Fishing Reel Gear Ratios and Retrieve Speeds Explained

Fishing Reel Gear Ratios Explained Feature Image

Understanding fishing reel gear ratios can be confusing for some anglers, especially if they are new to the world of fishing reels in general.

However, once you get a basic grasp of how gear ratios are determined and listed, you’ll be able to find and purchase the best gear ratio on a new fishing reel for your needs.

What Does the Gear Ratio of a Fishing Reel Mean

Fishing Reel Gear
The gear ratio of a fishing reel refers to the number of revolutions of the spool for each turn of the handle.

In short, the gear ratio on a fishing reel tells you how many times the spool of line will make a full turn with each crank of the handle. If you are using a reel that advertises a 7.1:1 gear ratio, the spool will turn 7.1 times with every full rotation of the handle. 

Lower gear ratio numbers, such as 5.0:1, will move your lures slower through the water than a reel with an 8.1:1 gear ratio. This can have its own set of pros and cons depending on your fishing technique and needs when you’re out on the boat.

In addition to gear ratios, you may also see a term called IPT. This is the “inches per turn” number and helps break down the gear ratio even further. In some cases, an IPT may be more descriptive and less confusing than a gear ratio, especially since the same gear ratio on different-sized spools can have drastic differences in retrieval speeds.

Does Finding the Right Gear Ratio Matter?

In some cases, yes, finding the best gear ratio can be a very important part of selecting the right fishing gear. Think about this: you’re out on the boat, using a fish finder rig, and wanting to locate small groups of fish in a large body of water. You’ll be casting dozens upon dozens of times in order to find this small pocket of fish.

The lower the gear ratio you have, the more time you will be spending reeling your rig back in. This reduces the amount of areas you can cast into in search of fish and may eventually mean you miss out on finding the fish entirely.

Now, let’s say you have an extremely fast gear ratio of 9.1:1, for example. You can cast your rig as far as possible and be able to reel it in at record speed. This helps increase the amount of areas you can cast into and gives you a much better chance of locating the fish in a large lake or reservoir.

Additionally, a higher gear ratio reduces arm and wrist strain when reeling in after hundreds of casts. Instead of having to crank the handle 60 times to get a lure back in on a lower gear ratio, you can have it back to the boat in 25 with a higher gear ratio saving you not only time but also energy and muscle strain.

Low Gear Ratio Reels

While they are not the ideal choice for fish finder rigs, low-gear ratio reels have their shining place when casting crankbaits deep in the lake. Since lower gear ratio reels have a high amount of torque, they are perfect for using large lures and big baits such as swimbaits, jumbo spinnerbaits, and more. 

A slower reel is also great when fishing in cold water, such as when ice fishing or when fishing outside of the prime season. Since you will be moving the lure slower through the water with each crank of the reel’s handle on a low gear ratio reel, your lure or bait will remain in the strike zone for much longer, giving the fish ample time to strike.

Gearing Range

In most cases, a low gear ratio is anything around 5.1:1 to 5.4:1 gearing.

Pros

  • Great for slowly retrieving lures in cold water
  • Keeps your lure in the strike zone longer
  • Reduces the chance of scaring fish with rapid lure movements

Cons

  • Takes much longer to reel in a lure
  • Won’t allow rapid line retrieval

Best for …

  • Ice fishing or wintertime fishing
  • Large crankbaits
  • Oversized swimbaits
  • Jumbo deep water spinnerbaits

Medium Gear Ratio Reels

As one step up from the low gear ratio reels, a medium ratio is a good middle-ground for most anglers. These reels are perfect for beginners and can be highly viable for experienced anglers as well.

Medium gear ratio reels are extremely popular with bass anglers specifically since they have the torque for larger baits and lures while also giving a good bit of retrieval speed when you need it. The medium reel speed this gear ratio can deliver is great for getting reaction strikes from fish hiding in weeds or rocky cover.

Gearing Range

Almost all medium gear ratio reels will be in the 6.0:1 to 6.4:1 range.

Pros

  • Great for squarebill crankbaits
  • One of the best choices for shallow spinnerbaits
  • Perfect choice for getting bass reaction strikes

Cons

  • Lacks speed for fish finder rigs

Best for …

  • Bass fishing
  • Getting reaction strikes
  • Springtime spawning areas
  • Various crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and swimbaits

High Gear Ratio Reels

If you’re an angler that expects a lot of work from your rod, a high-gear ratio reel is going to be the best choice for you. When you work the rod, you end up getting a lot of slack in your line. When you get a bite, this excess slack can reduce the chance of a good hookset.

