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Different Types of Fishing Reels and a Look at Some History

The first known history of a fishing reel are from about 1195 c.e. in Chinese records and paintings. In England fishing reels first appeared around the mid-1650s. By the 1760s, tackle shops in London were offering a multiplying or gear-retrieved reels. George Snyder, a Kentucky native is credited with inventing the first fishing reel in America around 1820. A bait casting design that quickly became popular with anglers.


Bait casting reels or conventional reels from the 1600s, came into wide use by anglers during the 1870s. Early reels were operated by inverting the reel and back winding to retrieve line. The reel handle was positioned on the right side, as had become customary; models with left-hand retrieval are become more popular. A big game reel is a kind of bait cast reel for heavy saltwater fishing. Not designed for casting, but used for trolling on the open ocean.

Spinning reels were in use in North America in the 1870s. Developed for the use of flies for trout or salmon fishing. Mitchell Reel Company introduced the first modern commercial spinning reel in 1948. The Mitchell 300 was designed with the face of the spool forward in a fixed position below the rod. A line pickup was used to retrieve line; an anti-reverse lever prevented the crank handle from turning when a fish is pulling line from the spool. Most spinning reels operate best with a limp flexible fishing line.


Fly fishing reels or centrepin reels are mainly used for fly fishing. They traditionally are simple in mechanical design; little has changed from the patented designed by Charles F. Orvis in 1874. A fly reel is normally used by pulling line off the reel with one hand, while casting the rod with the other hand. To slow a fish, the angler applies hand pressure to the rim of the spool (“known as palming the rim”). Early fly reels had no drag, but a click/pawl mechanism to keep the reel from overrunning when line is pulled from the spool. In recent years improvements have been made for better reels and drag for larger fish. Saltwater fly reels designed for use in an ocean environment are normally larger in diameter for a larger line and backing for long runs of big game ocean fish.

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