Spinning Reel vs Baitcaster Explained: Which Is Better and Why?

Some people argue over which one is better, the spinning reel vs baitcaster reel. Some people refuse to use one or the other. Still, others have both and use them as needed.

Which reel is better for your fishing activity?

The answer is, you must decide which reel is best for how you’re fishing. Most of us who do a lot of fishing own both baitcaster and spinning reels. If you can afford them, it's better to have both.

While spinning reels and baitcasters are very similar in what they accomplish, there are some differences that you need to know about before buying one or the other. We'll help you figure out those differences and what they mean to you and what you'll be targeting with your fishing.

What Is a Spinning Reel?

Spinning Reel

A spinning reel is a type of fishing reel that is attached to a fishing rod to help you catch fish. They are commonly used for freshwater and saltwater fishing. You can use them in saltwater fishing inshore and some use them offshore.

A spinning reel is mounted on the underside of a fishing rod where it hangs down. It is used to store, release, and retrieve fishing line as you cast and try to catch fish.

The spinning reel has a spool that is fixed in line (parallel) with the rod. This means the line is laid at right angles to where it needs to go during casting. When the handle (crank) of the reel is turned, the rotor around the spool spins. The rotor has a bail arm that redirects the line, turning it 90° to wind fishing line onto the spool during line retrieval.

For line to be cast out, the bail arm needs to be flipped out of the way and has no effect on the spooled line. The fishing line is held firm with a finger against the rod until the end of the cast where the line is let go. The line is pulled off the spool by the weight of the fishing rig being cast. The spool does not move during casting. 

With a turn of the handle, the bail arm is flipped back automatically and is able to retrieve line to the spool.

Spinning reels come in a large variety of sizes and designs and are great for a lot of different fishing applications. Spinning reels are easy to use, versatile, and generally reliable. Pros and beginners can use them and some anglers use only this type of reel and never buy a baitcaster.

What Is a Baitcaster?

Baitcasting Reel

A baitcaster is a type of fishing reel designed to catch fish in freshwater or saltwater in a variety of conditions. Baitcasters provide more accuracy, control, and cranking power during casting and retrieving fishing line.

Baitcasters sit on top of the fishing rod. The baitcaster reel operates by using a spool mounted at right angles to the fishing rod. The line comes off the reel in a straight line. It can be set to release the line (free spool) or wind it in. 

When the spool release button or lever is pushed, the spool is free to rotate to release the line. This happens during casting. The angler's thumb holds the spool still until the last part of the cast where the spool is let go to spin and cast the line out.

The spool speed and movement are controlled by using a technique known as "thumbing" or "casting control" which involves manually applying pressure to the spool with the angler's thumb to control the speed and distance of the cast. The spool is usually manually slowed down and stopped by the angler as the fishing rig hits the water to help prevent backlash, but there are internal brakes that also help with this.

Baitcaster reels can be used successfully for fishing for bass, surf fishing, trolling, and jigging.

They have greater accuracy and sensitivity when casting and retrieving fishing line, and can hold more and heavier line because the spool axis is thinner.

Baitcasting reels can be a bit more challenging to use and require a higher level of skill and awareness than some other types of fishing reels.

What Is the Difference Between a Spinning Reel and a Baitcaster?

Spinning Reel and Baitcaster

Spinning reels and baitcasting reels look different and are functionally a little different. There are different controls to learn to use to master both of them. Both have spools where the line is kept. Both have handles to retrieve line. Both have gears inside that affect how fast the line is retrieved (gear ratio). Both are good general fishing reels, but have specific applications they excel at.


  • Physically, the reels are different looking. Baitcasters sit on top of the rod and spinning reels hang down under it.
  • Baitcasters have a rotating spool that turns with casting to release line straight through the line guides on the rod. Spinning reel spools are stationary while casting and only move while drag is in effect.
  • Baitcasters have an internal braking system that slows the spool down from spinning too fast during casting to prevent backlash. Spinning reels don’t need brakes.
  • Baitcasters hold more line because the axis of the spool is thinner.
  • Spinning reels have a bail arm to redirect the incoming line to wrap around the spool as the rotor it is attached to encircles the spool. Baitcasters have a line guide that evenly distributes line across the width of the spool.

Another way we can show you the differences between these reels is to show you some pros and cons of each. This should help you decide what you really need in a reel. There's a lot more coming, but read through these and ask any questions in the comments.

Advantages of a Spinning Reel vs Baitcaster

Using A Spinning Reel

Though we prefer baitcasters in most situations, there are some advantages that spinning reels have over them.

