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Hey there my beachy lovers of all things fishing. Welcome to my post where I dare to venture into the ongoing fishing argument that is the baitcaster vs spinning reel debate. I will put my hand up as one firmly in the spinning reel camp as, to be honest, I have never really been able to master those little bundles of tangling joy. However, there are many, including some that I fish with that love them.
It was one of those guys that, after I showed him this site, questioned me as to why i have not talked about baitcasters in any of my posts. So, to John, and anyone else out there in the baitcaster camp, I apologise and will remedy that over the next week or so. For those of you who are looking to purchase a new reel however and are not real sure on what you should be looking at, let’s check out the specification, pros and cons of each reel type below…
Also known as ‘open face’ reels or ‘eggbeaters’, these reel types wind the line onto a front spool which is held on by a ‘bail’. Line is wound in via a handle on the side which is ratioed to bring the line in faster than the handle is turned. These are fantastic reels for beginners as they rarely tangle and as the inner workings are generally housed within a waterproof case, they are easy to maintain.
Spinner reels are cast by releasing the bail allowing the line to circle out off the spool at the front. The line comes out in a circular motion which can reduce length but they are not as susceptible to tangling as the baitcasters. One the line is cast, the bail is simply flipped back into place to start fishing.
In general, spinning reels are made from a corrosion-resistant metal, carbon fiber and/or aluminum body with variations of the following:
- Bearings – As with a car wheel, the spinning mechanisms inside a spinning fishing reel generally incorporate ball bearings for smoother operation. From my experience, most come with between 3 and 10 and I was always told that the more you can get for the price, the better. If the specifications are listed as 10 + 1 for example, this means that there are 10 ball bearings in the main housing and also a roller bearing incorporated into the bail to make line retrieval easier.
- Rotation – One advantage of a spinning fishing reel is the winding rotation. This is usually set anywhere for 3:1 up to 6 or 7:1 (often listed as 6.0:1 etc.) This simply means that for every time the user turns the handle a full rotation, the spool holding the line has actually turned 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 times meaning less winding for faster line retrieval. Higher ratios are good for fast retrieval fishing such as with a lure or if there are a lot of snags etc. Lower rations assist with the big fish catches. For a beginner, I like a ratio anywhere in the 5 – 6 range myself.
- Drag – The drag of a fishing reel is its ability to release a little bit of line when a fish strikes or is being pulled in. This is in place to reduce the chances of a bigger fish snapping the line as it fights. As with anything, the more you pay for a reel, the better the drag system should be with the more expensive models containing precision setting capabilities. Most reels have a drag capability to match the line capabilities so regardless, even for a beginner, if the reel you are looking at doesn’t have a drag system on it – put it down.
- Casing: This is the part of the reel that contains the springs, levers, gear cogs etc. that make much of the stuff above work. For a beginner, avoid any reel that doesn’t have this all housed in a sealed, waterproof casing. These are low maintenance and the components will not rust.
There are some other areas to consider as well when looking at a spinning fishing reel. These don’t effect the outcomes as much as the above however they are worth considering:
- Handle – Most are plastic but make sure it fits comfortably in your hand (more expensive models are carbon fiber).
- Weight – I always think the lighter the reel, the better – it just depends on how long you will be holding it for.
- Anti reverse switch – these are usually found in the underbelly of the reel and simply put, will stop the reel going backwards. Some like to reel in reverse to let line out slowly but don’t want this to happen with the rod is in a holder.
- Line holder – This is the little tab on the side of the reel housing that holds the end of the fishing line if it is not rigged up. These are not often thought of when a reel is purchased but something that is really missed if it is not there.
- Interchangeable winder – there are not many that don’t do this these days however this is the ability to swap the winder handle around to allow for left or right-handed use.
- Reel can be used as is without too much setting
- They are easy use, low maintenance and great for beginners
- No backlash!!
- Good models can still be nice and cheap to purchase
- Not as good if longer casting distance is required
- Not as good for heavy lures or sinkers
- Do not tend to handle large game fishing etc.
- Heavier in general than baitcasters (although carbon fibre is changing this)
Spinning reels are good for all levels, especially beginners. They are generally easy to use, and will cast in most cases without any tangles or bird’s nests. In general, use these reels for:
- Targeting smaller or standard sized fish species
- Using lightweight line or tackle
- When you need to cast at different angles (such as in a kayak or under trees)
- If you want to leave the rod unattended in a rod holder
Often referred to as a spincast reel as well, these are upside down models where the reel sits on top of, rather than underneath, the rod. Functionality can vary from the simple beginner models where the cover or closed face keeps all of the essential parts of the reel protected to the more complicated ones where casting speed etc. can be adjusted dependent upon the environment. The base models here can be good for beginners as they simply press down on the thumb button on the back to cast the line. In my experience however, these do tend to tangle or ‘birds nest’ a little more than their spinning cousins.
