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Ontario Fishing Network
Volume 4,  Issue 8 - Aug  2004


In this issue:

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"Buying a Baitcaster
By  Justin Hoffman

buying a baitcaster

One of the most revolutionary products to hit the fishing scene has to be the baitcasting reel. Different in so many aspects from the spinning reel, anglers were now able to use heavier line and cast bigger lures, all without the associated problems that earlier reels contained. But where do you start in your search for a baitcast reel? The options and components can be bewildering to a novice at heart, but learning the simple characteristics that make a quality reel, will enable you to choose and perfect your baitcasting skills this coming season.

Reel Body
Most baitcasting reels look similar in style and design, however, the material that is used in manufacturing the reel body and components can vary significantly. The two basic materials used for the housing component of a reel are graphite and aluminum.

Graphite reels are lighter in weight and corrosion resistant (great for saltwater applications), yet less strong and durable when compared to aluminum models. Graphite is also great for lightweight applications such as panfish or small trout. For all other styles and types of fishing (especially when chasing strong and powerful fish) nothing can compare to an aluminum constructed reel.

Ball Bearings
All baitcaster's contain ball bearings or bushings hidden inside the body of the reel itself. These provide smoothness and stability during cranking, allowing higher performance and output from the reel. Between the two types, sealed stainless steel ball bearings outperform bushings for smoothness and overall output.

When shopping for a reel, the easiest thing to remember is this: the more ball bearings, the smoother the reel will be. Don't settle for less than two ball bearings when purchasing a reel. This is the minimum in my book for reel performance. Ideally, if your finances will allow it, choose a reel with upwards of four to six bearings for the best results and the most efficiency from you reel.

What's the Best Gear Ratio?
All baitcast reels come with a specified gear ratio. It can either be a low gear ratio (2:1, 3:1) or a high ratio (5:1, 6:1). What these numbers represent is how many times the spool revolves during one complete turn of the reel handle. For example, a reel with the gear ratio of 6:1 will have the spool turn six times during one full rotation of the handle. Obviously, the more times the spool revolves, the higher the retrieve speed will be and the more line you can reel in with the least amount of effort. For applications that require high-speed retrieves - buzzbaits, spinnerbaits etc. - choose a reel with a high-speed ratio. (This is also mandatory for powerful fish that charge the boat, as you will need to quickly reel in slack line!)

A low-speed gear ratio provides a higher cranking power, ideal for trolling, working a worm or jig and bottom bouncing.

The Drag System
One of the most important functions that a baitcasting reel possesses is its drag system. When a fish is pulling on your line, the drag is set to apply tension in order to "fight" or control the fish.

A smooth drag system is paramount for catching and landing fish. When a hooked fish runs with your lure, you want an immediate and fluid discharge of line from your spool. Any hesitation in your drag system will result in a broken line and a lost fish.

When comparing reels, set the drag at various degrees of tightness and proceed to pull on the line. The line should smoothly and freely come out during this exercise. Any undue tightening, hesitation or noises is in my mind a reel that is best left alone.

Anti-Reverse Handles
Virtually all reels out on the market contain an anti-reverse handle, although some of the older or less expensive models will still not have this necessary feature.
Anti-reverse handles simply prevent the reel handle from moving backwards at all, which helps assure a positive hook set in the fish's mouth. When picking up a reel, make sure that there is no play or backward movement in the reel at all. The handle should only turn forward, without any sloppiness or movement other than in a forward motion.

Casting Controls
Many people that shy away from owning a baitcasting reel do so for fear of the "birds nest" or "professional backlash." These occurrences happen when the line continues to come off the spool after the lure has hit the water or come to a halt.
The majority of baitcast reels have advanced magnetic breaking mechanisms that help alleviate or cut down on line snarls and overruns. These magnets can be either internal or external, although all reels come standard with an external casting knob that will control the line tension.

Make sure the reel you are purchasing has a high-quality magnetic breaking device, one that is easy to set and maintain. (If it is internal, make sure you are shown the proper way to adjust and configure the setup to suit your own style of casting and fishing.)

Not matter what type of magnets or casting controls a baitcasting reel contains; no reel on the market is 100% backlash-free. Although these controls will limit the severity of line overrun, learning to cast properly and applying light pressure with your casting thumb will go a long way in achieving fishing satisfaction.

Specialty Reels
Although the general baitcast reel will work for most situations and fishing conditions you encounter, there are some specialty reels that are worth investigating for the functions they provide.

For those that do a lot of "flipping" or "pitching," look for a reel with a flip switch that allows the spool to be disengaged and engaged again without having to turn the reel handle. (This saves time and is more advantageous for this style of fishing.)

Trolling reels also fit a niche as they are larger, stronger and more adapt to the conditions you will face. If you take trolling seriously, look into a trolling baitcaster for increased performance.

There are also "species specific" reels available to the angler that are tailor-made for different types of fish and techniques. Most manufacturers have a line of musky, bass and walleye reels that are designed and tested specifically for that specie and style of fishing.

Tips for Choosing

  • Make sure that the reel fits comfortably in your hand. Your thumb should be able to effortlessly reach and work the casting mechanism.

  • Ensure that the reel is rated for the pound-test line you will be using.

  • Ascertain whether the reel handle will be "non-slip" when out in the field, especially in rainy weather.

  • Make sure that the reel will be easy to lubricate and grease.

  • Evaluate reviews from users before making your purchase.

Baitcasting reels can open up a whole new world when it comes to fishing. Like anything in life, practice will surely make perfect, and I can assure you that your new baitcast reel will become your best friend when out in the boat. Have fun and happy shopping!


Buying a Baitcaster
Keeping Minnows in Fish-Catching Condition
A Fitzwilliam Afternoon
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