Artificials A to Z: Reels
  |  First Published: February 2007

Murphy’s Law suggests that a reel will stop working while you’re fighting a fish or right at the start of a day’s fishing. The result is a frustrating waste of precious time on the water.

This month we will look at hoe to select, care for and maintain a good reel. We’ll start with threadline reels as most beginners find them easier to use.

Selecting a Reel

When selecting a good threadline reel, the reel must:

• be cost effective;

• durable;

• light weight;

• have a smooth, high pressure drag;

• smooth winding action;

• sufficient spool space to hold enough line; and

• cast well.


I fished with friend recently who hooked a good fish with a Halco diving lure. As soon as some stress was applied to the reel bad things started to happen. The handle began to slip and the fish had to be hand-lined to the boat. My friend had tried to save a few dollars and had bought a lesser known brand.

When you buy a car, the first things you decide are what size and brand you want. It’s the same with reels. The more reputable brands of reels do cost more but, in my experience, these extra dollars have always been money well spent. Renowned brands have typically survived the test of time and are associated with more reliable performance, componentry and design. I think five of the most reliable brands are: Daiwa, Abu, Shakespeare, Penn and Shimano. I use Daiwa reels and have been impressed with the new range of Abu product on the market.


Cost is a big factor when selecting reels, and if you are like me, someone else has a big say in what is spent on fishing gear!

To purchase a good quality, starting level reel, I would be looking in the $120-150 range. Medium level threadlines typically sit in the $250-350 range and higher end products sit in the $400+ range.

The first tournament reel I purchased cost $130 and is still going well four years later having spent many, many hours on the water!


The make up of a threadline reel has a great deal to do with durability, performance and how user friendly the model is. Some of the factors I like to consider when selecting a new reel are: spools, construction material, ball bearings, drag system and handle set up.

A lot of anglers now use braided lines and as such, the geometry of spools has become more significant. Braid has a narrow diameter, and taller spools are now associated with poorer casting performance where braided lines are concerned. This could be why reel manufacturers have started making broader diameter spools. The broader diameter spools cast a braided line with fewer over-spooling and casting knots incidents.

Reels have a spare spool always attract my attention. The spare spool can be filled with lighter or heavier breaking strain line and offer more flexibility when on the water. Anglers want to spend more time fishing and less time stuffing around with line and hardware changes.

I also like to consider the material used in the construction of a reel. Light non-corrosive materials are best when choosing a reel. Various brands are perfection machining parts from aluminium to ensure parts are durable in salt environments yet light enough for anglers as well. If you’re on the water making hundreds of casts, a light weight reel will make this task a pleasure.

I like lots of ball bearings in a reel. More ball bearings make for smoother operation meaning gears last longer. Compare the number and location of ball bearings between brands when buying a reel.

The drag arrangement of threadline reels is also important, especially for lure fishers. Smooth drags that allow a high amount of pressure to be applied are changing the way we fish lures for various species. Higher level threadlines are now able to exert drag pressures upward of 7kg which is impressive. This means that anglers are able to fish smaller, lighter hardware whilst still taming large fish.

Kord Luckus, rod designer for Wilsons, now designs rods with a different approach to what used several years ago. Kord knows that smaller reels, with smoother, higher pressure drags can now handle bigger fish and designs the rods to suit new and improved applications. When choosing a reel, check to see how smooth the drag is, as well as comparing drag pressure statistics to ensure you have a reel that will handle the fish you choose to target.

Anglers don’t often pay much attention to the handle arrangement of a potential new reel. It may seem like an insignificant issue, but the handle is the part you will have the most contact with during the reel’s life. So, make sure you choose a reel that has a robust handle that is smooth and efficient. I like to check that handles don’t loosen or slip when winding at full speed. I also like a handle to have a grip that spins easily and is comfortable to hold for long periods.


Regular maintenance will lengthen the life of any reel. Reels that are used in saltwater environments will die a premature death if not maintained adequately and washing reels down properly is critical. Keeping critical parts of the reel lubricated will prolong the life of reels.

It’s important to wash reels down properly after they have been used in saltwater. Just be careful that you don’t drive the salt into the reel. The first thing I do when I return home is to lock my drag systems, place the rods against the fence and then spray the rods to remove built up salt. The hose connection is then switched to mist spray and the reels are then carefully sprayed for several minutes. I like to see water dripping off the reel as opposed to running off. This suggests I am not using excessive pressure to push salt into the reel housing.

Tips for Use

The way reels are used can prolong the life of these pieces of hardware. Many anglers place covers over reels when not being used on the boat. This reduces the amount of salt which can end up on a reel through spray entering the boat. The poor storage of reels while in the boat leads to many reel breakages. By careful placement of rods and reels in cars and boats, reels are less likely to be struck or abraded through contact energies produced while travelling.

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