Considered the tournament-grade option when it comes to bass fishing reels, the accuracy and control baitcasting reels offer is what sets them apart from other reel types. Designed specifically to handle heavier tackle and more frenetic fishing styles, it’s not hard to see why more serious bass anglers go for this reel over any other.
Thanks to their huge popularity in the bass fishing community, buying a great baitcaster involves choosing between a ton of options. Without knowledge of the typical features that make them perfectly suited to catching bass, however, it can be very easy to get lost and overwhelmed.
Here we’ll help to take the pain out of choosing the best baitcaster reel for bass.
What is a Baitcasting Reel
First, let’s start with fundamentals; uncovering exactly what a baitcasting reel is and what it does.
Simply put, a baitcasting reel is designed with the purpose of casting out line, lure, and hook into the water and bringing it back in. In this way, it’s similar to all reels. What sets it apart is its design and intended use with a baitcasting rod.
Designed to sit on top of the rod in line with the rod guides (the metal ‘eyelets’ the line is thread down), the baitcaster reel differs to the conventional reel that sits under the rod facing the ground. The consequence of this design element helps with an improved cast. Both in terms of distance and accuracy.
A baitcasting reel is also easily identified by its handle. Usually featuring two grip handles, baitcasters are more finely controlled on the retrieve (bringing the line back in). This also helps the angler to “play” the lure under a range of techniques.
Possibly the biggest reason that you’ll see so many pros using baitcasting reels, however, is their line capacity. Specifically made with larger sized spools that enable heavier and greater quantities of line to be stored on the reel, baitcasters are the more competent option for anglers looking to fish heavy lures in a range of conditions.
In comparison to other reel alternatives like the spinning, spincasting, trolling, and fly reel, the baitcaster stands apart as the most commonly used reel for hardened bass fanatics and career anglers. These are the types of people who live and die by what reel and rod they use.
Baitcasting Vs Spinning
The other option that comes closest to the baitcasting reel in terms of popularity and use in bass fishing is the spinning reel.
Commonly recommended for beginners starting out in the sport, the spinning reel differs to the baitcasting in several ways. The most obvious starting point in comparing the two is the spool (the place where the line is stored and released). On spinning reels, the line is released by moving the bail arm (a wire component that locks and unlocks the spool).
Baitcasting reels use a different method. Here the spool is “popped” or “pressed” down in the line release. It doesn’t require moving any other hard components to do this. The line is then cast and released from the reel by a technique that involves using the thumb to let it fly out.
The drag system (the part that allows the line to be pulled off the reel by a fish to prevent it from breaking under tension) of a baitcasting reel is also different from the spinning reel. On a spinner, it’s usually set or adjusted by buttons on the spool itself. On a baitcaster, it’s mostly done by forward and backward motions on a lever beside the reel handle.
Beginners might also notice that when a baitcaster rod and reel is paired up there’s also a big difference in the size of the first guide compared to a spinner (with the latter being much larger). The smaller size helps add to the added control of the baitcasting option. Something which commonly sets the two options apart.
Next up there’s the spool tension button on a baitcaster. This determines how a lure sits in the water. If it’s tight the lure won’t sink as naturally.
Spinning reels usually either omit this feature or have a simpler version of it. For that reason, they’re often recommended over baitcasters because you avoid the line backlash issue that comes with this feature. Beginners often have trouble with baitcasters and birdnest tangles because they set the spool tension too high.
One last thing that commonly sets the two apart is the braking system. Baitcasting reels require much more adjustment than a spinning reel in this regard. Usually, the angler has to open the reel and set the brakes according to preference (with lure type and fishing conditions also factoring).
Advantages of Baitcasting Reels
Having discussed the commonalities and differences between the baitcaster and its common alternative it’s natural to point out why people would choose it over the spinner. Possibly the biggest reason is the cast.
Baitcasting reels are more effective in reaching more water than a spinning reel, especially hard to reach areas that require a precise cast. Due to their increased speed on retrieve, they also allow for more casts. That means you can pitch an area of water to scout for bass far more effectively.
The capability of handling heavier line and lure is another big advantage baitcaster reels bring to the table. For bass anglers who want to fish in heavy cover, somewhere that requires strong line to avoid snagging and breaking on obstacles, that’s a critical factor. Even more given these are usually prime spots to catch bass.
