How To Use a Spinning Reel 101: A Complete Beginner’s Guide

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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When you first start learning to fish chances are you are going to be using a spinning reel on a spinning rod. While spinning reels are quite simple reels they are still going to feel very foreign if you have never held one before.

When I first started using spinning reels, I didn’t quite get what did what and how certain features of a spinning rod and reel might help me. I ended up learning on the job which involved countless tangles and many lost fish – the last thing any angler needs.

Join me as we take a look at how to use a spinning reel so that you can hit the ground running and avoid any wasted fishing time figuring it out.

What are spinning reels?

Spinning Reel
Spinning Reel

Spinning reels are fishing reels that have a fixed spool around which turns a bail arm with a line roller. It’s this mechanism that makes these reels so easy to use as it winds on the line in an even way for you and lets it come off evenly while you’re casting.

This fixed spool mechanism is what makes them different from spincast reels or baitcasting reels, as a spincast reel has a closed spool, and a baitcasting reel winds horizontally and not vertically like a spinning reel.

Are spinning reels easy to use?

Yes, spinning reels are very easy to use and this is why most anglers start their fishing career with one of these in their hands. The reason they are so easy to use is that once set up they do the hard work for you in terms of line management and are very easy to cast and fight fish with. 

What is a spinning reel best for?

Another wonderful thing about a spinning reel is how versatile it is. You can fish for any fish species on the planet, freshwater or saltwater, with one of them meaning once an angler has the hang of one, they can literally catch anywhere and for any species.

Understanding The Parts of a Spinning Reel

Before we go into how to use a spinning reel on the water, let’s first familiarize ourselves with the different parts of a spinning reel and their functions.

Reel Foot

The reel foot is the part of the reel that you connect to your fishing rod, and in this case to spinning rods. It goes into the reel seat on the rod handle and is secured by two hoods and a threaded sleeve which secures the rod and reel together.

Line Spool

The line spool is the part of the reel where your fishing line goes and it sits in the middle of the reel. The line spool holds all your line and stores it neatly for casting and when you wind in your line too.

When you cast, your fishing line will unravel off the spool, when you wind the fishing line will go around the spool, and when you pull line (like a fish would) the spool will turn, letting out the line and engaging the drag.

Drag System

The drag system controls how easy it is for the line to be pulled off the spool. It works by using two friction plates that press against the spool and these plates are controlled within the drag system with the drag knob which sits on top of the spool.

Here’s an informative video on how drag work.

How a Spinning Reel Drag System Works

When you tighten your drag by turning the knob clockwise, the plates apply more friction to the spool increasing the drag and thus making it harder for the line to be pulled off the spool. You can adjust the drag from nothing, known as free spool to the maximum the drag can go to.

TIP

You should be careful not to put too much drag on while fighting fish as this can lead to your line breaking.

Bail & Line Roller

The bail looks like a piece of stiff wire that goes around the outside of the reel and at one side of it you’ll find the line roller. The bail is one of the most important parts of a spinning reel as it makes everything work. 

When you wind, the bail spins around the spool laying your line on the spool evenly. The line is also guided through the line roller to protect it from friction.

When you cast, you have to open the bail to release the line from the spool, so as you can see, it’s key to every part of fishing with a spin reel.

Handle

The handle sticks out from the side of the reel and it’s the part you wind with to bring your line in or to bring in a fish. The handle can be swapped from one side to the other so you can use your preferred hand for winding.

Anti-reverse switch

The anti-reverse switch is on the front of the reel at the bottom and is used to engage or disengage the anti-reverse.

Anti-reverse allows the handle to wind the bail in both directions, letting line out to give time for a bait to go into a fish’s mouth, or pulling the line in when fighting fish or winding in your bait – you can turn it on and off with this switch.

Setting Up Spinning Reels Correctly

The first step in how to use a spinning reel is setting it up correctly which includes putting your line on the spool, setting the right drag tensions, and picking the side you want to wind on.

How to spool your line

Spinning Reel and Fishing Lines
Spinning Reel and Fishing Lines

Spooling your reel with a new line is the first step and it must be done right to avoid tangles later on and here are my pro tips on how to do it.

  • Set up your spinning tackle by adding your reel to your already setup rod
  • Take the line and thread it from the rod tip to the reel
  • Attach the line to the spool with an arbor knot with the bail arm open
  • Close the bail arm and have a friend hold the spool
  • Wind until you have enough line on the spool (leave an ⅛ inch between the line and spool edge) making sure to apply even pressure throughout
  • Test your line is tightly wound on by pushing it
  • If it’s soft then undo it all and start again
  • If it’s hard then you’re ready to go fishing

Just in case you need a much more detailed guide on how to spool a spinning reel, click here.

