HookedinFishing » Baitcast Reels

Beginners Guide to Baitcast Reels

Baitcast reels are great for bass and larger species. In this article, we’ll cover the basics, including its components, and an explanation of the different numbers and ratings listed on a casting reel.

What is a Baitcasting Reels Used For

A baitcasting reel is used for heavier lures when fishing for large species like bass. Casting reels have a spool that rotates to retrieve line similar to a winch. This gives

Anatomy of Baitcasting Reel

  • Handle
  • Drag
  • Spool Tension Knob
  • Thumb Bar
  • Spool
  • Line Guide
  • Cast Control


The handle is what you use to control the rotation of the spool. Most casting reels have a twine handle design. They can come many different materials such as foam, rubber, aluminum or other metals.

Star Drag System

The star located next to the handle is the drag adjuster. Drag is a mechanism that controls the amount of tension required to pull line off of the spool when fighting a fish in. Drag set to low requires less force to pull line off, setting it on high will require more force.

When a fish pulls on the line, the tension created by the drag system will help tire the fish out by preventing it from swimming away too quickly. It also helps prevent the line from breaking due to excessive tension.

Setting your drag is a balancing act of being low enough so that it will release line before the line breaks and being high enough so you can fight your fish in.

The drag system is particularly important when fishing for larger or stronger fish that can generate enough power to break the line if the drag is not set correctly.

Spool Tension Knob

Right behind the star drag system is the spool tension knob. The tension knob adjusts the speed of the spool when casting.

It’s very important to adjust the spool tension based on the lure you are using as it will really help cut down on backlashing and creating a birdsnest with your line.


The spool is the cylinder part that holds the fishing line. The unique thing about a baitcaster’s spool is it actually rotates when taking in or letting line out. This gives it more power and allows it to act as a winch.

Thumb Bar

The thumb bar is located just under the spool and closest to your hand. This bar is what you press to release the spool to let line out. Once you turn the handle it will automatically pop back up, locking the spool again.

Line Guide

The line guide is where the line comes in and goes out. It is used to guide your line so it lays evenly on the spool. Having the line even helps prevent tangling and allows you to have more line on your spool.

Cast Control

Located on the side opposite of the handle is the cast control. This could be exposed or hidden under the side plate depending on your reels design. Cast control often use magnetic or centrifugal force to help control the speed of the spool and act as a breaking system.

Casting Reel Ratings Explained

When shopping for a casting reel you will come across a few ratings listed product pages or within the manual. Below is a simple guide to understanding what the numbers mean on baitcasting fishing reels.

Baitcasting Reel Size

Casting reels are most often measured in sizes ranging 50 through to 500, with 50 being the smallest and 500 the largest.

Round baitcasters are similar to spinning reels, using 1000, through to 10,000, and beyond. 

    The smaller the model number the smaller the reel, and the less length of fishing line the reel can hold.

    Line CapacityGear RatioBearingsWeight

    Casting Reel Line Capacity

    The line capacity rating of a baitcaster gives you a general idea of the length of line the spool can hold without overloading.

    It will be displayed in two numbers, the first will be either the lb test of mono or diameter of line. The second is the length of fishing line in yards. For example:

    • 12/140
    • .32mm/140

    Both of these ratings are saying the reel will hold 140 yards of 12lb mono or 140 yards of .32mm diameter line.

    This isn’t an exact measurement because each brand of line will have slightly different diameter size. Also each line type has a different diameter for a given lb test.

    Reel Gear Ratio

    Gear ratio refers to the number of times the bail rotates around the spool with a single turn of the reel handle. For example the gear ratio of 5.6:1 means the bail rotates 5.6 times for every handle turn.

    Most casting reels have a gear ratio of 5.1:1 to 8.1:1. The lower the gear ratio, the slower the reel is. The benefit of a slow speed reel is that they provide more torque for reeling in large fish. The benefit of a fast speed reel is you can reel in line faster.

    Baitcating Reel Bearings Rating

    The bearings rating tells you how many bearings are in the reel. For example a rating of 9 + 1 BB means there are 9 ball bearings and 1 anti-reverse bearing.

    The number of bearings can range from 4 to as many as 13. In general, the more bearings a reel has the smoother it will be. The caveat to this is not bearings are created equal. A high end reel with 6 bearings will be smoother than a low end 10 bearing reel.

    Spinning reel ball bearings on a white background

    There are three types of bearings used in fishing reels: open, shielded, and sealed. Open bearings are exposed which causes less friction, allowing them to spin faster. The downside is they are more susceptible to corrosion from water and sand.

    Shielded bearings typically have a metal shield covering the bearing. Sealed bearings have a rubber seal, which provides the most protection against the water and sand.

    Reel Weight

    This one is pretty straight forward, it tells you the total weight of the reel. Lighter reels will cause less strain on your wrist and forearms. This is more important for those that spend a great deal of time on the water or those with health issues.

    How to Setup & Spool a Baitcasting Reel


    Can you use a baitcaster in saltwater?

    Baitcasting reels can be used in both saltwater and freshwater. When using a casting reel in saltwater it’s best to rinse the reel after each use to prevent corroding.