How to Use a Baitcaster

Baitcaster reels can be intimidating. They’re often seen as advanced reels, for more experienced anglers. Most people start out fishing on spinning or spin-cast reels, and if you’re not used to using these kinds of reels already, we would recommend you become accustomed to them before trying the more challenging baitcaster reel.

But if you’re already proficient in using these reels, and you’re building up the courage to try a bait caster for the first time, we’ve put together our top recommendations, and a step-by-step guide, on how to use a baitcaster. Baitcasters may be outside of your comfort zone, but this article will help you prepare mentally for the step!


A man fishing in a river.

Baitcast reels can typically handle heavier line and actually allow for longer casts than spinning gear in the same size range.


What is a baitcaster reel? 

As we all know, fishing reels are cylindrical devices that are attached to a fishing rod. Their purpose is to wind and stow line. Modern fishing reels usually have fittings to aid you in casting for distance and accuracy, as well as retrieving line. 

A baitcaster reel, which is also referred to as the conventional reel, is an advanced reel that is used by experienced anglers. One of the main reasons to graduate from spinning or spin-cast reels to the baitcaster real is that it offers you more control and accuracy when you’re casting. Baitcaster reels are the big daddy of fishing reels. Proficient, and professional, anglers all around the globe choose them because of their unparalleled durability, strength, and cast accuracy. 

Because of the durability, strength and cast accuracy of baitcasters, and with the right amount of training and experience, you can target even bigger and stronger fish than before. If you’re looking to impress with your catch, and want to keep bettering yourself in your fishing game, then the baitcaster is a reel you should consider graduating to. Even if you’re not ready to start using the bait caster all the time, it’s good to get starting with practicing with it, as bait casters can often take some time to get used to and perfect. 

Baitcasters are not just the most accurate of fishing reels. They are also often much more durable. This means they can handle much heavier, much stronger forms of line. As the more experienced anglers amongst you will know, this is necessary for when you’re targeting much bigger or stronger fish, such as monster fish, or when you’re fishing thick cover. 

The main reason why people are intimidated by bait caster reels is because of the backlash factor. With a baitcaster, the spool speed is controlled just with your thumb. This can be quite tricky to manage. If you don’t control the spool speed properly with your thumb, or if you release the lure at the wrong time, the line will try to come off the spool while the spool is still spinning. This then creates what is known as backlash or a bird’s nest. 

A backlash or a bird’s nest is something you definitely want to avoid, and can result in a big, tangled mess of line. While the line is wanting to come off the spool while it’s still spinning, it ends up staying on the reel, creating an overrun of line that gets tangled. Just like with a ball of yarn, if you pull one end and don’t control the rest of the line, the rest of it is bound to get tangled up in a big mess. Consider taking a camping multi tool with you, for any repairs or cutting tasks. 


However, if you follow our step-by-step guide below, and follow some of the basic rules and tips of using a bait caster reel, then you should be able to avoid the annoying tangle of a backlash or a bird’s nest. 


A man holding a fishing rod.

Baitcasters can typically cast farther and with greater precision but you have to practice a lot.


How to spool new fishing line onto your baitcaster reel: a step-by-step guide


1. Before you spool your new fishing line, you need to select the right kind of fishing line for your baitcasting reel. Although you may have been using braided fishing line on your spinning or spincast reels, it doesn’t work so well with bait caster wheels and can cause bad backlashes or bird’s nests. Our recommendation for fishing line to use with your bait caster reel is monofilament fishing line, preferably 12 or 15lb mono line, to avoid those pesky backlashes. 


2. Firstly you need to run the new line through the line guides. You’ll find the line guides on the underside of the rod: they are the little hoops hanging off. Always start this process at the far end of the rod, pushing the line through the loops and towards the reel. With baitcaster rods, there’s a little hole in the reel that you should be looking for, that you won’t find on other types of reel. You’ll also need to run the line through this guide to get it into the bail.


