Dotted throughout the vast reaches of fishdom, there are reel aficionados who insist that the casting reel (baitcaster / overhead reel) is superior to the spinning reel.
For some weird reason, I get a little sparkle in my eye whenever I hear this old chestnut of an argument.
Like most experienced anglers, I have strong opinions about this – I can’t help but dive for my trusty soapbox.
Honestly, I don’t know why we’re still talking about it…nonetheless, here we are.
There are certainly those with the best of intentions trying to set the record straight.
However, I’ve read countless inaccuracies about each reel type’s applications, strengths, and limitations, that serve, in part, to compound the misinformation.
The following article is an attempt to put the debate to rest.
I’ll also highlight which reel is more suited to what.
Let’s get into it…
Are Casting Reels Better than Spin Reels?
There is a concise answer to the question. And that answer is no, neither reel is better than the other
Depending on the user, fishing method, conditions, and target, both reels hold their own as a most effective tool for catching fish.
To arrive at this definitive position, I’ve put aside emotion, opinion, and subjective personal preferences.
It’s a pragmatic assessment.
Ultimately, there’s only one critical metric for determining reel hierarchy.
That’s its potential to assist you to catch the fish you target; efficiently and effectively – with as little complication as possible.
Each Has Its Own Advantage
In that regard, modern spin reels and casting reels are both awesome – equally. The thing that separates them is this:
That comes with a pretty hefty qualification, however. There are any number of factors that determine a reel’s suitability for purpose.
There is No “Better”
And that’s what it’s all about. There is no “better than”, just better suited.
It’s very important to keep in mind that there is a significant level of application crossover, where both reel types are equally suitable for exactly the same fishing application.
Let’s try a simple vehicle analogy to illustrate this.
Lamborghini Versus The Landcruiser Four Wheel Drive
Both the Lamborghini and the Landcruiser are perfectly suited for taking a legal drive on city roads, point A to B.
And this is, generally speaking, the way most of us use our cars.
If you intend to drive on the sand or in deep mud, the Lamborghini will perform very badly and the Landcruiser will be brilliant.
If you plan to drive flat-strap on a street circuit to win a race, the Lambo will be perfect and the Cruiser will come a very distant last.
The Reel Equivalent
Similarly, both the casting and spinning reels are equally ideal for tossing a broad range of different lure/bait types at any number of fish sizes and fish species; generally mixed bag fishing.
This accounts for most anglers.
Trolling deeper in the water column for record-breaking dogtooth tuna is generally better handled by your average angler with a hefty casting reel.
A novice angler casting poppers from the ocean rocks at large pelagic species is better suited with a large spin reel.
Learn more about the pros and cons of each reel in the video below.
To Put it Simply
This is pretty well it in a nutshell. However, it’s a little simplistic and there’s more to it than that…But…
This is the concise position. To repeat…
There is no ‘better overall’ just better suited.
Horses for courses, in effect.
Comparing Apples With Apples
Although the Lambo and Cruiser are both cars and can do many of exactly the same things equally well, there are certain tasks and conditions where each car will excel over the other.
This is exactly the case with spin reels and casting reels. Generally speaking, one is no better than the other.
Fundamentally, they’re designed to achieve the same outcome. However, comparing them is not really comparing apples to apples.
An ability to operate a casting reel with confidence and prowess was admired.
The casting reel was viewed as an advanced style of reel, with advanced operation, for a more advanced angler.
Indeed, it still is.
Early Spin Reels
Early spin reels were pretty limited in terms of their versatility and performance.
Interestingly, however, the spin reel was clearly a lot easier to use… like… a lot!
The spin reel was so much easier to use, it’s arguably the key reason it got such an early vice-hold on the recreational angling market.
More than Meets the Eye
Despite its early limitations, the spin reel allowed weekend anglers to fish with an advanced style fishing reel.
It was far more accessible – cheaper and easier.
Many anglers could make the jump from hand-lines and rudimentary centrepin reels, to something that delivered a serious mechanical advantage for casting and battling fish.
From the outset, and moving forward, the spin reel was seen as the lesser reel.
