Baitcasting vs Spinning Reels

The type of reel you need will depend on what you’re fishing for, as well as how you like to fish.

A reel does the work of letting your line out during a cast, and when you hook a fish, it does the opposite by hauling in the line along with your catch. There are two general types of fishing reels to choose from: spinning reels and casting reels. The type of reel you need will depend on what you’re fishing for, as well as how you like to fish.

Note that fly fishing uses a different type of reel designed for a heavier line to propel the cast with a nearly weightless lure (the fly). Traditional anglers, on the other hand, cast by using the weight of a heavier lure while managing a nearly weightless line. That’s where the choice between a casting and a spinning reel matters.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Before you begin shopping, determine what you need in a traditional fishing reel.

Do I value accuracy or ease of use? 

A casting reel might be more accurate, but using it properly demands some real skill. If you want to prioritize ease of use, opt for a spinning reel.

Where will I fish? 

Get a reel that’s built for the type of water you fish in: salt or fresh. 

What am I fishing for? 

Choose a reel that is large enough, and can accommodate the appropriate line weight, for the type and size of fish you’re after.

Types of Reels

Both types of reels to choose from—spinning and casting—have key advantages and drawbacks for fishing.


Spinning or “open-faced” reels are mounted on the underside of your fishing rod. At the core of these reels is a stationary spool. A moveable metal wire called a bail keeps the line from spinning off the spool, and when you reel the line back in, the bail spins around the spool to wind up the line in an orderly fashion. 

Spinning reels are great for casting lighter lures. When you flip open the bail to cast, the design of a spinning reel creates very little resistance as the line unspools, which means you can cast lighter lures farther. They’re popular for topwater baits as well.


Casting or baitcasting reels feature a circular spinning spool that’s mounted on the top of your fishing rod. As you cast or reel in, the entire spool spins to let the line out or bring it back in. This allows casting reels to have winch-like power that’s great for landing bigger fish and casting heavier lures. 

Many anglers also prefer casting reels for their improved accuracy compared to spinning options, but that really depends on the person handling the rod: Accurate casting requires a practiced hand. In addition, it’s possible to get knots and tangles in your line while casting if the spool spins faster than the line can exit the reel.

Get the Right Reel for Your Rod

Because spinning reels mount to the underside and casting reels mount to the top of your rod, you will need to get a rod built for the type of reel you want to use. If you already have a rod, make sure you buy a reel that’s compatible with it.

Reel Specs To Know

There are a few important specs and ratings to consider when shopping for reels and comparing models.

Gear Ratio

Gear ratio measures how many times the line wraps around the spool with one turn of the reel’s handle. If a spinning reel advertises a 4:1 ratio, that means with every turn of the handle the bail will spin around the spool four times. If a casting reel has a 4:1 ratio, the spool will make four complete revolutions with every turn of the handle.

Reels with a higher gear ratio (6:1, 7.3:1, and higher) will reel in faster. This is great if you need quick movements and fast reeling.

Faster reels sacrifice power, though. A slower reel (with a gear ratio of 4:1 or 5:1) gives you more torque to haul in larger fish. In addition, they’ll pull your line through the water more slowly, which is great for landing fish who would be scared off by quicker, jerkier bait.

If you’re unsure of what gear ratio you need, opt for something in the range of 5:1 to 6:1 as a happy medium. 

Spool Size and Shape

The size and shape of your spool will affect your casting. For spinning reels, a longer spool will give you the ability to cast farther, while a wider spool will hold more line.

Similarly, larger casting spools will hold more line than smaller spools. Casting reels are often broken down into “round” reels, which are larger and offer more torque and pulling power, and “low-profile” reels, which are smaller, lighter, and have less line capacity.


Drag in your spool helps determine how quickly your line runs out when you cast. To create drag, many reels use a series of discs within the spool that rub against each other with varying degrees of pressure. Drag can be adjusted by loosening or tightening a drag knob on the reel. 

The goal with drag is to find a setting that allows you to cast comfortably while also giving the line enough resistance to tire out a hooked fish as it pulls the line out of the reel. Too much resistance, however, and the line will break as the fish swims away with it.

A reel’s drag system generates heat. It’s possible to get reels with drag components made out of expensive materials (like carbon fiber) that are better at dissipating the heat, but these are largely unnecessary for most anglers. 

Line Size

Reels are rated on the size or “weight” of fishing line they can accommodate. Make sure to choose a reel that accommodates the line you want to use. 

Remember that the reel is one just one part of your fishing setup. You’ll need a reel, rod, and line that are all built to handle approximately the same size fish. That will ensure smooth casting and reeling. 

Freshwater vs. Saltwater Reels

One of the key differences between freshwater and saltwater reels is how the reel’s metals are treated to deal with the corrosive effects of the ocean. If you will be fishing in saltwater, you will need a saltwater reel that’s made with metal alloys or coatings that resist corrosion. Freshwater reels are often made with uncoated metals like steel, and they will corrode if exposed to saltwater. 

Generally, saltwater reels are also built for larger fish and will have more robust components than freshwater reels, which are designed for smaller freshwater fish.

Reel Weight

Many cheaper casting and spinning reels are made with heavier components. If you are a casual angler or you only use your reel occasionally, a heavier reel might suit you just fine. If you use your reel for hours at a time (or have any wrist sensitivity), consider spending more on a lighter reel.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.