How to Properly Adjust your Bait Casting Reel

A recent question about a reel problem has led me to think we should discuss the features of a bait casting reel and how to set them properly. There are a lot of misconceptions about casting reel setup of brakes and spool tension. I will try to clear up a few of those here. There are 3 basic types of casting reel brake systems. Centrifugal only, magnetic only, and dual brakes that have both centrifugal pins and magnets.

The first would be a centrifugal only brake. A centrifugal brake system uses sliding plastic tabs that are flung out while the spool is spinning at high speed. Those tabs rub against a brake ring, and that helps to keep the spool from spinning to fast. The spool spinning to fast is the cause of backlash at the start of a cast. As the spool slows, the tabs have less force pushing them against the brake drum. That allows the spool to keep spinning at the same speed the bait and line are moving. Centrifugal systems work best at the start of a cast to reduce backlash problems. The next type is a magnetic brake. Magnetic brake reels use configurations of magnets and steel rings or disks to slow the spool down. Magnetic brakes work best towards the end of the cast because the magnetic pull has more stopping force against a slower moving spool. Some magnetic brakes adjust themselves during the cast by use of a centrifugal clutch to change the power of the magnets. That’s the most effective magnetic brake system, and it works better at the start of the cast than standard magnetic brakes do. Then we have the dual brake reels that have both centrifugal pins and magnets. All 3 of these type systems need to be set up differently from each other.

The one common thing that all of these systems have is that they work in conjunction with a spool tension cap, or as some call it, a cast control cap. Some older reels used to refer to it as a spool brake. The terminology of spool brake has been dropped as true brake systems evolved.

The first major thing we all need to understand is the spool tension. Spool tension is not something that most of us can set and forget. The spool tension needs to be adjusted for the weight of the bait. The old standard that most of us know of is to set the tension cap so that the bait falls slowly and comes to a stop without overrun. That is actually the maximum setting. You should never set the tension tighter than a slow fall rate of the bait. What happens to a lot of users is that they will make that initial setting but if they have any casting problems, they tighten the cap to compensate. When you do that, you are putting more pressure on the spool shaft and tension disks than they are built to withstand. That leads to premature wear of those parts, and you will notice over time that you have to set the cap tighter and tighter to get the same tension. That’s because you are wearing those parts out or even damaging the cap or side cover by running too much tension. If you do have trouble with backlash at the maximum tension setting of a slow drop, then instead of setting the tension cap tighter, you need to use more brakes.

The next thing we should talk about is the initial setting on a magnetic brake reel. To set the tension on a magnetic brake reel, you need to turn the magnets to the lowest or “off” setting before you set the spool tension. That way, the fall rate of the bait is not being slowed by the magnets and you will get the tension setting correct. Then, after you set the tension, you can reset the magnetic dial to your preferred setting. With dual brakes, you also need the magnetic dial on zero to set the tension. Dual brake reels work best if you set the internal pins to control the cast for most conditions, and then set the magnetic dial to compensate for wind or late fluff up during a cast.

The last thing I want to address here, is how to set centrifugal brakes properly. With most reels, you need to open a side cover or open the reel to get to the brake tabs. Before you open the reel, you need to loosen the spool tension cap. Remember, the spool tension cap is squeezing the spool shaft under pressure. If you don’t loosen the cap before you open the reel, then when you close the reel, you will put the spool in a bind and possibly damage several parts. So just remember, the first step to setting centrifugal brake pins is to loosen the spool tension cap, then open the reel, set the pins, close the reel, and reset the tension to a slow fall of the bait. When you have a reel set this way, if you still get backlash, then you need to set more brake pins or higher magnetic settings, not more spool tension.

As you get better at casting, you may find that you can cast with less tension than the max setting, that’s what you should be striving for; and that’s the true measure of experience. What’s not great is when you try to use fewer brakes, and more tension, to be able to use fewer brakes. There is no shame in using brakes; they are there for a reason. There should also not be any pride in being able to cast a reel with only 1 or 2 brake pins active. If you can set the spool tension loose and still cast with just one or two brake tabs, then you have a very educated thumb. What I have seen, is that most users who set the reels with just a few brake tabs are compensating with extra tension, and that wears out parts. I see the effects of that in reels that I service. The tension disks in reels that were set like that will have deep divots drilled into the tension disks. This wear actually makes it more difficult to cast than if they just used more brake tabs and less tension. Once you learn to use your brakes to their full potential, you will be able to use a lot less tension on the spool. That will correlate to longer casting distances, and you will not need to put nearly as much energy into the cast to get those longer distances.


  1. Frank October 25, 2016
    • Mike Cork September 15, 2019
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