Your reel is a very important part of your fishing tackle. You cannot use the same reel with any rod. You cannot even use the same reel in all fishing conditions if you care your success rates.

Several important factors can influence your reel selection decisions

(a) fishes you are going to catch

(b) your fishing locations

(c) your personal preferences and

(d) your budget. You need in-depth knowledge to understand how you should select a fishing reel. In this guideline, we have divided the content into three parts

  • possible construction materials of a reel,
  • reel types
  • reel introductions of reels based on fishing conditions.

Construction materials and features

It is important to understand the features and other things of a reel before you buy one.

The Reel Body

The reel body can be made of aluminum or graphite. Some reel bodies are made of a combination of both.

The Reel Body
The Reel Body

Graphite reels are lighter and easier to use. If you are fishing for longer time, you will feel more comfortable with this reel than an aluminum reel. You will easily not get tired too. But these are not as strong as the aluminum reels. These are also corrosion-resistant and thus ideal of saltwater. These are flexible too.

Read More: Best Fishing Rods Buyers’ Guide

Most of the highest quality rods are aluminum rods. Though these are not very flexible, these are very strong.

But regardless of your reel’s body material, you should select a solid constructed reel body. A reel with fewer parts has less chance of mechanical breakdown. But still spinning reels have more parts than casting reels.

Gear Ratio

You have heard of high, medium and low speed gear ratios. When you turn handle, a bail wraps the line onto the spool. Gear ratio is defined as the number of times the bail rotates around the spool with one single turn of the reel handle.

A slow-speed reel can have 4:1 gear ratio. This means there will be four wraps of line around the spool when you turn your handle once.

5:1 is medium gear ratio and 6:1 is high ratio.

If you can afford, you should buy one reel of specific gear ratio for each fishing condition. If you cannot afford much, you should buy a medium gear reel instead.

Drag Capability

When a fish bites the lure or bait, it will fight for life and often the fighting is very hard. You need to set you reel in such a way that it feels enough resistance when you pull it on the line. This resistance setting method is called drag. When you set proper amount of drag, the fish will quickly tire out. But if you set too little drag, the fish will keep fighting for longer time. Too much drag is bad too because your line may be over-stresses and break out.

Drag Capability

If your drag is not high quality and smooth, your line may break down and thus you may loss the fish. Though there are front and rear drag reels, the front reels are longer lasting.


If you are planning to use a lighter line, you should use a comparatively smaller reel. You should use a bigger reel for a heavier line.

Ball bearings

Ball bearings or bushing are used within the reel. These are used for several reasons – smoothness, stability and support. More ball bearings make the reel smoother.


Nowadays most modern spools are either anodized aluminum or graphite. Since graphite is lighter than aluminum, graphite spools are lighter. Though aluminum spools are heavier, these are strong and can handle more pressure.

There are mainly two types of reels – internal and skirted. It is better not to use the internal reels because line may often entangle inside the reel. This is the reason why these types of spools are not regularly made nowadays. It is better to use skirted reels to avoid such problems.

An aluminum spool is more suitable than a graphite one when you are going to use braided lines.  But the difference does not matter a lot when you use monofilament nylon line.

Anti-Reverse handles

This function helps the handle not to spin backward.

Anti-Reverse handles
Anti-Reverse handles

When you fish in wet weather or hand becomes sweaty, the handle may slip. To avoid this problem, you should use a handle with proper arm and knob.

Reel types

There are six types of reels and we think it is important you know them. So, we are providing some information for your reference.

Fixed spool reels

This is the most common fishing reel. These reels are available in a wide range of color, size and configuration options. Single handle or double handle are available. In the same way, front or rear drag system both are available too.

Free spool reels

These are advanced version of fixed spool reels but usually bigger than fixed spool reels. It has a great feature and the feature is – the angler can set the amount of tension through the drag system. These are very helpful when you need to cast heavier rigs at longer distances. These reels are very helpful in fishing the species that bite the bait and swim off with them.

These are good for pike, carp, catfish and barbel fishing.

