Starting with the most obvious things that one should look at when trying to decide what reel to use, the first consideration is brand. If you intend to do a fair amount of fishing or you are looking for a reel to see you through a holiday to a good fishing destination, don’t ever fall for one of those “but it is just as good as” obscure brands. Stick with the top brands and your chances of being disappointed decrease rapidly. Generally speaking, there are two really big names when it comes to fishing reels, namely Shimano and Daiwa. The others that one could consider are Okuma, Mitchell, Quantum, Abu Garcia, Penn and Finnor. Two other brands that are up there with the very best in Shimano and Daiwa, are Accurate and Van Staal, but one still needs to go through the rest of this process when determining what best suits your needs.
For those that are not totally familiar, the reference to size on a fixed-spool or coffee grinder reel can sometimes be a little misleading depending on the brand, but generally it goes something like this. If you were looking for an ultra-light spinning reel you would be looking for something in the 500, 750, 1000 or 1500 size. This would be suitable for braids of up to 10lb or 15lb max. If you wanted a light reel for fresh water, estuaries or light gully fishing you could start looking at a 2000, 2500, 3000, 3500 up to about 4000 size reel. These reels will handle braid up to 20lb, perhaps 30lb max. Medium-light surf and boat fishing, perhaps heavy tiger fishing and certainly shore-based spinning would demand a reel from 4000 through to 5000 and perhaps 6000 size and these would handle the 20lb, 30lb and 40lb braids quite adequately. As soon as one gets into the heavier reels your 8000 and 10000’s are generally up in the 50lb braid class and are very suitable for heavy spinning, medium-heavy jigging and are primarily salt-water reels. Anything from 10000 through to 20000 size is the really serious stuff where you are into 100lb braids for vertical jigging and for seriously big surface popping. You will generally find that on most purpose-built salt-water reels they are designed to hold 300 metres of the optimum line weight for which they were designed.
The more bearings a reel has contributes to its pricing and also adds to its longevity. In a salt-water environment the protective coating on the reel is also very important, especially for the more active rock-angling types. If the reel is going to be used for spinning I would definitely be looking at a reel that has an easily accessible maintenance port for regular lubrication. Most modern reels have this on the side of the gearbox housing in the form of a sealed screw-in port.
How far you are going to need to cast with the reel with what weight lure and what diameter or size braid, is also a major consideration. Coupled to this is the required rate or speed of retrieve. The further one is looking to cast, the lighter the braid would need to be. Size of the spool from a capacity and circumference point of view will have a significant impact on the speed of retrieve when one combines this with the gear ratio. For shore-based spinning, one should ideally be looking at around 6:1 or if you are looking at distance per crank, anything less than 1 metre per crank would not be desirable. When it comes to lure weight, anything more than 45 grams starts to require the use of a bionic finger or some form of finger protection for every cast. These heavier lures are generally more suited to boat fishing rather than the intense casting that is normally required when shore based.
Braid diameter and size is a very important consideration with each and every reel. It is important to understand that each reel is made and engineered to a certain specification with regard to the thickness of the line that is going to be wound on to the spool. For example, a big reel such as a 8000-20000 size coffee grinder, if it is a general spinning reel, will not pack 20lb or even 30lb braid sufficiently well for long casts. By the same token a small reel such as a 3000 will also not pack heavy braid such as 50lb or 80lb well enough either. This has to do with the position of the bottom of the roller in comparison to the inside top and inside bottom of the spool. Almost every spinning reel will pack the recommended line weight perfectly to cast.
Braids come in various strengths, diameters and degrees of roundness and therefore different brands or types of braid can all pack differently on the same reel even though they are supposedly the same breaking strain. For this reason, most top brands would allow some shim-washers supplied in the box to change the shape of the cone angle on the spool.
In specialised cases a person may require a super long-casting reel with thin braid for big capacity, especially when spinning off the shore for your bigger game fish. When one is looking for super-long casts and big capacity, there is no option but to look at the big pit or surf series of coffee grinders. These reels are very specifically designed with perfect line lay systems such as aero-wrap and vari-speed oscillation. The ultimate thin braid casting reel would have to have a very slow speed or two-speed oscillation with aero-wrap II technology.
Features to look out for:
- Reel stem – when spinning you will always hold the reel in either your left or right hand when cranking depending on your preference and it is most comfortable to have the stem of the reel protruding either between your middle and ring finger or between your index and middle finger. The same applies during the cast and it is therefore imperative to ensure that you are comfortable with that particular model’s stem.
- Handle – most reels these days will feature a bio-grip handle of sorts. It is a good idea to grab the reel on the rod, stem protruding from your fingers and crank as fast as you can with the other hand. Imagine the same handle wet or even perhaps full of sand. The last thing you want is for your hand to keep slipping off or for it to be uncomfortable because you will spend a lot of time with the handle firmly in your grip.
- Drag System – a really good smooth drag is critical, especially when fishing with lighter braids and long casts where fish scream off at speed. Those incredibly high drag ratings only really start becoming applicable in the vertical jigging and surface popping applications on the big reels. On medium-sized spinning reels, 2.5 kilograms on the drag is more than adequate. A waterproof drag system is definitely a great help, failing this, regular maintenance is required. Another great feature if available is insta-drag which one generally finds on the big pit or surf reels. A half a turn on the drag knob makes a very significant difference in drag setting. Avoid drag systems where lots of turns are required to start feeling any affect on the drag. Avoid rear drag reels for salt-water use.
- Spool – Check on availability of spare spools as it is great to be able to quickly reload instead of having to re-rig or to have the option of heavier or lighter braid for different applications. One of the most important things on a spool is the friction induced by the lip of the spool and the coils thrown off by it. The most advanced system in the market is the patented Shimano AR/C spool system, which is a flared lip on the top of the spool specifically designed for trouble-free and much longer casts.
- Aerowrap – This is a very good system to look out for, especially when combined with the power-roller. This ensures precision line lay for maximum capacity and maximum trouble-free casts.
- Dyna-balance – certainly adds to the smoothness of the reel on fast retrieves and whilst not critical helps enormously to reduce effort required while spinning.
Happy shopping for perfect spinning!