A Buying Guide to Fishing Reels

Buying a reel is such an important investment, get it right and you will enhance your fishing pleasure and your results, get it wrong and you will ruin the balance of your rod, and it could cost you fish.

Here’s a summary of what you’ll need to consider when choosing a fishing reel, with all the information you’ll need to make a decision below.

How to choose a fishing reel

  • Choose your style of reel: fixed spool, free spool, centre-pin or closed face.
  • Understand your drag systems: rear drag, front drag.
  • Bearings. The amount of bearings inside the reel will determine how smooth the reel is.
  • Line lay. The flatter the line lays on the spool the better the reel will perform when casting.
  • Line clips. If you ensure you keep casting feeders to the same spot every time you will catch more fish, a line clip will help you achieve this.
  • Retrieve Ratio. The retrieve ratio of a reel tells you how fast the reel retrieves line.
  • Reel handles. Choice of reel handle is very much a personal one.

We have written a guide to ensure you have all the information you need, all the essentials of reel design, specification and purpose of use are outlined so that you can make the right choice, a fishing reel is essential to a successful days fishing. The right reel will help you catch more fish and give you years of trouble free use.

Style of reels

There are basically 4 different styles of reels available. Some are very versatile and can be used for wide variety of different fishing styles, while others are really quite specialised and should only be used for specific purposes.

Fixed Spool Reels

Fixed spool reels

Fixed spool reels come in a huge variety of sizes, colours and configurations. Some have front drags, some have rear drags, some have single handles, some have double handles.

The fixed spool reel makes for a great all round reel, they can be used for float fishing, legering, lure fishing, trotting, specimen fishing or match fishing, this is definitely the most versatile reel available.

What makes the fixed spool reel so versatile is that they are so easy to use, they can be supplied with extra spare spools to hold different strengths of fishing line, they are reliable and they are often great value for money. If you get a good fixed spool reel it will last for years, without the need of servicing, just look after it properly and should never encounter a problem.

The mechanism can be locked at a flick of a switch to ensure the reel can’t turn backwards this is particularly useful when legering, as you can fine tune a quiverip which will help you spot every little bite.

These reels can be used for close range margin fishing right through to casts of over 100 yards, they really are incredibly versatile. Fixed spool reels can be purchased from as little as £5, for £25 – £50 you will find a high quality, reliable reel, while reels of over £100 will last a lifetime.

Free spool reels
Free spool reels

Free spool fishing are one of the latest designs of fixed spool reels. They are the same as standard fixed spool reels, except they have an extra feature – an extra drag system.

This extra drag system when switched on, will allow the spool to turn at a set amount of tension determined by the angler, this ensures when a fish picks up your bait and runs with it, line can be taken from the reel easily, you then simply pick up your rod, turn the reel handle and the free spool is disengaged and you revert to your preset standard drag and play the fish as normal.

Free spool reels tend to be larger and heavier than standard fixed spool reels because they have more internal workings. These are the reels are used for fishing for larger fish and casting long distances, they are heavy duty and robust.

You can pay as little as £10 for a free spool reel, but when you pay upwards of £40 you will ensure you have a reel that will last for years and will perform for years even when constantly cranking bug fish to the bank.

Centrepin reels

Centrepin Reel

Centre pin reels give the ultimate control in flowing water, they give years of superb river float fishing because the rotating spool will let line out at exactly the speed of the river current, this will guarantee the baited rig travels downstream naturally, this will always prove enticing to any fish, learn to master the centre pin and you will master any fish in the river.

Some centre pins are supplied with ratchets, this is a spring loaded switch that can be engaged to tighten the spool to reduce it spinning, it doesn’t completely stop the spinning, the ratchet is useful when legering as it provides an audible bite detection when fish takes line, and is particularly useful when legering when you need to create a tight line to your leger weight.

Closed face reels

Closed face reels are specialised tools. They are mainly used by river anglers because they are extremely light and therefore easy to hold all day and by using just the forefinger the bale pin will release line from the enclosed spool very smoothly. What this enables the angler to do is cast stick floats, trot the rig downstream and trap the line and strike instantly, this reel gives outstanding control on running water.

They offer similar control to the centre pin but are easier to cast, which makes them perfect for the less experienced river angler.

Understanding drag systems

All fixed spool reels have a drag system, some are on the front on the reel (front drag reel), while others are adjustable on the rear (rear drag reels).

Rear drag reels are the most popular amongst pleasure anglers, while front drag reels are more popular with match anglers.

Both types of drag provide the same function – they tighten or loosen the movement of the spool. When the drag is set at its loosest setting, the spool will rotate easily and fish will be able to pull line from the reel with ease, when the drag is set at its tightest the spool will lock tight and the line will snap before the spool gives any line.

The normal way to adjust a drag system is to tighten it so that the spool begins letting line out just before the line snaps, this way any fish you hook is constantly having to work hard during the fight, this then tires the fish sufficiently for you to net it without problem, it also means that you are in constant control of the fish to ensure it does not gain sanctuary in snags etc.

Which is the best drag system? Front drag system have the slight edge over rear drag on terms of performance, because the mechanics of the drag do not have to run through the entire length of the reel’s body, the front drag is positioned directly on the end of the spool. Which is the reason that most of the top of the range match reels use a front drag.

Bearings – what do they do for a reel?

The amount of bearings inside the reel will determine how smooth the reel is, bearings also help prolong the reel’s lifespan too, they absorb the majority of the wear and tear of the moving parts within the reel.

Line lay

The flatter the line lays on the spool the better the reel will perform when casting. You will beable to cast further with less effort, and you’ll be able to cast with much more accuracy.

A flat line lay will ensure that the line peels off the spool consistently and with less resistance that has an untidy, uneven line lay.

Line clips

If you ensure you keep casting feeders to the same spot everytime you will catch more fish, a line clip will help you achieve this.

They are simple to use, simply cats your feeder and rig to the chosen distance then pop the line into the line clip on the spool. Retrieve the rig, aim towards your spot and slightly overcast, the line will peel from the spool until it reaches the line clip, when it will halt the flight of the cast and drop everything neatly and accurately onto the desired spot, once you master this technique every cast you make will be accurate and your catch rate soar.

Retrieve Ratio

The retrieve ratio of a reel tells you how fast the reel retrieves line. Most fixed spool reels have a retrieve ratio of around 5.2:1. This means that the rotor assembly will spin around the spool 5.2 times for every one full turn of the handle. That’s about the average speed of a general purpose fixed spool reel. General fishing reels will have a retrieve ratio of between 4.8:1 and 5.4:1.

More powerful specialist reels such as big pit reels have much slower retrieve ratio something like 4:1, this gives the reel more cranking power, to allow the angler to take control of larger more powerful fish easily.

Reel handles

Choice of reel handle is very much a personal one. Reels come with a wide variety of handle shapes and lengths. Some of the higher specification reels have double handles to provide better balance upon the retrieve.