Modern fishing reels usually have fittings aiding in casting for distance and accuracy, as well as retrieving line. Fishing reels are traditionally used in the recreational sport of angling and competitive casting. They are typically attached to a fishing rod, though some specialized reels are mounted directly to boat gunwales or transoms.
The earliest known illustration of a fishing reel is from Chinese paintings and records beginning about 1195 AD. Fishing reels first appeared in England around 1650 AD, and by the 1760s, London tackle shops were advertising multiplying or gear-retrieved reels. The first popular American fishing reel appeared in the U.S. around 1820.
In literary records, the earliest evidence of the fishing reel comes from a 4th-century AD work entitled Lives of Famous Immortals. The earliest known depiction of a fishing reel comes from a Southern Song (1127–1279) painting done in 1195 by Ma Yuan (c. 1160–1225) called "Angler on a Wintry Lake," showing a man sitting on a small sampan boat while casting out his fishing line.
Another fishing reel was featured in a painting by Wu Zhen (1280–1354). The book Tianzhu lingqian (Holy Lections from Indian Sources), printed sometime between 1208 and 1224, features two different woodblock print illustrations of fishing reels being used. An Armenian parchment Gospel of the 13th century shows a reel (though not as clearly depicted as the Chinese ones). The Sancai Tuhui, a Chinese encyclopedia published in 1609, features the next known picture of a fishing reel and vividly shows the windlass pulley of the device. These five pictures mentioned are the only ones which feature fishing reels before the year 1651.
Fishing reels first appeared in England around 1650, a time of growing interest in fly fishing.
The fishing industry became commercialized in the 18th century, with rods and tackle being sold at the haberdashers store. After the Great Fire of London in 1666, artisans moved to Redditch which became a centre of production of fishing related products from the 1730s. Onesimus Ustonson established his trading shop in 1761, and his establishment remained as a market leader for the next century. He received a Royal Warrant and became the official supplier of fishing tackle to three successive monarchs starting with King George IV over this period.
Some have credited Onesimus with the invention of the fishing reel - he was certainly the first to advertise its sale. Early multiplying reels were wide and had a small diameter, and their gears, made of brass, often wore down after extensive use. His earliest advertisement in the form of a trading card date from 1768 and was entitled To all lovers of angling. A full list of the tackles he sold included artificial flies, and 'the best sort of multiplying brass winches both stop and plain'. The commercialization of the industry came at a time of expanded interest in fishing as a recreational hobby for members of the aristocracy.
Modern reel design had begun in England during the latter part of the 18th century, and the predominant model in use was known as the 'Nottingham reel'. The reel was a wide drum which spooled out freely, and was ideal for allowing the bait to drift along way out with the current. Geared multiplying reels never successfully caught on in Britain, but had more success in the United States, where similar models were modified by George Snyder of Kentucky into his bait-casting reel, the first American-made design in 1810.
Tackle design began to improve from the 1880s. The introduction of new woods to the manufacture of fly rods made it possible to cast flies into the wind on silk lines, instead of horse hair. These lines allowed for a much greater casting distance. A negative consequence of this, was that it became easy for the much longer line to get into a tangle. This problem spurred the invention of the regulator to evenly spool the line out and prevent tangling.
The American, Charles F. Orvis, designed and distributed a novel reel and fly design in 1874, described by reel historian Jim Brown as the "benchmark of American reel design," and the first fully modern fly reel. The founding of The Orvis Company helped institutionalize fly fishing by supplying angling equipment via the circulation of his tackle catalogs, distributed to a small but devoted customer list.
Albert Illingworth, 1st Baron Illingworth a textiles magnate, patented the modern form of fixed-spool spinning reel in 1905. When casting Illingworth's reel design, the line was drawn off the leading edge of the spool, but was restrained and rewound by a line pickup, a device which orbits around the stationary spool. Because the line did not have to pull against a rotating spool, much lighter lures could be cast than with conventional reels.
