9 Types of Fishing Reels Explained – 2021 Informational Guide

| Last Updated August 24, 2020

Like many other pieces of fishing gear, a reel is one that should get careful consideration in the buying process. While you are probably familiar with a reel’s basic functionalities, what you may be unaware of are the reel variations on the market and their uses. This article will walk you through the process of choosing a new reel, what to go for, and why.

Comparison of the Types of Fishing Reels

  • Best spincasting reel on our list
  • Tangle-resistant line management system ensures easy operation
  • Double-headed ergonomic handle for better grip and comfort
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  • Best spinning reel on our list
  • Full metal body with powerful drag for big saltwater fish
  • Braid ready no-backing superline spool with line capacity rings
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  • Best surf fishing reel on our list
  • Anti-corrosive coating on a durable body with powerful 33 lbs of drag
  • Sealed aluminum spool and rotor for protection against dirt
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  • Best off shore fishing reel on our list
  • Carbon fiber drag with cymbal washer delivers 30 lbs of drag
  • Conventional reel design with smooth operation and versatile application
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  • Best fly fishing reel on our list
  • Adjustable carbon fiber drag with oversized drag knob
  • Large arbor design for quick retreive and reduction in line memory
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  • Best center pin reel on our list
  • Anti-corrosion beautiful design with large arbor for accurate drag
  • Ambidextrous conversion and suitable for multi-species and all water fishing
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  • Advanced low-profile reel with double wind shafts and magnetic settings
  • Features 18 lbs drag with silent, high-speed 7.1:1 gear ratio
  • Unique sideplate oil for easy and quick lubrication of the reel
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  • Best reel for trolling on our list
  • Graphite frames and side plates for lightweight and sturdy main gear
  • Level wind line guide ensures even line distribution eliminating build-ups
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How to Choose Fishing Reels

Keep these aspects in mind when looking for a new fishing reel:

Compatible With Rod

The first thing you must keep in mind when purchasing a new reel is your rod. Though a great reel is easy to find, it won’t be worth anything if it isn’t compatible with your fishing pole. You should also keep in mind the line that you’ll be using, as that will come into play as well. But the most important thing is that the reel is balancing the rod-- do this by matching the weight of both pieces. Having a properly balanced rod is a great first step in catching a fish.

Find Ones That's Durable

As with all of your fishing gear, your reel should be made with high-quality, durable materials. While it can be tempting to go for a super cheap reel, you’ll get many more uses out of a reel that may be a bit of a splurge. This isn’t to say that there aren’t high-quality choices for an affordable price, but keep your eyes peeled for the brands that are consistent in their quality.

Matches Your Skill Level

The reel you choose as a beginner angler will most likely differ from the one you’d choose as an angler with tons of experience. Make sure that you choose the reel that will best-suit your skill level. Newbies to the sport of angling will definitely have an easier time figuring out spincast and spinning reels over a baitcasting reel. And vice versa, once you’ve practiced a little bit with a spinning reel, you shouldn’t limit yourself to that-- try a baitcasting reel.

Types of Fishing Reels

Now that you know the qualities that all great reels should possess, it’s time to look at the specifics of some of the most popular designs on the market. The three main categories that reels generally fall into are baitcasting, spinning, and spincasting reels.

Baitcasting Reel

More advanced anglers are often drawn to baitcasting reels for a number of reasons. They’re unique within the angling world because rather than sitting parallel to the rod, they’re mounted perpendicularly. They rely more on the weight of a lure to propel the line through the air and handle weighted lines well, which makes them a great pick for fishing large game.

A baitcasting reel can provide a great amount of control and accuracy when used correctly. They’re targeted toward experienced anglers because they take a little more manual control than spinning reels, as they don’t stop releasing line on their own. The user must learn the delicate touch of stopping the line as the lure hits the water, or it can cause backlash, a tangled mess that can take hours to fix.

This reel is best used when targeting small, isolated areas that require an accurate cast. They also have a great retrieve time, so it’s a good one to use when using lures that need to be brought in quickly like spinner or crankbaits.

KastKing Royale Legend High Speed Low Profile Baitcasting Fishing Reel

The KastKing Royale Legend is an affordable, yet high-quality, baitcasting reel with a lot of power to its punch. Created with anodized aluminum and stainless steel, the reel features a ten-level dual brake system that allows for maximum accuracy, great casting control, and a cut-down on backlash.

Spincast Reels

If you started fishing when you were a child, a spincast reel is probably the first reel you ever came in contact with. They’re the most popular, all-ages choice because they are super simple to use and set up. Unlike a baitcasting reel or even a spinning reel, a spincast reel takes even less effort to operate.

