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Reel-ly Speaking

So you want to reel them in. Which reel is really the best? This depends on your skill level and the type of fishing you're doing.

There are 4 types of reels: spincast, spinning, baitcasting, and fly-fishing.

Most of us are familiar with the spincast reel. Just push the button, aim, whip the rod back and once it moves forward toward your target, release your thumb. The line, fully encased, will spool off sending your bait in the right direction. Going too far? Just push your thumb on the button again and the line will stop. This reel is very good for beginners as well as for casting light line 10 pound test or lower. It is relatively foolproof, and will allow your bait to be skipped under docks and overhangs. The "free" spool will also allow your bait to fall vertically. The limitations of this reel include line size and retrieve speed. These reels are typically slower than others. They can be rigged on most casting rods.

The next reel is a spinning reel. An exposed spool of line, held in place by a wire called a bail, is in-line with your rod. This reel takes a bit more skill. Holding the line with your index finger, open the bail and proceed with the casting motion, releasing your finger allowing the line to spool off. To stop the line, drop your index finger to the spool. With some practice, you'll be able to feather the line to slow the cast to a full stop. This reel will cast great distances and, other than the required trigger finger skill, is very easy to use. Baits can also be easily skipped under docks and overhanging brush. Line is free spooled, so a vertical drop, if desired, can be accomplished. The limitation of this reel is line size (12-pound test). Although bigger reels can accommodate heavier lines, they will tire you out after a full day of casting. Recently, reel and rod companies have increased the technology and features available to the spinning fisherman. A helpful hint is to close the bail wire by hand into the retrieve position. Developing this habit will eliminate loops, which can really snarl your line. You can fish just about every situation with these reels.

The third reel requires an educated thumb. The bait cast reel has an open spool horizontal to the rod. Line un-spools on a cast, requiring thumb control to regulate the speed of the revolving spool, slowing down the revolutions as the bait hits the water. Sound simple? It's not, but the rewards of using this mini-winch are great. First, the spool release is accomplished with a thumb button. This reduces the time between casts of a spinning reel. Next, this reel will hold 20-pound test line and still fit into the palm of your hand. It can be used to very quietly pitch a bait short distances from the boat. This reel is available in a round or low profile reel body and in a variety of speeds. Reel manufacturers have spent the last several decades making these reels the cream of the crop. They don't cast well with very light line, less than 10-pound test. Also, it is very difficult to skip baits under docks with this reel, though it can be done. It is also hard to achieve a vertical drop because the bait will actually come back to the person casting as the spool is stopped. The largest drawback is the backlash. This occurs when the bait has either slowed or stopped but the thumb has not slowed or stopped the spool, causing the spool to continue to outpace the output of line resulting in a tangled mess. This doesn't happen that often once you get the hang of the reel. One thing for sure, you'll get better at untangling these "birds nests".

If you haven't figured it out yet, there's an application for each reel. In fact, all three are on my boat and used for specific presentations. Whether I'm seeking to have a bait fall vertically or really need to skip a bait way under a dock or overhang, the real key to my reel choice is line size and what I am trying to accomplish. A matched reel, rod and line size (diameter) enables me to achieve a particular depth or speed.

The fishing industry is not really standardized on the speeds as they measure gear ratio a bit differently. For example, a 6.3: 1 with on e company could be slower or faster than another company. Some companies have tried to clarify the real reel speed by giving you the amount of line that is taken up when you turn the handle one revolution.
In either case, the faster reels are the higher ratio. A 6.3:1 is generally the fastest. A lot of manufacturers are making slower reels to use for cranking. The faster reels are great for spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, and plastics. For plastics, you want to be able to take up slack line as fast as possible when you are preparing for a hookset. The speed also helps you fight the fish in close quarters. While the slow speed is better for the crankbait fish in most cases.

Technically, The gear ratio is how many times the spools turns for one turn of the handle. Obviously, the true speed will depend on the diameter of the spool. This is where speed and ratios get fuzzy.

Bottom line, if you want a faster reel, look for the amount of line that is taken up with one turn of the handle...if it is listed, otherwise, you have a relative speed measure with the higher gear ratios.

Ambassadeur, Mitchell, Shimano, Penn, Zebco, Quantum, Diawa, Shakespeare and others all have reels from the twenty-dollar range up to nearly five hundred dollars. Spending about $25 for the spincast, $45 for the spinning, and $89 for the baitcasting reel will probably be a good range for decent quality. I wouldn't go below, but would consider bumping up 10% for a spinning reel and even 25% for a baitcaster. I use the Johnson spincast, Mitchell 300X spinning reel, and the Ambassadeur 4600 C-4 baitcaster. Most models are available in left or right hand retrieve. Costs vary as the number and quality of ball bearings increase and as the weight of the case material goes down.

For kids, start the youngest with a spincast, then move into spinning and bait casting at roughly the same time. I've found it very easy to teach first timers to use all three. Patience combined with an understanding of the equipment and what it is to accomplish will ensure success at any level.

Oh, that fourth reel, the "fly-fishing reel"...I'll have to pass this one on to the reel experts.

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