Fishing Reel Types 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Reels (2024)

Different Types of Fishing Reels
Different Types of Fishing Reels

There are quite a few different types of fishing reels on the market that us anglers have to choose from.

I used to find all the different reel types quite confusing and often brought the wrong reel type on a fishing trip, like taking a knife to a gunfight.

Understanding each type of fishing reel and how it works, is key to choosing the right fishing reel type for the job.

While all reels are there to hold line and help you fight a fish, using a trolling reel to cast and catch trout with, isn’t going to work, and nor would catching a tuna with a centerpin reel.

Join me as we take a look at all the different types of fishing reels and what they are made for so you always pick the right type of reel for every fishing situation.

What is the difference between fishing reel types?

Fishing Reels and Accessories on the Table
Fishing Reels and Accessories on the Table

Different types of fishing reels are made to be better at one thing or another, and they all have their advantages in certain fishing situations, but that’s not the only difference.

Different types of fishing reels exist to be used on different types of rods, for example a spinning reel goes on a spinning rod but their key differentiator is the spool. Some reel types have a fixed spool while others have a rotating spool, meaning the spool rotates freely.

What are the 4 main types of reels?

There are 4 main reel types that anglers use more than any others: spinning reels, spincast reels, baitcasting reels, and fly reels.

These types of fishing reels work for the most accessible fishing situations including rivers, lakes, and inshore sea fishing and for a broad range of fish species, from trout to tarpon. We take a deeper look at each type of reel below.

Spincast Fishing Reels

Spincast Reel
Spincast Reel

Spincast reels are the most basic type of fishing reel and it’s the reel many experienced anglers started off fishing with as kids.

Reel For Beginners

The reason spincasting reels are so great for kids and beginners is because a spincast reel is one of the easiest reels to use and very affordable too.

Spincast reels look like a spinning reel but they have a cone shaped cover over the spool which means tangles are almost impossible.

They sit on the top of a fishing rod and come with a push button that releases the spool for casting, making casting as easy as it gets. Just press the button and cast.

Fishing Application

A spincast reel is designed for catching small fish with light lines and light lures and perfect for species like trout, crappie and bass.

A spincast reel will have reasonable casting distance and accuracy when used with light fishing equipment but they are not made for larger species like salmon.

When using heavier fishing lines, their fishing line capacity (how much line you can fit on these fishing reels) goes down a lot and their low drag power means catching big fish like a 20 lb salmon is almost impossible.


  • Easy to use for beginners
  • Light for kids
  • Very affordable
  • Hard to get tangles
  • Perfect for smaller species


  • Limited casting distance
  • Not for bigger species
  • Low drag power

Spinning Reels 

Close-up image of a spinning reel
Spinning Reel

Spinning reels look like a spincast reel but without the cone that sits around the line spool. Instead they have a metal arm, called a bail arm that sits around the spool, and this is what winds the line onto a spinning reel.

How It Works

Spinning reels sit on the bottom of a rod and come with a large reel handle that can be changed from one side to another.

Spinning reels work thanks to the bail arm which spins (hence the name) around the spool. When you want to cast, all you need to do is open the bail arm, cast, and close the bail arm. This makes spinning reels very easy to use and great for beginners who want to skip the step of using a spincaster.

Fishing Application

Spinning reels come in a huge range of sizes and you can find one to match pretty much any species from marlin to crappie. You can find a spinning reel made for 2lb fishing line and one made for 80lb line all with ample line capacity and a solid drag system to get the job done.

A spinning reel provides great casting accuracy and good distances plus you can fish in many different styles with one reel from using live bait to casting lures and even bottom fishing.

Of all the different types of fishing reels, the one that can almost do it all, is a spinning reel.

If you’re interested to know which is the best spinning reel, you can read my review here. Go ahead and check out some of my other articles like the Okuma Cedros review.


  • Super easy to use
  • Versatile for all fishing situations
  • Excellent casting accuracy and distances
  • Come in a huge range of sizes


  • Not high performing as other types

Baitcasting Reels 

Close-up image of a baitcasting reel
Baitcasting Reel

Baitcasting reels are a little different from the other reels mentioned above as they look and work in a very different way.

