Fishing Reel Gear Ratio (2021 Guide to the Ideal Ratio)

Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.

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Information about reel gear ratio should be accurate and digestible.

That’s the only way you can apply it to your fishing arsenal and catch more fish.

Believe me, you don’t have to be Albert Einstein to understand what fishing gear ratio is all about.

Over the years I used all types of fishing reels spanning low to high gear ratios, and here’s what I have learned.

What Is Fishing Reel Gear Ratio?

Black Fishing Reel
Black Fishing Reel

In a nutshell, gear ratio is the number of times the spool turns per turn of the reel handle.

Gear ratio determines how fast or slow the spool pulls the fishing line —that’s why it’s such a big deal to serious anglers.

Does Finding the Right Gear Ratio Matter?

A reel’s gear ratio affects how fast and smooth it retrieves fishing line.

It’s a big factor in your lure’s presentation and how much reeling you have to do, plus it increases fishing efficiency.

How fast and fluid a reel cranks, plus how it handles light or heavy lures —that’s pretty important stuff.

That’s why every fisherman should learn about gear ratios before buying a new reel.

How Do Reel Gears Work?

Two main gears turn the spool…

The Pinion Gear

This gear comes into contact with the spool and turns it.

The pinion gear has teeth-like grooves that link into the main gear.

The Main Gear

The main gear has grooves that link up with the pinion gear.

As the main gear turns, it causes the pinion gear to rotate the spool and pull the bait.

Each gear has teeth-like grooves which allow them to connect to each other to rotate the spool.

How to Read Gear Ratio Reel

The number on the left is how many times the spool turns.

The higher the number on the left, the faster it retrieves the line.

NOTE

The number on the right represents 1 full turn of the handle. FYI —the number on the right will always be 1.

Here’s a quick example of how gear ratio works —

If you crank the handle one full circle and the spool turns 6.4 times, the gear ratio is 6.4:1.

If you crank the handle one full circle and the spool turns 7.1 times, the gear ratio is 7.1:1.

See, it’s not crazy complex! However, it does get more interesting…

What Are the Types of Reel Gear Ratio?

Man Fishing on a River
Man Fishing on a River

Different reel models have different ratios, and fall into one of three main categories…

Low Gear Ratio Fishing Reel

A low gear ratio fishing reel retrieves the line slowly and ranges from 4:1 to 5.4:1 gear ratio. These reels are slower to retrieve but offer more crank torque.

They’re a good choice when a slow reel is needed for heavier, deep diving lures like umbrella rigs —

  • Right gear ratio for deep-diving crankbaits
  • Works for slow-rolling spinnerbaits and keeps them in the strike zone
  • Keeps heavy spinnerbaits in the water column and in the strike zone

Medium Gear Ratio Fishing Reel

These range from 6:1 to 6.4:1 and are the most commonly used reels.

They’re a good balance of speed and power which makes them popular with bass fishermen.

  • Well-loved among largemouth bass anglers
  • Smart choice for plastic worm fishing
  • Sweet-zone for Carolina rigs, plastic worms and lipless crankbait fishing

High Gear Ratio Fishing Reel

High speed reels have the fastest retrieve rates and span from 7:1 to 10.1:1. They can get your bait back to the boat in a hurry.

Keep in mind that baitcasters may have high ratios from 8:1 – 10.1:1, while spinning reels max out at 7.1:1.

High speed reels retrieve the line at a faster rate, which is a godsend when you’re on the water all day or fishing a hundred feet deep.

Roll with these fast moving reels if you want to

  • Skip topwater baits for bass or crappie
  • Experiment with flipping, picking and burning topwater spinner baits
  • Explore and fish a large or deep area of water

NOTE

Keep in mind that high gear ratio reels may offer less cranking power. You may have to crank your reel fewer times but the torque is not quite as stout —it’s sort of a trade-off.

The Down-Low on Line Pickup Rate

Fisherman Reeling in a Fish
Fisherman Reeling in a Fish

Lots of anglers have asked —What’s the difference between gear ratio and line pickup rate?

Line pickup is exactly what it sounds like — the amount of line per handle turn the reel picks up. It’s measured in “inches per turn”, or IPT.

What’s a Line Pickup Rate?

Line pickup rate is a more exact way to gauge how fast the reel retrieves.

This is because some reels have bigger spools which means more spool to turn.

So in reality, a fishing reel with a slightly lower gear ratio could pick up as much line per handle turn as a reel with a higher ratio.

