Spinning Reel 101 - What Are the Visible Parts of a Spinning Reel?

A spinning reel is one of the most commonly used fishing reels. At its simplest, a spinning reel consists of gears that allow the line to be extracted from a revolving spool as the handle is cranked. This revolving spool holds the fishing line and is positioned near the front of the reel, giving a spinning reel its name. The basic design allows the angler to accurately cast lightweight lures over long distances using a simple overhead casting motion. Over generations of refinement, modern spinning reels offer impressive line-laying capabilities and have advanced drag systems for fighting strong fish. Knowing the different parts of the reel is important to get the most out of the equipment.

Main Parts of a Spinning Reel


The spool, or line guide, is perhaps the most identifiable part of any spinning reel. Located at the front end of the reel frame, the spool holds the fishing line and facilitates its extraction during the cast and retrieve. Modern spools come in various shapes and sizes depending on the reel's intended use. An optimized spool design provides smooth line deployment and reliable pickup for the fishing type. The spool's outer rim and side plates create a narrow gap that keeps the coiled line neatly arranged to prevent tangles. This line passage is generously sized on high-quality reels to allow fishing lines to flow easily under pressure. Even basic spinning reel spools are made of strong machined aluminum for abrasion resistance and durability. More sophisticated models feature carbon composite construction for reduced weight and increased casting distances.


The reel handle, connected to the anti-reverse lever, allows anglers to smoothly retrieve the line when a fish is hooked. As the name suggests, the anti-reverse lever prevents the reel handle and spool from spinning backward during the fighting phase of the hookset. This locks the spool until adequate pressure is exerted to free-spool or relieve drag. Revolutionary designs have introduced sealed ball-bearing mechanisms and composite handle knobs for enhanced cranking efficiency. Both casual anglers and tournament pros rely on the lever to avoid line pull-offs when a toothy predator makes a blistering run. For multi-species situations, lever tension can be fine-tuned to suit everything from panfish to mammoth catfish. Together with the smooth operation of the spool, a well-designed handle-lever system helps tirelessly reclaim the line until the angler gains the upper hand.

Drag System

The drag system is one of the most important components of any modern fishing reel. Inside the reel frame, it consists of the drag star or drag washers and the external drag knob. As fish make runs, the rotating spool applies pressure to the star/washers, creating friction that allows the line to be released at a controlled rate. This avoids breakage but also prevents striped fish from making unspool-inducing dashes. Careful adjustment of the drag via its knob is essential for battling powerhouses safely to hand. Beyond heavy-duty discs and seals, premium drags now use carbon fiber, magnetic, or ceramic components for buttery engagement. Critically, they allow anglers to horse in feisty catches without "horsing" the tackle. Meanwhile, the wire bail or bale trip aids casting and line retrieval by pivoting open and shut around the spool housing on demand.


The reel frame is the backbone of any spinning reel, housing the precision gearing that allows the handle to efficiently power line retrieval. On low-profile models appropriate for lighter lures, the frame is often composed of composite plastics like graphite or Kevlar bonded with resins for strength. Heavier surf reels feature machined aluminum frames able to withstand saltwater corrosion and the strain of larger species. Within the frame cavity, a multi-step gear train - sometimes up to 5 stages - reduces the high-speed handle cranking to low-speed, high-torque spool rotation through an arm gear and pinion gear interface. High-quality bearings and grease at these critical junctions provide silky, durable performance even after seasons of use. The frame also connects the other major reel facets like the spool, bail, and level wind induction hoop, forming a coherent package that anglers can trust with their hard-won trophies.

Other Important Parts

Baitcaster Arm

The baitcaster arm connects the reel handle to the spool and allows rotational power to be transmitted effectively. It extends from the main frame and links to the handle shaft on one end, bearing pinion gears on the opposite end. These pinion gears then mesh with larger drive gears seated around the spool. As the handle turns the arm, its gears revolve the spool at precisely regulated ratios set by the manufacturer. Contemporary advanced baitcasting reels may feature tool-less quick change mechanisms for rapid swapping between different gear sets and customized drive characteristics. This empowers anglers to perfectly tune their reels for diverse lures and fishing scenarios. Stainless steel baitcaster arms provide rugged durability, while machined aluminum versions trim unnecessary weight for endurance. Both ensure dependable transmission of the angler's energy to the spool over decades of spirited battles.

Level Wind Switch

The level wind system is a feature on some baitcasting reels that helps ensure consistent winding of the fishing line onto the spool. It consists of a thin wire or plastic tab protruding from the inside of the reel frame just above the spool. As the spool begins to fill with the line, the level wind makes contact and electrically grounds the switch. This briefly engages the level wind gear train, which rotates the spool slower or faster on one side to maintain a level layer. The goal is neatly storing excess lines without loops or slack that can lead to tangles. High-quality level wind mechanisms feel smooth without hesitation, extending service intervals between routine maintenance. Their automated function removes one variable for anglers seeking maximized line control from their hard-earned setups.


Now that we've explored the main visible parts of a spinning reel, it's important to understand how they all work together. The spool holds the line, allowing it to extract smoothly during casts and retrieves. The handle and anti-reverse lever work in concert to turn the spool while preventing backlash. Multi-stage gears transmit power inside the frame from the handle to the spool. The drag system provides adjustable resistance to prevent break-offs while tiring fish. The baitcaster arm connects it all, ensuring a reliable link between the power source and spool rotation. For some reels, an automated level wind helps achieve uniform line layers. Quality bearings and materials in these core components dictate a reel's longevity and performance over grueling seasons. With exposure to all the facets, anglers can appreciate subtle engineering factors that elevate one tool above others. This knowledge also aids set up, maintenance, and repair of the humble spinning reel for many rewarding days on the water.


Q: What are some signs a drag system needs adjusting or maintenance?
A: Signs include irregular or inconsistent drag pressure, clicking sounds during use, or inability to achieve desired drag setting. Proper drag pressure helps prevent broken lines while fighting powerful fish.
Q: When should anti-reverse components be cleaned or replaced?
A: If the anti-reverse fails to fully engage, allowing the spool to free-spin backward, or if it does not disengage smoothly for figure-8 retrieves. Gunk can build up over time and cause anti-reverse problems.
Q: What causes uneven line layering on the spool?
A: A worn or improperly working level wind, damaged or dirty line guides, excessive spool endplay, wrong line weight for the spool size, or casting or retrieval issues like backlashing.
Q: How can I protect my reel from the elements during extended outdoor use?
A: Use a high-quality reel lubricant, rinse and dry after each outing, apply a non-water-based corrosion protectant if needed, avoid direct sun exposure, and replace worn seals and O-rings to prevent moisture intrusion.
Q: What can cause a retrieving reel to not properly engage or "click"?
A: Common issues are worn pinion or drive gears, lack of proper lubrication where gears mesh together, anti-reverse bearings or mechanisms, stripped gear teeth, or foreign debris preventing full engagement. Promptly address any unusual sounds or feelings during the operation.