Used Fishing Reel Buying Guide

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Used Fishing Reel Buying Guide

Buying used reels is a very good way of getting good quality, high -end brands for a good price.

Buying used reels is no different to buying new reels in terms of design, size, brand and capability. It does however require a keen eye for detail and a good understanding of what can go wrong with reels.

  • Check for damage generally but particularly on the spool and saddle of the reel. If the reel has been dropped then the spool will not turn properly and may jam at the crucial moment.
  • Handles need to be checked particularly on spinning reels. Because they are the extremity of the reel they are often damaged and if the handle falls off, the reel is useless.
  • Watch out for salt water damage. If a reel is not properly coated or is made of old fashioned materials and has been used near salt water it may well be corroded. This can seriously affect the performance of the tackle. Look out for rust marks or where the surface of the reel may have bubbled.
  • The odd scratch here or there won’t do any harm to the performance of the reel but could indicate that there is a deeper problem.

Reel Types

These are used by coarse, game and sea anglers across the globe. As a tool it is incredibly easy to use and very effective at delivering all types of baits with distance and a satisfactory degree of accuracy.  Furthermore there is very little that can go wrong with a spinning reel.

If looked after, they can last for years and compared to fly reels they are very inexpensive.  Prices do vary, depending on the brand and generally by the number of ball bearings contained in the reel.  Choosing a spinning reel is about the only thing that is complicated about them. There are literally thousands to choose from.

The reel to buy will depend on what type of fish you want to catch in which type of water. Many anglers like to fish with tackle that is as light as possible so they can really feel the fish. Do not be tempted to buy fishing tackle that is too light. Not only will you lose fish, but you may struggle to to get a fish on the first place.

The other key consideration is the type, weight and size of bait that you are fishing. With these three facts in mind it should be possible to reduce the options. Spinning reels for fast rivers and salmon may well guide you to a range that perfectly suits the salmon fishing trip that you are making. Alternatively reels for carp ponds and big Mirror Carp, if that is your destination and quarry may well lead you in the right direction for that specialist area.

There are all sorts of weights of reels that handle differently in different conditions but the basics are:

  • Ultralight Spinning Reels are usually reels that handle six pound test line or even less.  There are some smaller reels designed for 2 pound test line.
  • Top Ultralight Reels and Light spinning reels are much the most popular with light tackle angler.
  • Top Light Tackle Reels are heavy spinning reels used for deep trolling and surf fishing and some bottom fishing. These are incredibly strong reels and can hold line up to 50lb test. The weight of the reel is vital when playing big sea, or game fish.

    The final consideration when buying a spinning reel is the rod you have or wish to buy with it. The balance between rod and reel makes a huge difference. A reel that is too big for the rod makes handling the rod very cumbersome. A rod that is too big for the reel will be equally unsatisfactory.

    Spinning reels are incredibly diverse and flexible and can be changed to suit the angler, conditions or fish as required.

  • The drag system on most reels allows the angler to increase the drag on the reel when a fish is being played which obviously tires the fish more quickly and allows it to be landed more easily. Drags can vary but should be set to about a third of the test weight of the line so if fishing with 15lb line then a 5lb drag is probably the right balance.
  • Retrieve – an angler can vary the speed of line retrieve just by turning the reel slower or quicker. Certain reels have faster retrieve speeds but this must be balanced with the type of water being fished and the technique the angler adopts.
  • Left or right handed? The spinning reel has always been designed for both left and right-handed anglers. There will be a button beside the main handle which when pressed will allow the removal of the handle to reposition on the required side.

    When buying a spinning reel always consult the experts. It is more important to learn about the fishing than the reel. Establish:

  • what the fish will be taking
  • what the water will be like
  • how easy it is to cast
  • what the size of the fish are.

There are many spinning reel brands but a few to watch out for would be Shimano, Daiwa, Abu Garcia, Penn, Quantum and Pflueger. These brands offer a wide range of different sizes, weights and styles of spinning reels, suitable for an extensive range of different spinning techniques and quarry.

