Reel Basics for Baitcast
first reel may have been a Spincaster. The little coffee grinder that mounts above a casting rod and is often sold in low-priced combos. The enclosed reel prevents line snarling and backlash, common to bait casters. But as a result of the size of the spool, they typically suffer from low gear ratios preventing a quick line retrieval necessary for some fast lures like inline spinners, spinner baits, and buzz baits.
A baitcaster on the other hand also referred to as a ‘casting reel,’ is a reel with a rotating spool that sits above a rod with a trigger handle. You’ll see them in the traditional round shape, which typically holds more line and heavier line, making them great for tossing larger baits for larger fish – like pike, muskie, steelhead, and salmon. However, recent advances in low profile designs have taken some of this advantage away.
Low profile reels are the most popular and have a ‘squashed’ look. They were designed to make the reel more comfortable than traditional round designs, and easier to palm the reel, which is a way of holding a baitcaster. You put the side plate in the palm of your hand with the trigger of the rod in between your middle and ring finger and reel with the other hand.
Both round and low profile reels can come in both right- and left-handed models so make sure you get the one you need.
One reason that baitcast reels are a favourite is the design allows you to brake the line mid-flight to more accurately land your bait, allowing almost pinpoint accuracy (with practice) to get close to obstructions that some fish love. It doesn’t cast as far as a spinning reel with light bait, however, it is also less prone to birdnesting and is typically reserved for heavier line and
While the learning curve may be a little steeper than spinning reels, there are presentations and techniques to use heavier weight line (usually 8 lb and higher) that you can employ, which make them indispensable when throwing big jigs or large crankbaits.
Gear ratio is the number of revolutions the spool makes with every turn of the handle and contributes to how fast you can reel in line. The spool in a reel with a gear ratio of 6.6:1 will rotate 6.6 times with every complete rotation of the handle. 6.6:1 is a mid-range gear ratio. The most important reason to select a particular gear ratio is the type of bait or lure you’ll be using. A 7.1:1 is best for a spinnerbait or buzzbait, however, a ratio of 5.4:1 will present a crankbait to your quarry more effectively. You are starting to see why some anglers have a quiver of equipment to make them more successful, more often.
These adjust the speed at which line leaves your reel during a cast by applying drag to the reel. Without a braking system, the resulting backlash – line leaving the reel faster than it can leave the rod – will create a tangled ‘bird’s nest’ of line just in front of your reel. Different types include centrifugal and magnetic, and some reels have both. As long as they are adjusted properly, both work well. If your wallet is too fat to carry, there are even digital braking systems available.
These are either aluminum or graphite; aluminum is more durable and typically less expensive, while graphite is lighter and costs more. There’s always an exception to a rule, and in this case, it’s the forged aluminum frames found in high-end reels.
It’s not quantity; it’s quality - look for words like stainless steel, shielded and sealed. The goal is to keep the elements causing corrosion out.
— Most baitcast reels are sold with an aluminum spool. Like the reel frames, high-end spools are from forged or machined aluminum, whereas cheaper reels are die-cast. Often spools have holes drilled through them to make them lighter, which makes them easier to stop and start spinning.
Part of the reels specs often display the line capacity in length in yards and line weight in oz, i.e. Monofilament capacity - 110/6, which means the reel will hold 110 yards of 6 lb monofilament line. We’ve often included the capacity in braid as braided line has a smaller diameter so you get more line on the reel. Anglers after bass, walleye or panfish don’t need to be concerned with line capacity, even in a low profile reel. However, if northern pike, muskie, steelhead or salmon are on the menu, you’ll need a heavier line, and more line when they start on a long run.
You’ll see the term ‘over-sized’ handle on some reels. The main goal is to increase the leverage (power) of the reel, so they make the most sense when you are after larger fish. Knobs should be easy to ‘find’ without looking down and provide you with good grip when your hands are sweaty or wet. The size and shape are a matter of personal preference, so get what feels good.
Once you have found your reel, take the time to understand all its features, especially those related to adjusting the spool. Rather than ‘read the manual as a last resort,’ read it before you get your reel wet. Aside from helping you get the most from your angling experience, it will also detail the care and maintenance of your reel.
An expensive reel won’t make you a better angler; sometimes a better reel needs a better operator. But practice will make you a better angler so go fishing, a lot.