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Different Types Of Fishing Reels: Ultimate Guide (With Pros and Cons)
With so many types of fishing reels out there, choosing the one that best fits your needs can be a real challenge, especially if you’re new to the sport of fishing.
While you can pretty much use any reel for any type of fishing, properly matching the right reel to the type of fishing that you’ll be doing will make your life so much easier, not to mention, better your chances of actually catching fish. And that’s exactly why we’re out there on the water!
So Many Different Types Of Reels
When searching for a reel, you’re going to find that there are a gazillion different sizes, models, and gear ratio combinations, but when it comes to the types of reels, you basically have five:
While some of these reels are more versatile than others, each one is designed for a specific type of fishing.
In this article, I’ll go over the five most commonly used fishing reels. I’ll include pros and cons of each type of reel, what kind of fishing situation each reel is best suited for as well as my top pick for each category.
5 Different Types Of Fishing Reels
1. Spinning Reels
Spinning reels are my favorite when it comes to fishing reels! They come in a multitude of sizes, and price points, so finding one that fits your budget as well as fishing needs shouldn’t be a problem.
Ease of Use
Aside from spincast reels, spinning reels are probably the easiest fishing reel to master, making them the perfect choice for anglers of all skill levels. However, unlike spincasters, a spinning reel will grow with you as you get more experienced.
With proper instruction, even a beginner can learn how to use one in a short period of time. In fact, this is what I taught my 10-year-old daughter to fish with.
While spinning reels are easy to cast, they are not as accurate as their baitcasting counterparts.
With that being said, what they lack in accuracy, they more than make up for in casting distance.
If you want to cast far distances, then a spinning reel is the way to go! This is why they are the go-to fishing reels for surf fishing.
Of all the reels, they are also the most versatile! They can be used for a number of fishing situations, including saltwater fishing, deep sea fishing, and even bass fishing. I’ve even heard of people using them for fly fishing.
If you were to take a walk on a fishing pier, around a lake, or sneak a peak in a fishing guides boat, chances are you will find plenty of spinning reels.
Best Used For
Because they are so versatile and are relatively easy to use, spinning reels are great for anyone who wants to learn how to fish, or maybe upgrade from a spincast reel.
Because most spinning reels come in a number of different sizes, they are at home when fishing in a backyard pond for Bream and bass, or will do just fine fishing for snapper and grouper offshore.
Like I mentioned before, they are also the go-to reel for surf fishermen!
Spinning Reel Pros
- Can be used for most types of fishing
- Great reel for all skill levels, including beginners
- Casts farther than other reels
- Not prone to backlash
Spinning Reel Cons
- Not as accurate as baitcasting reels
- A little awkward for beginners at first
Recommended Spinning Reel: Penn Spinfisher V
Over the years, I have used a number of spinning reels, but to this day my reel of choice is the Penn Spinfisher V. This particular model is available in a number of different sizes, but my favorite is the 4500.
For the price, you can’t beat this reel! It has a full metal body with a watertight frame that seals around the drag system and gearbox, making this reel virtually indestructible. This is a feature that you would expect to only find in a reel that’s much more expensive.
The Spinfisher is a little heavier than some of the other top brands of spinning reels, but I actually like this. To me, the extra weight gives the reel a better balance and feel, when paired with a rod.
While there are less expensive spinning reels that you could buy, the Spinfisher V is a reel that will grow with you as your fishing skills become more advanced.
You can check out our complete review of the Penn Spinfisher V here, or see the price, customer reviews and answered questions on Amazon.com.
2. Baitcaster Reels
Another popular reel among fishermen are baitcaster reels. While not as user-friendly as spinning reels, they’re a favorite among more experienced fishermen, especially bass anglers.
Baitcasters actually fall into two categories – round and low-profile.
Round Baitcasting Reels
These types of baitcasters are more popular among saltwater fishermen as they hold more line and can typically handle larger fish. With that being said, there are a lot of bass fishermen that love them too! Round baitcasters were around before their low-profile counterparts, so I guess it’s really a matter of preference of which one feels better in your hand.
Low-profile Baitcasting Reels
By far the most popular baitcasting reel today is the low-profile reel. While you certainly can use a low-profile baitcaster for fishing for smaller saltwater fish, it’s better suited for bass fishermen! Low-profile baitcasting reels are the most popular out of the two baitcasting reels, so choosing one that best suits your needs shouldn’t be a problem.
Ease of Use
A baitcaster is not a reel that I would recommend for newbies who are just learning how to fish. Heck, I wouldn’t recommend them for some experienced fishermen, including myself. I have tried over and over again to love these reels, as I have plenty of friends who swear by them. However, despite how much I try, I just can’t get the hang of them.
