Fishing Reel Bushings and Bearings

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Fishing Reel Bushings and Bearings

by Capt. Terry Rand

Let's dive a little deeper into the role that bearings and bushings play in a fine tuned fishing reel...

There's a lot of talk about how many bearings fishing reels have. Often advertised with high price tags, it appears as if the number of bearings a reel has relates directly to the quality of the reel itself. And, what about bushings? They are often mentioned in reel advertising as well. Exactly, what are they trying to sell us here? Let's dive a little deeper into the role that bearings and bushings play in a fine tuned fishing reel.

There is a distinct difference between bushings and bearings but they work on the same concept of acting as a circular support mechanism for a shaft or pin that provides smooth rotation. For example, a reel handle on a spinning reel is supported on either side by bushings or bearings that the shaft of the handle rest inside of. As the handle is rotated, the bearings or bushings provide support and proper alignment for the shaft of the reel handle. The major difference is that bushings have no moving parts built into them where as bearings are built with tiny ball bearings that provide a smooth, mechanical rotation for the shaft or part that it supports.

On the left is a stainless steel bushing. On the right, we have a roller bearing.
Photo by: Author

Bushings are sometimes cast directly into the body of the reel but often times they are made of a different material than the reel body and are press fit into the reel frame from the inside. The bushings are perfectly finished and smooth for precision support and are lightly lubricated to minimize the friction and wear between the moving part and the bushing. Bushings are sometimes constructed from materials that allow lubricants to soak into them, giving them self lubricating properties that require little to no maintenance. When bushings are well constructed and precision made, they provide excellent support and smooth operation of the fishing reel.

Bearings, on the other hand, are essentially constructed by seating a series of ball bearings between two metal bushings. When either of the two bushings are rotated, the ball bearings rotate between the bushings, providing an extremely smooth rotation that is highly resistant to friction. Bearings are usually placed in the same locations where bushings would reside but they can also be used in many other locations throughout the reel such as the drive train, the gears, the bail roller and the bail trip assemblies. One inherent downfall of bearings is that they are moving parts which are always more susceptible to failure than non-moving parts.

The main reason for bearing failure is the introduction of sand, salt and debris into the ball bearing mechanism, which prevents smooth rotation and promotes corrosion. Manufacturers have designed a number of ways to reduce bearing failure in reels. Some bearings are constructed with a sealed housing around them to prevent debris from entering them. Bearings of this design are usually high quality and are expensive to produce. Other bearings are simply constructed to allow for easy removal. They can then be easily cleaned with compressed air and then re-lubricated.

So, which is better? The truth is that they both serve their own purposes. And, they can both be made from high quality or lower quality materials. The design of many of the advanced reel systems you see on the market these days could not exist without the use of ball bearings. They provide the super smooth rotation and perfect alignment and tolerances to make those reels work the way they do. But, if you’re just catching sunfish from a farm pond and your reel is not put under any heavy loads, then the reel you choose does not need nine ball bearings to make it work properly. You'll find perfectly smooth reel rotation in a forty dollar reel that uses only one ball bearing or only bushings.

As you can further speculate, advertisers may be using the number of ball bearings found in fishing reels to justify high pricing. But, remember that ball bearings can vary in quality. Just because a reel is built using twelve ball bearings, that doesn't mean that the price is justified. Rely on manufacturers known for high quality products and customer service when purchasing reels that are high priced and use a lot of bearings.

That should give you a little more to work with in your continuing pursuit of fishing reel knowledge. The more you know, the easier it is to make choices. Remember to rely on quality manufacturers and quality retailers when purchasing a new reel and you can't go wrong.

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