7 Different Types of Fishing Reels: Explained

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Yeah, you might have heard of baitcasting reels or spinning reels, but past those, many people are not aware that there are way more options than that. There is a fishing reel for every type of occasion and situation.

The type of fishing reel you get may very well be a deciding factor in how successful your day of fishing is. So, what are the different types of fishing reels? Well there are 7 main types of reels;

  1. Spinning.
  2. Baitcasting.
  3. Spincasting.
  4. Surf Fishing.
  5. Trolling.
  6. Offshore.
  7. Fly Fishing


7 Most Common Different Types of Reels

We are going to be looking at the 7 most common types of fishing reels used by anglers today, their basic designs, and what they excel at, plus what they are not so good for too.

1. Spinning Reels

spinning reel
Jonathan Ewen & Stephen Ewen [CC BY 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons
One of the most commonly used types of fishing reels is the spinning reel. These feature an open faced design with a bail that can be flipped up or down.

Generally speaking, these are the easiest kind of fishing reels to use. They are more accurate than spincasting reels, but less accurate than baitcasting reels (we have covered Baitcast vs Spinning reels here).

When it comes to ease of use, you really do not have to do more than open the bail cast, close the bail, and retrieve.

One good part about spinning reels is that they are quite versatile in what they can do.

They do well with lighter line and lures, with line under 20 pounds being best, but they don’t function so well with heavier line.

On that same note, they are known for being able to hold quite a bit of line on the spool.

In terms of casting, they are somewhat accurate, but not the best. Also, when it comes to casting distance, they are pretty moderate.

The ease of use and high level of versatility is why many people, especially beginners, choose to use spinning reels.

Depending on the model you get, spinning reels are usually quite inexpensive too.

Spinning reels usually do not have the best drag systems, with fairly low drag, and they usually do not have the highest gear ratios either.

Many spinning reels are designed for freshwater fishing, although there are some which are specially treated for saltwater applications.

2. Baitcasting Reels

baitcaster reel
Petey21 [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons
Baitcasting reels are very common as well, although they tend to only be used by more experienced anglers as they have a lot of parts and features to master.

Yes, they are much harder to use than spinning reels, and one reason for this is because of the way in which the spool turns as the line is cast.

You have to use your thumb to apply pressure to directly to the spool or to the button, which controls how fast the line comes off the spool while casting is in process.

The negative aspect here is that baitcasting reels are hard to use because of this.

They often suffer from backlash, which means that line gets twisted and tangled, and they can suffer from bird’s nest forming on the spool. They are designed for seasoned anglers.

With that being said, baitcasting reels are better than spinning reels for a few reasons.

For one, more baitcasting reels are designed to resist the effects of saltwater than spinning reels. Moreover, due to the way in which baitcasting reels function, they can achieve more accurate and longer casting distances than spinning reels.

At the same time, baitcasting reels are usually heavier, more solid, and more durable. Many are designed for big game fishing, as they are made to handle higher levels of stress and heavier fish.

While baitcasting reels cannot always hold as much line as spinning reels, they are ideal for heavy test line and heavy lures, or once again, for heavy fish. Many people start out with spinning reels, and then graduate to baitcasting reels.

Yes, they are hard to use, but with a bit of practice, you can master the baitcaster in no time at all.

3. Spincasting Reels

spincast reel
Petey21 [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons
In terms of beginner fishermen, and women, the spincast reel is one that is often used. This is a kind of reel that you would often give to your children for their first time fishing. Spincasting reels are ideal for beginners as they are super easy to use.

They feature a button which you need to press to release the line and spool for casting. After you do this, you can simply reel the line back in. They are designed for very simplistic use. This is their benefit, their total and all around ease of use.

Quite honestly, it really does not get any easier than the spincast reel. They are also known for being very small and lightweight, both factors which also make them easy to use.

Now, with that said, although these are good for beginners, more experienced anglers will probably want to stay away from them. For one, they are very small, which means that they do not have much capacity for fishing line.

