6 spiral winds

Pictured above are 6 different versions of Spiral Wind Reels.


Here is where to begin your understanding of fishing reel types,  functions,  and/or terminology.




AGATE. A variegated stone used in line guides and as “jewels” for oil caps by some tackle companies.



ALUMINUM REEL A bluish-silver malleable metal, noted for its lightness. Expensive in reel use in the 1800s, but commonly used in the 1900s as it became inexpensive.


ANODIZING  An electrochemical process that creates a thick, hard, durable oxide surface on nonferrous metals, especially aluminum. Since the 1920s, it has been used extensively to provide corrosion resistance, durability, and decoration to aluminum reels.


ANTI-BACKLASH DEVICES. Many mechanical devices were patented to reduce the possibility of casting reel backlashes, or

overruns.  Probably the most famous was that of Henry Baumgartel on Feb 5, 1907. This patent was purchased by South Bend and used on their reels from 1910 until the 1950s. There were many “add on” ABL devices patented and marketed up until the 1960s. To avoid patent violations for the device other names like “Lashless” and “Non-backlash, were used to stand for this feature.


ANTI-REVERSE  A mechanical device that prevents the crank of a reel from turning backwards when line is flowing outward from the spool



AUTOMATIC REEL. A reel in which the line is retrieved by a clock type spring unwinding, rather than by the fisherman cranking the handle. The first successful version was patented by Francis A. Loomis of Onondaga, NY in 1880. Over the years most major American reel manufacturers have had an automatic reel in their lineup at some time. This type  of reel has endured controversy and  always had a following. They are still manufactured today.




BACKLASH – A caster’s nightmare where a snarl is caused in the line by a reel’s spool revolving faster than the line passed off it. Many a spool has scratch lines on the flanges where fisherman have picked away at the tangle with whatever was handy. Numerous cast control devices and anti-back-lash features were added through the years, but the irritating event still occurs today.


BAIT CASTING REEL. Usually refers to a multiplying reel that was originally used  to cast bait (in the 1800s) directly from the reel. In the 20th century, as artificial baits were developed, bait casting reel evolution turned toward casting and retrieving artificial lures.


BAKELITE. A phenolic resin widely used in fishing reel side plates and crank knobs. Patent was filed by Leo H. Baekeland in 1907 and patented in 1909. Bakelite replaced hard rubber in most fishing reel construction shortly thereafter. (patented in 1909 after application was filed in 1907)


BALL HANDLE REEL. A type of reel usually manufactured in New York City by various makers. These reels were made in the mid to late 1800s. The crank featured a round ball counterbalance weight that gave these reels their common name. Most examples are constructed of brass, but those of German silver are highly sought after. All ball handle reels are quite collectible.


BAIL (full, half – spinning; ABL – baitcast)


BI-METAL REEL A reel constructed with two visibly pronounced metals usually …….(?)


BIRDCAGE REEL – They may have been called skeleten reels in their early ads, but it didn’t take long for their appearance of these sidemounts to warrant the “birdcage” moniker. The early Billinghurst reels had wire rings for supporting the line which resembled a cage.

Hence, the name became generic for such a reel.



BLUEGRASS REELS. A generic term used for Kentucky reels.  A reel manufacturing company from Louisville Kentucky called themselves the Blue Grass Reel Works.


BRASSING. Brass is metal alloy consisting mostly of copper and zinc. Although copper often comprises about 2/3 of the alloys, varying the copper-to-zinc ratio results in alloys of varying hardness, durability, and malleability. The reel term “brassing” refers to parts of a reels where the chrome or nickel silver coating has been worn away so that the brass beneath it begins to show. Unfortunately, it can also occur with over polishing.



PHOSPHORUS BRONZE.  A metal alloy consisting mostly of bronze (copper and tin) but containing a small amount of phosphorus. It was known for its hardness, elasticity, and general toughness. Many a company ad made sure the buyer knew that various parts of their reel were now made of phospherous bronze.


BUSHING – A metal tube or bearing in which the spindles (journals or spool ends) of the reel revolve. In some models, the worn out bearings could be punched out and new ones installed.




CELLULOID  The trademark used by the Hyatt brothers for their camphor-plasticized cellulose nitrate, collodion. It was used increasingly for reel parts from the 1870s on, as an alternative to ivory and hard rubber (link). Eventually, the term came to be used generically for the plastic, regardless of the manufacturer.




CLAMP REEL,  A term used to describe a reel with a clamp, rather than a conventional foot (link), to attach the reel to a rod. Such reels were used extensively by British makers during the early- to mid-19th century, but were also used by some American makers as late as the 1890s.



CLICK A mechanism in a reel, usually consisting of a pivoting pawl (link) and a gear, that acts as an alarm when a fish strikes and pulls out line. It also can provide braking action for conventional reels (link). The range of the pawl’s motion is usually restricted by a spring.







COUNTER BALANCED HANDLE This handle has one grasp instead of the common pair on the crank. On the other end of the crank is a flat counterweight used to keep the handle in balance. The single grasp allows better leverage especially for larger salt water reels.



