HuntnFish has spent many years on the water fishing and has caught nearly every species of fish in Washington State.
Why Baitcasting Reels?
I remember the first time I tried to cast a baitcasting reel. I had received no instruction, YouTube didn't exist yet, and I was too stubborn to ask anyone for help. I've always been a bit of a trial-and-error kind of learner. Needless to say, it was a pretty frustrating experience, which involved far more untangling then actual fishing. Fortunately, I eventually got the hang of it, and realized the advantages of fishing with a baitcasting reel.
When it comes to line control and casting accuracy, baitcasting reels are at the top of the game. By allowing you to carefully control the line spool during casts, you are able to drop lures in very tight spaces. Whether you're trying to plop a topwater down in a open patch between lily pads, or skip a jig underneath a dock, a baitcasting reel will give you the absolute best casting control.
In my years working at the fishing shop, there were no shortage of customers returning baitcasting reels to the store, claiming they were defective or broken. I would open the box, see a backlash from hell, and realize it wasn't the reel, just someone who had never learned to properly cast a baitcasting reel. Even the most expensive baitcasters will backlash if not handled properly—so lets start with a little Baitcasting 101.
Advantages of Baitcasting Reels
Casting Accuracy and Control
Baitcasting reels have one main advantage over spinning reels: casting control. When casting a baitcasting reel, your thumb controls the speed of the spool as it accelerates and decelerates, which means that at any point you can slow and stop the spool, as well as your lure. You can do this to some extent with spinning reels, but it's much less intuitive, and takes two hands. This type of casting control is what makes baitcasting reels so popular with bass fishermen, as well as other anglers who target water features that hold fish.
Improved Drag Function
Baitcasting reels have far better drag control than spinning reels. With spinning reels, the line must make a 90 degree turn around your bail as line is pulled against the drag. The line contact against the bail adds a considerable amount of friction, which can result in the drag sticking. Often with spinning reels, line will be pulled against the drag in spurts– stick, slip, stick, slip.
With baitcasting reels, the line is pulled directly (tangentially) off the spool, meaning no added friction. The fish will be pulling the true drag pressure, without the affects of any added friction. This results is much smoother drag start up, and much more consistent drag pressure. When fishing in situations where drag control against the fish is crucial during the fight, a baitcasting reel is the way to go.
Less Line Twist
Baitcasting reels typically have less of an issue with line twist, as compared to spinning reels. I'm not saying it can't happen, but it's certainly a reduced concern.
Baitcasting Reels or Spinning Reels
Disadvantages of Baitcasting Reels
The primary disadvantage of baitcasting reels is the possibility for "backlash." Backlash is a particularly heinous type of tangle which can take a remarkably long time to straighten out. As noted earlier, when casting with a baitcasting reel, it is your thumb which controls the acceleration and deceleration of the spool. As you cast, the spool starts rotating very quickly. If the lure stops, your line stops, and if your spool keeps spinning, it will throw dozens of loops of line off your reel.
Backlash can also occur if you apply tension to a fishing line, for instance while trying to pull a lure off a snag, and subsequently click the free-spool. The line tension can slingshot your spool into motion before your thumb has a chance to react.
There are a number of ways to prevent backlash during casting, and the best baitcasting reels provide a number of features and technologies which further reduce the chances of backlash, but the only true way to prevent backlash is practice.
Due to the possibility for backlash, and the skill required to correctly cast a baitcasting reel, there is a bit of a learning curve while fishing with baitcasting reels. Even with some basic instruction, if you hand your buddy a baitcasting reel and set him loose for the first time, he'll probably score a couple epic tangles in the first five minutes.
How to Tune a Baitcasting Reel
Backlash is an awful thing. Here's how to avoid it and start casting like a tournament angler in no time.
Adjust Your Free Spool
The free-spool control knob is usually a small sliver knob located near the cranking handle of the baitcasting reel. This control knob adjusts the fiction applied to the spool when the reel is clicked into free-spool. Think of it like the free-spool drag. Tighten this down all the way, and not even the heaviest of lures is able to turn the spool even when in free-spool. Loosen it all the way, and all but the most seasoned fishermen will be unable to prevent a backlash.
The idea is to adjust the free-spool control to give you the best combination of casting distance and spool control. Too tight and you can't cast (or even worse snap your line), too loose and you'll get a tangle. Begin by tying on your chosen lure, holding the hod out parallel to the water, and clicking the reel to free-spool. If the lure drops very quickly, tighten the free-spool slightly. If the lure doesn't move, loosen the free-spool control. A good place to start is if the lure drops roughly a foot a second, or maybe a bit faster.
As you become more proficient at casting with your baitcasting reel, you can loosen the free-spool, which will allow longer casting distance.
