Baitcasting 201

Reel selection and tweaking


I’ve been limited to shore fishing for the last few years because of heath problems and this makes distance crucial in my situation. Whether trying to reach that clump of roots that’s way out there in a lake or trying to work the maximum surface in a river, any extra distance I can achieve is always a big plus for me. I’ll readily admit that distance is nowhere as important when fishing from a boat, where it comes in as a poor second to accuracy. Then, my "fishing" elbow requires that I use the smallest amount of force possible to achieve a given distance; this means I will favour reels that are more efficient. This combination of factors explains why I’ll concentrate on what’s more valuable to me in my circumstances. I hope you can find some information that may also prove to be useful in yours.


If you check out the distances achieved by competition casters (over 300 yards!) or salt-water shore anglers, you’ll realize that the typical bass fisherman isn’t even on the same planet as those guys . But the awesome casting motions required, as well as using 13-14 foot rods to cast 6-8oz lures is probably not your cup of tea either. I can’t imagine making a single cast like those without my arm flying off, let alone doing it all day. Still, this underlines the extreme importance of energy input, rod length and lure weight, as well as the fact that the equipment we use for bass fishing is really quite a compromise as far as distance is concerned.


The underlying principle is to transfer the largest possible amount of energy that’s put into the cast into energy that actually does the work we want, with just the right amount of friction thrown in to control this energy. Basically, what we’re trying to achieve is a balance between control (for accuracy and backlash prevention) and maximum energy transmission (for distance).
In order to do this, we can optimize the following aspects in reels:

1. – The braking system used on the reel:
The two broad categories of braking systems are known as centrifugal and magnetic. All the variations of those two systems provide variable braking, with more braking force being applied when the reel revolves faster. As a general rule, centrifugal systems apply a high amount of braking at the beginning of the cast and taper off more rapidly, while magnetic systems are not so aggressive at the beginning of the cast and taper off more gradually. The specific braking-force/spool-speed curves can vary according to the implementation of each system, but that’s the basic mode of operation. Generally speaking, the fact that these braking systems attempt to apply friction only as required makes them the preferred control method to achieve the best results when distance is also considered. For some illustrations on adjusting most brake systems, please refer to the Baitcasting 101 article on this site. For a more in-depth analysis of the many available braking systems and their characteristics, one should read Jun Sonoda’s excellent article on the subject at:

2. – "Free spools":
Many companies use systems that permit the spool to disengage completely from the pinion gear when released for the cast. Shimano calls their system Superfree, ABU calls theirs Ultracast and Daiwa uses the term Super Speed Shaft to identify this type of reel. With Shimano’s dominant position in the North American market, all these systems are often called "super free" when discussing any reel thus equipped. The advantage of these systems is a reduction in the amount of friction on the spool. In turn, this means those reels will require less energy to start spinning, making them especially suitable for achieving good distance when casting small lures. As the weight of the lure goes up, the extra friction (which is stable) of a non-SF spool becomes a proportionally smaller part of the equation and thus less significant.
While many Shimano reels equipped with a free spool also come with a wiffle spool, these things are not necessarily combined. For instance, Daiwa and ABU hardly use wiffle spools at all with their free spool reels.

3. – The type of lubrication in the spool bearings:
Essentially, the thinner the lube used, the less friction there is from the bearings and the more speed (and distance) can be achieved. On the other hand, one has to consider that as the speed of the spool increases, control diminishes. Except for the very top range of reels, manufacturers tend to put a lot of relatively thick lube in their reels to ensure that they can survive the frequent lack of maintenance they’re subjected to. While this is good in terms of the manufacturer’s warranty claims, it does tend to slow down the reels and cut down on their performance. This is the main reason why many knowledgeable anglers take their reels apart the moment they get home, then clean and re-lube them with thinner lubes used in smaller amounts. This provides them with better performance both in terms of distance and control – assuming they don’t get the parts all mixed up and can’t put the reel together afterwards! There is a downside to using extra thin oils, though. You’ll have to re-lube the bearings more frequently and some people will find this to be something of a chore. Of course, true reel junkies will find it a pleasant activity, since tinkering with their reels is part of the fun!

4. – The amount of line used:
The amount of line also plays a role in this equation: if you fill your spool all the way up to the lip, you’ll be getting more distance, but then, this will make it more difficult to control. Since the mass of the extra line is located at the largest distance from the spool’s axis, it will contribute more to the inertia: more energy will be required to start the spool spinning, but then it will tend to maintain it’s speed longer. This delicate trade-off between control and distance is probably why most reel manufacturers suggest not going any higher than 1/8" from the edge of the spool – they wouldn’t want their reels to be known as backlash-prone! One should note that this decreasing effective spool radius (as the amount of line decreases) provides a form of variable braking. However, when using narrow spools, the line level sometimes goes down rather rapidly, and you may find that the amount of braking thus provided will cut down on the maximum distance. This is another reason why the competition distance casters tend to use reels that come with wide spools, such as the ABU 6500.