These reels can be extremely accurate when casting lures in the hands of an experienced fisherman, however, for a beginner, not so much.
The biggest obstacle is learning how to cast them! Baitcasting reels are prone to backlash, sometimes referred to as a birds nest.
While baitcasting reels could technically be used for fishing with live bait, such as worms and baitfish, they are made primarily for casting artificial baits. This is why bass fishermen love them!
Unlike spinning reels, baitcasting reels don’t come in larger sizes, so using them for offshore fishing is out of the question.
With that being said, they can be used for targeting smaller, inshore saltwater species such as spotted sea trout, redfish and snook.
Best Used For
If you are an inshore fisherman who loves using artificial lures, whether it be for targeting bass in lakes and ponds or fishing for trout and redfish on the flats, then a baitcasting reel may be a good choice! That is if you are willing to put in the time in learning how to cast them.
However, if you are a beginner or someone like me, I would highly recommend that you stick with a spinning reel.
- Great for casting accuracy
- Difficult to learn how to cast
- Not very versatile
Recommended Baitcaster: Abu Garcia Revo SX
Abu Garcia has been around for a long time and has a solid reputation for making quality fishing reels at reasonable prices and the Pro Max baitcasting reel is no exception. At around $100, this reel will make a perfect companion for someone who is new to baitcasting reels. While there are certainly higher quality baitcasters on the market, why pay more money when you’re not even sure if you like fishing with baitcasting reel.
The great thing about the Abu Garcia Revo SX is that even if at some point you decide to upgrade to a higher quality reel, it will still make a great backup reel or even a hand-me-down reel to your son or daughter.
This reel is made with quality materials, including a one-piece graphite frame, a power disk drag system, and machined double-anodized aluminum spool.
This reel will catch bass, strippers, musky or whatever else you want to target, including redfish and snook.
You can check out our complete review of the Abu Garcia Revo SX, or see the price, customer reviews and answered questions on Amazon.com.
3. Conventional Reels
A conventional reel is similar to a baitcasting reel in its appearance but lacks the baitcaster’s casting ability. While you can cast a conventional reel, they are primarily used for bottom fishing for fish like grouper and snapper, but can also be used for jigging and trolling for marlin and sailfish.
Ease of Use
Since they are too big for casting, using a conventional reel is pretty easy! All you have to do to use it is release the spool through a lever, which will allow your bait to sink to the bottom or whatever depth you are wanting to fish.
Even though conventional reels come in a number of different sizes, which can enable you to target a number of different size fish, they are not a reel that you would want to use for anything other than offshore fishing. You wouldn’t want to try and use one (even the smallest) when fishing for bass on a lake.
With that being said, they are pretty versatile when fishing offshore! Like I previously mentioned, you can use them for bottom fishing, trolling, and even jigging.
If you love offshore fishing, then a conventional reel might be a great option. Although you can use spinning reels for this type of fishing as well, a conventional reel will have more drag, which equals more stopping power for battling monster grouper and other large fish.
- Great for offshore fishing
- Available in different sizes
- Typically only good for offshore fishing
Recommended Conventional Reel: Penn Squall Lever Drag
When it comes to conventional reels, I like the ones that come with a lever drag system. This drag makes it easy even for beginners to fight a larger fish. The Penn Squall has just that, making it super easy for even a beginner to handle a large fish.
The Penn Squall comes in several different sizes and is built with the same quality materials as some of Penn’s other higher quality reels. So depending on what type of fish you plan on fishing for, there will be a reel for you. It also comes in both right handed and left handed models.
For the most part, a decent quality conventional reel is going to cost more than the other types of fishing reels. With that being said, the Penn Squall is very reasonably priced for what you get. In fact, it’s the reel that I use whenever I venture offshore.
Now I’m not gonna lie to you…there are better quality conventional reels like this on the market, but they will also set you back anywhere from $500 to $1000 or more.
You can check out our complete review of the Penn Squall Lever Drag Reel, or see the price, customer reviews and answered questions on Amazon.com.
4. Spincast Reels
A lot of people may not know what a spincast reel is. I know that I didn’t when I first heard the name, even though this is one of the first reels that I learned how to fish with. I always referred to them as push button reels, because well, that’s what you do to cast them. You push a button!
Ease of Use
Most fishermen will probably agree that spincast reels are the easiest to learn how to fish with. In fact, there’s a good chance that your first fishing reel was, in fact, a Zebco reel. You know that these reels are easy for kids to fish with since you will commonly see kid-themed versions for sale in your local stores.