Firstly, because of its ‘ordinary’ performance and versatility. And secondly, because just about anybody could use one, and indeed afford one.
It was the fishing reel for the common man. Never a worthy tool for accomplished and skilled sports angler.
Yep…elitism and snobbery. Many may be surprised by this, but you shouldn’t be.
Elitism and snobbery are pervasive throughout all aspects of social/sporting culture, fishing was (and is) by no means immune.
A Quick Aside to Illustrate This
Here is a video I stumbled across while doing some knot research. Listen to the video and note the presentation style.
Somehow, without demonstrating any empirical evidence, the presenter relegates the time-honored, classic, and irrefutably reliable “fisherman’s knot”.
It’s portrayed as outdated, unfashionable, and a knot for the less sophisticated angler. (Make sure you read the comments for further insight).
Knot snobbery??? Are you serious…? Well, reel snobbery is a little like this.
Does Reel Snobbery Still Exist?
In many respects, much of the “casting reels are better” arguments we hear today are a hangover from the traditional elitism of not-so-long-ago.
It’s still with us, yes, because the casting reel is still seen as an advanced fishing reel for advanced anglers.
But the snobbery is in no way as pervasive and pointed as it once was.
For the most part, this is because advanced technologies have completely weaponized the humble spin reel.
Technology Levels the Playing Field
Advances in technology have impacted many aspects of fishing, especially reels.
However, while there’s been some exceptional technology applied to casting reels, it’s spin reels that have really advanced relative to their humble beginnings.
So, not only are spin reels still a lot easier to use, they have all the versatility, and much of the strength and capacity of casting reels.
It’s all up to the user
You can finesse perfectly in the salt or fresh with a refined spin reel.
You can also land a monster marlin or tiger shark on a huge game spin reel.
Spin reels now stand shoulder to shoulder with casting reels, and the top models are every bit as performance-driven as the casting reels.
Spin reels are also used by tournament anglers the world over.
Access Waters Down Elitism
So, while some level of snobbery still exists, it remains only because it still takes greater skill to operate a casting reel to its peak performance.
It’s also worth noting that technological advances have made casting reels far cheaper than they ever were.
Most angling budgets can afford a well-appointed casting reel.
They’re no longer exclusive. This too has been an important factor in breaking down traditional reel elitism. We’ve all got one now.
The Key Differences Between Casting and Spin Reels
Spin and casting reels heave quite a number of differences. The fundamental differences that impact performance and application (quality and inclusions aside) are these:
- The casting reel is designed to be mounted on top of the fishing rod, the spin reel, underneath
- The center of gravity of a casting reel is far lower than that of a spin reel
- The casting reel spool spins when you cast. The spool of a spin reel remains stationary when casting
- The spool of a casting reel is anchored to the body/frame at two points. The spin spool is anchored at one point via a single shaft protruding from the body.
- The line peels off a casting spool in line with the rod. Line peels off a spinning reel perpendicular to the fishing rod.
- Let’s analyze these differences in terms of performance and application.
Reel Mounting and Centre of Gravity
Cast and Retrieve
A low center of gravity and close placement of the reel to the grip of the rod has ergonomic advantages for several fishing techniques.
Up to a certain reel size, an experienced angler can operate a casting outfit with just one hand. There are benefits to this, particularly for fast flipping, pitching or skipping lures with an underarm cast, under low structures.
Is Time A Factor?
There’s an efficient flow of cast and retrieve, enabling significant cast/retrieve efficiency and optimum control.
A casting outfit can feel like an extension of your arm. Really nice!
There’s tournament benefits because time is critical. Time is also a factor while fishing a fast-moving current in a boat or kayak.
The faster you can cast and retrieve, the more chances you have in a particular strike zone as you drift steadily by.
This doesn’t mean you can’t flip, pitch and skip effectively with a spin outfit. It just requires two hands.
Of course, the cast/retrieve rate will be slower.
Put Some Effort
You have to flip the bail arm and press the line to the rod while loading up. This requires more movement and actions.
Clearly, the compact design and low center of gravity have speed and efficiency advantages for these applications.
But under most fishing circumstances, this sort of hyper-efficiency is not at all critical.
