Baitcasting reels throw lures a greater distance and land them with more accuracy. A baitcaster can handle a heavier line than a spinning reel of a similar size and land the lure more softly in the water.
But you can’t get all these benefits unless you know how to use a baitcaster properly, including setting up, adjusting, and fishing with one. Read on to find out everything anglers need to know about how to use a baitcasting fishing reel.
The round piece in the center of your baitcaster is called the spool. Unlike the spools in spinning reels, baitcaster spools rotate when the handle is turned, pulling the line back onto the spool without relying on a bail bar.
Spools have to be strong enough to withstand pressure. They’re typically constructed out of aluminum or graphite. Controlling the spool is one of the most important parts of casting with a baitcaster.
2. Reel Foot
Reels are held in place by their foot, which is an elongated piece of metal that fits into the reel seat on a baitcasting rod. Just like the spool, the reel seat has to be able to handle lots of pressure from energetic fish.
Some baitcasters sit close to the rod, and others sit slightly above it. The important thing to remember is that they always sit on top.
3. Star Drag
The drag on a baitcaster is usually controlled with a star-shaped knob right next to the handle. This makes it easy to adjust the drag when you have a fish on.
All drag systems consist of a number of washers connected to the main spool. They put pressure on the spool to prevent the line from coming off too quickly. Star drags let you keep the drag locked fully, which is ideal when you’re bottom fishing and want to keep the lure at a certain level in the water column.
4. Braking System
While the drag system is there to keep the line from flying off the spool when there's pressure on the line, the braking system is meant to give the angler control over the line on the initial cast.
Pin, centrifugal, and/or magnetic brakes regulate the speed of the spool's rotation by applying pressure that will also make it harder to cast a long distance. As a result, anglers typically learn to cast a baitcaster with lots of brake pressure and then wean themselves off of it so they can cast lures greater distances.
5. Spool Tension Knob
The spool tension knob also helps regulate the speed of the spool. Higher spool tensions make the reel handle harder to turn. Anglers use the spool tension knob to make slight adjustments that compensate for things like heavier lures and line.
Spool tension kicks in when the momentum from the cast has gone away. So if you want to land your lure like a feather on the water, you need to master the spool tension knob.
6. Line Guide
Line coming off or being wound back onto a baitcaster spool has to do so via the line guide. This small reel piece helps the line spool back onto the reel evenly and avoid small knots that will wreck a cast and might lead to line snaps and other problems.
7. Thumb Bar
Located on the back of the reel, the thumb bar opens up the gears of the baitcaster when it’s pressed down. Bass anglers love this feature because they can let the line fly out on a cast and quickly engage the gears again right before or just as the lure hits the surface of the water.
8. Gear System
Gears located within the reel housing are responsible for turning every crank of the handle into spool motion. One of the main differences between spinning reels and baitcasting reels is that baitcaster spools turn more than once per crank of the handle - the exact number of times is described by a specification called the gear ratio.
Stainless steel is one favorite material for saltwater reel gears. Aluminum, zinc, and brass are also used regularly.
9. Reel Handle
Naturally, anglers want the handle of their baitcasting reel to be comfortable enough to use throughout a long day of fishing. Foam or cork coverings help make this possible. The shape of the handle can also give the angler more winching power over the fish they’re targeting.
Related Article: 7 Best Baitcasting Reels For Saltwater
How To Set Up A Baitcaster Correctly (+ Adjustments)
1. Spool Tension Adjustment
Leave your spool tension knob at a low setting and your line will be unspooling with little to no resistance on the back half of your cast.
Adjust your spool tension by pushing the thumb bar to open the spool and gently pop the tip of your rod up and down. Dial your spool tension up until the lure is descending slowly. When it touches the ground, you should have zero line build-up on your spool.
You need to make this adjustment each time you switch lures to make sure your spool tension matches the weight of your setup.
2. Brake System Adjustment
Lack of brake pressure is the fastest way to get backlash with a baitcaster.
If you have an internal pin brake system, you need to pop the cover off and push in the appropriate amount of pins. Beginners should try all or the majority as they learn to cast. Once you’re able, get down to one or two pins.
Magnetic brake systems are adjusted with a dial on the side of the reel. Unless you’re practicing baitcasting for the first time, you can start with your brakes at about halfway and work your way back, depending on casting conditions and the distance you’re trying to reach.
3. Drag System Adjustment
A good rule of thumb is to test your drag at 20% of the weight of your test - so for a 30lb fishing line, you want to put about 6 pounds of pressure on the line and set your drag accordingly.
Some pro anglers use weights to do this while others pull the line out with one hand until it feels like they’re pulling the right amount of weight - in this example, you would pull that 30lb line off the reel until it feels like you’re pulling about 6 pounds.
Of course, most people won’t be able to tell what 6 pounds feels like accurately. Keep working with this method and see how close it gets you to a drag setting that works, and you'll gain a sense of when there's too much resistance as you pull the line.
4. Holding The Rod & Reel
You want to have your hand right underneath the baitcaster for the most control. If your baitcasting rod has a trigger design, get that trigger between your ring and pinky finger. This will put your thumb right where it needs to be to control the line.