Types of fishing reels
A fly reel is a single-action reel, normally operated by stripping line off the reel with one hand, while casting the rod with the other hand. The main purpose of a fly reel is to store line, provide smooth uninterrupted tension (drag) when a fish makes a long run, and counterbalance the weight of your fly rod when casting. When used in fly fishing, the fly reel or fly casting reel has traditionally been rather simple in terms of mechanical construction, and little has changed from the design patented by Charles F. Orvis of Vermont in 1874. Orvis first introduced the idea of using light metals with multiple perforated holes to construct the housing, resulting in a lighter reel that also allowed the spooled fly line to dry more quickly than a conventional, solid-sided design. Early fly reels placed the crank handle on the right side of the reel. Most had no drag mechanism, but were fitted with a click/pawl mechanism intended to keep the reel from overrunning when line was pulled from the spool. To slow a fish, the angler simply applied hand pressure to the rim of the revolving spool (known as "palming the rim"). Later, these click/pawl mechanisms were modified to provide a limited adjustable drag of sorts. Although adequate for smaller fish, these did not possess a wide adjustment range or the power to slow larger fish.
At one time, multiplier fly reels were widely available. These reels had a geared line retrieve of 2:1 or 3:1 that allowed faster retrieval of the fly line. However, their additional weight, complexity and expense did not justify the advantage of faster line retrieval in the eyes of many anglers. As a result, today they are rarely used, and have largely been replaced by large-arbor designs with large diameter spools for faster line retrieval.
Automatic fly reels use a coiled spring mechanism that pulls the line into the reel with the flick of a lever. Automatic reels tend to be heavy for their size, and have limited line capacity. Automatic fly reels peaked in popularity during the 1960s, and since that time they have been outsold many times over by manual fly reels.
Modern fly reels typically have more sophisticated disc-type drag systems made of composite materials that feature increased adjustment range, consistency, and resistance to high temperatures from drag friction. Most of these fly reels also feature large-arbor spools designed to reduce line memory, maintain consistent drag and assist the quick retrieval of slack line in the event a hooked fish makes a sudden run towards the angler. Most modern fly reels are ambidextrous, allowing the angler to place the crank handle of the reel on either the right or the left side as desired.
Saltwater fly reels are designed specifically for use in an ocean environment. Saltwater fly reels are normally large-arbor designs, having a much larger diameter spool than most freshwater fly reels. These large arbor reels provide an improved retrieve ratio and considerably more line and backing capacity, optimizing the design for the long runs of powerful ocean game fish. To prevent corrosion, saltwater fly reels often use aerospace aluminum frames and spools, electroplated and/or stainless steel components, with sealed and waterproof bearing and drive mechanisms.
- Fly reel operation
Fly reels are normally manual, single-action designs. Rotating a handle on the side of the reel rotates the spool which retrieves the line, usually at a 1:1 ratio (i.e., one complete revolution of the handle equals one revolution of the spool). Fly reels are one of the simplest reels and have far fewer parts than a spinning reel. The larger the fish the more important the reel becomes. On the outside of the reel there are two levels of knobs these are the spool release and the drag adjustment.
- Fly reel drag systems
Fly-reel drag systems have two purposes 1.) They prevent spool overrun when stripping line from the reel while casting 2.)Tire out running fish by exerting pressure on the line that runs in the opposite direction. There are four main drag systems that are used with the fly reel and these are the ratchet-and-pawl, caliper drags, disc drags, and center-line drags. The ratchet-and-pawl drag clicks automatically while the spool is spinning. The caliper drag causes the calipers to brush up against the reel spool. A disc drag is when pressure is applied on the plates which then applies pressure on the spool. Center-line drags also known as the best kind of drag because the pressure is directly on the spool close to the axis of rotation.
The centrepin reel (or centerpin, center pin, or float reel) is one which runs freely enough on its axle (its "centrepin") to permit distance casting by allowing the line to be drawn off by the momentum of the cast from the rotating reel. The centrepin reel uses a large diameter spool typically mounted to a 12–17 foot surfcasting rod. A bracket attached to the reel that allows it to be rotated 90° to the rod for casting and returned to a position to retrieve line. In the casting position the spool is perpendicular to the rod, opening the face of the reel allowing the line to run off the side of the spool when released in the cast.
