Bass Fishing 101: Part 2 of 5 – Reel Selection

Choosing the Right Reel 

Welcome back to the second blog in the “Getting Started in Bass Fishing” series. In this blog, we’ll discuss how to choose the right reel for you, and how to operate these reels effectively.  Baitcasters and spinning reels are the two choices we will cover. These reels work for all types of bass fishing techniques. However, understanding which reel is perfect for your favorite type of fishing will help increase your odds while fishing. Let’s first get into which hand you will use while reeling.  

Lefty or Righty?

The first thing you want to determine when choosing a reel is which hand you want to reel with. Spinning reels allow for the user to change sides of the reel the handle is on, but baitcasters do not. It is important for you to figure out which hand you feel most comfortable holding the rod. While still being able to reel effectively with the opposite hand. Rod control and sensitivity will be needed for the hand holding the rod. For baitcasters most users choose a right-handed reel. They will cast with their right arm, switch the rod to their left hand, then reel with their right hand. Most spinning reel setups are left-handed so the angler throws and holds with their right hand and reel left. Ultimately, choose what feels most comfortable to you by trying it out before you buy it.   

Spinning Reels

A spinning reel, or open face reel as it is sometimes referred to, is often the best choice for beginning anglers due to how easy they are to cast. Not only is a spinning combo great for beginners, but it can also be a deadly weapon in a bass fishermen’s arsenal. Spinning reels work well at skipping lighter baits around shallow targets and is often a choice for deeper finesse presentations requiring light line.  However, one major downside to a spinning reel is there is that you have less power to control fish when fighting them. This makes it a bad choice for fishing in thick grass or heavy cover.      

Spinning reels are at their peak when spooled up with light braid to a flourocarbon leader. A size 300 or 3000 spinning reel with a fast gear ratio of 6.2:1 >$100 is ideal for starters. Pair this reel with a 7′ Medium spinning rod and you have yourself a well-rounded setup. If you choose to go with a spinning reel, you must pair it with a spinning rod. Regular casting rods have a trigger protruding from the reel seat to rest your fingers against when throwing a bait caster. This will cause an unnatural feel if paired with a spinning reel. 

Best Lures for a Spinning Reel?

Typically, I spool my spinning reels with 20lb braid, and then an FG knot to connect a 8-15lb flourocarbon leader. This works well for skipping baits under docks or around areas with shade. It is also great for dragging bottom baits like a shakey head, Texas rig, or drop shot.  If you want to throw topwaters, use a short monofilament leader or tie straight to the bait with the braid. Topwater baits are very responsive because of the braid, so they are a blast to throw with a spinning setup! I tend to stay away from spooling an entire spinning reel with monofilament or flourocarbon lines due to line twist. The design of the reel tends to make these line types of twist as they are reeled causing a loss of casting distance and sometimes a big, twisted mess.   

Moreover, spinning reels have only one adjustment knob you need to keep an eye on, the drag. The drag adjustment determines how much force it takes from the fish to pull line from the spool. If your drag is set to lose, you will lose fish due to line slipping out on the hookset. If it is too tight, you risk breaking your line on hooksets or fish surge as they are reeled in. Personally, I like to pull the line from the pool using my hand and a decent amount of effort.

It is not uncommon to adjust the drag while fighting larger than average fish to the boat. Often, I have my drag set tight a good hookset, then back off when the fish is an open water. Fish tend to have an energy surge as they see the boat, so prepare to loosen your drag slightly during period.

There are videos online on how to cast a spinning reel, so watch a few videos before diving in. It takes some time to become accurate, so have some patience. One common issue with spinning reels spooled with braid is wind knots that develop when casting. Little loops get put into the spool which make it difficult to cast. This happens when the line wasn’t seated on the spool properly before reeling. The best way to prevent this is to visually inspect where your line goes into the spool after every cast. Ensure the line sits back properly in the groove of the bail. Following this one piece of advice will save you many headaches down the road while using spinning reels. 

Baitcasting Reel

A baitcasting reel, or baitcaster, is almost a necessity for nearly every serious bass angler. If the bait you intend to throw isn’t extremely light, less than ¼ ounce, then a baitcaster will suit it perfectly. A baitcaster is synonymous with bass fishing because it is so versatile. Additionally, you’ll have greater level of control over your casts, as well as more power when hooking or landing fish.

