Reel Ba­sics for Bait­cast

Sport Fishing Gear Guide - - Contents -

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

heav­ier bait.

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.

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