Very lightweight. With practice, will cast accurately and far with little to no backlash. Allows for switch to varying sizes and weights of bait with little adjustment needed.
Handle is a bit small, and side of reel plate can rub against caster’s hand. Reel is a bit small for some users.
Long, smooth casting. Well balanced with good spacing between spool and crank. Handles heavy rigs with no problem. Stands up well to salt water.
Can squeal loudly when making a cast under tension. Reel must be oiled before use. Weight is a little high at 8 oz., which can be tiring. Ticking sound and other noises may emerge after several dozen casts.
Smooth action and perfect drag. Works well with different types of line. Casts long and accurately, with a low profile. Feels good in users’ hands.
Reels can develop a grinding noise after several uses. Backlash is an issue for some users.
Easy to set up and maintain. Casts far with any weight, whether using heavy or light lures. Great durability and long-lasting performance.
Feels too plastic and flimsy for some. Some noise when casting. Reel cover can pop open if jarred. Spool can be a bit touchy.
Sturdily built, the carbon matrix drag system is top-rated. Smooth cast and retrieval. Line alarm makes reel great for setting lines, such as when catfishing.
Drag doesn’t always engage tightly enough for heavier lures, and doesn’t work at all for some.
Most new anglers start their journey into fishing using a spinning reel or the even more beginner-friendly spincast reel. But for those ready to get in long casts, fight new and bigger fish, and add more techniques to their fishing repertoire, the baitcasting reel is the way to go.
This reel can seem a little intimidating compared to simpler bail-and-spool spinners, with more casing around the spool and a few extra gizmos built in. Yet with a little research and some practice, you may find such success with a baitcasting reel that you decide to make it the primary reel in your kit.
What should you look for in a baitcasting reel? At BestReviews, we’re here to help you find out exactly that. Let’s wade in and look at key features for baitcasting reels. When you’re ready to buy one, take a look at the chart above, where you’ll see our favorite catches.
All types of fishing reels offer certain advantages. Let’s take a look at the perks of owning a baitcasting reel.
Powerful casting: A baitcasting reel can cast much farther than a regular spinning reel.
Control: Whether you’re casting out or reeling in, you can adjust a baitcasting reel to provide you with greater control. They handle heavier lures well, too.
Accuracy: It’s easy to pinpoint where you want your lure to drop and cast it there.
Technique: Baitcasting reels allow for precision casting techniques like pitching and flipping.
Ergonomic design: Many baitcasting reels are, by design, more comfortable to handle than spinners. They’re easier to cast, so your wrist doesn’t get tired – and you can spend more time fishing.
Heavier line and lures: The open design of most baitcasters, along with their casting method, make it possible to use heavier, longer line. Because of this higher capacity, you can use heavier lures, too – and land bigger, stronger fish.
Of course, baitcasters aren’t the be-all and end-all of reels. They do have disadvantages, the biggest of which is a tendency toward line backlash that creates a line tangle, or “bird’s nest,” at the spool.
Beginners will most likely want to opt for a lightweight baitcaster. There are many options to choose from in this category. Lightweight reels are easier to use and help balance the rod better. If you’re more experienced, however, heavier reels – which usually are the older, classic “round” shape – tend to last longer due to their simpler components and rugged construction. These reels can handle heavier rigs than smaller, lighter reels.
Round baitcasters hold a lot more line, which is desirable for super-long casts. Low-profile baitcasters are part of a newer design that further reduces line twist when casting. They’re also lightweight and easy to handle.
The drag setting is located on the crank between the handle and the reel. You use it to set the amount of resistance on the line. Rotating the drag system backward lessens the drag, allowing a fish to pull more line; rotating the drag forward increases resistance, making it harder for a fish to pull line off the reel.
Located just behind the crank, the spool tension knob fine-tunes the drag resistance setting and is set after the drag adjustment is made. Just as with the drag setting, rotating the spool tension knob forward increases tension, while rotating it backward lessens tension.