There are a few other considerations to make before buying a spinning reel. Firstly the amount of fishing that one intends to do. There is no point spending £500 on a Shimano Stella reel when only fishing once a year from a holiday cottage.

Equally a seasoned and regular angler of any experience will not want to replace a worn out reel with an Abu Garcia beginners reel for £20. The reel must suit the fishing and the amount of fishing an angler is going to do. Reels do last but the best last longer and won’t let an angler down in a hard fight.

Secondly, the angler has to consider the type of water as seawater can seriously damage reels that do not have the correct protection. If sea fishing is on the agenda then make sure the reel has a non-corrosive coating and is designed for such work.

Thirdly, size of reel is obviously calibrated to the size of rod but also the nature of the bait being cast, the distance required, the type of bank conditions and the type of water being fished.

The pick up or retrieve on a reel in fast water needs to be much quicker in a river or fast water, so a bigger reel might be more suitable in these conditions. Equally in slow flow or still water conditions the angler can afford to have a slower and possibly smaller reel system. If an angler is spinning for small fish in a still water he might choose to fish with a 05-10 size or reel. The sea shore angler, throwing a heavy lead a great distance and then having to retrieve fast in the surf may take a reel between 20-50 size.

The drag system is common to most reels and allows the angler to crank up the tension on the reel. This is very useful when playing a fish, making it harder for the fish to pull line off the reel. Generally when fishing for big fish like Marlin or Tuna, the reel will be set on a trolling setting which might be marked as the ‘free position’.  When the fish takes, the drag will be put to the ‘strike’ position. In big game reels the system is very complex and the guides will set the drags on the reels to exactly the right level before they set out on the trip.

With smaller scale fishing it is up to the angler to move the drag setting up as the fight begins. Take care not to go too high as the fish will break the line or the hook will be pulled out because there is too much tension.

Reel Types


spinning reel

Overall the spinning reel is a brilliant tool. If correctly fitted, set and used it is a pleasure to use. Problems only arise when the wrong reel is being used for the conditions being fished.  Understand the fish, the water and the environment and ask the experts. With the right budget and advice a reel will give great satisfaction for a good few years.

fly reel

The is an altogether more straightforward tool than the spinning reel as its role is to hold the line and backing required, and then help in the playing and landing of the fish. It is not as fundamental to a successful cast in fly fishing as a spinning reel can be.

Despite its relative simplicity, the fly reel tends to be more expensive than the spinning reel. There is a range of brands from the very expensive Hardy, Sage, Ross and Megoff priced at over £500 to the lower end brands such as Daiwa, Shakespeare and Shimano which are generally found in the £100 - £200 bracket.

Matching a fly reel  to the rod is really all that matters. Having the wrong weight of reel for the rod can affect the cast. Make sure that the reel is a suitable size for the rod being used.

  • The length of the rod is irrelevant as it is the line weight and the reel weight that must fit the rod. These are usually indicated on the rod as hash sign and numbers, which are rod length and line weight.
  • Match these to the reel and the rig should feel well balanced and comfortable to cast.
  • The reel capacity is another consideration as the drum of the reel when fishing light tackle for big fish needs to be able to hold a lot of line and backing.
  • When buying any used reel whether a spinning or fly reel try and buy a good brand and check for any signs of wear and tear. Most importantly make sure the reel suits the rod and be prepared to ask the experts.


Reels are one of the bigger investments in the fishing tackle box . They are carefully engineered and are made up of some fairly sophisticated elements. It is always worth buying a good reel in any angling discipline as a reel breaking during a fight with the fish of a lifetime is a major disappointment.

There are various different types of reel used for different angling methods and different quarry. The spinning reel is used in every form of angling. It is especially prevalent in sea and coarse angling but is also a useful addition to the game or big game tackle box.

The fly reel is generally a more expensive reel and used for fly fishing with a fly rod. Although this technique is now used across the world in sea fishing and big game scenarios, it is normally associated with trout and salmon fishing in freshwater.

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