Image  Image

5. – The size and type of line used:
The diameter of the line used also contribute to distance: the smaller the diameter, the more distance you get because of the reduced amount of resistance created along the guides. Using a small diameter line also prevents the line level on the spool from decreasing as rapidly, with the attendant benefits outlined previously. For a given diameter, the limpness of the line will also help to keep the resistance down by minimizing line coils. For these reasons, more distance can usually be achieved by using superlines, since they are generally much smaller in diameter for a given strength and more limp than their mono or fluorocarbon counterparts. A more elaborate presentation of my views on superlines is available on this site:

6. – The spool tension knob:
Since the spool tension knob applies a constant braking force, it is one of the least efficient mechanism for controlling a reel, even if it’s often called the "cast control" knob. It’s main goal is to control the very end of the cast as the speed drops down to zero, but unfortunately, it applies the required tension for this for all the duration of the cast. For this reason, many advanced anglers prefer to set the spool tension as near to zero as possible, applying just enough to prevent the spool from moving side to side…

7. – The "educated" thumb:
… and only use their thumb at the very last moment, just as the lure touches water.
In my opinion, this is the only time using your thumb is a good idea when going for maximum distance. None of the record distance casters mentioned above ever do otherwise. On the one hand, they don’t want to get thumb burns because they’re in contact with a spool revolving at a very high speed; on the other hand, those guys have realized long ago than no thumb, however well "educated" can compete with the other brake systems in achieving precisely the required amount of control during the different stages of a cast without wasting some of the energy that provides distance. Of course, there’s no risk of getting your fingerprints "lifted" from your thumb when bass fishing, but thumb control still remains relatively inefficient when used all through the cast. This is why I suggest using one’s thumb strictly for "damage control": preventing spool overrun as the lure touches water, shortening a cast if the lure if it’s going too far vs. the intended target, or slowing the spool down in case of impending backlash (a sure sign that the other braking systems aren’t adjusted properly).

8. – The spool’s weight and inertia:
Everybody’s seen those sexy-looking (spoken like a true tackle junkie!) wiffle spools, also know as ported or drilled spools. Apart from the marketing aspect, wiffle spools have two main advantages: generally speaking, the spool itself will be lighter than their regular counterparts . Another plus resides in their greater radius, which requires less line to fill them, thereby bringing the total weight down too. Any time the weight goes down, so does the inertia of the spool, thus requiring less energy to get it spinning, as well as less energy to control it after it gets started. This is one of the few win-win situations in reel design as far as efficiency is concerned.
Important side notes:

  • You have to consider the total spool weight when looking at this matter. Since you’re going to put some line on that spool, the weight of the line has to be factored into the equation, since line weight varies significantly from fluorocarbons (heaviest) to hybrids, monos and superlines (lightest). An enlightening illustration of the impact of line types on the spool/speed efficiency of a Curado 100 is available at:
  • Then the distribution of the weight in terms of distance from the spool’s axis also plays a role on the inertia of the spool. Flywheels and gyroscopes, with the mass concentrated around the rim, are built on this principle: they need more energy input to start spinning, but once they’re started, they keep going forever. Of course, this is not what you want in a spool as far as control is concerned. Rather, you want it to start spinning with minimal effort and to be brought to a stop easily! On the other hand, what was said previously about the amount of line still applies here as far as distance is concerned: if you can provide the amount of energy to get the spool up to speed and can control it (this one’s a big IF), a high-inertia spool will give you the longest distance.
  • c) The "spin duration" conundrum: While we’re on the subject of inertia, I can’t resist a few words on the "spin duration" tests often performed in stores to demonstrate a reel’s free spooling performance. If you remember that there are actually two variables involved (friction and inertia), you’ll realize that the results can be misleading: friction does play a role through spool design (genuine free spool is a plus), as well as the quality of spool bearings and the  amount and type of lubricants used (usually more and thicker lubes for new original reels). On the other hand, you shouldn’t forget that the heavier the spool, the longer it’s going to spin for a given amount of friction. Just put a few wraps of soldering wire on a spool and see for yourself how much longer it spins than when it’s empty. That’s high inertia, exactly what we’re trying to fight when control and efficiency are important. So a cheap heavy spool will frequently "free spin" longer than one with a very light wiffle spool as long as the friction factor on both is relatively similar. How’s that for an unexpected twist? Of course, under those conditions, you have no way of accurately measuring the amount of force applied to the reel to get it going. The reverse is also true as for a given spool mass, the less friction there is, the longer it will spin, but altogether, friction will play a smaller part than the spool’s weight in this matter.
  • The fact that a reel comes with a wiffle spool does not mean it uses a "free spool" mechanism. Many manufacturers put a ported spool on reels that do not have the free spool arrangement and the attendant benefits. Many consumers assumed that a wiffle spool automatically means a "free" spool, but this is simply not the case.

