Overcoming the Fear of Using Baitcasting Reels

Get tips on how to choose the right model, how to cast without creating that dreaded bird’s nest, and more, courtesy of professional bass angler Skeet Reese.

October 05, 2017

DICK’S Sporting Goods-sponsored professional bass angler Skeet Reese sat down with PRO TIPS to share his thoughts on a topic that countless fishermen are familiar with: overcoming the intimidation factor of baitcasting reels. For many, branching out from the comfort zone of spinning or spincast reels into baitcasters can be tough sell, but Reese — an 8-time B.A.S.S. tournament winner, 2007 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year and 2009 Bassmaster Classic Champion — is here to help anglers learn what to look for in purchasing a specific model, the advantages that baitcasters offer when the chips are down, plus the best way to avoid the dreaded “birds nest” and make most out of your time on the water.  So, it's time to put down that spinning reel and get acquainted with mastering baitcasters.

PRO TIPS: What’s the number one reason you’ve found why anglers – novice or otherwise – are so intimidated by using baitcasting reels?

SKEET REESE: Without a doubt, it’s the backlash factor. When you don’t control the spool speed properly with your thumb, or when you release the lure at the wrong time, the line will want to come off the spool while the spool is still spinning, but will end up staying on the reel. [This] creates an overrun of line that turns into a “birds nest” or “backlash.” Think of it as putting a spool of thread on a pencil, then yanking the thread without controlling the spool. It will get tangled.

PT: Once an angler commits to a baitcasting reel for the first time, what features should they look for in a design? These models can be so complex — what’s the best way to avoid feeling overwhelmed while making a purchase?

SR: For someone new to baitcasting reels, make sure that there is a magnetic brake control on the palm of the reel and that it fits comfortably in your hand when attached to the rod. There are a lot of reels that have either magnetic brakes or centrifugal brakes, which are located inside the palm plate of the reel and require you to take the plate off in order to adjust the brake. There is nothing wrong with this! It’s just a matter of preference or manufacturer design. My thought is that if you’re starting out, get a reel such as my Wright & McGill Victory 11 Casting Reel that has the external brake system for quick and easy adjustments. As you become better and need less adjustments, you can go to a reel that has internal brakes.

PT: Once you find a baitcaster that’s right for you, what’s the most important component of the reel to become proficient with first in order to build confidence and ensure it doesn’t get shelved in frustration after one use?

SR: The tension control knob, which is located next to the handle and drag, is by far the most important feature of any baitcasting reel starting out. Have the tension set to the point that whatever lure you have tied on, that it will barely fall when the reel is in freespool.

PT: How long did it take for you to make the leap from spinning reels when you started bass fishing? Was there a particular epiphany for you?

SR: Wow, that was a long time ago! I got my first baitcasting reel when I was 10 years old. I went straight from a push button reel to a baitcaster.

PT: Do you find yourself still learning the intricacies of baitcasters?

SR: Every time Wright & McGill and I come out with a new reel, there is a learning curve. It could be the profile height, width, thumb bar or bearings. And even trying a new or different line [with a reel] is an adjustment.

PT: Why are baitcasting reels usually cranked with the right hand, whereas spinning reels are predominantly cranked with the left? How did that happen in the industry? If an angler is right handed and cranks with his right, doesn’t switching hands to hold the baitcasting rod in his weaker left hand — cast after cast after cast — seem like wasted energy?

SR: Well, I wish I had the answer to this, but I don’t. I use a left-handed spinning and a right-handed baitcast.

PT: Lots of anglers can cast sidearm all day without a hitch, but the first time they go overhead it’s birds nest city. What’s the best way to prevent backlashes without sacrificing distance or accuracy?

SR: When casting sidearm, you have a much wider area through rotation of the cast where you can release the lure. When you cast overhead, that window of when you can release the lure for a proper cast becomes much smaller. And the most common [mistake] is a late release, which means the lure comes crashing down much faster. And that’s when the backlash happens. So, sidearm is a safer cast, but learning how to load your rod up with the energy of the lure is the key to distance.

PT: Even the best anglers get birds nested. What’s your best method to clean up a mess without wasting precious fishing time, excluding tossing the entire combo in the lake?

SR: [Laughs.] Oh, I still get plenty of backlashes. It’s just part of it. For small backlashes, just press your thumb down on the spool and reel the handle a few times, this will reverse the backlash.

PT: It’s day three of a big tournament and you’ve got a big bass on the end of your line that could make or break your tournament. Tell us why you feel more confident fighting that fish with a baitcaster versus a spinning reel.

SR: The advantage of a baitcast reel is that you can fish much heavier line on a small spool. In order to use, say, 20 lb. test on a spinning reel, you would need a saltwater-size reel that is way heavier. I tend to use 12-20 lb. line a lot on the casting reels and 6-10 lb. on spinning. So, the heavier line gives me more confidence in getting that hawg in!

Where I see the biggest advantage is when using the flipping or pitching technique. This is when we are fishing at close range and putting the lure into the thickest, heaviest shoreline cover. I like to use 25 lb. Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon when flipping. You may think this is too heavy of a line, but when you hook a big bass in real heavy grass or in the middle of a tree, you need that strength to be able to pull that fish out. Otherwise, the fish can wrap around the cover and break you off.

I remember winning a tournament on the Potomac River in Maryland in 2007; I was pitching to laydown trees that had some barnacles on them. When I would fight and land the fish, the line would be shredded from the barnacles. If I used lighter line on a spinning reel, I never would have landed those fish.

PT: Baitcasters offer great accuracy. If someone held their coffee mug 20'

away, how many casts with a baitcaster would it take for you to flip your favorite jig and splash their breakfast blend?

SR: Hopefully just once! My tip to everyone is to practice at home — in the house, backyard, front yard, park or anywhere you can. This will help a lot so that when you do get on the water, you’ll have a lot more fun.