Baitcaster vs Spinning Reel – Which is Right for YOU? Answered!


I think we can all agree that your reel is the ‘engine’ of your rod. Like with any car, if the engine ain’t right, you aren’t going to get anywhere fast! Choosing the correct reel is important.

Today I want to talk to you about the options when it comes to baitcasters vs spinning reels.

There is a fairly large difference, and you’ll find that if you nail it, your fishing will improve. Want to know what I’m talking about?

Read on to find out more!

Disclosure: At BonfireBob, we recommend products based on unbiased research, however, BonfireBob.com is reader-supported and as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases if you shop through the links on this page. For more information, see disclosure here.

Baitcaster or Spinning Reel – What’s the Difference?

Ok, so we are stood in the reel shop, and in the cabinet, there are stacks and stacks of great reels. But which to choose. Well, first, we need to identify what we are looking at. You’ll likely see two main options.

They are…

Baitcasters and spinning reels.

Don’t know which is which? Here, let me enlighten you.

What is a Baitcaster?

fishing rod with baitcasting fishing reel

Despite the name, a baitcaster can (and is often) used for spinning. This type of reel sits on top of the rod.

It consists of a horizontal spool, and the line is paid out of the front of the reel at a 90° angle. You hold the rod in your dominant hand and wind the handle using your opposite hand.

The spool itself rotates with each turn of the handle.

While true, there is a little more to it than that, actually.

In fact, the spool rotates several times with each turn of the handle. This is called the retrieve ratio.

Imagine a baitcaster working in a similar way to a yo-yo. When the line is on the way out, the spool rotates at a very high speed. When you are bringing the line in by winding the handle, the spool rotates quickly with the line wrapping around it.

With it so far? Good stuff.

What is a Spinning Reel?

fishing spinning reel and rod

A spinning reel is a little different from a baitcaster.

First of all, a spinning reel sits underneath the rod handle. The spool is actually orientated to point in the same direction as the rod. Just like with a baitcaster, you hold the rod in your dominant hand and turn a handle with the other hand to retrieve the line.

But…

How the reel works is entirely different.

You’ll often hear spinning reels referred to as ‘fixed spool reels’.

Do you know why?

Because the spool is fixed! It doesn’t normally move at all!

Weird, right?

Instead, when you turn the handle, a rotating arm makes an orbit around the spool, carrying the line with it. This arm is known as a ‘bail arm’.

Want to know what happens when you want to let line out? It’s super simple. You just lift the bail arm, and the line spills off the spool naturally.

Retrieve speed varies with a spinning reel based on a couple of factors. If there is a bigger spool, the line is retrieved quicker. Also, if the internal gearing makes the bail arm complete an orbit quicker, the line will be brought in faster.

How to Cast a Baitcaster

Casting a bait-caster is really easy. Here’s a quick step by step guide:

  • Hold the spool with your thumb and press the button or catch to disengage the spool.
  • Move the rod back, and then whip it forward.
  • At the optimum moment, take your thumb off the spool.

That’s it! See, I told you it was easy! Here’s a really quick video demonstrating the required technique:

How to Cast a Spinning Reel

Casting a spinning reel is a little more complex. Here’s a step-by-step guide on casting a spinning reel:

  • In your rod hand, reach your finger down and hook the line leading to the spool
  • Reach over with your other hand and disengage the bail arm.
  • Keeping the line hooked, move your rod back and then whip it forwards
  • At the right moment, straighten your finger, allowing the line to spill off the spool.

While it isn’t difficult, this relies a little more on good timing to get a good cast. But rest assured, once you have mastered it, it is still relatively easy.

Here’s a great video to demonstrate this technique really well…

What are Spinning Reels Good for?

Spinning.

Joking aside, ‘spinning’ reels are good for more than just spinning. In fact, one thing I love about them is how versatile they are. You can use them for loads of different things.

Such as?

Check out this list to see where you could potentially use a spinning reel:

Distance Casting

Here’s the beautiful thing about spinning reels. You can cast a long way.

Why?

Because of the way that they work, there is no resistance on the line. As a result, as long as there is even the slightest pull, that line will keep on paying out. This means that they are really effective if you want to cast at a distance.

Want a top tip.

The further you want to cast, the larger the spool needs to be.

Here’s why?

With a large spool, it takes fewer turns of the bail arm to pull in all the line. This means that you get a really even and spread-out line lay.

And here’s what I say…

If it goes on even and easy, it will come off in exactly the same way!

As to what size spinning reel to choose? Well, a great starting point is a 3000 or 4000 sized reel. For bigger fish and rods go up to 5000. For LRF fishing or smaller fish, you’ll get away with a 2000 sized reel.

Spinning and Lure Fishing

This is what the real was designed for. Lures don’t tend to weigh much, so you need a reel that will keep paying out line even with relatively low pressure during the cast. This makes a spinning reel a fabulous choice.

Float Fishing

If the reel works for a lightweight spinner, it will also work for a lightweight float. If you ever look at carp fishermen, they’ll nearly always use a spinning reel in pursuit of their prey.

You can check out some great carp rod and reel combos right here.

Bottom Fishing

Remember I said that spinning reels were really versatile? They are ideal for casting, which makes them a great choice if you want to throw out a big lead and bait to rest on the bottom. Lots of guys I know use them for bottom fishing as well as lure fishing.

fisherman fishing with spinning rod in pond

What are Baitcasting Reels Good for?

As the name would suggest, baitcasters are a wonderful choice for throwing out your hook to the horizon. In fact, they can cast even further than a spinning reel.

Why?