The added sensitivity that baitcaster reels and rods bring is also well favored in the bass fishing community. The fact that you can employ a wider range of techniques with the set-up, from cranking to jerking and beyond, means you can switch tactics very quickly. The fact they’re generally lighter in weight also contributes toward this.
Disadvantages of Baitcasting Reels
The biggest disadvantage when it comes to baitcasting is also its biggest strength – the cast.
Tricky to get the handle of, especially for the beginners, casting out line on a baitcasting reel takes a lot of practice for those unaccustomed.
Requiring use of your thumb and flipping the rod tip forward while the spool is released, many new to baitcasting report problems with backlash and tangles in their first attempts. Especially as they’re unsure about how much pressure to apply.
For that matter, beginners are often recommended to take up spinning or spincast fishing first before graduating to baitcasting as that will prime them on the basics of the cast, retrieve and hook-set.
Once that’s mastered, beginners often then make the graduation to baitcasting methods, fully aware of the numerous advantages. Practicing the new technique before they head out to the water is generally recommended also.
Another potential disadvantage to baitcasters is price. Due to the added components and features of the average baitcasting reel, they often overshadow the average spinning reel in terms of production and retail costs. For a newcomer unsure of how they’ll take to the sport, stumping up the extra cash for a baitcaster can be somewhat off-putting when there are cheaper spinning options available.
Then there’s the issue of maintenance. Baitcasters with their added components and dependency on ball bearings, braking and drag systems, require more care than the average spinner. As an angler wanting to get the best out of the reel, you’ll need to ensure your parts are running smoothly by being well lubricated, clean and unobstructed.
Having discussed the main pros and cons of using a baitcasting reel as well as comparing them to spinners, it makes sense to look at the features and components that help make this reel type a prime choice when it comes to catching bass.
You’ll want to consider each of the following features carefully when shopping for the best baitcasting reel for bass.
Most baitcasting frames will be forged out of some kind of metal. As the main backbone of the reel, you’ll want this to be as high quality as possible. Ensuring its durable, long-lasting and can hold up in a range of conditions.
Material-wise the choice usually comes down to a few options; graphite, cast aluminum or extruded or machined aluminum.
Graphite frames are generally seen in more entry-level models that are cheaper and not as durable. Machined aluminum is the opposite of that, usually more expensive but higher-grade. Cast aluminum falls somewhere between.
Thankfully cracking and warping of a baitcasting reel frame is a rarity no matter the material. As long as you treat your reel with respect your choice of material shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Just make sure it comes in one piece. All major brands should deliver a reel that’s ready to go right out of the box.
Round Vs Low Profile
A recent trend in tournament bass fishing is to use a low profile reel that’s scaled down, lighter and generally more mobile than a traditional round baitcaster. For pros who need to cover a lot of water and throw out a series of quick casts, this type of baitcaster can make a huge difference.
For more relaxed anglers the traditional round model, bigger and bulkier in their make-up, deliver all the same features as a low profile model, albeit size and weight.
For handling heavier tackle this can be something of an added benefit too. Especially as low profile baitcasters generally have smaller spools and limited line capacity too.
A couple of other differences between the two variations can also be seen in the feel, power, and distance of these reels. As low profiles have their gears on the side they tend to take up less space and allow for a better grip. When jigging or buzzing spinnerbaits this can really make a difference.
Round reels are generally more powerful given the added surface area. That makes them better suited to handling bigger fish (not just bass). They also offer extra casting distance due to the added line capacity.
In summary, a low profile baitcaster is more ergonomic and easier on the wrist. A rounded holds more line, heavier line and can be used for long runs when a fish is fighting hard.
Gear ratio is hugely important in bass fishing as it determines how fast a reel can bring the line back in from the cast independently of whether you’ve hooked a fish or not. When fishing particular techniques, where a lure has to be brought in at a certain speed, for example, added speed can make all the difference in drawing a bass into biting.
Understanding gear ratio is simple enough. The first number in the measurement dictates how many turns of the spool you’ll get. The second illustrates the turn on the reel handle. This is almost always one. 6.1:1, for example, illustrates you’ll get just over six revolutions for one rotation of the reel handle.
Common ratios in baitcasting reels range from 5.4:1 up to 7.1:1. As someone unsure as to what gear ratio you’ll require it’s often a good idea to go to the middle of these values and pip for 6.4:1. This is perhaps the most common ratio for bass anglers and allows them the best of both worlds for making both fast and slow presentations with a lure.
