Brad Harvey: The skinny on spinning tackle

July 2, 2013 

Introduced way back in 1948 by the French manufacturer Mitchell, the spinning reel made fishermen of that day plum giddy that there was finally an option for those who just couldn’t or didn’t want to deal with a traditional baitcaster.

With their fixed, inline spool and body mounted below the rod and a mechanical wire bail that picks up line as the handle is cranked, to those long ago fishermen this “newfangled” invention looked more like some sort of alien space weapon than angler’s tool.

But in no time, the design became widely accepted by new fishermen and traditionalists alike, since it was quickly learned that great casting distances could be achieved with smaller and lighter lures. Using a spinning reel, however, is far different than any other type of reel in existence.

To make a cast, the fisherman must flip open the bail while holding the line itself under the index finger of the rod hand. As the casting motion is made with the rod he releases the line, allowing the weight of the lure to pull line from the stationary spool. Since the spool itself doesn’t move, this is how spinning equipment makes casting lighter weighted lures far easier.

Spinning reels simply don’t require the constant attention that baitcasters do as a cast is made. There’s no thumbing of the spool involved and overruns, known to most fishermen as backlashes or birdnests, aren’t possible.

Where they really shine is when “finesse fishing” and downsizing baits and lures while attempting to make stealthy presentations that won’t spook wary fish, making them an invaluable tool to both recreational fishermen and tournament anglers alike.

So, if they’re easier and make fishing lighter lures possible, why didn’t spinning reels completely overtake the fishing world by making the old baitcaster obsolete?

As is typical with most anything, the use of spinning equipment comes with its own limitations and a few trade-offs.

Because of their design, one such constraint is that they simply don’t cast heavier lines all that well. As line is pulled away from the spool, which parallels the rod itself, it comes off in large coils that creates more friction points along the rod. Each point of contact increases in size as line size gets larger which helps to slow it down and hinder casting distance.

Designers quickly saw that with traditional, smaller rod guides, the line stayed in constant contact with the guides and the rod blank itself as its rotational path carried it out. These reels couldn’t obtain much distance at all. It’s for this very reason that the rod guides on spinning equipment are so much larger. By increasing the diameter of the guide and standing it higher on the blank, these contact points are made so smaller and farther casts can be achieved.

Sadly, this didn’t solve the problem with those heavier line weights.

And remember when I mentioned that you don’t have to worry about backlashes with spinning reels? Well, these rascals introduced a whole new problem into the equation.

Line twist is probably the biggest demon you’ll face with spinning tackle. It is exactly what the name implies and, when you have it, the line constantly turns over on itself creating loops that make it completely unmanageable.

This problem occurs in several ways but is often introduced right as new line is spooled onto a reel. You can help deter it by making sure that the new line comes off the spool in the same manner that it goes on the reel.

In other words, have both spools facing each other. This allows the line to unspool from one and onto the other while retaining its natural shape that was obtained by memory while wound on the keeper spool.

Over-filling the reel is a quick way to guarantee problems with line twist as well.

Novice fishermen and those unaccustomed to the workings of spinning reels tend to create a lot of line twist without ever meaning to. In the excitement of having a fish on, many tend to disregard the whirring or clicking of the drag indicating that a fish is taking line during the fight. They’ll continue to crank on that handle the whole time, twisting the line.

That said, learn to be aware of your drag. Make sure it’s set to the right amount of tension and understand when a fish is pulling against it and line is leaving the reel. Never, ever turn that handle then. Just stop and hold it until you don’t hear the sound of the drag engaging anymore and then crank away.

Even if all of these precautions are taken, you’re still going to encounter twist as you use this equipment. Once a cast is made and the handle is turned to auto-engage the bail, it can’t help but introduce line twist to some degree. The more you use it, the more it will rear its ugly head but there are easy, though time consuming, fixes for the problem.

If you’re in a boat, remove your lure or bait and begin letting just the line off of the reel and into the water as the boat is moving forward. Continue to let out line – all of it if need be – until you no longer see any twist in it and allow the friction of the water to naturally unwind it. Then, simply reel it back onto your reel.

If you’re not in a boat you can accomplish the same thing if you have another person there to lend a hand.

Walk off all of the twisted line in a straight path. As you crank it back onto your reel, have the other person stand at your rod tip and have the line run through their index finger and thumb as they apply a little bit of tension to it. This will accomplish the same task that the water performs in the aforementioned method and get the twist out.

Just be sure not to turn that handle too fast or you’re guaranteed to burn their fingers or give them a nasty line cut that’s much akin to a paper cut.

I hope the past two articles on reels have provided a little more understanding of how different offerings work and you’re a bit better prepared to choose the best equipment. It must be understood, however, that there is no single reel type that does it all and, if you’re serious about your fishing, you’ll be far better served by becoming acclimated to using both.

Good fishin’!

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his web site at or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors

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