Closed face reels

These are not widely available in the market nowadays. These are mainly used by river anglers because these are not only very light but also very easy and comfortable to use.

These are not advanced or strong reels and you cannot use them for several years.

Center-pin reels

The advantage of this reel is – it will let the line go at exactly the speed of the current. So, the fishes will assume that the bait at the end of the line is natural. Thus your bait you entice the fishes more effectively. Though these are mostly outdated nowadays, some anglers still use them for their great service.

Multiplier reels

These are good for lure fishing and mainly used by sea anglers from boat or beach. These small and compact reels are ideal for lure fishing. But you may not use any rod with this reel. You may need to buy a rod that is suitable to be used with these reels.

Big pit reels

When you need to cast baited rig, marker float or spod flies at a long distance, you need these reels. The specialty of this reel is – they have a fixed huge spool and the spool can hold even 100 yards of line.

Big pit reels
Big pit reels

These are good for pike, carp and catfish fishing.

Now we will introduce you to several reel types for several types of fishing.

Conventional Reels

These reels can not only handle heavy lines better than spinning reels but also assure more sensitiveness and torque.

These reels are more suitable where you face obstructions and are suppose to fight longer on a light line. You will face obstructions around a jetty or near the pilings of a bridge. After biting a bait or lure, the fish can start swim away. Conventional reels will help you to fight in these situations. It is also easier to cast a heavy load in a conventional reel.

If you are a beginner, you may prefer a reel that comes with level-wind. Level-wind is a mechanism that helps you to distribute the line evenly across the reel when you wind the line. Those reels that do not have level-wind are open faced reels. Open faced reels are better for longer casting and easier to use.

If your reel comes with brakes, it will be comfortable to prevent backlash. When you cast your line, the reel may keep spitting as long as possible. You need to stop it when the lure or bait has reached the target destination. A brake will help you to stop it easily. Without a break, you may have to stop it using the thumb which may be painful.

If you buy a larger conventional reel, your reel will be able to carry heavy and more lines for fighting strong big fishes. If you are planning to use your reel in saltwater, you should make sure to buy a corrosion-resistant reel for the longevity of your line.

Baitcasting Reels

If you cannot keep the spool under control, it may turn while you cast. If it turns, it may result in a nasty nest of line. Though it is good for more accurate casting, it is not easy to master and mainly used by season anglers. You should use this with heavier lines and lures since it is mainly good to be used with heavier lines and lures. You should also consider the condition of your fishing such as fishing from boat or shore.

Casting reels have a rotating spool. For your regular bait fishing, either a spin or overhead reel is good enough. If you are a new comer to fishing, a spin reel is more suitable than an overhead reel. The overhead reels are for more experienced anglers.

You can use this reel in lure casting in rivers, inshore, lakes and estuaries.

Baitcasting Reels
Baitcasting Reels

Baitcasting reels are more suitable for large game fish catching and commonly used to cast heavy lines and lures. Experienced anglers use these reels when they need to target game fish and other large fishes. For catching these fishes these anglers use heavy lines and lures with baitcasting reels. Since these anglers are targeting large fishes, their reels may get damaged if they are not using reels that are capable of handling this much pressure.

Saltwater Reels

Saltwater fishing is directly related to harsh fishing environment. Your reel may easily get damaged and corrode. Saltwater has more larger fishes than other places.

You can use spinning reels for your saltwater fishing. Some anglers prefer to use them in this type of fishing because it is easier to use, more effective to fish for small species and fish from boats. But if you are using mono line with this kind of reel, you may face problem when the bail is opened. Beginners prefer to use this reel in saltwater fishing.

But experienced anglers often prefer to use baitcasting reels because it make it easier to cast large baits at larger distances. They can use the reel with heavier line too.

Spinning Reels

It is the most popular reel type because it offers several advantages – (a) it is versatile (b) you put a good amount of line in it (c) it offers more accurate casting than a spincast (d) it is easier to use than baitcasting reel because it has an open face design (e) easier and quicker to learn how to use. But the disadvantage is – it is not good to use with heavier lines such as 20 pound or more lines.

