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3 Different Fishing Reel Types and How To Choose The Right One For You

If you’ve been thinking seriously about taking up fishing, chances are you’ve been poking around online and visiting your local outdoor store. Chances also are good that you’ve been confused about the variety of fishing reel types tempting you to toss a hook into the water.

But there’s no need for any anxiety on your part. While the fishing reels at your sporting goods store may boast a bewildering array of features, there are only three basic fishing reel types. Read on to learn more about each type — spincasting, spinning, and baitcasting.

Along the way, you’ll also get some advice and direction on how to choose the right fishing reel for your angling preferences.

fishing reel types

Spincasting Reels

Thinking you might like to try fishing but not ready to spend a lot of money to find out if you like it? No problem. A spincasting reel is an inexpensive first step into the angling world among the various fishing reel types. The venerable Zebco 404 spincasting reel comes complete with a two-piece rod, bobbers, hooks and lures.

And if you decide you like fishing and want to upgrade to one of the other fishing reel types, don’t fret. You can still stash your Zebco 404 in your backseat, where it’s ready for any spur-of-the-moment angling urge.

So what, exactly, is a spincasting reel? Well, the fishing line and all of the reel’s other components are hidden in a metal casing, unique among fishing reel types. On the back, a single button toggles between locking and unlocking your line. On the side, a drag mechanism adjusts the resistance a fish feels when striking your line.

To cast, press the toggle to free the line and swing the rod forward. Once the line reaches the spot you’re aiming for, lock it and wait for a bite. When you feel a strike, tug the line to set the hook and use the crank on the reel’s side to bring in your fish.


Obviously, the low cost of a spincasting reel is a major reason for choosing it as at least one of your preferred fishing reel types. But also, because the line is inside an enclosed chamber, there’s no need to worry about it getting tangled during a day on the water.


While having your fishing line contained in an enclosed chamber can protect against tangles, it can also present problems. Dirt, water, and other small debris are inevitably going to get inside the reel. As those things accumulate, damage to the reel becomes more likely.

When — not if — dirt and debris get into your spincaster, it can be very difficult to get into the reel to clean it. As a result, spincasting reels likely won’t last as long as other fishing reel types.


You can get a spincasting reel for $20 or less, but you can also spend as much as $100 for a full-featured model. Top-of-the-line spincasting reels will be packed with features, including aluminum and titanium construction and fast line retrieval capabilities.

fishing reel types

Spinning Reels

Head out to any place where fish are biting, and you’ll find anglers using spinning reels as one of the most favored fishing reel types. Unlike spincast reels, spinning reels do not have a cover. Also, spinning reels are mounted on the bottom side of the rod rather than the top, as is the case with spincast reels.

There are many reasons that spinning reels are exceedingly popular among the fishing reel types available for anglers. For one, they’re available in a variety of sizes, for everything from getting small game fish from a backyard pond to going after large specimens.

Spinning reels also offer exceptional casting distance and line control, and they can also use monofilament, braided, and fluorocarbon fishing line. Read on for more, good and bad, about spinning reels.


Among the main advantages of spinning reels is that they are adaptable to everything from simple casting and retrieving to trolling and even jigging. They’re also very light, even when paired with a rod, which means they can be used comfortably for hours.


Of course, the light weight of a spinning reel means that you won’t be able to cast it for particularly long distances. That can be a handicap when water currents, vegetation, and above- or below-surface obstructions keep you from getting close to good fishing holes.

Also, spinning reels routinely will have a lower drag capacity than some options among fishing reel types. Drag systems place pressure on the fishing line to keep it from spooling out too fast or too far after a fish is hooked.

An inefficient or inadequate drag system can make it difficult to catch larger fish. So if larger fish are what you’re going after when you get on the water, a spinning reel may not be your best choice.


You can find an entry-level spinning reel, without a rod, for around $20. Higher-end spinning reels, particularly those designed for saltwater fishing, can cost $1,000 or more. As you move up the price scale in spinning reels, your investment buys you an increasingly durable reel that can last for years.

fishing reel types

Baitcasting Reels

Want to know what’s really going on as you cast your line into the water? If so, a baitcasting reel is the best of the fishing reel types for you to choose from. Baitcasting reels give anglers the best sense of touch and feel for what’s going on as fish consider taking their bait or lure.

Baitcasting reels are the only one of the fishing reel types suitable for deep-sea fishing. But wherever you plan to use a baitcasting reel, you should know that they can be difficult to master. Casting a baitcasting reel is particularly tricky because you have to slow the rotation of the line spool as the line is going out.

