Should you use fixed spool reels for sea fishing?


The idea that fixed-spool reels are somehow second-rate is wrong. Here we explain why these reels should have a place in any sea angler’s kit.


The fixed-spool reel still suffers from an image problem in sea angling. It is regarded as somehow being the trademark of a below-average angler. Remarks like these have not been so common in recent years but the idea still exists that real sea anglers don’t use them.


fixed spol reel for sea angling


fixed-spool reels designed for shore fishing


Some fixed-spool reels designed for shore fishing have a short stubby pick-up instead of a self-engaging bail arm. (With this type of bail the line has to be engaged by hand after casting.) This is to avoid the problem of the bail arm accidentally snapping shut during the cast. Since this rarely happens – except in the fiercest casting tournaments – it is a feature that the majority of sea anglers needn’t bother with.


garfish caught on a spinner


This angler looks suitably pleased with the garfish he caught on a spinner. Fixed- spool reels are the obvious choice for light lure and float fishing simply because multipliers are not capable of casting light weights.


fixed-spools or multipliers are better for long distance casting


Debates over whether fixed-spools or multipliers are better for long distance casting are only relevant to tournament casters. The average angler should concentrate on technique rather than tackle here – since it is largely the angler’s skill and not the reel which is responsible for long casts.


Pointless comparisons


Fixed-spool reels are easy to use and — ironically enough – it is this that has led to their poor image. It is true that, compared with multipliers, they are very easy to cast with and are usually chosen by beginners for this reason. But an unfair association seems to have grown up between the fixed- spool and the novice.


The issue is further muddied when a multiplier and fixed-spool reel are placed side by side and the advantages and disadvantages of each traded off in a ‘which-is-best’ competition. This is nonsense. Both are important tools.


A positive picture


Fixed-spool reels differ fundamentally from multipliers. With a multiplier the spool’s axis is perpendicular to the rod and line is given out or taken in as the spool rotates. With a fixed-spool reel the spool’s axis is parallel to the rod and, unless the drag is slackened – which it rarely is – does not rotate. Instead, line is wound on to the spool over a lip at the front, by means of a bail arm.


The fixed-spool reel’s design has several benefits for shore and boat anglers. Over-runs can be an exasperating problem for the shore angler. (This is where the spool continues to rotate after casting, releasing line and causing horrendous tangles.) With a fixed-spool reel this can’t happen. The spool is stationary, so no matter how mistimed the cast or bulky the bait, the line behaves.


Afraid of the dark? One difficulty when casting from the shore at night is gauging just when the lead is going to land. With a multiplier this means that slowing the spool as the lead approaches the end of its trajectory becomes pure guesswork. Since most anglers are anxious that the reel should not over-run, they tend to err on the early side and shorten their cast quite considerably. With a fixed-spool reel you don’t have to worry about over-runs so there is no need to shorten the cast. The high retrieval rate means that tackle can be dragged up to the surface very quickly. For shore fishing the reel is usually loaded with 15lb (6.8kg) line, but when fishing in weed you can use heavier lines with the fast retrieve to winch the tackle clear.


Light weights cannot be cast with a multiplier because of the spool’s inertia – it takes a fair bit of weight to get it rotating in the first place. So for spinning from the shore with light lures for fish such as pollack, bass and mackerel, or for float-fishing, fixed-spool reels are the obvious choice.


Boat casting when the target is moderate-sized cod, ray or smaller fish is a task to which the fixed-spool reel is particularly well suited. Oddly enough, although this technique is popular in Holland, Belgium and Scandinavia it is seldom used in the British Isles.


A limitation


Although fixed-spool reels are versatile they have a drawback. They are unsuitable for boat fishing with heavy sinkers in deep water. The high retrieve rate, combined with the right angle through which the line is pulled as it comes on to the spool, makes it difficult to pull up heavy weights without a pumping action. Fixed spool reels are not as strong as heavy duty multipliers and break down under severe stress.


Buying a reel


Of the scores of fixed-spool reels available only a few are suitable for sea fishing. Most are not robust enough to cope with casting heavy weights (and this is true of many freshwater reels which look as though they might do the job). Rather than rushing out and buying one on appearances, it is better to read carefully through some manufacturers’ catalogues. Robustness and ability to withstand the corrosive action of salt water are the main requirements. Prices vary widely and in general price is a good indicator of quality – the higher the price the better the reel. Most tackle dealers can be relied on to give a fair assessment of what a particular reel can do without giving you the hard-sell. Top models in the expensive ranges are superior – containing more ball races, machined to closer tolerances and made from better materials than cheaper models. This means that most are stronger and last longer. But some of the budget-priced reels can still cast long distances. Service and spares Make sure that you can get spare spools for your reel so you can store different breaking strains for all the types of fishing you intend to do.


The largest recognized manufacturers tend to offer the best after-sales service but recently there has been an irritating trend among manufacturers towards bringing out new models every couple of years or so and deleting the old models – making it difficult to get spares.


Loading your reel


You need to take care over just how much line you put on the reel and how it is loaded. Incorrect loading is one of the few ways in which the fixed-spool reel can cause problems for the sea angler.


The rule is that the profile of the line on the spool must be level and should come to within about 3mm from the lip of the spool. (If you are a smooth caster then the gap can be reduced to 2mm or even 1mm.) Fill the spool to the brim and the line will simply spring off the front when it is not supposed to, causing tangles. Put too little line on and the friction – caused by the line having to drag over the lip at right angles from deep inside the spool – will seriously shorten your cast.


As well as being about 3mm from the lip, the line should be laid level over the spool. Cheaper reels form humps and troughs in the level while the expensive ones don’t or shouldn’t. To correct the humping tendency of the reel, hand wind compensating humps and troughs into the level of the spool.


Cleaning and maintenance


Compared with multipliers, the construction of fixed-spool reels is quite simple, making cleaning and maintenance much easier.


Apart from rinsing in fresh water, drying and spraying with water repelling spray such as WD-40, the only regular maintenance required is to run a finger carefully round the lip of the spool to check that no nicks have appeared which might damage the line.