Baitcasters – Setting up and Tips

Neil Slater provides some useful and basic principals in setting up Baitcasters, and provides some tips in using them and the pitfuls to avoid

Ok, so you’ve just shelled out a small fortune for a new baitcasting reel, spooled it up, matched it to a shiny new rod. First thing you do taken it out on the lawn, given it a flick to get it into the next post code and – phhhtt – bird’s nest from hell! This is the point where new comers can give up. They are not easy reels to use if they’re not set up properly, matched to the wrong rod, casting the wrong lures or used in the wrong conditions. Similar principals apply to larger casting reels such as the ABU 7000 which some people can use very well in the surf.

I’m not bait fishing with it. Where does the name come from?

Good question! I’m not dead sure but Americans call some lures “baits” so I’m tipping this is where the name came from. They are predominantly used for casting lures where high accuracy is desired. For example, casting lures at snags. They are not meant for distance but excel at accuracy and control.

Bird’s Nesting

A “bird’s nest”, “over run” or “backlash” is when a large tangle of line is created over the spool after a cast. So what causes a bird’s nest? Basically, the spool starts off spinning madly as the rod flicks the lure out. The lure slows down and stops as it reaches its destination but the spool keeps spinning flat stick.

This results in more line coming off the spool than the lure needs. Reel manufacturers have engineered tiny centrifugal brakes and spool tensioners into the baitcaster to help lessen bird’s nests but ultimately, it is up to the angler to regulate the spool speed by gently placing his or her thumb onto the spool as the lure is cast out.

Other things baitcasters are no good at is casting into the wind. This is a sure-fire way of getting a bird’s nest. They also don’t play well with small or very light lures.

Skilled anglers can cast lighter lures but you must have the right rod and a highly tuned thumb to regulate the spool speed during the cast. I got really good at untangling bird’s nests when I first started using them so they don’t scare me too much.

I still get the odd one when I try to cast too far or forget and flick into the wind but have got it pretty much nailed now. If (when) you do get one, don’t panic and pick at the line and spool gently. Most of them can be untangled in a minute or three.

Reel and Thumb Adjustments

Setting the reel up for the weight of your lure or practice plug is the first step in the elimination of most of the frustration and make the baitcasting outfit as a whole more pleasurable to use. There are two things you can adjust on most baitcasters – the centrifugal brakes which are internal and the spool tension which is and external knob.

The centrifugal brakes apply most of their pressure during the initial stages of the cast when the spool is spinning the fastest while the spool tension adjustment has its greatest affect when the spool is slowing down. Some spool tension controls are simple pressure on the spindle and some use magnets to control spool speed.

Your thumb’s pressure on the spool is absolutely critical when using baitcasters. Just as the lure begins its flight, your thumb’s pressure on the spool should be minimal – just skimming the line as the spool spins.

Gradually add more pressure when the lure enters the last third of its flight so the spool feeds line at the correct rate and clamp down hard enough to stop the spool when the lure stops. Stopping the spool during the flight jerks the lure to a stop and stopping the spool after the lure has landed will guarantee a bird’s nest.

Start off by activating all the centrifugal casting brakes in the baitcaster, turning up the spool tension, using decent sized lure such as a spinnerbait or cod/barra lure or heavier practice plug and avoid casting into the wind while learning. You may find that you cannot cast the lure very far, but you’ll have very little to no backlash.

A good starting point for spool tension is to adjust the knob so when the spool is disengaged (thumb bar is clicked down ready to cast), the lure or practice plug either just holds or it falls slowly under its own weight. As soon as you get the hang of casting with these initial settings, try loosening off your spool tension a bit and/or deactivating one, two or three of the centrifugal brakes inside the baitcaster.

As soon as you adjust these two spool controls, the reel behaves completely differently so expect different effort to cast, distance and spool speed. So, if you back all these off, you’re going to need to apply a bit more spool pressure earlier into the lure’s flight.

So how do I stop these bird’s nests!?!

Practice! Grab a bucket and practice casting at it in the back yard. You need to get a feel of how much pressure you need to apply to the spool with your thumb to slow the spool down as the lure gets near the target and stop it instantly by clamping your thumb on the spool once the lure stops. Easy, right? Not at first but it will be sooner rather than later with practice. You can buy practice casting plugs at most tackle stores. They look like a large bomb sinker and come in different weights for different set ups.

Choosing a Baitcaster

Baitcasters have a lot of moving parts which jacks their price and pops them in the top bracket for maintenance. Most tackle shops selling high quality gear can offer reel servicing or may know someone who does. Regular servicing can help prevent serious breakdowns later on that would cost a lot more. Some are freshwater reels only so if you’re planning on buying one for barra fishing, make sure you ask if it is salt water ready. Cheaper baitcasters still do the job but lack the control and casting distance of the higher end models. Not to mention the quality if internal components.

Consider the weight of your baitcaster. If you’re going to be casting with it all day, then a heavy baitcaster over 300 grams is not a great choice. However, if its primary use is trolling lures, then weight is not an issue.

Some have high speed retrieve and some are quite slow. Try to avoid comparing their retrieval ratios and check the amount of line in one handle revolution to get a real-world comparison. Line capacity also varies a lot. Some have very low capacities to get better distance and others have plenty in reserve. Lower capacity reels could be used to target smaller native fish while something with a larger capacity could be used chasing barramundi that could strip a bit of line off if you connect to a big one!

Matching the Reel with a Rod

The rod plays a big factor in how easy the reel is to use. If you pick something that is too stiff, it will be harder to cast lures – impossible if they are light. You need to pick a rod that will bend when you cast a lure and help catapult it. If the rod is too soft at the tip, you’ll get too much bending and a higher chance at over running the spool. Picking a shorter rod increases accuracy but decreases distance.

I prefer something around 167cm (5‘6”) to 182cm (6 foot) for accuracy purposes. Keeping distances under 20 meters assists when targeting species that are keen to get back in their lair such as cod and jack. Remember that you need to get your lure back 20 meters while the angry fish is only 1 meter from his lair.

If you can afford high quality gear, then most often you’ll have a nice light weight setup you can cast all day without fatigue.

Neil Slater

About Neil Slater

Neil Slater grew up in Geelong Victoria and has fished local waters since he could walk. Neil has fished around the country and is always seeking new waters and eager to help anyone he can.

Neil has worked at CSIRO since 1989 and started writing articles for magazines around 2001. Publications ranged from computers to photography and camping plus co-author of a Land Based Fishing Guide for Corio Bay and the Surf Coast. Neil has shot a couple of weddings and has held the odd fishing club presentation but he has gravitated towards fishing articles and local reports over the last ten years.

Neil has amassed a wide variety of fishing gear spanning a few decades from light fly to 24kg spin tackle. “I’m always worried that if I did pass away, my dear wife would sell my fishing tackle for what I told her I paid for it! (I pinched that quote, but one of my favourites)”.

“I love a good joke, campfire and company. Cheese is good too. I love cheese.”

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