December 28, 2022 6 min read

Fishing is one of those things in human history that just keep getting better and better with every century that passes.

As the activity gets more complex, so does the equipment. Fishers of today have gone a long way from the clunky tools of the past.

See, the key to great fishing is great fishing gear. And the most important part of that is the reel you use.

Like in any activity, you need the right kind of tool to get the best catches and have the most efficiency in fishing. In this sense, you need a reel that offers optimal comfort and control. 

With hundreds of brands, styles, and colors available in the market, you might find getting the right one tricky. Fortunately, the experts have shared these tips to help find the perfect reel for you:

Know Which Type You Will Use

There are three main types of fishing reels:

Spinning Reels: This is the most common reel among anglers. It consists of a stationary spool with a line wound around it through a rotating handle. Unlike other types of fishing reels, this one sits under the rod. They’re simple to operate and maintain, which is why many anglers like them.
    Moreover, they offer multiple drag settings, allowing you to catch fish of different sizes and fighting prowess. Under this type, you can choose between monofilament, braided, or fluorocarbon lines. But whichever you choose, mastering a spinning reel takes some time. Plus, you can easily get the line tangled. Check out reliable fishing gear outlets like among others for typical features and prices. 

      Conventional reels: These typically sit on top of the rod. The line is wound around a cylindrical spool. They come with buttons you press to release the line into the water, allowing for some level of control. You may want to purchase one if you’re targeting big fish.

      Baitcasting Reels: These also sit above the rod like conventional reels. However, they’re specifically designed for catching small fish in freshwater. They’re perfect for beginners because of their light weight. Modern models come with anti-reverse and braking components to prevent the line from coming off the spool too fast. Plus, they have an exceptional feel when handled. They’re generally more expensive because of these features. Practice will also be needed to get the technique for this type of reel down. 

      Fly Reels: These are the simplest fishing reels you’ll come across. They’re comprised of a drum onto which you wind the fishing line using a tiny turning handle on the side. To let out the line, you pull it out by hand from the drum. Fly reels are best suited for small fish like salmon and grayling.

        Each one of these reels comes with its own pros and cons. The choice ultimately depends on the level of control you want and the type of fish you’re going for.


        Pick An Appropriate Size For Your Target Species

        Fish species significantly differ in body size and show certain behaviors that make catching them unique for each one. Knowing this will help you pick the ideal reel size.

        Fishing reel sizes are categorized into three broad classes:

        Small: Typical sizes include 10, 20, 25, 30, and 35. Some brands indicate them in four digits, as in 1000, 2000, 2500, 3000, or 3500. These are lightweight and suit anglers aiming for fish species like crappie, bass, trout, bluegill, and catfish.

        Medium: Sizes in this category range between 40 to 60 (4000 and 6000). They’re your go-to option for hunting carp, muskies, or giant catfish.

        Large: Fishing reels above size 70 or 7000 are classified as large. Fishers use them to target bigger fish, including sharks and rays. 

          The size of a fishing reel typically indicates the frame dimensions and spool capacity. Take your pick according to the type of catch you expect.

          Test The Smoothness Of The Drag

          An excellent fishing reel should allow running fish to take the line without locking up and breaking. So, go for one with a smooth and reliable drag. 

          It boils down to the number and quality of bearings. More bearings usually translate to a higher degree of smoothness. However, four or five bearings are enough for most catches. Also, a higher number than that is usually expensive and may not always indicate a higher quality.

          One smart thing to do is to test the reel before purchasing it. First,spool the new fishing line onto the reel. Then, release the line and wind it back on the spool. Attach some weight to the line’s tip to simulate a real-life fishing scenario and see how smooth it is to turn the handle. If you detect squeaks, bends, or flexes, look for another one. 

          Match The Reel To The Rod

          Aside from its functionality, it can’t hurt to have a reel that matches your rod and your overall style. 

