What’s trending in reel ratios

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Trey Epich showing off one of Shimano's newest high-speed reels.

In my many years of competing, I’ve seen countless changes in the sport … particularly when it comes to the equipment we use. Included in that mix are baitcasting reels — their overall design, form and function.

When I started, round reels were the norm. Then came lower profile reels, like the Lew’s Speed Spool and Shimano Bantam — baitcasters that transformed the sport. Reels with true built-in ergonomics. They were lighter, too.

Soon, other manufacturers followed suit. And, with that movement, further refinements evolved. Like smoother drags, infinite anti-reverse, spool tension control and perhaps the most significant — a much wider range of retrieve ratios.

A need for speed

By today’s standards, the reels I began my career with would be considered slow. Most featured 4.7:1 ratios. That meant for every full turn of the crank handle, the spool would revolve less than five times.

When 6:1 ratios were introduced, it meant less winding with a higher rate of retrieve for moving baits, like spinnerbaits and lipless crankbaits. And we felt that was a blessing.

Nowadays, 6:1 is considered only an average speed. Companies like Shimano have introduced reels that reach an 8.5:1 ratio. Seeing the trend, I asked one of their tech guys for clarification. According to Trey Epich, Shimano’s Product Planning Manager for Rod and Reel Development, the demand for faster reels isn’t going away anytime soon. But he adds that there is still plenty of demand for slower reels, too. 

“Angler awareness for the most suitable gear ratio (as it pertains to technique) has rapidly expanded over the past decade,” he reports. Adding that the amount of web-based content discussing the benefits of different ratios for various applications has made it easy for anglers to research and choose which speed is best for them.

My son Daniel is a sales rep for Shimano in the southeast, and he agrees. “Dealers are keenly aware of the buying trends in their respective markets. The demand for high-speed reels has never been greater, but it varies somewhat from one season to another. Take Lake Guntersville, for example. It’s a 12-month fishery, and it’s really diverse. When deeper patterns are working, anglers want a slower reel, so that they can achieve maximum depth at the correct speed with large-profile crankbaits. When the flipping bite’s on, they want a higher gear ratio for quicker line pickup. It’s all about the technique involved,” he says.