"Buying a Baitcaster"
By Justin Hoffman
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Evaluate reviews from users before making your
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