What do Ball Bearings Do in Fishing Reels?

What are ball bearings?



All fishing reels are equipped with either ball bearings and/or bushings to provide smooth circular support for a pin or shaft in the reel that provides smooth rotation.

The big difference between the two is that bearings are built with moving parts and the bushings are not. Bushings consist of different materials than the reel and are cast inside the reel frame.

What do ball bearings do in a fishing reel and what is the importance of them? Will more ball bearings provide smoother performances or will the quality of material be the deciding factor?

Ball bearings


What are ball bearings

Fishing reel ball bearings are components in gears, knobs, and spools of many types of spinning and baitcasting reels that require smooth movement and support.

The ball bearings bear the load to allow a device to spin/rotate smoothly. They also serve to prevent most friction that would cause parts to overheat if not allowed to rotate freely. The bearings act as a go-between for metal bushings that may rotate simultaneously to provide smooth rotation avoiding friction to the moving parts.

The downfall of ball bearings is the probability of getting dust and debris inside of them. This is highly likely when saltwater fishing since there are moving parts involved and if the bearing unit is not shielded, that’s a recipe for disaster.


ball bearings

Components of fishing reel bearings

There are four parts to a fishing reel bearing that all work simultaneously into one unit to keep the necessary parts moving freely and smoothly.

Races– are stainless steel rings manufactured into a circular, smooth, hardened finish with a groove on the inside to allow the balls to rest and travel through. There are generally 2 races, an inner race, and an outer race.

Cages– (also known as a retainer or ball separator) are used to keep the balls separated but together in a symmetrical radial spacing, keeping the balls inline. They look like collars welded side-by-side in the equal distance and they are slightly larger than the balls to allow freer movement.

Balls– The balls are made from either from metal, plastic, or ceramic. They are used to keep moving parts in motion and eliminating friction.

Shields– are two walls that hold the balls in place to keep them from falling out. The shield helps keep dirt from getting into the bearings and keeps lubrication where it is needed the most.


Quantity or Quality?

The more the bearings the smoother the performance? Or does it really matter about the quality of the ball bearings that makes the difference?

Some say that the quantity (amount) has everything to do with the smooth action of a reel. The more ball bearings you have, the better.

You can have one fishing reel with 15 ball bearings and another with 6, does that mean the one with the fewer ball bearings won’t perform as well? Not necessarily, if the one with fewer ball bearings has a higher grade materials used, then that one would be the better choice.

The fact is, bearings made with low-grade materials may hinder the performance with the movement of the reel and possibly falter.

The truth is in the quality of the bearings. Typically stainless steel materials are used primarily for ball bearings as they are cheaper to produce.

However, in my research, I found information on ceramic ball bearings. They are lighter, reduce more friction and improved longevity as well. I watched a video of a fellow who replaced his factory set ball bearings with the ceramic and the distance was remarkable.

Although the ceramic is lighter, it did not cast as far as the stock ball bearings. A theory is that the ceramic does not hold their momentum as well because they are much lighter than the stainless steel.

When using high-quality bearings, they will give you longer casting ability, easier reeling, and better performance when battling a big fish.



Shielded v. Unshielded?

When choosing a reel that has either shielded or unshielded ball bearings you will need to take into consideration two things.

One, if the bearings are shielded it will prevent debris from getting inside and slowing down the motion, and allow for lubrication to remain inside where needed. The great thing about this is that there will be no need for maintenance with the bearings.

And two, if the bearings are unshielded, there is more of a chance for debris to enter the ball bearing unit and corrode the parts. To counteract that, you will want to properly rinse with every use with clean water after fishing in saltwater to prevent buildup.



The Takeaway

Ball bearings are now made with anti-corrosive materials to help eliminate damage, but you should still take extra care maintaining the reels regardless.

The ball bearings in a fishing reel serves to allow smoother movement and eliminate most friction.

The quality of the bearings far outweighs the number of bearings, just having many more bearings doesn’t necessarily mean better results.

Keep your reels in tip-top shape by rinsing them off each time you are using them, and especially when fishing in saltwater.


If you have any questions or comments about ball bearings or want to leave your own personal review, leave a comment below.