Fishing with a Baitcaster Rod & Reel

A more complicated complement to conventional spinning reels are the baitcaster reels. Although these reels can be intimidating at first, with careful preparation and a bit of trial and error, you can take your fishing to a new level. Even though the chances of a backlash are high initially, that should not keep you from learning how to use a baitcaster. Practice will help refine your casting with a baitcaster and open new methods and tactics for fishing your favorite spots.

baitcaster reel diagram

Baitcasting tackle excels at throwing heavier lines and heavier lures where conventional spinning tackle would otherwise struggle. Baitcasters offer significantly more control over a cast and distance than spinning tackle. Once mastered, baitcasters are considerably less tiring to throw for extended periods, making them a favorite amongst professional anglers.

When to Use a Baitcaster Reel

The following are the situations where using a baitcaster is ideal.

  • Use a baitcaster when targeting larger fish
  • When you have ample fishing experience
  • Fishing with heavier lines and lures
  • When precision casting is needed
  • When fishing in and around structures or dense vegetation

Baitcaster Pros and Cons

Baitcasting is a popular fishing method used by freshwater and saltwater anglers worldwide. However, there are pros and cons that you should consider before taking up baitcasting.

  • Heavy-duty and durable (yet lightweight)
  • Multiple types of casting
  • Near complete control of casting distance and lure placement
  • Better leverage than spinning tackle
  • Less tiring to use for extended periods
  • More expensive
  • Difficult to Master
  • Line backlashes (bunches up inside the spool)
  • Cannot switch between right and left orientation

The Four Systems of a Baitcaster

All modern baitcasters require the mastery and usage of the below three systems to be successful when using a baitcaster. These systems are the braking system, spool tension system, thumb system, and drag system.

The Braking system

Most modern baitcasters have an adjustable braking system on their reels, typically on the opposite side of the reel itself. This system is designed to limit the rotation of the spool immediately after a cast is made when the most energy is exerted on the spool. This system is your primary preventative system to stop the backlash. The system is designed so that the faster the spool tries to spin, the more force the braking system will use to slow it down until an equilibrium is reached.

Braking systems are typically located on the opposite side of the reel on most modern baitcasters and range in values from 0-10. This range indicates how much the braking system will reduce the spool rotation during a cast, with ten being the highest and 0 being the lowest. These braking systems come in two forms, either centrifugal or magnetic. Neither approach is “better,” but it’s impossible to stop the influence of a magnetic braking system while it is possible to stop a centrifugal braking system.

On most baitcasters, the braking system is the beginning angler’s first line of defense to preventing backlash and learning how to cast. Professional anglers usually adjust this system when changing line sizes or fishing in heavy wind. As your skills improve with your baitcaster, try lowering this value now and again to see how your casting distances improve.

The Spool Tension System

The spool tension system is the small textured knob typically just below the reel on a baitcaster. The spool tension system does precisely what the name suggests; it adjusts the tension on the spool itself. Unlike the braking system which only limits the spools rotation at the start of a cast, the spool tension system remains constant for the entirety of a cast.

Because this system remains constant for an entire cast, this system is the angler’s primary method of refining the spool’s speed when using or switching between baits of different sizes and weights. For example, when flipping a heavy jig, this system can be tightened up, and when throwing lighter crankbaits or jerk baits, the system can be loosened. This system is impossible to adjust during a cast and requires careful refinement based on external conditions before the cast is made.

The Thumb System

The angler’s thumb is often the final defense in preventing the backlash of a baitcaster; however, that does not mean your thumb is required for every cast. If the braking and spool tension systems are set perfectly for the conditions, then you will almost never have to use your thumb for anything other than stopping the spool’s rotation at the end of your cast.

Unbalanced braking or tension systems are common, especially for beginners when using unfamiliar tackle. The thumb is invaluable for moderating the spool’s speed until you get the perfect settings. A gentle feathering of the spool during a cast can prevent backlash and drastically slow down the line speed placing baits with absolute precision. Professional anglers often use their thumb to place baits near structures accurately or when setting the hook. Becoming proficient with your thumb when using a baitcaster is necessary to use the baitcaster reel to its full potential.

The Drag System

Although not crucial for casting, the drag system is the final part of a baitcaster all anglers need to be aware of. The drag system dictates how much pressure can be put onto a fish before the spool is forced to rotate. Typical drag systems on modern baitcasters can range from 20-30 lbs. of drag when tightened all the way but drag this tight is rarely needed. Your drag should be adjusted tight enough that your bait isn’t pulling it out but loose enough to pull out by hand without breaking the line.

