Learning to Cast a Baitcasting Reel

Proper setup, thumb control, and practice are key

Grandfather and grandson fishing in lake
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A baitcasting reel does many fishing tasks better than a spinning or spincasting reel. That's why it is the standard gear used in bass fishing. But casting with one takes getting used to. When you first get a baitcaster, it can be intimidating to cast properly but you can learn to use one following the advice here.

First, you need to get a good reel. There is no need to spend big bucks on one, but a cheap reel will cause problems. Stick with brand names and start with a reel in the mid-price range.

Start With Monofilament Line

Once you have the reel, spool it with monofilament line in fairly heavy breaking strength—14 to 20 pounds—even if you plan on later fishing with lighter line. Heavier line is easier to learn to cast, and easier to pick out those unavoidable backlashes. Fluorocarbon line is a good choice to fish with, but it is a little harder to cast, so start with monofilament. Don't fill the spool on the reel, start with half a spool or less. The more line on the spool the heavier the spool and the faster and longer it will spin. Spinning too long is what causes backlashes (spool overruns), so start with less line.

The most important part of casting a baitcaster is developing a smart thumb. Your thumb rides on the spool of line and controls it, so you must educate your thumb. You can do this while watching television. Tie on a fairly heavy weight, like a nut or 1-ounce sinker, and sit down. Loosen up the freespool control until the weight drops freely, and use your thumb to stop it just before it hits the floor. Do this over and over until you get a feel for feathering the spool with your thumb and stopping the weight just before it reaches the floor.

When you're ready to actually cast, tie on a practice casting plug or sinker, preferably weighing half an ounce to start. Tighten the freespool control until the weight stops when it hits the floor and the spool stops spinning. This will be too tight for normal casting but it helps you learn.

Casting Practice

Take your rod and reel outside and make a short lob-type cast. Swing your whole arm, don't try to snap the rod tip with your wrist. The reason for casting like this to start is that you want the spool to start spinning slowly and evenly. A lob cast will do this. A snap cast will make the spool spin fast from the beginning, almost guaranteeing a backlash.

Keep casting like this, slowly trying longer distances. Gradually loosen up the freespool control until you have to stop the spool with your thumb, just like you practiced. Once you get confident in using a heavyweight, try lighter weights and learn different ways to cast.

When you cast, you should rotate the reel a quarter turn so that the handle is facing up, or toward you. Start and end the cast this way. Rotating the reel as you cast will help the spool spin more smoothly. At first, keeping the reel vertical takes practice, but it will soon become routine.

Don't let backlashes discourage you. Everyone gets backlashes when they start, and occasionally later even when they've mastered using the reel. Keep practicing and you'll gain both distance and accuracy, and find out why the baitcasting reel is so popular.

This article was edited and revised by our Freshwater Fishing expert, Ken Schultz.