How to set your drag

Setting your drag correctly is key if you want to catch fish as if anglers have too much drag tension they risk their line snapping, and if anglers have too little drag tension, fish will be able to take too much line and casting will become difficult.

To adjust your drag you just need to turn the knob clockwise to increase it and anti-clockwise to reduce it. The key to setting your drag is matching the tension to the breaking strain of the line you’re using.

TIP

You should adjust your drag until it requires some effort to pull the line off the spool but not too much effort that it strains the line. This together with the rod provides enough tension to make a cast and to hook a fish. If your drag is too light during a fight, you can increase it but be careful not to go too far.

Which hand do you wind with on a spinning reel?

Reeling in a Fish
Reeling in a Fish

Unlike baitcaster reels, you can swap the handle from side to side on spinning reels, begging the question – which hand should you wind with on a spin reel? The answer is whichever you feel most comfortable with.

Anglers, myself included, tend to hold the rod with their dominant hand and use the opposite hand to wind with.

This makes sense since your strong hand is needed to lift the rod during a fight while your other hand winds up the slack.

How to use a spinning reel

Now we have covered all the technical aspects, let’s talk about the fun bit, actually fishing with your spinning reel which involves casting your lure or bait, hooking fish, and fighting a fish.

How to Cast a Spinning Reel

Here are the steps you should follow when casting a lure or bait with a spinning reel.

  • Leave around 3 feet of line hanging off the tip of your rod with the lure
  • Hold the rod handle with your ring finger on the bottom of the reel’s foot and your pointer finger above
  • Take the line in your index finger on your rod hand and use your index finger to hold the line
  • Open the bail of the reel with your winding hand
  • Your lure and line shouldn’t move as it’s secure in your index finger
  • Place your winding hand on the bottom of the rod at around waist level
  • Pull your top hand forwards and push your bottom hand outwards swinging the rod and lure behind your dominant shoulder (this loads the rod with energy)
  • Pause here to let the rod load for your cast
  • Now to cast, push your top hand forwards and pull your bottom hand towards you
  • Point the rod in the same direction as you want your cast to go
  • Just as the rod arrives forward in the casting direction, release the line when it’s under maximum tension to allow the cast to get more distance
  • Once the lure has landed in the water, close the bail
  • Close the bail by winding or using your hand to push it over
  • You have now cast your lure and are ready to wind it in

Anglers can cast further by fishing with heavy lures or start their cast with about 6 feet of line off of the rod for more tension and casting energy.

Hooking and Fighting a Fish with a Spinning Reel

Once you have cast your bait it’s time to think about how to hook a fish and then fight it with your equipment.

Once your lure hits the water you should wind it slowly in until a fish bites. If a fish doesn’t bite, cast again and repeat until one does – a persistent angler is a successful one most of the time.

  • When a fish bites, you should wind the reel to hook it if you’re using treble hooks or lift the rod if using single hooks
  • Once it is hooked, let it run and take line while you keep your rod up at 45 degrees off the water
  • If the drag is too light, add some tension and vice versa
  • When it stops running, it’s time to fight it
  • Lift the rod and then drop it to 90 degrees with the water, winding in the line as you drop it
  • Repeat this until the fish runs again, in which case pause, or until you have it by your feet

How to Service a Fishing Reel

Servicing your fishing reel is easy as all you need to do is rinse and dry it after every use and then store it in a dry place like a closet. Then every six months, remove the spool and handle, and put some reel lubricant inside to keep it running smoothly.

Should you change your fishing line every year?

It depends on the type of line you’re using. If you’re using mono or fluoro then it will become an old line after 2 years of consistent use and should be refreshed. If you’re using braid then you can keep it for 3-5 years, just check its strength every year from 3-5 to be sure.

Reeling Out

Thanks very much for reading my article, I hope you enjoyed it and now know everything you need to know to get started using spinning fishing equipment.

It’s really easy once you get the hang of it, just be sure to ask your local fishing store for tips, practice a little, and it will become second nature.

Please share this article with your angling buddies or any newbies to the fishing world, we can all use a little help understanding how to use this equipment best. Also, check out some of my other articles including the best fishing pole for beginners.

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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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