How to Use a Spinning Reel

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How to Use a Spinning Reel

by Capt. Terry Rand

Versatile and easy to use. That's the spinning reel. Here's everything you always wanted to know about them but were afraid to ask.

Spinning reels tend to be a top choice for anglers buying new fishing reels. There are multiple reasons but the most common reason is their general ease of use. Spinning reels are probably the easiest reel to learn to cast with, besides a spincast cast reel which has many limitations. Learning to cast a spinning reel only takes a few minutes before someone can begin fishing successfully with one. An overall understanding of how a spinning reel works will guide you to successful casting.

To begin with, the spinning reel uses a fixed spool as opposed to a rotating spool like a baitcasting or conventional reel. Instead, a spinning rotor and bail assembly is mounted around the spool which guides the fishing line back onto the spool while retrieving the line. When the reel handle is turned, the internal gears drive the rotor to spin while the spool oscillates up and down on the main shaft it is mounted to. The spinning rotor wraps the line back onto the spool while the spool oscillates, which distributes the line evenly across the entire spool.

When the angler is ready to cast, the line is draped over the anglers’ finger directly in front of the bail roller. Once the line is secured under the finger, the bail assembly is flipped over to the other side of the reel. At that point, the angler can go ahead and cast the lure by releasing the line from their finger as the rod reaches the end of the cast, allowing the line to be pulled off the spool.

So, let's go through the process of casting with a spinning reel. Begin with selecting a lure weight that is recommended for the rod your spinning reel is mounted to. Use a sinker or a lure without the hooks as a practice plug to cast with. Tie it to the end of your line and give yourself some casting room, either in the back yard, a local park or on the water.

Start by pinching the line against the rod handle, just ahead of the reel, with your index finger. Your finger will hold the line and prevent it from coming off the reel when you flip the bail over. With your free hand, grab the wire bail assembly and flip it over. Now the bail is open and the only thing preventing the line from unwinding from the spool is your index finger. You’re now ready to make a cast.

Carefully, swing the rod back behind you and then propel it forward, stopping the cast when the rod tip reaches the 10 o'clock position. At the same time that the rod tip stops, release the line from your finger. If your timing was right, your casting plug should have landed at least 40-50 in front of you, travelling on a fairly gradual curve. If the lure didn't travel that far, you should probably release the line a little earlier. If the lure sailed into the air like a pop fly to the outfield, then you are releasing the line too soon on the cast.

Continue casting until you can make productive casts fairly consistently. Test your abilities by changing to a different weight casting plug and make multiple casts to get a feel for casting lures of different weights. You may find that lighter weight lures will cast farther if the release of the line from your index finger is delayed by a fraction of a second. Learning to release your finger at the correct time is the trickiest part of this process but in short time, if you practice, you'll master the over head cast pretty quickly. That encompasses the basic casting process for a spinning reel. The basics of this cast can be converted to making a side arm cast, lob cast or any other casting technique that can be thought up for a spinning reel.

Other aspects of the spinning reel that need to be mentioned include the drag system and anti-reverse system. The drag allows a large fish to be able to pull some line off of the reel when it is fighting exceptionally hard. Without a drag system to absorb the strain, either the line or the fishing rod will break when the tension is too much. The drag can be easily adjusted to match the breaking strength of your line or the size of your target species of fish.

To adjust the drag on a spinning reel, look for the adjustment knob on the top of the spool. The adjustment knob serves two purposes; to hold the spool on the main shaft and to put pressure on the drag washers housed inside of the spool. When you tighten the knob, the pressure is increased on the washers, making it more difficult to pull line from the reel. Adjust the knob and manually pull line from the spool while the bail is closed to get an idea of whether you need to loosen or tighten the drag. It should be tight enough that you'll be able to get a solid hook set. Over time, you'll get a feel for setting your drag manually for the species of fish that you pursue. The drag can be adjusted just as easily while fighting a fish, which is commonly done when hooking into species of various sizes.

The anti-reverse mechanism serves to keep the rotor from turning backwards, which would cause the line to unwind from the spool. Most spinning reels are manufactured with a switch, usually located on the underside of the reel body, to turn the anti-reverse on and off. Most people keep the anti-reverse in the on position to avoid tangles from the unwinding. Some folks rely on using the anti-reverse option as opposed to relying on their drag system. They accomplish this by reeling backwards while the fish is pulling hard, and allowing the fish to take line as it needs to. When the fish begins to tire, they reel forward again to begin picking up line. This practice most likely started years ago when drag systems were much less reliable. For those that don't use it, many manufacturers have simply discontinued incorporating it into their reels designs.

There is plenty to learn about using spinning reels and the best knowledge comes from getting out there and doing it. Try various casting techniques. Experiment with different line sizes and types. Learn to adjust the drag while fighting a fish. All of this will make you much more confident about the tools you are using and will make you a more knowledgeable angler. To learn more about spinning reels, check out these articles: Getting the Most From Your Spinning Reel & What Are Spinning Reels

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