How to Cast a Baitcaster: The Basics and Beyond

Fishing expert Michael Sw. teaches you how to cast with a baitcasting reel. He breaks it down in easy steps so you can quickly master your cast.

The author holds out a baitcasting reel over a lush lawn.

Photo by Michael Swirzewski

Best known for bass fishing, baitcasting reels are widely popular, and rightfully so. They are an excellent tool for catching many different fish species in a variety of situations. They allow for longer casts with increased accuracy over spinning or spin-casting equipment. They can, however, be intimidating, as casting them requires a little bit more understanding than the simple “swish and flick” of the wrist done with a spinning or spin-casting outfit.

Anglers fear the dreaded backlash or bird’s nest sometimes caused by improper casting. This typically results in frustration and lost fishing time. In fact, the only reason I am good at casting these things at all is that I have screwed up casting them in every way imaginable, and experience, plus time, has tempered and honed my baitcasting style. But with a little bit of practice, most problems can be avoided, and even beginners will be tossing out lures and bait with a bait caster successfully in no time.

The Basics

The baitcasting reel is unique among the three most popular types of reels in that the spool actually spins on baitcasting reels. This releases the line toward the target. In both a spinning reel and a spin casting reel, the spool remains stationary as the line coils off the end of the spool during the cast. It is this spool rotation that sets the baitcasting reel apart from the other two and requires a different approach to learning how to effectively cast with one. As with a spin casting reel, the caster will hold the rod with the reel upright, depress the thumb lever while swinging the rod forward, and ultimately letting it go to make a cast.

The similarities, however, end there. On a spin casting reel, the push button is connected to a pickup pin that holds the line in place for the user and frees it upon release. On a baitcasting reel, the thumb button releases the spool allowing it to spin freely. This free-spinning action is what needs to be controlled so that the line doesn’t experience an overrun or backlash. Luckily for us, the modern baitcasting reel has several advancements that minimize and control the spool spinning action beyond that experienced by one’s thumb. We will discuss each adjustment and explain them by their function as well as their role in using the reel for casting and fishing.

An image of the Vapor baitcasting reel as it sits on someone's deck. In white text, "magnetic brake control knob" was added to the image.

Photo by Michael Swirzewski

On the side of the reel opposite the handle, you will notice a dial with numbers on it. This is your magnetic brake adjustment dial. The numbers dictate how much magnetic force will be applied to the reel after releasing the thumb bar upon casting, with higher numbers meaning greater magnetic force exerted on the spool. If your reel does not have this external dial, fear not! You most likely have a centrifugal braking system, which will adjust the same way, but you will first have to remove the reel’s sideplate in order to access the dial and make adjustments.

An image of the Vapor baitcasting reel as it sits on someone's deck. The sideplate has been removed. In white text, "Centrifugal braking system dial (sideplate removed for access)" was added to the image.

Photo by Michael Swirzewski

Setup & Adjustments

To begin your practice with using a baitcasting reel, turn these dials down to the setting just before the highest one. This will reduce your casting distance overall, but will also limit the possibility of tangles. It is also better to put monofilament or fluorocarbon fishing line on the reel for baitcasting than braid for learning purposes. Both mono and fluoro will have significantly less looping over itself during casting, and therefore, fewer tangles and backlashes. Use a heavier line starting out. A 14lb test line will be much easier to cast than an 8lb one on baitcasting gear.

Now that you have your baitcasting setup spooled with a good line, the next step is to tie a weight or hookless lure to the end of the line. Make sure the lure or weight is at least 3/4oz up to 1.5oz, as light lures tend to cause more frequent problems on baitcasting equipment. Thread the line up the guides through to the rod tip and tie on a relatively heavy weight or hookless lure.

Now we are ready to make more adjustments to our baitcasting reel. The next adjustment we will make will be with your spool tensioning knob. This is a round knob that sticks out from the reel housing opposite the magnetic brake dial.

An image of the Vapor baitcasting reel sitting sideways on someone's deck.

Photo by Michael Swirzewski

In the image above, you can see the reel handles, underneath that the star-shaped dial is the drag, which can be turned tighter or looser depending on the power of the fish you are seeking. You will not need to adjust the drag for casting other than turning it down tight enough so that the line does not peel off the reel spool while you are reeling in a lure or striking a fish.

The gold knob just underneath these is the spool tension knob. To begin casting practice you will turn the knob relatively tight by hand. Since it adjusts the reel spool’s tension, you should turn it down just enough so that when you push the spool release button with your thumb, gravity is not able to pull your lure, jig, or weight to the ground.

Once it is tight enough to stop the spinning of your spool entirely, you will leave the spool release or thumb button depressed, point the rod tip out in front of you at eye level, and slowly back off the tension by turning the spool tension knob back toward a looser position until gravity causes your weight or lure to slowly fall toward the ground. The spool should stop as soon as it does. If the spool overspins a bit, you will have to pull some line off the spool until it is tight. Then repeat the process making sure the tension knob is set so the lure or weight just barely falls to the ground while the spool immediately stops rotating when it makes contact.

While you will be able to set the magnetic or centrifugal brake dial once and not worry about it for a bit, the spool tensioning knob will have to be reset every time you change a bait or lure on a particular reel. At first, it may seem like a pain, but it is momentary and intuitive once you get used to it.

Practicing the Cast

Now that we have set all the dials and knobs we need to make a good cast, it is time to attempt one. You begin by holding the rod, reel side up with your casting arm out directly in front of you, and around 8-10” of line between your rod tip and weight or lure. Now depress the spool release button with your thumb while using your thumb to hold the line tight onto the spool. You will move your casting arm back and forward at approximately 45° angles to your body’s position while standing and facing forward.

When your casting arm is behind you, keep your thumb tight on the reel spool. When your arm is forward at approximately a 45° angle, release your thumb, keeping slight pressure on the line, just enough that you can feel it run along your thumb. This is known as feathering the spool and it will further reduce the frequency of tangles, backlashes, bird’s nests, and other problems during the cast. While feathering the reel, make sure to keep following through with your cast by bending your elbow until the rod tip is around eye level pointing at your intended target.

Last, at the absolute instant the lure or weight hits the ground or water surface, push your thumb back onto the spool to stop it. This is one of the most important things to practice in order to effectively cast a baitcasting reel without line problems. Thumb control is everything with these reels and keeping some sort of constant pressure on your line may reduce your casting distance at first, but it will make you a better baitcasting fisherman.

These are the mechanics of casting with a baitcasting reel, broken down into steps that are relatively easy to follow, and simple to master in a short amount of time. These reels seem intimidating but with just a little effort and practice, you will be casting a baitcaster like a pro in no time. Now go get out there and practice! And most importantly, catch some fish and have fun doing it! You can always reach out to me or any other Fishing expert here at Curated if you have any questions or need help finding the perfect gear.

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Written By
Michael Sw
Michael Sw
Conventional Fishing Expert
"Hey, I'm Mike! I've been fishing since I was a young kid for almost every species in the state! I fish everything from headwater brooks for native trout to long island sound for saltwater gamefish. I've fished in a local B.A.S.S. affiliated club (Ct Sweetwater bass) since 2016 as a co-angler. I ear...
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