are cheap, think twice before buying.
Most often, heavy duty big game fishing reels are baitcasting reels, although there are some high-end spinning reels that are designed for big game fishing.
Body of such reels is usually made out of corrosion resistant aluminum alloys, with gears made out of special stainless steel or titanium and drag plates made out of carbonite or similar materials.
Drag systems are designed to tolerate heat generated during fishing and that heat can be quite substantial.
Spool size depends on length and thickness of used lines and reels with larger spools, guess what, cost more ...
Deep Sea Fishing Reels
Deep sea fishing reels have many similarities with big game fishing reels - they must be also very strong and sturdy, must be made out of durable materials, must have big enough spools for line that sometimes can be of significant length (and rather thick).
Such reels are often used for fishing deep sea sharks, so imagine what kind of punishment they must be able to withstand.
Such heavy duty reels are usually mounted on suitably sized rods and often can be secured with strong lines (usually two of them) to the fishing chairs. Some fishing reels are even transom mounted - which have some benefits, but also some drawbacks like stressing the line more when compared with reels mounted on rods. However, pulling out hundreds of pounds heavy shark from deep can be really heavy labor.
Speargun, Bow and Crossbow Reels
These reels are specialized reels for quick line release when firing a shot and quick and safe spear/arrow recovery, hopefully with a fish on.
Bow and crossbow reels are usually some sort of spinning reels - mechanically more complex, but line can be released really fast. Spearguns usually have some sort of baitcasting reel, which release line somewhat slower, but it is mechanically much simpler and requires less maintenance - very important since it operates under the water in extreme conditions.
Universal Fishing Reels
Well, this is quite hard - some people like spinning reels and don't even want to consider baitcasting reels, while others don't even consider spinning reels as serious reels - so many different opinions ...
Personally, I like spinning reels and if I have to choose the best or the most universal fishing reel, that would be medium priced, low maintenance, spinning fishing reel.
Also, one of the reasons I prefer spinning reels is their position below the fishing rod - this gives more stability and provide better balance during fishing.
But that's just me ... :)
Choosing Proper Fishing Reel
Unless you are really passionate fisherman that regularly go on fishing trips, choose low cost spinning reel.
When you get used to that, you can choose between more expensive spinning reel types or baitcasting types.
Personally, I use spinning reels, especially when fishing from shore or from piers. When trolling for mackerel, horse mackerel and similar smaller predatory species, I like handline trolling - this gives me direct contact with fish and can be quite experience, even with smaller specimens (some scars are inevitable!). For trolling and deep sea fishing, go for medium priced baitcasting reels or maybe for similar spinning reels - such spinning reels can require more maintenance, so be sure to read reviews before buying.