Revolution Evolution

Spinning vs. Baitcasting Which freshwater reel is right for you?

John Felsher November 26, 2012

Even the most successful professional anglers started their fishing careers with a basic spincast reel, which ranks among the simplest types of tackle. A spincast reel uses a narrow fixed spool with limited line enclosed in a nose cone. The angler presses a button to disengage the line pickup pin. After releasing the button, while simultaneously lunging the rod forward during a cast, the line freely peels off the fixed spool and exits through an opening in the nose cone.

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Photo: Navico

As children and novice anglers gain more skill they graduate to more advanced technology. For most, the next step involves spinning tackle. Like a spincast reel a spinning reel also uses a fixed spool, but the reel is capable of holding much more line and is outfitted with a powerful drag system.

Professional bass anglers typically use baitcasting outfits for fishing heavy baits in thick cover…

“When I was growing up I fished for everything–whatever was biting,” recalled Gary Klein, a ZEBCO/Quantum pro from Weatherford, TX, with 29 Bassmaster Classic appearances and numerous fishing titles to his credit. “The first reel I really started fishing with was a spinning reel. I could cast it easily and fish a variety of lures with it, but the more I used it the more I learned its limitations.”
The Benefits of Both

“I grew up fishing spinning outfits on the St. Johns River,” said Cliff Prince, a professional bass angler from Palatka, FL, and representative for Lew’s Reels. “We fished a lot of docks and skipped worms underneath them. That’s a lot easier to do with a spinning rod, but each type of reel has different applications. A spinning outfit is more for finesse fishing. It’s good for smaller, lightweight baits like a drop shot.”

Unlike fixed spool spinning reels, line on a baitcasting reel comes off a revolving spool. Typically, a level-wind device positions the retrieved line evenly on the spool. During the forward cast, the momentum of the lure’s weight pulls line off the spool. However since the spool revolves freely it can often overrun, creating a frustrating backlash.

Professional anglers use a combination of spinning and baitcasting tackle since each type of reel works better for certain applications. Generally, a spinning reel works best for throwing lures weighing next to nothing and for fishing ultra-thin line. A more powerful option, baitcasting reels typically offer more line capacity and can handle much heavier line and lures. Professional bass anglers typically use baitcasting outfits for fishing heavy baits in thick cover, working Texas-rigged or Carolina-rigged plastics in deep water, and when flipping jigs around matted grass.

“Anglers get more power out of a baitcasting reel than a spinning reel because of the gearing that goes into it,” said Robby Gant, who serves as Senior Product Manager for Shimano. “On the flip side, baitcasting reels backlash more easily. Anyone not skilled with baitcasters should probably fish with spin tackle.”

Easier to operate than a baitcaster, a spinning reel seldom backlashes, but the rotating bail can sometimes add twist to the line. In addition, a spinning reel typically holds less line than a baitcasting reel of comparable size. Therefore, many anglers fill their spinning spools with ultra-thin 10 lb. braid for added strength in a smaller diameter. For fishing clear water in Florida, anglers may want to attach a 10-foot leader of 6-to 8-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon when finesse fishing small spinners, crankbaits or soft plastic jerkbaits.

“Someone who fishes a lot needs to have at least one spinning outfit and one baitcasting outfit,” Klein advised. “The best Florida fishermen regularly use both types, depending upon what they’re doing at the time.”

Give Me A Break

Since baitcasting reels can backlash so easily, they require more skill. However, experienced anglers proficient in using this type of tackle can make adjustments to cast farther and more accurately than with spinning tackle. Usually, anglers can make adjustments on a knob or dial located by the reel handle or opposite side plate.

“From a performance standpoint of casting accuracy, anglers have more control over the spool’s velocity with a baitcasting reel,” Gant said. “With a spinning reel the line just unwraps itself from the spool. That makes it very hard to decrease the distance or to increase accuracy. Additionally, with a spinning reel the bait doesn’t land as softly in the water as with a baitcasting reel,” added Gant.

