How to Use a Spinning Reel: A Beginner’s Guide

Learn how to choose, operate, lubricate and maintain your spinning reel with this comprehensive guide for beginners.

If you’re new to fishing and have just acquired a spinning reel, you might be wondering how to make the most of this popular bass fishing or fly fishing tool. A spinning reel is a key component of any angler’s arsenal, offering ease of use, flexibility, and reliable performance. 

Whether you’re planning to catch fish in freshwater or saltwater, from shore or a boat learning how to properly use a spinning reel is crucial to your success on the water. In this beginner’s guide, we’ll walk you through a web of essential information to help you master the art of using a spinning reel and make your fishing experience enjoyable and rewarding.

How to Use a Spinning Reel: Spooling, Casting, and Maintaining

How to use a spinning reel
Spooling reel, casting accurately, and regular maintenance ensure reel performance and longevity.

Spooling

Spooling a spinning reel is an important first step in setting up your new reel. Before spooling, it’s important to choose the right fishing line for your specific needs. There are various types of fishing lines available such as monofilament, fluorocarbon, or braided lines. Each type has its own strengths and weaknesses, so always try to consider factors like fishing conditions, target species, and personal preference. 

Once you’ve selected your line, you can proceed with spooling your reel. Start by attaching the line to the reel’s spool using an arbor knot or any other suitable knot you trust. Next, ensure that the line is winding onto the spool in the correct direction. Slowly and evenly wind the line onto the spool, keeping it taut to prevent tangles and uneven spooling. 

Fill the spool to the recommended capacity depending on your reel size and type, leaving a small gap to avoid overfilling. Properly spooling your spinning reel ensures that the line is securely and evenly distributed, which allows for smoother casting and retrieval. See here for more information on how to spool a spinning reel.

Casting

To begin with a good cast, grasp the fishing rod handle with your dominant hand placing your fingers comfortably around the reel’s handle. Hold the rod with your other hand slightly above the seat of the reel for balance and control. 

When you’re ready to cast, release the bail arm or open the bail entirely to expose the line. Use your index finger (or pointer finger) to lightly hold the line against the rod’s handle and control the line’s release during the cast. With a smooth motion, bring the fishing rod back behind you, preparing for the actual cast. 

As you bring the rod forward, release the line held by your index finger, allowing it to flow off the spool. Aim your cast toward the desired target and follow through with the rod’s motion, keeping it level to help improve accuracy.

See here for tips on how to cast light lures.

Maintaining

Maintaining your spinning reel is very important for its longevity and optimal performance. After each fishing trip, it’s important to rinse your reel with fresh water to remove any salt, sand, or algae that may have accumulated on the exterior or openings. Pay special attention to the bail mechanism and the area around the spool. 

Gently wipe the reel with a soft cloth to dry it thoroughly, ensuring that no moisture is left behind. Periodically, you should also lubricate the reel’s moving parts, such as the bail, reel handle, and fishing gear system, using reel oil or grease. This will help reduce friction, prevent corrosion, and keep the reel operating smoothly.

See here for tips on fixing a spinning reel that has stopped working for various reasons.

Fishing Line for a Spinning Reel

There are several types of fishing lines available, each with its own characteristics and advantages. Monofilament lines are popular due to their versatility, affordability, and ease of use. They have good knot strength and offer excellent shock absorption, making them suitable for various fishing techniques and species. 

Fluorocarbon lines have gained popularity for their invisibility underwater, making them one of the first choices for clear water conditions or when targeting shy fish. These lines also have the excellent abrasion resistance and a heavier weight allowing them to sink with your baits much quicker than a monofilament or braided line. 

Braided lines are known for their excellent amount of durability and strength, as well as their minimal stretch. They offer excellent sensitivity allowing you to feel even the slightest nibble. Braided lines are an excellent choice for fishing in heavy cover, where you need to exert more power to pull fish out of dense vegetation. 

See here for more info on the best lines for spinning reels.

How to Spool Your Line

How to use a spinning reel (1)
Properly spooling your fishing line onto a spinning reel is crucial for successful fishing.

Spooling your line onto a spinning reel properly is essential for smooth casting, efficient retrieval, and overall fishing success. To begin, you’ll need your spinning reel, fishing line, and a few basic tools, such as a pair of scissors or line cutters. 