Adjusting Centrifugal Casting Brakes
Many baitcasting reels have centrifugal casting brakes. By snapping these into different positions on the spool, weight is shifted closer or further from the center axis of the spool. If weight is shifted towards the center of the spool axis, the spool will accelerate fast, meaning longer casts, but less backlash forgiveness. Adjust the brakes away from the spool axis and the spool will accelerate more slowly during casts. This will result in more forgiving casts at the cost of shorter casting distance.
The casting brakes can typically be accessed by removing the side plate of the reel, opposite the cranking handle.
If you're just getting started with a baitcasting reel, snap all the brakes to their outermost position. As you gain confidence in your casting, snap them closer to the center.
Typically spools will have six radially spaced casting brakes in a circle. When adjusting the brakes, make sure the each set of opposite brakes is adjusted to the same position. If opposite brakes are set to different positions, the spool can wobbles slightly when cast.
If you'll feeling really bold, you can just remove the casting brakes entirely.
How to Cast a Baitcasting Reel
Once you have your reel tuned for a particular lure, you're all set to start casting. Typically, baitcasting reels do not cast well with very light lures. I know some people who can pitch 1/16th-oz lures with no problem on a baitcaster, but generally you're going to want a little more weight on the line, at least 1/4 oz if you're getting started.
- Hold the line spool firmly with the thumb of your primary casting hand (the one holding the reel).
- Click the free-spool button with that same thumb, while being careful not to release pressure from the spool.
- Begin your cast, releasing your thumb slightly from the spool at the point you want to release the lure.
- In the split second as the lure begins to fly and your spool is accelerating, apply a tiny bit of pressure to the spool. It is possible to backlash at the start of a cast.
- During the middle of your cast, very little or no pressure need be applied to the spool. Just let it spin.
- Just before the lure hits the water, use your thumb to slow the spool. You want the spool to stop before the lure stops itself. If the spool keeps spinning after your lure stops, you're going to get a tangle.
Learning to cast with a baitcasting reel is a little intimidating at first, and can become frustrating after a few tangles, but will become easy in a few hours of practice, and very intuitive shortly thereafter.
Best Baitcasting Reels for Every Budget
While there are many advantages to higher-end baitcasting reels, if you follow the proper tuning and casting steps, even a quality entry-level reel will provide tangle-free casting control and performance. Here are my top recommended baitcasters at each price point.
Best Baitcasting Reel Under $50— Abu Garcia Black Max
Abu Garcia Black Max
For a baitcasting reel under $50, the Abu Garcia Black Max blows away the competition. If you're looking for a first baitcasting reel but don't want to spend too much money, the Black Max is the best place to start.
Trying to learn to cast a cheap baitcasting reel will not only be frustrating, you'll likely also develop bad habits which will effect your casting moving forward. The Black Max is sturdy and reliable, will provide a solid learning experience, and is more than ready to handle some big fish. Its the perfect first baitcasting reel.
A solid drag stack, lightweight graphite frame and sideplate, and quick to adjust MagTrax magnetic casting brakes round this out as the clear winner for baitcasting reels under $50.
Best Entry Level Baitcaster
Best Baitcasting Reel Under $100— Abu Garcia Revo S
Abu Garcia Revo S
Once you're ready for an upgrade, or just looking to spend a little extra money on your first reel, stick with Abu Garcia and move up to the Revo S. The Revo series by Abu Garcia features an expansive selection of baitcasting reels, and represents one of the strongest and most regarded model names in the baitcaster market. The Revo S retails for just under $100, although you might be able to pick one up for cheaper, and is the most affordable entry point into the Revo line.
At the fishing shop, the Revo line accounted for about 60% of our low-profile baitcasting reel sales, and the Revo S was a good portion of that. With 7 + 1 stainless bearings, carbon fiber drag stack, adjustable spring-loaded centrifugal casting brakes, and a corrosion-resistant saltwater-ready alloy frame, this reel is an amazing value.
You won't find a better baitcasting reel for under $100, unless you can find the next model up on sale: the Revo SX, which features a higher bearing count and improved casting brake system.
The Revo S is hands down the best value on the baitcaster market.
Best Bang for the Buck
Best All-Around Baitcasting Reel— Abu Garcia Revo Premier
Abu Garcia Revo Premier
In fishing, it's rare that a company can be so overwhelmingly good at something. When it comes to low-profile baitcasting reels, Abu Garcia has run away with the competition.
The Revo Premier is a gem of a baitcaster. The Premier features 10 + 1 hyper-corrosion resistant coated stainless steel bearings, carbon fiber side plates and handle for impressive weight reduction, and a saltwater-ready corrosion resistant frame, all coming it at a "must feel to believe" 6oz.
You can spend more on a baitcasting reel, but I don't know why you would.