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Understanding Your REEL

Fishing Reel Features: In selecting the right reel for your style of fishing there are literally thousands of different reels on the market today to choose from. For the less experienced angler this can be somewhat confusing. Before we compare the features of fishing reels here are some pointers that will help you determine a list of requirements for the best type of reel to use.

  • First, what kind of fish will you be catching?
  • What is the average size, and angling technique?
  • Will you be casting lures using live bait or trolling.
  • What pound test line is best suited for the fishing application.

These answers will narrow down your search and aid in purchasing the proper reel.  As a general guideline the lighter the line and smaller the game fish the best reel choice for the novice anglers and children is a spin cast reel. For the more proficient caster using the same set-up a spinning reel is best. As the targeted species gets larger requiring heavier line and lures a conventional reel or bait caster will be the better choice.

For the best performance from your reel, the reel must be balanced with your rod. If you use a reel that weighs too much for the rod it will feel butt heavy. You will have problems casting and it will take away the sensitivity from the rod tip in feeling a fish strike. Conversely, a reel that is too light for a rod will make it feel tip heavy, by fishing for a length of time your wrist will tire by trying to hold the rod upward.  For a properly balanced outfit hold the rod with the reel attached on the fore grip (the handle above the reel) by using a few fingers, the rod should sway back and forth and stay somewhat horizontal not completely moving forward or backward, if not change reel sizes or rod length to achieve a balanced outfit.

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Listed below are the features and components that make up fishing reels, many of them are universal and found on all types of reels, these descriptions will help you identify and understand the ideal reel for your angling needs.

Anti-Reverse: The anti-reverse function on fishing reels is so the handle does not turn backwards when the line is pulled from the reel as the drag is used. Spinning reels have an anti-reverse on/off lever that will allow the angler the choice of engaging the drag or back reeling when fighting a fish. Most bait casting reels today have anti reverse as a standard feature. High quality reels that feature the number of bearings on models followed with a single number such as 7+1 indicates a anti reverse bearing which with tighter machining tolerances provides the angler with a “no play in handle” giving the angler complete control during stop and go retrieves and solid hook sets. For larger game fish some bait casting and trolling reels use a additional anti reverse gear along with the bearing this adds security if the bearing cannot handle the strain of hard running fish.

Ball Bearings: All conventional fishing reels contain either ball bearings or bushings built within the reel to operate the spool smoothly. It is the generally thought that the greater amount of bearings in a reel the smoother the operation and the higher the cost. But one must consider that the amount of bearings does not necessarily mean that the reel is smoother than others with less. Reel companies only list the total number of bearings for the reel, not the type or quality of the bearings. In other words a 2 ball bearing reel machined with tight tolerances and high quality factory sealed stainless steel bearings will perform longer and smoother than a reel with 6 ball bearings made of brass. The deciding factor when it comes to purchasing a new reel should not be limited to just the number of bearings but the overall performance, (smooth cranking, machining & bearing qualities) as comparing to other reels in determining which is the smoothest.

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Casting Controls: (Bait casting) All quality bait casting reels come with built in casting control systems that help determine how fast the spool is spinning when casting. These systems are centrifugal and magnetic, depending on the model some have one some have both and are either externally adjustable or internal. The centrifugal casting control is located on the reel handle side and his adjusted by turning the knob forward or backward. The magnetic control braking system is located on the other side with a numbered position dial to increase or decrease the amount of magnetic force applied to the spool. This is the fine tuning feature found on more expensive reels that works with a internal transfer braking mechanism, at the beginning of a cast (with the increased RPM‘s) this mechanism rotates out towards the braking magnets to slow the spool which helps reduce backlashing. While no bait casting reel is considered backlash free even with all of the casting features to help control the spool casting speed. It is still advisable to apply light thumb pressure on the spool in order to prevent a backlash.

Drag: All types of fishing reels have a drag system. The drag feature is a tension setting applied to the spool of the reel, think of it as a clutch or line braking system. The drag uses a set of multiple disc washers that compress when pressure is increased or relaxed when decreased. The concept of the drag is letting the line unwind in a controlled manner off the reel when a fish pulls so hard that the line is in danger of breaking. The drag should be set tight enough for a hook set, but loose enough to come off of the fishing reel easily.

Bait casting/Trolling/Spin cast reels use a star-shaped wheel located on the reel handle called a star drag, adjustments are made by turning the wheel to the proper tension. Spinning reels have two types of drags – front drag and a rear drag. Front drags are generally smoother than a rear drag. The front drag features larger, multiple disc drag washers on the spool that offer a higher level of performance and durability. The rear drag uses applied pressure on the drive shaft. Rear drag spinning reels may offer convenience and ease of use, but they normally don’t stand up to big fish and demanding conditions like front drag reel models. Lever drags are a available feature on high end (expensive) trolling and bait casting reels. Lever drags allows the tension to be adjusted in more precise smaller increments which supplies a smoother fish fighting performance.