9. – Spool bearings:
Apart from the worm gear bearings mentioned later on, the spool bearings are the only ones to affect casting distance. All others bearings may make a reel smoother on the retrieve but will not have any impact on the cast. While some very low-end reels rely on bushings for spool support, just about all of today’s reels have at least one bearing at each end of the spool’s axis. Quality bearings mean less resistance, hence a better transfer of energy into the cast, for better distance with all lures. The tolerances of the bearings also play a role in this. The ABEC (Annular Bearing Engineering Committee) has established a scale of tolerances that corresponds to numbers from 1 to 9. The smaller numbers indicate looser tolerances, while the higher numbers indicate tight tolerances . In this sense, aftermarket ABEC7 bearings are more precisely made than the vast majority of original bearings that come with reels. This enables them to perform better and provide more distance. Most original bearings are not ABEC rated so the consumer has little to go on in this respect and some manufacturers will put a whole lot of low quality bearings in reels in order to impress the buyer with the number of bearings used in their reels.
The present state-of-the art in this area are ceramic bearings. While those available at this time are in fact very high quality products and will give a bit more distance than ABEC7s, their high price makes them a low "bang-for-the-buck" item in my opinion. Of course, this will not prevent the true believers from getting them in order to achieve the ultimate!

10. – Spool balance:
Basically, if a filled spool is well balanced, it will spin smoothly, therefore faster for a given amount of energy put into the cast. Conversely, a spool that does the "shake, rattle and roll" bit as it revolves will waste some of that energy and result in a shorter cast. The last part of the article by Neil Mackellow  explains this in more detail.

11. – The type and position of the levelwind mechanism.
The levelwind mechanism itself is a source of friction, since the line gets "choked" into it as it goes out. For this reason, the extreme distance baitcasters don’t have any. But again, bass anglers won’t stand having to guide the line on the spool by hand as it’s retrieved for obvious reasons! So regular baitcasting reels do have levelwind mechanisms.

These come in three different types:

  • Fixed position guide: whatever position the levelwind guide was in at the end of the previous retrieve remains the same when you start a new cast. In this case, whenever the line is not perfectly aligned with the levelwind guide, it has to be forced at a lateral angle to go through the guide. Since the line is only in this position for a small percentage of the time as it comes off the spool, the rest of the time, it gets slowed down as it comes off the spool. As a really sharp angle will produce a substantial braking effect, it is recommended that the lewelwind guide be positioned manually as close as possible to the center of the spool before making a cast where distance counts. This way, the extreme angles produced when the line comes off the end of the spool while the guide is at the other end are avoided.

Image  Image
Maximum distance                Reduced distance

As you have probably figured out for yourself by now, this problem is particularly marked with wide spools, where the angles at the ends become more pronounced.

  • Moving levelwind guides: Some reels, notably ABUs, incorporate a mechanism whereby the guide moves across the levelwind bar as the line comes off the spool, thus ensuring that the line is always aligned with the guide and eliminates any angles. The "cost" of this approach lies in the fact that some of the energy of the cast is used to operate the levelwind mechanism’s movement, so the net advantages aren’t always evident, especially with the narrower spools. This is also the reason why the C4 and C5 ABU models use bearings to support the worm gear that moves the guide in order to reduce the amount of friction involved. Experts like to use the least amount of lubrication possible on that worm gear for the same reason.
  • Floating levelwind guides: A few years ago, ABU came out with the EON, which used a floating guide approach: on the cast, the level wind guide would simply be disengaged from the worm gear and follow the line as it moved from side to side. This ensured that the guide and the line would always remain aligned, but without using a gear mechanism to keep them in alignment. The concept was brilliant, but ABU never managed to get this feature to work reliably and the feature was disabled on the second generation EONs.

Finally, one should note that the levelwind mechanism is usually further from the reel on low profile reels than on traditional round reels. The angles involved in the former are therefore less extreme than in the latter, making a fixed position levelwind less of a limitation in terms of distance.

Putting it all together.

1 – Other key factors:
While this article has concentrated on reel efficiency, the total equation for distance includes other very significant elements. First of all, the amount of SMOOTH energy you can put into the cast (guess how the "fishing elbow" developed!) is sure to be one of the most important factors involved in getting the maximum distance. Then the rod used, especially it’s length, will have a major impact on the distance you can cast. As a matter of fact, adding a foot to your rod’s length will probably increase your distance more than any tweak you could make to your reel. Then the weight of the lures you use will also change the distance you can reach very much. As you go up in weight, every 1/8oz. you add will translate into a marked increase in distance. Even the shape and weight distribution of a lure will have a significant effect, as you’ve probably experienced for yourself in the past. Those lures that have a metal ball moving to the rear of the lure on the cast are more stable as the lure goes out and prevents them from flipping over and playing havoc with the aerodynamics. The very shape of a lure also influences the aerodynamics (and the distance achieved) by minimizing or maximizing air resistance. Finally, the density of a lure (it’s weight relative to it’s volume) will also play a significant role in the distance you can achieve. You must have noticed how much farther a jig will cast, compared, say, to a hollow lure of the same weight.

