Three Things To Consider When Buying A Baitcasting Reel

While considered “difficult to master” by some anglers, a good baitcasting reel is the perfect tool for many common fresh and saltwater fishing applications.

Baitcasting reels
Baitcasting reels are great choices for kayak anglers.Kal Visuals/Unsplashed

If you’re a serious angler, you should own at least a couple of baitcasting reels. They’re tough, versatile and can give you the ability to perform in situations where a spinning or spincast reel would let you down. They excel at everything from pulling big catfish from deep water to catching largemouth bass from shallow weed beds. To make a good selection, you should consider three important factors—what size reel you need, the preferred gear ratio for your type of fishing and the reel’s braking system.


Abu Garcia Pro Max Low Profile Baitcasting Fishing Reel
This medium-sized baitcasting reel features seven stainless steel ball bearings for smooth operation.Amazon

Baitcasting reels come in many sizes for many different fishing styles. Smaller baitcasting reels are lighter, easier to handle and easier to cast than their larger counterparts. But large reels are usually tougher and better for fighting large fish. One very important factor of reel size is line capacity. A medium-size or large reel will hold more line than a small one, and that can come in handy when trolling or fishing for big fish in deep water. But if your plans only include fishing for bass or crappie in their normal relatively shallow-water haunts, having a reel that holds more line isn’t a necessity.


Roll over image to zoom in KastKing Royale Legend Baitcasting Reels
This baitcasting reel is available in four different gear ratios (speeds), each identifiable by color.Amazon

In discussing gear ratio, we’re actually talking about the speed of the reel. Gear ratio describes the number of times the spool rotates with a single turn of the handle. Consequently, the higher the gear ratio, the faster the reel retrieves line. The average baitcasting reel is around 6.4:1, and that’s a pretty good speed for most applications. If you are in a fishing situation where you need more speed, like quickly retrieving a buzzbait across the top of the water, a faster reel with a ratio of around 7:1 would work better. On the other hand, if you’re fishing a slow lure like a crankbait, or need a reel with more power to hoist a big catfish up from the depths, a reel with a gear ratio around 5.4:1 would better suit your needs for that and similar situations.

Braking System

Daiwa Fuego CT Baitcast Fishing Reels
This baitcasting reel features a Magforce-Z braking system for cast control.Amazon

There’s a big difference in a baitcasting reel “breaking” or “braking.” This is where that “hard-to-master” legend comes into play, and why baitcasting reels aren’t really so hard to master nowadays. The braking system on baitcasting reels adjusts the rotation of the spool during the cast. This means it either lets the spool spin more freely, or governs it to spin less freely. Backlashes or “bird nests” experienced when casting baitcasting reels generally occur because the line is leaving the reel too quickly (most of the time) or too slowly (occasionally). Look for a reel with an easily adjustable braking system for the shallowest learning curve. Once you learn to thumb the spool correctly during the cast, the braking system—though still necessary—will become less important to your fishing success.