Available on some baitcasting rods and located on the reel opposite the crank, the braking system helps prevent backlash and provides more fine-tuned control of how the line spools out. Keep in mind that the higher you set the braking system, the less distance you’ll get in your cast. The tradeoff is better control of the cast and an even lower chance of backlash.
On the side of the baitcasting reel body or on the packaging, you may see a ratio marking such as 7:1, 5:1, or 6:1. This indicates the number of times the reel rotates each time you crank the handle. A 7:1 ratio means that for each single crank rotation, the reel rotates seven times. That high ratio means the line can be reeled in much faster, which is great after a really long cast.
Of course, a lower ratio may be more desirable for certain types of fish. You may have an easier time playing a bigger, feistier fish using a 5:1 reel. A lower ratio can also be easier on the fish, which is important if you’re practicing catch-and-release fishing.
Baitcasters can be purchased with the crank either on the right side or the left side of the rod. For some, this creates a potentially more comfortable reeling and casting experience.
Learning to use the drag setting on your baitcasting reel is important. While it’s true that adding more resistance to the line while under load increases the chance that it might break, you may need to do this depending on the fishing conditions and type of fish you want to catch.
Fine-tuning drag and spool tension is important because it helps reduce your chance of developing a bird’s nest upon casting. Before your first cast, we recommend that you fine-tune these settings on shore. Here’s how.
Set your line and lure in the cast position. The lure should hang about a foot from the tip of the rod when held in a standard fishing posture.
With the reel locked, adjust the drag so that the lure will not easily drop to the ground.
Rotate the spool tension knob all the way forward.
Unlock the reel. Slowly rotate the spool tension knob backward until the lure drops to the ground in a slow, controlled manner.
If the lure just flops straight to the ground, the tension is too loose. You would likely have to deal with a bird’s nest snarl upon casting.
The braking system also helps prevent backlash and provides more fine-tuned control of how the line spools out. Keep in mind that the higher you set the braking system, the less distance you’ll get in your cast.
However, the tradeoff is better control of the cast and an even lower chance of backlash.
Fine-tuning a braking system should have the same goal as adjusting the drag. You want to set the lure so it falls from the tip of the rod to the ground very slowly.
While baitcasting reels generally cost more than spinning reels, there are still plenty of good values to be found at a range of prices.
These start at around $39 – although a few can be found in the $20 to $30 range – and go up to about $79. Both low-profile and round reel designs are available for beginners. Notably, the components in these lower-end reels tend to break down faster than in higher-end baitcasters.
Anglers looking to transition to baitcasters with stronger but lighter components can find quite a few options in the $99 to $200 price range. These incorporate some of the materials found in higher-priced reels, such as composite components incorporated into their aluminum frames, along with performance upgrades like more precise braking and a wider variety of gear ratios.
Pro-grade reels range in price from $200 to $400 or more. Low-profile designs tend to cost more than round designs, with many in the $400 range. These reels feature a variety of build materials including composite, graphite, and aluminum.
Q. How much farther can I cast with a baitcaster than another type of reel?
A. A baitcaster can increase casting distance by as much as 25% compared to a spinning reel. You may not see the difference right away, though, since learning to cast correctly with a baitcaster takes a little practice.
Q. How frequently do bird’s nests occur? Is it easier to stick with a spinning reel instead?
A. Bird’s nests occur most often during casting when the baitcaster reel isn’t tuned correctly (the drag adjustment and spool tension knob aren’t set correctly). Tension on the line is usually too loose, and the line doesn’t spool out smoothly, increasing the risk that it will catch in the reel housing and backlash.
Don’t let this possibility turn you off of baitcasters, though. Spinning reels, spin casters, and trolling reels all have their peccadillos, too, and snarled lines are a common occurrence when there is a tension problem. It’s better to learn how to set the line tension correctly for the reel and fishing conditions you’re using.
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