2 – My personal choices when selecting a reel:
While most of the material discussed previously is factual, my personal approach is, of course, subjective, and reflects my own situation, priorities and budget (!)

I will try to maximize my casting distance and minimize the effort required by using almost all of the above factors (especially for light lures) to my advantage: Any new reel I buy gets the clean and lube treatment before I even use it (well, maybe I’ll go out and check out my new toy first, but it will get done promptly). While some of the newer lubes (oil) are promising, for the moment, I use Yellow Rocket Fuel. A bit pricey, but a bottle should last for years and the results are very good. I systematically over spool my reels with fine diameter TUF-Line Plus; this superline is both very limp and light. The spool tension on my reels is always set at the minimum amount that will keep the spool from moving side to side. I keep my thumb off the spool until the very last second, as the lure is about to hit water. I don’t systematically install ABEC 7 bearings on my reels, but will replace the originals with them if they become the least bit rough. While I may not go to the lengths described in Neil Mackellow’s article, I’m very careful when spooling my reels, always maintaining a fair amount of tension on the line as it goes on. If I can actually feel some noticeable vibration on the cast, I’ll re-spool again to clear it out. With large conventional (round) reels, I’ll try to ensure that the line guide is close to the middle of the reel before I make the next cast (unless, of course, I saw a fish boil to the surface on my previous retrieve, then all bets are off!). But since most of my reels are low profile and my round reels are on the small side, I confess I really don’t pay very much attention to this.

I’ll usually select the reel with the smallest spools available in a line. For example, I prefer the Curado 100 to the 200, Daiwa’s 103 series rather than 100, and ABU’s 3000 or 4000 rather than 5000 or 6000. The smaller spools and smaller reels are just the ticket for less spool mass and inertia and also fit my relatively small hands better, as well as giving my "fishing elbow" a break. Of course, the line capacity is reduced, but using a small diameter line compensates for this, and the fish I go after don’t usually make very long runs. If I can afford it (my wife being the final judge of this!), I’ll try to get a free spool version and combine it with a wiffle spool when applicable. When a wiffle spool isn’t available, I’ll make a "Fat Arbor" (poor man’s wiffle spool described on The Fat Arbor will cut down considerably on the total spool weight and inertia, as compared to an equivalent volume of line.

After all this, my reels are pretty "fast" and you’re probably wondering how on earth I can manage them. Since I’m no super angler, this is where the actual reel brakes come in as my preferred method of controlling the casts. You may also wonder what the point is in maximizing everything for distance and then using brakes on the reel! If you think about it for a second, the answer becomes obvious: except for the amount of line, all other aspects discussed previously enhance or inhibit a reel’s speed in a linear fashion. On the other hand, brakes work in a progressive fashion, only coming into play as needed and only by the required amount. This provides the optimal amount of control, without wasting any of the energy required for distance. So people who use extreme tweaks on their reels while still applying some braking are not involved in a pointless pursuit, contrary to what it would seem.

In order to get the most efficient amount of braking applied, I always try to get reels that provide the widest range of brake adjustment, be it Daiwa’s Magforce V, the Shimano Scorpion’s 4×4 or ABU’s IVCB. Without getting into the technical merits of each, the very range of adjustments is a big plus for me. While some of these reels can hit your wallet pretty hard, you may consider others to be worth your while. In my personal fishing, Murphy’s Law is always operative, and I regularly find myself with the "sweet spot" forever falling in-between the positions available with the typical 6 centrifugal brakes of most reels. For instance, three brakes "on" cut down on my distance unnecessarily, while two are often not sufficient to give me the control I need. This is one reason why I’ll always try (!) to get one of the type mentioned previously. The fact that they all provide external access to the adjustments is also a significant advantage for me: opening up my reels to adjust the brakes is not really my idea of fun while actually fishing! This may also be the reason why ordinary magnetic systems still retain some favor among anglers, even if they typically can’t be completely disengaged and thus will cut down on your distance with lighter lures.

Remember that these are my options, given my situation. For example, if my main casting arm suddenly lost thirty years’ worth of wear and tear, I would forget about a reel’s efficiency and go all-out for distance and use high inertia spools. Ultimately, it’s up to every angler to select the kind of reel that has the characteristics most appropriate to his needs. It’s my hope that this material has shed some light on the variables involved in this process and eventually contributes to your enjoyment.

Ye Olde Fishingelbow

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.