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Hey there my fellow fishers. Those of you familiar with my site will know that I am not a really an avid fan of the old baitcaster and prefer to use spinning reels for my fishing exploits. That said, there are many who do like to use them and will recommend them for beginners. So in order to assist those in this camp I thought it would be helpful to write tips on how to use a baitcaster reel for beginners.
Why don’t I love them? Well to be honest, I just find that I tend to spend more time trying to keep them running smoothly than actually fishing. I will agree however that there are some definite advantages to using them such as casting distance, accuracy and the ability to ‘stop’ a fish in quick time when needed. The thing is I guess is that there is a definite learning curve with these reels so below I will outline some of the things I learned and did within my research in order to make things a little easier in use. Let’s check it all out…
What is a baitcaster?
Just so we are all on the same page, first up I will just quickly outline what we are talking about when it comes to baitcaster reels and what components they include. Baitcaster reels are the upside down models where the reel sits on top of, rather than underneath, the rod. Functionality can vary from the simple beginner models where the cover or closed face keeps all of the essential parts of the reel protected to the more complicated ones where casting speed etc. can be adjusted dependent upon the environment. The base models here can be good for beginners as they simply press down on the thumb button on the back to cast the line.
Baitcasters release their line via the main spool which, once released by the press of a button or lever, rotates at high speed to let the line out. The line runs in a straight line which increases distance and accuracy as it is effectively unwound directly from the spool. This design however is also the main influence as to why many find them difficult to use. As the line is cast, the spool can actually ‘over spin’ meaning it runs faster than the line so when the lure or bait hits the water, the spool is still spinning which causes the line to ‘backlash’ or in simple terms – tangle like you have never seen before… haha.
Baitcaster reels are mostly made from a corrosion-resistant metal, carbon fiber and/or aluminum body with variations of the following:
- Bearings – as with spinning reels, bearings are utilised within the reel for smooth casting and retrieval.
- Rotation – Winding ratios are also evident in baitcaster reels. This is usually set up to 6 or 7:1.
- Drag – The drag of a baitcaster is one of its real advantages over a spinning reel in that they can be set with greater sensitivity and are generally a lot stronger as well. This is why many who chase really big fish (ocean fishing rods use a version of this as well) use a baitcaster over a spinning reel.
- Casing: Again, this is the part of the reel that contains the springs, levers, gear cogs etc. that make much of the stuff above work. As with the spinner, make sure any you purchase have everything included encased for ease of use and maintenance.
Ok, so as above, one of the main issues that many have with baitcaster reels is that they tangle much easier than the other type (for me anyway due to the phenomenon called ‘backlash’.
In ye olden times, the spool was slowed by placing your thumb onto the spool as it wound out and this took some practice. In modern reels however, this is managed via the implementation of brakes. There are a number of variations here including:
- Centrifugal Brakes: During the first part of the cast, the rod sends the weight (lure or sinker) out in a slingshot motion. Centrifugal brakes use gravity to adjust the spool speed to ensure it spins at the same rate as the cast. In this case, the brakes extend from the center of the spool running along a shelf in the centre of the reel to slow if down. These can be adjusted but in most reels, this is not a simple task.
- Magnetic Brakes: Magnetic brakes are another way of controlling spool speed with easier adjustment via a small dial on the side of the unit. As the dial is turned, magnets move closer or further away from the side of the spool – the closer they are, the more they can slow the spool. These work the same as the centrifugal brakes in that they are mainly designed to work during that first ‘whip’ of the cast and release once the spool slows over the casting duration.
- Spool Tension Adjustment: Most baitcaster reels also come with a spool tension adjustment. This is designed for use at the end of the cast when the lure or sinker hits the water (as opposed to centrifugal and magnetic brakes which operate in the first part of the cast). In simple terms, the tension adjustment stops the spool shaft at the same time that the tackle hits the water meaning excess line is not released.
- Ability to cast further and with greater precision
- Generally a higher gear ratio than spinners
- Larger line size and capacity
- Traditionally lighter in weight
- They backlash – A LOT
- Need heavier lures/sinkers to work effectively
- More adjustments required whilst fishing
The other factor here to consider is that as you purchase your first baitcaster reel, you are generally going to be up for new rod as well as they are not interchangeable from spinner to baitcaster reel.
