Fishing Reel Gear Ratio Explained

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When anglers first get into fishing, numbers like gear ratio and IPT can be extremely confusing. Many anglers aren’t quite aware of the importance of these numbers, so they either ignore them and can lose out on some advantages on the water. 

When you learn the right gear ratio to choose for your reel, you’ll be able to better retrieve your bait in a more realistic way. 

In this article, I will cover: 

  • What is Gear Ratio?
  • Why is Gear Ratio Important?
  • Types of Gear Ratios 
  • How do I select the right gear ratio for me?
  • Gear Ratio FAQs

What is Gear Ratio? 

Reel parts and gears
The parts of a fishing reel, here you can clearly see the large and small gears which determine the ratio

Determining gear ratio isn’t overly complicated. When you’re purchasing a spinning or baitcasting reel, you’ll see a number that reads something like 7:4:1. This means that if you fully spin the handle of the reel one full revolution turns the spool 7.4 times. 

Why does Gear Ratio matter?

Gear ratio matters because different gear ratios help with the presentation of your bait. For example, if you have a higher ratio, your bait is going to be retrieved at a fast rate. If you’re hoping to skip baits across the top of the water or fish more moving baits, a higher ratio is great for you. The opposite is also true! So, depending on what type of fishing you’re doing and the type of retrieve the fish want, it’ll weigh into the gear ratio that you choose. 

Types of Gear Ratios

There are essentially three different categories you can break gear ratio into low, medium, and high. These numbers and categories entirely depend on how many spool rotations happen when you fully turn the reel handle. 

Gear Ratio Chart

Fishing StyleFor What AnglerGear RatioSpeedPower
Close range, Heavy Lures and spinnerbaitsBoat and deep water anglersBelow 5.4.1LowMedium - Good
Allround, Float, shallow fishingGreat for beginnersBetween 5.4.1 to 6.4.1MediumMedium
Open water, long casting, JigsCarp anglersAbove 6.4.1HighLow - Medium

Inches-Per-Turn (IPT)

Inches per turn is the amount of retrieval of your line in one single turn of the reel handle. Whilst the gear ratio is one factor of the amount of line retrieved, the spool size will impact the IPT. 

Each spool on a fishing reel can come in different diameters, depending on the reel type and manufacturer.  The bigger the spool diameter means the higher IPT. A smaller spool will have a lower IPT. Basically, as you reel in, and the line on your spool fills up, you are in effect retrieving slightly more line per turn.

Low Gear Ratio

A low gear ratio is one that is 5:4:1 and below! These are low-speed and generally have a nice amount of power. The lower gear means that you’re able to put more pressure on the fish and give it more of a fight. Lower gears don’t force you to use as much energy while you’re fighting the fish. 

A low gear ratio line is a great option if you use a lure that creates quite a bit of drag. The lower gears aren’t going to move your lure too fast. If you use spinners or crankbaits, you’ll feel right at home with a low-gear ratio. 

Also, if you fish areas or times of the year when fish are sluggish, then a low gear ratio reel should be one that you consider. 

Middle Gear Ratio

Most anglers would agree that a middle gear ratio reel is somewhere between 5:4:1 And 6:4:1. Obviously, they’re not as slow as low-ratio reels, but not as fast as higher ratio reels. You’ll find that these reels are still great options for any slow-moving bait. You won’t find that it moves too fast when you give it a full rotation! 

If you need versatility, stick with these ratios. They can cast further than low-gear ratio reels, but still retrieve things at a slower pace. These reels are ideal for beginners! They can throw any type of bait in any situation. As you improve on your skills, you can move more towards low or high gear ratios! 

Anglers who spend time targeting bass love middle gear ratios. Plastic worms, Carolina rigs, and crankbaits will thrive with a middle gear ratio. 

High Gear Ratio 

You’ll find that most high gear ratio reels are above 6:4:1. At this point, the highest ratio you’ll see is a baitcaster reel with a 10:1:1. Baitcaster reels generally have a higher ratio than spinning reels! Spinning reels will only get to 7:1:1. You aren’t only limited to fast retrieves with a high gear ratio reel. 