As a rule always check your drag before your first cast.  Pull the line with your hand, if you have a decent amount of resistance, you should be fine. In cases where you hook a exceptional sized fish the drag should be adjusted (increased) as you feel the size of the fish. Another tip to reduce reel maintenance; when storing your reels for an extended amount of time, back off the drag tension setting. Leaving drag settings tight will cause the drag washers to become flat reducing the tension ability.

Gear Ratios: All reel manufactures list the gear ratio on their products. The gear ratio refers to how many revolutions the spool of the reel makes per one complete turn of the reel handle. For instance a high speed reel with a 6:1 ratio will make 6 revolutions versus a low speed reel at 3:1 with 3 revolutions per each turn of the reel handle. Generally low speed reels are best suited for lures that require a slow presentation and greater cranking power such as crank baits for walleye and pike, and large baits. High speed reels are better for working lures quickly when the angler seeks speed for “burning” buck tails, spinner baits, and lipless crank baits. Reels with the range of 5.1 are the best compromise if purchasing a single reel. Another alternative is a two speed reel that the angler can shift from high speed to low speed with a simple push or pull of a button.

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Level Wind: Found on most bait casting and trolling reels as the name implies, the level wind feature automatically places the line evenly or level across on the spool upon retrieving the line. On low profile and smaller round bait casting reels the line guide will remain in its’ position when casting, on larger round bait casting reels the line guide will follow the line when casting. This offers the angler the convenience of not manually guiding the line on the spool, which if not properly done will usually pile up in the center of the spool. Line Capacity: Printed on the reel or its package is a guideline of the amount of fishing line that the spool of the reel will hold. This chart is based on the use of monofilament line and will look like this: 8/(175) 10/(155) 12/(130) the first number is the lb test followed by the amount of yards. This indicates the line rating set by the manufacturer for 8-12 lb test line to work correctly without either stressing parts or making it difficult to use.

By varying the pound test line on the reel such as placing 40lb on a reel rated for 8lb-12lb will give you an inadequate amount of line due to the increased line thickness making the reel difficult to cast as well as increasing the stress and eventual failure on the drag (By setting the drag too tight) With the advent of new fishing lines with increased lb test and reduced diameters we still recommend that you follow guideline placed on the reel by the reel company. Line Counters: This reel feature is found exclusively on trolling reels. It allows a reference by which anglers can consistently return a bait to the same depth or distance from the boat when flat line trolling or rigging (Downriggers, Dipsey Divers and Trolling Boards) There are two types of reel line counters, Analog and Digital. Analog line counters resemble car odometers, clicking off numbers as the spool revolves. Digital line counters provide the same line usage reading as the analog but can also be programmed for differences in line thickness accounting for impressive accuracy. Line counters are also very useful on how much line is left on your reel after a fish makes a run.

On / Off Free Spool Lever: On trolling reels there is a simple on/off lever that when switched on engages the reel for retrieving the line, when switched off it is in free spool allowing the angler to let the line run off the reel using a bait or lure. Always keep your thumb on the free spool to control the amount of line released to prevent a backlash.

Reel Housings and Frames: Most reel housings and frames are constructed of either aluminum (die-cast or forged) or graphite.   Each of these materials has its advantages and disadvantages, reels made of anodized aluminum are generally stronger and more durable than the graphite models, however, they are heavier. Graphite-bodied reels are light and corrosion resistant, yet they normally don’t offer the same strength and durability as die-cast or forged aluminum fishing reels. Due to the nature of a spinning reel’s design, their bodies are composed of multiple pieces. Many conventional bait casting reels are also constructed in the same fashion; however, some manufacturers have introduced one-piece graphite frames. This design increases the overall integrity and strength of the reel, while maintaining the lighter weight.

Spools: When selecting a reel the material type and design of the spool should be a point of consideration. There are two common materials used, machined anodized aluminum and graphite. Of the two the anodized aluminum spool offers greater strength and durability than graphite spools, which can break or crack under torque. On many bait casting aluminum spools holes have been drilled in to reduce the weight while increasing casting distance. For big water heavy duty fishing large bait casting and trolling spools are made from metal, using bronze or stainless steel that will offer the strength and capacity required for specialty lines such as heavy dacron or wire used for trolling. Spinning reels today feature a “skirted” spool that overlaps the reel frame, preventing the line to become entangled with in the reel housing. Other skirted spinning reel spool options offers a choice of a standard spool, or a shallower, elongated “long cast” spool design. In theory, the newer long-cast spool design allows for reduced line friction, resulting in greater casting distance.