Unless you’re absolutely sure of what kind of lure type you’ll be using and exactly how you plan on fishing, it’s sensible to go for a gear ratio that keeps things as open as possible in terms of lure choice.
Spools play a big role on baitcasting reels by not only keeping the line perpendicular to the spool axis and eliminating line twist but also in their size and how much line they hold.
When shopping, you’ll want to think about the line and lure you hope to use, as well as the casting distance you’ll likely need to match.
Larger spool baitcasting reels will handle more line and help you cast out further. They’ll also allow you to handle heavier pound-test line that’s thicker in diameter as well as the braided line types that are required for power bass fishing.
Smaller spool reels, although lighter and more portable, will restrict your line capacity and cast more but not so much as a spinning reel. For a beginner hoping to fish monofilament or fluorocarbon lines, that are typically thinner in diameter and lighter in weight, a small spool reel might be the better choice.
Aside from size, you’ll also want to consider the material the spool is constructed from. Forged aluminum, as it is with the baitcaster frame, is again the best choice. They’re also more rigid and harder to damage and scratch.
Ball bearings are what helps smooth out the performance of a baitcasting reel, making the line run fluid on and off the reel.
As a general rule bass anglers generally consider the more bearings a reel has, the better performance it’s likely to deliver. This is however contingent on the type of bearings used. Fewer bearings of forged aluminum ceramics are likely to perform better than a large number of lower quality stainless steel.
Shielded, double-shielded, and sealed bearings that are well-lubricated and evenly-distributed within the reel body are the best choice. This will help increase the life-span of the reel as well as give a long, consistent cast that goes exactly where you want it. A baitcaster with few bearings is best avoided.
Quality reel manufacturers recognize the importance of bearings when it comes to construction. Beginners unsure as to what separates good from bad can usually trust in the reputable brand names to select the best grade possible.
The drag system of a reel is what determines how much line can be given out back to a fish that’s hooked and fighting hard. In bass fishing, this is important as it avoids the tension increasing to the point of line breakage. Resulting in you losing both the lure and the fish.
The best baitcasting reels will have drag systems that are intuitive to use and easily adjustable. Oftentimes manufacturers will have engineered their own system, which incorporates buttons, dials and the like in order to set it manually by your own hand or automatically by the system itself.
Baitcaster drag systems should have a “clicker”. This helps you recognize when a fish has taken the lure and is successfully hooked. This can prove very useful for beginners who can’t tell by touch or feel alone that a bass has taken the bait. For the more advanced angler, there should be an option to switch this off if desired.
Setting the drag on a baitcaster, depending on the system put in place by the manufacturer, can take some getting used to. Going with mainstream brands when buying a reel is a good idea in this regard. Especially as there will be plenty of documentation and instructionals online as to how to set it most effectively.
Brake systems adjust and slow down the rotation of the spool during the cast. Setting them too high can cause a lot of backlash. Setting them too low can lead to overcasting.
The best baitcasting reels should have brake systems that can be easily set on the reel body itself. Usually, this can be done via a spool tension knob that’s found on the side of the reel handle. As an angler, you’ll want this to be in as obvious a place as possible.
From here braking systems then come down to a couple of choices. Centrifugal based systems are friction based and use pins in a side plate to control how fast or slow the spool runs. These should be easily reached and turned on or off accordingly. The best reels will have a six-pin system.
Magnetic braking systems are a little more complex and rely on magnetic forces to slow the spool speed. Although they tend to be a little more expensive than centrifugal, both systems work well as long as they can be quickly adjusted.
As previously mentioned, the tension adjustment of a baitcaster is what keeps the spool from running fast or slow when coupled with the braking system. For an angler who switches up lure choice a lot, this can prove important. Especially as you’ll need to reset it after changing your set-up.
A general rule of thumb is to employ more tension the heavier the lure. A ½ ounce spinnerbait, for that matter, will need more tension (and more turns on the tension knob) than a ¼ ounce jig. Make sure the reel you buy has a system that enables you to do this without over complication.
Finally, the line guides are another critical feature of a baitcasting rod and reel setup that help bring some clear advantages to its use.
Helping keep the line in parallel with the rod and the reel axis, line guides are important in keeping the rod and reel together as a unit. Rollers help guide the line from the spool to the rod, ensuring there is alignment when matching the line through the rods guides.
