How Do I Stop My Spinning Reel From Spinning Backwards?

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Written By Russ Egan

Russ is a professional fisherman with over 20 years of experience. He has fished all over the world for more than two decades, primarily for saltwater game fish but also for local trophy fish. Russ comprehensively tests and reviews all his fishing gear to help others achieve their own fishing goals. There is nothing he prefers than heading down to his local tackle store, buying the latest fishing reel, and taking it to the water to test.

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The benefit of spinning reels is that they spin freely, making it easier to cast and reel in your line. However, sometimes they spin too much. If you’re trying to reel a fish in and your reel starts spinning backwards, that’s not ideal and makes it a lot harder to control your reel. 

There are a few reasons why your spinning reel could be spinning backwards: your bail arm, drag, or anti-reverse could be the culprits. The first step in stopping your spinning reel from spinning backwards is to identify what is causing the reel to spin the wrong way. Then, you can troubleshoot most of these problems at home.

Here is your guide to identifying which way your reel is spinning and how to fix it.

penn battle iii spinning reel

Why Is My Reel Spinning Backwards?

When you are reeling a fish in, your reel should spin forwards, bringing the line back onto the reel and hopefully bringing your fish into shore.

The problem arises when the reel is reversing when it shouldn’t, for example when you are trying to reel a fish in, which makes it hard to catch anything. Here are a few reasons your reel could spin backwards out of control.

1. The Bail Arm Is Open

One important component of the spinning reel is the bail arm. Present on spinning reels, including on high-end Shimano reels, the bail arm is a small piece of wire that controls the direction of your reel. When it is open, the reel can spin backwards freely. The bail arm stops your reel from spinning backwards when it is closed.

There are a few reasons your bail arm might not be working properly, including:

  • Human error. Sometimes you just forget to put the bail arm down after casting. This stuff happens! Especially if you’re a beginner it’s tough to coordinate everything you need to remember. If that’s the case, have a chuckle at yourself and put the bail arm down.
  • Internal damage. If you put your bail arm down and your reel is still reversing, the wire might not be doing its job properly anymore. Remove the bail arm and check that the internal parts aren’t corroded or damaged. You can replace just the bail arm instead of the entire reel if you notice damage.

2. The Anti-Reverse Is Turned Off or Broken

Your spinning reel has a few different components that are supposed to stop your reel from spinning in the wrong direction. One is the bail arm, another is the anti-reverse. A spinning reel’s anti-reverse is a switch that prevents your reel from spinning backwards.

Again, human error could be the reason why your reel keeps spinning backwards. Check that your anti-reverse is on. Sometimes, fishermen forget to turn on the anti-reverse after casting their line, leading to embarrassing mistakes. Luckily, this fix is easy enough. Also, ensure that your switch isn’t permanently stuck in the off position.

If your anti-reverse is on but your wheel is still spinning out of control, then the mechanism is damaged. Take your reel apart and locate the clutch assembly. You’ll have to move the clutch bearing so it sits properly. 

Taking apart spinning reels is difficult for beginners because there are so many moving parts. If you are not used to this process, take your reel to a professional to avoid misplacing or breaking any components, permanently damaging your reel.

3. Your Drag Is Not Set Correctly

The final culprit behind a free-spinning reel is your drag. The drag controls the pressure on the line. It’s designed so that your line won’t break if you accidentally snare a much heavy fish. Instead, it will reverse and pull the line out.

However, if your drag is too low, the smallest bite will trigger the reverse mechanism. Adjust the drag to ensure it is appropriate for the size of fish you are hoping to catch.

Your drag mechanism could also be broken. You can fix this mechanism by cleaning the internal gears or repairing the internal parts. Again, this is a task for professionals if you are not very experienced with the interior mechanisms of spinning reels.

Final Thoughts

You don’t want your spinning reel going in reverse when you’re trying to reel a fish in. Sometimes this is due to human error because you didn’t put the bail arm down, turn on anti-reverse, or adjust the drag properly. Other times, one of these systems could be broken.