On a personal, touchy-feely note, fishing like this with a well-balanced casting outfit feels fantastic.
The Average Angler
I’m not sure, however, if it’s responsible for the average angler catching more and bigger fish. And I’m not sure that this is what your average weekend angler does.
Importantly, I would argue that there are significant numbers of anglers that don’t possess the skill to cast a casting reel using these techniques – There’s certainly no universal desire and necessity for it.
For those who do, however, the casting reel is technically better suited.
In terms of balance, many anglers prefer the feel of the reel hanging under the rod. It’s an easier and more natural, self-determining balance.
Once casting reels move up in size, there is a tendency for them to want to turn over so they can hang. With a loose grip, the rod will have a tendency to twist in your hand so the reel can hang. Can’t help gravity!
The center of gravity also plays a role in strength. A spin reel has a long support arm, usually a narrow piece of metal connecting the reel foot to the reel body.
Under extra heavy loads, this part of the reel can bend and flex impacting alignment. This will rarely be a problem at all for most anglers.
It’s most likely to be an issue with a cheap spin reel or using an underpowered reel to tackle big fish.
The reel feet of a casting reel is more often than not connected directly to the body/frame. The potential for twisting like the spin reel is more or less non-existent.
Casting is the greatest difference between the two reels. There’s no argument, the spin reel is far easier for the average angler to learn, master, and extract peak casting performance.
The advantages of a spin reel’s casting manners cannot be overstated. The spin reel’s user-friendly credentials are the reason it has come to dominate the market.
Loop knots and wind knots can be a slight issue with spin reels. However, they are insignificant relative to the backlash or overrun.
We Can’t Escape Backlash
Despite significant developments in casting reel braking technology, no technology has eliminated the scourge of backlash. I would argue that if it hasn’t happened now, elimination is unlikely anytime soon.
Backlash is a reality of the physics of a rotating spool. While technology has helped, it is totally up to the angler to mitigate backlash.
Happens to the Best of Us
Even the most skilled anglers who use casting reels exclusively will occasionally succumb to backlash.
The average angler is far more likely to experience backlash with some regularity. The resulting bird’s nest can ruin your day.
I remember learning to cast a casting reel. I remember cutting up nigh on full spools of mono to remove the bird’s nest. I remember re-spooling, then having the same situation occur the very next cast. It’s not fishing, its profound frustration.
When I’m out fishing, I still witness the backlash nightmare regularly.
On occasion, I have to deal with it myself.
It’s About the Fisherman Too
The most important aspect, however, is the angler’s skill level and confidence to push the limits of a potential backlash.
It’s a matter of fact that getting maximum distance from a casting reel requires a considerably high skill level.
These variables plus the average realistic skill levels of average anglers, diminish the casting reel’s “on paper” advantage to next to nothing.
In fact, the advantage goes to the spin reel.
In the hands of an average angler, a good spin reel with a well-balanced rig can be cast phenomenal distances, certainly out-casting the casting reel by a considerable margin.
Let’s look at a scenario.
An angler with reasonable experience is looking for a reel to tackle GT’s from the ocean rocks.
They intend casting big heavy poppers. They’re chasing big GT’s, so reel strength is a critical factor.
The angler would have a greater selection of casting reels that cover the strength factor.
There aren’t as many choices that cover the strength factor in the spin range.
However, they’re casting poppers, so there will be a heck of a lot of casting in potentially tricky, windy conditions.
Cast reliability, predictability, and distance win out here.
The Stellas and Saltigas are way strong enough, and crucially, deliver significant casting advantage.
A good angler can be extremely accurate with a casting reel.
The balance, center of gravity and profile of a casting reel allow for great control.
When you add thumb control for distance, the casting reel is nigh on unbeatable in terms of accuracy.
For lure anglers, there are definitely benefits for hyper refined accuracy. Some anglers will want to land their lures on a select lily pad.
If you’re spot fishing, you may want to land your lure on a dime. In the hands of a proficient casting reel angler, this can be achieved.
It Takes Skill
However, proficiency comes down to the skill of the user.
And how important is quarter-inch accuracy for catching fish anyway?
There are significant accuracy benefits in terms of avoiding snags while casting into structure.
