How to Set Up a Spinning Reel

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If you are wondering how to set up your spinning reel properly and have been struggling with reel adjustments along with mounting and setting up your reel on a rod, then you have come to the right place. In this article, we will cover the basics of rod and reel set up, spooling up line, and how to adjust your reel’s clutch and spool tension.

There are two main spinning reels that we will be looking at today: the bait-caster and open-face spinning reel. These are the two main types of spinning reel and the only ones you will need to understand to get started in the world of bass, muskie, or walleye fishing. Both differ in design and they require different setup and adjustments. Although both reels are extremely different, they both serve the same purpose, the reels are mounted on the rod in the same way and leaders, end tackle, and lures can be tied on exactly the same on each type of setup.

In the next section, we will cover the differences between an open-face spinning reel and a bait-caster spinning reel as well as taking a look at how they both work.

Open-Face Spinning Reel

The open-face spinning reel is the most commonly used spinning reel that is used by predator anglers. This is one of the most iconic fishing reel styles and is the classic shape that you will see on most rods that are either used for spinning or bait fishing. They offer the user a simple article that is highly functional and accurate once mastered and they are extremely durable and easy to adjust and cast.

Open-face spinning reels have their drag adjustments on the face of the spool so that they are easily accessible for quick adjustments during a fight with a fish. They have a low-hanging body and a spool that faces forward below the rod rather than horizontally above the rod like the bait-caster. These make great starter reels for the beginner spinner and they are the reel that most anglers learn with. Even the keen predator fisherman that swears by the bait-caster reel will always have an open-face reel for certain situations where the bait-caster is inappropriate.

Spooling up Line

Spooling up line on to your open-face spinning reel is relatively simple. You first need to figure out what gauge and breaking strain of line you need and ensure that you will fit enough on the spool of your reel. Once you have got your line, you should get a bucket of warm water and place the spool of line inside it. Keeping your line in a bucket of warm water while you spool it up onto your spinning reel will help it bed down tighter and neater.

Once you have your bucket of water and your spool of line soaking, attach your reel to a rod and open the bail-arm. Find the end of the line from your spool of fishing line and feed it through the closest line ring to the reel. With the bail open and the line through the line ring on the rod, loop your line around the spool of your reel and tie a simple overhand knot. Once you have tied your knot, tighten it down and flick the bail-arm over.

Next, you should hold your hand on the line and body of the rod to get some tension between the spool of line and your open-face spinning reel. Start winding on the line under tension so it spools up onto your reels’ spool. Once you get close to filling the spool of your reel you should cut the line and clip it up so it doesn’t unravel. You want to stop spooling and cut the line when the reel is full with 1/16 of an inch of space left on your reel spool, leaving this space will help prevent tangles and give you smoother casting.

If you are looking for more information on spooling up, we do have an in-depth guide that goes into more detail about how to spool up fishing reels of all types (including open-face spinning reels and bait-casters).

Clutch/Drag Adjustments

The drag adjustment knob on an open-face spinning reel is located on the face of the spool. This allows you to make fast adjustments when you need quick clutch control after a hit on your lure. Adjusting the drag is easy you simply turn the knob clockwise to tighten the clutch and counterclockwise to loosen the clutch. This allows you to control how easily the line can be taken from the spool. If you are the beginner, it will take some time to get the feel of how much line to give a fish and how much you should adjust the drag controls.

It is a good idea to have the clutch slightly loose when you are casting so that if a large fish takes your lure and runs you don’t get a line snap out before you get a chance to give it line. You want to keep the clutch set so that the spool doesn’t spin while you are casting. You don’t want it set so loose that it lets too much line off when you set the hook, but you want it just loose enough to give a bit of line once you are hooked up.

Bait-Caster Spinning Reel

The bait-caster spinning reel is a favorite among predator anglers that fish in places where ultimate precision is needed. Once you master the bait-caster reel you will be able to cast to features like reeds, pads, and under trees with ultimate preciseness. These reels give you more line control and allow you to slow a bait or lure down mid-cast, making it possible to land your lure on tight marks on complex waters. These reels can give you the edge when on difficult waters that require accurate casting to above-water features to get a bite.

