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How To Set Up a Spinning Reel: A Step-By-Step Guide

Spinning reels are essential tackle for every angler. 

From their wind-busting ability to cast to their simplicity to use, it’s easy to see why. And whether you chase bluegill on your local lake, catfish in a slow-moving river, or specks and reds in the surf, you’ll find that a spinning reel will quickly become a trusted ally.

If you’re new to angling, however, knowing how to set up a spinning reel may be a mystery. And if you’ve just unboxed your new reel, but have no idea what to do next, we’d like to help.

Below, you’ll find an easy to understand, step-by-step guide for setting up any spinning reel.

So keep reading!

Spinning Reel Basics

All spinning reels, irrespective of their size and intended use, have the same basic parts and design.

spinning reel anatomy

It’s important that you familiarize yourself with these parts and their names, as it’ll make it a lot easier to follow the instructions below.

Spinning reels feature a fixed spool and a moving bail. As the bail spins, it winds line around the motionless spool. To cast, you simply hold the line with your index finger and open the bail. When you do, line will flow directly from the fixed spool, up and over its lip, and down your guides.

spinning reel spool

The lip on a spinning spool is there to keep your line in place, but it’s also an obstacle during your cast.

Because of this basic design, spinning reels cast really well in adverse conditions, and they tend not to have problems with tangles and knots in the wind. They also outperform other designs when casting light lines (anything under 10-pound monofilament diameter), making them ideal for ultralight applications.

Check out our buying guide for the Best Ultralight Reels!

Most quality reels locate the drag control at the front of the spool, where it can exert direct pressure. Just a few turns in either direction will dramatically affect the drag weight, so easy does it!

How To Set Up a Spinning Reel

Step 1

Open the bail.

Your reel probably arrived with the bail closed. A closed bail should be perpendicular to the axis of the spool.

Set Up Spinning Reel Step 1

An open bail will be roughly parallel to the axis of the spool, usually at an outward angle.

spinning reel closed

This bail is closed.

Spinning Reel Open Bail

This bail is open.

Step 2

Read the line recommendations printed on the side of your rod, and select line that falls within these weight limits. For my ultralight rod, I’ve chosen 6-pound Stren Original.

Stren Orginal

Tie your line directly to the spool using a Uni knot. While there are stronger knots out there, the Uni is very strong, very easy to tie, and very hard to get wrong.

If you don’t know how to tie this knot, it’s definitely one you should learn:

uni knot

Snug your knot down to the spool, and trim the tag end (the remaining bit that’s left over) to no less than ⅛-inch.

Set Up Spinning Reel Step 2.

I’ve secured my Uni knot to the spool, but the tag end is long. It’ll affect casting if I leave it this way.

spinning reel with stren original

 

I’ve trimmed the tag end, and my knot is tight and secure. Note that the replacement spool is label-side up.

On larger reels holding heavier line, the knot and remaining tag end may still cause issues with casting. If you find this is the case, you can apply a small piece of duct tape over the knot, smoothing it flat against the spool.

duct tape to cover knot

A small piece of duct tape can be applied to cover the knot, but I find this causes more problems than it solves with ultralight and light reels.

Step 3

Hold your rod near the real, and pinch the line between your fingers to apply just a bit of pressure.

Make sure the replacement spool from which you’re taking line is label-side up. That way, the line will come off the spool curling in the same direction it will be wound onto your reel, improving its lay and casting.

Begin cranking, loading line onto your reel. Continue until the line fills the spool to approximately ⅛-inch from the outer edge of the lip.

spooled spinning reel

This spool is as full as you want it for good casting.

If you load your spool to less than that, friction with the lip will affect casting performance. And if your spool is too full, the line will want to slip over the lip, creating the possibility of tangles and knots.

Try to keep your spool properly loaded–and when it gets low, it’s time to restring!

Step 4

Now it’s time to set your drag.

As a good rule of thumb, start with a drag setting equal to roughly ⅓ of the tensile strength of your line. In this case, I’m using 6-pound test, so I want a drag setting of roughly 2 pounds.

Begin by tying your line to a fishing scale. It’s best to do this directly, without passing your line through the guides. 

Fishing Scale

My line is secured to the reel on one end, and the scale on the other.

Loosen your drag by cranking it counter-clockwise.

Spinning Reel Closed Bail

Looking down at the drag knob, turn it left to loosen and right to tighten the drag.

Next, pull your line with the scale and tighten your drag until you get the right weight. In this case, I want slightly less than 2 pounds, as I’ll be fishing for small brook trout.

Drag 1.4 lb

I’ve got my drag set for 1.4 pounds.

A properly set drag will ensure that your line and knots are protected from sudden shocks, and it’ll work with your rod to tire the fish in a hard fight.

At this point, you’re ready to go!

Final Thoughts

I hope that this guide has helped you set up your new reel. 

If it has, please leave a comment below!

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