With all the threads wanting recommendations on this reel or that, add to that the amount of request for information from new anglers I thought it may be helpful to have a thread on the essentials of picking a reel. I've been buying baitcasters for years now and just last week I found myself asking questions about a reel, so this may prove helpful to more than just new anglers. First and foremost and let’s get this out of the way right at the start, IMO you will not get a quality reel less than $80 NIB, period; unless you find them on sale at closeout. This isn't to imply that a quality reel is out of anyones budget, I hardly ever pay full price for my reels. I typically get everything on sale, last week I purchased a reel at 60% off of retail, a $120 reel for $50 bucks. I find this time of year to be one of the best times to find a deal, you have overstocks, last years models, etc that stores are clearancing to stock the latest model.
First and foremost make sure it is one piece, and aluminum.
The frame is the foundation of the reel, bad frame bad reel, no matter the bearing count or how smooth it feels. IMO regular graphite framed reels are not worth the money, and some of these frames are found on reels costing almost a $100. I corresponded this week with a reel manufacturer about this very thing, the tech rep tried to help me understand the differences in graphite but I can’t say it helped, lol. There are basically four types of graphite frames, graphite, reinforced graphite, composite, and composite reinforced. From my correspondence with the rep, composite reinforced graphite are as good as graphite gets, but it is still weaker than aluminum. His opinion was that it would suit a weekend angler, with no chance of hooking a large long running fish. For 10-20 dollars more, I think it is worth getting aluminum.
Here it is quality over quantity. How many bearings does a reel need? 3 bearings are enough for long casts and smooth operation. 4 is better, after awhile I really don’t know where they are putting them. I have reels with as many as 11 bearings, a quick scan of the schematic shows, 2 bearings on each end of the spool shaft, a bearing directly under the pinion gear, under the spool, at the handle paddles, one on the worm gear (for what purpose I have no idea), etc. The point is there is absolutely no need to buy a reel based just on bearing count. A reel with 4 quality bearings will out perform a reel with 12 low quality bearings. Bearings are rated by ABEC 1 is standard up to 9 being NASA quality, fishing reels use 1, 3 , 5 and 7. A good reel technician can update shaft bearings in a quality reel with grade 7 bearings and it will make a big difference in casting distance. Google Bearings 101 and there is a good article there that is helpful and informative. Thanks Tom, WRB. What is important with bearings is quality; stainless steel minimally, some ppl like ceramic, or some type of hybrid.
I don’t think I remember seeing anything but anodized aluminum, or machined aluminum. The point is you want a metal spool.
Gears, Gearing and Speed
Obviously gears should be made out of metal, brass being pretty much standard, each manufacturer has their own take and alloy. Some of the real low end reels have plastic gears, avoid them like the plague. Gearing is the ratio of spool evolutions to handle, a 5.4:1 means the spool rotates 5.4 times per handle turn. The lower the ratio the more torque the reel has, increase the ratio lower the torque. Speed which is measured by Inches of line recovered Per Turn (of handle) or ipt. Contrary to popular belief this is not dictated by gearing alone, spool size comes into play, amount of line on the reel, etc.Do not confuse gearing and speed, though related they are not the same. Today a standard speed is something in the 6.2 to 6.5 :1 gearing, with anywhere from 24-28 ipt. It is interesting to note though at one time a 5.4:1 bringing in 20 ipt was described as high speed, you will still read old articles where a pro states you need a high speed reel for DD’s, again these are old articles from the era that 21ipt was high speed. DD Crankbaits require a low ipt, somewhere around 20-23 ipt, shallow and lipless Crankbaits 23-26 ipt, Spinnerbaits can be slow rolled to burned. The newest thing is high speed, reels bringing in 30-34ipt, mainly used for jigs, pitching, burning buzzbaits etc. Soft plastics and the like can be fished on any speed you like.
Most reels today have instant anti-reverse through the use of a crankshaft sleeve and roller bearing, some have a pawl backup that catches on the trip ratchet under the gears. Some have just the pawl with multiple stops, this is handy for crankbaiting according to some professionals.
A good braking system makes casting these reels so much easier. Two types of brakes dominate the market; the magnetic system and centrifugal system. Within the past few years it is possible to get a dual brake system, and even more recent a twin centrifugal system. Each system has its pro’s and cons, supporters and detractors. A quick explanation of each seems in order. Centrifugal brakes typicall consist of anywhere from 4-6 brakes, that can be turned on and off. These brakes work during the first part of the cast to keep your spool from overspinning and thereby reducing the dreaded over-run, as the spool slows these brakes reset. Magnetic brakes typically work on the back end of the cast and slow the spool to keep over-runs at the end of the cast. Some brand's mag brakes provide braking for the duration of the cast. Dual brakes obviously work during the first and second half of the cast, some of these can be set to where it would be almost impossible to over-run. Flukemastr has a video pinned at the top on how to setup a baitcaster, and the information in the video is great.
Gears get a little grease, bearings a drop of oil. If you purchase a quality reel, maintain it and it will last you for years, maybe a lifetime.
Although there are allot of different brands there are not that many factories producing reels. I asked a reel smith a question recently about construction and he was very informative. Pflueger and Abu Garcia are Pure Fishing reels, the factory also manufactures BPS reels. I also suspect that Lews are made here too, as all of these brands look like they share the same DNA. Some parts interchange between a Revo and a BPS Pro Qualifier! So in reality although you may have your favorite brand, that doesn’t mean the factory only makes that brand. I’m not going to bash or degrade any brand there are good products being produced by every major manufacturer.
Also note, some but not all of the manufacturers offer composite reinforced graphite frame. Others offer reinforced graphite and a couple do not state anything but graphite. Like I’ve already written a composite reinforced graphite frame will last awhile, perhaps longer than I’m willing to give them credit for, but when I can get an aluminum frame for 10-20 bucks more I’ll go with aluminum.
So to recap, in a reel you want a one piece aluminum frame, quality bearings, brass gears, in the speed and gear ratio to suit your fishing style.
I'm sure there are things I forgot, please add your advice.