Fishing Rods: Fishing Rods have evolved over the years, from the early days using natural materials with fixed fishing lines such as sticks, bamboo and cane poles to rods using steel or fiberglass to the rods of today using graphite or composites of graphite, fiberglass, boron and carbon. With this development of the rod materials came the specialty rods, rods designed for a fishing technique or lure such as jigging, jerk bait, worm, pitching, flipping, crank baits, trolling, top water etc… the specialty rods are a specific tool, used and developed by tournament and pro anglers, for the recreational angler the catch rate will not increase based on having a specialty rod or rods, but place a specialty rod in the hands of an experienced fisherman in presenting a certain bait or lure and with their knowledge of fishing it will give them the edge in catching more fish.

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As the old cliché states: “You get what you pay for” For the recreational angler we recommend spending as much as your budget allows, the better the rod the more sensitive it will be, the more responsive it will be, you will be able to cast farther feel structure, rocks, weeds and the most important feel fish strikes. Part of being a better angler is the ability to place your lure/bait exactly where you want it, often as quietly as possible, and a good rod will definitely help you accomplish this. With the numerous rod selections available today here’s a few suggested basic rod buying tips that will cover multiple fishing presentations.

5‘-6″-6‘-0″ Spin cast Rod Power: Light Action: Soft Lure Weight Test Line Rating 4lb-8lb Fishing: Perch and Walleye.  Spooled with 6lb test. Good combo set-up for children and novice anglers for easy casting and bobber fishing.

7‘-0″ Spinning Rod Power: Light Action: Soft Lure Weight 1/32 – 1/8oz Test line rating 4lb-6lb Fishing: Perch and Walleye spooled with 4lb test monofilament for Float(Bobbers) with live-bait, small jigs and light lures 1/16-1/8oz.

7’-0″ Spinning Rod Power: Medium Light-Medium Action: Moderate Lure Weight 1/8 – 3/8oz Test Line rating 8lb-12lb Fishing: Walleye spooled with 8lb test monofilament for live bait and soft plastic bottom rigs, jigs, tubes and mid weight lures 1/8-3/8oz.

6’-6″-7’-0″ Bait casting Rod Power: Medium-Medium Heavy Action: Fast Lure Weight 3/8 – 1 oz Test line rating 10lb-17lb Fishing:   Northern Pike spooled with 12lb-15lb test monofilament with a leader primarily for heavier artificial lures 3/8-1oz (spoons, crank baits, inline spinners, spinner baits, top water)

Length: 7’-0″ Type: Bait casting Rod Power: Extra Heavy Action: Fast Lure Weight: 1-3oz Test line rating: 25lb + Fishing: Northern Pike spooled with 50lb-80lb braided line with a leader for presenting heavy lures 1oz and up  inline spinners, spinner baits, jerk baits, gliders, crank baits, top water) Rod Materials: Fiberglass: Fiberglass rods have been popular since the 1950’s taking over the era of steel rods, in terms of performance and features fiberglass does lack the sensitivity of the newer rods today made from graphite and weighs more, but is noted for its toughness and soft/moderate action. Some anglers use fiberglass when fishing crank baits for the slow action and pike anglers use fiberglass in cold weather for quick strike rig sucker fishing where the rod sensitivity is not required but the toughness (setting the hook especially in very cold weather and not breaking the rod) is needed. Fiberglass is also a very good choice for children starting out in fishing where durability is an issue.

Graphite: Graphite rod building started in the 1970’s and has continued to this day. Most all quality rods today are built using graphite and have become the preferred choice for rod blank builders. The benefits of graphite rods are many, they’re extremely light, sensitive and flexible, which is vital for light biting fish, along with being strong and powerful to handle larger game fish.

In marketing graphite rods a few common terms have been developed to associate the quality of the rod. The first is “modulus graphite rating”, graphite comes in what looks like sheets of cloth. The cloth is measured to determine the amount and stiffness to weight of modulus fibers. If your shopping for a new rod don’t base your decision solely on the modulus rating, the higher the rating the better the rod. For high performance rods the combination of fiber strength, resin toughness with the amount of fiber, resin and cross-scrim construction (overlapping layers to achieve exceptional strength and action) are more important than the modulus count or rating. Rods with high graphite modulus ratings tend to be brittle and need to have a secondary chemical added on the blank to increase the strain/strength rate. This is called a composite blank. The other term that rod companies use to identify a blank style is IM with a following number such as IM6 or 7 and currently up to 10. The IM rated rods are not regulated by industry standards or an indication of quality but rather a trade name for particular graphite produced by the Hexcel Corporation. Since some rod companies use the IM designation ratings to refer to their rod blanks that are not supplied by Hexcel, at least you can compare the rods built by the same manufacturer, being assured that the higher the IM ranking the higher the graphite quality of the rod.