How It Works

Baitcasting reels have a spool that rotates instead of a fixed spool which means you get zero line twist and unlike the others they sit on the top of a fishing rod, specifically a baitcasting rod.

Not For Beginners

Using baitcasting reels is hard as they require quite a bit of skill to master. Casting a baitcasting reel requires the use of your thumb to control the spool and while having a rotating spool means, if you can handle the spool properly, you’ll get a ton of backlashes and bird’s nests.

Baitcasting reels are very popular fishing reels with more experienced anglers as they provide high casting accuracy and incredible casting distance. They are perfect for targeting species like bass or snook where accuracy and power are important.

Yes, they’re not for beginners. But, if you’re thinking about learning to use one, and buying a baitcasting reel for a start, here’s my recommendation.

Fishing Application

You can use a baitcasting reel for larger species like tarpon too since you can buy a baitcasting reel in a small, medium, or large size with a line weight, capacity, and drag system to match your intended target.


  • The best for casting distance and accuracy
  • Versatile for multiple species and environments
  • Excellent drag power
  • Come in a range of sizes


  • Hard to learn to use
  • Can cause lots of backlashes

Fly Fishing Reels 

Close-up image of a fly fishing reel
Fly Fishing Reel

Fly reels are a type of centerpin reel that come with drag and are made for fly fishing and fly rods only. Fly fishing reels sit on the bottom of a fly rod and allow line to flow into the line guides directly and come with a removable spool, small handle, and drag.

Made For Fly Fishing

Fly fishing reels as we know are for fly fishing, which means a fly reel has nothing to do with casting, as fly casting comes down to skill, the rod, and the line.

There are lots of different sizes of fly reels to match the weight rod you plan on using and the size of the species you are going after. Their differences are in their line capacity and drag power.

Fishing Application

You can find a fly fishing reel for catching trout which is light and holds a smaller amount of line with a low drag power.

Or, you can find a fly reel for saltwater fishing which has a lot of drag power and holds a lot of line. Saltwater reels tend to be a lot stronger and designed for species like sailfish, tarpon, and even marlin.


  • Perfect for fly fishing
  • Come in a range of weights for all species
  • Simple to use
  • Lightweight and durable


  • Only works when fly fishing

The ​​Other Types Of Fishing Reels

Trolling Reels

Close-up of a trolling reel on the boat
Trolling Reel

Trolling reels, also known as conventional reels and offshore reels, are made for offshore fishing aka deep sea fishing.

The Big Game Reel

A trolling reel can also be referred to as a big game reel and they look like a bigger heavier version of a bait-casting reel.

Offshore reels have a spool that rotates, a large handle, a powerful multi-disc drag system, and they sit on top of a trolling rod.

Fishing Application

These reels are made for saltwater fishing and are the saltwater reels to tame big game fish like marlin with. They have a huge line capacity of up to 1000 yards or more, are heavy and tough fishing reels, but can only be used for trolling. These are not casting reels in any way.


  • Built for saltwater
  • Immense drag power
  • Hold a lot of line
  • Great for huge fish up 1000+ lbs
  • Come in a range of sizes
  • Expensive


  • Can only be used for trolling

Surf Fishing Reels 

Man Holding Rod with Fishing Reel
Surf Fishing Reel

Surf fishing reels, also known as surf casting reels or just surf reels, are a saltwater version of a spinning reel or baitcaster that can hold a lot of line, and have a lot of drag power. They also only work well with big surf rods.

Fishing Application

Surf reels are able to handle tough saltwater environments, have the casting distances required for surf casting over the breaking waves and be able to handle creatures like huge sharks. Which type of surf fishing reel to go for depends on your preferences.

A surf reel in a baitcaster style is quite heavy but will hold a lot of line whereas a surf casting reel in a spinning type is lighter and has a faster retrieve.


  • Heavy drag power
  • Hold a lot of line
  • Great for casting over the surf
  • Built to handle the salt
  • Made for big sharks and similar fish


  • Heavy
  • Not versatile

Ice Fishing Reels

Ice Fishing Reel and Rod
Ice Fishing Reel and Rod

An ice fishing reel looks just like a fly fishing reel except they have a longer reel foot and they are a little slimmer.

You’ll want to pair them with the best ice fishing rods you can find as you’ll most likely be using these in extreme weather.

