How to Choose the Right Spinning Reel

Have a new spinning rod but no reel? Fishing expert Tanner Druffel shares everything you need to know to find the right reel for you.

Photo by Mohammad Shahhosseini

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You just got a brand new spinning rod and you are itching to get it out on the water, but you don’t have a reel. This article should help you find the reel you need in no time so you can do more fishing and less reading!

There are a few different types of fishing reels in this world and you might be asking yourself what type of fishing reel do I need? The two main conventional fishing reels you’ll find on the market today are casting reels and spinning reels. So, what’s the difference? All anglers have their opinions about when and where they like to use a spinning versus a casting setup, but there are instances where it usually helps to use one over the other.

Typically you will be using a spinning setup to cast longer distances and toss lightweight lures, but it can also be used to toss heavy lures and baits under the right circumstances. Spinning setups are good for anyone from beginner to pro. Casting rods are paired up with casting reels, which are typically harder to use because they have a tendency to birds nest, which is why most beginners steer clear of them. A casting setup works pretty well for accuracy, control, and heavier lures. You can tell these two reels apart because a casting reel will have a button you have to press to release the line, whereas a spinning reel will have a bail. For a deeper explanation of more fishing gear, be sure to check out our other expert articles!

Breakdown of a Spinning Reel

The anatomy of a spinning reel

Figure by Tanner Druffel

  • Reel Foot: The piece that attaches the reel to the rod. The reel foot sits inside the reel seat of the rod.
  • Reel Handle: The handle that turns the spool to reel in line.
  • Drag Adjustment: Acts as a braking system when you have a fish running with your line. The more you tighten your drag system, the harder it is for the fish to run.
  • Bail: The metal wire in front of the spool. When the bail is open, line is allowed to run freely off the spool. When the bail is closed, the handle is turned and the bail helps to bring the line back on the spool.
  • Line Spool: Where all of the line resides.
  • Line Roller: A part of the bail where the line rests. The line travels over this part as you reel in line.
  • Reel Body: This holds all the parts of the reel.
  • Anti-Reverse Switch: A switch that, when activated, prevents reel handles from turning the opposite direction so that they can only reel in.
  • Drag: Two friction plates inside the reel that help keep the line from breaking. Let’s say you have 60lb test and you set the drag to 20lbs. This will help keep the fish from breaking you off by letting out line when tension over 20lb is applied.
  • Max Drag: The drag you can set on your line before your line breaks. In general, you should set this to about 30% of the breaking strength of the line.
  • Recovery: The amount of line per one turn of the handle.
  • Ratio: The number of wraps per one full revolution of the handle.

What Size of Reel Do I Need?

This is one of the most important factors when it comes to choosing a reel. You will want to match the size of your reel to the power of your spinning rod. As you can see below, different manufactures will label the reels in thousands or in two digits, but both numbers mean the same thing. In ascending order, the reel sizes grow from small to medium to large and end with very large.

  • 1000 to 3500 (10 to 35): ultra-light to light-power rod
  • 4000 to 5500 (40 to 55): medium-power rod
  • 6000 to 9500 (60 to 95): medium-heavy to heavy-power rod
  • 10000 and up: ultra-heavy power rod
A black and white photo of a saltwater fisherman fishing off a misty beach

Photo by Sergi Ferrete

What Size Line do I pair with my Reel?

Line is definitely an important decision when spooling a reel. You don’t want to put a light line on a heavy setup and break off every time you set a hook. On the other hand, you don’t want to put a heavy line on a light setup and ruin the finesse of the lighter rod. You could also run the chance of running out of room on your spool to hold enough line. Therefore we must find a good middle ground between the two. Here are recommended line weights for your reels:

  • 1000 to 3500 (10 to 35): 2-10lb mono, 4-14lb braid
  • 4000 to 5500 (40 to 55): 8-14lb mono, 15-50lb braid
  • 6000 to 9500 (60 to 95): 12-30lb mono, 30-80lb braid
  • 10000 and up: 12lb+ mono, 50lb+ braid

What Type of Reel do I need for a Specific Water & Species?

Small spin reels are great for targeting smaller freshwater fish like smallmouth bass, trout, bream, and panfish. You’ll typically have good luck with a small setup on most lakes, ponds, bays, and small rivers. A medium setup will help you with largemouth, cod, smaller salmon, and walleye. Some lighter offshore fishing can be done with these rods along with all the bodies of water covered with a small setup. Large setups will be able to handle everything from snapper to steelhead. These are best used for surf fishing, large lake fishing, rock fishing, and fishing from boats. The very large setup is awesome for any big saltwater fishing target such as marlin, sharks, tuna, halibut, and so on. As you could imagine, these setups are used mainly for offshore boat fishing along with some surf fishing.

What’s the Difference between a Saltwater Reel & Freshwater Reel?

There are two huge differences between saltwater reels and freshwater reels. The first difference is price. A saltwater reel is much more expensive, but for good reasons. The second difference is that saltwater reels are made of corrosion-resistant materials. This leads to the huge price gap. Although you are able to wash and rinse your freshwater reel when exposed to saltwater, this is not a good idea to do every time. If you know that you will be fishing in saltwater more than a few times, it is worth the money to have a reel that will last a lifetime. Get the saltwater reel.

A fisherman on a yellow motorboat holding up a gaping fish

Photo by Chris Parsons

Value

So, how much do you need to spend on a reel? In my opinion, you get what you pay for. If you are fishing saltwater, it is worth the money to get a saltwater specific reel so you won’t need to be replacing your freshwater reel every season. There are a few other things to consider when buying a reel. A larger line capacity can increase the price of a reel. If you happen to fish for species that will run hundreds of yards, I think a larger line capacity is a great idea, otherwise, I would save my money. Another quality of a more expensive reel is the number of bearings in the reel. The more bearings, the smoother the handle turns. Think about how the smoothness has an impact on your fishing style.

Either way, just get out there, rip some lips, and have fun! And if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to me or one of my fellow Fishing experts here on Curated.

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Written By
Tanner Druffel
Fly Fishing Expert
Hi, my name is Tanner, and I'm from Walla Walla, WA! I love to fly fish, and growing up in Southeastern Washington, I starting fising for bass and small trout. If I'm not on the river you'll find me tying flies in my garage. When I graduated high school, I had to make the hard decision of which coll...
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