Are you just getting into baitcasting? Great! You’ve come to the right place! In this article, I’ll guide you through everything from setting up and adjusting your baitcasting reel correctly to giving you tips on how to cast, so you’ll reduce the amount of those nasty birds nests! Still haven’t bought a baitcasting reel? If you are often fishing in saltwater, I recommend having a look at my buyers guide on the best saltwater baitcasting reels
Let’s get going!
Choosing the right baitcasting line
Picking the right line for your is very important for you to have a pleasant time using your baitcasting reel. The wrong line will lead to a lot of frustration, as there is only so much a good casting technique can ‘save’. There are a couple of things you need to learn before knowing what is the right line for you. If you haven’t got a line for your baitcaster yet, or if you’ve followed the guidelines below and still get birds nests, you need to read my in-depth guide on finding the right baitcasting line, where I recommend the best lines you can buy.
Get to know your baitcasting reel
All modern baitcasting reels have three ways of adjusting how fast the line is going to go off the spool, namely the drag, the spool tension and the brake. Knowing how these brakes work and what they are used for is crucial because they are there to prevent backlashes!
The drag decides the amount of force needed to release line off of the spool. When you’ve hooked a fish, the drag will make sure the fish needs to “drag” the line off the spool, tiring the fish and hindering that the line will snap if the fish makes a quick movement. The drag is not active if the spool release is loosened.
The brake is located on the left side of your reel (always on the opposite side of where your reel handle is placed). The purpose of the brake is to slow down your spool when releasing line in the casting situation. When tuned correctly, your brake will keep your spool from spinning at a greater rate than your bait is traveling, minimizing the risk of getting backlashes.
There are two types of brakes: the centrifugal brake and the magnetic brake. Not sure which brake your reel is rocking? Does it have a knob (with numbers) on the opposite side of where your reel handle is located? Then it is probably a magnetic brake. Do you see a small (removable) side panel instead of a knob? Then your reel is probably equipped with a centrifugal brake.
The centrifugal brake utilizes (as the name reveals) centrifugal force to slow down the spinning spool using small pins attached to the side of the spool. To adjust your centrifugal brakes, you must first uncover the pins by removing a side panel located on the opposite side of the reel as your reel handle. Do you see the pins? Good, now the only thing you need to know right now, is that the way you adjust this type of brake is by flicking some of the pins away from the center of the spool. I will go over exactly what setting to use under How to adjust/tune your baitcasting reel further below.
The magnetic brake uses magnets to slow down the spool. The adjustment knob of the magnet brake is almost always equipped with numbers, indicating how much the brake will slow down the spool. The higher the number, the closer to the magnets are to the spool, and the slower the spool will spin in the casting situation.
Further below I will cover exactly how to adjust both braking systems to maximize casting distance and minimize the risk of getting backlashes.
The spool tension
The spool tension is always located right next to the reel handle. It’s a small knob that can be turned clockwise (to tighten) and counterclockwise (to loosen). The purpose of the spool tension is to apply brakes all the way through the cast. The most important job of the spool tension is, however, to stop the spool from spinning as soon your bait hits the water. If your tension release is too loose, the spool will not stop releasing line immediately after your bait hits the water, which will ultimately result in a backlash (also referred to as a birds nest). Mastering the adjustment of the spool tension is a vital skill to acquire when learning how to use a baitcaster. I’ll show you exactly how to do it further below!
Still not sure why a baitcasting reel is equipped with both a brake and a spool tension?
This is why: the brake is for preventing the spool from ‘overspinning’ at the start of the cast, whereas the spool tension is there to prevent the spool from spinning at the end of the cast (=the moment your bait hits the water). They both serve a specific purpose, namely to ultimately prevent the dreaded backlashes from happening in the beginning, during, and after your cast.
All three braking mechanisms are there to keep the use of your thumb to a minimum. You will however still need to use your thumb regularly. For example, if the wind direction suddenly changes so you’re facing the wind, you then need to manually adjust the speed of the spinning reel, according to the slower travel speed of your bait.
How to adjust/tune your baitcasting reel
Adjusting the drag
…is extremely simple. You simply turn it clockwise (tightening) so that you are able to pull line off the spool without it being too loose for a proper hookset.You often need to readjust the drag during a fight as soon as you get a feel of the size and strength of the fish.
Adjusting the spool tension
- Apply the bait that you want to use. If you are just starting out as a baitcaster, I would recommend using heavier bait.
- Turn the spool tension knob clockwise until it’s tight.
- Hold your rod so that is parallel to the ground.
- Unlock the spool release (using the thumb bar). Now your bait shouldn’t drop because the spool tension knob is turned to maximum friction.
- Slowly turn the spool tension knob counterclockwise until the bait slowly drops to the floor. Look closely at the reel when the bait hits the floor. Does the spool keep spinning for a little while? If it does, then you need to tighten the spool tension slightly and try again.
Congratulations! Your spool tension is now set. Now, remember, the spool tensions needs adjusting as soon as you change bait with a different weight. Step 1-5 is a method you will be using a lot as a baitcaster, especially if you like to switch baits often! Bear in mind, that the above-mentioned setting, where the bait is slowly dropping towards the surface is a beginners setting. As you get more experienced, you will want to gradually loosen up the tension spool, which will enable you to do longer distance casts.
Adjusting the brake
If you are using the centrifugal brakes.
- Uncover the pins by removing the side plate on the left side of your reel
- Move four of the six pins in the outermost positions (= away from the center of the spool). NOTE: it’s very important that whenever you move pins, you always move them in a symmetrical pattern, so the weight is evenly balanced.
- Put the side plate back on
If you are using the magnetic brake, it’s a bit more straightforward than with the centrifugal brake. Simply set the adjustment knob to half way (usually 5).
Now it is time check if the brake settings suit you! You will only know this after making some casts, so now it’s time to go fishing! If you’re far away from the nearest water but still want to practice, you could try to find an open field (this is often a good idea when practicing, because it is easier to focus on technique and best practice when there are no chance of catching fish).
Place your thumb on the spool and unlock the spool release using the thumb bar. Make a cast and be ready to slam your thumb down on the spool if you sense that the spool is spinning too fast.
Not sure how to make a proper cast with a baitcasting reel? No worries, I’ve covered the proper baitcasting technique in the section below.
Mastering the cast
Practice time! Time to get some casts under your belt!
I could write a long essay trying to illustrate the best way to make a cast with a baitcaster, but why should I, when there are so many great videos out there, showing exactly the best way to do it? I recommend watching the following video of Mike Webb explaining how to perform a proper cast with a baitcaster. Remember to watch the video again right before heading out to practice!
Now that you know the basics of the cast, I’ll contribute with some additional tips:
- Make a lot of casts so you start getting used to the way the reel behaves throughout the cast. Casting is primarily about muscle memory, so a big volume of casts will get you far in terms of avoiding backlashes.
- When you are confident at making casts with the above-mentioned settings without constant backlashes, you are ready to loosen the spool tension a tiny bit. Go through the above-mentioned steps of adjusting the spool tension. Only this time you let your bait fall a little faster to the ground, still making sure the reel stops spinning immediately after the bait hits the ground. As you gradually get more experienced, you can start loosening your brakes as well, enabling even longer casts.
- Minimize the size of your bird’s nest with this simple tip.