Fishing Reel Types – Explained!

Most anglers know there are many fishing reel types out there. But questions I get a lot are:

  • What are the different types of fishing reels?
  • Does it matter which fishing reel you choose?

Well, yes!

Each fishing reel type has distinct features that make it ideal for a specific fishing style.

For example, you cannot use a fly reel for fishing in the deep seas, and nor can we hope for much success using a trolling reel with finesse spinning techniques!

Understanding the fishing reel differences and choosing the right type is up to you, the type of angler you are, and the fishing you’re into. Hopefully, this guide will help make a decision a little easier for you.

Here, we’re talking about the most common types, look at fishing reel types pictures, and which fishing reel to use in different circumstances.

Different Types of Fishing Reels

Whether this is your first sportfishing entry or you’ve been loyal to one fishing reel for decades, determining the right reel to purchase next can be difficult.

With several fishing reels to choose from, anglers must understand the one that matches their fishing style best.

Fishing reels come in various sizes and shapes. Each type of fishing reel above comes with a unique set of pros and cons.

Here’s an in-depth breakdown of the six main reel types, their pros and cons, and the applications they’re suited for.


Spincast reels are the simplest modern fishing reels on the market. The basic design on this guy is ideal for anglers on a budget and beginners.

However, spincast reels are not that common today. But they were the rage a couple of decades ago.

A spincast has a metal nose cone that hides critical reel components. A button at the back helps toggle the line between locked and free-spool.

A drag adjustment mechanism on this reel allows easy change of the amount of resistance the fish feels while pulling the line. Drag on a spincast may be on the side or next to the reel handle.

Casting the spincast reel is as simple as pressing the spool control button, taking the swing, and releasing it. The line flies out to where the rod tip is pointing. Press the spool control button one more time to stop the line.

Check out this video on how to use a spincast reel for more!

Best For

The spincast reel is the best choice for youth, beginners, and weekend anglers looking for easy and fast action while targeting small fish.

These reels are also excellent for the infrequent angler. Other reel types will suit you as get more serious or search for trophy game fish, but the spincast is a great on-hand reel to keep for casual fishing.


  • The cheapest option on the market
  • No backlash
  • We can use a single hand
  • Excellent choice for beginners
  • Easy maintenance


  • Poor construction materials
  • The weak drag system is not suitable for big fish
  • Limited line capacity


Arguably one of the most advanced fishing reel types, the baitcaster reel is a favorite among experienced anglers. If you’re looking for unmatched precision and power, this is the reel to choose.

A baitcasting reel has many moving parts, especially when comparing it to a spinning or spincast reel. So, expect a learning curve that will help up your fishing game.

The baitcaster sits at the top of a rod handle and boasts a semi-enclosed design in a sturdy build. A drag mechanism sits next to the reel handle.

Baitcaster reels also have two extra components for customization and added performance. These components are the braking system and spool tension knob. The mechanisms allow adjusting how fast the line goes out of the reel.

The two additional components are critical features because:

  • We can throw the line exactly as far as we want;
  • We can prevent the spool from turning faster than our line is going out to prevent a bird’s nest from forming.

A baitcasting reel doesn’t have bail, so you press your thumb against the spool to prevent spooling. Pressing in mid-flight is an excellent way to improve casts. Press the clip to lock the line once the bait hits the spot, and we’re set!

The baitcaster rod guides are smaller than the ones on spinning reels. This setup helps ensure the baitcasting reel releases the line in a straight path. The line goes out in a circular motion on spinning reels, requiring more space.

Best For

It’s time we get familiar with the baitcaster reel if casting is the primary fishing method.

Baitcast reels are available in various sizes and shapes, but the most common is the low-profile reel that’s suitable for multiple casting applications.

Be warned, mastering baitcasting reels may take longer than other reels, but they’ll become the favorite reel afterward. A baitcasting reel casts out wide, but prepare to learn more about detangling during the learning phase.


  • An excellent drag system
  • Exceptional control system and balance
  • Works with braid, mono, nylon, and fluoro finishing line types
  • The preferred reel system by professionals


  • Bird’s nest and backlash are common while casting
  • It takes time to learn and perfect baitcasting skills


Another popular type of fishing reel in the anglers’ world is the spinning reel. While more complicated than the spincast, spinning reels are more durable and efficient.

