You’ve probably already seen the cabinet in your local tackle store. Stacked high with different types of fishing reels.
Knowing which one is right for you can be really tricky.
But listen, I’m going to help you tell the difference.
Today I’m talking you through an assortment of the main reel types. Soon you’ll be an expert and able to accurately tell the difference. I’ll also tell you what is great and not so great about each type.
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.
Table of Contents
- What are the 5 Types of Reels?
- What is the Purpose of Each Type of Reel?
- Which Type of Fishing Reel is Best?
- Which Type of Fishing Reel Should I Buy?
What are the 5 Types of Reels?
There are lots of reels around, and they offer so much more than simply winding in your line.
Here are some different reels you will encounter and what they are all about.
By far, the most popular choice is spinning reels. In fact, the term ‘spinning reel’ is actually a little bit of a misnomer. The real name for them is actually a ‘fixed spool reel’, and this might give you a little inkling as to how they work.
Spinning reels have a horizontally mounted spool that lies parallel to your rod handle. Spinning reels are always mounted underneath your rod too!
Why are they called ‘fixed spool reels’?
This is because the line isn’t actually retrieved by the spool moving. Instead, a large wire arm, called the bail arm, spins around the outside of the fixed spool, laying the line around it in really even turns. When the bail arm is released, the line can spill off the spool easily.
You can see a great video of how to cast a spinning reel below. Check it out.
The other really common reel type you’ll see are baitcasters. These also (confusingly) have another name. They can also be called ‘multiplier reels’.
Unlike spinning reels, the spool of the baitcasting reel sits at 90° to the rod handle and is normally mounted on top of the rod.
Baitcast reels work by cranking the line onto a substantial horizontal spool. The force of the handle is multiplied (hence the term ‘multiplier’). Baitcast reels rely on good quality internal gearing to retrieve the line at a phenomenal rate.
The angler depresses either a level or a button to release the line, allowing the spool to become ‘unlocked’ and rotate freely, paying out the line.
It is pretty easy when you have got the hang of it. Have a watch of this four minute video to set off on the right track
Spincast reels are a sort of hybrid between spinning reels and baitcasting reels. The entire spool is enclosed in a cover, and the line is paid out through a tiny hole in the front of the reel.
Spincast reels are mounted over the rod, and the spool sits parallel to the rod handle. The spool itself does turn, and the line is released utilizing a button at the back of the reel. These are by far some of the best types of fishing reels for beginners
You’ll tend to find spincast reels are pretty cheap and often come included as part of a rod and reel combo.
Want to see how easy they are to use? Watch this short video.
Fly Fishing Reels
Fly fishing reels are a little bit different. They aren’t really used to play the fish at all. They are relatively simple in construction and consist of a large spool or ‘arbor’ that holds the line. During casting, this line is ‘stripped’ from the reel by hand.
From there, the angler will use his hands as opposed to the reel to manipulate the line.
The only time a fly fisherman reels in is when they are about to move to another location.
In essence, you can think of a fly-fishing reel as more of a line holder than anything else.
Big Pit Reels
If you haven’t heard of big pit reels before, you aren’t alone. They are a relatively new phenomenon, but you’ll find them used all over Europe.
At first glance, you might think these are spinning reels.
You’d be wrong. While big pit reels work identical to spinning reels, they tend to have a few extra features.
There are two that really stand out. First, the size. Big pit reels have absolutely huge spools. This is to store vast quantities of line and make it easier to perform big casts.
Second, big pit reels tend to have an alarming retrieve rate… Often this can be well over a yard with each turn of the handle.
What is the Purpose of Each Type of Reel?
Now you know a little about the different reels, let us explain what they are used for.
You’ve probably half guessed the answer. Spinning reels are used predominantly for lure fishing.
That doesn’t mean you are limited to just casting the odd soft plastic. No, spinning reels, because they are really easy to use, are actually super versatile.
You can use them for just about anything. Float fishing, bottom fishing, even saltwater fishing… Provided you pick the right size of spinning reel.
Spinning Reel Pros
- Easy to Maintain.
- Easy to use.
- Excellent for most types of fishing.
Spinning Reel Cons
- Not good for casting long distance.
- Not as accurate.
- Limited line capacity.
Another reel where the clue is in the name.
Baitcast reels are designed primarily for fishing with bigger baits. Because all of the line tension is placed on the spool, you can really put your back into big casts instead of your finger. They can also have significant capacity.
There are a few downsides to fishing with a baitcaster. Tangles can be a nightmare if you don’t get your drag set just right, and overruns are common, especially for beginners. They are also difficult to maintain. It’s a brave angler who decides to open up a baitcasting reel to take a look.
