Spinning Reel Basics (5 Things You Need To Know)

Spinning reels are one of the best types of fishing reels for beginners since they are very easy to fish with. But even if they are simple and straightforward to use, every beginner still needs to learn about the basics of spinning reel anatomy, and how to use the different parts of a spinning reel to get the best results while fishing.

So let’s discuss the most important parts of a spinning reel and cover what each of them is used for, to help you understand how to use them correctly.

We’ll cover the following components in detail:

  • Spool
  • Handle
  • Drag system
  • Bail arm
  • Anti-reverse switch


The spool is the part of the reel that has the line wrapped around it. The most important thing you need to know is that the spool of a spinning reel doesn’t rotate, which is one of the key differences between spinning reels and baitcasting reels. Instead, the spool stays stationary, and the bail arm rotates around the spool, which wraps the line onto it.

Every spinning reel has a mechanism that moves the spool up and down during the bail rotation process, so the line is distributed evenly across the whole spool (instead of getting bunched up on one side).

If you want to use braided line, it’s important to know that braid tends to slip on the aluminum of regular spools, so you either have to get a reel with a braid-ready spool, or you have to put some electrical tape on the spool before you put the braid onto it (a handy trick that most beginners don’t know).

Since the spool of a spinning reel doesn’t rotate, there is much less risk of backlash and birdsnest formation during the casting process, which is one of the main reasons why spinning reels are such a great option for beginners.

The only way that you risk getting backlash with a spinning reel is if you introduce line twist by spooling it incorrectly. If you’re not sure how to do this properly, check out our guide on how to spool a spinning reel.

Reel handle

The reel handle of a spinning reel is very easy to use – you just rotate it forwards to retrieve line. The rotation of the handle is translated into rotation of the bail arm, which wraps line onto the pool. If your spinning reel has an anti-reverse switch, you can also turn the handle backward to release line from the spool (more on that below).

The speed of line retrieval is affected by the gear ratio of the spinning reel. The gear ratio refers to the number of times the bail arm rotates for every time you turn the handle once. So the higher the gear ratio, the faster the speed of line retrieval will be. In general, it’s better to choose a higher gear ratio, because it’s easier to slow down a fast reel, than it is to speed up a slow one.

One important thing to note is that the handle of a spinning reel can easily be switched from one side to the other (unlike the handle of baitcasting reels, which is fixed on one side). That means you can decide which side of the reel feels more comfortable to you with the handle. And since it’s so easy to switch this back and forth, you can even do this in the middle of your fishing trip if you change your mind.

Drag system

At the top of the spool is a knob that can be tightened or loosened, and this controls the drag system of the reel. The drag system consists of drag washers that press down on the spool, and when they press down tightly, this prevents the spool from rotating to release line, but if the drag washers are loosened, the spool can rotate to release line.

The drag system is important when you fight big fish. It allows a strong fish to pull line off your spool without risking line breakage. So if there’s a chance of hooking big fish, make sure to adjust your drag pressure so it’s neither too tight or too loose. If you’re only going to catch smaller fish, then you don’t need to worry about the drag.

Bail arm

The bail arm rotates around the spool when you rotate the handle. It wraps your fishing line onto the spool, and this enables you to retrieve your lure or bait after making a cast. The most important thing you need to know about the bail is that you need to open the bail arm to release line from the spool when you want to make a cast with your spinning reel.

Once you’ve finished the cast, you need to close the bail arm again to begin retrieving the line. On most spinning reels, the bail arm closes automatically when you start turning the handle, but many anglers prefer to do this manually, so they can place the line right on top of the line roller of the bail arm.

Spinning reel anti-reverse switch

Most spinning reels have an anti-reverse switch, which is usually located at the back of the reel. When you flip this switch on, it prevents the handle from rotating backwards, but if you flip it to the off position, this enables you to release line from the reel by “backpedaling” with your handle.

Some fishermen like to use the backwards pedaling function to release fishing line when fighting a big fish. But keep in mind that this is not really necessary, since the drag system is designed to do the same thing. So the anti-reverse function is not a strictly necessary feature, and because of this, some spinning reel brands don’t even have this function.

So you’ll need to decide if you want to use the anti-reverse switch or not. And if you decide you do want to use it, you’ll need to make sure you buy a reel that comes with this function.

2 thoughts on “Spinning Reel Basics (5 Things You Need To Know)”

  1. Once again, another fishing related question that is too general and wide open for interpretation. What type type of fishing (species) are you after? I assume freshwater? Your budget?

    I’ve read most of the previous answers and everyone seems to have an opinion. I have used Diawa, Abu, Zebco, Pflueger, BPS brand (yuk), Mitchell, and Shimano. I’m sure there are others from over the years that I can’t think of. Currently, I agree with Shimano and specifically the Stradic. However, that’s a $200+ reel. The only thing that bothers me with so many brands, including Shimano, is that they are slowly doing away with the anti-reverse on-off lever. But that’s a discussion for another time.

    My short answer is to purchase the reel that you can afford. Decide how much you can comfortably spend and test a few comparable reels across several brands. Go in a brick and mortar store where you can put the reels in your hands and actually handle them. Once you decide on your top two favorite reels, go online and read some current reviews. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on a single reel to get the job done, especially as a student.


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