You'll also be able to make sudden drag adjustments as needed and feather the line a bit to get a natural feel for what's happening on the lure.
5. Line Control
Once you know how to adjust a baitcaster setting by setting, one final element remains. You have to know how to use your thumb to get a great cast with no backlash.
If there’s one key to great line control on a baitcaster, it’s your thumb. Applying pressure directly on the spool when you’re casting will prevent the line from overrunning and creating a bird’s nest.
Learn More: How To Spool A Baitcaster Correctly
How To Use A Baitcaster: Simple Steps For Catching Fish
So now you know how to set up a baitcaster reel. But how do you use one to catch fish?
You’ll have to learn how to cast a baitcaster reel to get the most out of it. Here’s a brief description of how to use a baitcaster:
- 1Choose Your Line & Lure
Match these with the average size of your target and the fishing style you’re using.
- 2Select Your Settings
Use the information in this guide for adjusting a baitcasting reel most effectively.
- 3Cast Your Lure
Know where you want that lure to land and then decide whether you’re using a side cast or not. Don’t fling the lure behind you. All you need to do is flick it back and then let it loose when the tip of the rod is between the 12 and 2 o’clock position. Push the thumb bar before you cast and hit it again just as the lure hits the water.
- 4Land The Lure Softly
Splashdown and all the fish will vanish. Thumb the line and land quietly.
- 5Maintain Your Presentation
If you’re using a jerkbait, make sure you rip it at short intervals through the water. Topwater lures need to be slowly reigned in, and bottom fishing requires your lure to stay in the right spot in the water. Whatever kind of lure you’re using, take time to learn how to give it a realistic presentation.
- 6Practice Constantly
You might not be able to get out on the water every day, but try to find some space where you can practice thumbing the line and casting out, so you're ready to catch some fish when you do have time to hit the water.
Bonus - Advanced Tips & Tricks
Setting Up The Magnetic Brake
Weigh your lures and invest in some small weights to really zero in your baitcaster’s magnetic brakes. Of course, they vary from model to model, and it will always depend on your style of fishing, but if you want to have more to rely on than just your own feeling, having weights will help you set your magnetic brakes more confidently.
Pairing your brake settings with the specific lure weight you’re dealing with will boost your casting and give you a softer landing on the water.
Turning The Dial To The Max
If you don’t have the tools to set up your rig and test it until you have the perfect numbers, you can always set your drag and brakes to the max and then dial it back bit by bit until you reach numbers that feel comfortable for you.
Many anglers have learned how to cast on a baitcaster with the settings maxed out. As you get more acclimated to a baitcaster and how it works, you’ll be able to cast with less pressure on the spool without falling victim to overruns and backlashing.
Backlash is the one thing most people fear when they start using a baitcaster. Truth be told, the tangles are usually repairable. But they are a big interruption, and having many in a single day is frustrating.
Whether or not you start with your dials to the max, you should take the time to dial in your brakes properly and learn how much pressure you need to put on the spool with your thumb.
Getting A Good Baitcasting Reel
Maybe your first baitcasting reel can be a small investment. Once you start chasing the really big fish, though, you’re going to want the best possible tools you can find. The best baitcasting reel should be made of durable material and fit in your hand so that you can reach the drag and line in the middle of a fight with a fish.
Related Article: Baitcasting Reels For Beginners Reviewed
Common Baitcaster Questions Answered
What is the knob on the side of a baitcaster?
Baitcasting reels have tension adjustment knobs near the star drag system. They may also have brake systems that are controlled by a knob. The specific baitcasting reel model could have different design features, so you should do some research in the manual or on the manufacturer's website to determine which is the case for your particular reel.
What is a baitcaster rod called?
Although they have some big differences from spinning rods, baitcaster rods don’t really have a special name besides casting rods or baitcasting rods. Don’t let that stop you from naming yours if that’s what you’re into.
Why do bass fishermen like to use baitcasters?
Baitcasting reels are perfectly suited for 30 - 40 pound fishing line, which is perfect for bass fishing. Plus, bass often like to hang out in structure and vegetation, and baitcasters handle stronger braided line very well. Anglers can land lures exactly where they want them and give their lures great presentations during bottom fishing for bass with a baitcaster.
Are baitcasting reels only good for bass?
While baitcasting reels are especially good at catching bass, you can also use them to catch other species such as pike, catfish, salmon, and even some saltwater targets if conditions are right. Baitcasters offer more strength by size than spinning reels, so you can use them to catch bigger bass, catfish, salmon, and pike.
Are baitcasters hard to use?
Don’t let the rumors scare you - baitcasting reels are just as easy to use as any other type once you get used to them. While you do have to learn how to thumb the line for active braking and find out how to adjust a baitcasting reel so that it suits your fishing style and preferences, with enough practice, you'll be hauling in personal bests on your baitcasting reel in no time.
Baitcasters give anglers more control over their line and lure placements than other types of fishing reels. They might have a lot of settings, but it’s nothing you can’t master with a bit of preparation. You should know how to set up a baitcasting reel now. Practice is key to becoming a great baitcasting angler.