How To Choose a Spinning Reel


Abu Garcia Revo SX Reel

How to Choose a Spinning Reel

| When looking for a new spinning reel, there are a few important things to look at to ensure that the reel you are purchasing fits your needs and budget. A spinning reel is a great choice for all around fishing and are very versatile, but particularly excel with lighter lures and finesse techniques. They also are easier to learn to fish with than a typical baitcasting reel, as it is difficult to backlash. So what should you look for in a new reel? When choosing a spinning reel, you should take into account the reel size, bearings, construction, gear ratio, drag system, and the strength of rod you are fishing with. If you would like to compare baitcasting reels to spinning reels, click here.

Reel Size

The size of the reel is very important, as this dictates what fish you can fish for with the reel, what pound test of line you can put on, and what type of rod you should look for to pair it with. Each individual reel is rated for a different pound test line, and this is one of the first things you should look at. Some reels will say 8 lbs/120 yards, while others with say 8 lbs/170 yards. This tells you a couple different things – first, that the reel itself perform optimally with 8 pound test line and therefore would be a good reel for fish that would be close to that weight like smallmouth, walleye, smaller northern pike, and so on. It could also work for bluegill, perch, and crappies, but would be an overkill because often you should only use 2-4 lb test for these smaller panfish, while this particular reel is rated for 8 lb. Another thing to remember is that while the reel says it performs best with 8 lb, it would also perform well with 6 lb and 10 lb test line, as you do have a little wiggle room with no drop off in performance.

The next thing this rating tells you is the line capacity in yards. The first reel can hold 120 yards, while the second can hold 170 of the same poundage. This means the second reel has a bigger spool capacity than the first, and which one you would go with depends completely on preference as well as circumstances. Are you making long casts, are the fish pulling out lots of drag due to their size, are you trolling a good distance from the boat, what depth are you fishing, and so on would be good questions to look at. If you think you need more capacity, go with the larger number, but if you can’t think of an instance when you will need it, go with the smaller. It isn’t a bad thing to have a smaller capacity, as you want to be perfectly suited for the conditions you are fishing, no more or no less.

Another thing to consider in regards to size are the physical dimensions of the reel. Generally, the lighter the rating is, the smaller the reel itself is. There is a huge difference in size from a reel rated 4 lbs/160 yards versus a reel rated 12 lbs/140 yards. The gears on the inside must be bigger, the spool must be bigger, and everything has to be thicker and more heavy duty. Normally reels with similar ratings are very close in size, but the handles have different feels or the bail is thicker on one – when it comes down to choosing between two similar rated reels, these are the items under the size category you should look at. Read on for other differences between similar sized reels.


Bearings are the next thing to look at after size, since these are what make the reel spin. The number and quality of bearings in a reel will make a reel feel smooth or sloppy. Generally, the higher the number of bearings a reel has, the smoother it is, and the higher quality bearings they are, the smoother it is as well. So, ideally you would have a reel with many bearings that are high quality. A good number of bearings is 10, while 4 is getting pretty low, and each reel manufacturer has different names for their highest end bearings.


Be sure to look at what the reel is made of and how durable the moving parts appear to be. Ideally, you would have a reel made of all metal to last the longest. Plastics today are getting very strong, so this may not be as much of a rule as it has been in the past, but you can’t go wrong with full metal, especially on important parts like the handle, bail, and body. The construction you get should also depend on the conditions you are fishing it in. Plastic gets very brittle when it gets chilly out and is more likely just to snap under any light pressure. Low quality reels will corrode under saltwater.

Gear Ratio

Gear ratio is basically telling you the cranking power a reel has. As an example, let’s compare a reel with a gear ratio of 5.2 : 1 with another reel that 7.1 : 1. The ratio merely shows how many turns you will get out of the spool with one full rotation of the handle, so the first spool with spin 5.2 times with a full turn, while the next will spin 7.1 times per turn. The larger the gear ratio, the faster the retrieve will be since it wraps more line around the spool with each rotation of the handle. On the other handle, the lower the gear ratio, the more power the reel has to pull in large fish and large lures. This is a rule of thumb to always remember when looking at spinning reels. You must decide what’s more important for your fishing style – a higher gear ratio is great for ripping lighter lures like crankbaits through the water, while a lower gear ratio is suited perfectly for heavy, slower lures and bigger fish like muskie and salmon.

Drag System

The drag system is an important component for fighting and tiring fish out with. There are two types for spinning reels – front and rear adjustment. Front adjustment have a larger surface and therefore are found on bigger reels for bigger fish, and vice versa with the rear adjustment. Test the drag out if possible to feel how smoothly it comes out, and look at the size of the drag knob to see if it’s easily adjustable while fighting a fish – oftentimes, you will be fighting a large fish and have to tighten it in the middle of the fight to bring it in faster.

Matching Your Rod

It’s important to match your reel with the rod you will be using. A light reel should go on a light or ultralight rod, while a medium rated reel would pair with a medium rod. Most of the time, rods also have line weight ratings, so this makes it very easy to match up an 8 lbs/ 120 yard reel with a 6-8 lb rated rod.


Spinning reels often come with many technical terms, but using this guide should help you simplify them to understand what you are looking for. Choosing a spinning reel can be fun and easy if you know exactly what questions to ask or information to look at. Good luck fishing!

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