Why Conventional Reels are Better Than Spinning Reels


reels for saltwater fishing
Both reel designs catch fish, so the choice comes down to personal preference ­during the tackle-buying process. Baitcasters offer simplicity of design, but spinning reels come in a far wider variety of styles, sizes and capacities. Tim Barker

To end the debate, so we can move on to more important topics, I say conventional reels are better than spinning reels. That’s my final answer.

First, let’s compare apples to apples. Obviously, you wouldn’t use a spinning reel to troll for tuna. And, you wouldn’t use a conventional reel to cast a live eel to cobia swimming at the surface. Let’s compare conventional reels to spinning reels in an arena where both choices make sense.

Where I live, in Virginia Beach, I could use a spinning reel or conventional baitcasting reel to cast jigs and plugs to redfish, striped bass and speckled trout. All things equal, a spinning set up or baitcasting combo would work equally well when I’m light-tackle fishing for inshore species.

Baitcasting Versus Spinning Reels

Each side has pluses and minuses. Everyone knows conventional reels have a larger spool for greater line capacity and drag pressure. Of course, spinning reels are better for casting light lures or baits and more sensitive to feel the lightest bite. To balance the field, conventional reels suffer from backlashes, and spinning reels suffer from wind knots.

I’m not going to argue about the technical supremacy of conventional reels over spinning reels. Honestly, the pros and cons even out. Instead, I’m going to say conventional tackle is better than spinning tackle because baitcasting reels are cool.

That’s right. Conventional reels are cooler than spinning reels. Think about it: could you see Rico Suave or Fonzi using a spinning reel? Hell, no. If the kings of cool went fishing they would refuse to use a dorky spinning reel.

Freshwater Influences Saltwater Fishing

When I was growing up, I watched a lot of bass fishing on television. Even though I never fish freshwater these days, my first images of the kings of fishing cool were the Bassmasters I saw on ESPN. Tournament bass anglers, with their sponsored jerseys, speedboats and big money payouts were my version of Dale Earnhart and Richard Petty. I can’t imagine Bill Dance or Kevin VanDam launching a buzzbait with a coffee grinder? Cool anglers use conventional tackle.

Baitcasting reels didn’t hit my saltwater world until I was an adult. It took a long time for manufacturers to develop reels tough enough for salt and sand. Until a decade ago, I was forced to use spinning tackle for inshore fishing. With the development of saltwater-strong baitcasters, I can finally fish like my childhood idols.

Baitcasting Reel Designs

To begin with, baitcasting reels look cool. The low profile, streamlined design reminds me of a Lamborghini or Ferrari. A spinning reel with the handle, foot and bail sticking out in all directions looks like a Honda CRV.

Casting rods are sleek and streamlined, with a trigger grip like a Walther PPK. A spinning rod has gangly big line guides hanging from the rod.

Then there’s the feel of a conventional reel. A great baitcaster fits comfortably in my hand. My palm supports the rod and reel, and my thumb reaches around to control the line. Try making a thousand casts with a spinning reel dangling between your ring and middle fingers, and the line ripping off your pointer finger.

Nothing looks cooler than firing off a cast with a conventional reel. With one hand, I can engage freespool, flick the rod, launch the lure and drop it on a dime. A spinning reel requires two hands to flip open the bail and control the line. Which would you rather take to a shootout at the O.K. Corral?

When I work a lure with a casting reel, I drop the rod tip, hold the reel close to my body, crank the handle and pretend I’m Jimmy Houston fishing the Bassmaster Classic. When I get a bite, and set the hook, I thumb the spool, lift the rod tip hard, set the hook and exclaim, “Sonnnnn!”

Fighting Fish with a Baitcaster Reel

Fighting a fish with a baitcaster is more calm and collected. I palm the spool to provide a little extra drag pressure or lower the rod tip to let an angry fish run. Turning the little reel handle isn’t graceful, but quickly retrieving the line adds an element of chaos to the ballet dance with the fish.

When the fish is close, I clamp down on the spool and use the conventional rod’s heavy backbone to drag my trophy onboard. To celebrate my catch, I bust out a b-boy top rock and headspin like Mike Iaconelli.

What could be cooler than Mike Iaconelli? And Mike Iaconelli uses a baitcasting reel.

Look, if you have a quiver of spinning reels, I’m not calling you a dork. I’m saying your tackle is dorky. Baitcasting reels won’t make you cool. But using a baitcasting reel in salt water will make you feel cool.

Editor’s Note: Yes, this is a fun opinion piece. Don’t take it too seriously. Do you agree or disagree? We’d love to hear from you! Drop us a line with your thoughts at catches@saltwatersportsman.com.

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