Anglers Gear (10)

How Does A Spinning Reel Work

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Most anglers know how to use a spinning reel.  Most anglers do not have a firm understanding of how a spinning reel works.  It is a skill that is important, particularly if investing in some of the better reels on the market today.  Know about your reels will come in handy if you need to make repairs, send off for repairs or perform some routine maintenance.  All of which will give you many, many years of faithful reel service.

Angler’s Gear has this piece for you specifically on the spinning reel and will likely have additional pieces about the other reel types.  Be sure to check in regularly, and find out what excellent options and reviews we have for you.


The first thing many people note about a spinning reel is how the reel sits on the rod.  The reel is under the rod rather than seated on top like conventional reels.  There is a long metal piece that hangs down from the rod connecting the reel to the rod.  This is the reel foot.

It is necessary for the reel to sit a fair distance from the rod because of the bail.  The bail is able to spin unhindered by fingers or the rod during a retrieve. 


There are two locations for the drag – on the front of the reel, front drag system, or on the very back, rear drag system.  It is not the location of the drag that matters but its function.  The drag are a set of two plates that create tension on the line.

The drag’s explicit purpose is to provide the angler with an edge when fighting a fish.  The lighter a drag, the more easily a fish can pull line from the reel.  As the fish tires, anglers twist the drag down, tightening the friction plates.  This makes the fish work harder to pull line, allowing the angler to land their prize.

Most of the high end reels will have a front drag system over a rear drag system.  The location of the drag is very much like finding a spouse – it is a matter of personal taste.  What matters most is that the drag is smooth and will not jerk or stick during a fight.


The line on a spinning reel is visible and often lies beneath the drag adjustment knob.  Shaped as a cylinder, the spool does not spin like a baitcasting reel but instead moves up and down via the gear system under the spool itself.  The line does not bunch up into one location this way, and this actually helps with the castability of the line.  Poorly filled spools mean the rotor arm and bail wire will not spool the line correctly, resulting in bad casts and terrible snarls.

Each spool is designed for a specific reel, although some models do come with additional spool options.  Check the side of the spool, and you will see recommended line weights.  Manufacturers provide three recommended lb. weight sizes for each reel, with the middle line being the average.  For example, on a Shimano Stella Ultralight spinning reel, the line weights are 2/4/6 – two, four and six pound test line.  Most anglers spool their line with four lb. test.


The bail is the semi-circular piece of metal wire on the reel.  Its function is to spool the line back.  In a closed position, the bail lies parallel to the spool and when open, is perpendicular to the spool.  Casting takes a few moments to master for the novice.  Here are the steps:

  • Loop the line over the index finger of the casting arm – left or right.
  • Open the bail with the opposite hand, normally lifting to the right.
  • Cast the rod, making sure to release the line at the proper time.
  • When the lure strikes the water, close the bail with the free hand.
  • Begin turning the handle.

There are some anglers who will begin turning the reel handle, allowing the action of the handle turn to close the bail.  Angler’s Gear strongly recommends against doing this, as this will lessen the lifespan of your bail spring.  It is far better to flip the bail closed with a hand.

The second and much less known function of the bail is to keep the line straight during a cast and on retrieve.  Without, there is a strong chance of knots, poor performance and lost fish.


Anti-reverse is a vital component to spinning reels.  The system keeps the handle from spinning backwards, allowing the drag to fight fish.  Anti-reverse on is much better for novice anglers who are experiencing using spinning reels for the first time.  It is common for even more experienced anglers to leave the anti-reverse engaged at all times by default.  Most of the members of Angler’s Gear do this.


Baitcaster and spincast reels are designed specifically for a single hand, right or left, retrieve.  One of the advantages of the spinning reel is the handle can be switched from left to right or vice versa on most models. 

To change from one hand to the other, twist the knob on the side opposite the handle.  The knob will come off, and the handle will slide out.  Reverse the two, and replace the knob on the alternate side. 

Another great advantage of the changeable handle is the handle can be collapsed down against the side of the reel, making storage easy.

It is a strong recommendation to grease the handle at the conclusion of each fishing season as a part of the routine maintenance of your gear.

In conclusion

That covers the basics of a spinning reel.  It is a hope you visit the rest of the site and familiarize yourself with the other products we have reviewed for you.  Let us know in a comment below if there is a particular product or brand you want us to review.  We are always glad to hear from our readers.

Hope to see you on the water!