Master the Baitcaster

Don’t Let the Reel Win

Capt. Mike Genoun August 17, 2015

Baitcasting reels are some of the most accurate pieces of fishing equipment you can wrap your hands around. Compared to spinning reels, baitcasting outfits feature numerous mechanical advantages that provide complete control for the most precise presentations. With enough practice, you should be able to consistently land a spinnerbait or jig inches from a stump, tight to an overgrown shoreline, or directly between two distant lily pads.

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When casting crankbaits, experienced anglers choose baitcasters with slower gear ratios to help baits track deeper.

Professional anglers are well aware baitcasting outfits provide greater sensitivity, increased cranking power and are generally better suited for presenting a wide variety of artificial lures in numerous venues and conditions. It is for these reasons that every lake lover serious about increasing his or her tally against big bucketmouths must master the bait caster.

…every lake lover serious about increasing his or her tally against big bucketmouths must master the baitcaster.

The biggest fear most people have is the dreaded backlash. I prefer to call it a professional overrun, but really a backlash by any name is still a backlash and if it’s bad enough and you’re not equipped with additional outfits, the tangled bird’s nest can literally plant you on the sidelines. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to shorten the learning curve in your attempt to perfect your casting technique.

First, start with a balanced outfit, something you intend to fish regularly. While high end reels are easier to cast due to aerospace engineering and ultra-tight tolerances, not all of us were born with a silver spoon in our mouth. Something in the $100 range will provide a perfect starter reel. Matched to a 6’6″ to 7’0″ medium action rod, this outfit will do just fine in almost all freshwater venues.

Line also plays a huge role in baitcaster performance, with most seasoned bass busters opting for 17 or 20 lb. monofilament, which is supple and rolls off the spool with ease while still heavy enough to pick out a tangle.

Practice your technique off the water where you can focus on the fundamentals of casting rather than catching bass. There will be plenty of time for that later. Now, tie on a 3/8 or ½ oz. brightly colored jig that’s easy to see and prepare to dial in your reel.

Along with lightweight corrosion-resistant materials, carbon drags and a low profile design, modern baitcasting reels are equipped with a number of performance enhancing attributes, such as an internal brake system and a tension knob usually located under the reel handle.

Although newer technology exists, a centrifugal brake is still common and uses sliding tabs that are forced out while the spool is rotating at a high rate of speed. The tabs apply pressure to a drum to prevent the spool from spinning too fast. As spool speed slows, the tabs have less centrifugal force pushing them against the brake drum and thus, keep the spool spinning at the same speed as the lure is flying—at least that’s the idea.

To set centrifugal brakes you’ll need to access the brake tabs by removing the sideplate. Before doing so, back off on the tension knob. If you don’t, when you close the reel it may bind. As you gain experience, you’ll find that you can effectively cast with less tension than the maximum setting.

In recent years baitcasters have been developed with magnetic braking systems that minimize backlashes much better than centrifugal systems. The latest reel designs have internal magnets that precisely exert the correct amount of tension on the spool during a cast so the line has far less tendency to lose control. Those just getting started should set the reel for a high degree of magnetic tension (refer to the owner’s manual when setting your magnetic brake). Once you feel comfortable you can dial back the setting, which will enable you to cast much greater distances.

While these two brake systems need to be set differently from one another, they share the same function and work in conjunction with the spool tension knob, which is easily adjustable based on the weight of the lure and your casting abilities. For novices, the procedure is simple; set the tension knob so the lure falls slowly and comes to a complete stop without the spool continuing to spin. As your skill level expands, decrease spool tension and increase casting distance.

The next step to successful baitcasting is posture, which includes holding the outfit properly. Most mistakenly assume they should hold the rod so the reel faces upright, but that’s incorrect. After pressing the freespool button, turn the rod sideways so the reel handle is facing up. The reel should remain in this position throughout the entire cast. To prevent backlashes, apply just enough pressure on the spool with your thumb as the lure rockets through the air so the speed of the rotating spool never exceeds the speed of the line peeling off of it. Perfect thumb pressure only comes with practice. There are no easy shortcuts, and you must remember to apply full thumb pressure to stop the spool from spinning the instant the lure makes contact with the water.

Consistency is also crucial, so cast the same way every time until you have mastered the motion. Stand square to your target with both feet spread at shoulder length and visualize where you want the lure to land. Start with relatively short attempts and soon you’ll be casting like a pro.

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