Fishing with a Spinning Reel and Rod

Fishing with a spinning rod and real is quite popular with beginner and experienced anglers alike due to its affordability, ease of use, and versatility for various fishing applications. If you spend time fishing, becoming proficient with spinning tackle is important.

spinning reel diagram

When to Use Spinning Rod and Reel

Using a a spinning rod and reel is best for:

  • Targeting small to medium-size fish species
  • Fishing with lightweight lures and tackle
  • Fishing with bottom rigs
  • Fishing with bobbers
  • Fishing when using a rod holder
  • An affordable fishing tackle system
  • Novice anglers who want a reel that easy to use
  • Switching easily between left and right orientation

Spinning Real Pros and Cons

While fishing with a spinning rod is ideal for many fishing applications, it’s not always the best option.

  • Affordable
  • Easy to learn and use
  • The line doesn't backlash
  • Ideal for lightweight fishing line and lures
  • Easy to switch for left or right-hand use
  • Extremely far casts
  • They can be bulky
  • Not as strong or durable as baitcasters
  • The line can tangle and knot if you reel against the drag
  • Produces less leverage when fighting larger fish
  • Difficult to control the distance of the cast
  • Not for extreme depths

Selecting the Correct Reel Size

Spinning reels comes in various sizes, drag strengths, and quality, ranging from lower-end reels for catching a 2lb bluegill to reels strong enough to haul in a 200lb Atlantic Marlin.

Spinning reels are sized on a scale from 1000-8000 for most Western companies. The larger the number, the larger the reel size. Reels manufacture overseas might have different sizing methods, but the idea is the same. Almost all modern spinning reels will have recommendations for maximum line strength posted on the spool. Line capacities will be posted on the body of the spool. For optimal reel performance, keep within manufacturer’s recommended line strength and capacity.

Spinning reels perform best with braided lines because there is minimal resistance to the cast as the line unwinds off the spool. The reduced friction makes spinning reels ideal for casting lures of any size when paired with the correct real size. For longer casts, pair your spinning reel with a longer spinning rod.

1000-2000 size reels

Lightweight reels used for ice-fishing, stream fishing, and pond fishing. Reels in this size class are great for throwing spinners, jigs, and other lightweight baits in ponds, streams, and small rivers when targeting trout, panfish, or crappie.

  • Max line weight ~10 lb test
  • Max drag ~ 15 lbs
3000-5000 size reels

Medium-weight reels in this size range are used by coastal saltwater fishermen and bass fishermen alike. These reels are perfect for throwing baits at redfish, flounder, sea trout, jacks, mackerel, and bluefish, which often require long, accurate casts. Bass fishermen can pair spinning reels of this size with just about any lure available, but medium-weight reels perform best with top-water lures, crankbaits, and finesse worms.

  • Max line weight ~ 25 lb test
  • Max Drag ~ 20 lbs
6000-10000 size reels

Heavy-ultra-heavy reels primarily used for big-game saltwater and freshwater species. Reels of this size are typically used for surf fishing near rocks and jetties, trolling, or deep-water jigging. Heavy-ultra-heavy reels have significantly higher line capacities and drag weights than smaller reels, which assists reeling in fiesty fish in strong currents or deep water.

  • Max line weight ~ 40 lb test
  • Max Drag ~ 40 lbs

The Three Systems of Spinning Reel

Spinning tackle is significantly easier to optimize for fishing than baitcasters. There are no braking or spool tension systems to worry about on spinning reels. Most of the time, just put some line on the reel, and you’re ready to make some casts. When using a spinning reel you should be familiar the following three systems: (1) the drag system, (2) the retrieval system, and (3) the anti-reverse system.

1. The Drag System

Probably the most crucial system for spinning tackle is the drag system. The primary cause for losing fish on the spinning tackle is that you didn’t have the drag set correctly, or the fish was too big for the reel used. The drag system isn’t as critical when targeting smaller fish, but for reeling in larger fish, you need to have a smooth, well-adjusted drag system.

  • Adjusting the Drag. The drag system is adjusted by hand twisting the knob on at the top of the spinning reel. Turn it clockwise to tighten and counterclockwise to loosen. Over time you will intuitively understand where to set your drag. Most anglers prefer to have their drag around 50% of their lines breaking strength. So, if I have a 10 lb test line on my spinning reel, I’ll want my drag to be around 5 lbs. You do not need a scale for this; it’s more by touch over time.