Baitcaster use tips for beginners
Ok, so let’s have a look at some of the things that you can do as a beginner to make you baitcaster fishing as enjoyable as possible…
1. Choose the right reel
The first step in learning to cast a baitcaster is choosing the right reel. And although with fishing reels you definitely get what you pay for, my recommendation is to go for something small with magnetic brakes on the side for ease of adjustment. The biggest problem that most have with a baitcaster is when it is cast so something that is not too big and can be easily adjusted is definitely the way to go here in my opinion.
2. Load the right line
Ok, this next tip is definitely going to get some opinions running as you are generally going to be given the choice of loading mono or braid line onto your reel. For mine, I would suggest that as a beginner you load a good fluorocarbon line onto your spool. Why? because flouro is strong and much easier to untangle than braid. You will probably not be able to load as much line onto it as you would with braid, however it really is much much easier to handle.
Oh, and always load your line within the specifications set by the manufacturer. For example, most will give line specifications along the lines of 10/150, 12/120 etc. This means that for that reel you can load 150 yards of 10lb line or 120yds or 12lb. Braid is generally thinner meaning you will get more and heavier line onto the spool (15/180 for example) however regardless of what you choose – Do not overload the spool unless you love tangles!
3. Use heavier lures or sinkers
In my experience, the lighter the lure or bait you are using, the harder it is to stop the backlash. My thoughts are that it is harder to set the tension to start with (see next tip) however I also found that lighter tackle just makes me whip the rod harder in order to get more distance.
Now I know I have recommended a light reel above, so you don’t want to overload it however until you get a good grasp on you reel, I recommend going as heavy as you can to start with.
4. Set your tension before you cast
As we have discussed earlier, the tension knob on the side assists in reducing backlash by stopping the spool from spinning as the bait/lure hits the water. The trouble with this knob however is that if you turn it too tight and casting distance will be severely reduced. Too loose and we are back to backlash city. Here is a simple step to setting you tension on a baitcaster:
- Attach your lure or sinker (weight) to the line and wind it in until it hangs a couple of inches from the end of the rod.
- Turn the tension knob on tight and then press the cast release button at the back. If the tension knob is tight enough then the weight should not move.
- Turn the tension knob until the weight starts to fall ‘freely’ to the ground.
- Once the weight hits the ground, check the reel for any ‘loose’ line.
- If there is, rewind the line, tighten the knob slightly and then repeat until the spool stops as soon as the weight hits the ground and the line on the spool remains tight.
5. The Thumb
Now comes the intangible part, using your thumb. Experienced baitcaster users refer to this as the ‘Educated Thumb’ and in short it is the process of using your thumb on the spool to slow it a little as the lure passes its high cast point (that second before it starts to fall on the cast).
This is a learned practice so my advice is to start casting and adjust the side magnetic brake settings until casting feels smooth and uninhibited. This may take some time (and a few untangles) but this should be reduced if you have your tension set properly as above. As you do this more and more, you will start to get a feel for the reel and the weight you are using and then can start to use your thumb to slow the weight if you feel the spool starting to over spin.
My advice here – as you get used to your reel, concentrate more on casting and less on catching fish and in time, using it will become and enjoyable experience rather than a frustrating one!
6. Things change
My last tip here is that when it comes to fishing, things change. As above, casting with a baitcaster centres around the spool and using brakes etc. to stop it over spinning. It goes without saying then that as you change lures or bait sizes, the weights on the spool will change. This just means that you will need to readjust brake and tension settings as required.
Don’t stress though as to be honest, this is what makes fishing fun. You always have to adjust your baits, lures, weights and even gear depending on where you are and what you are chasing. Using a baitcaster is just another part of it all!!
And there you have it, my tips on how to use a baitcaster reel for beginners. They take a bit of time to get used to, but many use them very effectively for many fish species – even for those new to fishing.
What’s your take, lets see if you can get some debate going below…