The centrepin reel is historically and currently used for coarse fishing. Instead of a mechanical drag, the angler's thumb is typically used to control the fish. Fishing in the margins for carp or other heavy fish with relatively light tackle is very popular with a 'pin' and is often used for 'trotting' a method in which a float on the line suspends a bait a certain depth to flow with the current along the waterway. During the 1950s and 1960s, many anglers in England began fishing with a centrepin reel. Despite this, the centrepin is today mostly used by coarse anglers, who remain a small proportion of the general fishing population.
The Baitcasting reel or revolving-spool reel, like the conventional reel, is a multiplying reel – that is to say that the line is stored on a bearing-supported revolving spool that is geared so that a single revolution of the crank handle results in multiple revolutions of the spool. The bait casting reel is mounted above the rod, hence its other name given to it in New Zealand and Australia, the overhead reel. The baitcasting reel dates from at least the mid-17th century, but came into wide use by amateur anglers during the 1870s. Early bait casting reels were often constructed with brass or iron gears, with casings and spools made of brass, German silver, or hard rubber. Featuring multiplying gears ranging from 2:1 to 4:1, these early reels had no drag mechanism, and anglers used their thumb on the spool to provide resistance to runs by a fish. As early as the 1870s, some models used bearings to mount the spool; as the free-spinning spool tended to cause backlash with strong pulls on the line, manufacturers soon incorporated a clicking pawl mechanism. This 'clicker' mechanism was never intended as a drag, but used solely to keep the spool from overrunning, much like a fly reel. Baitcasting reel users soon discovered that the clicking noise of the pawls provided valuable warning that a fish had taken the live bait, allowing the rod and reel to be left in a rod holder while awaiting a strike by a fish.
Most fishing reels are suspended from the bottom of the rod, since this position requires no wrist strength to overcome gravity while enabling the angler to cast and retrieve without changing hands. The baitcasting reel's unusual mounting position atop the rod is an accident of history. Baitcasting reels were originally designed to be cast when positioned atop the rod, then rotated upside-down in order to operate the crank handle while playing a fish or retrieving line. However, in practice most anglers preferred to keep the reel atop the rod for both cast and retrieve by simply transferring the rod to the left hand for the retrieve, then reverse-winding the crank handle. Because of this preference, mounting the crank handle on the right side of a bait casting reel (with standard clockwise crank handle rotation) has become customary, though models with left-hand retrieve have gained in popularity in recent years thanks to user familiarity with the spinning reel.
Many of today's baitcasting reels are constructed using aluminum, stainless steel, and/or synthetic composite materials. They typically include a level-wind mechanism to prevent the line from being trapped under itself on the spool during rewind and interfering with subsequent casts. Many are also fitted with anti-reverse handles and drags designed to slow runs by large and powerful game fish. Because the baitcasting reel uses the weight and momentum of the lure to pull the line from the rotating spool, it normally requires lures weighing 1/4 oz. or more in order to cast a significant distance. Recent developments have seen bait casting reels with gear ratios as high as 7.1/1. Higher gear ratios allow much faster retrieval of line, but sacrifice some amount of strength in exchange, since the additional gear teeth required reduces torque as well as the strength of the gear train. This could be a factor when fighting a large and powerful fish.
Spool tension on most modern baitcasting reels can be adjusted with adjustable spool tension, a centrifugal brake, or a magnetic "cast control." This reduces spool overrun during a cast and the resultant line snare, known as backlash, colloquially called a "bird's nest" or "birdie". This backlash is a result of the angular momentum of the spool and line which is not present with a fixed spool or spinning reel. Each time a lure of a different weight is attached, the cast control must be adjusted for the difference in weight. The bait casting reel design will operate well with a wide variety of fishing lines, ranging from braided multifilament and heat-fused "superlines" to copolymer, fluorocarbon, and nylon monofilaments (see Fishing line). Most bait casting reels can also easily be palmed or thumbed to increase the drag, set the hook, or to accurately halt the lure at a given point in the cast.