Pros of a Spinning Reel

  • Spinning reels work really well for basic fishing and casting can be quite accurate if you take care to use braided line as your main line.
  • Spinning reels can cast lighter lures and bait. Baitcasters require some weight to spin the spool. Spinning reels have no spinning spool, so you just need enough weight to pull the line off the spool.
  • Very slight learning curve, anyone can learn to cast it quickly.

Cons of a Spinning Reel

  • Line coming off the spool must change direction 90° to go through the rod line guides. This is less efficient and causes tangles due to line memory issues with mono and fluoro lines.
  • Casts are not the same because the variable of line twist is ever-changing. The first few casts may be bad if your line hasn't been changed in a while. Or, you may have straight line for some time, but the line is gradually getting more kinked. When you cast for the 20th time, your line may get stuck in the rod guides because it's so twisted up.
  • Basic spinning reels are open to the elements – air, rain, saltwater, dirt, sweat, fish slime – much more than baitcaster reels. This causes poor performance if you're not constantly cleaning your reels.
  • A bigger reel and spool are needed to hold the same amount of fishing line as a baitcasting reel.

RELATED: Fishing For Snook

Advantages of a Baitcaster vs Spinning

Using A Baitcaster

We think there are more advantages to using baitcaster reels over spinning reels, but we may be biased after decades of using them!

Pros of a Baitcasting Reel

  • Baitcasters can hold more line on a smaller spool, so your reel can be smaller.
  • Baitcasters are better for ocean fishing because they are sealed from the elements much better than typical spinning reels.
  • Line comes straight off the spool into the rod line guides. This results in fewer line memory problems.
  • The spool rotates when casting, distributing line much more efficiently than spinning reels, which have a static spool during casting. Baitcasters cast longer distances as a result.
  • Because there's no line kink as you reel in mono or fluoro lines, your casting experience is very nearly the same every time. You can replicate casts over and over because casting variables don't change.
  • Drag is applied more smoothly with baitcasters.

Cons of a Baitcasting Reel

  • Cannot cast very light bait or lures. These reels cannot cast well if you don't have enough weight on the end of the line. The spool needs to spin so it requires a bit of weight.
  • Steeper learning curve to get over. There is a slightly bigger learning curve involved in mastering the baitcasting reels. For a spinning reel, it might take you one hour to become competent if you pick things up quickly. With a baitcaster, maybe 3 hours, or an entire day. Still, hardly a negative once you see and experience all the positives.

RELATED: How To Catch Redfish

Spinning Reel vs Baitcaster: Which One to Use for Bass Fishing?

For bass fishing, both spinning reels and baitcast reels are fine for many situations. If you are fishing an area where you need to place your lure in a small spot because of vegetation or obstacles, that high degree of accuracy can be had with a baitcaster. If you're going to be fishing with very light bait or lures, only a spinning reel can cast ultra-lightweight rigs.

Pros fishing in bass tournaments typically use baitcasters for their excellent accuracy in casting.

RELATED: Best Bass Fishing Rods

Spinning Reel vs Baitcaster: Which One to Use for Trout Fishing?

For freshwater trout fishing you may want to use a spinning reel that can cast light bait or spinners and make as little splash as possible. Trout are rather skittish and the more delicately you can place your bait/lure near them without spooking them, the better. With baitcasters, you'd need to use a heavier rig and that may scare the trout.

For saltwater trout like speckled trout, you are better off using a baitcaster reel that is better sealed against saltwater, rain, and dirt.

Spinning Reel vs Baitcaster: Which One to Use for Catfishing?

For either freshwater or saltwater catfish, you should use the baitcaster reel to take advantage of its powerful cranking ability. In practice, you can use either reel and be fine most times, but big catfish are easier to catch with a baitcaster reel with a low gear ratio of around 5:1.

RELATED: Can You Use A Baitcaster On A Spinning Rod

Spinning Reel vs Baitcaster: Which One To Use For Walleye?

Jigging, trolling, or casting can be used to catch walleye from the shore or a boat. Both spinning reels (size 4000) and baitcasters can be used.

Spinning Reel vs Baitcaster: Which One to Use in Saltwater?

RELATED: What Size Reel For Surf Fishing

Use baitcaster reels for saltwater fishing because they are better sealed without costing more money and because you have a higher chance of getting a strike from a much bigger fish than you expect when fishing in saltwater. For instance, you may be fishing for spanish mackerel and hook a decent-sized cobia. Baitcasting reels have more power on the retrieve.

RELATED: Florida Surf Fishing Species

Spinning Reel vs Baitcaster: Which One to Use for Surf Fishing?

RELATED: Best Reels For Surf Fishing

Baitcasting reels will cast farther than spinning reels with heavy rigs, so you should always use one at the ocean for that reason. Also, as mentioned numerous times above, baitcasters are much better designed to keep saltwater out of the reel.

RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Rods

Spinning Reel vs Baitcaster: Which One Is More Expensive?

