History of Baitcasting Reels

Knowing the History of Baitcasting Reels


The Baitcasting Reel is a device which consists of a line that is fixed onto a revolving spool supported by ball bearings and geared in such a way that when the crank handle is turned once, the spool revolves multiple times.

It’s also referred to as a revolving spool reel. In England, the device is popularly known as the overhead reel because it’s fixed above the rod.


The Baitcasting reel works by first turning it on its side, engaging the free spool and placing the thumb on a spool to keep the lure in position.

Casting is executed by snapping the rod diffident to the two o’clock position, and then smoothly and carefully casting it forward, thus enabling the lure to effectively pull the line.

The thumb is essentially used to make contact with the line, regulate the spool’s rotation and apply brakes on the lure upon attaining a desirable aiming point.

Even though modern magnetic braking and centrifugal systems significantly help in controlling backlash, the device can only deliver maximum results if the fisherman has sufficient finesse and has practiced several times.

History of baitcasting reels

Historical records

The earliest known illustration of a baitfishing reel was in a painting by the name Angler on Wintry Lake, which was done by Ma Yuan (1127- 1279). It depicted a man trying to catch fish using a baitfishing reel while sitting on a sampan boat.

Another painting by renowned Wu Zhen (between 1280- 1354) also portrayed an image of a man fishing while using a similar device.

Tianzhu lingqian (printed 1208- 1224) contains two woodblock -print illustrations of people using baitfishing reels.

History and development

Baitfishing reels originally appeared in United Kingdom at around 1650, when many people had developed interest in fly fishing.

They became more popular in the eighteenth century due to commercialization of the fishing industry, when artisans started selling them at the historical Haberdasher’s store.

The Great London Fire compelled many artisans to move to Redditch, which effectively turned into a centre for -the manufacture of baitfishing reels and other assorted products.

In 1761, Onesmus Ustonson set up a trading shop which later became a market leader for approximately 100 years. He was given a Royal Warrant award and later became a leading supplier of baitfishing reels to King George the Fourth’s monarch and two subsequent monarchs after George’s reign. Onesmus Ustom is therefore credited with inventing and advertising baitfishing reels.

In the eighteenth century, manufacturers began producing particular versions of baitfishing reels which were named Nottingham reels. They were essentially wide drums that freely spooled out, thus allowing baits to freely drift with the current.

Geared multiplying reels didn’t become popular in Britain, but were extremely popular in USA, where similar versions were modified into baitfishing reels by George Synder, an artisan who was based in Kentucky.

In the 1880’s, manufacturers started producing baitfishing reels using silk lines (not the traditional horse hair). Silk lines allowed users to cast their devices over greater distance, although the design significantly increased chances of lines getting tangled. The defect inspired manufacturers to invent and incorporate regulators into the devices to prevent tangling and enable more even spooling of lines.

The earliest versions were often made using gears made of iron or brass and spools/ casings made using brass, hard rubber or German silver. They consisted of multiple gears ranging from 2: 1 to 4:1. Unlike modern versions, they didn’t have any drag mechanisms. Therefore, users gained resistance by pressing their thumbs on spools.

In the 1870’s, some manufactures started incorporating bearings to mount spools since free- spinning spools usually caused undesirable backlash and strong pulling forces on the lines. They also integrated a clicking pawl mechanism to prevent possible overrunning of spools.

Users of baitcasting reels thereafter realized that the clicking sound produced by pawls enabled them to detect whenever fish had swallowed their live baits. The mechanism allowed them to leave rods and reels in rod holders and then relax while waiting for fish to take their baits.

Later on, manufacturers started designing baitcasting reels which were suspended from bases of rods since the design allowed users to cast and retrieve their devices without necessarily changing hands. They could also overcome gravity more effectively while using very little wrist strength.

According to experts, the devices’ strange mounting position on top of rods is a historical accident. Originally, they were designed to be thrown into water while positioned on top of rods, and then spun upside down to facilitate turning of crank handles. However, most users typically chose to keep reels atop the rods while casting or retrieving by basically transferring rods to their left-hand sides for retrieval, and thereafter winding the crank handles backwards.

As a result of the preference, manufacturers decided to fix crank handles on the right hand- sides of baitcasting devices (with universal clock-wise crank handle revolution), although they still produced versions with left hand retrieval mechanisms since some users had become familiar with the operation of conventional spinning reels.

Modern baitcasting reels are essentially made using aluminum, synthetic composite materials and stainless steel. They usually consist of special level-wing mechanisms to prevent trapping of lines when being rewound or hindering of subsequent casts.

They are also designed with drags and anti-reverse handles to facilitate catching of huge and powerful sport fish. Since they typically depend on the lure’s momentum and weight to pull lines from rotating spools, they’re usually fitted with lures weighing at least ¼ oz. to enable wider casting.

Manufacturers of modern baitcasting reels are designing devices with as much as 7.1/ 1 gear ratios. The higher gear ratios allow users to retrieve their lines faster, although they have to use greater strength because extra gear teeth reduce the gear trains’ strength and torque. Such reels are therefore ideal for fighting huge and powerful fish.

Top manufacturers

There are companies which have established world-wide reputations in the manufacture of baitcasting reels. They include;

  1. Abu Garcia
  2. Zebco
  3. Daiwa Corporation
  4. Bass Pro Shops
  5. Penn Reels
  6. Cabelas
  7. Scientific Anglers
  8. Plueger
  9. Shimano
  10. Shakespeare Fishing Tackle

Other types of fishing reels

Baitcasting reels are the most popular equipment used in fishing. However, there are other types of fishing reels as well. They include;

  1. Fly reels
  2. Triggerspin/ Underspin reels
  3. Centrepin reels (also centerpin/ float/ center pin reels)
  4. SpinCast reels
  5. Conventional/ trolling reels
  6. Fixed spool/ spinning reels