Without a good line guide system, the action and torque of your rod and reel setup can be impacted. Something that’s going to lead to your bait presentation moving unnaturally in the water and potentially spooking bass rather than attracting them.
Best Baitcasting Reel for Bass
Having discussed all the important things that help make up a great baitcasting reel, it’s time to take a look at some of the best examples out there. The following five choices, which cover a range of budgets, all stand up very well.
The Picsifun Torrent is one of the best entry-level baitcasters that offers durability, performance, and power. With a max drag of 18lb and a high-speed gear ratio of 7.1:1, the graphite composite body of this reel will surprise in terms of its reliability – especially considering the price. Perfect for those new to baitcasting who want to see how they take to it before investing heavily.
- Smooth and easy casting action that has very little backlash without compromising on distance
- Unbeatable quality for the price, the 5+1 shield bearings help flatten out the reel rotations and ensure tight control on the retrieve
- Comfortable 4 ⅓ inch handle complete with EVA knobs that increase power and help bring in hard fighting bass
- Tricky thumb button that makes locking the spool problematic
- Some difficulty engaging the reel requires manually lifting the lever to start the retrieve
- Tendency to be a little noisy on lighter lines and lures meaning you’ll have to adjust the spool tension and other settings to quieten it down
The top-level Lews, while not for a beginner looking to get into baitcasting for the first time, is a hugely popular lure that’s in a league of its own aesthetically. Forged out of a single piece of aluminum, its one-piece frame, graphite side plate, and 10 double-shielded stainless steel ball bearings make it amazing to handle.
- Zero reverse one-way clutch bearing feature is a nice touch that gives more manual control and precision that make for an unbeatable bass fishing cast
- Bowed, lightweight, aluminum reel handle is smooth to the touch and designed not to slip in the hand
- Works excellently with crankbaits on the slow retrieve due to a zirconia line guide and aluminum spool tension adjustment
- High price and potential overkill on features for the beginner or novice looking for something simpler to use
- Can be a little noisy around the spool area and could do with an extra half inch or so on the reel handle length
Another entry-level priced baitcasting reel, the KastKing Royale is a low profile option with 11+1 shield bearings and a 17.5 carbon drag that’s more than adequate for beginner bass angling. The 7.0:1 gear ratio and magnetic brake system makes it easy to control both the cast and retrieve, while stainless steel handles and non-slip EVA grips help raise its comfort and performance.
- Good for fishing light line in waters where you intend to catch lots of small or medium-sized bass while strong enough to handle casting into cover
- Works well with either fluorocarbon or braided line with a capacity that goes up to 65lbs on braided
- Left and right handed variations available that work well with medium to fast action baitcasting rods
- Bail is a little inconsistent on the cast with some problems concerning consistency in engaging the reel for the retrieve
- Some issues with line click
- Hard to remove the ball bearings from the reel body for cleaning and lubrication (lack of release mechanism)
This baitcasting reel comes in at a mid-entry price point but bridges the gap nicely between beginner baitcaster and top-of-the-range tournament reel. Low profile design with a magnetic braking system that’s externally adjustable and controls the spool while reducing backlash, the soft touch knob on this provides really good grip too.
- Light and compact, this reel can be moved about and pitched and flipped on open water with relative ease
- 9 bearing system and a gear ratio that’s 7.3:1 make it a dependable bass fishing reel that rivals more expensive models with lower quality components
- With little to no backlash on braid, the cork handle finish also makes it a comfortable reel for cranking
- Star drag settings click a bit but the spool control is fairly smooth and silent
- No left-hand model and little color or gear ratio variation
Another low profile baitcaster, Abu Garcia is widely renowned as a quality reel manufacturer that has a lot of fans in the bass fishing world. The Black Max, with a lightweight design with a one-piece graphite frame, is another mid-entry-level option for the casual angler.
- Machined aluminum spool and power disk drag system are high-quality components providing good value for money
- 6.4:1 gear ratio makes it a little slower than other reels on this list which makes it a nice option for anglers preferring more finesse style techniques
- Can take a while to adjust and get used to individual settings to match your desired casting range
- Braking system can lead to a few issues with backlash so beginners will need to take extra care
Baitcasting reels can help take your bass fishing to a whole new level. With more precision, control and speed than a spincaster, the best baitcasting reels for bass open up areas of water you never thought you’d reach.