    Beginner anglers’ most common mistake is keeping their drag too tight or too loose. If your drag is too loose, the fish will take out too much line, and the fight will be longer. If the drag is too tight, you risk breaking your line or pulling the hook out of the fish’s mouth. Remember, if you plan on catching and releasing, you want to fight them for the least amount of time. This will reduce the chance the fish will die once released.

  • Don’t Reel Against the Drag. Another common mistake beginners make when using a spinning reel is reeling against the drag when fighting a fish. Drag systems on spinning reels click as the gear’s teeth snap into place. When you hear this sound, do not attempt to reel. Reeling against the drag results in line twisting; as the line twists, energy is stored in the twists and can cause loops and knots to form in the line.

2. Retrieval Systems (Gear Systems)

The retrieval system of a spinning reel includes the retrieval rate (ratio) and reel handle.

  • Retrieval Rates. Spinning reels will have various retrieval rates that are signified by two numbers, such as 5:1, 7:1, or 10:1. The first number represents how many times the bail arm will rotate around the spool after a single full rotation of the reel handle. Higher gear ratios indicate higher retrieval rates. For lures such as spoons or crankbaits, high gear ratios are preferred to get baits deeper and moving faster through the water. Less reeling also reduces the stress on the angler’s body, making reels with higher gear ratios a must for tournament anglers.
  • Reel Handle. The last part of the retrieval system is the reel handle. When looking for a spinning reel, first and foremost, look at the construction of the reel itself. Avoid plastic reel handles, and look for aluminum, graphite, or carbon fiber materials. Second, give the reel handle a jiggle or two with your hands; ideally, reel handles will have little to no play against the reel body itself. Make sure everything fits tightly together. Finally, ensure the reel handle is comfortable to hold in your hands and fingers.

3. The Anti-Reverse System

Although not used often, most spinning reels come with an anti-reverse switch, usually located just under the bail arm or on the reel’s body. This system prevents the reel from spinning backward when working appropriately. Because drag systems on reels are significantly more powerful and smooth than they were a few decades ago, the anti-reverse switch has lost its practicality on many spinning reels. However, some old-school anglers still use this system when reeling in feisty fish.

Adjusting the drag when fighting a larger-than-normal fish is significantly more straightforward than trying to reel backward while maintaining equal pressure on the fish. Our advice, let the drag system do the work and ignore the anti-reverse system regardless of what some old-school anglers will tell you.

Buy High Quality Spinning Tackle

Finding quality reels made of quality materials is easier than ever online. Ultra-cheap spinning tackle, with plastic interiors and exteriors, are significantly more challenging to use and maintain than mid-tier reels. On cheap spinning reels drags are laughably bad, casting is more challenging, and the reels are likely to fall off at any moment. So there’s no reason to buy inferior quality products that will make fishing less enjoyable.

If you are going to get someone into fishing, the last thing you want is for that person to lose a fish because the plastic reel they were using broke in half in their hands. So our advice is, if you plan on getting someone into fishing, get them a decently constructed spinning reel and see where it takes them.

Steps to Cast a Spinning Reel

Now that you have learned what the pieces of a spinning reel are and the applications for using one, let’s try to make some casts. You can follow these steps effectively cast using a spinning reel.

Hold the rod with your dominant hand in a comfortable grip. Hold the rod horizontally so the reel is facing the ground. Your fingers need to be wrapped around the handle, at the spot where your reel is attached to the rod. Keep adjusting your hold until you find a comfortable grip.

Maintain a loose grip to allow better wrist action when you cast a line. The spinning wheel needs to be below the rod. Spin the rod so that the reel mechanism sits under your wrist and then adjust your grip.

Reel in the line slowly until you have 6-12 inches of line hanging from the tip of your rod.

Open the bail arm then grab the line with the tip of your index or middle finger and then secure the ling gentley against the rod.

Bring the rod back up and hold it over your head just past vertical. Then use a forward throwing motion while simultaneously releasing the line with your finger. If performed correctly, the lure should fly through the air to your target spot on the water.