CRANKSHAFT  A shaft that transmits power from the crank to the spool, either directly or through a gear train. In reels, crankshafts are frequently interrupted by various clutches that provide drag or free the spool.




DIRECT  DRIVE REEL – These are the  true “knucklebusters” The crank and the spool are dirctly engaged. When the crank turns forward, so does the spool. It cranks very effectively against a fighting fish, but if you loose your grip, it will spin backwards rapping the knuckles black and blue.


DRAG  A mechanical device in a reel designed to impede rotation of the spool to resist the strength of a hooked fish. Various types of drags act in concert with rods to enable fishermen to catch larger fish, by providing means of slowing the outgoing line.


DURALUMINUM,  Heddon Fishing Tackle Co. created this word for their famous Heddon Indian Chief No.3 and a No.3AB reels, it was a cast aluminum, a poor blend hard to polish, similar to pewter,  the reels were made by Bronson Reel Co. of Bronson, MI (move to Heddon or Bronson)





EBONITE,  meaning for the color black, re: reel side plates, crank knobs, beauty spacers etc.


END CAP (spool cap, oil cap) These come in pairs to be threaded in place over the ends of the spool journals. Some have small ports for oiling while others may be richly jeweled and beautifully tooled. They may also act as a form of cast control since tightening will slow the spool turn on many reels. Generally, leaving a small amount of play as well as centering the spool will give the reel the best casting ability.





FIBERGLASS,  a resin reinforced with nylon fiber. (What reels had figerglass housing?)



FIXED SPOOL REEL   A fishing reel whose spool does not rotate as the line goes out. The line travels off the spool in a direction parallel to the spool’s rotational axis. Also referred to as “spinning reel.”


FREESPOOL  A mechanism by which the spool of a conventional reel (link) is disconnected from the machinery that turns the spool, in order to allow for uninhibited rotation. The clutches used for this function usually interrupt gear trains or otherwise interrupt the connection between the spool and crank, and they can be actuated manually or automatically.




GERMAN SILVER   A brass-like alloy consisting of copper, zinc, and nickel. (46% copper, 34% zinc, 20% nickel) It is stronger and more durable than plain brass, and it has the advantage of resembling silver when highly polished. It was used in reelmaking from the 1830s on, usually for more expensive models. At least partly because of anti-German sentiment during World War I, the term “nickel silver” came into more frequent use, and it better describes the wide range of nickel-containing alloys used today. It caan tarnish to gray, dark brown, and almost black.


GRASP The knob which the fisherman holds to turn his reel. The term may have been used first by Kentucky reelmakers (link). The grasps rotate on the rods or pins by which they are attached to the reels or cranks (link).


GUN METAL – (88% copper, 10% tin, 2% zinc) – very resistant to corrosion and usually a dark gray color. The name comes from an early use of cnnons which gives some indication of its durability.






INDIANA REEL. Named after the state where it was first manufactured and popularized in the US, the Indiana reel was   conceived with a dual purpose. It would function as both a line dryer (for the silk and linen lines used at the time) and as a casting reel. It served both functions well, and was also employed as a trolling reel. The first Indiana reel patent was granted to C.D.Rider on December 1st, 1908 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The most recent patent found went to A.L. Thomson on April 4th, 1967. The Indiana reel has been found in many shapes and sizes, but the basic design is that of a large diameter, single action reel with radial arms, which is sidemounted on a rod. The line is held within forks at the outer ends of the arms. The wide diameters were believed to enable the user to retrieve line rapidly without the use of multiplying gears, and the narrow spools afforded good thumb control during casting. It has also been affectionately known as a line dryer reel, Star reel, Ferris reel, Snowflake reel and the “Knucklebuster”.  Many, but not all, similar reels were also Indiana products.

Contributed by Jim Schottenham and Steve Vernon


IVOROID  Laminated sheets of celluloid which, when cut, have an ivory-like grain on the cut edge. It was used extensively for reel grasps (link) because, when turned, it resembled the ivory that it supplanted.






KNURLED  Knurling is a manufacturing process using a lathe whereby various patterns are cut or rolled into metal. The knurling is used to privide better finger grips on certain reel parts but more often was used to enhance the appearance of the reel. Stampings and/or engravings were also used in tandem to catch the fisherman’s eye.




LINE GUIDE  A mechanical device, usually part of a level wind (link), that retains the line and carries it back-and-forth to lay the line evenly on the spool during retrieval.   MONEL  A strong nickel-copper alloy that has excellent corrosion resistance. Patented by Ambrose Monell in 1906, it has been used in many saltwater reels.


LEVEL WIND  A mechanical device that facilitates winding the line smoothly and evenly on the spool during retrieval.




MONEL  A strong nickel-copper alloy that has excellent corrosion resistance. Patented by Ambrose Monell in 1906, it has been used in many saltwater reels.


MULTIPLE RETURN CYLINDER  A rod or shaft cut with a helical groove that continues at both ends and reverses direction. A pawl (link) riding in the groove of the rotating cylinder will be carried to one end, then back to the other. The cylinder is a component of most level wind mechanisms (link).



