Selecting a Fishing ReelLearn More
Shopping for a fishing reel?
West Marine offers a complete selection of reels for fresh- and saltwater use. Choices include baitcasting, conventional and spinning reels in a range of sizes for most types of fishing and sizes of fish. Popular brands include Abu Garcia, Avet, Daiwa, Penn, Pflueger, Shakespeare, Shimano and more.
Key Points to Consider when Shopping for a Reel
- Saltwater vs. Freshwater: Reels used for freshwater fishing do not need the extensive protection against aggressive corrosion brought about by exposure to seawater. Reels intended for saltwater are pricier because they use corrosion-resistant materials such as anodized aluminum, shielded stainless steel or bronze bearings and forged aluminum spools.
- Bearings vs. Bushings: Small inexpensive reels use bushings on rotating parts because they are cheap, easy to produce and don’t demand close tolerances. Quality reels use sealed ball bearings, resulting in dramatically smoother action—even under loads imposed by big fish. More ball bearings are a good indicator of a reel’s quality.
- Single vs. Multiple Gears: All reels are offered with distinctive gear ratios, which equates to how many times the spool turns for one revolution of the crank. Like gears on a bicycle, a lower gear ratio is easier to crank, but requires more turns. Gear ratios on spinning and baitcasting reels vary between 4:1 and 6:1. A hot 6:1 ratio is used for casting and retrieving lures that need speed to achieve their action. If you’re after big game, Penn’s International and Graphite Two-Speed Lever Drag Series allow anglers to switch between fast take-up and power to crank a heavy fish.
- Adjustable Drags: These are part of every reel. The drag is a friction mechanism that enables you to adjust the resistance required to pull line from the reel. Adjusting the drag enables you to use different line weights and to pressure the fish during the fight. Some drags enable you to set a “strike” tension to set the hook, and then flip to a different preset tension while the fight is on. Quality reels use proprietary materials to create drags that operate smoothly without momentary binding that can snap a line and enable the angler to dial in just the right amount of resistance needed to bring the fish to the net. Depending on the reel, the drag will be adjusted by a knob, star gear or a lever.
- Levelwind Mechanisms: Some conventional reels and many baitcasting reels include a levelwind mechanism that automatically distributes the line from side to side evenly on the spool during the retrieve. Conventional reels without a level-wind mechanism require an “educated thumb” to prevent a backlash from occurring when casting and thus are more difficult to use.
- Spool Capacity: When choosing a reel, consider the weight and the capacity of the line you’ll need for the species you are after. Deep, V-shaped spools can store longer or heavier line, while shallow spools are easier to cast because the line comes off more easily. We list a line class and capacity for each reel. Most reels can be used with the next lighter and heavier line class than what’s listed.
Conventional reels have a spool that revolves on an axis perpendicular to the rod. Many of these reels are multi-purpose and can be used for pier fishing, trolling, casting baits or jigging. In general, conventional reels require more technique during a cast, because the inertia of the spinning spool can result in a backlash or tangled “birds nest” of line that can be very time consuming to unravel. In the past, the go-to reel for offshore fishing was most always a conventional reel—however with advances in reel design, fishing “standup” with spinning tackle for large fish such as marlin and tuna has become common, especially in the Florida Keys and southeast. For offshore fishing, whether you choose a conventional or a spinning reel is a matter of personal preference—with the caveat that really large fish are best brought to heel with a conventional reel, such as one of Penn’s International Series.
Spinning reels are popular with anglers because they are versatile and easy to use. They key difference from conventional reels is that the spool is mounted parallel to the rod on the underside of the rod and it remains stationary when casting. During a cast, line is uncoiled from the fixed spool by the lure or bait as it flies through the air. When retrieving the line, an arched rotating pick-up bail lays down the line on the spool, simultaneously reversing the twists that resulted from casting. Spinning reels are an excellent choice for light tackle and as mentioned are now being employed for heavy offshore fishing as well. Compared to baitcasting reels, they make for easier casts and for this reason are good choices for inexperienced anglers.
Levelwind Baitcasting Reels
A variant of conventional reels are level-wind bait casting reels. Like conventional reels, these reels are built around a spool that revolves on an axis perpendicular to the rod. The difference is that they include a guide that wraps the line evenly so it remains level on the spool, which makes for smoother casts. Although a certain amount of technique is required, the chance of a backlash is reduced. Bait casting reels are used in both fresh- and saltwater and are very popular among bass and steelhead anglers.
Power assist electric reels are used for deep dropping to depths of several hundred feet or for kite fishing. They’re big, fast conventional reels with an electric an electric power assist. Generally, they clip on to a 12V battery, plug into a receptacle on deck, or use their own Lithium battery pack. They include an expanding range or control panel features like automatic jigging functions and LCD readout depth functions.
A rod and reel work together to form a system. Therefore, the most important consideration in choosing a reel is to match it to the rod you’ll be using: light reels for light-action rods and heavier reels for beefier rods.
For casting, spinning reels are the easiest style for most anglers to use, however they lack the sheer cranking power of conventional reels.
Conventional reels require more skill to use because of their tendency to backlash. Some conventional reels now include a mechanism to help prevent this from occurring.
What do you get when you pay more for a reel? Whatever reel configuration you choose, more expensive reels provide either smoother action or improved ruggedness—or both. Experienced anglers will tell you that a reel that operates smoothly while casting, retrieving and fighting a fish is well worth the extra cost. They’re not only more comfortable to use for a long day on the water, but they significantly reduce the likelihood of losing a fish due to problems with a jerky drag or a balky retrieve that can snap your line. If you’ll be fishing in a corrosive saltwater environment, choosing a reel made from non-corrosive materials such as graphite, stainless steel and anodized aluminum is a sound investment for both the added durability and your fishing enjoyment.