Look at my guide above on how to cast. What’s the main difference? You have to use your finger to ‘hook’ the line while casting with a spinning reel. How would you like over 20lbs of pressure concentrated on your finger through that super fine line? It’s going to sting a bit, right?

The beauty of baitcasters is that all of the force and pressure of the cast is concentrated on the spool instead of on your crooked finger. This means that you can put some real force into your casts.

Don’t feel you need to be limited to casting baits because it is called a ‘baitcaster’. They can perform admirably in several roles. You’ll find baitcaster used often in…

Sea Fishing

Sea fishing nearly always involves bigger baits and heavier weights. As a result, casting with a fixed spool reel can get painful.

Baitcasters are good for casting heavier weights a longer distance, making them the ideal choice when you are sea fishing.

Here’s a fantastic review of some of the best sea fishing outfits out there!

Catfishing

Similar to the above, catfishing also requires you to cast a big weight a long way. Casting a 3oz lead on a spinning reel is no fun at all.

The answer?

A good quality baitcaster.

Don’t believe me? Why not check out my article on the best catfish rods and reels? You’ll see plenty of baitcasters feature over there.

Bass Fishing

Because they are so simple and quick to operate, baitcasters can also be used for lure fishing. In fact, many professional anglers use baitcasters instead of spinning reels for precisely this reason. They often only have small spools, but you can fit a low diameter line that is great for fishing lures by using braid.

Because they are so easy to cast accurately, you can also get pinpoint precision on areas that you know to be holding bass.

Check out my expert guide on the best bass fishing rod and reel combos to see more of this type of reel.

two fishing rods with reels - spinning reel and baitcasting reel

Spinning Reel vs Baitcaster – Pros and Cons

Listen.

There is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ reel. There are things that I love about spinning reels and baitcasters. There are also things that I really hate.

Want to know what’s what?

Here’s a quick list of good and not-so-good about every reel type.

Spinning Reels Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Relatively cheap.
  • Easy to use.
  • Easy to untangle.
  • Simple maintenance.
  • Good for light applications.
  • Great versatility.

Cons

  • Not good for really heavy weights.
  • Shorter casting distance.
  • Not as heavy-duty.
  • Limited accuracy due to line friction on your fingers.

Why Use a Spinning Reel Instead of a Baitcaster?

First, if you are limited to a budget, definitely go for a spinning reel. You’ll find a mid-priced spinning reel costs about the same as a budget baitcaster. Also, you’ll need to buy fewer reels as you can use a good quality spinning reel in several different ways.

If you are a beginner, they are also a good choice. Because the spool is open and you can easily get your fingers into the spool, it doesn’t matter if you get the occasional tangle. The drag on a spinning reel is really easy to alter. All you do is turn the disc at the front to put more or less pressure on the fish.

Baitcaster Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Very durable.
  • Huge casting distance.
  • Amazing accuracy.
  • Easier to cast.
  • Great for heavy weights.
  • Lightweight design.

Cons

  • Generally more expensive than fixed spool reels.
  • Prone to tangling and’ backlash.’
  • Not as versatile as spinning reels.
  • Harder to maintain.

Why Use a Baitcaster Instead of a Spinning Reel?

If you want both distance and accuracy, then go for a baitcaster. But be prepared for a steep learning curve. Once you’ve got the cast down, you might think it is easy.

But…

Wait until you get your first real ‘bird’s nest’ tangle. You’ll want a spare spool of line for sure! It is difficult as most of the spool is held within the reel casing, making tangles hard to get at!

If you are not on a budget, my advice would be to invest in a good quality baitcaster. It is something that you can grow into and will last a very long time. Maintenance can be tricky with a baitcaster.

Why?

Again, most of the mechanics are locked away in the casing, meaning that to clean and oil it, you will need to take the afternoon off!

Spinning Reels or Baitcasters – Which are Best for You?

This does boil down to personal preference; however, I’d like to give you a quick answer. Check the table below for my advice on which might suit you best…

Key Feature Required The Most Suitable Reel
Distance Casting Baitcaster
Fishing with Heavy Lures Baitcaster
Fishing with Light Lures Spinning Reel
Sea Fishing Baitcaster
Newer Anglers Spinning Reel
Experienced Anglers Baitcaster
Best for Budget Spinning Reel
Best for Quality Baitcaster
Longest Lasting Baitcaster
Casting Accuracy Baitcaster
Spin Fishing Spinning Reel
Trolling Spinning Reel
Bottom Fishing Spinning Reel
Catfishing Baitcaster

How to Avoid ‘Backlash’ when Casting a Baitcaster?

Before I go, I thought I’d better share my number one tip if you’ve decided to invest in a baitcaster.

The main problem comes from something called ‘backlash’. This is when the spool turns too quickly and overruns the line that it is paying out. This leads to a series of loops that all tie around each other.

Trust me, it’s a nightmare.

Here’s how to stop overruns and birds nests with a baitcaster:

Method 1: Use the drag to slow the spool. Most baitcasters use magnets or stoppers to apply a little force to the spool. This stops it from turning too quickly and paying out too much line. Learn how to use this feature on your baitcaster to your advantage.

Method 2: Use your thumb. Whenever my spool is going a bit fast, I just jam my thumb back onto the spool.

Oh…

And you must do this when your bait hits the water, or you’ll get an overrun every time.

Conclusion

Baitcasters vs Spinning reels? The truth is that there are merits and downsides to both. You’ll be able to catch fish whichever you go for!

Stick to my guide above and remember what I said, and you won’t go far wrong! While you are looking at reels, why not check my detailed guide on types of fishing reels? Which reel do you prefer? Let me know why in the comments below!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Recent Content