10 Best Fly Fishing Reels for Saltwater or Freshwater (Spinning vs. Conventional) — AWESOME Review and Rating


Posted by
Ryan Peters
Updated by
Bill Miller
Last updated:
June 1, 2020

Fishing Reels: Spinning vs. Conventional

If you have a garage full of fishing tackle you already know the difference between a spinning reel and a conventional reel. But today, we're gonna help some beginners out. We're gonna talk about the difference between a spinning reel and a conventional reel and how you know which to choose.
Spinning reel. One of the key characteristics to note about this reel is that the spool just holds a line. It doesn't revolve unless the fish is pulling out drag. Then it turns. But normally, line is laid on the reel by revolving the bail. Now if you watch closely, you'll notice the spool slowly goes up and down, up and down. That's so the line gets laid evenly along that spool and doesn't bunch up. To cast spinning reel, or let line out, you fold the bail back, and then a line can freely spill off the top.
Conventional reel. The biggest difference between a conventional and a spinner is that it has no bail. When you turn the crank the spool itself is what revolves. Now, there are different sizes, all different types. There are what some people would call baitcasters — much smaller ones that fit in the palm of your hand. Some people call them casting reels in general. And there are also level winders. The big difference with a level winder is it has a piece on it — it'll go back and forth and that lays the line across the spool of this reel evenly so it doesn't bunch up. With another reel, you actually have to use your thumb as you're reeling. Use this thumb to push the line back and forth and make sure it lays evenly along this spool. When you're ready to let a line out with a reel or perhaps cast it, you simply move the lever drag back in this case. The reel goes into free spool. On another reel, you would simply click it back, and now that spins freely. Now, this is both a blessing and a curse. Normally, you wouldn't cast a level winder — this is more of a trolling style reel — but in a smaller version when you cast it, you would need to use your thumb to put pressure on the spool to prevent it from spinning faster than the line can go out. That causes a tangle — we call that a backlash.

So how does it beginner know which to choose? Well, if you plan on doing any casting and retrieving, it's probably best to start out with a spinning reel. It's much less frustrating. It's much easier to figure out how to use it without making a big, giant tangle. Now that said, once you get some experience and you want to learn how to throw with a casting reel, you can get much better accuracy as you put your thumb on the spool and can control the speed that the lure is moving out. You can stop it short. You can change the arc of the cast. It really gives you some fine tuning abilities that just aren't there with a spinning reel.

Now, let's say you're more interested in learning how to troll. Then you're probably going to want to pick up a conventional reel. They're really easy to let line out without having to cast, and if you get a level winder reel, you don't have to worry so much about laying the line back and forth smoothly. Now, you should be aware if you're fishing for very large game fish, you really can't have a level winder. You really need a reel that doesn't have that feature on it because the worm gear just can't take the speed and the beating that a tuna is going to dish out.

Naturally, you can break down spinning reels and conventional reels into a number of different styles, prices, and sizes, which will vary quite a bit depending on the type of fish that you plan on catching. As far as the conventional reels go, you might want to get one and just go out in your backyard and practice with it at the same time as you go fishing with your spinning reel. That way you can maybe get the best of both worlds with a little bit of experience.

How to Choose Best Spinning Fishing Reel for Under $100

Lenny has just helped me find and buy my first fishing rod for under $100. Now, Lenny, I also want to get a reel for under $100, so what's my next step? OK, so this is a spinning rod, so you're looking at spinning reels. But the first thing I need to point out is, $100 budget for a nice spinning reel is, it's a tight budget. You can get a competent reel, but you shouldn't expect to get the very best one on the market. So, let's look at a few of the things that will give you an inkling of the quality of a reel.

First just pick it up and hold it and give the handle a spin. You may or may not feel the reel wobbling. OK, that's called "rotor wobble," and that gives you an idea of how well the reel is balanced. The next thing you might want to check for is how smooth the bail is. Flip it back, and reel it closed. Flip it back. Reel it closed. Several times, and you'll just get some kind of idea for how smoothly these pieces and parts all work together. Another test I like to do is to spin the drag. Now, obviously smoother is better, so just give it a turn, see if it feels smooth as it goes around. And in some cases, reels have a secondary drag on the back, so you'll want to feel for that, too.

The nest step. We also want to look for the anti-reverse system. You want to know how quickly this reel stops you from spinning backwards. That's very important because if there's any play in that system, over time it will get worse and worse and worse.
There's one more really important thing we've got to do. We need to mount this reel on the rod, because, don't forget, all of these reels come in different sizes. So let's make sure we've got the right size in our hand for this rod. And of course often it says on the rod and on the reel, it gives numeric explanations. And you always want to try it for yourself. These numbers vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so you want to give it a feel.
One thing I do want to make sure you're aware of: Don't forget to rinse this reel off thoroughly with freshwater after every trip in salt or brackish water.

So if you take care of this reel it will last my lifetime? Well, that's a little bit of a stretch. You have to remember that you're working at $100 budget. You're not gonna get the best corrosion resistance in the world. If you take care of that reel and you get five years out of it, you should be happy. Maybe if you doubled your budget, you can count on more like a decade.


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