Parts of a Fishing Reel: A Beginner’s Guide

Fishing reels are fairly complex pieces of engineering, and there are many important parts to a fishing reel. In this post, we will take a look at the most important …

Fishing reels are fairly complex pieces of engineering, and there are many important parts to a fishing reel. In this post, we will take a look at the most important fishing reel parts and what purpose they serve.

What are The Key Parts of a Spinning Reel?

Here are the key parts of a spinning reel, and how they work together.


The body is the main part of a fishing reel and typically consists of a two-piece housing constructed of various materials like aluminum, plastic, carbon fiber, and other materials.

The Body is essentially a gearbox housing, and also holds the reel handle which engages the gears when your reel.

Some spinning reels have a drag system incorporated into the bottom of the body, but most spinning reels today have drag systems that are built into the top of the spool.

Fishing reel bodies also include the section that attaches to the rod, known as the reel foot.


The spool of a spinning reel holds your fishing line, a big surprise right?

Spools can vary in size which in turn changes the line capacity.

Spinning reels typically have a section that lists the capacity of certain pound lines that is printed on the side.

Like the body of a spinning reel, spools can be made from many different material types like carbon fiber but the most common type is still aluminum.

Many spinning reel designs have the drag system incorporated into the spool, with an adjustment knob directly on the top of the spool.


The foot of a fishing reel is a part of the body and consists of a T-shape that sides into the reel seat ears.

These can vary in size, and some even are even designed with ergonomics in mind.

Unlike baitcasting reels and fly reels, the foot of a spinning reel extends out farther when attached to the rod, this is due to needing clearance for the bait and reel body, otherwise, it would simply not work.

Bail arm

Bail is a wire-like semicircular part next to the spool, which is a feature unique for spinning reels.

The bait arm keeps your line from simply uncoiling around the spool when you are not casting.

The bail sits just below the spool and the line runs under the bait arm, around the line roller, and up through the rod guides.

When you flip the bail arm open you free the line and allow it to free spool, and when casting, you hold the bail arm with your pointer finger to prevent free spooling until you release it at the end of a cast, causing the lures weight and momentum to carry the fishing line away from the rod.

Line Roller

The line roller is a small roller that the line moves across as you wrap the line around the spool using the spinning bail arm.

The line roller is a part of the bail arm itself.

Spinning Reel Handle

Surprising to very few, the spinning reel handle is what you use to retrieve the lure and the turning of the spinning reel handle causes the bail to rotate, thus wrapping the line around the spool.

Drag Adjustment Knob

The drag adjustment knob can be found in two locations, the bottom of the reel body, or more commonly on the top of the spool.

The drag knob is used to adjust the breaking strength on the spool and can be quickly changed when fighting fish apply more resistance to the line and rod.

Compared to baitcasting reels, the drag system on a spinning reel is very simple and requires very little maintenance.

Loosening the drag adjustment knob all the way on a spool drag system will allow you to take the drag adjustment knob off of the spool, and remove the spool itself.

Anti-reverse Switch

The anti-reverse switch on a spinning reel allows you to crank the reel handle backward, and pay out line.

This is only used in certain situations, and most anglers never use the feature.

Setting the hook with the anti-reverse switch off will rapidly spin the handle and won’t allow you to actually set the hook on a fish.

An anti-reverse switch can work if you are working in heavy current, and you want to slowly allow your bait to drift into a specific spot or area.


The gears are located in the spinning reel body and underneath the spool.

By cranking the reel with the reel handle, you turn the gears that in turn make the bail system spin around the spool, thus wrapping the line.

Ball and Roller Bearings

Roller bearings and ball bearings are critical parts of a fishing reel regardless of the type.

Roller bearings are typically found in the reel body where the reel handle is inserted and provides smooth cranking.

Ball bearings are usually in a slot in the bail assembly, where it rotates around the spool, and make for smooth line pick up as well as smooth cranking.

Internal Drag System Components

The drag system works by using a series of washers, and these washers can be made of several different types of materials, and graphite is commonly used as an effective brake pad.

By tightening the drag adjustment knob you put pressure into the spool, which is in contact with the break/washer, applying friction that keeps the spool from turning with less resistance.

Spinning reel parts diagram

Leave this – I will commission this from the graphic designer

What makes a good spinning reel?

Not all spinning reels are created equally, and as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.

Materials and weight

Today materials can vary, and even low costs reels can be made from materials aluminum.

Higher-end reels like to use carbon fiber or graphite for minimizing weight as much as possible, but both carbon fiber and aluminum reels can be damaged if they are victim to serious impacts.

Some reels might be constructed of durable plastic of some sort, and while this might not be as light as other types, it can still make for a decent fishing reel if proper care is taken.

Gear Ratio and Quality of Gears

Gears are typically machine from stainless steel and brass, and gear ratios can vary from one reel to the next.

The higher the gear ratio, the more line it will pick up during a single revolution of the bail, and the exact opposite is true of a lower gear ratio.

Stainless steel and corrosion-resistant metal construction of these materials are vital to reduce corrosion and extend the lifetime of the reel.

Spinning reels don’t typically have as many ball bearings as baitcasting reels, but some still will, and in most cases, the more bearings, the smoother the operation.

Quality of Ball Bearings

Ball bearings like gears should be constructed of high-quality stainless steel to prevent corrosion from both saltwater and freshwater.

Spool material

Spool material can consist of many different types like aluminum, graphite, and even plastic, typically a quality spool will be aluminum or graphite-based and will be a balance of weight and strength.

Drag system

Drag systems on spinning reels are pretty simple and while can be made from different types of materials and with slightly different designs, most will be reliable simply due to the simple friction design.

Reel handle

Reel handles are typically made from steel, aluminum, or graphite, it all depends on the overall quality of the reel, and efforts made towards weight.

Reel handles are typically jointed, and when the cap on the other end of the reel body is loosened the joint will move freely.

Reel handles can also be quickly removed, and most spinning reels today allow for the reel handle to be inserted on either the left or right side.

How do you Maintain Spinning Reels?


Spinning reels don’t require as much maintenance compared to baitcasting reels, but still, some must be done to extend the life of the reel and to keep it running smoothly.

Removing the drag system and spool to be cleaned is the easiest step, and if it is possible taking apart the reel body itself to clean out old grease and dirt.

Maintenance can be done as little as once a season depending on the levels of use your reels get.


Lubrication is essential and will make a quality built reel last for years or even decades.

Putting a thin coating of grease (click here to buy) in key areas like the gears and bearings will give you smooth operation while minimizing any wear.

It’s important not to put too much grease on the metal components like bearings, as this will cause the ball bearings to slide instead of roll as intended, and can actually gunk up and collect dirt, dust, and debris, which will require more maintenance.


Storage is pretty straightforward and obvious.

Keep your spinning reel in a dry place and out of the elements, which means stored in a boat rod locker, “not laying on the boat floor”, a garage, or a basement.

If you are going to have the spinning reel in storage for long periods of time like the off-season, a padded reel bag or case can help keep it protected until the fishing season.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, everything you could ever want to know about the different parts of a spinning reel and how to keep it maintained and functioning properly.

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Shawn Chapin is an experienced fishing writer and guide based in Wisconsin, where he loves targeting muskie and a range of other species. Shawn's fished extensively for pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth and panfish species. He's developing a passion for chasing trout on the fly rod.
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