They’re basically a spinning reel with a plastic cover to shield the line. This is helpful in preventing line tangles, although it still can happen under some circumstances. Another difference between baitcasting and spinning reels is that with spincast reels, there’s no need to hold the line in place while casting, a button on the side allows the line to unspool freely when pressed. While these reel-styles rarely malfunction, they can be prone to line twisting problems.

Spincast reels are the best pick for beginner anglers who have never tried their hand at angling. They’re also a great choice for children who are just starting out. They’re definitely not as popular in the advanced angling world thanks to their limited functionalities, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a great choice for beginners.

Our Top Pick for Spincasting Reels:
Zebco 33

Zebco 33 Spincast Fishing Reel, QuickSet Anti-Reverse with Bite Alert, Smooth Dial-Adjustable Drag, Powerful All-Metal Gears with a Lightweight Graphite Frame

The Zebco 33 was released in recent years and has many features that make it a great spincast reel for all ages. It has a tangle-resistant line management system, which can seriously cut down on frustration on the water.

Spinning Reels

One of the most popular and versatile reels on the market, spinning reels are easy to use and work well in a variety of angling settings. Unlike other popular styles of reels, spinning reels are designed to hang below, parallel to the rod. The only main action the user has to take with a spinning reel is moving the bail arm to the open position, which allows the line to unspool freely. The angler should keep their finger on the open line while preparing to cast. Drag adjustment is usually located at the front of the reel.

Spinning reels are a great pick for a variety of skill levels, as they’re more accurate than a spincast reel, yet easier to use than a baitcasting reel. While they don’t have quite as much power as a baitcaster and can’t handle super-heavy line, they do have great line capacity and there’s no need to worry about backlash.

Spinners are particularly useful when you need to cast lighter baits, as once the bail arm is opened, the line can unspool without restriction. If you’re not worried about drag, you can cast light baits super far, which is hard to do with a baitcasting reel.

Our Top Pick for Spinning Reels:
Penn Battle II

PENN 1338218 Battle II Spinning Reel, 3000

The Battle II from Penn is a gorgeous and effective spinning reel that has gained popularity among many anglers. It’s made with heavy-duty materials that can last trip after trip and also features a high-tech carbon fiber drag system.

Surf Fishing Reels

The main difference between surf fishing reels and others on the market is, perhaps, an obvious distinction: They’re made for use around saltwater. While many reels are advertised as multi-use, good for freshwater and saltwater, surf fishing reels should be totally saltwater equipped.

Thanks to the corrosive nature that comes about with the combination of oxygen, salt, and moisture, ocean settings are not the greatest for keeping your gear in good shape. Surf fishing reels are often coated in a corrosion-resistant substance that keeps them from weakening over time with saltwater exposure. Surf fishing reels also tend to have sealed elements, like sealed ball bearings, for example. This is to prevent sand and salt buildup from making its way into the inner-workings of the reel.

While you can use a variety of reels for surf fishing, the most common is a spinning reel, which can cast baits long distances with little effort-- a must when casting from the shore. They’ll also likely feature a tougher drag system, which is more important in the face of tumultuous seas and ocean currents.

Our Top Pick for Surf Fishing Reel:
SeaKnight Rapid Saltwater Reel

SeaKnight Rapid Saltwater Spinning Reel, 4.7:1,6.2:1 High Speed, Max Drag 33Lbs, Smooth Fresh and Saltwater Fishing Reel

The Rapid line from SeaKnight is designed to be corrosion resistant, made with a sealed aluminum spool and rotor structure, as well as shielded stainless steel ball bearings. It’s great for smooth casting on the ocean and is a smart choice for surf casting thanks to the powerful drag capabilities: 33 pounds.

Off Shore Reels

Offshore reels often fall into the same category as surf casting reels for a couple of reasons, most notably because they are also required to be super saltwater resistant. While you may not be dealing with as much sand in offshore fishing, your reel will still be exposed to corrosion.

The main difference between offshore and inshore fishing (like surf fishing) is the depth of the water. Offshore fishing often takes you pretty far from the beaches, anywhere from 10-100 miles from the coastline. You will be dealing with different kinds of water and bigger fish on the open water, so offshore reels tend to be much more heavy duty than others.

An offshore reel should have way more drag power than a traditional freshwater reel. Most great offshore reels have a power capacity within a range of 20-50 pounds, the higher end being more effective to catch large, aggressive marlin or tuna.

Baitcasting reels are also much more popular for offshore fishing rather than a spinning-style. This is a combination of the skill level of offshore anglers and the accuracy of baitcasting reels.

Our Top Pick for Off Shore Reels:
KastKing Rover Round Baitcasting Reel

KastKing Rover Round Baitcasting Reel, Right Handed Fishing Reel,Rover60

The KastKing Rover is an anodized aluminum baitcasting reel, offering 20 pounds of high power drag. It’s saltwater resistant, versatile, and smooth.