These reels are no problem for beginners. Plus, an entire army of professional anglers won’t fish without a spinning reel.

The reels boast an open-face design with a drag adjustment at the top. A metal bail in the reel helps lock the line while preventing it from un-spooling.

The bail also helps guide the line back evenly onto your spool. You attach spinning reels to the rod from below, which offers a natural holding position. The position also provides excellent balance while casting out, which is exceptionally easy!

Casting involves disengaging the bail and squeezing the line against the rod using the index finger to prevent un-spooling. Now, we swing the rod overhead or from the side.

Release the index finger about halfway while releasing. Use the rod’s tip to aim for your target, and you’re done!

Unfortunately, re-engaging the bail after a cast is a problem for many. Many spinning reels on the market will close the bail after reeling. I find this video on how to cast a spinning reel a helpful resource when starting out.

The first spins can cause the lines to miss the spool and cause tangling. While throwing out the line, use the hand to put the bail back in its starting position.

Make sure you check out the construction of a spinning reel before purchasing it. Some are from graphite, which works perfectly for a while but is not durable. Other reels are aluminum, carbon fiber, stainless steel, and Zirconium guides.

Best For

It’s advisable to have at least one spinning reel. Casting the reel offer more control than we get from a spincast model. Also, anglers at any skill level can learn to cast for accuracy and distance using the spinning reel—but practice is critical.

Use spinning reels for everything from heavy lures for muskies to pan fishing light jigs. First-timers should spool the line onto the spinning reel correctly to avoid headaches later.

Fortunately, most spinning reels and combos come pre-spooled if you’re not yet comfortable working with a line.


  • A large line capacity
  • An assortment of affordable models is available
  • Available in a wide variety of configurations and sizes
  • You can use it with braided or monofilament lines


  • Learning the casting process takes time and patience
  • The reels require maintenance
  • Backlash and wind knots are a possibility


Conventional or trolling reels look like baitcasting reels. However, the former is ideal for trolling, especially big fish catching.

Conventional reels have a gear ratio of 1:5, so you get one turn of the reel drum (spool) from five turns. These reels also have a small diameter line. Anglers can adjust the drag on a conventional reel, providing a simple braking system that stops lines from pulling by heavy or large fish runs.

Conventional reels also allow free spooling, but with little reeling resistance for longer casts. Some units come with mechanized anti-reverse systems.

These reels come in two designs. Star Drag reels feature a star-shaped drag knob for adjusting the tension. The system allows us to fin-tune the line tension in battle and provides excellent performance even when fishing heavy baits and lures.

Star Drag reels also work well with braided, super lines for added durability, strength, and smooth retrieve during pitching or trolling. The reels perform well under salt and freshwater conditions, making them the ideal option for experienced anglers.

The second design has a lever drag knob instead of a dial. Operation is as simple as lifting the side plate before turning it. The system helps change the resistance level fast without interrupting how your bait presents.

Lever drag knob conventional reels are durable but are not usable with braided or super lines.

Best For

Anglers who prefer reeling in big fish but care little about casting (trolling) will find conventional reels ideal. Trolling means we let the boat and bait do the work until a fish is on.

Get the best results using conventional fishing reels. The reels are especially for trolling enthusiasts and are suitable for ocean, deep sea, and large lake fishing.


  • Allow fishing quickly with fast and simple retrieve action
  • Conventional reels are strong for repeated usage compared to most modern fishing reels
  • We can use a conventional reel under different weather conditions
  • Excellent hook setting power, so we never have many strikes when the bait is on its way back home, increasing the chances of catching larger fish
  • We can purchase several reels for our kids and beginners


  • Requires a strong trolling rod
  • Large fish can swim away with the bait even while fishing at low speeds because there’s no braking system or drag knob attached
  • Don’t perform well in windy conditions

Fly Fishing Reel

Fly-fishing differs from other fishing techniques because it uses the false casting method. We use a weighted line and lead to take our fly from one point to another.

Fly-fishing reels are considerably older than the other reels we’ve looked at, but they provide the highest accuracy level.