Related to this, spincasting reels do not have a far casting distance, nor are they very accurate when casting. Moreover, they do not do very well with heavy line, as they are just not built for heavy line or for big game fishing.

If you need some suggestions, we have reviewed our top 10 reels for the money on this article.

4. Surf Fishing Reels

surf fishing

What you do need to know here is that both spinning and baitcasting reels, as well as spincasting reels, can all technically be used for surf fishing. In case you don’t know, surf fishing is all about fishing in the ocean.

So, the biggest benefit of surf fishing reels is that they are specially deisnged to deal with harsh sunlight, weather conditions, saltwater, and sand. There is no doubt about the fact that these things are very durable and built to last for a long time to come.

Keep in mind that there are spinning surf reels and baitcast surf reels. Once again, spinning surf reels are lighter, more versatile, and easier to use than baitcast surf reels, but the baitcast surf reel can handle heavier line, they are tougher, meant for bigger fish, and have better casting distance and accuracy.

Whatever the case may be, surf fishing reels are usually made with graphite and/or anodized aluminum, and often feature various stainless steel components, all of which are meant to resist the effects of saltwater.

Surf fishing reels tend to be very strong and durable, plus quite versatile too, as they are meant to be used for a wide variety of fishing techniques and fish.

5. Trolling Reel

trolling reels
Photo Credit

Another fairly common type of fishing reel is the trolling reel, sometimes referred to as the casting reel. As you can probably tell from the name of it, trolling reels are designed to be used for trolling, or in other words, to be used in a boat as you drag the lure behind the boat.

They are usually designed for saltwater fishing, and for the fishing of big game. These things are built big, they are built tough, and they are generally built to withstand the destructive effects of saltwater.

Just make sure that you get one with a heavy duty machined aluminum construction, as you will probably be using the trolling reel to catch some really big, heavy, and fighting fish.

These usually come with various retrieval speeds, or in other words, many have dual gear systems so you can switch the retrieval speed depending on your needs. Many of these also have dual disc or multi disc drag systems, which is also useful for big game fishing.

Many trolling reels also feature a loud clicking noise so you can hear when the line is being pulled out, even over the loud motor of a boat.

Finally, due to the way in which ocean trolling works, these reels are also designed to handle a whole lot of fishing line, as well as very heavy and strong fishing line too.

6. Offshore Reels

offshore reels

What is important to note here is that offshore fishing reels are specially designed for deep water offshore ocean fishing. So, for one, they are made with tough materials like stainless steel and anodized machined aluminum.

They are built to be super durable because they need to be able to handle really big fish, heavy line, and lots of line. Offshore fishing often means being in deep water, there usually a lot of resistance, and the fish are big, all factors which go into the making of this kind of reel.

What you also need to know is that offshore reels can come in the form of spinning reels and baitcasting reels. For the differences between baitcasting and spinning reels, please refer to the above sections.

What you should also know is that offshore reels are usually very expensive. It’s not uncommon to pay one thousand dollars or more for these reels.

7. Fly Fishing Reels

fly fishing reel

The final type of fishing reel that is very common is the fly fishing reel, aptly named due to the fact that they are used for fly fishing. Fly fishing can be a bit hard, but fly reels are made to make it easy.

You can get fly reels specifically made for trout, salmon, and other river fish species (here are the 8 best places to go fly fishing is the US).

These things are usually designed to be durable, to hold quite a bit of line, and to be simple to use, although they do look a little funny.


When it comes to fishing reels, as you can see, there are a whole lot of them to choose from. If you are a beginner, you will probably want to start with a spinning reel. Children will do best with spincasting reels.

Baitcasters are of course usually considered better than both of the others, but they do take some time to master. Trolling and offshore reels are great for deep water fishing, and surf reels are good for ocean fishing in general.

If you are fishing in rivers or streams, you might want to stick with a fly fishing reel.

Jason Downs

I created Fishtackly to share my 30 years of fishing experience and knowledge with others with the aim to help, and hopefully get more people involved and educated in this fantastic hobby that I love.