2021 BAITCASTING COMBO BUYING GUIDE

SPRING 2021

How Baitstick Goes About It

In this baitcasting combo buying guide Baitstick only recommends baitcasting rod and reel combinations or “combos" we’ve actually used. Because it’s simply hard to judge things like the performance of a combo or the feel of a fish on the line unless we’ve gotten real gear in-hand.

 

When Baitstick looks at recommendations across all products we test, we try to recommend products to you in the same way that we would do to friends and family. So in this baitcasting combo buying guide we keep it simple and explain exactly why we feel a given way in this fishing reel buying guide.

 

Fishing Like The Pros

If you’ve tuned into any bass fishing shows on television lately, you’ve probably noticed most pro anglers using a baitcasting rod and reel. Whether you are new to the sport or have been fishing since you were a kid, a baitcasting rod and reel could be a great addition to any angler’s arsenal.

 

But baitcasting rods and reels are sometimes seen as something only the pros or experienced anglers dare to take out fishing. But does it have to be this way? With some basic knowledge and a willingness to try a different kind of fishing, anglers of nearly any level or age can catch fish with a baitcasting combo.

 

What Makes Baitcasting Gear Different?

If you’re new to fishing or have just always fished with a spinning rod and reel then there are a few things to consider when it comes to baitcasting gear. In a nutshell, both types of reels perform the same basic functions of allowing anglers to cast and retrieve line. Both types of reels use a handle to crank and power the reel to put line back on a spool. With both types of reels, a drag system is used to ensure that the right amount of tension is maintained on the line when fishing and playing fish. When set correctly a good drag system will help anglers to land more fish by avoiding costly line breaks or thrown hooks.   

But this is where most of the similarities in reels stop. For those just getting started, there are a few significant differences between baitcasting and spinning reels that should be considered.  First, the placement of the reel on the rod is different. With the baitcasting setup, the reel sits on top of the casting rod. With a spinning setup, the reel is positioned on the underside of the rod (Check out the Shimano Vanford to see an example).

While both reel types have a drag system, the drag on most baitcasting reels is located next to the reel handle and is often recognizable by a star shaped rotating dial, typically referred to as a “star drag.” The location of the star drag next to the handle can make it easier to adjust tension on the line while fighting a fish and having a hand already close by on the reel handle crank.

Putting on the Brakes

The baitcasting reel has a few unique features and mechanisms that can separate it from a spinning reel, including the braking system. The braking system on a baitcasting reel helps to control the rate at which the spool (holding the line) spins during casting.  If the spool of the reel ends up spinning at a much different speed than the rate of the lure and casting line that has already left the rod, then the line close to the spool and reel can quickly collect into a tangled mess of line known commonly as a backlash. To avoid this happening, the braking system is there to better control the speed of the spool and ensure that a massive bird’s nest of line does not destroy a day on the water. However, it’s not foolproof. Casting with a baitcasting reel does require a skill set that requires practice – adjusting braking tension alone will not solve potential backlash issues and headaches.

Braking systems can come in two forms: centrifugal and magnetic. Reels with centrifugal brakes can be adjusted by following the manufacturers instructions. This involves anglers removing the side panel of the reel and adjusting accessible pins inside the reel to preferred settings. Magnetic braking systems are more easily adjusted to preferred settings by adjusting a dial found externally on the side of the reel body.

In addition, the spool tension knob typically found near the reel handle is another way to control the speed of the spool and avoid backlashes. The spool tensioner knob helps anglers to loosen or tighten the rate of spool rotation, thereby better controlling the spool and line.

 

It never hurts to fine tune your baitcasting reel to make sure that it is set correctly for the types of lure and line you expect to use while fishing. Just as anglers choose different gear for different locations and days on the water, remember to make adjustments to reel braking and spool tension each time you take a baitcasting reel out fishing. Different weights of lures and line, as well as line response from different target species, can all cause different effects on the performance of a baitcasting reel in action.

But Wait, There’s More…

Two additional unique features of baitcasting reels include the line guide and the thumb bar.  The thumb bar is used to free the spool and to release line when initially casting by allowing the spool to spin freely. As the line is released from the spool, it then passes through the line guide on the reel. The line guide moves from side to side just above the spool and helps ensure even line lay when retrieving. The line guide also helps ensure even and clean release of line off the spool when casting

 
Once you’re familiar with some of the key differences between baitcasting reels and other types of fishing reels, it’s helpful to also understand additional types of baitcasting reels that are available.