The fly on these reels is weightless, while the line is thicker than the standard fishing line, which requires a special reel for perfect casting. Like spincasters, fly reels are under the rod. There is an enlarged spool that rotates around a center pin.

To cast, lower the rod with the line un-spooled. Swing backward, pause and swing forward as the line unfurls behind in a straight and smooth motion. The line will come to an abrupt but gentle stop while holding on loosely.

Tip the rod down to land the fly. However, this technique is tricky—even though it sounds simple. Fine motor control skills are an integral part of becoming a master fly angler.

The basic types of fly-fishing reels are:

  • Single action—These are ightweight reels with one turn of the crank for one turn of the spool (1:1) retrieval rate. However, they aren’t suitable for catching fast-running and large fish. 
  • Multiplying—The reels have a high gear ratio, so the retrieval times are fast and suitable for catching big fish. Multiplying fly fishing reels are heavy. 
  • Automatic—The automatic system on some fly-fishing reels makes casting multiple times in a row fast. These reels are the bulkiest types and are prone to failure because they have many moving parts. 

Best For 

Fly fishing gets its name because the original lures look like a bug or fly. Fly-fishing reels are popular for use in moving water bodies so we can cast upstream, and the current carries the lure back to us.

The original reels were for catching trout in streams and creeks. Modern fly fishing reels will catch anything from freshwater fish to saltwater fish.


  • Ability to cast lightweight fly long distances
  • Presents the fly more delicately and quietly without spooking fish
  • Flies are cheaper than lures


  • We need a lot of room for casting out the fly
  • Casting takes practice and skill

Centrepin Reel

The oldest fishing reel type is the centrepin reel. Most anglers have seen the old-school center pins from yesteryears. I also have one on a shelf in the den!

The old-school variations are from timber, and it looks beautiful in my den. The modern version comes in different construction materials that would surprise my great-great-grandfather, but the concept is the same.

Centrepin reels have a large 4-inch to 5.5-inch diameter rounded spool sitting on a single pin (post) in the middle of the base. High-quality bearings allow the spool to spin freely around the pin forward and backward, and there’s no drag.

Some centrepin reels come with bushings instead of bearings.

A centrepin allows anglers to free-spool the line off the reel for long controlled drifts. Anglers use their hands to slow the reel to control the speed of the float and bait.

I also use my hands to stop the reel, set the hook, and for dragging while fighting the fish. Ported centrepin reels have holes cut into them for weight reduction.

Best For 

Centrepin anglers don’t chase big fish and amost always use a float. The reel is popular with coarse fishing, where it’s fixed on a long flexible rod with the perfect parabolic action.

Centrepin reels facilitate using small hooks. However, this reel is not ideal for every angler, and we get limited applications.


  • The reels offer a natural drift
  • They spin backward and forward smoothly
  • Feature premium quality materials that enhance durability
  • Rods are long
  • It’s easy to achieve a drag-free drift


  • Centrepin reels don’t have a drag system
  • Very specialized reel with limited applications
  • The feel and techniques require instruction and practice

Which Type of Fishing Reel is Best?

The different types of fishing reels on the market may seem overwhelming or intimidating. I use and own each fishing reel type above, but they all come with their advantages and disadvantages.

However, we’re all about having fun!

So, when should you use each real?

The best sea fishing reel types are spinning, conventional, and baitcasting reels. However, keep in mind that the reel has features that make it resistant to corrosion from saltwater. The features include stainless steel parts, a sealed reel frame, and sealed ball bearings.

High-quality saltwater fishing reels have anti-corrosion features for full immersion in saltwater. A regular fish reel would likely seize up.

Here’s a summary of the most common freshwater fish species and the best type of rule to use:

  • Smallmouth and largemouth Bass—baitcaster, spinning
  • Striped bass—spinning, casting
  • Bluegill—spincasting, spinning
  • Panfish—spinning, spincasting
  • Yellow perch—spinning, spincasting
  • Crappie—spinning
  • Catfish—spinning, casting
  • Sturgeon—casting
  • Pike—spinning, conventional
  • Walleye—spinning, baitcasting
  • Gar—spinning
  • Salmon—spinning, casting
  • Muskie—spinning, casting
  • Trout—spinning, baitcasting, conventional

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