What Is A Spinning Reel (And What Is It Good For)?
UPDATED 08 MAY 2023
by Robert Ceran
Every angler needs to choose the right fishing gear for their purpose, a choice made more difficult because there is such a wide variety of types, models and sizes to choose from.
One of the first choices to be made is which type of fishing reel to use. Out of the four main reel types, the most commonly used one is the spinning reel, which is especially attractive for novice anglers.
In this article we’ll address the two main questions, what is a spinning reel, and what is it good for, in order to help you decide if it’s the right choice for your purposes.
What is a spinning reel?
A spinning reel is an open-face fishing reel with a fixed spool and a revolving metal arm that winds line onto the spool when turned by a handle.
During the casting process, the metal arm is disengaged to release line from the spool, which allows line to be pulled off by the weight of a lure or rig tied to it.
In order to use a spinning reel, it must be are attached to a spinning rod, where it is positioned facing downwards on the rod handle. In other words, a spinning reel hangs underneath the rod handle when used by an angler (which is opposite to the orientation of a baitcasting reel).
Spinning reels are the best all around type of fishing reel, and are used for many different purposes, ranging from throwing artificial lures, fishing with live or dead bait, fishing with rigs or bobber fishing, and even for ice fishing.
Spinning reels have two main advantages compared to other reel types: they are easier to use, and they are better suited for lightweight applications.
What are spinning reels used for?
Spinning reels are used for a wide variety of fishing applications, ranging from ultra light freshwater fishing to heavy saltwater fishing.
In fact, they can be used for many of the same purposes as baitcasters and spin casters, but they offer a unique set of advantages that make them better suited for some purposes, and not as well suited for others.
For a side by side comparison with baitcasters, check out our article on baitcaster vs spinning reel pros and cons.
The main types of fishing for which spinning reels are used:
- Spin fishing with artificial lures
- Fishing with dead or live bait
- Bobber fishing
- Fishing with bottom rigs
- Live lining
- Ice fishing
Overall, spinning reels are the most versatile type of fishing reel, and can be adapted to many more applications than other types.
As such, they come in a wide range of sizes, which are suitable for many different types of fishing (for more details on this, read our article spinning reel sizes explained).
Spinners work equally well for both freshwater and saltwater applications, though in general it’s necessary to choose heavier models for saltwater fishing, which also need to be more durable.
There are two main reasons for this:
First of all, saltwater is much more corrosive than freshwater. And if you add sand into the equation, sea fishing requires much more durable materials and construction to withstand that kind of punishment.
Secondly, saltwater fish species tend to be larger and stronger than freshwater species, which means you need heavier gear to tire them out and bring them to the net.
For example, a big tuna or big tarpon will test your gear much more than a walleye or pike.
Now, let’s take a look at what spinning reels are NOT used for:
- Fly fishing
- Heavy casting
- Heavy trolling
- Deep Sea fishing
Out of these four applications, fly fishing is obviously a completely different style of fishing, and thus requires a completely different type of gear.
But what about the other three?
They all have in common that they require the use of a very large spool, that can hold a lot of heavy line. Spinners are not ideal for this, because they have a smaller spool size than large baitcasters.
Spinning reel advantages
Spinning reels have two main advantages compared to other types (such as baitcasters and spin casters):
- They are easier to use
- They are better suited for lightweight lures and tackle
Because spinner reels are so easy to use, they are the ideal choice for beginners. Baitcasters are much more challenging to master, since they tend to generate line tangles if you don’t know how to control spool rotation while casting.
Because of this, baitcaster birds nest formation is the bane of every beginner.
Spinners, on the other hand, are very easy and intuitive to cast with, and there is actually very little that can go wrong during a cast.
Because of this, beginners can ignore the subtleties of casting technique, and instead focus on enjoying the experience of catching fish without having to struggle with their gear.
Secondly, spinner reels are the best choice for finesse techniques and ultra light applications. This is because they can readily cast very light lures, such as crappie jigs, small swimbaits, poppers, and worms.
They also work well with very light pound test monofilament or braid, such as 2- or 4-pound test mono. Baitcasters, on the other hand, require heavier lures and stronger pound test in order to perform optimally.
If you’re interested in trying out ultra light fishing, check out our review of the best ultralight spinning reel.
Do pro fishermen use spinning reels?
Yes, absolutely. Since they are better suited for lightweight applications, many pro anglers use them for finesse techniques. For example, Jordan Lee uses them for bass tournament fishing.
Many pros use baitcasters most of the time, and then switch to spinning gear when they want to use finesse applications (which is often the case when bass aren’t feeding actively).
Also, walleye pro anglers use spinning gear more often than casting gear.
If you’re interested in checking out some of the highest quality spinning reels, take a look at our article on what spinning reels made in the USA?
What baits to use on a spinning reel?
As mentioned above, you can use a wide variety of baits and lures with spinners, but their biggest strength lies in being able to handle small, lightweight lures.
As a rule of thumb, any lure that’s lighter than 1/8 oz performs better on spinning gear than on casting gear.
Here are some baits that work well on spinner fishing reels (and not so well on baitcasters):
- Crappie jigs
- Small spoons
- Finesse worms
- Small swimbait & crankbait
If you’re fishing with a rig (such as a drop shot rig), you can use much lighter weight with spinning gear.
You may even be able to use a small to medium sized drop shot, if you want to go full finesse in order to catch finicky biters.
To sum up, spinner reels are the most popular and most versatile of all types of fishing reels. They are easy to use, and can be adapted for the majority of applications, which is ideal for beginners.
Apart from this, their biggest advantage lies in the ability to handle very lightweight lures much better than baitcasters, which makes them the best choice for finesse techniques.
If you’re thinking about buying new spinning gear, check out our review of the best spinning reel under 100.