Blistering Baitcasters

With so many options on the market, what to look for in a new reel depends on your style of fishing.

FSF Staff April 14, 2011

You can’t argue with the popularity of bass fishing. Without a doubt the most common form of fishing across North America, bass anglers are seriously in a class all their own. And while most big game anglers feel that the world revolves around blue water brawls, the truth of the matter is that the freshwater market has a stronghold on the industry.

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Shimano Calais DC

When it comes to tackle, it’s no secret that bass anglers are high-tech gear junkies. While modern spinning reels have whooped some truly gigantic specimens, most serious freshwater anglers wouldn’t be caught dead with a spinning reel in hand. For serious lunker hunters it’s all about baitcasting reels. Although they can certainly cast a country mile, they can be quite intimidating to first time users. The truth of the matter is that they aren’t that difficult to master and regardless of how good you think you are, you’ll eventually be faced with a devastating backlash. We like to call it a “professional overrun.”

…start with a reel that’s comfortable in your hands. No matter what you decide on purchasing the most important thing is that you get out there and educate your thumb.

Don’t fret—with the advanced features of today’s modern, low-profile baitcasting reels, you’ll have an educated thumb in no time. When it comes to selecting a baitcasting reel you’re probably well aware that numerous options exist in regards to price, construction materials, gear ratio and quality. So what separates a $60 baitcaster from one that retails for over $600?

You’ll find that there are two distinct types of baitcasting reels. Round baitcasters feature large spools and hold a substantial amount of line. Low-profile reels on the other hand hold less line but are more ergonomic and easier to handle. Ultimately, the type of baitcaster reel you use should be determined by the application.

No matter the MSRP, or design, baitcasting reels feature small revolving spools with powerful drags and sophisticated anti-backlash systems. In general, the frames of baitcasting reels are manufactured from aluminum or graphite, and those manufactured from graphite are often more affordable than their aluminum counterparts. Graphite is extremely lightweight, although not as durable as aluminum. Technology oriented manufacturers are well aware of these properties and have started to combine the best of both worlds. Shimano’s Curado E features an aluminum frame for strength and longevity, while also integrating lightweight, graphite sideplates. Taking it to the next level, Daiwa’s Steez features a magnesium frame and sideplate with titanium components. What’s the big deal about magnesium you ask? The end result is one of the lightest baitcasting reels on the market. Steez weighs a remarkable 5.5 oz. with a chunky MSRP of just under $500.

The next aspect you must take into consideration is whether or not the reel is outfitted with ball bearings or bushings. Sure, a super lightweight reel will make continual casting more comfortable, but the bearings/bushings will have a direct impact on how smooth your reel will free spool. Ball bearings are preferred over bushings, and the more ball bearings the better. However, the more bearings a reel contains the more expensive it is to manufacture. The aforementioned Steez, which by many anglers’ standards is currently the cream of the crop, features 11 lightning fast stainless steel bearings. While the more the merrier, most baitcasting reels include anywhere from 2 to 8 ball bearings and suffice for tackling even the largest freshwater opponents.

While smooth casts are essential, you should also consider the retrieve ratio. A baitcasting reel’s gear ratio refers to the amount of revolutions the spool makes with each turn of the handle. With a reel that features a 6:1 gear ratio, each crank on the handle will make the spool turn 6 times. If you’re just getting in the game then there’s no need to break the bank on your first reel. Pick a mid-range retrieve and get used to it before going for broke. Abu Garcia’s Orra SX features a 6.2:1 gear ratio, 5 ball bearings, and retails for a respectable $69.95.

Another factor you must take into consideration is casting control variability. While casting control technology comes in many forms, the truth of the matter is that every reel features some sort of device to adjust the rotation of the spool in relation to the weight of the lure or bait. Most feature a magnetic or centrifugal breaking system and your selection should be based on your particular application. Magnetic brakes initiate during the latter part of your cast in an effort to stop your spool from spinning as your bait or lure hits the water. Centrifugal breaking systems apply pressure more gradually in an effort to keep the spool from letting out more line than your offering is pulling. Centrifugal breaking systems are perfect for flipping and pitching, where your casting distance will vary on every cast. Magnetic breaking systems are best for open water, long distance casting.

Featuring an advanced digital control system, Shimano’s Calais DC has intelligent casting modes for specific scenarios. There’s an Extreme Distance Mode, Long Distance Mode, Accuracy Mode, and Wind Mode, with each sporting 8 different settings for a total of 32 brake settings. If you’ve never fished a baitcaster than these advanced features certainly aren’t for you, but if you’re looking for the ultimate in control and accuracy it just doesn’t get any better.

When it comes time to make a purchasing decision remember that there’s no magical baitcasting reel that will eliminate backlashes while simultaneously adding distance to your cast. The key is to start with a reel that’s comfortable in your hands. No matter what you decide on purchasing the most important thing is that you get out there and educate your thumb.

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