Slowing the spool rotation is done by either using the reel’s magnetic tension system or placing your thumb on the spool as the line is moving out. Failing to control the rotation can result in “bird nesting.”

“Bird nesting” is a tangling of your fishing line as your lure or bait slows down while the line is still coming quickly off the spool. If you don’t have another reel handy, your day will be spent untangling the “bird’s nest.”


A primary advantage of a baitcasting reel among the other fishing reel types is that it can cast for longer distances than a spinning reel. But as you have already learned, mastering a baitcasting reel will require some patience and skill.

Still, developing skills with a baitcasting reel will have some definite payoffs. They weigh less than spinning reels, meaning that you can fish with them more comfortably and for longer. Also, baitcasting reels will work better for casting heavy lures than spinning reels.

Additionally, like spinning reels, baitcasting reels can use monofilament, braided or fluorocarbon fishing line.


As already mentioned more than once, it can be difficult to learn how to cast with a baitcasting reel and rod. And there are other drawbacks to a baitcasting reel among the various fishing reel types.

For instance, if you’re using very light lures, a baitcasting reel will make it difficult to get your lure where you want it to go.

Also, you’ll need to adjust the spool tension on your baitcasting reel every time you decide to try a lure of a different size. That can be frustrating on a day when it’s not clear what lures are attracting your targeted fish, and you need to make frequent changes.


You can find a baitcasting reel for around $30, but serious anglers may pay as much as $200 or more for a top-of-the-line baitcasting reel.

fishing reel types

Fishing Reel Types Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you know the basics about the three main fishing reel types, you likely have more questions about choosing which is best for you. Read on for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about fishing reel types.

What are some tips for matching a fishing reel with an appropriate rod?

Once you’ve made your choice among the various fishing reel types, you’ll need to choose a rod to match the reel. There are a couple of ways to make that choice. For one, you can match a rod and reel using each component’s “line rating.” Or, you can mount your reel on a chosen rod to see how it feels.

On a rod, the line rating is usually printed near the grip. It indicates the maximum weight and strength of the fishing line for which the rod is designed. Similarly, the line rating should be readily available on documentation with a fishing reel.

More basically, the comparative cost of a fishing rod and reel can be a valuable tool for matching them up for maximum performance. As a general rule, don’t bother to use a $40 reel on a $200 rod, and vice versa.

What are some techniques for avoiding “bird nesting” with baitcasting reels?

Baitcasting reels offer a number of advantages over spinning reels, including higher line capacity, farther casting distances, and more sensitivity to fish nibbling at the bait. But they also come with the previously mentioned “bird nesting” issue.

“Bird nesting” can be the result of improper casting technique, but it can also happen when casting into the wind.

There are a number of ways to combat bird nesting. First, you can adjust the brakes on your reel to slow down your line. You can also adjust the tension on your reel, and you can use your thumb to stop your line during casting.

Each of these techniques can be used at the same time to fine-tune your line’s behavior and eliminate bird nesting.

Is it possible to clean a spincast reel effectively?

As you’ve learned, a disadvantage of a spincasting reel among the various fishing reel types is that its mechanical parts and fishing line are enclosed. But dirt, water, and other debris can still get inside your spincasting reel, and cleaning it can be a challenge.

That’s not to say it can’t be done. And in fact, you should disassemble and clean your spincasting reel occasionally. First, remove the cone covering the reel by twisting and popping it loose. Next, remove the handle and the drag wheel from the reel, watching that you don’t lose any springs or washers.

Remove any dirt- and grime-encrusted grease from the reel with WD-40™ or liquid soap, and scrub the workings with a plastic brush. Clean and dry the mechanism with a cloth, and then apply a coating of grease.

If you don’t have everything you need on hand, reel cleaning kits are available online to make the job as easy as possible for you.

fishing reel types

Wrapping up How to Choose Your Right Fishing Reel Type

When choosing which of the three fishing reel types is right for you, remember your choice should reflect what’s easiest and most fun for you. After all, fishing is supposed to be relaxing!

So, now that you’ve learned something about each type of fishing reel, including cost ranges, you’re ready to try out and buy one on your own. In the meantime, check out the rest of Life in Minnesota for a complete guide to fishing in the state.

You’ll find more help with fishing gear, a guide to Minnesota’s best fishing lakes and much, much more! In the meantime, good luck on your next fishing adventure! Have a great time on the water!