LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THE SPOOL on your fishing reel. Now, take a single crank on the handle to see how much line comes in.
Unless you built that reel by yourself in your garage, three, four, or even six or seven times as much line will be cranked in, compared to the diameter of your spool. That’s the magic of mechanical gearing.
A gear ratio of 5.1:1 listed in the specs for a fishing reel, means the spool (or bail, in the case of a spinner) will revolve 5.1 times for each individual rotation of the crank. It’s no different from bicycle gearing, where in high gear, kicking the pedals around once might rotate the wheels several times.
Net result? A reel with a very high gear ratio can crank in a shocking amount of line. A high-speed Penn Fathom 40NLDHS lever drag reel, for example, which has an exceptionally high 7.1:1 gear ratio, can bring up 60 inches of line with a single rotation of the handle. The 40NLD, the exact same reel in a 4.8:1 gear ratio model, however, brings in 40 inches of line with each crank of the handle.
This being the case, why would anyone ever opt for the 4.8:1 model? Isn’t a higher ratio always better?
Not by a long shot.
Just as is true with that bicycle, having lower gears gives you more cranking power. When you’re fighting very large, powerful fish, it’ll take more physical exertion to move the crank with a high-ratio reel. It should also be noted that conventional-style reels are more efficient at transferring power to the spool as compared to spinning reels. Spinners tend to lose a lot of power when utilizing high ratios, which is one of the reasons most big-game reels are conventional.
For inshore and freshwater anglers, the amount of force it takes to turn the crank is rarely a concern. That’s why most conventional bass reels and low-profile casting reels can be compact designs with small spools and high gear ratios.
However, when an angler is playing tug-of-war with a hefty pelagic, or an over-sized bull redfish has you out-gunned and you find yourself in an extended battle, a lower gear ratio can be a real advantage. Or, maybe we should say a reel advantage.
Bass University: Best Gear Ratios
Fishing variables you can control! Equipment/tackle, line, rods, reels and hooks. Be sure you have what it takes, in terms of equipment, to catch a 6 pound bass. What does the gear ratio do on my reel? Why fish a low gear ratio? Why use a 6.4:1 instead of an 8.1:1 gear ratio fishing reel? Watch the entire video and learn about fishing rod lengths and actions, line types and sizes & hook types and colors..
—story by Lenny Rudow