How to Choose the Right Fishing Reel

August 09, 2016
How to Choose the Right Fishing Reel

Choosing the right fishing reel ultimately comes down to the type of fishing rod the reel will be devoted to.

By the time you’re ready to choose your fishing reel, you’ve likely already done your research on what rod you are going to buy to suit your target species or target fishing spot.

Reels are designed to suit particular rod types and the price of a reel can vary greatly depending on features, functionality, styling, and warranty. It's unlikely you’ll put an expensive reel on a budget rod so it’s often worth sharing your budget between both purchases.

What to consider when choosing a fishing reel

Understanding your target species of fish or the body of water you’re going to fish will steer you in the right direction to the type of reel you’ll need.

If you’ve bought a rod or you own a rod and are looking at upgrading the reel, then you’re a giant leap closer to choosing the right reel.

On most modern rods, just above the grips, you’ll find a series of numbers along with the brand and model name. A rod will often have the length of the blank generally measured in feet (but sometimes centimetres) and beside that you’ll have the recommended line weight range.

If the range is 4-8lb line, the rod manufacturer is suggesting the rod is designed for fish up to 8lb (or roughly 4kg).

Fishing reels also have weight classes which will help you match your reel to your rod. It’s important to balance your reel to your rod.

A balanced fishing rod can make casting easier and more accurate and reduces user fatigue as the outfit is easier to handle for longer periods of time, which is important when regularly casting and retrieving or when fighting that trophy fish.

A balanced outfit can also improve sensitivity in the rod tip, making it easier to detect fish striking the bait or lure.

The infographic below shows the most common types of fishing reels used in Australia the types of fishing they are best suited to and the rods that go with them best.

Types of fishing reels infographic showing the most common reels in australia and their best uses

A basic guide to different types of fishing reels


Spinning reels

Spinning reels are the most common type of reel and suit a wide range of applications. A spinning reel is fitted underneath the rod making it a very versatile combination suitable for lure casting and bait fishing.

Depending on the weight class of the outfit, a spinning rod and reel can be used to target a wide range of small to medium-sized fish species from the rocks or the beach, and they are well suited to boat and kayak fishing too.

Spinning reels come in different sizes to suit various line weight classes (and rods). A spinning reel has a spool to keep line on, a bail or pick-up arm, drag system, an anti-reverse lever, and handle. The quality and price of a reel is determined by the material that reel is made from, the drag system, gear features, and the number of ball bearings which create a smoother action under pressure.

spinning reels are the jack of all trades of the fishing world   how to choose a fishing reel

On most modern spinning reels, a reel is branded with a model name and number. The brand and model is of course, your personal choice. Below is a simple guide to understanding what the numbers mean on most modern reels on the market to better balance your reel and rod outfit.

The first thing you need to know is that modern spinning reels generally have the numbers presented in the thousands (i.e. 2500) or it may be presented in double figures (i.e. 25), occasionally it may be presented in the hundreds (i.e. 250). These examples would be all considered the same sized reel.

Spinning reel sizes explained

  • 1000 to 3500 (or 10 – 35) class reels are small reels likely to be used for a lightweight 6 – 7ft rod targeting small fish species. Typically the monofilament line weight range for these smaller reels is 2-10lb (1-5kg) or 4-14lb braid.

  • 4000 to 5500 (or 40 – 55) class reels are medium sized reels likely for a 6-7ft snapper or barramundi style rod. Typically the monofilament line weight range is 8-14lb (4-7kg) or 8-25lb braid.

  • 6000 to 9500 (or 60 – 95) class reels are large spinning reels to suit varied rod sizes including heavy-weight boat roads or surf / rock fishing rods. Typically the monofilament line weight range is 6-15kg+ or 12-30lb braid.

There are much larger spinning reels which are suitable for surf / rock fishing and game / offshore boat fishing classed from 10000 to 30000 with line weight classes suiting 10-30kg monofilament line or 30-80lb braid. These big reels are also good for lure fishing using big poppers for Giant Trevally and other pelagic sport fish.

Baitcasting reels

Baitcasting reels are designed specifically for baitcasting rods. Baitcasting combinations offer an alternative to spinning rods and are quite versatile but recommended for the more experienced angler. The baitcasting reel once mastered offers even greater accuracy when casting and more control when handling a fish.

how to choose a fishing reel  baitcasting reels are great for accurate casting and controlling fish

Baitcasters come in round or low-profile designs.

  • Low profile allows the angler to palm the reel during casting and retrieving which is ideal for sports fishing when targeting bass, barra and big bream.

  • A round profile reel generally holds much more line which is ideal for target species that take long runs. These can be good reels for trolling.

Baitcasters come with braking systems which can be adjusted with a spool tensioning knob. This allows the angler to tighten or loosen the spool’s rotation to avoid line backlash otherwise known as the dreaded ‘bird’s nest’. Adjusting the spool’s rotation is required when using different weighted lures to make a longer, more accurate cast. Whatever the braking system, learning to thumb a spool during casting allows you to better manage the spool’s rotation to avoid line backlash.