Baitcasters are known as multiplier reels in Europe, on account of their geared line retrieve (one turn of the handle resulting in multiple turns of the spool). Two variations of the revolving spool bait casting reel are the conventional surf fishing reel and the big game reel. These are very large and robust fishing reels, designed and built for heavy saltwater species such as tuna, marlin, sailfish and sharks. Surf fishing reels are normally mounted to long, two-handed rods; these reels frequently omit level-wind and braking mechanisms in order to achieve extremely long casting distances. Big game reels are not designed for casting, but are instead used for trolling or fishing set baits and lures; they are ideal for fighting large and heavy fish off a pier or boat. These reels normally use sophisticated star or lever drags in order to play out huge saltwater gamefish.
- Baitcasting Reel Operation
To cast a baitcasting rod and reel, the reel is turned on its side, the "free spool" feature engaged, and the thumb placed on the spool to hold the lure in position. The cast is performed by snapping the rod backward to the 2 o'clock position, then casting it forward in a smooth motion, allowing the lure to pull the line from the reel. The thumb is used to contact the line, moderating the revolutions of the spool and braking the lure when it reaches the desired aiming point. Though modern centrifugal and/or magnetic braking systems help to control backlash, using a bait casting reel still requires practice and a certain amount of finesse on the part of the fisherman for best results.
The conventional reel or trolling reel is similar to the baitcasting reel. There are two types of trolling reels, star drag reels and lever drag reels. Star drag reels are like baitcasters, but you move a little lever to put it into free spool. They have a star drag and you have to keep your thumb on them to keep off backlash. The lever drag reel uses the drag to put itself into free spool. It is very difficult to cast a conventional reel, most oven line is dropped behind a boat and left to drift. Conventional reels are for really big fish and are usually used offshore. They are designed for trolling but can also be used for butterfly jigging and Deep-sea fishing ("deep drop"). They are mounted on short rods.
Spinning (fixed-spool) reel
Spinning reels, also called fixed spool reels, were in use in North America as early as the 1870s. They were originally developed to allow the use of artificial flies, or other lures for trout or salmon, that were too light in weight to be easily cast by bait casting reels. Fixed-spool or spinning reels are normally mounted below the rod; this positioning conforms to gravity, requiring no wrist strength to maintain the reel in position. For right-handed persons, the spinning rod is held and cast by the strong right hand, leaving the left hand free to operate the crank handle mounted on the left side of the reel. Invention of the fixed-spool or spinning reel solved the problem of backlash, since the reel had no rotating spool capable of overrunning and fouling the line.
The name of Holden Illingworth, a textiles magnate, was first associated with the modern form of fixed-spool spinning reel. When casting the Illingworth reel, line was drawn off the leading edge of the spool, but was restrained and rewound by a line pickup, a device which orbits around the stationary spool. Because the line did not have to pull against a rotating spool, much lighter lures could be cast than with conventional reels.
In 1948, the Mitchell Reel Company of Cluses, France introduced the Mitchell 300, a spinning reel with a design that oriented the face of the fixed spool forward in a permanently fixed position below the fishing rod. The Mitchell reel was soon offered in a range of sizes for all fresh and saltwater fishing. A manual line pickup was used to retrieve the cast line, which eventually developed into a wire bail design that automatically recaptured the line upon cranking the retrieve handle. An anti-reverse lever prevented the crank handle from rotating while a fish was pulling line from the spool. With the use of light lines testing from two to six pounds, modern postwar spinning reels were capable of casting lures as light as 1⁄8 ounce (3.5 g), and sometimes lighter.