MULTIPLYING REEL  A fishing reel whose spool rotates more rapidly than the crank that turns it, usually through the use of a gear train.




NEW YORK  STYLE REEL   A generic term used to describe a great many relatively heavy reels made with ball-handles (link) or S-handles (link). Many New York City reelmakers are known for making such reels, but they also were produced in other northeastern states.


NICKALUM  An Enterprise Manufactoring Company (Pflueger) trademarked name for a nickel/aluminum alloy used on its reels in the early 1920’s. The substance was developed by Precision Casings of New York. (Move to Enterprise)


NICKEL  SILVER – (60% copper, 20% nickel, 20% zinc) – Often used interchangably with German Silver. Neither cantain silver.


NON-LEVELWIND – A reel designed without a device to wind the spool on uniformly. The retrieving fisherman had his hand on the foregrip of the rod and used his fingers to wind the line back and forth across the spool. (first patent?)









PAWL – The general definition of this term is “a pivoted tongue that is adopted to fall into notches or interdented spaces on another part.” Pawls, usually in combination with a ratchet, or gear, are used for various functions in fishing reels, including clutches (link) for brakes and drags (link), anti-reverse mechanisms (link), and clicks (link). The term also applies to the component of a line guide (link) that rides in the groove of the multiple return cylinder (link) used for most level winds (link). In the context of reels with a level wind, it refers to a piece that is part of the level wind assembly.



PHOSPHORUS BRONZE.  A metal alloy consisting mostly of bronze (copper and tin) but containing a small amount of phosphorus. It was known for its hardness, elasticity, and general toughness. Many a company ad made sure the buyer knew that various parts of their reel were now made of phospherous bronze.



PILLAR – A horizontal crossmember part of a baitcasting reel usually joining the front and rear plates. In some cases the pillars will made be a permanent part of the reel frame or could be joining a inner plate on the front plate side. The pillars may be sculpted or knurled to make them more attractive. Usually there are three, but some particular reels will have fewer, and one pillar may be involved in the level wind function.


PLANETARY GEARS. Pertaining to an epicyclic train of gear wheels. This gear system was used on many fishing reels over the years, but the Malloch Sun & Planet reel was the only successful one. This system has been revisited by ABU in their casting reels in the early 2000s.



PYRALIN The brand name of a nitrocellulose introduced by DuPont in 1915, shortly after it acquired the Arlington Co., which produced the plastic. It was used for grasps (link) in several reels made by Enterprise Mfg. Co. (link), but it was less durable than some other celluloid products.


QUADRUPLE REEL. A multiplying reel with a 4 to 1 gear ratio.




RAISED PILLAR REEL – A reel on which the front and rear plates have matching ear-like appendages extending outward where the pillars are attached. This moves the pillars away from the spool permitting more line to be spooled. This feature is very old, lasting from mid 1800’s into the early 1900’s.


ROTOR, ROTATING, REVOLVING CUP – The cup surrounding the spool of a spinning reel. Generally, a line pick-up bail or finger is mounted on it. It re-spools the line by rotating around it.







SINGLE ACTION – A reel geared so that the spool turns at the same rate as the handle ( as apposed to a multiplier). Although there are some inexpensive single action baitcasting reels, the term usually refers to fly reels.


S-HANDLE  A serpentine reel crank, with grasps (link) at both ends or a grasp at one end and a counterweight at the other.   STAR DRAG  An adjustable friction clutch mounted on the crankshaft (link) of a reel that varies the power transfer between the crank and spool. The clutch is adjusted with a stellate nut, which is the basis for the term.



SKELETON REEL – a single action, raised pillar fly reel with large cut-outs, stamped parts and riveted connections. They may or may not have a click, but they were very inexpensive even in their day.


SPIKE MOUNT REEL– a reel with an attached spike or nail to shove into a plank on a pier,  or a log on a bank,  to let the fish run and hook itself.


SPINNING REEL (open faced) A fixed spool reel with the axis of the spool in line with the axis of the rod. It is hung under the rod, and the line uncoils with the pull of the lure during a cast. Usually, a full or half bail must be opened before the cast, and its job is to close on retrieve and re-thread the line as the spool oscillates in and out.  There are manual line pick-up features that some prefer.  Spinning reels are commonly wound with the left hand, but there are right retrievers or convertable models available. Ironically, the right hand retrieve is called the left hand reel.


SPIN-CASTING REEL- A term attributed first to South Bend Bait Company but now has become a more generic name of a type of fixed spool reel enclosed in a cover.


STAR DRAG – This is a brake situated under the handle designed to prevent, to varying degrees, the pulling out of line when fighting a fish. The adjustment is made with a pronged wheel somewhat similar to a star in shape thus giving it its name.







TENITE,   marbled bakelite mostly found on reels from the 1930’s to around 1950?


TOURNAMENT REEL – A very light, generally free spool reel used in baitcasting tournaments. They are often characerized with narrow spools and oversized cork or balsa arbors. Some even had replacement spools with hair-like line for distance competitions. There are spinning reels designed for tournaments as well.




ULTRALITE REEL This refers to the smallest of spinning reels designed for very light lines and small lures when fishing for panfish.