Ten-pound test line may be the highest strength and diameter used on a spinning reel. The spool of a spinning reel is fixed. Buy a spinning reel that comes with anti-reverse handle.

Spinning reels are usually used to land small to medium sized fishes.

Spincasting Reels

All the important parts of a spincast reel are kept inside under the nose cone. This is why it is also called a closed face reel. These are designed in such a way that a little hole is added in the cover. The line comes out of a little hole during casting.

It is so easy to use that it is even used by the children. It is may be the easiest reel to cast. An angler forwards casts by pressing the button on the back of the reel so that the line peels out. Then the angler stops the button when line has reached to the target.

The reels are often mounted on the top of the rods. If you are a beginner, these reels may be more suitable for you. These reels are not good for long line casting trolling fishing because these cannot support long line casting like baitcasting or spinning reels. But these spincasting reels can more accurately cast smaller lures and baits than baitcasting or spinning reels.

The disadvantage of a spincast reel is – you may not cast as accurately to a target distance as you want.

Freshwater Reels

Baitcasting, spinning and spincasting reels are all used for freshwater fishing. It is important to buy a reel that matches your fishing requirement in a particular freshwater condition because a smaller than required reel will help the fish to escape easily. A more than required reel will make your fishing experience painful.

Freshwater Reels
Freshwater Reels

If you are going to fish for panfish, trout or other small stream fishes, you need a reel that comes with two to six pound test. Eight to fifteen pound test line reels are also available for light-medium spinning reels. You will find ultra-light spinning reels for comfortable fishing.

Fly Reels

Most fly reels are made of aluminum as they are cheaper. But lighter graphite made fly reels are also available. If you are planning to buy a reel not only for fly reel but also all-around use, it is better to buy a disc-drag fly feel. It is important that your reel is rust-proof because it will come into the contact of water. You will surely find weather resistant reels that come with non-rusting components.

A very important point is – your reel line weight must match your fly line weight. You may also want to buy an extra spool so that you can you use your reel for a longer time. The spool can be out of the market but you will still own one.

If you have good budget, you should spend more and buy a high quality reel. You can use a high quality reel even for more than a decade.

Trolling Reels

Regardless of your offshore or river trolling fishing, overhead reels are the most suitable reels for several reasons – (a) can pass the feel of unexpected strikes (b) have free-spool function (c) offer easier line length adjustment (d) when you turn the handle after a strike, your fingers will be safe.

Ice Reels

These reels can come with several ball bearing such as 5 ball bearing construction for exceptionally smooth performance. You should also check your gear ration comfortable to your experience and line retrieve in or crank.

Ice Reels
Ice Reels

There can be other features that can provide richer fishing experience. Some features can be – infinite anti-reverse, reduced line twist with free spool release button and lightweight nylon body with aluminum spool.

Bottom Fishing and Jigging Reels

Overhead reels are more suitable for bottom fishing and jigging. But you should take care of some other issues such as – (a) use a strong gear that can handle the torque of big game fishing fighting (b) a reel that has fewer but strong parts so that it lasts longer (c) use a line that can handle the pressure of the big game fishes etc.

Special Notes

Start with a secondhand rod & reed: If you are a beginner, you may want to start with a secondhand rod and reel. When you gain some experience, you can try the new and versatile advanced rods and reels. If you do not have enough budgets, you can also start with a secondhand rods and reels.

Reel must match with your rod: In some cases, the reel may not fit your preferred or target rod. So, it is important to check the fitting or matching issue every time you buy a reel.

Drag test: Squeeze and move several parts of your reel to test that everything is performing in harmony. You already know too less or too more drag is harmful for your reel and line. Even the fish can break the line out and thus free itself.

Freshwater, saltwater or other environment coverage: Some reels are specially made for saltwater or freshwater or other fishing conditions. The reel is suitable for only one type of fishing condition.

Consider how it works in challenging conditions: There are several parts inside your reel and they are interconnected. In times of intense pressure or adverse conditions, it is very important that the internal interconnected parts function and support smoothly. Otherwise your success rate will be low.

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