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Slow-, medium- and fast-retrieve ratio reels: The real deal on reel speed

Gord Pyzer

The real deal on reel speed

Why reel speed matters, and how to pick the right one for every occasion

It wasn’t that long ago that a reel with a 5:1 or 6:1 gear ratio was considered fast, but it is hardly the case today with 7:1, 8:1 and even a few reels that are approaching double digit proportions.

So what is the best ratio for the occasion?

Before we get into the details, understand that the gear ratio is simply the number of times the spool on your baitcasting reel or the bail on your spinning reel revolves when you turn the handle one time.

So, a reel with a 5:1 ratio means the spool will revolve five times when you turn the handle once.  And, obviously, the more times the spool revolves with each turn of the handle the more line you retrieve.

So, a fast retrieve reel is the way to go – right?

Well, not necessarily.

You see, there are many times that you want a slower ratio (5:1) reel, like when you’re casting crankbaits and swimbaits that you want to bump along the bottom and keep in front of the fish for as long as possible.

By the same token, many folks fail to appreciate that fast retrieve ratio reels often excel in situations where you are making slow presentations – like flipping and pitching a jig into matted weed openings or walking-the-dog with a Spook-type topwater and letting it deadstick on the surface.

It is counterintuitive until you realize that with a fast retrieve ratio reel you can retrieve slack line swiftly, set the hook hard and then tame the fish quickly – as well as reel in fast to make another cast – so the speed of the reel has less to do with the actual presentation than it does with managing your line and controlling the fish.

Should mention, too, that some top pros like legendary four time Bassmaster Classic Champion, Rick Clunn, favour using the same medium speed reels (6:1) for all of their presentations, preferring to adjust the speed by consciously turning to the handle faster or slower.

Something else to consider is the fact that a “slow reel” with a 5:1 gear ratio but a large spool that is properly filled to the maximum with line is actually FASTER than a “medium reel” with say, a 6:1 gear ratio but a smaller spool that is not fully loaded with line.

Also, if you’re going to buy a fast retrieve ratio reel, make sure it is a quality one and not a bargain bin special, because you’re putting significant strain on the gears and can burn them out when you hook a big bass, salmon, muskie, lake trout or pike.

It is not rocket science, but choosing the right ratio reel to match your presentation can make a huge difference at the end of the day in terms of what is swimming in your livewell.  It is why two anglers may think they’re making the same presentation, but only one of them is catching fish.

It is the subject of this week’s Fish Talk With The Doc that I recorded for the Fish ‘N Canada television show and that I hope you enjoy watching.

Gord Pyzer

Gord Pyzer

Fishing Editor Gord Pyzer is widely regarded as Canada's most scientific angler. Known in fishing circles as Doctor Pyzer, he worked for 30 years as a senior manager with Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources before devoting all his energies to fishing. A member of the Canadian Angler Hall of Fame, the award-winning writer is also an internationally sought out speaker, tournament angler and field editor with In-Fisherman Magazine and Television. As well, he co-hosts the Real Fishing Radio Show with Bob Izumi. Catch Gord on the Outdoor Journal Radio Show live every Saturday morning 8:05AM EST. If you're in southern Ontario, tune your radio to Sportsnet 590 The FAN AM or visit www.fan590.com and listen live online.

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