Spinning Reel Parts Explained – What A Beginner Should Look For When Buying One

Being familiar with your fishing gear, particularly your fishing reels, makes for more efficient, independent fishing.

Understanding critical spinning reel parts allows you to select more appropriate spin reels for the application.

It also gives you better problem-solving credentials should an issue arise.

Being able to pinpoint a problem ensures you can make adjustments or converse easily with a technician.

A good tradesman knows their tools inside out. Fishing is no different. 

In the following article, we will explain all you need to know about spinning reel parts. Let’s go fishing.

What are the Parts of a Spinning Reel Called?

  1. Spool
  2. Bail Arm
  3. Body
  4. Side Plate
  5. Gears
  6. Rotor
  7. Drag
  8. Handle
  9. Anti-Reverse Switch
  10. Line Roller

If you look at a schematic for a spinning reel, you might well be overwhelmed by the countless numbers of tiny parts.

Unless you’re going to try your hand at being a serious reel technician, many of these parts won’t be critical to your regular fishing routine.

However, there are parts of a spinning reel that you should understand.

Understanding the role, position, and construction of the 10 parts listed above is a must for all conscientious spin reel anglers.

Let’s have a look at these parts in a little more detail. If you’re new to fishing or spin reels, arming yourself with this basic information will increase your general fishing skills and confidence.

1. The Spool

The spool holds your fishing line. Unlike a baitcaster, the spool does not rotate; it oscillates. 

It is the oscillation that ensures the fishing line is evenly distributed on the spool.

The majority of spools are made from alloy, even entry-level models. However, cheaper spools are also constructed from graphite.

The most significant difference between spools is size. The bigger the spool, the more fishing line it can hold. 

The best spools are machined alloy, lightweight, yet very strong and hard. They also have a smooth bevel on the lip to reduce friction for casting.

Most spools will have information on the side suggesting how much of a particular line class it will hold.

Some spools are advertised as “braid ready.” This means there is a rubber ring on the arbor that is designed to reduce braided lines slipping on the arbor.

Many modern spools are ported. Porting is a series of holes on the side of the spool. The main functions are to disperse heat and reduce weight.

2. The Bail Arm

The bail arm is that silver or black semi-circle of wire through which the line is threaded. 

Connected to the rotor, the bail arm rotates when you wind the handle to fill the spool with line.

At one end of the bail arm is the line roller. We’ll discuss that later, as it is a critical part of the bail arm system.

To cast your line, you flip the bail arm, allowing the line to peel from the spool. Spools are spring-loaded. 

Once cast, a manual bail arm will need to be flipped back by hand to be engaged for winding.

Many reels have automatic bail arms that flip back into a winding position with a turn of the handle. 

Good bail arms are lightweight alloy yet thick, smooth, and strong. Auto bail arms have a spring that can be prone to failure.

3. The Body

The body of the reel houses the gears. They’re constructed from graphite, steel, and alloys. They can be machined or cast.

It is critical that the body be strong and rigid so that the gears maintain integrity under heavy loads.

Many top-shelf reel bodies are sealed these days. However, most are not. 

It’s important you don’t allow water and dirt to get inside the body.

The best reel bodies are strong and rigid machined lightweight alloys. They are also sealed against water and dirt ingress.

4. The Side Plate

The side plate is on the side of the reel body. Who would have thought it? 🙂 

Essentially it works as an access point for cleaning and greasing and access to gears for maintenance and repairs.

They’re usually constructed from the same material as the rest of the body.

Held in with screws, they are often a place for water and dirt ingress, so they should be tightly secured. Good ones are sealed.

5. The Gears

The gears are the source of your cranking power. In short, you turn the handle, and this turns the gears which turn the pinion gear that rotates the rotor.

Gears are set to a particular speed or ratio. For example. A gear ratio of 5.2:1 means that for every turn of the handle, the rotor will turn 5.2 times. 

Ratios can be as slow as 3 and as fast as 7 or more.

Gears are constructed from cast and machined metals. Brass is common as are stainless steels and alloys. 

Lightweight, yet super strong machined gears in brass and stainless are desirable. 

Some alloys are particularly strong, but not all.

6. The Rotor

The rotor is the turning part of a spinning reel. It is the rotor that oscillates and rotates when you turn the handle.

