Bait Casting Reels

Gaining Leverage

As you become a more experienced angler, you learn more about the tackle used to catch the fish we target. Critical to being a good angler is the rod and reel you use. This article is going to talk about one of the most effective and popular categories of fishing tackle out there–baitcasting equipment.

Two Kinds of Casting Reels

Casting reels come in two basic shapes; full body round baitcasting reels and low profile baitcasting reels.

Baitcasting Reels Shimano CorvalusThis Shimano Corvalus is round. It’s a popular, relatively inexpensive, and very effective salt water reel with sealed stainless bearings and a great retrieve ratio.
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Baitcasting Reels Diawa TatulaYou can see the shape difference in this Daiwa Tatula. The reel runs from $149.99 to $199.99, is a low-profile casting reel. It’s popular with serious Largemouth Bass anglers and has retrieve ratios from 6:3:1 to 8:1:1 depending on the model.
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Major Differences Between Spinning Tackle and Casting Tackle

There are a number of major differences between spinning and casting tackle the most important of which are the way the spools work and the position of the reel relative to the rod to which it’s connected.

Stationary vs Rotating Spools

A spinning reel is built to wrap the line around a stationary spool. The spool doesn’t turn, but rather remains stationary while the rotar and bail system, which carries the line, rotates around the spool. The spools on casting reels spin to collect (and release) the line. On a spinning reel, you turn the handle and the rotar and bail wraps the line around the stationary spool. In contrast, when you turn the handle on a baitcasting reel the spool turns. Each handle turn rotates the spool anywhere from 1 time around to 10 times around . This is called the gear ratio.

One of the advantages of casting reels is the gear ratio. The ratio of handle-to spool-turn. A casting reel can wrap ten turns of line around the spool for every turn of the handle. The best and fastest spinning reels at the time we are writing this story is seven-to-one. Ten-to-one compared to seven-to-one means you can retrieve a casting reel much faster than you can an equivalent size and weight spinning reel.

Position of the Reel

The casting reel sits on top of the fishing rod. In other words, when you lift the rod to fight a fish, the line is positioned on top of rather than below the rod, meaning you have a rotating spoon positioned directly on the base of and on top of the rod. The line runs off that rotating spool through the (smaller) guides, and that, combined with the stiffness of the rod itself, gives you a lot more leverage over the fish. Also the line is being pulled along and against the rod, not the eyes of the rod, which is the weakest link (spinning and fly tackle pulls against the eyes). It’s not just the reel that gives you the leverage, it’s the combination of the whole system. Watch serious amateurs or professionals fighting a really strong fish and you’ll see casting tackle at work. Spinning and fly tackle lands huge fish too, but you’re far more likely to lose a battle with those than you are with strong, stiff casting tackle.

Why is Bait Casting Equipment So Popular?

There are a number of reasons why this somewhat difficult to use tackle equipment is so popular. Getting good with a casting rod (which is what we normally call them) is more difficult than learning to use a spinning rod.


Casting rods and reels are more accurate than a spinning rod. Period. End of story. You might think you are the best spinning caster in the world or the best long rodder (fly fisherperson). But inch for inch and foot for foot, an angler efficient with all three will tell you if they want to throw a bait to an exact spot between lily pads or place a topwater lure perfectly alongside a residential dock in the hunt for Snook, a casting rod will win the battle every time.

Best Tackle for Lure Devotees

Lures in general are better handled with casting tackle than with spinning tackle. Even fly rods, designed only for use with flies, will not cast as accurate or far as casting equipment.


The combination of the reel position, the casting eyes and the fact that the spool itself rotates with the line coming directly off the spool and into the center of the rods eye, creating no line friction (freely, depending on your adjustments and personal style) to create a real distance casting machine. Without a doubt, you can throw a lure farther with a baitcasting reel than with anything else. One, there is no line slap against the eyes. Two the leverage has something to do with it, as does the position of the reel. People that need to throw lures a good distance gain an advantage if they learn to use a casting rod efficiently.

Drag Systems

Drag systems are different on casting reels than spinning reels. This difference is another reason for their popularity among serious amateur and professional anglers. Guides will often give clients spinning rods for ease-of-use, but offer casting rods for more experienced clients.

Earlier in this article we said that the spool on a spinning reel remains stationary while turning the handle, while a casting reels spool turns, however, there is a time when a spinning reel’s spool will turn and that is when the drag engages when a fish is ripping line from the reel. How fast the spool turns depends on how tight you set the drag. On a spinning reel, the drag is a mechanism that presses down on the spool, and the spool only turns if it’s turning backwards and line is being pulled off. A casting reel turns in the same direction when casting in free spool or when the drag system is engaged. Casting reels have a star drag that presses in and works through the gears to a small drag surface area.

Baitcasting Reels Tackle TourThere’s a great article about Daiwa drag systems on their new reels on a site called TackleTour.com. We suggest you check it out. It provides a more in-depth discussion on just drag systems.