          Think about how the reel will pair with the rod. Their colors should match, at least. If you want to show yourself as awater sports connoisseur, you can go for a rod and reel combo that’s sleek and classy. But of course, looks will never trump quality. Performance should always come first before aesthetics. 

          You wouldn’t want to pair an expensive reel with a cheap rod. Keeping the two in a more or less similar budget range is wise. A highly-priced reel will offer a lot in terms of durability and control, so your rod should be able to do the same.  

          Another critical thing to match is weight. Always pair a lightweight rod with a lightweight reel. Using a heavy one in this case puts strain on the rod, which not only skews its angle but bends it out of shape, too.

          Think About The Bait You'll Cast

          The type and weight of the bait you’ll be casting also dictate which fishing reel you should use. Generally, spinning reels are perfect for small lightweight baits and lures. On the other hand, baitcasting reels work well with heavier baits and lures.

          Choose The Ideal Line Length And Strength

          For freshwater fishing, you may want a line about 10 to 15 feet long. Meanwhile, a line around 20 to 30 feet long is appropriate for saltwater. 

          Saltwater fishing typically requires a heavier line because the fish are usually stronger and have a tendency to put up a spirited fight. A heavier line ensures you don’t lose your catch. You can only accommodate enough line on your reel’s spool if it’s of sufficient capacity. So, if you aim at fishing in salty waters, you’re better off with a larger spool capacity. Conversely, a smaller spool capacity works if you’re fishing in freshwater.


          Another critical thing to note is that saltwater reels are made from corrosion-resistant material to resist damage from saltwater. Manufacturers even make an extra effort to seal the reeling mechanisms to prevent saltwater intrusion. Without these features, a reel will typically crumble due to rust.

          On that note, a saltwater reel can work well in freshwater. But the opposite doesn’t apply since freshwater reels aren’t protected from corrosion. It’s good to know the kind of water you’ll be fishing in to choose the appropriate reel.

          The length of the line also depends on whether you’re fishing onshore or offshore. For inshore fishing, you expect the waters to be shallow.

          So, a shorter line, perhaps 150 feet, is usually enough, with a smaller spool capacity to match. For offshore fishing, where fish swim deep below the water surface, you may need a longer line and bigger spool capacity. A fishing reel that can hold up to 600 feet of line may suffice.  

          Think About Drag Pressure

          Every reel has a unique drag pressure indicated in pounds.

          You can think of drag pressure as the pulling weight. A higher pulling weight is needed to reel in big fish, while a lower one is enough to pull small fish. 

          Small freshwater fish can be caught with as little as 2-3 lb of drag pressure. However, you may need 20-30 lb for bigger saltwater species. For gigantic species like sharks, that has to go well over 100 lb.

          Consider Durability

          In most cases, cheap, flimsy fishing reels made of plastic, aluminum, or graphite break within just a few fishing sessions, forcing you to buy another one regularly. In the end, you waste a lot of money on replacements. 

          If you want reels that last long, invest in those made of magnesium, composites, or other high-tech alloys. Though expensive up front, they offer more in terms of durability, allowing you to go for long stretches of use without having to think of repairs. That’s way better than what reels of cheaper quality can offer.

          The Right Reel For The Right Catch

          A lot of factors come into play when choosing fishing reels. First and foremost, you must consider the functionality depending on what type of fish you’re after and where you’ll find it. The reel should also be sturdy enough to stop a fish from running once caught. 

          Once you have the technical requirements down, you're free to choose which features to pick to customize your fishing experience. Keep these pro tips in mind as you find the right one for you.

          Author - Fred Felton
          Fred Felton          

          Content Creator / Editor

          Fred Felton is a copywriter, editor and social media specialist based in Durban, South Africa. He has over 20 years of experience in creating high end content. He has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world. Currently Fred specialises in the adventure watersports space, focussing on surf, kayak and rafting. He is also a keynote speaker and has presented talks and workshops in South Africa.

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