How to Choose a Fishing Reel: Spincast, Baitcast, or Spinning?

Fishing Reel Buying Guide: Spincast, Baitcast, or Spinning?

Three basic types of reels exist (aside from fly fishing reels): spincasting, baitcasting, and spinning. Each type has been around for many years, slowly evolving to their present-day forms. Can an angler just choose one style they are comfortable with and use it for any situation?  Not really.  No one type of reel is capable of every fishing technique, so the most versatile and successful anglers learn how to use more than one.

I first want to discuss spincast reels, which are called “push buttons” by some. Avoid them! These reels are often considered to be the best for beginners and children. How this mentality got started mystifies me because I completely disagree! They fall apart, have poor drags, are more difficult to respool with fresh line, have low gear ratios, have a short lifespan, and have low casting accuracy. Heck there’s probably more negatives that I can’t think of right now. I purchased a variety of models for my kids when they were young and had nothing but troubles. I even spent money on higher quality spincasters and they failed in short order. These reels are often priced extremely cheap, but don’t get suckered in like everyone else! There are some really cheap spinning reels produced nowadays that would be a much better choice if you are looking at buying a throw-away reel.

Now let’s talk about the type of reel that I estimate covers about 70% of all bass fishing presentations — baitcasters. The knock on them is they tend to have the longest learning curve to master. This is true and it can be challenging for beginners to progress through the frustrations of constant backlashes and the ensuing detangling of line. However, once an angler develops some casting skill, a baitcaster has the ability to execute many bass fishing techniques more efficiently and productively. Generally speaking they can be cast more accurately, they can shorten the time between casts, and they can handle much heavier line better than the other two types. Therefore baitcasters are well-suited for rapid-fire target casting around docks, flooded brush, stumps, emergent vegetation, and matted vegetation; all situations requiring heavy line for manhandling and steering hook bass through mazes of obstacles.

Baitcasters handle heavier baits (3/4 oz or more) better than spinning. So this would include lures like big swimbaits, big spinnerbaits, heavy jigs, heavy Texas-rigs, big crank baits with big diving lips, and so on.  I’m not sure why that’s the case, but it’s probably related to how a baitcasting rod/reel is held as compared to how a spinning rod/reel is held. I feel like I have more leverage when gripping a baitcasting outfit, which becomes important for setting hooks and casting/retrieving heavy baits that pull hard. This leverage difference also results in less fatigue on arms, wrists, and elbows over a long day of fishing. So heavy swimbaits, spinnerbaits, big-lipped crankbaits and the like all seem easier with baitcasting gear.

Before discussing spinning reels, allow me to pass on a couple of tips for beginners learning how to cast with baitcasting.  First, spool up with braided line. It is easier to untangle in my opinion and doesn’t so severely backlash as compared to monofilament or fluorocarbon. Plus it is more resistant to kinking and damage from the backlashing process. Second, tie on a lure that weighs ¾ oz, as compared to something lighter like ¼ or 3/8 oz. A heavier lure is easier to cast with baitcasting . Third, set the reel’s braking system on high. Gradually back off on the brakes as you gain experience. Fourth, avoid casting into the wind. This can be troublesome for even a seasoned caster. Fifth, match the reel with a medium or medium/heavy action fishing rod. This will allow the rod’s flex to cast the rod as much as your wrist/elbow/shoulder motion. Sixth, when you’re just starting out, begin with a gentle casting motion. Don’t be trying to launch a lure into orbit! But then as you gain confidence and experience, increase the force of your casting motion. And seventh, I’ve met 10-year-olds that use baitcasting, so don’t get discouraged! It really isn’t that hard to learn.