This would only happen if the reel with the lower gear ratio has a larger spool.

IPT

IPT tells you how many inches of line is being reeled in per crank of the reel handle.

If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around IPT…

This informative video about inches per turn might be able to help understand it clearer.

NOTE

Many anglers use this measurement as a more accurate way to determine reel speed.

Does Gear Ratios Work the Same for Different Types of Reels?

Man Using a Spinning Reel
Man Using a Spinning Reel

The short answer is yes, all reels use two main gears to turn the spool and pull the line.

Whether you’re fly fishing, slinging a baitcaster or casting a spinning reel —gear ratio applies to each one.

Baitcasters and Gear Ratio

Baitcasting reels are designed to transmit more power, so you can crank more load with less effort.

That’s one reason they are the preferred choice of most bass fishermen, but they offer other pretty cool advantages too —

  • Anglers typically cast further using baitcast reels
  • Baitcast reels give you better control for pinpoint accuracy
  • Fast reel bait cast setups offer more high speed gear ratios

RECOMMENDATION

If you’re looking to snag one of these reels then I recommend Abu Garcia –I have owned 3 and they all performed well over the years.

Spinning Reels and Gear Ratio

Spinning reels offer low to high gear ratios, but baitcasters offer faster options.

You can find spinners with a high gear ratio of 7.1:1, which is pretty rapid, but slower than the fastest baitcaster.

Having said that, a spinning reel has some pretty cool advantages –

  • They cast lighter lures better than baitcasters and are ideal for flipping
  • Lures sink straighter when they hit the water
  • Tend to be more lightweight than baitcasters.
  • They’re easier to cast and help novice anglers stay in the strike zone

If by any chance your looking for a spinning reel, here’s a link to our full review of the Shimano Sedona. It’s a reel that won’t break the bank and does the job pretty well.

Fly Fishing Reels and Gear Ratio

Fly fishing reels don’t have a drag system, but they do have gears that turn a spool. Although the line and spool are a little bigger, the reels still operate using gear ratios.

Here are some things to keep in mind about fly fishing reels

  • The gear ratio is slightly lower, adjusted for heavier line
  • They handle ultralight fly baits extremely well
  • They tend to be bigger and bulkier than regular reels

Choosing the Right Gear Ratio

This depends on your specific fishing needs. Here are some things to consider before choosing reel models with a specific ratio…

What Bait Are You Using?

Heavy Bait

Lures on a Plastic Box
Lures on a Plastic Box

Are you going after trophy carp using a big crankbait?

Or maybe slow reel fishing for pike or stripers with an oversize plastic minnow?

You’ll need to find the right gear ratio first.

If you’re slinging giant lures you’ll need a fishing reel with some power. Go with low to medium gear ratio models for heavier lures —4.1:1 – 6 1:1.

This range keeps your lure at the best water-depth when you’re slow-reeling or trolling deep water spinnerbaits.

TIP

Also consider pairing your low gear ratio reel with a stiff rod tip. This will give you better control over heavy baits and a stiffer hook set.

Medium Weight Lures

You can count on a medium gear ratio to handle most lures and baits—especially when it comes to bass fishing.

Jigs, plastic worms and Carolina rigs are favorites for reels with 6 1:1 – 6.4:1 gear ratio.

Medium ratio reels also work for classic baits like beetle-spins, plastic shad and spoons. This range gives you a nice balance of crank speed and torque, ideal for a nice variety of largemouth lures.

NOTE

Keep in mind that some anglers prefer high gear ratio reels for bass fishing. It’s because jigging and popping top water spinner baits can create slack in the line —you may need a high gear ratio reel to close the slack faster.

Lightweight and Ultralight Lures

This is where high gear ratios make things lots of fun for surface fishing.

Tons of topwater baits are lightweight —like plastic frogs, poppers and spooks. These baits work best on reels with a 7.1:1 gear ratio.

Choosing the right fast reel with a high gear ratio gives you more control over the speed and movement of tiny bait.

The faster retrieve per turn of the reel gives you quicker closing speed to set the hook.

What Lure Presentation Are You Going For?

The 411 On Frog Fishing

Bass Caught with a Frog Lure
Bass Caught with a Frog Lure

Reels with a rapid retrieve speed are many bass angler’s favorite reel for lightweight frogs.

High speed reels make the frog’s frantic movements look more realistic and natural when frog fishing.

