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Why Does My Fishing Reel Go Backwards?

A man holding a nylon fishing line.

I remember it well, casting my lure into a deep hole, knowing that a clunker was lurking there, and suddenly the reel spun backward, and bam, there it was. A backlash about the size of a bird’s nest suddenly blossomed with a fishing line in an unimaginable mess.

Frustrated, I began untangling the line, still anxious to fish the sweet-looking hole. Then I wonder why this just happened and how can I prevent it? Maybe you have been in the same situation too, so read further and learn why fishing reels go backward and how to avoid a dreaded fishing line backlash.

Why Do Fishing Reels Go Backwards?

Three different type of professional fishing reels.

I discovered it is not necessarily bad, and there are reasons for that feature. But a reel may spin backward at inopportune times for various reasons. Fortunately, you can take some precautions to help prevent this problem. To understand why fishing reels can spin backward, we may need to know the different types of reels.

What Are Some Types of Fishing Reels?

There are primarily three different types of fishing reels, each designed for various fishing requirements. In addition, there may be a few more specialty reels like fly fishing and surf fishing, but we will focus only on the most popular reels for this article.

1. Spincast Reels – My first introduction to fishing, and probably was for many of you, was my prized spincast reel. This affordable, simple, and easy-to-use reel is perfect for beginner fishermen or occasional fishermen on a limited budget. The design of the spincast reel is typically a closed, metal nose cone that protects all the reel mechanisms. As a result, casting is effortless by simply pressing the spool control button and swinging, then releasing. We probably can all remember going fishing with our first spincast reel. In addition, they usually have an anti-reverse mechanism to prevent backlash.

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Zebco 202 Spincast Fishing Reel, Size 30 Reel, Right-Hand Retrieve, Durable All-Metal Gears, Stainless Steel Pick-up Pin, Pre-Spooled with 10-Pound Zebco Fishing Line, Black, Clam Packaging

Although extremely affordable and simple to use, they do have some limitations.

  1. The closed face design allows the build-up of debris and water that can eventually cause failure.
  2. The excitement about your new reel may only last for one season, since they are usually not well made and wear out quickly.
  3. Due to a limited casting range, as our fishing experience increases, we learn they are limited to their fishing range.

2. Spinning Reels – Different from the spin-cast reel, spinning reels are open face with a steel bail release to allow releasing the fishing line when casting. The metal bail release also serves when closed as a mechanism to correctly re-spool the line when cranking the line back after casting. The spinning reel design has a drag adjustment built into the reel to maintain proper tension for different fishing scenarios and prevent backlashes. In addition, a spinning reel has a more natural hold position as the reel is mounted on the bottom of the rod for a better-balanced casting position.

CS10 Spool (LQ-CS10-1000-SPOOL)

A spinning reel is one of the more popular fishing reel options due to its ability to handle multiple fishing situations efficiently, yet it has limitations.

  1.  You must pay attention to bail settings, and if not correctly set like open or closed, it can lead to line entanglements or the dreaded fishing line backlash entanglement.
  2. Although spinning reels perform very well, they typically have a lighter design, and when using heavier fishing tackle and fishing lines, performance decreases.
  3. They are easy to use, but they still require some getting used to, especially if we move up from a spincast reel.

3. Baitcasting Reels – More advanced anglers prefer the baitcasting reel because it is more powerful with much better casting accuracy. The additional performance does require a learning curve as there are more moving parts, but if we are serious about fishing, it is well worth the time due to the superior fishing experience. Additional mechanisms, including a spool tension knob and braking system, allow more accurate casting with much better precision control of lure placement.

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Daiwa LX-WN300HSL-P Lexa Type-Wn Reel, 6Bb (2Crbb, 4Bb) + 1, 7.4 : 1 - one Size

Although the baitcasting reel is a must for the advanced angler, there can be some drawbacks when moving up from other fishing reels.

  1. The braking mechanism and spool tension must be adjusted correctly for different lure weights as performance control will be affected.
  2. It requires more attention to prevent backlash as it is easier to have reel backspin with bait casting reels.
  3. These reels are preferred by more advanced anglers due to superior performance and control but come at a higher cost.

Why Are Fishing Reels Designed To Go Backward?

An old fishing reel with rust.

There are reasons why fishing reels may spin backward. A fishing reel should not spin or turn backward, indicating a mechanical issue, or the anti-reverse switch set to “off.” If the switch is flipped “on” and still turns backward, there is probably some malfunction with the reel. But why does a fishing reel spin backward?

  1. The anti-reverse switch is set to “off,” which is the most common issue for backward reel spin.
  2. The failure of an anti-reverse spring or clutch that permits backward spinning.
  3. The incorrect fishing line “drag” settings will allow the reel to turn backward.
  4. If the ‘bail’ setting is wrong when casting or retrieving, the reel may spin backward, causing line backlash or entanglement.
  5. Improper reel maintenance or over-greasing or reel mechanisms.

How Can You Manage Back-Reel Spin?

Two fishing reels on a wooden floor.

In the past, the practice of “back reeling” was a way to manage landing fish, significantly larger fish. Reel technology today has an anti-reverse mechanism with drag control that has replaced back reeling. What is the anti-reverse switch, drag control setting, and back reeling?

  • Anti-reverse switch – Typically located on the bottom of spinning reels, and often baitcasting reels have an anti-reverse switch. Baitcasting reels are somewhat different from spinning reels, and experienced anglers usually use their thumb to control the reel spin. A fish can easily spin the reel backward without braking or thumb pressure on the spool.
  • Drag control – The drag control system contains the amount of pressure a line places on a reel spool. The fishing reel may spool backward if the drag control settings are exceeded for the fish and bait cast reels if the star drag setting is incorrect. The drag system is a critical component of a reel to prevent back reeling and manage to land large fish without breaking the fishing line.
  • Spinning reel bail is designed to let the fishing line out on casting when open and properly guide the line back onto the spool when closed for retrieving. If the bail is accidentally left open, the reel can easily back-reel and create a backlash of the fishing line. If the bail break does not stop the reel from spinning backward, there is probably a mechanical problem with the reel that must be corrected.
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Fishing Reels Can Spin Backwards for Many Reasons

Different type of fishing reels on a store.

Fishing reels can, and dow, spin backward or reel in reverse. Sometimes by design, often by mechanical failure, or operator failure. Wait, did I say operator failure, but how can one operate a fishing reel incorrectly?

Many times, reverse reel functions are the operator’s error. For example, have you ever cast a spinning reel without locking the bail, then snagged a fish? Or use a bait cast reel and then not use your thumb to tension the spool? Either scenario can cause undesirable effects, or the dreaded back reeling creates a bird’s nest backlash of the fishing line.

Why do fishing reels go backward? Unfortunately, there are no good reasons as far as I can tell.