Low Profile vs. Round Baitcasting Reels

Basically, there are two main types of baitcasting reels: low profile reels and round reels. If you happen to follow the professional bass tour on television then most likely you’ve seen low profile baitcasters in action. And if your goal is to fish for large or smallmouth bass then the low profile style of reel will likely be best suited. Available at most tackle shops and your favorite national fishing retailer, low profile reels are extremely popular.

Low profile baitcasting reels are most often lighter in weight and have a smaller spool than what you’ll find with round baitcasting reels, making them more enjoyable and comfortable to use for a day on the water. If you want to go for bigger freshwater game, use heavier line weights, cast longer distances, or plan to take your gear to the ocean then round baitcasting reels may be a better choice. Bear in mind that round baitcasting reels can certainly be used for bass fishing but are best suited to heavier lures such as spinnerbaits and large deep diving crankbaits. You’ll recognize the difference in shape with the round baitcasting reels, since, as the name suggests the reels are, well, round in shape. They also tend to be heavier as well due to overall size, more reel casing material, and larger spool and internal gearing.

The Numbers of Gear Ratios and Line Capacity

With all of the unique parts of a baitcasting reel in mind, there are more common considerations to make in purchasing new reels, including gear ratios. Gear ratios may appear to be instantly confusing and require a return to high school algebra. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Gear ratios are simply the number of full rotations of the spool that occur with one crank of the reel handle. For example, with a reel that has a 6.2:1 ratio there are 6.2 turns of the spool for every turn of the reel handle.

Why does this matter? Well, depending on where an angler is fishing or what an angler is fishing for it can be an advantage to retrieve more or less line with each turn of the reel handle using the mechanical advantage gears. So the gear ratio can help an angler just as it does in the gears of a bike or car.  Of course, if an angler prefers a workout then similar effects can be achieved without the gear advantage by just reeling in line more quickly or more slowly.
 
For anglers who want the reel to do the work then reels geared with a ratio of less than 6.0:1 are considered slower (or capable of bringing in less line per turn of the handle). Reels with ratios of 7.3:1 or higher are considered fast and have the mechanical advantage to bring in more line for every turn of the reel handle.  Generally speaking, for those with limited baitcasting experience, reels with higher gear ratios are considered more favorable and slightly easier to use
Another consideration in buying a reel is the line capacity and size of the spool.  In many instances, reel companies will offer several different sizes options for each model of reel they manufacture. The same brand of reel is often available in different sized models.  In general, reel companies use a similar number system to sizing reels, with lower numbers such as 1000 being smaller and larger numbers such as 5000 being on the larger end of the spectrum. Typically, the larger the model size the more line the reel will hold.
 
Keep in mind, not all fishing lines are the same so the amount of line held in a reel can vary depending on what brand and type of line an angler chooses.  For example, most reel manufacturers will provide a completely different set of line capacity ranges for each model size depending on whether a monofilament or a braided line is needed for the reel.

Getting Your Bearings

When buying a reel, consideration should be given to the number of bearings inside the reel.  The bearings inside of a fishing reel help reduce rotational friction and help structurally support the critical moving parts of the reel, such as the handle and the spool. A higher number of bearings can help ensure smoother operation since the more bearings that are inside the reel, the more rounded surface area is working to help reduce friction and keep the spool and handle running smoothly. This matters over the life of a reel when the amount of mechanical use and wear and tear is considered

Keep in mind though that a higher number of bearings does not guarantee better performance.  The quality of materials used in a reel’s construction is often of more importance than the number of bearings. Meaning that, a reel with a high number of low grade bearings may not run more smoothly than a reel with fewer but higher quality bearings. Bearings are the things you can’t typically look at when the internal mechanics of a reel on a store shelf are all sealed up. It’s worth doing the research about the internal components of a reel before making an investment — this is an area where you are going to get what you pay for.

While on the topic of bearings, the internal components of a fishing reel need to be continuously lubricated and kept clean to avoid corrosion and internal mechanical breakdown of the reel’s moving parts. Since reels are continuously exposed to the elements, such as water, dirt, and even salt, modern reels are now commonly equipped with sealed working systems. Sealing the reel is meant to reduce the amount of care that in theory is needed to be completed by the angler. Regardless, routine cleaning and basic maintenance of a reel is important in the longevity and consistent performance of fishing tackle. If nothing else, rinse gear off after a day on the water, even when just fishing in freshwater.

