Gear Ratios and Reel Handles



I’ve noticed a lot of confusion about gear ratios on internet forums. In particular many people mix up gear ratios, power and retrieval rates. Hopefully this short article will simplify matters.

Retrieval Rate and Power

Retrieval rate is the amount of line that the reel brings in for each turn of the handle. It’s not the same as power.

Retrieval rate depends on the product of 2 factors: the gear ratio and the circumference of the spool. If you double the gear ratio you’ll double the amount of line brought in. Likewise if you double the circumference (or indeed the diameter) of the spool you’ll also double the amount of line brought in.

Note that in practice the circumference of the spool gets less when you cast out simply because you have less line left on the spool.  This means the emptier the spool, the less line you retrieve for each turn of the handle.  This may be a factor in lure fishing as, unless you deliberately slow down,  the closer the lure gets to you the faster it’ll be moving.

It also means that you can’t accurately measure how far you’ve cast by counting the number of turns of the reel handle, especially at long range.

Some reels come with deeper or shallower capacity spools but, contrary to popular belief, the retrieval rate for each spool is exactly the same because the outer circumference is the same (think about it!).  This is because it’s this outer circumference that determines the retrieval rate quoted in tackle catalogues.

Many would say why not have a higher gear ratio so that you can reel in faster from distance?

Well there’s a trade off here. Similar to a car, the higher the gear ratio the less the power you can apply. It will also make it more difficult to wind in – which may be particularly important if you’re bringing in thick weed, more so if there’s a big carp amongst the weed as well!

The same applies to retrieving say a deep-diving crankbait. And talking of lures, you may also want to retrieve a lure very slowly, especially in winter.

Single and Double Handles

A further factor to consider is the length of the handle. The longer the handle, the more power you can exert. It’s a bit like having a lower gear ratio.

Single handles are usually longer than double handles so will be better when you need maximum power. They also don’t get in the way like a double handle can and are slightly lighter. Finally, some have a big torpedo-shaped grip that many find excellent with cold hands.

So why use a double handle at all? Well, firstly a short handle is faster to turn so you can retrieve more quickly.

Secondly, and most importantly, a double handle is counterbalanced regardless of the position it’s in. This means it doesn’t turn when you let go of it. This can much reduce tangles and the line getting caught round the spool. This is even more likely to happen when the anti-reverse is off, for instance when backfilling rather than using the clutch, as the handle can then slip both ways.

An interesting compromise is the hybrid handle fitted to a few reels (see picture). These have a long handle, rarely with a torpedo-shaped grip though, opposite a shorter counterbalanced one. Personally I like this arrangement as it gives the power without the tendency to tangle, but it seems to have gone out of fashion.

Counterbalanced reel handle

A counterbalanced reel handle

In fact fashion seems to be the driving force behind reel design these days. Very few reels except small ones are offered with the option of a double handle.

Not being dictated to by fashion I can see the advantages of both single and double handles and use the best according to the circumstances.

For this reason I’ve just bought a set of Shimano Baitrunner X-Aero RAs. The 6000 size comes with a double handle. However you can buy a spare single handle from Shimano (go to This is a rear drag Baitrunner; unfortunately there are no double handles for the front drag equivalent.

By the way, the 8000 and 10000 models of the X-Aero RA both come with the single handle but you can buy a spare double handle from Shimano. The only other difference between the 6000, 8000 and 10000 is that they have different line capacities due to the depth of the spools, but Shimano have confirmed that the spools on all 3 models are interchangeable. Finally, Shimano have also confirmed  that there’s a misprint in the 2016 catalogue and that all models have the same retrieve rate.

Look out for a review of the X-Aero RA when I’ve fully field tested it.



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