3. Next what you need to do is knot the line on the reel spool. You do this by: wrapping the end of the fishing line over the spool (the indentation in the middle of the reel). Then you must bring the end of the line back towards you and tie the line together in an arbor knot.


4. But how do you tie an arbor knot? An arbor knot is done by first tying a simple overhand knot. Then you tie a second overhand knot at the free end of the line. All you need to do now is pull both knots tight against the reel, and you’re done!


5. The next step in spooling your new fishing line is to close the bail by lowering the wire arm. Then you have to pull the wire arm as far down as it will go to lock the line in place. If it so happens that the line comes undone, what you’ll need to do is lift up the bail and redo the knot, repeating the process again until the line is securely in place. 


6. Next, crank the rod’s handle to find out which way the bail rotates. Then you should mentally make note of the direction that the bail rotates in, as the line must be loaded in the same direction. Drop the spool of new fishing line on the floor with the label facing upwards and adjust the position of the rod so the line can be loaded correctly. For Baitcaster reels, this process is slightly more complicated than for spinning or spincast reels. You’ll need an extra bit of kit: a spooler. You can make a DIY spooler by sticking a pencil through the reel, and having someone else hold it for you, so you can properly spool your new fishing line. Or if you’re fishing on your own, or want a more permanent solution, you can purchase a spooler, or make one yourself by placing the spool on a screwdriver, pushed through a cardboard box on either side. 


7. The next step to spool your new fishing line onto your bait caster reel is to hold the line between your thumb and your index finger. It’s important here to make sure you’re holing the line properly, maintaining constant pressure. If the line isn’t taught, and is tangling, then you’re holding it wrong. Use your free hand as you hold the rod in your other hand, and make sure the line feels taut and doesn’t tangle going onto the reel.


8. Once you’re holding it in the correct way, turn the rod’s handle around 15-20 times, ensuring that you’re continuing to grip onto the line as you crank the handle. 15-20 rotations are enough to load the line into the reel, so don’t overdo it! Make sure you keep an eye on the line, and that you’re maintaining constant pressure, so it doesn’t load with knots or tangles. If you do find yourself with knots or tangles, you’ll have to unspool the line to fix them. What you’ll need to do is gently pull the line back off the reel. Then tug on the loop of line in the tangled part and it should unknot easily.


9. As anyone who has any experience in angling knows, tangles are your worst enemy. So before you start casting, you’ll need to drop the line to test it for tangles. This is how you test the line for tangles: let go of the line and let it drop towards the ground, watching it as it goes. As you watch, you’ll be able to immediately notice any twists or loops in the line, that might come back to bite you later. To undo any of these annoying twists, flip the spool of new fishing line so that the label faces the ground. You also must ensure that the line continues to load in the same direction that the bail is rotating in. 


10. So, we’re nearly there! The next step is to fill the rod’s spool until it’s almost full. Then you should pinch the line again between your thumb and index finger so it stays straight and taught, then rotate the rod’s crank. Once you have rotated the crank, load the line until the reel is almost full. Ideally, the line should be about 1⁄8 in (0.32 cm) below the spool’s rim, so try to aim for this measurement when you’re loading your line. Then, cut the line to detach it from the new spool to finish, with a camping knife, for example.


11. The last step in spooling your new fishing line onto your bait caster reel is to secure the line to the reel with a rubber band. All you need to do is simply place a rubber band around the line on the reel to hold it in place. If your reel has a tab on the side, wrapping the line around it will also hold everything in place.


A man fishing on a lake from a boat.

Often times baitcasters can throw further than spinning reel and with great precision.


How to cast the reel: a step-by-step guide


Step 1: Set the spool tension

The tension knob on bait caster reels is the small dial on the side plate, usually on the same side as the handle. If you set this up, and the tension right, then you’re far more likely to be able to get your bait caster reel to cast properly. Every time you change fishing baits and lures, you’ll need to reset the spool tension. He’s how you do it: 


  • Hold the rod tip up and reel your lure up so there’s a foot of line out. 
  • Tighten the tension knob so you feel some pressure. 
  • Push the thumb bar to let the lure fall. 
  • Loosen the tension knob until the lure starts to fall on its own. 
  • Reel it up and do it again until your lure can fall as fast as possible without overrunning the spool when it hits the ground.