Most baitcasting reels come with centrifugal braking systems to help reduce backlashes. A centrifugal braking system involves magnets or tension brakes to slow the speed at which the spool spins. Many reels also employ several cylindrical braking devices arranged in a spoke configuration. Anglers can engage as many of these braking devices as they wish by pushing the cylinders from the disengage position at the center of the spoke to the engage position near the outside. With many modern baitcasters anglers can pop the side cover off and apply more or less braking resistance. The more brakes one applies, the less likely the reel will backlash. However, the more tension on the spool, the more force it takes to make a cast.

“I don’t care how long you’ve been fishing with baitcasters, you’ll have an occasional backlash,” Klein said. “Most pros fish with their spools on free-spool in an effort not to put any pressure on the line when casting. We’re trying to achieve maximum distance on each cast.”

Get In Gear

Both spinning and baitcasting reels come in many sizes and speeds. The gear ratio determines the speed of the reel. For every turn of the handle, the spool rotates X times. For example, on a reel with a 5:1 gear ratio, the spool rotates five times for every one complete revolution of the handle. Anglers normally want a slow gear ratio when fishing finesse lures, jigs, Texas-rigged plastics or Carolina rigs. Use a high-speed reel to burn spinnerbaits and lipless crankbaits over grass tops or to keep buzzbaits on the surface. Fast reels also work for running frogs over matted grass.

“Normally in Florida we fish a lot of aquatic vegetation in water less than 10 feet deep,” Klein explained. “Some of the best baits to use for that kind of habitat are spinnerbaits and Rat-L-Traps worked over the tops of weed beds. For that type of presentation I use a high-speed reel like a 7.3:1 to avoid catching the grass. A low-speed reel, like a 5.1:1, is good for running a big crankbait. A 6.3:1 reel is a good all-around reel that can do whatever someone wants to do.”

Gear ratio also determines the inches of line retrieved for every revolution of the handle, but that varies by the amount of line on a baitcaster. After making long casts, the line on the spool diminishes, so the spool’s diameter decreases. As the angler retrieves more line, the spool diameter increases and so does the inches per turn.

“Nine times out of 10, I use a 6.3:1 or 6.4:1 gear ratio on my baitcaster,” Prince said. “It’s a good all-around speed for most applications. On spinning tackle, gear ratios are not nearly as important because the angler isn’t using it for speed or power, but rather for finesse.”

With a baitcaster, manufacturers can increase the gear size more easily without adding too much weight by adding a drop-down gearbox. Such a configuration increases power, but keeps the reel relatively small and light. With a spinning reel, increasing the gear size is not possible without making a much larger reel.

“That drop-down gearbox houses the main gear,” Gant said. “A combination of the main gear and a pinion gear provides power to the spool for fish fighting abilities. In a spinning reel, the housing is the same, so to increase the gear size and thus the power the manufacturer has to drastically increase the reel’s width. That makes the reel too heavy, wide and cumbersome.”

What’s New

Manufacturers constantly strive to make reels more powerful, but also lighter and stronger. Where manufacturers once used metals, new composite materials and exterior skeletal bodies greatly reduce the weight of tackle. Better drag systems also allow anglers to fight big fish with lighter equipment.

“Today’s reels are better than ever before,” Klein said. “They are incredibly lightweight, smooth, durable and powerful. Old metal reels of comparable size weighed twice as much as new reels made out of graphite or composite materials. Those extra ounces add up with each cast on a long day. Drag systems are also stronger and smoother than ever before. A drag system is more of an issue with me when I’m fishing a spinning reel. I fish with a lock-down drag, even if I’m fishing 6 lb. line. For me, the most important thing is to get the hook in the fish’s mouth. Once I do that, I reach down and back the drag off if necessary.”

Whether fishing with spinning or baitcasting outfits, learn the capabilities and shortfalls of that particular piece of equipment. Each has pros and cons, and each has its place in every freshwater angler’s arsenal.

Abu Garcia Abumatic

Legendary push-button performance for user-friendly operation.

Pflueger Criterion

Precise casting for anglers with an educated thumb.

Shimano Saros

Unparalleled consistency and versatility.

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