Fishing Reel Gear Ratio Explained – (Everything You Should Know)

So, you’re shopping baitcasting reels and it’s time to pick a gear ratio. The topic seems complicated, but don’t let it get you discouraged.

Just like you would put time into shopping lures or learning the best time to fish, you’ll need to invest a little into learning about reel ratios.

Lucky for you, I’ve got everything you need to know right here!

If you’re a beginner angler, it’s safe to go ahead and grab a ratio in the 5.4:1 to 6.2:1 range. This will land you at the lower end of the spectrum between a low gear ratio and a high gear ratio, and can be fished easily in most applications.

It is more difficult to reel a higher ratio slowly than the other way around, so beginners should shop in the lower to mid-range ratio.

What is a Reel Gear Ratio?

Very simply, a reel’s gear ratio is how many times the reel winds line per turn of its handle. The lower the gear ratio, the slower the reel winds in line.

Low gear ratios are for beginners and deep or slow-moving lure presentations. High gear ratios are for top-water or fast-moving lure presentations. Your type of lure will decide your gear ratio!

If a gear ratio is 6.2:1 on a reel, that means with one turn the reel will turn 6.2 times.

man fishing using baitcasting reel

This feature is a consideration on all reels. This means that spinning reels, baitcasters and fly fishing reels all have gear ratios (anything with a gear has a gear ratio). A fly wheel’s gear ratio is 1:1 and spinning reels have lower gear ratios.

Shopping baitcasting reels is when you really want to pay attention to your gear ratio, or you could wind up with a reel that barely works for your application.

Don’t be afraid to ask your local fish shop to let you turn a couple baitcasting reels the next time you’re shopping lures. You won’t really get the complete picture until you’re reeling in a lure, but visualizing how the reel works is helpful to understand the basics of gear ratios.

Think About it Like This

If you’re still having trouble with the concept, a helpful comparison are the gears on a bicycle. They actually work exactly the same as ratios on a reel, except that you’re able to change them with a flip of a handle.

When you’re pedaling in low gear, your legs must make several revolutions to turn the wheels. This is very helpful for going uphill. In a reel’s case, it’s very helpful for reeling slow, high drag lures all day.

When you’re pedaling in high gear, the wheels turn many times for each revolution of your legs. This is the same as a high ratio reel. They pull lures (and fish) in quickly with minimal turns.

fishing rod with baitcasting fishing reel

Low, Slow and Beginner Friendly: Baitcaster Low Gear Ratios

Gear ratios 5.1:1 through 6.1:1 are considered low gear ratios. They are great for deep diving lures and lures with a lot of drag. They’ve got more torque, so reeling all day is quite a bit easier.

If you’ve got a deep diving crankbait the idea is to keep it in front of the fish’s face for as long as possible. As a beginner angler, it would be difficult to use a higher ratio to accomplish this. On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to figure out how to reel a lower geared baitcaster more quickly when there’s a need to.

This is why lower geared baitcasters are recommended for beginners and for slow-moving spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Just keep in mind how quickly you’ll need to crank if the hook is set on loose line.

Lower ratio reels are bad about losing fish and take forever to reel in. If you’re trying to hit a spot far away from the boat several times quickly, or you’re leaving slack on your lure presentation, you’ll need to move up in the gear ratio range.

two fishing rods with reels - spinning reel and baitcasting reel

Reel of All Trades: Baitcaster Medium Gear Ratios

6.1:1 to 7.1:1 are the “just right” category of baitcasting reels. They can be wound slow enough for medium-depth crankbaits and spinnerbaits and can be reeled fast enough for topwater and buzzbaits.

If you’ll be spending your day in a great set of waders, with only one reel at your fingertips, I’d suggest bringing along one in this range. They are the “jack of all trades” and do well in most applications.

They are a great option if you need to go slow enough on a swimbait to get their attention on one cast and then burn out a reaction strike on the next cast.

In my eyes, the biggest benefit of medium gear ratios is not only the areas where they perform strongly, but their ability to perform outside of their expertise in the hands of a skilled angler.

Burning Lures and Big Fish: Baitcaster High Gear Ratios

Anglers consider anything above a 7.1:1 a high gear ratio for a baitcasting reel. These reels are great for topwater lures, jigs, chatterbaits and jerkbaits.

A high gear ratio is important for lure presentations where the rod is doing the talking. If the lure requires pulling with the rod, then reeling slack on the down stroke, you’re going to need a high ratio reel. If you get a hit while slack is out, you’ll need a fast reel to set the hook. A lower ratio reel may be able to perform the required presentation, but they are unlikely to set the hook as quickly.