Rod Ratings: Action / Power Action refers to the flex characteristics of a rod, in other words how much the rod bends when you put pressure on the tip and how far the rod flexes. Action ranges from extra fast where just the tip flexes to slow or softer where the majority of the rod flexes. Fast action rods are the best choice when the fishing technique requires the sensitivity of feeling light biting fish or when fishing for large game fish in heavy cover and weeds where the key is to setting the hook fast with just a snap of the wrist moving the fish’s head up and away. For instance, fast action light rods are used for jigs, soft plastic worms or twitching minnow/shad shaped crank baits for walleye. Heavier fast action rods are used for Pike in burning buck tails, walking top water lures or a cadence retrieve on gliders and jerk baits. The moderate action rod is the most common choice due to the versatility of fishing applications, in casting a moderate action rod it will bend for about half of its length which will provide more casting distance and still have the capability for an adequate hook set. Ideal for slip bobbers/floats live bait for walleye fishing because the fish is less likely to feel resistance from the soft tip and drop the bait, along with reaction lures such as crank baits, spinner baits and spoons for bass and pike where the slower action will not pull the lure out of the fish’s mouth. Slow or Soft Action rods will bend starting in the lower third using nearly the entire rod providing the most flexibility. Because of this parabolic action the angler is using the rod as a shock absorber in fighting the fish, this allows the use of very light line. These rods are used for perch especially for the paper thin mouths on fish so the hook is not ripped clear on hook sets.

Power: A rod’s power describes how much a rod will flex under a load also referred as a rod’s “backbone”. The thickness and type of rod material will determine this, power ratings are usually described as:

  • Heavy
  • medium heavy
  • medium
  • light, etc.

Some rod companies use a numerical system:

  • 1-10 with 1=Ultralight-10= Extra Heavy

The rod’s power rating is closely related to the suggested line strength. It is important to follow the line test guideline limits printed on the rod since a heavy power rod will snap light lines too easily and heavy lines can snap a light rod. Another factor to consider is the fishing presentation for pike in weeds and cover will require a strong power rod using heavier line, on open water where hard to see light line is used for walleye use a lighter power rod. Quite often anglers get confused with rod power ratings and action. As an example the power rating is listed on the rod, the flex of the rod is considered the action.

Rod Line Guides: These are the circular loops affixed to the rod and run the length of the rod blank, The concept is simple, keeping the line from touching the rod, this offers a smooth surface for the line to pass over. The technology of rod guide designs has improved dramatically over the years from the old metal guides and the classic agate inserts of earlier rods.

Most of the new guides today are made of two parts:

  • A metal frame (stainless) attached to the rod blank and some form of an insert (inner ring) using Ceramic, Alconite, Silicon Carbide or Hardloy.
  • Some rods use line guides made of all stainless steel wire instead of inserts, these guides are lighter reducing the overall rod weight, but they are not as smooth as rods using inserts.

The newest line guide introduced is made from titanium wire, which will spring back even if they’re bent flat unlike the stainless guide that will break. The overall purpose of the rod line guides manufactured today is to provide less friction along with reducing the line fray and wear in the guides during the cast. Less friction means longer casts and less heat, and heat definitely doesn’t help when it comes to fishing lines. The total amount of line guides on a rod are an important feature as well, the higher amount of guides the better, as they ensure distance on the cast, and when fighting a fish the energy/ stress on the rod is dispersed though out the entire rod blank. Depending of the rod power rating line guides are available in two different styles, single and double foot. Single foot guide’s adds less weight on the rod and help retain sensitivity, these are used for mainly ultra – light to medium power rods. The double foot line guides are used when sensitivity is not required but strength is as they are wrapped twice on the rod blank. These are found on heavy to extra heavy power rods used for larger game fish.

Handle / Reel Seats: The combination of a quality rod handle and reel seat are as important as the rod blank itself. The reel seat is where the reel is attached to the rod and constructed of graphite and aluminum or both. Graphite is lighter and more sensitive, while aluminum is stronger. Some reel seats offer a cutout that allows direct finger contact on the rod blank for greater sensitivity. The rod handle is also referred to as “grips” and are located below and above the reel seat. Cork is the preferred choice on rod handles as it is lightweight, durable, and transmits rod vibrations even when wet better than synthetic materials using EVA foam. There are varying grades of cork based on the rod’s cost, the higher the rod price the better quality of cork used. Another alternative is cork tape to achieve the look of cork. Composite cork is made by combining a mixture of cork particles and resin, this combination is more durable than using straight cork.

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