What does fishing reel gear ratio mean?

When buying a baitcaster, a set of numbers determine the gear ratio and suggested line class helping you to balance the reel to the rod. A gear ratio is written with two sets of numbers, for example, 7.3:1.

The first set of numbers is how many revolutions the spool makes for each turn of the handle. In this example, the spool would revolve 7.3 times to 1 crank of the handle.

A higher number indicates quicker retrieval, ideal for lure fishing where the lure requires a fast retrieval action. Line class (example: 175 yards. / 14lb.Braid.) is identified as the amount of monofilament or braid line that a spool can fit and the suggested weight class of line. An example set of figures 7.3:1 and 175 yards. / 14lb.Braid. would indicate this reel is suited to a medium class baitcasting rod for target species like barramundi.

Overhead reels

Overhead reels are designed for overhead rods and are targeted at lure or bait fishing where the intention is not to cast but to either troll or feed out the line below the boat or kayak.

overhear reels are designed primarily from fishing lures or baits from boats for kayaks

Like the baitcasting reel, the overhead reel sits on top of the rod. Having immediate line contact and spool control can be favourable when dropping or jigging baits / lures directly under a boat or kayak.

Overhead and baitcasting reels are very similar in design and are often referred to as the same reel, just by a different name.

A baitcasting reel is a modernised design of the traditional overhead concept yet has a lower profile and is better balanced for casting rather than a round profile overhead reel which is not good for casting.

You’ll find most traditional overhead reels on the market are aimed at ocean fishing to suit game fishing rods. There are some small overhead reels still on the market but the lower profile baitcaster has proven more popular for lighter gear.

Fly reels

Fly reels are designed specifically for fly rods. Traditionally they are simple in design and construction, but modern fly reels are becoming more and more advanced utilising disc-type drag systems allowing for improved drag adjustment, consistency and resistance to drag friction.

fly reels are made to work with fly rods and are fairly simple in design   how to choose the right fishing reel

A fly reel is a single action reel worked by stripping line off the spool with one hand whilst casting the rod with the other hand. The fly reel’s purpose is to simply store line and provide drag when a fish makes a long run. An important feature of the reel is that it is designed to counterbalance the weight of your rod when casting.

Balancing your fly fishing outfit

Fly rod manufacturers give their rods a weight rating which is usually printed above the rod grip. This rating might be written as 5wt or 5 weight which is a suggested size of the fly line to use with the rod. Fly lines are classed in weights, rather than pounds or kilos. Knowing the rating of a rod is a 5wt, this allows you to narrow your choices of fly reel to ensure you choose a reel that accommodates fly line weights from 4 - 6.

A quick guide to the weight rating is:

  • 1wt – 3wt fly line is generally used for small fish, ultimately designed for casting in small areas using small flies, like creeks targeting stream trout.

  • 4wt fly line is generally used for medium-sized freshwater fish like trout in bigger rivers.

  • 5wt – 6wt fly line is used for larger freshwater fish in lake scenarios where you need a longer cast targeting species like lake trout and bass.

  • 7wt – 8wt fly line is used for larger freshwater species in open water using large flies and casting long distances. They can be used in saltwater also, targeting small-medium species.

  • 9wt – 14wt fly line is a heavy line used predominantly for targeting saltwater species on large flies.

What are electric fishing reels?

Electric reels are designed for overhead rods and are relatively new on the recreational fishing market having been more exclusive to commercial deep-sea operators in the past.

Their modern design, improved functionality and price have become more appealing to recreational anglers. With more and more anglers chasing big fish offshore, the electric reel allows for more efficient and less exhausting deep sea fishing.

The automatic functionality for dropping baits or jigs and retrieving fish over great distances significantly reduces angler fatigue. The rod can be left in the rod holder when retrieving a fish and the reel put on autopilot.

At any stage, the angler can take over, pick up the rod, begin pumping and use the reel manually as if it was an overhead reel. Electric reels plug into your traditional 12volt socket with more modern reels have much simpler cabling and terminals, unlike the cumbersome predecessors.

Caring for your fishing reel

Understanding what reel size is best suited to your fishing rod ensures you have a well-balanced outfit which feels good when holding, casting, retrieving, or fighting a fish.

There are some exciting reels on the market and whilst it would be nice to have them all, unfortunately, there is only one reel seat per fishing rod limiting you to one reel per rod.

To ensure the longevity of your reel, make sure you give it a good clean after every saltwater, brackish water or dirty freshwater fishing trip. The easiest way to clean a reel is to give it a gentle rinse with fresh water. Every now and then it pays to remove the spool and handle and give any moving parts a little oil. A little bit of TLC can go a long way, extending a reel's life.

Speaking from experience, avoid opening any reel casings as they’re tightly packed with small washers, springs and cogs and losing one can be painful. Leave this to a registered technician. In saying that, misery turns to delight once you realise you now have an excuse to buy a new reel.

Now you know what to look for, check out the full range of fishing reels available online at Outdoria and in tackle shops around Australia.


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