I will say though that this is a complete beginner type reel. If you think for even a minute that you or your kids will get into fishing hook, line and sinker, then I highly recommend that you switch a spinning reel as soon as possible. Spincast reels are not a reel that you can grow with as your skill level grows.
Spincast reels are not what I would consider a good all-around reel, even for beginners. They are primarily a reel to introduce kids to the sport of fishing. They come in pretty much only one size, and should not be used to fish for anything other than for small lake and river fish such as bream, bluegill, and catfish. Don’t even think about using them to fish for largemouth bass or saltwater fishing.
Best Used For
Spincast reels are best for small kids who are just getting introduced to fishing. They are great for catching small bream and other types of panfish, or for just wetting a line from time to time. They are also pretty cheap, which is always good!
- Great for introducing kids to fishing
- Super easy to use
- Not very versatile
- Will not handle larger fish
Recommended Spincast Reel: Zebco 33
While you may not know the term “spincast”, I’m pretty sure that you would know what someone is talking about when they mention the name Zebco. Zebco is where it all started for some of us and continues to be a leader in the kids and beginner market still to this day. This is why I always recommend a Zebco for anyone who is thinking about buying a spincast reel.
Spincast reels are made for beginners and kids who are just hoping to catch something. They are not intended for serious fishermen, nor are they intended to grow with you as your fishing skills evolve. This means that you don’t have to put a lot of thought into what you buy.
With all the other reels, I would recommend that you buy the reel and rod separate. The rods that come with reel combos are usually not very good quality. However, with a spincast reel, this really doesn’t matter, which is why I suggest that you buy a rod and reel combo such as the one that I’ve recommended.
You can check out our complete review of the Zebco 33 Spincast here, or see the price, customer reviews and answered questions on Amazon.com.
5. Fly Fishing Reels
Fly reels, or fly fishing reels are specifically designed for casting artificial fly lures to a number of different fish, including lake and stream trout, bonefish, and even shark. They take a lot of practice to master, but extremely rewarding when you hook up.
Ease of Use
Like with anything, some things just come naturally to some people. Learning how to cast a fly reel is no exception! I myself have never really mastered this art, but have a few friends who picked it up very quickly. This is not common by the way!
Unless you are specifically wanting to get into fly fishing, this is not a reel that I recommend a newbie starting out with. I think of fly fishing as more of an art form than a way to catch fish!
If you think of all the different types of fish that you can catch on a fly reel, then yes, this reel is highly versatile. They come in different sizes, specifically designed for freshwater, as well as for saltwater. The cool thing about fly fishing is that most any type of fish will hit a fly. You can use a fly reel for bass fishing, pan fishing, and even saltwater fishing. And yes, if you look on Youtube, you will find videos of marlin and even shark attacking a properly placed fly.
I know this sounds obvious, but a fly reel is best for someone who enjoys fly fishing! While you can use them to fish for a number of different species of fish in both fresh and saltwater, you are limited to using only artificial flies ans streamers as your bait.
- Great for any type of fly fishing
- Reasonably priced
- Difficult to learn how to use
- Limited to only using artificial flies
Recommended Fly Reel: Wild Water Fly Reel Package
Fly fishing can be a hard sport to learn, which is why I recommend buying a starter package such as the Wild Water setup. It’s a great rod and reel setup to learn with or even use as your main fly reel.
This fly fishing package comes with everything you will need to catch some fish! It includes a 9 ft rod, a 5/6 weight large arbor reel, fly fishing line, and flies just to name a few. Oh, and the rod itself comes with a lifetime warranty.
The reels frame is made from diecast aluminum, while the internal parts are all made from stainless steel.
While there are plenty of higher quality fly fishing reels on the market, why spend a fortune on something that you aren’t even sure that you will like?
This particular fly fishing reel is primarily made for smaller, freshwater fish, but can be used for targeting smaller saltwater fish such as spotted sea trout.
If you would like to fish for larger saltwater fish, then you’re going to need a bigger rod and reel setup, designed for saltwater fishing.
You can check out our complete review of the Wild Water Fly Reel Package here, or see the price, customer reviews and answered questions on Amazon.com.
Well, there you have it…the five most common types of fishing reels used by fishermen. Other than the spincast reel, they all come in different shapes and sizes that accommodate what type of fish that you’ll be targeting.
So, how do you know which one is best for you?
If you are an experienced fisherman, then you already know, but if you are a newbie, then I would recommend that you start with a spinning reel in a 3 to 4000 size. This size spinning reel will allow you to fish for small lake fish such as bass and bream, as well as larger saltwater fish such as snook and redfish.