 

All Warranties Are Not the Same

Depending on the price of the reel an angler settles on, prices can range from less than $30 to more than $300. Buying fishing gear is an investment for any angler no matter their budget. So it’s important to consider the warranty that comes with the gear purchased online or in a retail store. Retailers have return policies if something goes wrong but there is typically a window of a few weeks or even just a few months at best. Fishing product manufacturers typically offer warranties of their own as well. But most reels, considering all of the intricate parts and mechanics involved, will only typically come with a limited one year warranty. Take into consideration that a reel may see some bumps and bruises, even unexpected use, before finding its way into your possession (e.g., handling by other shoppers who check out gear before you even get to the store, handling getting the reel to market from the factory, and the way the product was assembled by the manufacturer at their factory). Increasingly, many reels are made in China, and there are a lot of places between the retailer and China for products to get broken or damaged. Even if there is no way around the limits of a manufacturer’s one year warranty, be sure to unpack and inspect any reel upon returning home from the store or getting a new reel in the mail from ordering online.

Try, Then Buy

The purchase of a baitcasting reel should involve holding the reel in hand and testing it out. In evaluating any baitcasting reel regardless of the price, consider the additional features and comfort of the reel and whether it’s a piece of equipment worth owning for years to come.
Before making a purchase, anglers might consider some of the following questions about a baitcasting reel:

How does the reel look and feel overall in hand? 

What material is used in the construction of the reel foot and does it look durable?

How does the reel brake look and feel overall?

How does drag control look and feel overall?

How does the spool look and feel overall?

How does the thumb bar look and feel overall?

How do the line guides look and feel overall?

How does the handle look and feel overall?

How does the cast control knob look and feel overall?

How does the spool tensioner look and feel overall?

How does the product feel and look in terms of quality and durability?  Built to last or does it already feel like it will only last a few days?

 
 

Before making the purchase also keep in mind that baitcasting reels are traditionally sold with the handle on the right side, even though left handed models can be found as well. Still, with a handle on the right side it means that a right-handed angler will make a cast and then switch the rod to their left hand to crank the reel with their right hand. If fishing with a baitcasting combo is not a new thing then this type of setup is not news to you. If an angler is more accustomed to spinning gear then fishing with a baitcasting combo and the hand switching routine may take some adjustment.

The Rod Part of the Combo

In buying a baitcasting combo, there is also the rod to evaluate. Since the rod tends to be slightly more straightforward of the two parts of a baitcasting combo, there may be less to be picky about in selecting one combo over another. To some degree, the rod may also be looked at as the rod that just simply comes with the reel when buying combo gear.

Still, the rod is a piece of equipment that is critical and even if it’s a fixed and pre-packaged part of the baitcasting combo it should still be evaluated carefully. In assessing the rod that comes as part of a baitcasting rod and reel combo, consider the following:

How does the rod look overall? Anything you can tell about the design of rod blanks themselves or quality of material? Does anything stick out about the design of the rod?

How do guides look overall?  Quality of attachment to rod ”wraps”? Anything unique about the design of guides themselves or quality of material? Be sure to check for bent guides, particularly with single foot guides.

How does the rod butt look overall? Anything you can tell about the design of the rod butt or quality of material?

How does the reel seat look overall? Anything you can tell about the design or quality of material used?

How does the product feel and look in terms of quality and durability? Built to last or does it already feel like it will only last a few days?

Pulling It All Together

In the end, ultimate success with a baitcasting rod and reel comes with an angler having a solid understanding of how, when and where they plan to use the gear. And whether just starting out or with years of experience, an angler’s success with catching fish on a new baitcasting combo is not always directly related to the dollar amount spent on the new gear.

If an angler can start with a clear understanding of their fishing skill level (novice, intermediate or expert), where they plan to fish, what type of lures they plan to use, then the process of buying a new baitcasting combo can be pretty straightforward and painless.

A good baitcasting combo can help cash in on some of the key benefits of baitcasting, such as helping anglers execute popular techniques (e.g., flipping or pitching). The right baitcasting gear can also provide needed strength for throwing heavy lures and lessen fatigue that can result when doing so with inadequate gear. A solid baitcasting combo can also help open up new kinds of fishing opportunities and options for all levels of anglers.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this baitcasting combo buying guide. Tight lines!

Baitstick supports efforts to build the next generation of anglers nationwide, including the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) and The Outdoor Foundation