How to choose a fishing reel (Buying Guide)

How to choose a fishing reel (Buying Guide)

by | May 14, 2017 | Fishing Reels, Gear and Tackle | 0 comments

If you are new to fishing and have looked at buying a new reel you are probably feeling a little overwhelmed.  That’s normal with all the choices you have today it could leave you somewhat confused on how to choose a fishing reel.

In this guide we are going to talk about how to choose a fishing reel for the first time buyer and explain the most common parts of a fishing reel on spincasting, spinning, and baitcasting reels.

Let’s look at the three most common types of reels that you would use in fresh and light saltwater fishing.

Spincasting reels

How to choose a fishing reel

Spincasting reels are generally the easiest to use and typically used by beginners and children alike.  These reels work on a simple principle of pressing a button to engage the spool so line can freely leave the spool after the button is released.

Turning the handle reengages the spool so you can reel line back onto the spool.

Spincasting reels have come a long way and make a good choice for anglers just starting out like children or even adults that are not committed in spending a lot of money on more expensive reels.

The line on a spincasting reels is fed through the line guide and out to the fishing rods eyes.  A drag system is typically a wheel that is spun either to tighten or loosen the drag.

Spinning reels

how to choose a fishing reel

Picture: Penn Slammer

Spinning reels over the years have become one of the most popular choices among anglers.    There easy to use and cast, wind isn’t as much as a factor when speaking about bait casting reels, and there accurate while casting light lures using light monofilament or braid fishing line.

What size reels can I get in a spinning reel

Spinning reel sizes vary greatly.  You can find micro spinning reels that can be fished with 2 lb test line, or you can find spinning reels that will fish heavy monofilament that can catch large pelagic fish in the ocean.  Choose a fishing reel that will meet your overall needs.

Spinning reels go by numbers.  The smaller the number the smaller the reel.

You may see a number like 25 or 2500 they both are considered small fishing reels in terms of size, it is just some manufactures use 25 and some use 2500.

Larger reels like 8000 or 80 will be much larger then reel numbers like 25 or 2500 in terms of weight, line capacity, and drag strength.  In person you can see this much easier as you can physically hold a reel in your hands and see the difference between a small and large reel.

For freshwater you should be able to handle anything with a 2500 size spinning reel.   Some anglers will go smaller with a 1000 size reel for lighter line use.

How to choose a fishing reel: Size of reel tip

The smaller the size number the smaller the reel size will be.  Larger number like 80 or 8000 represent larger spinning reels.

Line Capacity and line weight on a spinning reel

Monofilament fishing line

When you go to purchase a spinning reel either online or in person you will notice that every reel is rated for a certain line capacity in regards to line weight.

You can find this information on the reel spool.  This is the manufacturer recommended line weight and capacity.  Keep in mind that not all fishing line will feel, act, and be the same thickness for the same pound test line.

More experienced anglers who have fished for sometime can attest to this.  Someone who fishes the same lb test line and same manufacture will know the difference of a new brand line.

Braid fishing line

Braid fishing line will have a different capacity then mono line as its thinner in diameter and will be much stronger.  For example  braid line that is rated at say 65# will only be as think at 15# test mono line.   We will write an article on the differences of mono vs braid in an upcoming post.

How to choose a fishing reel tip to remember with braid

Braid line is thinner in diameter and stronger then mono line.

The drag of a spinning reel

The drag allows the angler to set the tension on how much resistance it takes to pull line off of the spool.  On a front drag the angler just needs to twist the drag clock wise to tighten the drag and counter clockwise to loosen the drag.

A drags purpose is to allow tension to be set on the spool so when a fish is hooked and it runs (moves away from the angler and takes line off the spool) there is enough resistance put on the fish that it gets tired and you can reel that fish in.

A smooth drag is essential for long hard runs a fish can make.    Most mid level spinning reels now a days have good drag systems.

Rear drag spinning reel.

The principals are the same it is just that the drag knot is at the back of the spinning reel.  Turning this know will product less or more resistance.

Drag Do's And Don't s

Never reel against the drag when a fish is making its run. This will cause your line to weaken and knot up when there is slack in the line.

When your done fishing for the day you should release the pressure in your drag by loosing it all the way before storing your rods.

Bait casting reels

These are more challenging to cast and require a lot more practice to be efficient with putting your bait where you want it.   Typically anglers will start with a closed faced reel, then to a spinning reel, and finally a baitcaster or bast casting reel.

These reels are very accurate when presenting baits of all kinds.  From plastic worms to top water lures anglers that are very good with these fishing reels can put baits into tight spots with little effort.

Lets go over the basic components of a baitcasting reel below.

The thumb bar when pressed will but the spool in free spoil ad allow the angler to make a cast.

Spool tension knob will allow anglers to control how loose or tight the free spoil should be by controlling the spool tension knob.   A good rule of thumb is to hold your rod straight out with a plastic worm, or lure and click the thumb bar.

Your bait should be able to drop and hit the floor without a bird or rat nest happening with your line.  spool tension knob is for the weight of your bait.

A bird nest or rat nest is when you cast a baitcasting reel and your line tangles into a large nest within your spool.

Drag will allow your to set the tension when a fish is running away from you.

Line guide will move from side to side allow for your retrieval of line to come back on your spool nice and even.

Brakes on a baitcassting reel are just what it sounds like their for making casting easier without getting backlashes or bird nests.  Like we talked about above the spool tension knob is more for the weight of your bait and the brakes are to help when casting.

These brake systems are like pegs that can be turned on and off.  Once there set you should be fine and just need to use your spool tension knob depending on what size bait your throwing.

So if your braking system has 6 pins start with turning 2 on and see if your casting is easier with no backlashes.

Pairing a reel to a rod

Make sure when purchasing a reel separate from a rod the reel and rod are a close match in size.    You have the option to purchase a pre-built rod and reel combo and this is could be a wise decision for a beginner.  To learn more about choosing a rod read our article.

If you choose to purchase a rod and reel separate, be sure to match the two based off of size and line weight.   If your at a retail store like Bass pro shops or any local tackle store in your area there staff will be more then happy to help you match a proper rod and reel together.

Things to remember when choosing a fishing reel

Remember how to choose a fishing reel can be somewhat confusing.   When purchasing a fishing reel for the first time ask yourself where you will be fishing with this reel and rod the most.

If you will be fishing in freshwater you can purchase a smaller reel and rod set up and be just fine.  Smaller numbers on a reel represent a smaller reel for smaller diameter, lighter fishing line  If your main goal and area will be to fish for larger fish in the ocean you will want to make sure your beef up your reel to a larger one.

If you are at a retail store find an associate, they will be more then happy to assist you with your needs.   Most of all remember to have fun and get out there and explore.

About The Author

Anthony Arcodia

A Florida Native, Anthony has been a lifelong fisherman and outdoorsman. As a child, he started fishing lakes around the South Florida area chasing bass which quickly spread to chasing snook and tarpon in the 10 thousand islands. Anthony has passed his love of the outdoors and fishing to his son and both continue to enjoy the great outdoors together while pursuing their passion of fishing.

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