How It Works

These reels sit perfectly under a short rod and are designed to make it easy to drop a bait right down a hole and feature a large spool to stop line memory. 

These types of fishing reels can also feature a trigger which releases the spool making it easy and fast to drop a bait through an ice hole. Their large spools makes for a quick retrieve, the materials don’t stick in the ice, and their large handle means you can use them with gloves

These are not a casting reel, they are only designed for dropping baits and winding fish in.


  • Designed for ice fishing
  • Lightweight & don’t stick in the ice
  • Large spools for quick retrieve and low line memory
  • Work perfectly with short ice rods


  • Not versatile – only for ice fishing

Centerpin Reels 

Close-up of fishing rod and reel
Centerpin Reel

Centerpin reels are like fly reels but they have zero drag and are designed for light fishing in rivers with mono line.

Fishing Application

This kind of reel is usually used for trotting (drifting) floats or baits down shallow rivers and catching species like barbel and carp. The zero drag spool allows an angler to get the most natural drift possible.

Since this reel has no drag, anglers have to use their hands to put pressure on the frame to control a fish during a fight. They are used with a long 11 to 13 foot centerpin rod which helps casting the very light line, light baits, and controlling the drift.


  • Zero drag for perfect drifts
  • Ideal for light line
  • Great for trotting floats
  • Simple and durable design


  • Hard to cast with
  • No drag


Which type of reel is the most accurate?

The most accurate type of fishing reel you can find with regards to casting accuracy is without doubt a baitcaster. A baitcaster reel is designed to give you an immense amount of control over the cast.

Man Using a Baitcast Reel
Man Using a Baitcast Reel

You have control over the amount of power you put into the cast plus you have to use your thumb to control the spool while it is spinning.

This means you are in control of casting power and how the line leaves the reel, in terms of quantity and speed, giving you more control over both distance and casting accuracy than with any other reel out there.

Which reel is the easiest reel to use?

Spincast or spinning reels are without doubt the easiest types of reels to use.

Spincast reels are probably the easiest ones to use for kids…

Spincast reels are probably the easiest ones to use for kids as they come with a cone cover on the spool to stop tangles. They also have a trigger which releases the spool when you want to cast, making casting as easy as possible.

But, they also have their limitations which include casting distances and the size of fish you can go after, which is why they suit kids best.

Spinning reels on the other hand are very easy to use as all you need to do is open and close the bail arm to cast and then turn the handle to bring the line in.


Adult beginners generally start with this reel as once you have learned to use it, you can use any spinning reel in any weight, meaning you can go after loads of species from trout to tuna.

Which type of fishing reel is the best?

It’s very hard to say which fishing reel type is best as it depends on what kind of fishing you like doing. I am a fly fisherman through and through, so I will always say a fly reel is the best for me.

…if there is one reel type that beats them all, it’s a spinning reel…

But, if there is one reel type that beats them all, it’s a spinning reel in my eyes. You can use spinning reels to catch every species of fish on this planet from a 0.25 lbs crappie to a 300 lb marlin or dogtooth tuna.

The great thing about spinning reels is that they come in every size from 1lb to 80+ lbs and using a 1lb or 80lb size requires the exact same technique.

You can watch this video below to learn more about spinning reels.

Spinning Reels for Beginners

Which type of reel should you buy? 

The type of fishing reel you should buy depends on the kind of fishing you want to do and your experience level.

If you’re new to the world of fishing, then starting out with a spinning reel is definitely your best bet for the reasons I already mentioned above. After you are a pro with a spinning reel, you can progress to a baitcaster.

But, if you’re wanting to fly fish, you’ll want a fly reel, for trolling a trolling reel, and it goes on. If you have a specific type of fishing in mind, be sure to buy a reel that matches or for versatility make sure you go with a spinning reel. 

Winding Up

Thanks very much for reading my article, I hope you enjoyed it and now know everything required to understand the different types of reels and when to use them.

It’s quite simple once you get your head around it, and even simpler after you have used the different types of reels.

Feel Free To Share

Please share the article with any fishy friends that you think might find it useful and go ahead and check out some of my other articles. I cover everything from types of rods to rigs and even the best rods and reels to buy.

If you need a way to lug your gear around, I also have you covered.

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