In this section you’ll find a list and short description of the most common types of fishing reel. Where possible we provide links through to suggested tackle set-ups and even recommended fishing reels – many of which the Drowning Worms team has tried and tested.
Historical Fun Fact:
As early as 1195 AD fishing reels could be identified in some Chinese paintings. They were first available in England around 1650 AD, but didn’t appear in America until about 1820.
There are more fishing reels on the market today than one can get their head around. They all claim one benefit or another, making it hard to pick one from another. Some claim to be made specifically for casting distance, some aid accuracy, some speed up line retrieval (aka ‘reeling’), and so on. There are also a number of different categories of reel, which we’ll explain in more detail below. The key things to consider when selecting any kind of reel are a) how much line do I need, and b) how thick does that line need to be? Generally speaking, the larger and more powerful your quarry, and the larger and heavier your baits, the larger your reel needs to be. Always make sure your reel is large enough and carries enough line and, if in doubt, too big is always better than too small.
Early Reel Designs
The early development of fishing reels had its roots in London, England around 1650 when fly fishing was starting to catch on. While it’s doubtful that he actually invented it, Brit Onesimus Ustonson is widely regarded as the first person to commercialise the production and sale of the fishing reel.
More than a century later, in the late 1700s, reels started to take on the appearance of what we would recognise today as a modern reel design. At the same time, tackle was also improving (new wood for rods and silk lines instead of horse hair), which spurred further improvements on the design of the reel itself. The regulator, for example, was added to help control spooling of the line in and out, as well as to prevent tangling.
Since then, fishing reels have seen several ground breaking innovations significantly improve their usefulness. One such invention came in 1905 when Albert Illingworth, a textiles magnate, patented the fixed-spool spinning reel. For the first time, the spool holding the line could remain fixed, while the line could be spooled around it thanks to a clever design and good engineering. Not only was this an efficient design, but also it allowed for bait and tackle designs to continue innovating. Fast forward to our present day: while some modern reels have evolved away from their ancient ancestors, in others it’s easy to see certain original pioneering design elements.
Types of Fishing Reel
The most popular reel types among recreational and sporting anglers across the globe can be grouped into five categories:
- Fly reels
- Baitcasting reels (or multipliers)
- Spinning reels (or fixed-spool reels)
- Centrepin reels
- Spincast reels
One of the simplest reel designs, the fly reel, is a single action reel that does not free spool upon casting. The fishing line must be stripped off the spool by hand, leaving the line on the floor (or perhaps in a line tray) ready for casting. Once a cast is made, the line is retrieved by hand, not via the reel, so that the line remains free to be recast. This is clearly not the most efficient form of casting and retrieving, but it is arguably the most beautiful and satisfying. It also puts the angler in the most direct contact possible with the fish. For those who have fly-fished (including me), it is the purest and most pleasurable way to catch a fish.
Baitcasting reels are a form of multiplier reel. This means that each crank of the handle will spin the spool multiple times, allowing for faster line retrieval. They differ from most other reels in that they are mounted above the rod, instead of suspended below. That’s why they are sometimes referred to as overhead reels – mainly in New Zealand and Australia.
Due to this overhead mounting design, baitcasting reels can be difficult for some anglers to get used to. Those who are familiar with traditional spinning reels may find them particularly hard. In truth, they are often less user-friendly, making inadvertent tangles a regular occurrence. This, combined with the reel’s position above the rod, can lead to fatigue. In turn this can lead to more tangles!
Spinning Reels (Fixed-Spool)
Spinning reels were invented as an answer to baitcasting reels. People wanted something that would not backlash and cause tangles, when using lightweight tackle. The fixed-spool design allows for the fishing line to unspool freely with no resistance or braking. This effectively eliminates the possibility of backlash, even when using lightweight bait and tackle.
This reel looks and functions very similarly to a fly reel, with two notable exceptions. Firstly, unlike fly reels, centrepins are free-spinning with no discernable drag or resistance. This means the line can be paid out with ease, for example when trotting a bait downstream. Secondly, the spool can usually be twisted ninety degrees, so that it sits perpendicular to the rod. No fly reel can do that!
These reels used to be very popular, primarily among coarse fishermen in the UK and Europe, but at one time they were almost completely superseded by fixed spool reels. Recently, however, they appear to have made something of a resurgence – perhaps partly for reasons of nostalgia. When trotting or float fishing a river, they are a hard tool to beat.
The innovation of spincast reels was a successful attempt to capture the design strengths of baitcasting and spinning reels, while eliminating their weaknesses. They are widely known as being one of the most user-friendly, no-hassle options around, which is why they will often appear in fishing starter sets or why you will see them sold as the perfect beginner’s fishing reel.
Reel Drag Mechanisms
When we’re discussing various fishing reels, we will often make reference to drag and drag mechanisms, but what is reel drag? Click here to see more.
The modern angler has access to a great variety of fishing reel options, each with their own unique advantages and drawbacks. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list; we didn’t even mention conventional reels or underspin reels, for example. The 5 reels we focused on here are examples of the most common/popular amongst anglers today. They can be combined with an endless array of rods to serve nearly any purpose.
Regardless of the type of reel you use, it is vitally important to familiarise yourself with its functionality – especially drag settings – if you want to maximise your chance of landing every catch. We hope the information provided here will help you land that big one. Tight lines!