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 fishing spot.
The price of a reel can vary greatly depending on its features, functionality, styling, and warranty. It’s unlikely you’ll want to put an expensive reel on a budget rod so it’s worth sharing your budget between both purchases.
What to consider when choosing a fishing reel
If you’ve bought a rod (or you own a rod and are looking at upgrading the reel), 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 its length 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 the two.
A balanced fishing rod will make casting easier and more accurate and reduces user fatigue because the outfit is easier to handle for long periods of time. This 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 different types of fishing reels
The infographic shows the fishing reels most commonly used in Australia, as well as the rods and types of fishing they are most suited to.
Spinning reels are often referred to as eggbeaters because of their characteristic whipping action and are probably the most versatile of all reels.
They use a bail guide system that holds the line, wrapping it onto the spool as you retrieve. When the bail is flipped across, the line is released to fall freely off the spool. This makes them excellent for casting as the spool does not spin. All you have to do is pinch the line to keep it tight on the spool and time your release with the highest point of your cast to let the line fly. The bail can then be flicked back, engaging the reel for retrieval.
Spinning reels feature adjustable drag and sometimes a ‘free spool’ setting that can be used when drift fishing in a current, allowing the fish to run with the bait before engaging the reel and striking. The quality and price of a reel are determined by the material it is made from, the drag system, gear features, and the number of ball bearings (these create a smoother action under pressure).
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.
Modern spinning reels will usually have the numbers presented in thousands (i.e. 2500) but they may be in double figures (i.e. 25) and occasionally in 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 are designed specifically for baitcasting rods and, while versatile, should be reserved for seasoned anglers. Though notorious for tangles, when mastered these reels offer high levels of accuracy and control.
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, barramundi 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, it is important to be aware of the gear ratio and suggested line class, as this will help you 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 represent the number of 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 ( for example: 175 yards. / 14lb.Braid.) is the amount of monofilament or braid line that a spool can fit and the suggested weight class of that line. Our 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 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.
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 and lures directly under a boat or kayak.
Overhead and baitcasting reels are very similar in design. A baitcasting reel is essentially a modernised version of the traditional overhead concept, with a lower profile that maks it better balanced for casting.
Most traditional overhead reels on the market are aimed at ocean fishing and 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 are designed specifically for fly rods. Traditionally, they are simple in design and construction but modern fly reels are becoming more and more advanced, using disc-type drag systems for improved drag adjustment, consistency and resistance to drag friction.
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. For a detailed guide, check out our Guide to Selecting a Fly Fishing Reel
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 the suggested size of fly line to be used with the rod. Fly lines are classed in weights, rather than pounds or kilos. Knowing the rating of a rod is a 5wt, for example, allows you to narrow your choice of fly reel to ensure you choose one that accommodates a fly line of the appropriate weight.
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 to target 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 with large flies.
An Australian invention, Alvey reels are very popular among land-based anglers in Australia for their hard-wearing simple design. Alvey reels are unique as they are a fixed spool reel (similar to a larger diameter fly reel in appearance) but to cast they rotate on a hinge to face the spool perpendicular to the direction you are going to cast like a spinning reel, allowing the line to fly directly off the spool.
Alvey reels are known for being incredibly hard wearing due to their lack of small parts, making them perfect for fishing for big species of powerful fish in harsh conditions.
What are electric fishing reels?
Electric reels are designed for overhead rods and are relatively new on the recreational fishing market (they were exclusive to commercial deep-sea operators in the past).
Their modern design, improved functionality and reduced price have made them 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 ability to automatically drop baits or jigs and retrieve 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 and use the reel manually as if it was an overhead reel.
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.
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 to extending a reel’s life.
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.
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.