With all fixed-spool reels, the line is released in coils or loops from the leading edge of the non-rotating spool. To shorten or stop the outward cast of a lure or bait, the angler uses a finger or thumb placed in contact with the line and/or the leading edge of the spool to retard or stop the flight of the lure. Because of the design's tendency to twist and untwist the line as it is cast and retrieved, most spinning reels operate best with fairly limp and flexible fishing lines.
Though spinning reels do not suffer from backlash, line can occasionally be trapped underneath itself on the spool or even detach from the reel in loose loops of line. Some of these issues can be traced to overfilling the spool with line, while others are due to the way in which the line is wound onto the spool by the rotating bail or pickup. Various oscillating spool mechanisms have been introduced over the years in an effort to solve this problem. Spinning reels also tend to have more issues with twisting of the fishing line. Line twist in spinning reels can occur from the spin of an attached lure, the action of the wire bail against the line when engaged by the crank handle, or even retrieval of line that is under load (spinning reel users normally pump the rod up and down, then retrieve the slack line to avoid line twist and stress on internal components). In order to minimize line twist, many anglers who use a spinning reel manually reposition the bail after each cast with the pickup nearest the rod in order to minimize line twist.
- Fixed spool reel operation
Fixed spool reels are cast by opening the bail, grasping the line with the forefinger, and then using a backward snap of the rod followed by a forward cast while releasing the line with the forefinger at the same time. The forefinger is then placed in contact with the departing line and the leading edge of the spool in order to slow or stop the outward cast. On the retrieve, the left hand normally operates the crank handle, while the large rotating wire cage or bail (either manually or trigger-operated) serves as the line pickup, restoring the line to its original position on the spool.
The first commercial spincast reels were introduced by the Denison-Johnson Reel Company and the Zero Hour Bomb Company (ZEBCO) in 1949. The spincast reel is an attempt to solve the problem of backlash found in baitcast designs, while reducing line twist and snare complaints sometimes encountered with traditional spinning reel designs. Just as with the spinning reel, the line is thrown from a fixed spool and can therefore be used with relatively light lures and baits. However, the spincast reel eliminates the large wire bail and line roller of the spinning reel in favor of one or two simple pickup pins and a metal cup to wind the line on the spool. Traditionally mounted above the rod, the spincast reel is also fitted with an external nose cone that encloses and protects the fixed spool.
With a fixed spool, spincast reels can cast lighter lures than bait cast reels, although friction of the nose cone guide and spool cup against the uncoiling line reduces casting distance compared to spinning reels. Spincast reel design requires the use of narrow spools with less line capacity than either baitcasting or spinning reels of equivalent size, and cannot be made significantly larger in diameter without making the reel too tall and unwieldy. These limitations severely restrict the use of spin cast reels in situations such as fishing at depth, when casting long distances, or where fish can be expected to make long runs. Like other types of reels, spin cast reels are frequently fitted with both anti-reverse mechanisms and friction drags, and some also have level-wind (oscillating spool) mechanisms. Most spin cast reels operate best with limp monofilament lines, though at least one spin cast reel manufacturer installs a thermally fused "superline" into one of its models as standard equipment. During the 1950s and into the mid-1960s, they were widely used and very popular, though the spinning reel has since eclipsed them in popularity in North America. They remain a favorite fishing tool for beginners.
- SpinCast Reel Operation
Pressing a button on the rear of the reel disengages the line pickup, and the button is then released during the forward cast to allow the line to fly off the spool. The button is pressed again to stop the lure at the position desired. Upon cranking the handle, the pickup pin immediately re-engages the line and spools it onto the reel.
Underspin reels or Triggerspin reels are spin cast reels in which the reel is mounted underneath a standard spinning rod. With the reel's weight suspended beneath the rod, underspin reels are generally more comfortable to cast and hold for long periods, and the ability to use all standard spinning rods greatly increases its versatility compared to traditional spin cast reels.
- Underspin Reel Operation
A lever or trigger is grasped or rotated (usually by the forefinger) and this action suspends the line in place. During the forward cast, the lever/trigger is released, and the line flies off the fixed spool. When necessary, the lever can be activated once again to stop the lure at a given point in the cast.
