Baitcasting reels are some of the most simple pieces of equipment an angler can own. They basically are winches. But they come in a wide range of models with all sorts of bells and whistles. And since they were introduced to the European market much later than in Japan or America, many anglers have conflicting opinions about them. So let’s dispel some myths and provide some simple facts for getting the right tool for the jobs.
Questions about ratio are by far the most frequent and are what confuses fishermen the most. We are used to selecting a specific rod for a specific technique. Crankbait rods, swimbait rods, length, power rating and so forth. So, many people are making the same assumption with reels. It’s easy to think we need a special ratio for each technique. For the most part, it’s not the case.
The ratio only indicates how many turn the spool will make for one revolution of the handle. So a 7:1 ratio means for one turn of the handle, the spool will turn 7 times. It doesn’t say how much line will be retrieved, because that would depend on the spool diameter, AND how much line is on the spool. Let’s make the assumption the spool is fully filled for a moment. If the spool diameter is 5 cm, it means for each crank of the handle, the reel will move the lure forward by 35 cm. The same ratio with a reel with a spool diameter of 6cm will bring in 42cm of line.
As alluded to before, if the spool is only half full, the effective diameter of the spool might be only 3.5cm, dropping the lure speed considerably. It’s what’s going to happen if you have a big line on a small spool. After a long cast, the reel is pretty much spooled and the lure speed will be very low while gradually increasing during the retrieve.
In other words, a lot of factors will impact the actual speed regardless of the ratio. It doesn’t mean it should be disregarded entirely. But it’s not very accurate if we compare reels from different brands. But within the same line of baitcasting reels, it’s a good indication. Keep also in mind that if you have a higher ratio doesn’t mean you have more power. In fact, you have less.
Think of it as a gearbox. You have more power in first gear than 3rd gear. So if you fish with lures that pull very hard like big crankbaits or big spinners, get a lower ratio reel like 5:1 (if you can still find one) or 6:1. My advice is to pick a middle-of-the-road ratio such as 6:1 or 7:1 and stick to it for every reel. It will make switching from one combo to another easier.
This is another piece of information manufacturers are giving and yet relay little significance. Essentially you need a reel that somewhat matches the line size you intend to fish with. So far so good! If the capacity is not enough, a long cast can spool the reel, and if the capacity is too high it should mean a heavy reel and a heavy spool. A light line usually means a light lure, and a light lure will not provide enough energy during the cast to get the spool spinning fast enough. It’s a lure that will not reach a reasonable fishing distance.
That’s why it’s important to have a good match for line size and spool size. To do that, look at the manufacturer’s specs, but don’t stop there. Assuming a similar diameter, the volume of line that can fit on a spool will depend on two factors: the depth and width. You can have two spools with identical line capacity: one is narrow and deep and the other is shallower and wide. The latter is better.
Why? A wider spool will conserve a higher diameter after a long cast. As the lure flies away, the spool diameter decreases, implying that to conserve a linear airspeed for the lure, the spool would need to spin faster and faster. Well, it doesn’t! It’s not much of a factor with a super thin line, but the bigger the line the more important it gets. Also if the spool is almost empty, the remaining line will coil, and the retrieve speed will vary greatly as explained before.
So if you intend to use a very light line on your baitcasting reel, under 25/100th, that’s fine, go with a very compact and narrow low profile baitcasting reel. But if you use anything else and particularly line over 37/100th, take a good look at the spool width, that’s very important because it will impact your casting distance greatly.
Twenty years ago, that topic would have been the first one I would have addressed. Because technology was evolving and lower-tier baitcasting reels didn’t have proper casting brakes. It’s not the case anymore, and centrifugal masses coupled to a magnetic braking system are pretty much the norm nowadays. Just make sure it’s easy to tune and take the time to set it perfectly. I can already hear experienced users claim they only need their thumb and open their brakes wide open. That’s a mistake.
A good casting brake system will allow you to get the best performance out of a reel for an effortless long cast and no backlash. For long-distance, use just a touch of tension from the knob under the fighting brake star and back down the magnetic brake until the line “crowns” the spool.
For underhand pitching, release the tension entirely until the spool moves laterally in the reel. Tighten it by a quarter turn and you should be good. Then tune the casting brake to about 75% of full capacity. This time don’t allow crowning so tune accordingly. If you backlash, increase pressure on the casting brake but increase spool tension as the last resort.
Baitcasting reels are an important piece of fishing equipment. Buying the right reel is key to proper performance on the water. The good news is that technology has gone a long way and there are very few bad reels on the market. If you enjoyed reading this post please consider sharing it with your friends!