Most reels share a few basic characteristics: they are mechanical devices the hold, release, and retrieve line, have a handle attached to a spool, employ a braking device for slowing a fish from taking all the line from the spool, and have a bracket for attaching the reel to a fishing rod.
There are four common types of reels. The decision to use a particular kind of reel is based either on the type of fishing you are doing or, in some cases, by an angler's personal preference.
Bait Casting Reels
If you have every seen bass fishing on TV you have undoubtedly seen anglers using a bait casting reel. Contemporary models are designed to allow you to maximize your casting distance. Bait casting reels have a revolving spool that is set in a frame. The revolving spool sets these reels apart and helps with longer distance casting. When you hold a bait casting pole, the reel is positioned facing up.
Bait casting reels have a number of features that try to help you to focus on fishing rather than your line. There is a level-wind mechanism that guides the line back and forth across the spool as you reel it in. This keeps the line distributed across the spool. Anti reverse handles prevent you from cranking the handle the wrong way and unspooling your line. A adjustable drag allows you to control the ease with which the line can be pulled from the spool.
The tension of the spool is adjustable on bait casting reels and is set to prevent what is known as backlash. This happens when the spool spins faster than the line is being pulled out and can cause a tangled mess. Since the tension varies with the weight of the lure or bait being used, and somewhat with the cast being made, bait casting is a little trickier to become proficient with than a spinning reel. With experience you learn to judiciously use your thumb as an aid in preventing backlash.
One other important feature of bait casting reels is the gear ratio. A 5.5/1 ratio means the spool spins 5.5 times for every complete turn of the handle. This allows for faster retrieval than the once standard 4/1 reel. The ability to move the spool faster than the handle is one of the reasons the original bait casting reels were called multiplier reels. They are still referred to by this name in England.
Fishing on a lake for a bass is the probably the most common situation for using bait casting reels. There are also numerous kinds of salt water reels popular for various salt water fishing needs. Some of these models are huge, as they are designed for big game fishing.
A fly reel is different from other reels in having little role in casting. Part of the charm of fly fishing too is that fact that you fight fish in a rather direct way - the technological side of things is minimized. This has surely contributed to maintaining the simplicity of these reels. In the midst of fishing, when you have enough line to cast and perhaps drift your fly, the line you are using to fish is primarily split between being in use and being held in your hand. In between the times when you have a fish on your line the reel may see little or no use.
The action or mechanism of a fly reel is typically uncomplicated. One side of the wheel that holds the line has a small knob that serves as the handle. There is a 1 to 1 relationship between turning the wheel and the amount of line pulled. Many fly reels also have a drag to prevent a hooked fish from taking line off your reel too quickly.
Spin Casting Reels
These reels are the simplest to use and are great for teaching children how to fish. The line is stored and fed from a fixed spool that is typically housed in a closed cone. The action of releasing line for casting can be controlled by a button. You hold the button down when you want the line to come out and let go of the button to stop the line from being released.
The simple nature of the mechanisms used for holding and releasing the line tend to reduce tangles. The closed cone also keeps out dirt and keeps the moving parts away from curious and easily distracted children - meaning they will be more likely to concentrate on fishing rather than playing with their reel.
The drag on a spin casting reel also tends to be simple. It is controlled by a wheel on the body of the reel or by a star nut that is part of the handle.
Spin casting reels tend to be used for lightweight fishing for small panfish. Their simple design means they are not able to hold much line and they are not the best casting reels - if distance and accuracy are what you are after. Even so, they are still good reels that work well if you want simple fishing tackle.
Spinning reels are offered in the widest variety of sizes and prices of all the basic types of reel designs. They are relatively easy to learn to use. Their versatility allows them to be used for fishing across the widest range of conditions – for many species of fish and in many different habitats.
A spinning reel is designed so the line is pulled off the top of the spool. A bail is positioned around the side of the spool and holds the line on place. Casting consist of opening the bail, holding the line with your finger as you prepare, and letting go of the line as the cast is underway. The cast finishes with your line in the water and a simple turn of the reel handle flips the bail back into place - once again holding the line.
Other features include a drag to adjust the tension needed to pull line off the spool when the bail is closed. Most spinning reels have an anti-reverse mechanism that prevents the handle from being spun backwards – and fouling your line up.