Baitcasting 101

The first time I picked up a baitcaster I absolutely hated it to be honest.  My dad gave me one of his older shimano rods and baitcasters to learn how to cast on when I was a kid, and I struggled with it.  Couldn’t get any distance or accuracy with it and finally got a birdsnest so bad that it wasn’t worth picking out.  I gave up after that…no more aggravation for me!

Flash forward to when I was towards the tail end of college I decided to revisit the idea of getting a baitcasting setup. Up until then I had one to two dedicated spinning setups and felt that was all I needed…and they did the job.  I went to Bass Pro that summer I was home and picked up a relatively inexpensive but nicer baitcasting setup.  First time casting with it however was a disaster…again!  All of those memories of failed attempts with the setup my Dad let me use had come back.  It was completely my fault as I didn’t take the time to practice with it and I brought it along with me on a Wisconsin fishing trip thinking I would be OK using it.  Within the first five minutes I birdnested it something horrible and it was game over.  I only pulled it out one more time that trip to save our tin boat that was floating away from the ramp that we didn’t tie down to the dock properly.  I casted it hard enough that luckily enough line came free from the spool before it knotted up again to catch the boat.  Wasn’t until a year later that I picked that setup up again and really took the time to learn and be a little more patient with it.

Long story short, when you buy a baitcasting setup you have to realize that it’s not a plug and play deal.  You need to take the time to learn how to set it up correctly and cast it properly in order to become more proficient with it.

Before you even start I highly recommend starting out practicing with cheap monofilament line in the 14-15 pound range with a fairly heavy lure or casting plug (1/2 oz). Do not start out with braid or small pound test line! Yes, braid is easier to learn on because it has no memory and is easier to manage but once you make the switch to mono or fluoro you will struggle with it.  A bad birdsnest with braid will cost you way more money in wasted line than monofilament as well.  Save your money and some aggravation and learn on monofilament first.

When setting up a baitcaster you have to keep in mind three things…the brake system, the spool tension knob, and most importantly…your thumb.  Your thumb will be the most important part you need to learn how to use and will allow you to rely less on the other two items.  We will get to that more in a minute…

Your breaking setup can consist of a centrifugal or a magnetic system…sometimes both.  Both have their place, but it helps when you know how they work…

In a centrifugal system you almost always have a plastic pin system rubbing against a brake drum (metal cylinder) to create friction and slow the spool down on a cast.  The breaking effort is the strongest when the spool is spinning at its highest speed and tapers off when the spool slows down.  In order to set the centrifugal break you need to pull the plastic pins that are on the reel spool out or towards the outer diameter of the spool.  You can access these pins by pulling off the non-handle side plate of the reel.  Be careful as the side plate can be completely loose from the reel frame when you take it off.  I have seen guys lose the side plate overboard as well as the spool when they pop the side plate off.  Always try to engage pins that are 180 degrees apart from each other to create a balanced breaking force on the spool.  I would recommend starting with all of the pins engaged to start out.


On a magnetic brake system a set of magnets creates a magnetic field around a metal component on the spool to help slow the spool down on a cast.  The breaking effort in this case is strongest when the spool is spinning slower…just the opposite of the centrifugal system.  In order to set the magnetic brake there is usually a dial externally on the reel.  Adjust the magnetic brake dial to the max amount and leave it there while you start learning how to cast.


Next is the spool tension knob which is the second most important component when learning how to setup your baitcaster.  The goal is to set the spool tension knob such that the spool stops spinning when your lure hits the ground.  When doing this you should have the reel already on a rod obviously with the rod tip pointed at 10 o’clock.  Tighten the spool tension knob until it’s somewhat snug and then depress the thumb bar to release the spool.  You’ll notice the spool doesn’t budge at all.  Slowly loosen the spool tension knob until the bait starts to fall and let it fall until it hits the ground.  The spool should stop without any interaction with your thumb.  Once you have the spool tension knob set you can start training your thumb.


In order to start training your thumb you need to do the same exercise you did with setting the spool tension knob.  Start out by depressing the thumb bar with your thumb to release the spool while also pressing your thumb against the spool to prevent it from spinning.  Let the spool go and let your thumb feather the spool until the bait is about to hit the ground…then stop the spool with your thumb.   Do this at least 20-30 times to start getting your thumb used to starting and stopping the spool.  Once you feel comfortable with doing this then you can start learning how to perform a side arm cast.

A side arm cast is probably the easiest way to learn how to start casting with a baitcaster, and one of the most effective casting techniques from a kayak…kind of a win-win to start out with.  The trick to a side arm cast is to start with the cast off to your side and release the bait with the rod tip still at your side without following the bait with the rod tip during the cast.  If you do, you will find yourself losing target accuracy and the lure will veer off to the left or right depending on which arm you are casting with.  Don’t try to cast really hard either to get more distance…that will come in time once you train your thumb and you can start dialing your braking system back.  Note to release and stop the bait with your thumb before it hits the ground.  Do not crank the handle over to stop the bait….this will cause reel wear and eventual failure.

Once you become proficient in a side arm cast you can start practicing an overhead cast.  This one was probably the hardest for me to learn and it was 100% due to the release angle of my rod during the end of the cast.  You have to get it out of your head that the mechanics of an overhead cast are anything like a spinning rod…it’s not.  If you cast with a baitcaster and your rod tip ends up at 9 or 8 o’clock at the end of your cast you can rest assured that your lure will take a nose dive into the water much quicker.  The key is to release the lure at 11 to 10 o’clock and hold it there until you are near the end of your cast.

If you can get those two casting styles down you are ready for most fishing situations.  Granted you still have to learn how to flip, pitch and even skip…but that will come in time as well when your thumb muscle memory and casting technique gets better.  Once you start feeling more comfortable as well, start dialing back your breaking system first to get more casting distance…not the spool tension knob.  Once the spool tension knob is set you rarely if ever have to adjust it unless you change baits with a significant weight difference.  In the case of a very windy day you may need to apply more breaking to prevent backlashing.  Same situation with baits that catch a lot of air like a spinnerbait or buzzbait…you need to adjust your breaks accordingly.  In the case you have two breaking systems on the same reel I would start by dialing back the magnetic brakes first.  The jump in breaking effort when adjusting a centrifugal break system will be much more aggressive versus a magnetic system.

I hope that the information above can get you started with using a baitcaster.  It takes practice, but once you get it it’s like riding a bike.  You’ll also start noticing the many advantages it can have over conventional spinning equipment. Knowing what I know now, I found it worth all of the aggravation in the end!

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