If a reel is being purchased for a first-time angler, or a child, then I recommend a spinning reel. They are easy to operate and casting comes fairly easy. There are models available dirt cheap, so if your kid drags it through the sand or drops it in the lake, it’s not so bad to replace. Plus it can still handle mid-sized bass lures and also provide for other multi-species capabilities. The one problem that may present itself is that a small child’s index finger may be too short to grab the line while holding the rod grip/handle. Just remember that the smallest spinning reels have the shortest distance between the line and the grip, thus accommodating smaller fingers. Additionally, smaller reels are lighter in weight which may allow for easier handling by a child. Note, that if a child’s finger is simply too short no matter what spinning reel, then the unfortunate alternative would be a spincast.

Spinning isn’t just for beginners, though. Nearly every professional bass fisherman has a good selection of spinning outfits. They excel on the light side of bass fishing, dominating the finesse spectrum. With baitcasting, fishing lures weighing ¼ oz or less become increasingly more difficult to cast as you progress lighter in size. So the switch to spinning has to be made. I use spinning anytime I’m fishing downsized presentations. These include drop-shots, small crankbaits, small jerkbaits, jigworms, weightless worms, small Texas-rigs, tiny swimbaits, little jigs, small Carolina-rigs and so forth. Basically, if I can’t cast it on baitcast effectively due to it being lightweight, then I fish the lure on spinning.

Like baitcasting, spinning reels are not tangle-proof. A common problem with them is when the line jumps off the spool on its own; or when a loop in the line is wrapped onto the spool during a retrieve. Incredible tangles can result, frustrating an angler and wasting fishing time.

Fortunately there are a couple of things an angler can do to minimize these occurrences. First, and especially for beginners, spool up using a limp braid. Limp, supple line wraps and holds better on a spool. The worst is fluorocarbon because it is the most stiff.  If you’re not careful and observant, a huge mess is almost certain because it doesn’t hold the spool tightly. I will not let a beginner use a spinning reel spooled with fluorocarbon. Secondly, don’t overspool. If you wind new line on the spool until it is flush with the rim, then you have gone too far and are asking for troubles with tangles. Instead, stop short of flush by an 1/8 inch.  Thirdly, stick to light line. As previously discussed, the techniques I use with spinning utilize finesse with smaller baits and light line. So I normally am using light line anyway, almost always 10# test or less. The thicker diameter of stronger line also equals more stiffness and I already explained the hazards of stiff line. Fourth, if you prefer using fluorocarbon, pick a reel that is a bit larger in size. The reel’s larger diameter spool will be more accepting of stiffer line. And fifth, wind the line onto the reel’s spool the same direction it is coming off of the packaged spool. The packaged spool should be placed flat on its side, so that the line comes of the side of the spool instead of rolling off of it. Then take notice of the direction the coils peal off of the spool’s side (either clockwise or counter-clockwise), and be sure they are wrapping onto the reel in the same direction.

So to boil it all down, just simply remember this: avoid spincast reels except for when a child’s index finger is too short to properly handle a spinning reel, use baitcasting for presentations using lures weighing more than a ¼ oz, and use spinning for presentations using lures under a ¼ oz, or for a beginner.

Be sure you visit Sportsman’s Guide for a full selection of fishing gear.

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5 Responses to “Fishing Reel Buying Guide: Spincast, Baitcast, or Spinning?”

  1. janis glasier

    I very much enjoy my spincast reel! in a pinch its the best to grab & go…although I do agree most are cheaply made & weat out fast! any suggestions on a high quality spincaster?

  2. Thomas N.

    Nice going with the informative web page here. Very good expert advice without price ads driving me blind. Good work with the web site!

  3. Jason see

    They have very informative articles!!

  4. jp64

    Spinning reels were all we ever used from panfish to trolling to trout. A real all around piece of gear. Get one in a couple of sizes and you are all set for anything except fly fishing.

    Your stuff is a great explanation of what things are and have great tips.

  5. Mark Carey

    Thanks for the excellent fishing tips. I’m really enjoying this site and am learning a lot. I’ve been working a few lures that I like and you were absolutely right. Every time I fish with them, I feel I’m getting better. Its all about practice and good advice.