Fishing is a classic pastime for a reason, it can be incredibly relaxing and also offer moments of real excitement when you feel a pull on your line.
Getting started is easy, too. With a rod, the right reel and some tackle, you’re on your way. Below we highlight the reel basics needed to get started.
Reel Basics 101
Before we even start talking about different kinds of reels, let’s go over a couple of basic terms you’ll want to know. First, simply put, a fishing reel is just a set of gears that turn as you rotate a handle and retrieve fishing line that, ideally, has a fish hooked at the other end of it. These gears are attached to some other key reel components, such as:
The spool is the part of the reel that holds the line and can be internal or external on the reel.
The Drag Adjustment
A drag adjustment is the norm on every fishing reel. Its purpose is to allow you to control the line that a fish is pulling back off the spool. The drag adjustment helps you to really hold your own against bigger fish who may be putting up a fight while minimizing the chance of the line breaking.
OK, now that we’ve identified some key reel components, let’s talk actual reels. Below we’ve identified four popular types, plus a key number to be aware of.
The Spincast Reel
Also known as a “closed-face reel,” a spincast reel sits on top of the rod and is initiated by a push-button on the back of the reel. The spool is internal on this reel (this is how it got its closed-face designation). Spincast reels are ideal for beginners since they are considered quite easy to use.
The Baitcast Reel
Baitcast reels sit atop the rod, similar to a spincast reel, but the operation of them is a bit more involved. In this case, the spool is external and you use your thumb to dictate how much of the line comes off when you cast it. Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind with baitcast reels is that if you don’t stop the line prior to it hitting the water, you’ll get that dreaded backlash. These reels work best with specific types of lures, so they tend to only be used for catching certain types of fish, like bass.
The Spinning Reel
Spinning reels may also be referred to as “open-face reels,” and will sit under the rod. Spinning reels are versatile and work well for most types of fishing. Like a baitcast reel, they are a little more challenging to operate because you must hold the line with a finger and flip the bail (the metal arm that can prevent the line from coming out of the spool) over by hand, to cast.
The Fly Reel
This type of reel is specifically for fly fishing and features a large spool that you rotate as you reel in your line. It is, somehow, simultaneously simple and complex. Fly fishing reels leverage a specialized fly fishing line, which makes them large and spool-heavy. If you’re looking for a fly reel, take note that prices range from relatively reasonable to very pricey. This is dependent on the materials used and the way the reel is made.
Oh, and one more thing to look out for…
The retrieve ratio is essentially how much of the line the reel pulls in and wraps around the pool with each rotation of the handle. The number, typically shown as something like 5.2:1 or 7.1:1, etc., can change depending on the reel you have. Beginners usually want to start with a lower retrieve or gear ratio.
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