Understanding Spinning Reels

Spinning reels can be a great introduction to fishing for amateur anglers. Learn the components to this foundational open-face reel.

February 26, 2019

When choosing a fishing reel style, spinning reels can be a great option for anglers young and old. Spinning reels are an easy-to-use open-face reel that can complement a lightweight setup. These reels are good for live, light baits and can be especially ideal for beginner fishermen.


DICK’S Sporting Goods Associate and fishing enthusiast Candace Tabrosky says there are five main components to spinning reels to be aware of:

  • The drag
  • The spool
  • The bail
  • The handle
  • The anti-reverse switch

Having a good understanding of these parts can help you when trouble arises with your gear. Additionally, knowing the ins and outs of your reel can help you fine-tune your equipment to your needs.


Starting at the top of the spinning reel, the drag system is what adds or removes tension to your fishing line. A knob on top of the spool (and sometimes, in the back) allows you to adjust the frictionless plates, which increases or decreases your tension. Having this adjustability can help when fighting fish.

“So, let’s say you catch a fish, and you have a lighter drag. That gives the fish more control,” Tabrosky says. “But if you have a tighter drag, it’ll allow the fish for less control, but also increase the tension on your line.”


Just beneath the drag adjustment knob is the spool. This component houses your fishing line and is specific to your particular reel.

“If you notice when I reel, the spool is not spinning, but the line is around it and this prevents tangles in your line, so you have smooth casting and releasing,” Tabrosky says.

When adding line to your spinning reel, check your spool’s line capacity. This should be marked or noted somewhere along the component’s face. For more information on how to spool your spinning reel, use these tips.


The bail serves two essential purposes. For one, it is the casting trigger. To cast your bait, you must open or activate the bail for line to spool off properly. To retrieve or reel in, you must close the bail. To close, turn the handle as if you’re reeling. The automatic closing system should activate. Tabrosky also notes that you can close the bail manually by flipping it to its original position.

“Some anglers prefer this method so they can control how much line is releasing from the spool,” she says.

The second function of your spinning reel’s bail is to keep your fishing line in-line as it comes off and rolls onto your spool. Without the bail, your fishing line could act without direction. This could potentially cause knots and limit performance. The bail arm keeps everything orderly for smooth casts and retrievals.


While baitcasting reels are right-hand or left-hand-specific, you can change spinning reels to fit your needs. Tabrosky says that your reel can change from a right-hand retrieve to a left-hand retrieve by unscrewing the knob on the opposite side of your handle.


The final component to understand on your spinning reel is the anti-reverse switch. This feature is typically located at the bottom of the reel and can be a helpful tool when fighting fish. This switch allows you to backreel, or reel in reverse, rather than relying on your drag system for line tension.

“This is good for lighter fish, but I recommend, if you have anything bigger than a bass, to just rely on the drag,” Tabrosky says.

Spinning fishing can be a quality introductory fishing style for beginners. With these tips you can hook into a better understanding of your spinning reel components.

There’s more to landing trophy catches than understanding your gear. Gain some experience in the field with these angling Pro Tips on the Basics of Fishing from Shore.