- Direct-drive reel
Direct-drive reels have the spool and handle directly coupled. When the handle moves forwards, the spool moves forwards, and vice versa. With a fast-running fish, this may have consequences for the angler's knuckles. Traditional fly reels are direct-drive.
- Anti-reverse reel
In anti-reverse reels, a mechanism allows line to pay out while the handle remains stationary. Depending on the drag setting, line may also pay out, as with a running fish, while the angler reels in. Bait casting reels and many modern saltwater fly reels are examples of this design. The mechanism works either with a 'dog' or 'pawl' design that engages into a cog wheel attached to the handle shaft. The latest design is Instant Anti-Reverse, or IAR. This system incorporates a one-way clutch bearing or centrifugal force fly wheel on the handle shaft to restrict handle movement to forward motion only.
Drag systems are a mechanical means of applying variable pressure to the line spool or drive mechanism in order to act as a friction brake against it. This supplies resistance to the line after hook-up to aid in landing the fish without the line breaking. In combination with rod flex and fishing technique, this allows larger fish to be caught than the straight breaking strength of the line would suggest.
The mechanics of drag systems usually consist of any number of discs (drag washers) arranged in a stack on the spool shaft or in some cases, on the drive shaft. There is generally a screw or lever mechanism that presses against the washers—the higher the pressure, the greater the resistance. Drag washers are commonly made of materials such as steel, Teflon, carbon fiber, other reinforced plastics or metal alloys. Since large fish can generate a lot of pulling power, reels with higher available drag forces (which generate greater heat) for higher-test lines will use stronger and more heat-resistant materials than reels designed for low-test lines. A good drag system is consistent (generates the same force over and over), durable and smooth (no jerkiness).
Spinning reels have two types of drag: front or rear. Front drags, which have the adjustment located on the spool itself, are mechanically simpler, usually more consistent in performance and capable of higher drag forces. Rear drags, with the adjustment screw on the back of the reel, are more complicated mechanically and usually not as precise or smooth as front drags since the drag itself is often part of the drive shaft and not the spool. They are however, easier to adjust in mid-fight.
Conventional overhead, trolling or baitcasting type reels usually use one of two types of drags: star or lever. The most common and simplest mechanically is the star drag—so-called because the adjustor wheel looks like a star with rounded points. Star drags work by screw action to increase or decrease the pressure on the washer stack which is usually located on the main driving gear. Reels with star drags generally have a separate lever which allows the reel to go into "freespool" by disengaging the spool from the drive train completely and allowing it to spin freely with little resistance. The freespool position is used for casting, letting line out and/or allowing live bait to move freely.
Lever drags work through cam action to increase or decrease pressure on the drag washers located on the spool itself. Most lever drags offer preset drag positions for strike (reduced drag to avoid tearing the hook out of the fish), full (used once the hook is set) and freespool (see above). Lever drags are simpler and faster to adjust during the fight. And, since they use the spool for the washer stack rather than the drive gear, the washers can be larger, offering more resistance and smoother action. The disadvantage is that in freespool, there can be residual and unwanted resistance since the drag mechanism may not be completely out of the picture without resorting to more complex mechanics.
Setting the drag
Proper drag setting depends on fishing conditions, line test (break strength) and the size and type of fish being targeted. Often it is a matter of "feel" and knowing the setup to get the drag right.
With spinning reels, closed-face reels and conventional reels with star drags, a good starting point is to set the drag to about one-third to one-half the breaking strength of the line. For example, if the line is rated at 20-pound-force (89 N) test, a drag setting that requires 7–10 pounds-force (31–44 N) of force on the line to move the spool would be appropriate. This is only a rule of thumb. For lever drag reels with a strike position, most anglers start by setting the drag at the strike position to one-third the break strength of the line. This usually allows the full position to still be safely under the line rating while providing flexibility during the fight. Depending on the conditions, some anglers may leave their reels in freespool then setting the anti-reverse or engaging the drag on hookup.
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