You can’t really spin with a baitcast reel either because they are designed to be on top of the rod. You might find that they don’t pair very well with your rod. If you want to buy a new spinning outfit, I’ve got a great article on the best bass fishing rod and reel combos.
Baitcast Reel Pros
- Good for big baits and big casts.
- Superb accuracy.
- Solid design, really durable.
- Good line capacity.
Baitcast Reel Cons
- Hard to maintain.
- Prone to tangles.
- Complex to master.
While you might find the odd spincast reel around, they generally aren’t used by serious fishermen. As a general rule, they tend to be supplied as a part of a combo.
Spincast reels can be used for occasional hobbyists who are looking to catch a few smaller species. They certainly aren’t suited for anything large or ‘trophy-sized’.
You can fish in nearly every discipline using a spin cast. They are good for lure fishing with lighter lures and can also be used for float fishing and bottom fishing with lighter weights.
Spincast Reel Pros
- Very affordable.
- Very easy to use.
- Good for really lightweight work.
Spincast Reel Cons
- Often poor build quality.
- Tangles can be terminal.
- Difficult to maintain.
Fly Fishing Reels
Fly fishing reels are the exception in that they can only ever be used for the discipline in which they are intended.
Fly fishing. They are designed to hold thick lines specifically for the task. You’d really struggle to use one on any other rod or for any other discipline.
Fly Fishing Reel Pros
- The only choice for fly fishing.
- Massive spool capacity.
- Normally really lightweight.
Fly Fishing Reel Cons
- Only for fly fishing, not versatile.
- Expensive depending on the brand.
- Not used to play the fish.
Big Pit Reels
Big pit reels actually have a wide array of uses. They are absolutely fantastic for catfishing in particular. You can cast huge baits long and have the necessary ‘gas in the tank’ to haul in huge fish like catfish or carp.
They aren’t well suited to spinning. Their substantial size makes them a little too heavy.
Big pit reels are a great choice if you are using a rod rest and prefer your fishing to be less active than spinning and more of a sit down and wait affair.
Big Pit Reel Pros
- Huge casting distance and line capacity.
- Fast retrieval rate.
- Great for big fish.
Big Pit Reel Cons
- As specialist reels, they can be expensive.
- Heavy, no good for spinning.
Which Type of Fishing Reel is Best?
I’d say the best fishing reel is the fixed spool or spinning reel for the money. There are very few situations that can’t be served with a spinning reel. They normally allow you to cast a good distance, and I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a species on the planet that hadn’t been caught with a spinning reel!
The true answer is that you need to match your reel with the style of fishing that you intend to do most of. While I love spinning reels, try using one fly fishing, and you will have a bad day.
Decide what features you are looking for. Be honest about your experience level and go from there.
Check out my quick and handy guide to the different kinds of reels below to give you a really good idea of the type of reel that you might need:
|Reel Type||Best For…|
|Spinning Reel||General spinning with any size of lure. It can also be used for general fishing, including float fishing and bottom fishing. Also useful in saltwater applications. It can also be used for trolling on boats.|
|Baitcast Reel||Good for big baits and bigger waters where you may need a lot of line. They are ideally suited for bigger fish. They can also be used for sea fishing due to their excellent casting power.|
|Spin Cast Reel||Excellent for beginners brand new to fishing. They are really simple to operate. Because they are relatively cheap, it doesn’t matter so much if they get broken in clumsy hands.|
|Fly Fishing Reel||To be used when fly fishing only. The upside is that for fly fishing, this is the only reel you can use|
|Big Pit Reel||For use with a strong rod when catching big fish like carp. They are also a great choice for catfishing.|
Which Type of Fishing Reel Should I Buy?
That really depends on the type of fishing that you want to do. If you are just starting out and trying to find your feet, you won’t go far wrong with a spinning reel. Opt for about 3000 or 4000 sizes, and you should find that you are covered for most situations.
If you are looking at catching bigger species regularly (aren’t we all), then a great choice could be a baitcaster. It might be a little bit of a steep learning curve to start off with, but once you master it, you will probably find other reel types inferior. You’ll often find that baitcaster come included in the best rod and reel combos for surf fishing.
For fly fishing, make sure you only choose a fly fishing reel. No other reel type will work with the rod or the line.
If you are carp fishing, then you could always consider investing in a good-quality big pit reel. These have been developed exclusively for carp fishing. If you want to check out more great items for carp fishing, I’ve got a great guide to the best carp fishing rod and reel combos right here.
Hopefully, by now, you will have seen that all the different types of fishing reels do more than just hold the line.
Some are more advanced, and some are for beginners. They are particularly suited to different disciplines, so you must choose wisely.
A good starting point is always going to be a spinning reel. From there, you can branch out into more specialized reels and disciplines.
What are you going to go for? Let me know in the comments below.