When I purchased my first baitcasting reel, I didn’t have a clue what to look for in a reel. Price was my biggest factor in making that decision, but after going through a few reels and learning how to service them, I developed a good sense of what to look for in a reel. Hopefully at the end of this blog you’ll have a better understanding of what you want in a reel too.
Gear Ratio - Represents the number of times a spool completes a full revolution per one turn of the reel handle. For example, a 6.4:1 gear ratio means that the spool rotates 6.4 times when you turn the reel handle once. If you opened up your reel, you would see the main gear interacting with the smaller pinion gear. The size of the gear or the number of gear teeth determines the gear ratio of a reel. You could theoretically swap out gears in your favorite reels if you wanted to change the gear ratio of that reel, assuming your new gears will fit properly. I have heard of people doing this to get a lower gear ratio for using crankbaits but have never experimented with this myself. Gear ratio correlates to the inches per turn which is another thing we will look at a little closer.
Spool size/line capacity – The size of the spool goes hand in hand with gear ratio. A larger spool would mean that you could carry more line, but at the same time, your inches per turn would increase with that full spool of line. Sometimes, inches per turn is a readily available spec when you look at a reel. Other times, you may have to use gear ratio and line capacity to get an idea of the inches per turn yourself.
Drag – Drag strength is measured in pounds and tells you the maximum amount of weight your drag can withstand before slipping when tightened all the way down. This metric comes in handy when you need a reel that will have the strength to handle a lot of weight, whether that’s pulling a bass out of the thick stuff or pulling in a hammerhead shark like Von Miller!
Weight – Another metric to look at is the weight of the reel. A heavier reel can wear you down after casting it all day. A light reel paired with a light rod makes casting a breeze. The lightest reel I’ve ever held came in at 4.7 ounces. I would say your average baitcaster weighs in somewhere around 7 ounces. It doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but once you actually pick up these reels you can pretty easily feel the difference an ounce makes.
Bearings – How many bearings does the reel have? This can be a bit of a misleading statistic. I have heard the more bearings a reel has, the better it is. That’s just not true. Some of the cheaper, generic brand reels will boast of having 12 bearings in a reel that only costs $50. If you look at the reel schematics for that reel, you will see 8 bearings packed into the handle! That’s 4 bearings tucked away in each knob for no other purpose than to market the reel. Bearings also have different ratings of quality, and you can bet a $50 dollar reel with 12 bearings in it are going to be of low quality. Bearings also add extra weight to the reel, so even some of your high end reels use bushings of some other material to get the weight down. To sum up bearings; where they are located on the reel is more important than the total number. Most reels will, at a minimum, have 3 bearings supporting the spool, 1 underneath the crankshaft, and 1 anti-reverse bearing (the anti-reverse bearing is the “+1” bearing mentioned if you ever see the description of a reel having “4+1 bearings” for example). Personally, I also like to see 2 bearings supporting the wormshaft and a bearing in each handle knob to bring the total to 8+1.
These are just a few things to consider when buying a reel, and we’ve only just scratched the surface. We could get into things like what material all the parts are made of, how much play (or wiggle room) is present in between those parts, bearing rating systems, what techniques you are using the reel for, and the list goes on. One last thing I will mention is to not get sucked in to the fancy terminology a company uses to promote a reel. A lot of that stuff is just big words meant to sound impressive when it really adds no value to the reel. Pay attention to the important reel specs we went over and you’ll be much better off than trying to figure out what “Japanese Hamai Cut Gearing” means.
anglerwannabe, CO 4/10/2018 6:20:19 AM
great stuff Scott. For me, while gear ratio is a good indicator, I try to look up inches per turn. Then think about how fast you reel, this will give you a great indication how quickly your pure is moving. Fast reels are great for jerk baits and plastics to get the slack out and set the hook. Also, I prefer low profile reels, they just feel better when used, at least for me. Would also add, don't get overly caught up in the pounds for the drag unless you're doing salt water. One of my favorite reels, the max drag is 8.8 lbs. It caught a fish over 12 and two more over 20 lbs and worked just fine. Lastly, if you're new to bait casting, don't skimp on your first reel. Most of the better reels today are easier to learn.
anglerwannabe, CO 4/10/2018 6:24:21 AM
pure = lure
Scott Brands (Skookshunter), CO 4/12/2018 9:59:09 AM
Thanks Jim! For me, drag isn't as important when fishing something like a jerkbait, but when I'm fishing frogs over top of grass mats, I want a super strong drag. I use a Revo Rocket for my frogging reel, and even with a 20lb drag cinched all the way down, it slips when I'm trying to pull a bass out of the thick stuff. Personally, I wouldn't ever use an 8 lb drag to frog fish with.