The spool of the bait-caster sits on top of the reel body and a casting rod that is connected to a trigger – this trigger releases the line during casting. The spool sits horizontally on top of the reel rather than in front and facing forward like the open-face reel, this means that line is directly fed off the spool rather than “unwinding” off the spool. This gives you excellent line lay and less resistance during casting which makes casting smoother and enables you to cast lighter lures further. Having the spool on the top of the reel body allows you to place your thumb on the spool to control the speed at which the line unreels during casting, this lets you stop the line when your lure is about to land on your mark.

Spooling up Line

Spooling up line on a bait-caster reel is similar to spooling up an open-face reel, however, because of the positioning of the horizontal spool, the line must be transferred slightly differently. Rather than leaving your spool of new fishing line on its face to unravel on to the reel, you will need to make sure the spool of new line is horizontal (the same as the spool on the reel). Doing this makes sure the line beds in properly and doesn’t twist. If you place a spool of line on its face to transfer onto a bait-caster, you will end up with a bird’s nest tangle when it is time to cast.

The easiest and most efficient way to spool up your bait-caster reel is to purchase a spooling station. These stations will allow you to mount the spool of new line under tension while horizontal, giving you an easy and efficient spooling method. If you don’t want to buy a spooling station you will need an extra set of hands.

You should first soak monofilament in warm water to aid the bedding of the line, after that, you should feed the line through the line ring closest to the reel. Then you should tie your new line to the reel spool through the line feeder on your reel. Once you are set up and ready, get a pen or a pencil and insert it through the hole in the new spool of line.

Ask a friend to hold either side of the pencil so the spool of new line is horizontal and free spinning. You can now hold tension on the line and start winding the line onto the spool of your reel. Make sure you keep good line tension and spool up to the point where there is around 1/16 of an inch of free space on the spool.

Clutch/Drag and Spool Adjustments

Adjusting a bait-caster spinning reel is a little bit more complicated than the open-face reel. You need to adjust the tension of the spool for casting as well as adjusting the drag for line control when fighting fish. The spool tension needs to be adjusted every time you attach different weights of lures or baits on the spool, this can take some time for the beginner but once mastered, it becomes second nature.

Spool Tension Adjustment

The spool tension adjustment knob is on the side of the reel, usually on the same side as the handle. It is a small dial that is essential to setting up your reel for smooth and controlled casting. To adjust the spool tension, you should first hold your rod and reel up at around 45 degrees with the lure you desire to use attached to the end of the line.

Leave around 10 inches of line hanging from the end of the rod tip and tighten up the tension knob until you feel light pressure on the spool. Push the release trigger (thumb bar) and let your line drop. Your lure will probably drop very slowly if the pressure is high, or fast if the pressure is low. You want to slowly release the pressure until the lure is falling slowly and smoothly to the ground in around 3 seconds give or take.

Once the tension is properly adjusted you should have no overruns of line when the lure or weight hits the ground. Remember that you will need to readjust your spool tension every time you change lures, baits, or weights. Once you have mastered this technique, you will get a feel of how much tension is needed for each weight and you will be adjusting in seconds.

Drag/Clutch Adjustment

The drag adjustment on a bait-caster spinning reel is relatively simple and extremely easily accessible. There will be a large star or cog shaped dial in between the handle and the body of the reel, this is used in the same way as the adjustment knob on the open-face spinning reel. To tighten the clutch you will need to turn the dial toward the tip of the rod and to loosen the clutch you will need to turn the dial toward the butt of the rod.

You should set the drag on a bait-caster in the same way as any other fishing reel. You want it tight enough to cast well and set the hook but loose enough so that line can be taken under strain. Having the clutch set in this way will ensure you cast efficiently and set the hook well while still providing a fail-safe is the hooked fish takes a powerful run.


Make sure you spool up your spinning reel properly and ensure that your line is bedded down perfectly for the reel type you own. Once your reel is spooled up, make sure your spool tension is set for the weight on your line (bait-caster reels only). Adjust your drag so a fish can take line on a run but ensure that it is set tight enough to cast and set the hook efficiently. Check your clutch settings and spool adjustments regularly throughout a spinning session to make sure you are casting and catching in the best, smoothest way. Tight lines and happy fishing.

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