Anytime a bigger-than-average fish grabs your bait, your drag system controls the amount of pressure it takes in pounds to pull line off your spool. Baitcasting reels drag systems have a max amount of pound pressure based on the strength of the reels’ components. These max drag pressures are all different based on the reel you purchase.

Line Capacity

The last reason why people love these reels so much is how much line they can handle. Granted, you can shop for and buy light-tackle spinning reels capable of handling a lot of line, especially braided line. But ounce for ounce, round baitcasting reels generally have a lot more capacity for fishing line than an equivalent weight spinning reel does.

The Brake System on a Casting Rod

What is a brake system, you ask? Isn’t a brake the same as a drag? No, it is not. The brake is a unique component of a casting reel, and one more thing that makes them differ from a spinning reel or fly reel. A brake controls the speed and ease of how freely the spool will spin or rotate when in free spool mode to cast a lure or bait. If the spool is too tight, meaning the brake is set too tight, you won’t be able to cast the lure. If the spool is too loose, the line will come off faster than the lure flies through the air when casting. It will then pile and tangle up on both the spool and in the eyes of the rod. This is called a backlash, it is the bane of anglers learning to use casting tackle. If it happens once or twice, they might untangle it with patience. When it starts to happen on a regular basis, that new present from your wife will find itself broken in a dumpster somewhere.

Brakes Come to the Rescue

Look at a casting reel. They come in round versions and low-profile versions, but they’re all the same in one important way. On one side is a star-shaped device you can turn to tighten or loosen the drag. On the same side is a knurled knob, which is for the mechanical brake. On the side plate, where the drag and knurled knob is, there is a button or tab. This is the free spool release or the free spool release can be a thumb bar below the spool running from one side plate to the other side plate. Pressing in on the free spool release allows you to cast.

Before you cast a lure you have to adjust the mechanical brake (the knurled knob) to the lure.

Try this:

  1. Turn the mechanical brake/knurled knob so it’s very tight.
  2. Now tie on a fairly heavy, but appropriately weighted lure, on the rod.
  3. Let the lure hang about a foot down from the rod tip as the rod is parallel to the ground.
  4. Press the free spool button or thumb bar to release the lure. It won’t drop to the floor.
  5. Now turn the reel handle to engage the gears again. Now loosen the mechanical brake/knurled knob. Press the free spool button or thumb bar again to release the lure. It should slowly drop down towards the ground. When you get the adjustment perfect, the lure will drop slowly to the floor and not backlash or overrun the line. If it falls too fast you can see the spool override and tangle the line. Untangle it and tighten the knob until you get a slow fall with no backlash or overrunning of line.

That knurled knob is the Brake. Adjusting the brake for different lures lets you cast perfectly every time without back lashing the line. It takes practice, but with time you’ll get more accurate and be able to cast farther with casting reels than with anything else. Soon, with practice, you will be able to just back the mechanical brake all the way off and cast with no back lashes.

More on Casting Reels

Many baitcasting reels come with all of or a combination of these brake systems below. They all can be adjusted to the anglers experience and fishing conditions.

There are three (and a half) types of braking systems for baitcasting reels. Centrifugal , Mechanical, magnetic, and what most experts forget, manual (your thumb). The half comes from reels that offer a combination of the two - the mechanical and the centrifugal.

If you look inside the reel at the spools end, you’ll see the centrifugal brake/balance system. Part of it is a set of two, three, or four centrifugal spokes on the axle of the spool. Dangling on those spokes are balance weights. They come in many types: round, oval or square (made of plastic and other materials).

Magnetic brakes are just that, dials that control the speed or rpms through a magnets polarity as they are drawn closer together.

Bearings are almost always made of stainless steel these days. Make sure the bearings are a type that have anti rust or corrosion resistant qualities if you are going to fish in saltwater. A few and more expensive baitcasting reels have a shielded (or sealed) bearing systems.

The latest baitcasting reels have high tech digital braking systems controlled and programmed by a circuit board. It allows the spool to reach maximum rpms, before engaging the brake. This results in the ultimate casting distance and accuracy without and backlashes or line overrun. These reels start at over $500.00!


The last thing in understanding baitcasting reels is the concept of levelwinds. Levelwinds are mechanisms that sit in front of or over the top of the spool as it turns to retrieve line. The device has a metal, plastic or ceramic guide that controls the line as it comes on and off the spool. Its job is to evenly wind the line on the spool as you retrieve the line. There are two types of levelwinds, engaging and disengaging. Both work excellent and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. The main thing is any levelwind will help you avoid the line piling up on one side of the spool as you fight a big fish or are casting and reeling in your lures.

The primary purpose of the levelwinds is for retrieving. On the release–when you’re casting a lure or on the retrieve they can be engaging or disengaging. The first kind are engaging and move back and forth as the line comes off the spool or retrieved back on the spool. The second kind are called “disengaging”. The levelwind device releases and disengages during the cast and stays in one place during the cast. (it’s connected to the spool release and lets go when the spool release button is pushed) and does not move. When the baitcasting reel handle is turned to retrieve the line, the levelwind now engages back up and evenly winds the line back on to the spool.

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