The fact that you have more options for shaping your cast is also a benefit of the casting reel.
Hyper-Accuracy Versus Accuracy
There’s no doubt; the casting reel does provide an accuracy benefit over spin reels that will likely have a positive impact on your catch results.
I would argue, however, that an accomplished spin reel user can achieve equal levels of casting accuracy, if perhaps at a slower firing rate.
Again, the question remains; how important is quarter-inch casting accuracy to the average angler?
I would argue the average angler will be able to achieve adequate accuracy with a spin reel much faster, with less inconvenience, than with a casting reel.
So, Does the Casting Thing Make the Spin Reel Better?
There’s a worthy argument that the whole easy casting thing makes the spin reel better overall. But I completely disagree.
The spin reel is simply a better option for many anglers and applications, based on its ease of casting.
So it’s a better option for many, not a better reel…
Big Round Baticasters are Strong
Many of the big round casting reels are brilliant up against our big blue water species.
Phenomenal strength and decent drag and line capacities make them ideal for jigging, trolling and, to a lesser extent, casting at the likes of tuna and mackerel.
If I were trolling or jigging for big tuna, I’d select a big round baitcaster.
They’re better suited. If I was casting big lures, I’d choose one of the big Stella or Saltiga spin reels.
This has been one of the big changes in recent years. The huge Shimano and Daiwa game spin reels have incredible strength.
Modern Game Spin Reels
These spin reels can hold over 600 meters of 80-pound braid. The drag capacities exceed 25 kilograms.
They’re high tech, strong as an ox, and still, child’s play to use.
You will find that the two biggest models in the rival brand’s spin reel series, out-spec just about all of the largest round baitcaster reels.
Would I chase the ocean’s biggest fish with a huge spin reel such as the two mentioned?… Hold my beer!
Let’s Be Practical
Again. One has to be honest about this.
How many anglers, relative to all there are, chase the oceans biggest every weekend?
How many of us face being spooled by a monster that our drag can’t slow and turn?
Rarely do the majority of weekend anglers require every ounce of performance that a reel can deliver.
As long as we choose an appropriate reel size, strength and capacity for the fish we target, the strength thing is a moot point. Spin or casting, you’re all good.
Spin and Casting Reel Key Benefits at a Glance
- Casting is far easier. No backlash
- Easier to learn and master
- Easier to extract long casts
- Ideal for all fishing skill levels from beginner to tournament professional
- Versatility. Perfect for the smallest lightest lures to the biggest blue water lures
- Basic maintenance is generally easier
- A better reel for ultra-light finesse fishing
- Handles can be moved from left to right
- More stable casting and predictable casting in the wind
- The potential for astonishing cast accuracy
- Phenomenal strength. Can punch well above their weight. Small reels handle big fish
- Outstanding rigidity. All the power goes to the crank.
- Once accomplished, anglers can achieve a rapid and smooth cast retrieve flow
- Casting versatility. From one-handed casts to underarm casting
- Brilliant for fishing at tight quarters
- Significantly reduced twist
- Faster gear ratios and split gear ratios for better retrieve versatility
- Better ergonomics (depending on reel quality and anglers hand size)
The spin reel and casting reel deliver shared benefits.
Each reel-type excels over the other in different applications, depending on the user.
Importantly, in the right hands and used appropriately, they both catch fish equally well. And this outcome has to be the critical measure.
The fact that the spin reel is more user-friendly and more versatile is it’s strength.
The strength of the casting reel is its supreme accuracy in the hands of a skilled user, and its ability to punch well above its weight.
Depending on the Situation
An accomplished angler will, generally, have multiples of both reel types in their fishing arsenal. Having both provides flexibility and versatility.
Yes, the casting reel is harder to master, but the rewards are worth it.
Even if it doesn’t catch you more fish than the spin reel, the feel of using a quality balanced casting outfit is inspirational.
Casting a spin reel all day long knowing you’re not going to get backlash is also a great feeling. It inspires you to cast with total confidence.
Some anglers like using spin reels, and some anglers like using casting reels. Most of us love to use both. There’s no “better than”. It’s horses for courses.