Another scenario anglers use a high ratio baitcaster is when they are fishing a targeted area away from their boat or an area with heavy cover.

The quick retrieval is helpful for preventing fish from dragging you into cover after the hook is set. It’s also a lot quicker to retrieve your lure after the show is over if you’re only interested in fishing one hard-to-reach spot.

fishing rod with spinning reel

A Quick Note on Spinning Reel Gear Ratios

Spinning reels have a much larger spool than baitcasters and these gear ratio ranges are not the same for them. A 6.1:1 would be a high ratio for a spinning reel, while a 5.1:1 would be in the medium range.

It’s helpful to use IPT when comparing spinning reels to baitcasters, because the gear ratios mean something different for the two reels. IPT stands for inch per turn and refers to how many inches of line is retrieved per turn of the handle.

What Gear Ratio Should I Buy?

While other gear ratios perform really well in specific circumstances, I would recommend shopping in the medium range if you’re only shopping for one reel. Anything from 6.1:1 to 7.1:1 will work in the broadest range of applications.

It’s true that beginners find slower, lower ratios to be easier to use, and there is no harm in shopping in the 5.1:1 – 6.1:1 category if you are a beginner. However, these reels will not apply to such a broad spectrum of application.

Even if you are a beginner, it might make more sense to tackle the sharper learning curve and shopping in the medium category. If you can stand putting time into practicing slow reeling with your medium geared reel, you may appreciate owning the medium “work horse” ratio in the long run.

If, instead, you are shopping spinning reels this season, after considering the spinning reel size you can start shopping spinning reel ratios. If you are looking for a specific spinning reel ratio and are used to shopping baitcasting reels, consider checking the IPT (inch per turn) on the reel and comparing it with your baitcaster. A 5.1:1 in a baitcaster is a different (slower) reel than a 5.1:1 spinning reel.

spinning rod with baitcasting reel and bait

Great Rods to Pair Your Low, Medium, and High Gear Ratios With

Rods are generally paired with the needs of your lure, but of course there is some overlap in this arena. The type of rod you use is an angler preference, so try some out and find what you like!

  • High ratio reels are usually found on long, powerful rods with quick tips.
  • Medium ratio reels can be found on medium power and length rods.
  • Low ratio reels are often found on medium power and length rods. Shorter rods are great for cover and docks, and can be applied here or with a medium ratio reel.

Gear Ratio FAQ

What is the best gear ratio for crankbaits?

Deep diving crankbaits deserve a low gear ratio, while medium-depth crankbaits like a medium gear ratio.

What is the best gear ratio for bass fishing?

Bass fishers use all the gear ratios! What’s important for bass fishing is to try and have a couple of set-ups on board, including a light tackle for smaller customers.

What is the best gear ratio for a baitcaster?

Anglers truly can’t decide what the best gear ratio is, but beginners should stick to low and medium gear ratios until they get the hang of things. A medium ratio like 6.2:1 is an all-around safe bet.

What is the best gear ratio for topwater lures?

That would be either a medium or high gear ratio. I love burning topwater lures on a high-gear ratio reel.

What is the best gear ratio for chatterbaits?

Definitely a high gear ratio. Any lure that needs slack, or is controlled by the rod, should be on a high gear ratio reel.

Do most models of baitcasting reels come in different gear ratios?

Yes, most have several gear ratio options to choose from. If you find a favorite reel you could potentially snag one in each range.

Do most models of spinning reels come in different gear ratios?

No, but some do.

What range should I shop in if I only want to buy one reel?

That would be the medium range! With a little practice you can accomplish most lure presentations. The rest is a matter of convenience.

Now You Know About Ratios!

It can be really difficult to shop different types of reels even without the added headache of learning gear ratios on baitcasters and the difference between them and spinning rods. The manufacturers surely don’t make it any easier, usually just listing the gear ratio number without any guidance.

Sometimes it’s best to work backwards, choosing how you would like to fish, the lure you will use and then the reel ratio to match. If you’ve got the extra dough, many serious anglers like to have a few setups on their boat.

To wrap it up:

Low gear ratios will be great for deep diving, slow-moving lures. Medium gear ratio reels are the “work horse” of the reel world, great for a large spread of lure presentation. High ratio reels are a must-have for quick action like topwater and rod-controlled lures.

But! An experienced angler can use gear ratios across a broader spectrum of applications than an inexperienced angler.

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.

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