With a high gear ratio reel, you’re able to quickly take up the slack and set the hook at the same time. A high-gear ratio reel is also a great choice when you need to pull a fish on the fishing line away from heavy cover or other areas it can get snagged in.

Gearing Range

Normally, high gear ratios can be anywhere from 7.0:1 to 9.1:1

Pros

  • Easier to pull fish away from snag areas with a high-speed reel
  • Able to quickly take up large amounts of slack
  • Allows you to easily adjust your casting spot on the fly

Cons

  • May be prone to spooking fish if large lures are retrieved too fast

Best for …

  • Saltwater fishing
  • Texas rigs and Carolina rigs
  • Topwater lures
  • Lipless crankbaits
  • Deep diving crankbaits
  • Huge worms and heavy jigs

Baitcaster and Spinning Reel Gearing Explained

Parts of a fishing reel handle of spinning reel
The gear ratio of a spinning reel is an important factor to consider when fishing, as it can have a significant impact on the success of a fishing trip. The choice of gear ratio will depend on the specific fishing situation and the type of fish being targeted.

Now that you have a better understanding of the differences in a low and high gear ratio itself, you may wonder how they differ across baitcaster and spinning reels. Luckily, the overall gearing is almost identical, and the biggest variation you will see will come from the size of the line spool itself.

Spinning Reel Gear Ratios

Selecting the best gear ratio on your spinning reels can make a very large difference in the success of your fishing trip. New anglers, and even some experienced fishermen, sometimes overlook the importance of selecting the right gearing, and this can lead to issues down the line when you have a fish on the hook.

Luckily, gearing ratios can be rather flexible for the most part, and the finer points of choosing the exact right ratio will depend on a few different factors. For example, a very popular spinning reel is the Catalina 5000, which has a 4.9:1 ratio. This is an extremely slow reel, but it has an extremely high torque which can make it a true powerhouse when it comes to tiring out those large fish.

The Saltiga 1400 XH, on the other hand, has a 6.1:1 ratio making it much faster than the Catalina. This reel is a great choice when jigging or surf fishing and is a prime choice when targeting tuna, mackerel, or kingfish off the coast.

The lower speed of the Catalina is also a good choice here, and in fact, it could potentially be your better choice. Since the lower speed of the Catalina gives it a higher torque, it may end up being better at handling the forces of a fighting fish along with the push and pull of the surf.

If pulling power is a priority over getting your lure or fish reeled in quickly, go for a low-gear ratio reel. However, if you won’t be fighting with the surf or dealing with extremely large and heavy fish on the line, a faster ratio is your better choice.

Baitcasting Reel Gear Ratios

PiscifunAlijozBaitcastingReel 1 540x 1
Baitcasters are a high-performance choice for anglers because they have a higher gear ratio than most spinning reels. They are good for high-speed retrieval and can handle a lot of force.

Baitcasters are normally found in a higher fishing reel gearing ratio than what you would find on most spinning reels, making them a very quick and high-performance choice for most anglers. If you need a reel that can stand up to high-speed retrieval while also standing up to a good bit of force, a baitcaster is the way to go.

Baitcasting reels can also be found in a low gear ratio for bass fishing, depending on the model, so it’s not impossible to find them in both low, medium, and high ratios to meet your needs. When it comes to the IPT on a baitcasting reel, a low gear ratio for bass fishing will move around 25” of the line for each crank, a medium gear ratio will move around 30”, and a high gear ratio will move up to 40” of line per handle turn.

Whether you are bass fishing deep and close or need a baitcaster that can work for long casting in open water, you’ll be able to find it now that you have a better understanding of gear ratios and how they work with baitcasters.

Final Thoughts on Fishing Reel Gear Ratios

Many fishing reels will show both a gear ratio and IPT on the packaging when you are ready to purchase a new reel. While the gear ratio can give you a great idea of how the reel will perform, you can also use the IPT to get a better understanding of how quickly you are able to retrieve your lure.

Don’t be afraid to test out different reels and gear ratios until you find the one that feels best to you. In many cases, anglers will have multiple reels with different gear ratios to ensure they have a setup ready for any situation and fishing location.

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AUTHOR
Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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