Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Spinning reels or baitcasters: what’s best when?

(Minnesota DNR)

By Steve Scepaniak
Contributing Writer


My clients had reassured me three days earlier that they were familiar with spinning reels for walleye fishing. I was excited to get them to hot spot No. 300 recorded on my GPS where we’d been catching fish. 


Upon their arrival, I hurriedly baited their slip bobber rigs with leeches and showed them where to cast. That’s when things went terribly wrong. 


I thought they were messing with me as they both looked at me in bewilderment while holding their spinning reels upside down. 


Seriously? I thought.


They explained to me how bad they felt as one of them pointed to a baitcasting reel I had resting on the side of my boat and said that was what they’d fished with before for walleyes. 


Upon further questioning, I determined that they were accustomed to trolling on a charter boat with line-counter reels as they sat back, waiting their turn to wind in a walleye. 


I had to laugh, as they did too, and I gave them a quick tutorial on casting and fishing with a spinning reels. After a half hour, they were doing just fine. It happens more often than not to fishing guides, and we get used to it.


If you only fish a few times a year, there is no reason to get involved in the fine art of fishing and what’s best for each occasion and species. But why not learn when to use spinning or baitcasting reels?


All reels have one thing in common: a gear ratio. Simply put, a 5.2:1 gear ratio means that for every one turn of the handle, the spool inside turns 5.2 times. A 7.0:1 means that for every turn of the handle, the spool inside turns 7.0 times.

Spinning reels

When it comes to finesse fishing, the spinning reel is your best friend. This reel is used in saltwater as well as freshwater-fishing situations. The reel has a few main parts – the drag, spool, bail, and anti-reverse. 


When casting, open the bail and hold onto the line with one finger and let go as you cast. Close the bail by hand and wind. The bail armature winds the line around the spool, which remains motionless. Adjust the drag, which is located on top of the spool, for lighter or tighter tensions. It should be tight enough to play a fish but not too tight as for the fish to rip free. 


Match the reel size to the species targeted and you’re set. There are numerous companies that make spinning reels but one thing they all have in common is their size rating. 


There are two different types of size numbers: two digit or four digit. Both are the same. A No. 10 is the same as a No. 1000. A No. 20 is the same as a No. 2000 and so on. The sequence goes as high as 90 or 9000. Here is the basic size gauge for select species.


Small reels for lightweight fishing such as panfish, trout, and those similar are: 10, 1000;  20, 2000; 25, 2500; 30, 3000; and 35, 3500.


Medium reels for bass, walleye, pike, catfish and other fish that size fish are: 40, 4000; 50, 5000; 60, 6000.


Large reels are for bigger fish such as sturgeon, trophy pike, muskies, and others are: 70, 7000; 80, 8000; and 90, 9000.


On the side of the spool will be a diagram that tells you the size of line and the yardage the reel will hold. 


The major downside of the spinning reel is that the continuous winding of the bail armature going around the spool can cause coils or memory. 

Baitcasting reels

You’re not finesse fishing with a baitcasting reel. These reels are the workhorses of the family and are preferred by professional anglers, saltwater trollers, and bottom-seeking jig fishers, as well as those who use freshwater line-counting reels for walleyes, lake trout, and salmon. 


This is the reel for the serious angler who casts often and demands a smooth, precise presentation. These reels shine for the avid angler who casts all day long. 


There are a few major parts of the reel that all work together in harmony. The key parts are the drag, brake system, and the tension knob. The drag is the star-shaped dial next to the handle. It will add more tension or lessen it as required. Set it as needed before fishing. Being barely able to pull out line is good for large, predator fishing. 


The brake system is a small dial on the side of the reel of pre-set numbers that when turned activates internal magnets to increase the tension or lessen it on the spool. 


Next is the tension knob. The tension knob works in conjunction with the brake system to ensure you have the right tension needed for casting any size lure. 


Here is the best way to complete setting your reel for casting. With lure on, tighten your tension knob so the lure does not drop from the rod tip. Slowly loosen the tension knob until the lure slowly and easily drops one foot per second. When that is met, you are ready to cast. 


Much like the spinning reels, the baitcast reel comes in different sizes and numbers. The smaller the number, the smaller the size. 

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