East Coast vs West Coast Fishing
Why do some anglers prefer spinning reels instead of conventionals?
It’s a question that has caused arguments in tackle shops for decades. Take a glance at any fishing magazine and you will see a definitive style to each coastline of the United States. Few topics are as controversial to local anglers. Those fishing the Atlantic will swear by the efficiency and capabilities of the spinning reel. If you take a glance at a Pacific angler’s quiver, seeing anything but conventionals and low profile baitcasters will be a rarity. Ask them where their spinning rod is, and you will most likely be met with a backhanded comment. So what fuels this ongoing rivalry? Does one outweigh the other in all cases, or is this just pointless banter?
What are some advantages of spinning and conventional reels?
Casting - Due to the nature of the reels and their retrieval methods, casting is perhaps the biggest factor separating the two. Spinning reels do not require the spool to speed up to release line as the bait is casted, such as conventionals. This makes casting the majority of weight classes much more simple. Sure, with a conventional reel, heavy items such as surface irons and poppers seem to fly off the spool without any effort, but the same cannot be said for light baits like a fly lined anchovy. When you attempt casting smaller items with conventionals, you typically cannot get the distance you wish, or are greeted with a lovely bird’s nest. Spinning reels omit much of the headache. Generally, casting lighter objects is much easier, given your rod and reel are sized appropriately.
Ease of Use - Spinning reels are typically your first step into taking fishing seriously. We all remember getting the lesson. Grab the line, flip the bail, cast, flip the bail over, and reel. Let’s compare that to operating the competitor. We are not saying conventionals are rocket science by any means, but the difficulty does increase slightly. The bail is either a small knob or is integrated into the lever drag mechanism (which would also require you to set the drag again after each cast. Casting (as mentioned above) can be a nightmare if you do not have excellent control over the line leaving the spool. Retrieving the line properly often requires you to guide it with your thumb to assure it lays flat along the spool (assuming there is no levelwind). Spinning reels take out much of the headache than can occur. They are simple and the ease of use appeals to many anglers.
Mechanical Advantage - Conventional reels operate in a significantly different form than spinning reels. Instead of bringing the line in, making it do a harsh turn, then wrapping it onto the spool, it is wound horizontally like a winch. This process removes excess steps and stress from the line. Along with line retrieval, you crank the handle of a conventional in a vertical turning motion. This is opposite to the direction of the spool, but on the same functional plane. This helps to maintain power from the crank. Though new spinning reels have implementations to alleviate as much impact as possible, the change in power direction will always play a role. You must turn a spinning reel handle in a vertical motion, then translate the power to a vertical shaft that spins horizontally. This will always give the conventional reel a mechanical advantage.
Drag System and Gearing - Conventional reels have the luxury of space. Yes, theoretically you can oversize a spinning reel and cram in anything you want, but that takes away from its appeal, simplicity, and ergonomics. A conventional reel can have massive gears, multiple speeds, and (most importantly) an enormous drag system without sacrificing much. This is a huge factor in their longevity and ability to stop a big fish without much effort from the angler. On paper, maximum drag numbers may not be too far off for some spinning reels. Yes, in a pinch, reaching 25 lbs of drag from a larger spinning reel shouldn’t be an issue. Where the problems occur is when the pressure needs to be maintained over long runs. Conventional reels have multiple drag disks that are large and made of thick materials. Spinning reels are limited to drag surface area due to their design. When under a heavy load and on a hundred yard run, a conventional reel’s drag is far more likely to hold up and get the fish in without drag or other mechanical failures.
Why do some anglers prefer conventional or spinning reels?
Different Species/Applications - On the West Coast, throwing heavier baits at kelp lines, paddies, or schools of fish is typical. In a pinch, lighter baits can be thrown with a longer rod and smaller conventional reel. On the East Coast, lobbing a baitfish 100’ to subtly stalk a target on a flat essentially requires a spinning reel. Fishing in the inland waters does not call for the durability and power of conventional supplies, and has much more species diversity than the opposition.
Industry Differences - This is perhaps the most defining characteristic in fishing styles and preferences. The West Coast is known for its fleet of sportfishing vessels. Nearly every big fish story from this part of the country takes place on a charter boat. They range in size from 6 packs to 75 anglers. On the East Coast, this is almost nonexistent. Fishing takes place on private boats or smaller charters, where you are much more mobile and able to hunt the fish down once it is hooked. West Coast anglers do not have this luxury. In these conditions, power and efficiency are necessary to assure the fish makes it to the boat.
Culture - Fishing is heavily influenced by social representation. Each state, city, bay, and even landing has its own identity when it comes to fishing concepts and methods. Spinning and conventional reels are perhaps the easiest to influence. Although there are differences and advantages to each, you can get the job done with either. With practice, you can cast weightless bait on a Shimano Torium. You can throw a surface iron on a Daiwa BG. What truly inspires the reel of choice for anglers? Typically, peer pressure and not preference.
In the end, if the fish makes it to the boat, who cares what it was caught with. There is no “better type of reel” in general like some make it out to be. Rods to accompany these reels are now made so well, almost anything is achievable with each. It all boils down to who is fish and what they want to accomplish. With new technology and product releases, we are starting to see a blend in these cultures more every year. If you are one of those that swears by one method and does not give the other a chance, hopefully you find the time to give it a whirl. Ultimately, being able to appreciate and enjoy both styles far outweighs being mentally blinded by just one.