Fixed Spool Reels

Fixed spool reels are massively popular in UK sea fishing as they are easy to use, usually cheap to buy and require little maintenance. While some anglers move on to the more capable (but harder to use) multiplier reels, others are happy to stick with fixed spool reels for all their fishing. There is a wide range of fixed spool reels available, ranging from small spinning and cheap beachcasting reels, to more expensive fixed spools which can allow anglers to cast long distances. The rising popularity of Continental style rods has also seen a rise in the numbers of anglers using fixed spool reels, as they work well with these types of rods, especially when braided line is used instead of monofilament.

Design and Features

A fixed spool reel is based around a non-rotating spool which is fixed in place (hence the name). A bail arm rotates around this spool and wraps line around the spool when reeling in. The fixed spool reel was invented by Alfred Holden Illingworth in 1905, with his Illingworth No.1 Threadline Casting Reel becoming the world’s first mass-produced fixed spool reel.

Fixed Spool Reel

Fixed spool reels (usually) have to be paired up with rods that have been designed to be used with this type of reel. These rods have fewer but larger rings to break down the line as is comes off the spool in loops (typically rods designed for use with multiplier reels will have higher number of smaller rings). However, a number of manufacturers now make rods which are designed to be used with either multiplier or fixed spool reels. Bearings are used in the construction of a reel, and generally speaking, the more ball bearings a reel has the better it will perform. Entry-level fixed spool reels are likely be made with a single ball bearing, whereas high-end reels will have as many as ten. All fixed spool reels have an oscillating wind system which lays the line evenly on the spool as it is retrieved, and good quality reels will have an anti-twist roller on the bail arm. Fixed spool reels also have a reverse switch which allows the reel to let line out by winding in the opposite way when this is selected. Most fixed spool reels can be switched around between right-handed and left-handed configurations, and most also feature a reel handle that can be folded down for ease of storage.

Reel Size and Ratio

Fixed spool reels used for general beachcasting need to be a sufficent size and be able to hold at around 300 to 400 metres of 15lb/0.35mm line. If the reel is any smaller than this it will not be strong or tough enough for beach fishing (but may be fine for light bass, flattie or lure fishing). Most fishing tackle manufacturers use a system where the size of reels are given in thousands, with larger beachcasting reels being 7000, 8000 or 9000 size, smaller reels designed for bass, flatfish or lure fishing being sized 4000 or 5000, and fixed spool reels designed for LRF (Light Rock Fishing) may be as small as size 3000, 2000 or even 1000. However, not all manufacturers use this system, and there are discrepancies between manufacturers, and so line capacity is a better measure of reel size. Many fixed spool reels are supplied with spare spools and today it is common to have two different types of spool – a standard one for use with monofilament line and another shallower spool for use with braided line. Due to issues with line level which are discussed below all fixed spool reels work best with lighter line and a shockleader, and while they can be used with 30lb line straight through for rough ground fishing the casting distance will be reduced considerably. Just like multipliers, fixed spool reels have a retrieval ratio and the bail arm of a fixed spool reel will revolve around the spool several times for every complete turn of the handle. Most fixed spool reels used for sea fishing will have a retrieval ratio of 4:1 to 5:1.

Drag System

Fixed Spool Reel Drag
A Shakespeare Mach 3 reel, left, with a front drag system, and a smaller Shakespeare Mentor with a rear drag.

Fixed spool reels are either front drag (often designated as FD in the reels name or code) or rear drag (RD). Whichever system the reel features its aim is the same: to allow the reel to give out line before the force of a fighting fish snaps the line. Rear drag systems are delicate and sensitive as they are generally designed for the gentler demands and calmer waters of freshwater fishing. In sea fishing rear drag reels are useful for lighter spinning, float fishing or lure work but they are mostly avoided for bait fishing from beaches or rock marks. The vast majority of sea fishing fixed spool reels are therefore front drag. In order to cast the front drag must be locked down as tight as it will go, as a slipping drag will cause major issues during a cast. Most anglers simply leave the drag tightened like this during a fishing session, and click the reel into reverse (where winding backwards will let line off the spool) if the need arises when fighting a big fish. Be aware that many manufacturers of reels make the same model in both front drag and rear drag configurations, so look for the FD or RD in the title of the reel and ensure that the correct one is selected at the time of purchase. Most anglers loosen off the drag when the reel is being stored, and only keep it tightened during fishing.

Line Level

The line level of the spool is a very important factor with fixed spool reels. This is because line that comes from the spool effectively catches on the lip as it leaves the spool, and this creates friction and decreases casting distance. A reel that is full to the edge of the spool (but not overfull) will generate less friction when casting and therefore achieve greater distances. Furthermore, using a light line (i.e. 15lb/0.35mm) will cause the line level to drop less and therefore less friction to be generated but using thick 30lb/0.50mm line will cause the line level to drop quickly, generating more friction and cutting down casting distances. Braided line, which can be as thin as 0.20mm for 20lb breaking strain, is even better in this respect as even when large amounts of line have left the spool the line level will only have dropped slightly.

Fixed Spool Reel Line Level
Diagram showing the increasing angle (and therefore increasing friction) created as the line level falls during a fixed spool reel cast.

When filling a fixed spool reel with line ensure that the line level comes to within a few millimetres of the spool for best performance. Do not be tempted to overfill the spool as this will see line come off in clumps which will then tangle in the rings of the rod during casting. Since many beachcasting fixed spool reels have line capacities of three hundred metres or more it is a good idea to put a hundred metres of backing line on first (use old or worn out line that is no longer needed). There is little point in filling up a reel with several hundred metres of brand new line when only the first hundred metres or so will ever be used.

