How Do Fishing Reels Work?

How Do Fishing Reels Work?
Modern fishing reels are marvels of engineering. Machined to precise tolerances, fishing reels feature smooth drag systems, reliable performance and rock-solid resistance to the pull of a big fish. Spinning reels and conventional, or casting, reels are the choices of the day, and they work very differently from one another.

Spinning Reel History

First introduced in the 1960s, spinning reels were also known as coffee grinders. Compared to conventional reels, spinning reels require little skill to use. When the reels were introduced, conventional devotees looked at spinning reel users with disdain. As design improvements were made, spinning reels quickly solidified their place as the angler's top reel choice.

How Spinning Reels Work

Line passes through a rotor that spins around a stationary spool, wrapping the line as it goes. To lay line evenly, the spool is mounted on a shaft that moves up and down as the spool spins. The angler lifts the bail wire mounted on the rotor and holds the line in place with his index finger to make a cast. After casting, the bail wire is closed with the line under it, and the rotor can lay line on the spool again.

The drag system, or brake, is a series of carbon fiber and steel washers located on top of the line spool. Tightening the washers together squeezes the spool against the top of the spool shaft, making it difficult for the spool to turn.

Conventional Reel History

The first conventional reels were produced in the 1820s and little has changed in their design since then. Two side plates are held together by four crossbars screwed together to create a frame in which the spool rotates. The most significant design change came in 1896 when William Shakespeare Jr. patented the level wind. More recently, frames for conventional reels are milled from bar-stock aluminum. These reel frames are more rigid than earlier models, which were prone to contortion when put under stress.

How Conventional Reels Work

Conventional reels operate by laying line on a revolving spool. Line comes straight off the spool and enters the guides on the fishing rod. Casters use their thumb to distribute line evenly across the spool as it is retrieved. The level wind is built on the the front of the reel frame and travels back and forth the lay line evenly on the reel.

Words of Advice

For the greatest ease of use, spinning reels are your choice. Their design eliminates the frustration of backlashes associated with conventional reels.

If you are an avid angler seeking the best tool for landing big fish, a conventional reel is right for you. The time spent learning to cast your conventional reel will be worth it, as you are rewarded with zero line twist and the most direct connection to the end of your line. Daiwa, Shimano, Penn, Shakespeare and Abu-Garcia each offer a variety of spinning and conventional reels available through online retailers Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops, and through local bait and tackle shops.

Article Written By Stephen Byrne

Stephen Byrne is a freelance writer with published articles in "Nor'East Saltwater," "Sportfishing" magazine, "Pacific Coast Sportfishing" and "Salt Water Sportsman." As a fishing charter captain, he was also interviewed for a feature in "Field and Stream." Byrne studied environmental science at the State University of New York at Delhi.

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