How to Choose the Right Baitcasting Reel

Brandon Palaniuk | BMP Fishing • November 01, 2022

Brandon Palaniuk here and I'm going to give you a quick breakdown on baitcasting reels. What makes a baitcaster is really the design of the reel. A spinning reel is going to have your handle on the side, but the spinning reel is designed to be below the rod. A baitcaster reel is meant to be on top of the rod.

With a bait caster, you have to actually control the spool with your thumb. So when you push your button down, that opens that spool up so the line is able to move freely and you want to control that with your thumb. If you don't, that line is going to create what we call a backlash or a bird's nest. It's going to want to blow up and it's going to tangle so don't be intimidated by that; it's something you learn to control.

Now, you are going to get some backlashes at first, but the way that I like to explain this to people starting out is you really have two controls: you've got your brake control adjustment on the side, which is going to be opposite of your handle, and then you also have a control knob. Now one thing that Daiwa does really well on their mid-price point reels, like the TATULA lineup, whether it's a TATULA Elite or a TATULA Elite PF like mine, they have what they call a Zero Adjust brake system and so the brake knob is actually built at the factory to the perfect specs where you just do all of your controlling with the brakes. That makes it a lot easier on you if you've never used a baitcaster. That's something that I would look for.

The brake knob goes from zero to 20, and there is a little dot on the knob that indicates where your brake adjustment is. Right now, I've got mine on about 13. I will change this, depending on the size of my lure. So, the lighter the lure, a lot of times the lighter you want to go on your brakes so that it will allow you to get the most distance. Conversely, you'll go heavier on your brake with the heavier lures. That can change with techniques and throughout the day, but what I recommend doing is starting with that knob turned all the way up to 20. That's going to allow you to make a cast without the line wanting to blow up and it's going to give you more time to learn how to control that.

So you're going to push the spool release button and you're going to keep your thumb on there. You want to have about three or so feet of line out when you go to make your cast and the easiest thing to do is just start with a nice sidearm roll cast. What I do is grab the butt of the rod in my opposite hand. I'll control the rod with the trigger grip, I'll split that with my fingers so I've got good control of the rod. And then you're just going to make a sweeping motion backwards. And as that Rod starts to load up, you'll feel it load and then you're going to release. Now that's what's going to take the most practice; understanding when to release and how much power you put behind that. Use a nice, even, steady back swing and, as that Rod starts to load up backwards, push forward with both of your hands and release.

Now, if you make a cast and it goes way to the left of where you intended, your release is too late. The opposite is true if you release and it goes too far to the right. You released too early.

The next step is controlling that spool so that you have a nice, soft entry and it doesn't create a great big splash. That's going to help you get more bites. The fish aren't going to detect your bait. It's going to be a lot more natural in your presentation.

Now, when you're scrolling through, looking at all the different reels... That can be a daunting task. So, to break down, often I look for manufacturers now because they build reels for specific purposes. So, for example, a Daiwa TATULA Elite PF reel--"PF" stands for pitch and flip--is actually designed for underhand pitching and flipping techniques. Those are generally used with heavier line, shorter distance presentations and so they put features in that like bigger handles. It has a 100-millimeter handle and bigger knobs so that you have more power.

The other thing you want to look for is your gear ratio. So what I'm using is an 8 to 1. Now that can be as high as 10 to 1 and that can be also as low as a 5 to 1. What that means is, for example, on an 8 to 1 this spool is going to turn eight times for every one full revolution of this handle. The higher the first number, the more line you're going to pick up as you retrieve your bait. The lower, the less line you're going to pick up. So, in situations where I want to make a lot of short casts, pitching and flipping, what this reel is designed for; that faster gear ratio helps you waste less time when you're reeling that bait back to the boat to make another presentation. However, there's some give and take with that. The higher the gear ratio, you start to lose power and that's why they go to the bigger knobs the bigger handles; to offset that power loss. If you go to a lower gear ratio, you're not going to be able to pick up as much slack to set the hook on those fish or make more presentations, but you're going to gain power. There's a balance there.

As a rule of thumb, my go-to is a 7 to 1. That's what I use in most situations. For example, if I'm throwing a frog, or I'm throwing a swim jig, if I'm offshore fishing football jigs and things like that, a lot of times I will go with a slower reel. So, for example, my Daiwa TATULA Elite, which is the same lineup but it's not the PF version, has a 90-millimeter handle so it's a little bit shorter and it has smaller, flatter knobs. This is more versatile for a lot more technique. I can frog with this reel, I can throw those offshore jigs, small swim baits, throw jerk baits. If I was going to pick one reel to start out with, it would probably be the TATULA Elite or the TATULA Elite SV.

Those would be my go-to's to start off with. Super easy; they have the Zero Adjuster brake system, and you can start with your brake set to 20. Then, as you get a little bit better, a little bit more comfortable with your thumb control, start to lower the setting. The less brake you can use, the more distance you're going to have and the better control you're going to have using your thumb. Hopefully that helps you break down bait casting reels and you know different ways to select those and different techniques to use them with.

--Brandon Palaniuk