How Do Fishing Reels Work?

There are several different types of fishing reels. Each of these fishing reels comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and works in a different way. Understanding how a fishing reel works helps anglers choose and maintain their reels correctly.

So, how do fishing reels work? The primary function of a fishing reel is to throw the fishing line and pull it back in a twine. For a fishing reel to work, an angler must rotate the handle, which conveys this motion onto the spool for smooth casts and retrievals.  The speed of the retrieve varies depending on the type of reel.

Keep reading to learn how different types of fishing reels work and how to choose the best fishing reel for you. This article will also tell you how to set up a fishing reel so you can use it on your next fishing trip.

What Is a Fishing Reel?

Fishing reels are used in fishing to coil and stow fishing lines. A fishing reel is usually mounted on a fishing rod, but it can also be used to retrieve a tethered arrow when bow-fishing. 

Fishing reels are mainly used in competitive casting and angling. A fishing reel is usually attached near the handle of a fishing rod. Specialized fishing reels with pressure sensors for quick retrieval are attached directly to transoms or gunwales and are used for trolling. 

Modern fishing reels are made with fittings that aid in casting for distance and accuracy. These fittings also control the speed and tension of line retrieval to prevent hook displacement and line snapping.  

Types of Fishing Reels and How They Work

Types of Fishing Reels and How They Work

The various types of fishing reels can be confusing for novice fishermen. Knowing how different types of fishing reels work can help you choose the right reel for you. Here are the main types of fishing reels you can choose from:

Spincast Reels

Spincast fishing reels are the simplest variety of fishing reels. These reels are ideal for anglers on a budget or beginners. Although not so popular nowadays, spincast reels were all the rage a few decades ago. 

Spincast reels have an enclosed face through which the line goes and work similarly to spinning reels. The spool in spincast reels is fixed and doesn’t rotate when casting a line. 

Unlike spinning reels, spincast reels don’t have a line roller or bail that needs to be flipped when casting a line. Instead of bail, spincast reels have a button to release the line when casting. 

Spincast reels have a short casting distance, but some types can also be used in saltwater fishing. 

Fly Fishing Reels

A fly reel is completely different from other types of fishing reels and can only be used for fly fishing. Fly fishing reels feature a fairly simple design and have interchangeable spools. 

A fly-fishing reel features a direct drive, meaning both the spool and the handle rotate while casting a line. Although there are several varieties of fly-fishing reels, most work similarly and have a single action. 

Fishing with a fly-fishing reel is hard, and anglers must manually strip and retrieve the line. There are many different techniques for retrieving the line and turning a handle to reel in the line is also done. 

Baitcaster Reels

Baitcasting reels are the most advanced type of fishing reels used mainly by experienced anglers. Baitcaster fishing reels have more parts than spinning and spincast reels and are more challenging to master.

A baitcaster is set up on top of a fishing rod handle and features a semi-enclosed design. Besides the drag mechanism, located next to the reel handle, the baitcasting fishing reel has a braking system and spool tension knob. These two components are used to adjust how fast the line is going out of the reel. 

Baitcasting fishing reels don’t have bail, so anglers must press their thumbs against the spool to stop the line from spooling. This can be done when the line is in mid-flight for a more precise cast. 

Spinning Reels

The spinning reel is the most popular type of fishing reel. Spinning reels are slightly more complicated to use than spincast fishing reels but are more durable and efficient. Although many experienced anglers use a spinning reel, it’s beginner-friendly and suitable for newbie fishermen. 

Spinning reels have an open-face design, a drag system on top, and a metal bail that locks the line and prevents it from unspooling. 

The great thing about a spinning reel is that it’s attached to the spinning rod from below. This ensures a comfortable holding position and a nice balance when casting a line. 

To cast a spinning reel, anglers need to disengage the bail, squeeze the line with a finger to prevent it from spooling and swing the rod from the side or overhead. Spinning reels are equally effective with smaller baits and lures and can be used for many different fish species and habitats.  

How Do You Set Up a Fishing Reel?

If you haven’t fished before, you may have difficulty setting up a fishing reel. Initially, it might be challenging to set up and use a fishing rod and reel. 

But with some time and practice, you’ll know everything you need about using and setting up your new fishing equipment.

Follow these steps to set up a fishing reel:

  • Gather all the necessary fishing equipment, including a fishing reel, rod, line, hook or bait, and scissors
  • Make sure you understand all the important parts of a fishing rod and reel. All spinning reels feature a handle, reel foot, bail, line roller, spool, and drag knob. Fishing rods, on the other hand, consist of a rod tip, guides, reel seat, and a handle
  • Once familiar with your fishing equipment, connect the fishing reel to a fishing rod by loosening the reel seat on the rod. The reel seat needs to be big enough so the reel foot can fit in. Place the reel foot inside the reel seat and tighten the reel seat
  • If the reel wobbles, repeat the steps outlined above until the reel is firmly set in place
  • The next thing to do is to put the line on the reel. This is an important step that can result in fishing difficulties if done incorrectly
  • Open the bail and place the line around the reel once. This will result in two pieces of line around the reel. Using these two pieces of the line, tie a standard knot and then tie another knot to ensure everything stays in place. 
  • Cut the line approximately ¼ of an inch away from the reel and close the bail. Tightly hold the fishing line a foot away from the reel and turn the reel until you spooled the desired amount of line on the reel
  • All that is left to do is to string the rod and tie a lure, and you’re all set for a day on the water

How to Know What Fishing Reel to Use?

While there are several different types of fishing reels on the market, there are just four main types you need to consider if you’re new to fishing. These are spinning reels, baitcaster reels, fly reels, and spincast reels. 

Spincast and fly reels are more commonly used for freshwater fishing, while baitcaster and spinning reels are often used for saltwater fishing. Knowing what type of fish, you’d like to catch will help you decide which fishing reel to choose. 

When picking out a fishing reel, consider what kind of bait or lure you’d like to use. Spinning reels work better for small lures and baits, while baitcaster reels work best for heavier lures. 

What’s the Best Fishing Reel Choice for Beginners?

The best fishing reel for beginners is a spinning reel. Compared to bait-caster fishing reels, spinning reels are easy to use and strong enough for most types of fishing. 

Spinning reels can be paired with various fishing lures and baits and are suitable for different fishing techniques. Spinning reels are also affordable and can last for many years if used and maintained properly.

If you’re an absolute beginner or looking for a suitable fishing reel for a child, a spin-cast reel is a good option. Spincast reels have some limitations and are best suited for people who aren’t serious about fishing and don’t intend to go out on the water frequently. 


The way the fishing reel works is to ensure smooth casts and retrievals of a fishing line. As the angler moves the reel’s handle, it creates a rotating motion that rotates the spool, which winds and stows a fishing line.

There are several types of fishing reels, including conventional reels, baitcasting reels, fly reels, side-cast reels, centrepin reels, spinning reels, spin-cast reels, and underspin reels. Spinning reels are the most popular and commonly used type of fishing reel and are also suitable for newbie anglers.