With a high speed reel and a frog rod, you can skim it over lily pads and weed-lines with fewer hangups.

Most of the bass I catch on lightweight frogs are in the 2 – 5 pound range, so giving up a little reel strength is okay.

Shallow Summer Bass

I love to speed things up in the shallows using a high gear ratio fast reel.

There’s nothing more fun than ripping jerk bait, poppers or buzzbait through the lake shallows.

The high speed retrieve of a high gear ratio reel helps you achieve the “spastic” look of an injured bug or baitfish.

It’s also a secret weapon bass anglers use to draw lunkers out of brush or logs.

TIP

Blazing a buzzbait or skirted spinner beside a hidden lunker can trigger it to bite. Nothing beats the topwater explosion when you land one that way.

Mid to Deep-Dwelling Fish

Muskies and Stripers

If you’re targeting muskies or stripers 20 – 30 feet deep you may need a slow, wobbly crankbait.

A low gear ratio reel of 4.4:1 – 5.1:1 is the right gear ratio range.

It works best for heavy, slow-rolling lures and has enough torque to handle a trophy fish –no issue.

Winter Smallmouth Bass

Smallies head to deeper, warmer water during the winter months.

You can target them with slow-pace rattletraps near deep structure.

Choosing the right low gear ratio gives this bait the right presentation in the water.

Now that you’ve got a basic idea of how gear ratio affects lure performance, let’s dive deeper —

Are You Saltwater Fishing?

Saltwater Deeps

Men on a Boat Holding a Fish
Men on a Boat Holding a Fish

Retrieval rate is a big deal for saltwater anglers who are fishing bottom or deep-sea fishing.

A high gear ratio reel retrieves fishing line at a faster rate, which is a godsend when you’re fishing hundreds of feet deep.

Fish like mahi mahi tend to dwell 200 – 300 feet below the surface.

If you want to snag some then a high speed reel is going to be your best friend.

Bigger Fish

But keep in mind, they can also grow pretty big.

If you’re targeting a monster, consider downsizing the gear ratio a touch to allow for a little more power.

High Gear Ratio

If you’re going after smaller deep-sea fish like Spanish mackerel then a higher gear ratio would make more sense.

You could roll with a 7.1:1 – 8.1:1 or higher gear ratio without worry.

A high gear ratio can also save energy and help you fish longer but keep in mind that you lose a slight amount of reel power.

If you’re fishing for huge saltwater fish then a nice balance of speed and power is always best.

RECOMMENDATION

I recommend a lower gear ratio of 4.1:1 – 5.1:1 of you’re targeting trophy fish. This range gives you the torque you need without slowing you down much.

Inshore Fishing

If you’re targeting inshore fish like tarpon, bonefish or reds you can roll with a higher gear ratio.

But keep in mind that tarpon can grow to a huge size, so if you’re stalking a trophy then downsize the gear ratio a touch.

If pier fishing is your thing, then consider a reel with mid to high speed reel and match it with the best inshore spinning rod. This will help your lure cut through waves when you’re fishing against the tide.

All Day Fishing Trip?

Using heavy baits can wear you out quicker than you think. One big advantage of using a high gear ratio reel is that you do less reeling.

That’s because a speed reel with higher gear ratio means a faster retrieve on these types of reels.

If you’re planning an all-day or week-long excursion, consider a reel with a mid to high gear ratio.

This can help you avoid hand cramps and fatigue.

NOTE

You can roll with a low gear ratio on an all day trip if you want, but be prepared to do more cranking.

Wrapping Things Up

Well, if you’re still reading then kudos —you’re a true fisherman who wants to catch more fish.

You did yourself a solid by learning about gear ratios.

Whether you’re fishing deep for trophies or hitting the shallows for your supper just remember a few things:

  • Gear ratios are the number of times the spool turns per crank of the handle
  • Gear ratios are all about speed reel time and crank torque
  • Higher gear ratios are faster but offer a little less power
  • Medium options span 5.4:1 – 6.1:1 gear ratio
  • Lower gear ratio reel setup is slower with more crank power
  • Lower gear ratios work better for heavy baits
  • The right gear ratio improves lure presentation

Now take your newfound understanding of reels and use it to catch some fish.

I’d suggest you start targeting crappies, their a good fish to target for beginners and here’s a review of the Best Crappie Reels of 2021 to make it easier for you.

And if you happen to catch something picture-worthy, send it to us and we may post you on our site.

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Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.
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