Attach the end of the fishing line to the reel’s spool using a secure knot that won’t slip when under tension. Once the line is securely attached, begin reeling the line onto the spool by turning the reel handle smoothly and steadily. It’s important to maintain some tension on the line with your index finger as it is being wound onto the spool to prevent loose wraps or line twists.

As you reel, periodically check for any line twists or tangles and correct them immediately. Continue spooling the line until you reach the desired amount for your reel type, leaving a small gap of about 1/8 inch between the line and the spool’s edge to prevent overfilling.

How to Fit Your Reel to a Spinning Rod

Fitting your reel to a spinning rod properly will help you achieve balance, comfort, and optimal performance during your fishing trip. To ensure a proper fit, first, you’ll want to match the size of your spinning reel to the specifications of your rod. Rods are typically labeled with a recommended line and lure weight range, as well as a specific rod power and action rating. 

These ratings help determine the appropriate reel size to pair with the rod. Matching the reel size to the rod rating ensures that the combination is well-balanced, allowing for comfortable casting and efficient fish-fighting capabilities.

The fishing reel seat should be large enough to accommodate the reel’s foot comfortably and securely. When fitting the fishing reel to the rod, ensure that the reel foot seats snugly into the seat of the reel and that it aligns properly with the rod guides. The fishing reel should sit securely in the seat without any wobbling or movement.

See also: Can you put a spinning reel on a fly rod?

How to Cast a Spinning Reel

  1. Grasp the rod handle with your dominant hand and place your fingers comfortably around the rod handle to get a firm yet relaxed grip.
  2. Flip the bail open by using your non-dominant hand to expose the line slowly and allow it to be released during the cast.
  3. With your index finger, lightly hold the line against the rod handle to regulate the line’s release and prevent any slack or tangles during the cast.
  4. Bring the rod tip backward away from your target to load the rod with energy, which will be released during the cast.
  5. Swiftly and smoothly, bring it forward in a fluid motion while also releasing the line held by your index finger just before the rod reaches the forward position.
  6. After the cast, use your other hand to flip the bail back into its closed position to lock the line in place and make it ready for retrieval.

How to Set Fishing Reel Drag

  1. Locate the drag adjustment knob or lever located on the top or front of the reel. It may be labeled as “Drag,” “FD” (Front Drag), or “RD” (Rear Drag).
  2. Set the initial drag to low by turning the drag adjustment knob or lever counterclockwise to loosen it.
  3. Once you’ve set the initial drag on the lower end, make small adjustments as necessary based on whether or not the fish is easily pulling out line without much resistance.

How to Use the Anti-reverse Feature

Locate the switch or lever near the handle and engage it before the casting process or when you have a fish on the line. During the fight, the anti-reverse keeps the handle stationary, ensuring that the reel does not rotate backward as the fish pulls on the line allowing you to keep tension and control on the fish. 

Try not to accidentally disengage the anti-reverse during the fight by keeping your fingers away from the switch or lever. Once the fish is landed or when manually reeling in the line, you can disengage the anti-reverse by switching the lever or toggle to the “Off” position, allowing the handle to rotate freely for line retrieval. 

How to Service Spinning Reels

Servicing most spinning reels regularly is great for maintaining their performance and prolonging their lifespan. While a complete reel service may require technical expertise, there are some basic steps you can follow to perform general maintenance on your spinning reel.

Before you begin, gather the necessary supplies, including a clean cloth, mild soap or a spinning reel cleaner, a soft brush or toothbrush, and reel oil or reel grease. Try to work in a clean and well-lit area.

Carefully disassemble your spinning reel according to the manufacturer’s instructions or diagrams you can find online. Keep track of the parts and their order of removal to aid in reassembly.

Use a clean cloth dampened with mild soap or spinning reel cleaner to wipe down the reel’s exterior and remove dirt, muck, and salt residue. Pay attention to areas around the bail, rotor, and handle since these are very prone to rust and corrosion.

Apply a thin layer of reel grease to the gears and other moving parts. Focus on areas that experience the most friction and wear.

Carefully reassemble the spinning reel, ensuring each part is correctly aligned and secured. Avoid over-tightening screws or components since this can damage the reel.

How to Grease and Oil (Lubricate) A Fishing Reel

  • Disassemble the reel
  • Clean the parts
  • Apply reel grease to gears and moving parts (see here for the best grease and oil to use)
  • Use reel oil on bearings and contact points
  • Reassemble the reel
  • Wipe off excess lubricant
  • Test the reel’s functionality
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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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