Step 2: Reel in the line 

Firstly, what you need to do is reel in the line. Reel the line in until your bait or lure is 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) from the rod tip. If you have a sinker or bobber attached to the line, it should be 6 to 12 inches from the rod tip instead


Step 3: Hold the reel properly

There’s a bit of a science to holding your baitcasting reel properly. You should be holding the rod behind the reel with your thumb resting over the reel spool. Mainly people cast with the same hand they retrieve with. If you’d rather hold the rod behind the reel when you retrieve, switch hands when you cast. To give you more control over the flow of the line during the cast, rest your thumb at a slight angle on the spool. 


Step 4: Turn the rod so the reel handles point up

As with spincasting reels that you may have gotten used to, doing this lets you use your wrist when you cast. If you’re left-handed, or you cast with your opposite hand, the handles should point down.


Step 5: Press the reel spool release button

More modern baitcasting reels have a mechanism to disengage the reel spool from the handles so they don’t turn during the cast, meaning you’ll get longer casts. Some more vintage models might have a slightly different way of operating, but most models today feature a release bar behind the spool. Just press it with your thumb when you rest it on the reel spool. 


Step 6: Make sure to bend your casting arm

There’s also a science to how you bend your arm with a baitcasting reel! Bend at the elbow so that the crook of your arm is almost a right angle. Then raise your rod until the tip goes slightly past vertical. This is the right position to cast. 


Step 7: Sweep the rod forward

Sweep the rod forward until it reaches eye level: about 30 degrees above horizontal. Lift your thumb off the reel spool enough so that the weight of your bait or lure pulls line off the spool as it is propelled toward the target: but don’t totally lose that pressure! If you want to learn how to use a long-handled baitcasting rod, often used in saltwater fishing, when you cast use your opposite hand as a fulcrum, to pivot the rod as you cast to the exact right angle. 


Step 8: Press down on the reel spool

Press down on the reel spool with your thumb to stop the bait when it reaches the target. This will feel similar to pressing the button on the spincasting reels you may have been practicing on, to break the line. But with baitcasting reels, there’s an extra element of risk! If you don’t press your thumb down soon enough, you risk creating a backlash, or tangled line. This is because, if you don’t press down your thumb in time, the spool will continue to turn after the bait hits the water, leaving you in a bit of a pickle!


A fisherman fishing on a lake.

Now that you’ve learned to use a baitcaster it’s time to get out on the water.


Final Verdict:

So there we have it: a step-by-step guide to spooling and casting your new baitcaster reel and rod! There are a few other ways we would suggest you preparing for your first baitcasting fishing experience. Firstly, you need to choose the right baitcasting reel. The main thing to remember when doing this is to find one that feels right, and is balanced well, in your hands.

After all, you’ll be holding it for a while, potentially, waiting for the perfect catch. You could even take some heated socks with you, to stop your feet from getting cold as you wait! We would recommend going to a store that sells baitcasting reels, and hold a few in your hands, to see what works. Also use the opportunity to get some advice from the staff there, and let them help you choose the right reel for you. 

Before you cast your baitcasting rod for the first time for real, we would also recommend you practice your casting technique away from water. You can replace your bait with a rubber practice plug, and have fun in your garden, getting accustomed to your new piece of kit. This will not only improve your effectiveness while you’re casting, but will make you feel more comfortable with the new piece of kit, reducing the likelihood of having a backlash. You should also consider the best time of year to go fishing. 

We hope that these guides, and tricks and tips, on how to use a baitcaster will get you prepared for your first time, and feeling less intimidated by this reel. Don’t be intimidated, practice away from the water, and when you’re ready, happy fishing!


Bonus tip: While you’re at it, check out this awesome video on how to use a baitcaster for beginners!



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