Level Wind Reels-Pros and Cons

Saltwater Fishing - Helping you catch that fish of a lifetime

Level Wind Reels-Pros and Cons

by Garry Brummett

Many inshore saltwater anglers ask us to help them decide between purchasing a level wind conventional reel and an “open” style conventional reel that does not have the level wind features.  Each of the two styles has its attributes and its challenges.

The answer really depends on three main factors: application, preference and the type of line you choose to run on it.

Level wind reels feature a moving line guide that sports a pawl which runs back and forth across the front of the reel upon a worm shaft.  As line is retrieved back onto the reel, the moving line guide ensures that the line is evenly distributed onto the spool, from side to side, without any large build ups of line in any one spot on the spool.  Open style conventional reels have no line guide and the distribution of the line back onto the spool is the responsibility of the angler.

The type of fishing you plan on doing with a reel helps in the decision process, but much of the decision is personal preference.  Some of our conventional surfcaster customers will not use level wind reels and they usually state two reasons.  First, the level wind apparatus is susceptible to damage from sand.  Even if you never drop your reel onto the beach, wind-blown crystals can get into the workings of the line guide and damage the equipment.   The second reason is that some of these anglers believe that the level wind guide will actually affect their casting ability.  No one could argue against the fact that the line guide is one more contact surface to the line that open faced reels don’t have.   Open faced conventional reels seem to be the predominant choice for surfcasting.  Less moving parts equates to less potential equipment failure.  Equipment failure is a huge concern to surfcasters who often hike great distances to remote locations with just one rod & reel.

Secondly, the line you choose to fish with is another consideration in choosing between open and level wind.  Today’s line choices fall into two main categories: Monofilament and braided Dacron lines.  We’ll talk about the lines in another article, but simply understand that the two line styles behave differently due to their different characteristics. 

Before the dawn of braided lines, monofilament was the only choice.  This is when level wind reels came onto the scene.  Monofilament line has a strong tendency to pile up in one spot on a spool when reeled back in. Line piling up in one spot can actually get so tall that it interferes with the operation of the reel.  The line can bind the spool against the frame if it gets too high.  And this usually happens at the worst possible time, when the fish is getting close (there is more line back on the reel).

This characteristic of monofilament requires the angler to use his thumb to direct the retrieving line towards one side or the other of the spool when using an open, non-level wind reel.  This can be done with practice, however, when fighting a fish that will become your personal best if landed, you have other things to think about!  A level wind reel was the answer. Anglers could now focus on other aspects of the fight and not worry about how the line was laying down.

Braided lines, conversely, have a wonderful knack for lying down rather nicely onto the spool without a lot of attention from the angler.  It is really amazing to watch.  Level wind reels are just about unnecessary if you plan to use braided Dacron line.  Fishing Monofilament lines can absolutely support the purchase of a level wind conventional reel.

On a final note, as a repair shop owner, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the level wind feature is at the top of the repair parade of reels we see each year.  This is exclusive of manufacturer.  All level winds from all manufacturers are susceptible to failure.  It’s just the nature of the designs.  A very small pawl runs across an equally small worm gear. When fighting a large fish with 15-20 pounds of drag, the line guide system is under a tremendous amount of pressure.  Then we throw in some salt and some sand, and maybe we don’t clean and lube the reel like we know we should.  All of these factors can increase the potential for a failure.  Open faced conventional reels know no such failure.

So, mono or braid, trolling, casting or jigging, the choice of a level wind feature should be considered carefully.


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