Types of Fishing Reels

May 4, 2020

Types of Fishing Reels

If you’re a beginner to fishing you might be wondering what type of fishing reel you should buy to get started. Depending on the type of fishing you’re going to try, there are many different types of fishing reels to choose from. For example, if you’re going to learn how to fly fish for bass you’ll need a very different reel than if you’re planning on going ice fishing for walleye. So how do you know what to choose? You’ve come to the right place!

In this article, we’ll cover the specific components of a fishing reel as well as differentiate between the different types of fishing reels and what they’re used for. We’ll cover the common types of fish they’re best used for along with what type of rod you should use with them. We even list our favorites for each and where you can buy them. Get ready to know everything you need to know about all types of fishing reels!

If you’re also wondering what type of rod to get, check out our comprehensive types of fishing rods article.

The Components of a Fishing Reel

Fishing reels may have different designs, but their overall component structure is often very similar. Here are the basic parts that make up a fishing reel.


The largest component of a fishing reel is the body. The body is what houses the gearbox, spool, and drag system. The reel body is often made out of graphite or anodized aluminum to keep weight down. 


The gearbox is a set of gears that connects to the crank handle and allows the reel to wind line per revolution of the crank. Most reels have an explicit gear ratio (some even have multiple) that’s strategic for the type of fishing they are built for. Larger reels often have higher gear ratios to help reel in large amounts of line faster.


The spool is what hold the fishing line in the reel. When the fisherman reels in line, it collects on the spool. It’s held in place by the body and gearbox. The spool is often made of graphite or anodized aluminum. 

Drag System

Reels have a drag system that applies pressure to the line and help tire a fish out while fighting it. Drag systems are adjustable and have a maximum amount of pressure the can apply to the line. Larger reels tend to have a stronger drag system in order to fight bigger fish.

Anti-Reverse Switch

The anti-reverse switch prevents a reel’s spool from unwinding when there’s tension on the line. This is helpful when you’re trying to set the hook or apply firm pressure to the line.


Spinning reels have an additional component that helps reel line in called the bail. The bail can be opened to let line out quickly (like when casting) and closed to engage the gear system and crank. Bails either automatically close when cranking or need to be pushed into place after casting.

Spinning Reels

Probably the most common type of fishing reel, spinning reels are named for their efficiency at spinner lure casting. They’re designed to allow for easy casting and retrieval of spinning lures. They include a bail (as mentioned above) that can be opened to allow the line to quickly unspool without tangling. Once the fisherman is ready to reel in his/her line, they simply need to flip the bail back into place and reel the crank.

Spinning reels are used for all types of fishing and come in many different sizes for both freshwater and saltwater. If you’re not sure what type of fishing reel you should buy, you should probably just get a spinning reel. They have the most flexibility of fishing reel types and more resistant to tangling/breaking than other reel types. They’re great for casting your lure far out on the water, like for surf fishing.

Our favorite spinning reel is the Penn Battle II – check out our full review and why it’s our favorite! We’ve also reviewed many ultralight spinning reels as well.

Baitcasting Reels

Behind spinning reels, the most common type of fishing reel is probably the baitcasting reel. Baitcasting reels are commonly used when fishing for bass or other freshwater fish (but can also be used in saltwater situations). They often have a larger line capacity than spinning reels, and usually have a faster gear ratio. This helps them reel in line faster than spinning reels. Because they have an open face, however, they are more prone to tangling when opening the drag.

Baitcasting reels are also used for all types of fishing and come in many different sizes. They’re more often used for freshwater fishing, and work well with both braided, monofilament, and fluorocarbon lines. Baitcasting reels are great for fishing on lakes as well as for more active fishing styles such as crankbait fishing for bass.

If you’re looking to buy a baitcasting reel, be sure to check out our freshwater baitcasting reel buying guide and our saltwater baitcasting reel reviews.

Spincasting Reels

Spincasting reels are similar to spinning reels, except they have a cover over the spool and bail system. This makes them perfect for beginner fishermen who are more prone to tangling an open-faced reel. Looking to buy a reel for your child or someone who’s never fished before? Spincasting is probably the best choice.

Spincasting reels can be used for many types of fishing, however, they often aren’t built for fishing for larger fish. You should stick to smaller freshwater fish that don’t require a lot of fishing line if you’re planning on using a spincasting reel.

Trolling Reels

Trolling reels have a similar design to baitcasting reels, except their drag system is often opened with a lever. They’re also usually much larger than baitcasting reels and built for hooking into much larger fish. Trolling reels often have line capacities of 1,000+ feet and can easily hold 80+ lb test. They’re built for the big boys: Marlin, sailfish, yellowfin tuna, and sharks.

Trolling reels work well with all types of fishing line and sometimes have multiple gear settings. These gear settings help anglers reel in hundreds of feet of line that a 100+ lb fish might take out when running. 

Big trolling reels also have a big price: some easily cost over $1,000 and are made to last a lifetime.

Fly Fishing Reels

Fly fishing reels are probably the most simple design of fishing reel types. Their gear system is often only one gear attached to the crank, and they aren’t built for the rapid retrieval of fishing line. Instead, they can hold varying sizes of fishing line and backing which makes them perfect for fly fishing. Since fly fishing relies on the fisherman to whip their line back and forth to cast, the design is built to hold a backing and fly line – and that’s it!

Fly fishing reels really are only good for fly fishing, and shouldn’t be used for anything else. We’ve seen some fishermen use them for salmon trolling (because they can hold a lot of medium-sized monofilament), but their limited drag system and retrieval rate make this a more advanced form of fishing. Stick to fly fishing (for steelheadtarpon, and bass are all great options) with fly reels.

Ice Fishing Reels

One of the lesser-known types of reels, ice fishing reels are built for (you guessed it) ice fishing. They look kind of like a fly fishing reel, but a built for rapid retrieval of fishing line through their side-mounted crank. Ice fishing reels usually aren’t rated for super high test fishing line and work best with monofilament. 

Ice fishing reels work great for walleye, perch, pike, and other freshwater lake fish that can be found under the ice. They don’t hold a ton of line, but are often relatively affordable options compared to other reel types.

If you’re looking to buy an ice fishing reel, be sure to check out our buying guide before pulling the trigger.


With so many different types of fishing reels on the market, it can be intimidating to know which type to buy. Hopefully, after reading this article, you now know which type of fishing reel is best for the kind of fishing you plan on doing. Got a favorite type of fishing reel or an application for one we didn’t list? Feel free to hit us up in the comments below.

Happy Hunting!

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