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How to Cast a Baitcaster

Learning how to cast a baitcaster is a great way to improve your skills and gain access to a whole new range of presentation opportunities, especially when fishing for bass but also for many other uses. Although you can do a lot with spinning gear, there are some baits such as large spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, jigs, chatterbaits and frogs that are better suited to a more powerful baitcasting reel.

The only problem is that baitcasters can be a bit intimidating for beginners. While the best spinning reels for beginners are very easy to use, with baitcasting reels there is an ever-present threat of terrible kickback on every cast. But if you’re looking to expand your skills, knowing how to cast a baitcaster doesn’t have to be scary. Find out how to do it.

How to Cast a Baitcaster: The Short Answer

The first key to casting with this type of reel has nothing to do with the cast, but rather with a simple knowledge of the parts of the reel itself, particularly the adjustment knobs. So let’s start there.

Parts of a Baitcasting Reel

We’ll keep it simple for now and go into more detail below. For now, you just need to know where the most important adjustment knobs are on a baitcaster. Here is a quick visual guide.

baitcaster adjustment knobs
Some drag adjustments, like this one (right), are done inside and under the reel’s sideplate; others are exposed and accessible without having to remove the side panel.

How to Make your First Casts

Okay, now that you have that, let’s say you have a new baitcasting reel fully spooled on a rod and you are dying to try it. You don’t want to read all the nuances just yet. You just want to throw that thing. That’s fine for now. So, tie on a medium-weight lure and do the following:

  • Reel the bait to the tip of the rod
  • Turn the coil tension knob all the way up
  • Press the spool release button and then turn the tension knob back until the bait slowly falls
  • Adjust the internal braking system to at least half
  • Reel the bait so that it is about 30cm from the rod tip
  • Press the spool release button and hold your thumb against the spool for now so it doesn’t spin
  • Now reach backwards and throw a cast while releasing the pressure on the spool
  • Apply just enough thumb pressure during the cast to keep the spool from spinning excessively

There. If you haven’t responded, great. If so, we’ll wait for you while you sort out the clutter.

How to Tune a Baitcaster for the Perfect Cast

Some of today’s best baitcasting reels are so forgiving that you could follow the steps above and potentially fish for days without encountering any tangles. But it’s not a good idea. Why? Because even the easiest-to-use baitcasters work much better, and you’ll get much better performance out of them, if you take a minute to really get to know their nuances and tune them just right – which means you’ll take a closer look at them view The spool tension knob and drag system are the key elements for perfect casting performance. A baitcaster’s controls might seem intimidating compared to a spinning reel, but once you get used to setting your reel, you’ll be able to adapt to any scenario in no time.

How to Adjust the Drag on a Baitcaster

The drag system is always on the opposite side of the reel to the handle. In many cases it is exposed, as in the reel pictured below. In other cases, the braking system is internal and only accessible by removing the sideplate. The drag system controls the speed at which the spool stops rotating at the end of a cast. Remember to apply the brakes to stop a car. (Spool tension controls how much force is required to get the spool spinning, which we’ll get to in a moment.)

Braking system of a baitcaster
An exposed braking system. Shaye Baker

It is best to set up the drag system first and then use the spool tension knob to fine tune. Most braking systems have a similar display More And Fewer. Many have a range of 0 to 6 or 1 to 10. Move the dial towards More (or a higher number) brakes harder. It’s best to start here with the braking system slightly above midpoint, and then throttle it back down a bit when you’re more comfortable.

How to Adjust the Coil Tension of a Baitcaster

The spool tension knob is about the diameter of a dime and, like the brake, is on the handle end of the reel. The coil tension knob doesn’t really have a clear dial indicator. The further you roll it forward, the tighter the actual knob becomes. This indicates that you are putting more tension on the coil. Turning the knob back loosens it and puts less tension on it. Although dial adjustment is difficult to judge with the naked eye, there is a simple trick to setting the spool tension for any lure.

Close-up of the coil tension knob
The coil tension knob on a baitcaster. Shaye Baker

As mentioned above, attach a bait and tighten the spool tension knob until snug. Hold the tip of your rod straight in front of you so the rod is parallel to the ground. Then click on the coil release. Now slowly loosen the spool tension knob until the bait falls to the bottom under its own weight. This is where you want your coil tension knob once you get used to it. But now tighten the coil tension knob a quarter turn again. Then turn your reel handle until your reel locks into place.

How to Make Perfect Casts with a Baitcaster

With the drag system and spool tension knob set, you can now learn how to cast a baitcasater. Use your thumb to press down on the spool release (or thumb bar) on your reel while keeping your thumb on the spool to keep it from spinning. You should have about 30cm of line between your bait and the tip of the rod. Now bring the tip of the rod behind your head and then quickly feed it forward while at the same time lifting your thumb slightly off the spool, but still springing it enough not to overshoot.

Learn how to cast a baitcaster for bass
Knowing how to fish with a baitcasting rig will greatly improve your bass fishing Shaye Baker

Hopefully this will result in your lure flying out a reasonable distance in front of you and not a kick back. If your coil overflows a little, gently pull the slack out, tighten the coil tension knob a little, and try again. With practice, you should be able to repeat this process until you get the hang of making no-return throws.

Related: Use These Baits for Ice Fishing Success.

Once you are more comfortable, begin to slowly ease back on the spool tension knob to increase your casting distance. You can do the same with your braking system, but you never really need to go below 40 percent here.

Master Thumb Pressure on a Baitcaster

how to control the coil with your thumb
With practice, you’ll learn exactly how much or how little thumb pressure is needed for a perfect throw Shimano

It’s important to understand that no matter how perfectly tuned your baitcaster is, these reels are never truly on autopilot. In a way, that’s why it’s more fun to operate, like driving with a joystick instead of an automatic. You always regulate yourself how much thumb pressure you put on the spool during the cast. When starting, slide it lightly over the spool. However, if you need to slow down the spool’s RPM or are concerned about backlash on touchdown, you can manually control the spool speed with your thumb.

What you are ultimately looking for is perfect harmony between coil tension adjustment, drag adjustment and your thumb pressure. With practice, you can re-adjust your reel’s setting for whatever you want to cast and determine if you need to increase or decrease thumb pressure without thinking twice. It will all become second nature to you and before long you’ll be casting a baitcaster like a pro.

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