With high gear ratios, you’re more free to let out more slack. Since you get more spool rotations in that high gear ratio, the slack is going to be retrieved faster. It allows you to let the bait work without any interruption from you knowing that you can retrieve the slack and still set the hook if the fish takes the bait. 

Also, high gear ratios are great for deep water. Whether you hook into a fish or not, you’ll be able to retrieve at a much faster pace than you would with middle or low gear ratios. 

How Do I Select the Right Gear Ratio for Me? 

fishing reel spool
The larger the fishing spool the higher the Inch Per Turn (IPT)

Choosing the right option for you heavily depends on the style of fishing that you do. Some anglers choose versatility while others are much more specific in what they like and want to do. 

Most Versatile Option

If you want to know what ratio is best for you, start with some of the more common ratios that anglers choose. The most common option is 6:4:1. This falls in the middle ratio category. It’s versatile and lets you throw any type of bait that you want! Plus, you can retrieve it at both slower and faster rates depending on what you want. If you’re an everyday angler who isn’t trying to be overly specialized or spend quite a bit of money on several different reels, the 6:4:1 option is best. 

Slow Moving Baits

However, if you find yourself fishing for big fish with slow-moving lures like crankbaits and swimbaits, then you’re going to want to choose a low-gear ratio. These aren’t going to move the bait too much. Plus, if the fish don’t move quickly, you’ll find that they are more receptive to the slower-moving bait! The low gear ratios provide a nice amount of torque. They’re going to handle some of the extremely large fish that you find! It won’t be a fast retrieve, but it’ll be powerful. 

When You Need to Cover Water

If you need to move quickly and cover water, then choose a high gear ratio. These are easy to cast and retrieve! You can make your 30 or 40-yard casts and get the bait back to the boat before you know it. Plus, when you get a bite, that hook set is going to be extremely fast and powerful! You’ll have to be careful when you’re reeling in the fish. If you retrieve too quickly, then you’ll likely break the line or lose the fish. 

High gear ratio reels are great for carp fishing when casting 80 yards or more. 

Gear Ratio FAQ 

What is the Best Gear Ratio for Fishing Reels? 

The best gear ratio is what is best for you. Some angles prefer a faster moving reel with a higher ratio. These are going to let you retrieve baits at a fast pace! However, many anglers also choose a medium gear ratio reel somewhere around 6:4:1. These are very versatile! 

What Is The Best Gear Ratio For Beginners?

Beginners are best to use a reel with 5.4.1. to 6.4.1 ratio. These reels are far more forgiving and also allow the beginner to just purchase one reel without having to spend a ton of money on multiple reels.

Many fishing combo sets and starter sets use this type of reel ratio. These reels are also the most common to find on the market. Spares and additional spools are easy to find also.

What is a 6:3:1 Gear Ratio Reel Good For? 

A 6:3:1 gear ratio reel is good for almost any style of fishing you’re doing. These are considered to be the medium gear ratio, so they don’t specialize in anything specific, but they’re easy to use in a lot of situations! 

What is a 7:1:1 Gear Ratio Good For?

A 7:1:1 gear ratio is good for faster moving baits requiring a quicker retrieve. However, they still are versatile and anglers hoping to fish fast or slow can still use them and have success. Again, it depends on what style of fishing you want! 

Is a Higher Gear Ratio Better For Fishing Reels?

A higher gear ratio doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better! It means it has different functions that give you a better chance at fishing one certain way. 

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right gear ratio for you doesn’t have to be intimidating. Once you learn the differences between the types of gear ratios, you’ll quickly determine what will be the most useful for your time on the water. 

Please check out my In-depth review of the Shimano Baitrunner fishing reels here!

Or check out my complete section on freshwater and saltwater reels including centerpin, spinning and rod, and reel combos.

Daniel Mooers