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The Secret of Bait-Casting Reels

Sweet success takes tuning

Easing my skiff up near a Bay Bridge support, I launched the lively Norfolk spot toward the sweet spot where the water eddied behind the down-current side of the concrete pier. I thumbed the spool, directing the baitfish to just the right place, inches from the support.
    Stopping the spool just as the bait touched down, I released tension as the spot righted itself and jetted toward the bottom. My light thumb contact with the turning spool monitored the baitfish’s progress.
    Within moments, panic transmitted up from the deep as something began chasing my bait. I could feel the spot’s frantic efforts to elude the predator, and I lessened my thumb pressure to allow the bait to flee, which I knew would increase the resolve of the pursuer.
    I next felt the power of a large rockfish take over. Still feathering the spool with my thumb, I allowed the fish to swim off just a bit and get the bait back in its jaws. Turning the reel’s handle I took it out of free spool and, when the line finally came tight, struck back hard. My rod surged down. The fight was on.

Managing the Magic Tool
    It takes good bait-casting gear to do this.
    Spinning outfits offer the simplicity of relatively trouble-free casting — but little else once the bait or lure has been lofted into the air. With bait-casting gear, however, you can apply thumb pressure on the turning spool to limit the distance of the cast, to soften the bait’s landing or, by holding the rod off to one side or the other and applying thumb pressure, to move the in-flight bait to the right or left.
    Once the bait is in the water, you can allow it to move freely while monitoring its efforts with your thumb on the turning spool. With spin gear, you completely miss that ability.
    The downside of the revolving bait-caster is the casting backlash. That happens when the spool is turning faster than the line going out. The loose spirals of line on the spool can make a real mess.
    A backlash can mean anything from a few seconds for getting the coils of line sorted out and the reel back in order to long minutes of picking and untangling and, in extreme but not rare cases, line surgery.
    If you’ve used a bait-caster, you know what I mean.
    The means to eliminate almost all casting difficulties has been built into modern casting reels. The general solutions are the spool tension and centrifugal (or magnetic) spool braking devices.
    Here’s how to use them.
    Holding your rod horizontally, you find the spool tension knob on the handle side of the reel. Adjust it so that when the reel is put in free spool and you release thumb pressure, the bait or lure makes a controlled (slowed) descent. When the bait reaches the boat deck (or the floor), the spool should stop without over-run.
    Next, adjust the magnetic or centrifugal brake; the reel will have one or the other. The magnetic brake will be a dial with a number of settings on the end cap. Choosing one of about a third of the total adjustment is a good start.
    With a centrifugal braking system, the adjustment is internal. Most reels have a quick-release function that gives access to the braking apparatus within the side cap on the opposite side of the reel from the handle. The mechanism is generally six sliding sleeves on a rotating pin system. Position three of the sleeves to the outside of the pins and push the other three sleeves to the inside until they click, secured near the axis.
    Next make a gentle practice cast with your outfit. If your spool begins to overrun at the beginning or end of the cast, increase adjustment to the spool-tensioning knob. If it tends to overrun in the middle of the cast, increase the number of sliding brake sleeves, or dial a higher setting on the magnetic system. Repeat this procedure while increasing casting effort until you can make a good, forceful cast without backlash.
    As you gain experience with casting gear and your thumb becomes more educated in monitoring and controlling spool speed, you can lighten up the reel adjustments to gain extra casting distance and get better feel of the line. You will also be well on your way to becoming a more proficient angler.