Last updated: May 09. 2014 5:22PM - 505 Views

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Regular readers know that I have a lot of reels. Some of them came my way as a direct result of my profession, some were preplanned purchases and a few separated me from my money in response to ill-conceived impulses.


Experimenting with tackle and passing what I learn along to my readers is part of my job, but it’s also a lot of fun.


On the other hand, my most nagging concern about recreational fishing’s future is that everyone in the outdoor industry, including media folks like me, far too often either directly or indirectly imply that anyone who doesn’t have at least half a gazillion dollars to spend can’t fully enjoy sport fishing. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s possible to fish effectively for almost every freshwater fish found in North America and many of the saltwater species found off its shores with one carefully chosen reel.


Tackle shop shelves and the pages of outdoor catalogs are filled with a mind-boggling array of bait casting, spin casting and spinning reels, all of which have a legitimate role to play in recreational fishing. But which type should the one-reel angler choose?


Bait-casting reels have been around since the mid-16th century and came into wide use by recreational anglers in North America shortly after the Civil War. These reels use a revolving spool to cast and retrieve line. Modern ones have excellent drag systems, which make them a favorite of anglers who target hard-fighting species like bass, pike, musky or catfish. They don’t handle light lines or lures well, they’re more expensive than other types of reels, and they’re difficult for many anglers to master.


The Zero Hour Bomb Company (Zebco) produced the first spin-casting reel in 1949 to solve the line backlash problems inherent in bait-casting reels. Spin-casting reels use a push button or trigger mechanism to release line from a stationary spool during the cast. They can use lighter line and cast lighter lures than can bait-casting reels, but their suitability as general purpose reels is hampered by an inherent lack of line capacity and reduced casting distance caused by friction between the line and the reel’s cover. They are still are one of the most popular reel types and have been the first reel for generations of anglers, including yours truly. (I’m still using a spin-casting reel I acquired in the early 1950s.)


Storing line on an uncovered stationary spool has been a common technique among hand-line fishermen for thousands of years, and there’s some evidence rudimentary spinning reels were in use by the 1870s. The Mitchell Reel Company is credited with producing the first commercially available spinning reel, the Mitchell 300, in 1949.


Spinning reels look intimidating, because they hang beneath the rod — which is actually the best place for a reel to be — and because their bail-line pick-up mechanism is visible. During the cast, the bail is opened, the line is held in place by the angler’s index finger and released at the appropriate time during the casting motion. Most children get the hang of it quickly, and adults take only a little longer.


Spinning reels are the only truly multipurpose reel, and are the only practical choice for the one-reel angler. But spinning reels come in a dizzying array of sizes and prices. What criteria should an angler use to choose just one from among the many?


Price is a good place to start. While it’s always a good idea to avoid even the most reliable manufacturer’s least expensive product line, neither does the casual angler need to reach for the stratosphere. I checked Bass Pro Shops’ website just before I wrote this column and found an impressive selection of good quality spinning reels in the $30-$60 range.


Size is an important consideration, because it’s an inherent factor in line capacity and is often a factor in overall durability. It’s hard to go wrong with the second or third smallest variant of most models.


I have a strong preference for spinning reels that come with a spare spool, because that second spool allows me to take even more advantage of the spinning reel’s inherent versatility. After many years of filling one spool with 8-pound test line and the other with 12-pound test, I’ve widened the spread to six and 15 this year. Only time will tell if I was right or wrong.


Next week, I’ll provide some tips on how to select one rod to mate with that one reel.

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