Baitcasters release their line via the main spool which, once released by the press of a button or lever, rotates at high speed to let the line out. The line runs in a straight line which increases distance and accuracy as it is effectively unwound directly from the spool.
Baitcaster reels are mostly made from the same materials as the spinners – a corrosion-resistant metal, carbon fiber and/or aluminum body with variations of the following:
- Bearings – as with spinning reels, bearings are utilised within the reel for smooth casting and retrieval. .
- Rotation – Winding rotation ratios are also evident in baitcaster reels. This is usually set up to 6 or 7:1.
- Drag – The drag of a baitcaster is one of its real advantages over a spinning reel in that they can be set with greater sensitivity and are generally a lot stronger as well. This is why many who chase really big fish (ocean fishing rods use a version of this as well) use a baitcaster over a spinning reel.
- Casing: Again, this is the part of the reel that contains the springs, levers, gear cogs etc. that make much of the stuff above work. As with the spinner, make sure any you purchase have everything included encased for ease of use and maintenance.
Ok, so one of the main issues that many have with baitcaster reels is that they tangle much easier than the other type (for me anyway). This is due to a phenomenon called ‘backlash’. Put simply, this is when the spool turns faster than the lure/sinker can pull the line out during casting and the line tangles.
In ye olden times, the spool was slowed by placing your thumb onto the spool as it wound out and this took some practice. In modern reels however, this is managed via the implementation of brakes. There are a number of variations here including:
- Centrifugal Brakes: During the first part of the cast, the rod sends the weight (lure or sinker) out in a slingshot motion. Centrifugal brakes use gravity to adjust the spool speed to ensure it spins at the same rate as the cast. In this case, the brakes extend from the center of the spool running along a shelf in the centre of the reel to slow if down. These can be adjusted but in most reels, this is not a simple task.
- Magnetic Brakes: Magnetic brakes are another way of controlling spool speed with easier adjustment via a small dial on the side of the unit. As the dial is turned, magnets move closer or further away from the side of the spool – the closer they are, the more they can slow the spool. These work the same as the centrifugal brakes in that they are mainly designed to work during that first ‘whip’ of the cast and release once the spool slows over the casting duration.
- Spool Tension Adjustment: Most baitcaster reels also come with a spool tension adjustment. This is designed for use at the end of the cast when the lure or sinker hits the water (as opposed to centrifugal and magnetic brakes which operate in the first part of the cast). In simple terms, the tension adjustment stops the spool shaft at the same time that the tackle hits the water meaning excess line is not released.
None of this of course is to say that you can’t still use your thumb if that suits – or you have set your brakes or tension adjustment incorrectly – but these tools can definitely make the use of these reels much more enjoyable.
Unlike the spinning reel, there are not as many other influences to consider with a baitcaster. The handle and weight are obviously still an issue and some do also come with a line holder. However, the handles are not as easily interchangeable as the other option although anti reverse settings can often be better managed on baitcasters as well.
- Ability to cast further and with greater precision
- Generally a higher gear ratio than spinners
- Hold a larger line size and capacity
- Traditionally lighter in weight
- Generally more expensive to purchase
- May need heavier lures/sinkers to work effectively
- More adjustments required whilst fishing
The other factor here to consider is that as you purchase your first baitcaster reel, you are generally going to be up for new rod as well as they are not interchangeable from spinner to baitcaster reel.
Baitcaster reels are good for those who want to chase larger fish – such as Bass – as they can usually handle larger line grades (and more of it) for their size than their spinning counterparts. From experience, I also agree with many pundits who claim that these types should be left for more experienced fishers as they do tend to bird’s nest and tangle a lot easier if you don’t watch what you are doing.
That said, braking system improvement has removed a lot of these issues and they can definitely be used to cast further and more accurately as the line is released in a straight line from the reel rather than in a circle as occurs with the spinners as well.
At the end of the day, use these for bigger fish or for longer/more accurate casting.
And there it is – my take one the Baitcaster vs Spinning Reel argument. I know I probable didn’t do anything to really answer the question here and that is because there are definite uses for both and both are loved by many. At the end of the day, my recommendation is:
Use a spinner reel for most fishing unless you want absolute accuracy, need to cast a really long way, or want to chase really big (game) fish. Then use a baitcaster.
I hope it has been helpful and as usual, please let me know of your experiences with them. I would love to hear why you love one over the other below!
Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, corrections or would like me to check anything else out for you.
Until next time