Fishing bass with a baitcasting reel

How To Setup A Baitcasting Reel

Baitcasting reels can be a little tricky to use, especially for anglers picking them up for the first time. Ideally, all the engineering mechanisms and marvels work together seamlessly to cast a bait far out, reel it in and then carefully battle a bass when the bite comes.  

But when not tuned correctly, the spool can overrun on the cast and create a backlash, the drag can be too loose and slip on the hookset or the drag can be too tight and cause your line to break. These are all common problem areas, as well as avoidable issues.  

Today, we’re going to talk about how to set a baitcaster so you’ll have less issues and catch more fish.

Braking System on a baitcasting reel

Braking system

Most modern casting reels have two main components that aid in casting a bait: the braking system and the spool tension knob. The braking system is the primary control to regulate how fast or slow your spool rotates on the cast. The more brake you add, the more resistance. Which means you won’t be as likely to backlash your reel, but you also won’t be able to cast very far.  

The tricky part is loosening the brake up enough to allow you to achieve maximum casting distance, and not backlash. This is a process that takes some tweaking for each angler. The best rule of thumb for me personally is to set each reel’s brake to around 40% (4 out 10).  

This is a good starting point for your reel brake. Once the braking system is set to around 40%, we’ll move over to the spool tension knob.

Fishing bass with a bait caster

Spool tension knob

For me, when adjusting a baitcasting reel, the spool tension knob is what controls the fine tuning of the reel’s casting capabilities. This is where you’ll make small adjustments when changing to lighter or heavier lures. You can also add a little more tension here when casting into the wind, in order to prevent backlashes that wouldn’t occur in calm conditions.  

Rolling the knob forward applies more tension to the spool, rolling it backwards takes tension off. And there’s a good rule of thumb here too. Tie whatever bait on that you want to throw. Then reel the bait up until there’s about a foot of line left out between your rod tip and bait. Point the rod tip straight out in front of you with the rod parallel to the ground, holding the bait a few feet off the ground. Press the thumb bar on the reel to release the spool, as if you were going to make a cast. You want the bait to fall slowly and smoothly. 

If the spool spins too quickly, reel your bait back in, tighten the spool tension knob and start again. If your spool doesn’t spin at all, start backing off of the knob slowly, until the bait begins to fall, then stop. Now, you’re ready to make a cast.

Carefully, you can continue to make casts, slowly tightening or loosening the spool tension knob until you get it dialed in perfectly for that particular bait. If you change baits to something heavier or lighter, repeat this process.

Drag System on a Baitcasting Reel

Drag system

Now that your reel is capable of making a fairly long cast without backlashing, you need to get ready for the bite. The drag is what controls the speed at which the spool will rotate once the reel is engaged. Most modern reels have a star shaped drag control on the side of the reel where the handle is. To add more resistance, or drag, rotate this star shaped mechanism forward. To take drag away, rotate it backwards.  

For a good starting point, hold the rod and reel in one hand and take the line just above the reel in the other. You want to be able to pull the line off the reel, but not easily. For lighter pound test fluorocarbon, you’ll want to be able to pull it off with a little less effort. With heavier braid, you can tighten the drag a little tighter.  

The lighter drag setting on lighter line is necessary, since too tight of a drag may break your line. And typically, you’re fishing in open water with lighter line, where the fish can pull a little line off your reel without running the risk of the fish getting around cover that might break your line. But with braided line 40- pounds and up, you’re typically going to be fishing in heavy cover. And since the heavier braid won’t likely break, you want a tighter drag to help you haul the fish out of the thick cover.

In conclusion setting up a baitcasting reel

In conclusion

It can seem like a lot, when you first pickup a baitcaster. But if you can learn to adjust these three basic controls, you can quickly become efficient with a baitcaster and open up a whole other world of baits and techniques, compared to what’s possible with a spinning reel or closed faced reel like a Zebco.  

Start with your braking system, setting it a little below halfway. This will insure your reel doesn’t spin too freely and cause a major problem right off the bat. Then, fine tune your spool tension knob based on whatever particular bait you’re using and the wind conditions of the day. Lastly, make sure your drag is set so that you have some control of the fish, but so that the fish also won’t be able to break your line on the hookset or fight.  

Don’t get discouraged if it takes a little while to get your reel dialed. Once you get a good grip on these basics, you’ll be ready to go!  

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