Exceptions to setting your drag relatively loose exist, but only under certain circumstances. For example, when fishing heavy structures or vegetation, it is common to use extremely heavy braided lines with a small fluorocarbon leader on a baitcaster. Lines this heavy are used to prevent big fish from wrapping up lines on the underwater structure. Baitcasters, paired with these heavy lines, need robust drag systems to rip the fish out of the structure and out of the water.

The Three Casts of the Baitcaster

casting with a baitcaster rod and reel

Now that you understand the basic systems that control the spool’s rotation, it’s time to start making some casts. There are three different casts that baitcasters can make, the overhand cast, the sidearm cast, and the underhand cast or “flip.”

  1. Overhand Cast

    The overhand cast is the most basic, and every angler should be familiar with it. Use this cast when trying to get maximum distance out of your cast. This cast should not be used when there is overhanging structure nearby or when casting in windy conditions.

  2. Sidearm Cast

    The sidearm cast is one step up in complexity and is performed when throwing in areas that have overhanging trees or other structures a few feet above the water’s surface. Use sidearm casts when throwing into the wind; this will reduce the wind’s drag on your line and let you cast further.

  3. Underhanded Cast

    So far, both casting types above can be used using either baitcasting or spinning tackle. Where the baitcaster truly excels is with underhanded casts or “flip” type casts. Once mastered, these casts are invaluable for getting lures exactly where and how you want. Ideal casting situations are throwing around heavy structure, vegetation or low-lying docks. Pair this casting style with heavier jigs, chatterbaits, and swimbaits that excel when fished out of heavy structure.

    The underhand style is famous due to the overall conservation of movement by the angler and the precision with which you can present baits using it. The shallow angle that the baits are released over the water using this cast drastically reduces the lure’s entry splash as it strikes the water. When dealing with spooky fish, this reduced entry disturbance further increases the bait’s natural look in the water.

For beginners, or when buying new tackle, master the overhand and sidearm casts first. These casts will give you a good feeling of how the reel operates and the speed at which the spool spins. Once you get these casts down, start flipping. See where it takes you!

Steps to Casting with a Baitcaster Reel Overhand/Sidearm

  1. You start by reeling in the line. There should be roughly 6-12 inches of line hanging off the rod’s tip.
  2. Using your main hand, grip the rod and reel so that your thumb is facing up, ready to depress the thumb bar on the reel. The rest of your fingers should be wrapped around the reel’s body or the back of the rod.
  3. Hold the fishing rod at waist level with the reel handle facing up. This increases the mobility of the wrist when casting.
  4. Release the spool by pressing the thumb bar. Remember to keep your thumb rested over the spool, so it does not unwind. You could try resting your thumb at an angle instead of pressing it on the fishing line. You will be able to manage the line better as you cast.
  5. Bending your elbows back and over your shoulders to prepare to cast. You can do it by throwing the rod’s tip over your shoulder. Immediately swing it forward to a 5 o’clock position while keeping it pointed toward the target. Continue holding the spool with your thumb.
  6. When the rod swings forward, slightly lift your thumb from the spool so that the bait allows free movement to pull the line from the reel. Keep feathering the line against the skin of your thumb.
  7. Before the bait hits the water, press the reel spool down using your thumb. If you don’t press down on the reel spool in time, it will overrun and cause a backlash.
  8. You can crank the handle forward to lock in the spool. Practice reeling a few more times, and you’re good to go! A reel that is appropriately lined and tuned, along with plenty of practice, will ensure a great fishing experience.

Steps to Flip a Baitcaster

If you are ready to start flipping, I assume you are well-versed in casting both overhand and sidearm using a baitcaster. To practice the Flip, I highly recommend getting a small bucket or bowl and attempting to land a half-ounce lead weight at increasingly larger distances before trying it on the water.

  1. Use anywhere from 6 inches to 3+ feet of line off the end of your reel, whatever is the most comfortable for the bait and rod being used.
  2. Depress the thumb bar and keep your thumb on the spool.
  3. Place your elbows at your sides and hold the rod entirely horizontal to your body.
  4. Drop or rock your forearms to give your bait some motion toward your feet.
  5. Roll your forearms forward in a bullwhip motion ending in a snap of your wrist holding the rod, and reel in your main hand. This motion should load the rod while keeping the bait low to the water’s surface.
  6. Release your thumb from the thumb bar and raise the rod tip in a smooth motion.
  7. Feather the spool to the proper speed and place your bait in the chosen location.