Having the reel on top of the rod tends to use more of the stronger upper arm muscles in the arm holding the rod compared to lower arm muscles used with spinning reels. This gives a much different feel that leads to more power when setting the hook and fighting big fish to the boat. With baitcasters I feel that my casts are more accurate, and I have better sensitivity to feel what my bait is doing under the water during the retrieve.  

A baitcaster paired with a 7′ medium-heavy rod and 15lb monofilament line for around $200 is a great all-around combo. The number one technique I suggest starting with when learning the ins and outs of a baitcaster would be a Texas rig. This popular tactic consists of a weight, worm hook, and plastic worm that is mostly drug on the bottom or reeled through the water column after a well-placed cast. Most plastic worms when paired with a weight of 1/8 – 1/2-ounce bullet sinker cast easily and can be rigged weedless. This will save you time and money because your bait doesn’t get hung up often. Texas rigging for bass is a technique that works across the country and is one you should see a great deal of success with. 

Flipping and pitching techniques are like the Texas rig approach. The only difference is that it requires presentations to fish near the angler with beefier tackle. A heavier weight, hook, and line are paired with a stiffer rod for this technique that allow you to horse fish out of heavy cover and in the angler’s possession. The user makes short underhand pitches or simply uses the rod to move the bait in and out of cover.

When a fish strikes, the angler should make quick work of getting the fish into the boat. The key to flipping and pitching is to make precise and quiet presentations to key areas where bass are hiding. This style of fishing is better suited for a baitcaster because you control the bait with your thumb directly on the spool. You have more control over your underhand pitches and with practice can ease the bait into the water without a splash.

Best Lures for a Baitcaster?

There are countless other lures that seem to work best with a baitcaster. Deep crankbaits, jerkbaits, topwaters, lipless crankbaits, bladed jigs, and spinnerbaits are just a handful of options that all work great with a baitcaster.  For lures like topwaters or jerkbaits where I like to impart action on the bait through movement with their rod, a baitcasting setup feels the most natural for me. It is also less fatiguing when using these bait types for an extended period. The biggest impact with how a baitcaster will respond with the above techniques is pairing it with the right line. Once you learn which line type to pair with each technique in the next blog, you’ll be able to get the most feel out of using a baitcaster.   

There are several details about baitcasters that you should pay attention to when purchasing a new reel. The gear ratio, drag, and magnetic spool control features of each reel are what make baitcasters stand out from each other. Gear ratios for baitcasters range from 5.3:1 up to 9.0:1. I won’t get into specifics on gear ratios just yet, but I will say that a 7.3:1 gear ratio is a great starting point. Having a strong drag is key when pulling fish from thick cover.  A baitcaster with 15lbs of drag is ideal because it has enough force to get the job done.

Lastly, each reel model has different knobs or adjustments that the user can fine tune in order to cast their lure effectively. These can be tricky at first, but once set they require little movement. Reels are not set properly right out of the package. Remember that the handle on a baitcaster can’t be changed from side to side, so make sure you purchase the handle side that you plan on reeling with.  

Time and Patience

You must understand that mastering a baitcaster takes time and patience. Prepare for a challenge when first learning to cast. Start off at medium distances and increase as you gain the feel for your reel. The reel you buy will most likely not come preset with the right spool tension settings for the bait you plan to throw. The key is learning how to adjust the brakes for the spool to match with the weight of the lure you’re throwing.  If the spool tension setting is too loose for the weight of your lure, you will have overrun of line on your spool that can turn into a big mess. This is known as a backlash or backlashing a baitcaster.

A good starting point is to adjust the spool tension so that when you hold the rod out at waist level and disengage the spool, your bait gently hits the ground without severely overrunning or backlashing the spool. If you keep your thumb gently on the spool when casting and stop the spool when the bait hits the water, you should have very few backlashes occur. Once you get your spool tension settings close, very small adjustments to the spool tension knobs will be required to get it dialed in just right. I feel that with a properly matched, finely tuned baitcaster I have the most control and feel over my bait. For this reason, nearly all my rod and reel combos have bait casting reels.

Hopefully this hels you decide on whether you prefer a spinning reel or a bait caster. Both are great choices, and each plays a role that is perfect for catching bass! Make sure you try both out to see which feels best for you, while considering what type of fishing you’ll be catching. In the next blog, we’ll go over specifics on the three different line types so that you can continue to get the best performance out of your rod and reel setup.

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