Braided Line: Advances in line technology over the last few decades mean that it is now common to see shore anglers using low-diameter braided line – previously it was only used by boat anglers due to being too thick for casting. Fixed spool reels are much better suited to being used with braided line compared to multipliers and many anglers have seen their casting distanced improve dramatically when switching from monofilament to braid. More information on using and casting with braided line can be found here. Alongside the developments in braided line technology many anglers are turning to Continental style rods which are much longer (typically 15 – 16ft) rods with a softer action than traditional beach casters. When these rods are used with fixed spool reels and braided line impressive casting distances can be achieved, even with simple casting styles. There is an article on Continental style fishing rods which can be read here.

Casting and Retrieving with a Fixed Spool Reel

Casting with a fixed spool reel is less complicated than casting with a multiplier. The reason for this is that a multiplier’s revolving spool can overrun, causing the dreaded ‘bird’s nest’ of looped line as the spool keeps on spinning after the cast. As the fixed spool only takes line as it is drawn from the spool this cannot happen with this type of reel. To cast using a fixed spool reel the angler will hold back the line against the reel seat with his or her finger. When using large fixed spool reels a finger stall – such as one of these from Sea Angling Shop – will be used as a mistimed cast can see the line cut into the angler’s finger. Alternatively, a thumb button such as the Breakaway Cannon can be fitted so that the angler does not need to hold back the line with their finger and there is no risk of injury. When fishing with smaller spinning rods and light lines there is rarely any need to use a finger stall as the line is not strong enough to injure an angler’s finger when casting.

          Video showing a fixed spool reel in action.

The bail arm can then be flipped over where it will click in place and line can run free from the spool while the cast is performed. While all fixed spool reels have an oscillating line lay system which ensures that the line is spread across the spool as it is wound back onto the reel the more advanced and expensive reels generally have a better, smoother system which results in better line lay, and therefore longer casts.

Suggestions for Fixed Spool Reels

Below are a range of fixed spool reels for a number of different types of sea fishing rod and fishing situation. Click on the links to be taken to Amazon or Sea Angling Shop (pages open in new window) where the reel can be purchased.

Budget Fixed Spool Reels

Shizuka SKS 57000 FD Reel – This is a well-priced fixed spool reel manufactured by Shizuka. This reel is good quality and the is the right size to be used with a full-sized beachcaster rods of 12ft or longer for general all-round sea fishing. Line capacity is 430 yards of 15lb line or 275 yards of 20lb line. This reel is front drag and has 3+1 ball bearing construction and features an aluminium spool which is pre-spooled with monofilament fishing line and a spare graphite spool. This reel is available from Sea Angling Shop fo £33.99.

Fixed Spool Reels for Beachcasters (12 – 15ft rods)

Penn Surfbaster 7000 or 8000 – Penn are one of the most famous names in sea fishing and this large fixed spool reel is made with the build quality they are famous for. The 8000 size has a very large capacity of 330 metres of 30lb line and has a very fast retrieval rate of 4.1:1. This variation is made with six ball bearings, saltwater resistant construction and many sellers provide this reel with the standard monofilament spool and an additional braid spool. This is a great choice for anglers looking for a large, strong and powerful fixed spool reel which can reach long casting distances. Priced at around £110 from Amazon. The 7000 size is slightly smaller and suits 12ft to 13ft rods, while the 8000 size can be used with longer rods including Continental style fishing rods.

Penn Affinity Fixed Spool Fishing Reel– The Penn Affinity is a high-quality sea fishing reel which is ideal for general all-round sea fishing for anglers who prefer to use a fixed spool reel. There are several variations of this reel with the 7000 and 8000 versions being the most suitable for sea fishing. This reel has high line capacity, 6+1 ball bearing construction, carbon fibre washers and attractive wooden handle knob. The variations of this reel which are denoted with the code LL also feature Penn’s Live Liner free spool system. This reel is available from Amazon for around £90 to £120 depending on the variation which is chosen, with many sellers also offering free delivery.

Fixed Spool Reels for Bass Rods (10 – 11ft)

Shizuka SKS 55000 Reel – This is the smaller version of the Shizuka SKS model above and is designed to be paired with spinning rods of 8ft to 10ft in length. The reel features front drag, 3+1 ball bearings, a big line roller and a computer balanced rotor. It also has a strong aluminium spool which is pre-filled with monofilament line and a spare graphite spool. Line capacity is 215 yards of 12lb line or 165 yards of 15lb (0.35mm) line. An excellent reel for spinning light bait fishing. Available from Sea Angling Shop for £27.99.

Fixed Spool Reels for Spinning Rods (9ft – 10ft)

WSB GR8 170 – The WSB GR8 series of reels are ideal for lure fishing with spinners and plugs as well as float fishing around the British Isles. The 170 model featured here is designed to be used with longer spinning rods of 9 or 10 ft in length. This reel has front drag construction and features an anti-twist line roller, a line clip, high line capacity and is constructed with a single ball bearing. The reel comes supplied with a single spool which is pro-loaded with 15lb clear monofilament line. Available from Sea Angling Shop for the price of £22.99.

Fixed Spool Reels for Spinning Rods (7ft – 9ft)

BNTTEAM Fixed Spool Spinning Reels – Spinning rods which are under 9ft in length and cast spinners and other lures which weigh around 1oz (28 grams) require correspondingly smaller reels. The BNTTEAM series of fixed spool spinning reels are ideal for this purpose as they come in a range of sizes allowing anglers to choose a model to match the spinning rod they have. These reels are lightweight yet strong making them ideal for fishing around the UK and feature an ambidextrous foldable wooden handle, a metal spool and front drag construction. Available on Amazon in seven different sizes from 1000 to 7000, with prices starting at less than £14 for the smallest sizes.