How to Set Up a Fishing Reel: Type-Specific Methods

By Sonnox | Fishing Advice

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You’ve got a new fishing reel in your hands, and you’re ready to use it for the first time. The only problem is that you’ve only ever purchased assembled rods and reels before, or maybe it has been so long since the last time you put a reel together, so you don’t remember how to set up a fishing reel.

Don’t worry!

Whether you are new to fishing or you just need a refresher course on the best way to get your reel up and start fishing as soon as possible, we’ve got the directions you need to get everything squared away in no time.

How to Set Up a Fishing Reel

Before we get into more details about how to set up your fishing reel, it is important to understand that different types of fishing reels exist, and they all have slightly different rules on how to set them up.

Even the same type of fishing reel from different brands can have some varying nuances as to how you are supposed to set them up. If you find that your reel doesn’t exactly match any of the methods we will share today, don’t panic. Try searching the name of your reel for a video tutorial about how to get started!

1. Spinning Reel

Spinning reels are one of the most common reels, especially for beginners, so we’re going to start with this type. These reels are perfect for lightweight lures and bait. For heavier bait, people move up to the baitcaster.

To set up a spinning reel, you need to start with a brief idea of how it works. When you have the picture of how something like a reel works in your head, it becomes easier to find the best ways to put together the final project.

Essentially, you crank the reel. The line guide then moves around the spool and puts the line on it. The spool is fixed, but the line guide moves back and forth so that the line is evenly dispersed on the spool.

How to Set It Up

Here are the steps you need to follow:

  1. Gather your reel, rod, fishing line, and scissors.
  2. Attach the reel and the rod together at the reel seat. Screw it in tightly so that nothing moves.
  3. Place the tip of the line through the first rod guide.
  4. Find the bail arm on your reel and open it up. Using a knot, attach the line to the spool in some way.
  5. Close the bail.
  6. Look at the reel from behind. Does it move in a counterclockwise direction? If so, continue.
  7. Look at your spool where the line is coming from. Is the line also coming off in a counterclockwise direction? If so, continue.
  8. Fill the reel by cranking until you have 1/8th left on the spool between the line and the end of the spool.
  9. Now, cut the line so that you have about 15” more than the rod length.
  10. Thread the line through the rest of the rod.
  11. Attach a lure to the end of the line with a secure knot.
  12. Adjust the drag (if necessary).
  13. Start casting!

Here's a video which gives a great visual representation of the process:


2. Baitcast Reel

Baitcast reels are made to be able to withstand slightly more difficult conditions, but setting them up isn’t all that different from setting up a spinning reel.

Baitcasting reels have a few features which make using and setting them up a bit more complex. In particular, the tension knob and the brake can make things more complicated. The knob adjusts the tension in the spool before you cast while the brake controls the speed during the cast.

How to Set It Up

The basics of setting up the baitcast reel are very similar to the spinning reel. You’ll want to get your line ready, tie it to the inside of the spool, and then wind the line into place. Make sure to leave space at the end of the spool as you would with any reel.

The trickier part of baitcast reels comes with adjusting the tensions so that you can cast successfully. Check all of the following to ensure you have your reel set up properly:

  • Tension knob: Make it very tight, and then loosen it so that the bait just barely falls if you shake the rod.
  • Magnet: Keep it on a high level
  • Stop: Make sure that the line stops when you put your finger on it after casting

Of course, the easiest way to learn how to set up a reel like this one is to see it in action. Here's a video for you:

3. Fly Fishing Reel

Finally, let’s talk about what it’s like to set up a fly fishing reel. Fly fishing reels are very different in how they work from the other types of reels we talked about. However, you will see that there are some similarities between the ways you set up reels.

How to Set It Up

To see that difference, take a look at this video which shows how to set up a fly fishing reel:

As you can see, it is slightly less intuitive to know where to start the line, but the basic process is somewhat similar no matter which type of reel you are using.

Learn Your Reel!

As mentioned, every reel is different. That means the only way for you to become truly confident in your reel management skills is to practice with your own reel. Once you become familiar with exactly how your reel works and what its layout is, you’ll find that it is easier to do things like re-line your reel without panicking.

If you aren’t sure which way something is supposed to go, check any manuals or guides that came with your reel. Then, search online for helpful video tutorials like the ones that we have shared today. In that way, you can get a good look at how to set up a fishing reel most successfully!

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