If you want to really increase your fishing performance, there is no better reel than a baitcaster. It offers control, quickness, and precision that no other reel provides. But, they are hard to master.
If you aren’t casting your baitcaster well, you likely have the wrong settings on your reel or are casting incorrectly. In this article, I’ll go over how to set up your baitcaster if you are beginner and the correct motion that will have you throwing in no time. No more backlashes!
What is a backlash?
The most common issue fishermen using baitcasters for the first time run into is backlashes in the spool. This is cause when more line is released from the reel than is needed to cast the bait into the water. This excess line tangles in the reel and causes the backlash.
If this is your issue, don’t worry. Even professional fisherman get a backlash every now and then. For a beginner, we will set up your reel so backlashes are near impossible. It will limit your casting distance, but is a great way to get used to a baitcaster and you can start trying for distance as you become more experienced.
Find the right settings on your baitcaster
First, you need to set your brakes. This is a built-in mechanism each baitcasting reel will have implemented to stop more line coming out each time you cast than is necessary. You know, that pesky thing that creates the backlash we just talked about.
There are two main types of brakes you may find on your baitcast reel – centrifugal or magnetic. Some reels might even have both – you’ll most often see these advertised as “dual braking” reels. The images above are from a bass pro shops pro qualifier baitcaster, which has both centrifugal (left) and magnetic (right).
Both types of brakes are almost always located on the opposite side of the reel from the handle, but you can also find specific information in your manual. When setting brakes, you can choose to use them all if you are cautious, or go with all off if you want maximum distance. This applies to both centrifugal and magnetic brakes. If you have a dual braking reel, you can have them both on simultaneously or off.
If you have a centrifugal braking system on your baitcasting reel only, turn at least half of the brakes on in a pattern so each brake across from each other is on. For example if you have 6 brakes (which is by far the most common), you want to turn on 3 at the 10 o’clock, 2 o’clock, and 6 o’clock positions. This makes it so you have some help but doesn’t totally limit your casting distance. Simply turn the brake “on” or “off” by pushing the small lever up or down. That’s all there is to it.
With centrifrugal brake systems, once your brakes are set, you almost never need to touch them again. Muscle memory will kick in eventually and you don’t want to mess with your body’s memory of how to cast your rod. Yes, if you get amazing at casting you can set them all “off” to get maximum distance. But I personally find the minimal change to not be worth getting used to a completely new setup and re-learn how to cast.
Magnetic systems are much easier than centrifugal to adjust on the fly, so I suggest if you have a dual system that you put two of your brakes from centrifrugal on (this time, only turn two on that are across from each other. Think 12 and 6 o’clock). If you only have magnetic, then you can adjust it as you go. Starting at the higher settings (8 to 10) and then slowly coming down as you get more comfortable. With a dual system, try starting at 5 and allowing the centrifugal brakes to also add their weight to your casting.
Personally, my baitcasting reels are all dual braking systems and I use 2 centrifugal brakes and unless I am casting extremely light lures or have windy conditions – which makes casting more difficult – use a 1 or 2 on the magnetic brake setting. I get good casting distance and only backlash rarely. If you get even better, you can go down to no magnetic brakes. But the peace of mind I have knowing even if I make a bad cast I won’t be backlashing is worth it for me.
How to set the spool tension knob on a baitcaster
There is another device that needs more constant attention than the braking system and this is the spool tension knob. It will need to set the spool tension knob with every new bait you throw. This is an additional mechanism baitcasting reels offer that is more easily accessible than the brakes, and controls the amount of line released from the reel when there is no tension holding it in place.
Again, all spool tension knobs are located in different places so look at your manual to find yours but they are generally found on the side of the reel with the handle. Clockwise will increase tension, counter-clockwise will decrease. The more tension, the less chance for backlashes. The less tension, the further distance. As a beginner – choose a tighter tension.
But how tight should you go? The most common approach is to tie on whichever bait you are going to use first. Then hold the pole up at a 45% angle with the bait hanging freely. Press the release button to let out line. If the bait doesn’t move at all, your tension is too tight. If it hits the floor, it’s too loose. You want it to drop so very slowly until it just barely hits the ground, usually standing upright from the remaining tension. That’s perfect.
This will not give you the greatest casting distance, but will greatly diminish your backlashes. As you become more comfortable with your baitcaster and learn to thumb the line to prevent backlashes, turn the tension down. Eventually you will find your sweet spot of maximum distance with minimal backlashes.
Thumbing the line is an advanced technique that will be discussed in great detail in a future blog post, but know it is essentially pressing your thumb down on the line just before it hits the water. This prevents backlash manually, as your thumb prevents more line from coming out than necessary. Sounds easy right? Try doing it every single time you cast. Not so much. Use the technique described above and you’ll never have to worry about it.
How to cast a baitcaster properly
While the getting the mechanics of the baitcaster right can greatly assist in preventing backlashes, if you cast a baitcaster incorrectly you will still have issues. You can cast with no distance at all, create big splashes that scare fish, or even still cause backlashes.
Most fisherman using a baitcaster have started with spinning reels, where a snapping motion can give great distance. If you do that same motion on a baitcaster, you will have overruns as the immediate force of line will come out too fast and cause knots and backlashes immediately.
Instead, use a more fluid motion like lobbing a ball in the air. Again, distance will come with time. Accuracy and negating backlashes is the name of the game as a beginner with baitcasters.
Also, get used to feeling your thumb on the reel as you cast. This will become extremely important as you become more versed in baitcasting as you can “thumb” the reel to stop overruns and prevent backlashes. You can even stop a bait right in the spot you want with enough practice, putting a bait right in front of a fish’s nose!
Should I use a left handed or right handed baitcaster?
This is a topic many people don’t cover but was huge for me when learning a baitcaster. I used spinning reels exclusively for 15 years (much too long, if you enjoy fishing upgrade to a baitcaster ASAP please). I reel with my left hand, even though I’m right handed. It was ingrained in me.
But when I got a baitcaster I got a right-handed reel due to the Bass Pro Shop’s salesperson recommendation. I couldn’t uncross my brain. I automatically tried to use the wrong hand and could never become comfortable. After a few months, I started using spinning reels solely again.
Thankfully, I found that many right handed fisherman use left-handed baitcasting reels. It felt normal in my hands when I picked it up. I still had to go through the training, but I wasn’t awkwardly fidgeting with the reel each time I had to wind in. After a few weeks, I was comfortable. And I exclusively use left-handed reels to this day.
Granted, many of you may not have this issue. But know there is an alternative if it bothers you like it bothered me. Often left handed reels are available by any major brand manufacturer in a variety of price points and gear ratios. In my opinion, you will lose no functionality by using a left versus right handed reel despite your arm dominance.
Practicing with a baitcaster is key
Hopefully this article will lead you on the right path, but know that becoming comfortable with a baitcaster takes practice. You can go into a yard or public space (keep a safe distance from others) and cast with a dummy weight or hookless bait.
Cast as far as you can. Learn how hard you can cast without backlashes. Try and cast to certain areas, try casting at only half your power, learn how each feels and become comfortable with the reel. This can save you many headaches on the water and time wasted pulling out bird’s nests when you could be catching fish.
Learning a baitcaster is difficult and takes time. But every fisherman who has mastered it will tell you the same thing – it was worth it. They allow for such precision, quick casting, and are the best reel available for a variety of fishing techniques. Use the guidance above as training wheels to get you used to baitcasters and soon you’ll be hitting targets like KVD and laughing at your buddy pulling out yards of line from his backlashes.