Often constructed from synthetics such as graphite, and on occasions, it is the same material as the body. 

Manufacturers look to take out as much weight as possible from a rotor while keeping it very rigid.

The lighter the rotor, the lighter the crank. Look for strength, rigidity, and lightweight, high-tech carbons or alloys. 

The bail arm is connected to the rotor.

7. The Drag System

Drag is a collection of washers that allow you to regulate pressure on the spool during a fight with a fish. 

The washers are constructed of an oil-felt or carbon. Sometimes there is a combination of both washer types in a drag system.

Drag is regulated by a drag knob. Most reels have the drag nob situated at the end of the spool. 

Rear drag systems have the adjustment knob at the back of the reel. However, this is becoming increasingly less popular.

The best drag systems are very smooth under load and constructed of high-tech carbons for heat dissipation and durability. Setting the drag correctly is critical (see the video above)

8. The Handle

No mystery as to what the handle does. I look for extra length and a comfortable knob. 

Good handles are made from machined alloy; they’re strong but very light.

The best handles screw into the body instead of a threaded retainer on the opposite side of the handle that holds the shaft in place.

Look for a handle that has no movement besides its intended rotation. Most handles are collapsible for easy storage and transport.

9. Ant-Reverse Switch

All spinning reels have an anti-reverse system, usually managed by a dedicated anti-reverse bearing. 

Anti-reverse mitigates the spool from moving backward, which is critical for hook setting and fish fighting.

Some reels have a switch, usually situated at the rear of the reel, that can turn off or engage anti-reverse. 

In my 40 plus years of fishing, I have found no use for this switch. It complicates the anti-reverse mechanism, and they can often break.

I prefer reels that don’t have anti-reverse switches. I don’t see any point in being able to wind a spin reel in reverse. And I’m not the only one.

10. Line Roller

The line roller is a part of the bails arm assemble and is responsible for guiding line onto your spool. 

Usually a smooth, highly polished bush made from metal, the better reels have a bearing for reduced friction.

Look for a line roller that doesn’t have anywhere for line to catch. A line roller with a bearing is best, but they’re usually found on more expensive reels.

What to Look for in a Good Spinning Reel?

Look for strong, machined gears. A lightweight machined alloy body, rotor, and spool are also important. An anti-reverse bearing is a must. 

Depending on the application, I look for good spool and drag capacities.

Bearing counts between 4 and 6 is great. More is better, but the price rockets up too. 

Sealed or shielded stainless bearings are the best option.

Full sealing, including drag, bearings, and body, is excellent. But be aware the price will shoot up when this level of sealing is featured.

Having said all of that, any reel that gets you fishing is a good reel. My qualification to that statement is to avoid anything under the $65 mark.

What Gear Ratio Should You Look For?

Selecting a gear ratio depends on the application. For cranking up heavy fish 4.5 to 5.5 is great. 

The same ratio is also good for cranking and swimbaits.

For stick baits and metal slices above 6 is best. Having said that, if you’re looking for a good all-purpose ratio, I like 5.5 to 6.3.

Keep in mind that ultimately, it’s not critical. However, retrieving high-speed lures like metal slices is best achieved with a high-speed reel 6.5 and above.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is A Baitcast Reel or Spinning Reel Better?

Neither is better. Just different. It comes down to personal preference.

The spinning reel is easiest to master, no doubt. However, having a mix of both in your arsenal is a great idea.

What is the Bail on a Spinning Reel?

The “bail” is the bail arm, the part that guides the line onto the spool. Check the section above on the bail arm.

What’s the Best Spinning Reel?

That’s a very difficult question to answer. There isn’t really an outright best. It’s more about best in class, best for application, and budget.

Three top-shelf models include the Daiwa Saltiga, The Shimano Stella, and the Van Staal. 

Bring your savings, as these guys cost a packet.

Spinning Reel Parts Conclusion

Understanding the role of the 10 parts listed above will give you a far better understanding of reel operation generally.

While a lot of fishing is about cast and hope, those who catch most of this learn and understand as many aspects of fishing as there is to learn.

Knowing your kit, especially your spinning reel pats, will ultimately equate to getting more fish more efficiently and more often.

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