Why do Spinning Reels have Reverse?

  • Date: August 21, 2022

You may have experienced a reverse functionality on a spinning reel and wondered what it was for and when to use it.

In this article, I will exactly what this feature is and when it should be used.

I am also going to mention now, that the anti-reverse system is certainly not essential to have on a spinning reel (so don’t panic if your reel doesn’t have one!), and many of the later reels will not include this feature in their design.

Why do Spinning Reels have Reverse
Reverse Lever

What is anti-reverse on a spinning reel?

To wind the line onto your spinning reel, you simply turn the handle in a forward motion and the rotor assembly will spin around and the bail arm and roller will lay the line neatly onto the spool. This is the motion you will all be familiar with.

But on some reels you will see a switch, usually positioned either underneath the body of the reel or at the back end of the reel.

When this switch is engaged you will not be able to turn the handle in a backward motion, you will only be able to wind the line onto the spool.

But when the switch is released it will allow you to turn the handle in the reverse motion, therefore letting line peel off the spool rather than winding it on.

What does the anti-reverse switch do?

The anti-reverse switch, when engaged, will stop the rotor from being able to spin backward and let line off the reel, and the drag will then come into play.

The switch is easily accessible and often positioned either on the underside of the body of the reel, or it can also be found at the back of the reel. 

When your bait or lure is in the water and you are waiting for the bite, always ensure that your reverse function is locked.

anti-reverse lever on a spinning reel

Check the anti-reverse lever is in the correct position so that the spool cannot be turned backward, only forwards. If the anti-reverse is left off and you try and strike into a fish you will run into problems and your chances are setting the hook properly are slim. 

When you have the anti-reverse switch in the proper position so the reverse is locked, you can strike into a fish with confidence and set the hook well as there will be enough pressure through the line. 

Once you have set the hook properly, then you can release the anti-reverse witch and you will be able to wind in both directions to help play the fish.

Do all spinning reels have reverse?

No, in fact, most newer models of spinning reels will definitely not have the reverse feature built into their design.

The reels that you will find the lever on are usually lower-end reels or older designs that are still being sold by the manufacturer. 

It is more of an old-school feature and some anglers who have grown up with it and have gotten used to using the anti-reverse system when playing a fish will like to use reels that utilize this.

This is why you will still find some reels being sold that use this feature.

Should you use the reverse or drag?

There are various situations where the reverse functionality can be used.

One situation where it should definitely not be used is when setting up your rod and you feed the line through the rod guides.

The temptation is to just release the anti-reverse switch from the closed position and then pull the line through the rod guides. Do not do this! 

The spool will continue to spin and unload line after you have stopped pulling the line, and this leads to tangles. I have many first-hand experiences of this from when I was younger and all of my spinning reels had the reverse feature back then. Always use the drag system in this situation.

If you are fishing with light tackle and targeting smaller fish then this is the perfect time to use the reverse function. You can give the fish line and take it back as needed with a flick of the anti-reverse switch. 

But it is not advised to use the reverse function if you are targeting, or hook up to a larger fish. You will lose control and the fish will get the better of you more often than not.

How to best use the reverse feature on a spinning reel

If you are a fan of the reverse functionality then there are some situations where you should use it, and others where it is best not to be used.

If you want to use the reverse functionality when fighting a fish, the fish size matters in this situation.

If you are fighting a larger fish I recommend that you do not use the reverse feature, you will not have as much control as you think you might, and the drag system is much more effective in this case.

If you have caught a lighter fish that does not fight so hard then you can use the reverse function to good effect and allow the fish to take line when needed with the reverse, and then quickly flick the anti-reverse button to the lock position when you need to pull the line and fish back in.

If you are trolling with a spinning reel then this is also a very good time to use the reverse function. Put your lure or bait into the water off the back of the boat, put the lever into the reverse position, and then backwind to get your lure out into the open water.

This is an excellent technique to allow you to put the lure / bait into the exact distance you want it behind the boat.

The benefits of the reverse functionality on a spinning reel

There are some benefits of using the reverse functionality on a spinning reel. The first, and what is the main benefit for me, is that when you allow a fish to take line by back winding you will not get any line twist as you do when a fish pulls line from the drag.

Another good time to use the reverse feature is when you are dropping a weighted line straight down from a boat.

If you open the bail arm and allow the weight to free-fall at speed you run the chance of backlash once the weight hits the bottom but the line continues to peel off the spool.

But if you lower the weight using by back winding then the weight will drop at a much more controlled speed and you can stop the winding as soon as you feel the weight hit the bottom.

Why I do not like the anti-reverse feature on my spinning reels

I should add here that all of the below reasonings for my dislike of the reverse feature are my own opinions from my own experiences. I do know that a lot of anglers still really like this feature, and I’m sure they will have a lot of their own reasons for still using it.

I am not a fan of the reverse functionality on a spinning reel at all, and I will never buy a reel that has this feature.

It does not give you as much control when letting line out from your reel as the drag system does.

If you give the line a sharp tug when the reverse is activated the spool will continue to spin and release the line at a fast rate.

If you do not have any tension on the line to pull the line away from the spool, it will just start to overrun and the line will bunch up and this can cause a big birds-nest tangle. 

When using the drag system to pull line off the reel, and spool will stop as soon as the tension is eased. This is a much better way of pulling line from the reel than using the anti-reverse mechanism. 

When tackling a harder-fighting fish then using the reverse feature to play the fish just won’t cut it.

You will not have the same control as you do with a good drag system, and you will find yourself losing more fish than catching. It is much better suited when targeting smaller-size fish.

Having the anti-reverse component on a spinning reel just adds more potential for something to break. As this is far from being an essential functionality, why add the potential of it malfunctioning?

It adds more weight to the reel. In this day and age where manufacturers are looking to reduce weight in their spinning reel ranges, including non-essential components such as the anti-reverse mechanism is counterproductive.

Having the switch on the reel means there are openings in the body of the reel that can let in water and dust and cause accelerated degradation of the reel performance.

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