Center Pin Reels

Utilizing the most basic technology, center pin reels were likely one of the first reels ever used. They have a very simple design and utilize a free spinning system with no drag, which makes them super popular among some anglers.

Centerpin reels are often very expensive and tough to figure out at first. They’re definitely not a beginner’s choice, as they’re difficult to cast. The method is similar to that of a baitcasting reel, as it requires some manual line maneuvering to achieve a successful cast.  Their unique design also requires a little extra room than most traditional reels, so they work best on long poles (10-12 feet).

While they’re definitely not as popular as they once were, there are many center pin reel enthusiasts who swear by the design. The free spinning action of the reel makes it much easier to maintain line without loops. It’s also a bit of a challenge for those anglers who have had it easy with spinning reels. With no drag system, it’s basically just you and the fish, which makes the catch an even bigger accomplishment.

Our Top Pick for Center Pin Reels:
Sougayilang Fly Fishing Reel

Fly Fishing Reel Large Arbor 2+1 BB with CNC-machined Aluminum Alloy Body and Spool in Fly Reel Sizes 5/6

This reel from Sougayilang is a gorgeous piece of equipment, featuring corrosion-resistant aluminum alloy. It’s got a great drag system with a click drag and quick retrieve system.

Fly Fishing Reels

Fly reels are an important piece of fly fishing gear, as they play an integral part in balancing a fly rod. They’ll always be constructed in one of two ways: Pre-cast and machined. While neither one trumps the other in effectiveness, pre-cast tend to be heavier and less durable but come at a more attractive price point

Machined reels are carved out of a solid piece of metal, which results in a lighter design and a stronger finish which will last over the years. Most fly reels will be made with anodized aluminum, a great material that works well in freshwater and saltwater alike.

Fly reels also put quite a bit of emphasis on drag capabilities, as it is an important function in fly fishing. They’ll either include a click and pawl system, less effective but cheaper, or a disc drag system, the most popular of modern drag systems.

Our Top Pick for Fly Fishing Reels:
Redington Behemoth Fly Reel

Redington Reels Behemoth 7/8 Reel, Gunmetal

Sleek and smooth, Redington advertises the Behemoth reel as the having the “most powerful drag in its class.” Indeed, its advanced carbon fiber drag system is super effective and smooth in the face of a tough fight with a fish.

Trolling Reels

There’s little difference between a trolling reel and a traditional spinning or baitcasting reel. The main variation between them is that a trolling reel is created and designed for, as the name suggests, trolling. Rather than casting, they’re made for dropping a line behind a moving boat.

Trolling reels are traditionally made from graphite, feature large reel handles and feet, tough drag systems, and bait clicker alarms, among other things. Because of the lack of casting associated with them, they’re larger and have more room for extra line.

This style of rod requires a specific rod for effectiveness. The design with large reel feet makes it difficult to match with traditional rods, so you must purchase a trolling rod to go along with it. Some trolling reels feature high-tech attributes, like a depth counter.

Our Top Pick for Trolling Reels:
PENN Squall LevelWind

PENN Fishing SQL50LW Squall Level Wind , Black, 320Yd/50Lb

Made with a lightweight graphite frame, the Penn Squall Levelwind reel is a popular choice among professional anglers. While it’s a bit of an investment, it’s got some great high-quality, high-tech features that make it an incredible pick for those who love trolling.

How to Clean Fishing Reels

Keeping your fishing reel clean is an important part of improving the longevity of the tool. No matter if you’re fishing mainly in freshwater or saltwater, periodic maintenance is vital. The following steps should be done every-so-often for freshwater reels and after every use in saltwater (to prevent potential corrosion and salt build up).

  1. Lightly clean your reel with a sponge and warm, soapy water, being careful not to fully submerge the reel to prevent malfunctioning.
  2. Thoroughly clean every section to ensure there’s no salt build-up in nooks and crannies. It can be helpful to clean your line too.
  3. Rinse lightly with freshwater. Be careful not to hose it off or use water with too much pressure, as it can force water into the inner-workings of the reel and cause issues.
  4. Allow it to dry thoroughly in a room temperature spot.
  5. Use a simple lubricant on all the moving parts to keep it running smooth use after use.

Check out the video below for a quick overview of some of the points covered above. This method uses a damp towel and does a great job of showing what spots on the reel to lubricate.


Now that you’re well-acquainted with the most popular styles of reels on the market, the last step is to find the one that works best for you. Whether you’re brand new to fishing or you’re an oldie but a goodie, a new reel might just be the key to your next catch. Happy fishing! 

My name is Jeff and I have been hunting and fishing for over 40 years. I am an avid archery lover, bass fisherman, and all-around outdoorsman. Currently, I'm obsessed with elk hunting but I'm sure I'll move onto a different favorite soon. You gotta love hunting for that reason :) If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at admin@biggamelogic.com. Read more about Big Game Logic.