It's very hard to compare the two reels because they have obvious differences and use-cases that make direct comparison too difficult. There are $1,000+ spinning reels and baitcasters that use precision manufacturing, materials, and the latest features, all while being lightweight, durable, and extremely reliable.

We can say, you'll pay for what you get. If you want a reliable reel, it will almost surely cost $100 or more. Most of our spinning and baitcasting reels are in the $100 to $200 range.

RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Rod And Reel Combos

Frequently Asked Questions

Anglers have many questions about which reel to choose because reels can cost a lot of money and that makes it an important decision on many fronts. Here are some common questions about baitcasting and spinning reels that we frequently get.

Is a baitcaster better than a spinning reel?

Yes, in some ways a baitcaster reel is better than a spinning reel. Above all else, baitcasters are better for casting accuracy. With spinning reels, you are relying on the line to be the same every time you cast it and it is not the same, there is variability.

The line twists with spinning reels because it is coming off the spool at right angles to where it is being cast. Sometimes it doesn't go through the rod guides easily enough and your casting precision will suffer.

This is especially true with monofilament fishing line which has 'line memory' that keeps it curled up even after you cast because it was tight on the spool for days or even years since you last spooled a new line. It retains some of that curl as you cast out, which is bad for casting because it causes friction with the line coming off the spool and trying to get through the rod line guides.

Another issue that few experts mention is that the line coming off a spinning reel spool can rub the top of the spool, causing friction. This friction increases the more the line is kinked.

Braided line on a baitcaster is the best of both worlds because there is little to no line memory and the wound line comes straight off the spool with no 90° turn necessary. This means better casting distance and accuracy can be had.

Why do pros use baitcasters?

Pros use baitcasters because the repeatability of casting with the same lure over and over is excellent with baitcasters, much more so than with spinning reels. Pros are moving and casting over and over, more than a thousand times per day in some cases. The more accurate their casts are, the better they will do in tournaments. Accuracy matters a lot to pro anglers.

Why do bass fishermen use baitcasters?

Bass anglers use them because the accuracy of casting baitcasters is much better than using spinning reels or any other kind of reel. If bass fishermen are not using artificial lures and there is no reason to cast and retrieve as often, they can use spinning reels and be just as effective. We've all caught bass on spinning rods and reels. They work too!

Using baitcasters allows very accurate short and long casting because you can control the spool and slow it down when it nears the exact spot you want to drop your lure.

Are baitcasters hard to learn?

Baitcasters are not hard to learn, you can master the necessary basic skills well enough to be casting OK in less than one day of practicing. If you really have good hand-eye coordination and learn physical things quickly, it may take you about an hour. It will take weeks to learn to cast perfectly in all situations (long casts, very short casts, in wind, with lighter rigs, etc.).

Do I really need a baitcaster?

Pro anglers who depend on catching more fish than others they are competing against need to use a baitcaster for fishing tournaments. If you're not a pro, and you really don't mind the so-so accuracy of your spinning reel then you don't need a baitcaster.

That said, occasionally a pro will use a lightweight spinning rod to throw an ultra-light lure or bait and the baitcaster isn't going to be able to handle something that lightweight. The baitcaster will almost always be used in bass tournament situations.

Final Thoughts

Almost everyone starts fishing with a spincast reel or a spinning reel. These types of reels are the easiest to learn and they can cast light and heavy bait and lures with decent accuracy, especially by using a braided line as your main line. If you pay close attention to the line you use and keep it fresh, you can use spinning reels happily for almost all of your recreational fishing activities.

However, the accuracy of a baitcasting reel is going to be a hard reality to overlook. Baitcasters are pinpoint accurate once you know how to use them. There is nothing like them for accuracy, power, and smooth application of drag. So eventually a lot of us decide we need to step up and get a baitcaster because we want the best fishing gear for every situation.

With baitcasters, you'll certainly have a reel that will last for years with proper care. If you already fish often and you know fishing will be part of your life in the future, you can skip the entry-level baitcaster reels under $100 and get a decent reel for a bit more money but under $200.

RELATED: Best Baitcaster Under $200

The information on this page about baitcaster vs spinning reels should help you choose but feel free to use other data too. Talk to friends and ask questions. Read reviews. Make a smart decision. For anglers who fish a few times a month in a variety of settings, most of us have both spinning and baitcasting reels, and conventional, and some of us have trolling reels too.

Photo of author

Vern Lovic

Vern grew up in Pennsylvania fishing for trout in streams and Bass in lakes and ponds. He then moved to the west coast of Florida where he discovered surf fishing and inshore saltwater fishing from his kayak. Vern is an outdoor writer and loves to share his knowledge and fishing experiences. He is the founder of Salty101.com.

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