Have you ever been to a large outdoors store? You know the ones; the major chains with fishing sections larger than your local tackle shop’s parking lot. These places are like heaven for anglers, because they have every conceivable fishing lure, rod, tool, and accessory you can think of.
With so many options, you can be struck with near paralysis.
Just look at the reels. There are hundreds, if not thousands of options. How can you possibly make a decision? One of the first steps you can take is to decide whether you want a spinning reel or a baitcaster.
These two unique reels constitute the majority of bass fishing, as well as many other styles of angling, so let’s look at the advantages and drawbacks from each style. Whether you are just starting to fish or want to review the basics, this is the information you need before you buy.
A spinning reel is probably the most common type of fishing rod among anglers, especially those going after small to medium-sized fish like bass, redfish, and crappie. These reels have a fixed spool underneath the rod, and line is drawn out by the weight of the lure, bait, or tackle.
Benefits of a Spinning Reel
All around versatility is the biggest reason people choose spinning reels. They can be used to cast many different types of tackle, including artificial lures and live bait. Because they only need to pull the weight of the fishing line, spinning reels are especially useful for light tackle and bait.
Drawbacks of a Spinning Reel
While spinning reels are great for casting practically everything in your tackle box, they don’t always provide the best effectiveness for heavy lures. They are also not as accurate as baitcasters, so experienced bass anglers use them sparingly.
If you are just getting started in fishing, a versatile and easy-to-use spinning reel is probably your best option.
Baitcasters, also known as “bait casting reels”, are for the more experienced anglers who want better control and accuracy. With a baitcaster, the spool rotates as you cast, meaning the inertia has to be strong enough to move the spool but not so strong that it creates a rat’s nest. These types of reels require experience and skill, often requiring a full season’s worth or practice before they can be used effectively.
Benefits of a Baitcaster
The number one advantage for a baitcaster is accuracy. After hours of practice with a baitcaster, you’ll be able to put a lure exactly where you want it. You’ll also be able to stop the lure on a dime, meaning bad casts that are headed for a snag can be swiftly recovered.
Drawbacks of a Baitcaster
You need patience to use a baitcaster effectively. At first, it will seem impossible to cast correctly, and if you don’t stop the spool after the lure lands, the line keeps feeding out, creating a frustrating mess. They are also used for lures alone, so they don’t have the versatility of other reels.
When you are ready to upgrade your fishing and increase your accuracy, consider purchasing a baitcaster.
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The Choice Between Spinning and Baitcasting
By Ronald F. Dodson, Ph.D.
Bass anglers have at their fingertips an ever increasing array of advanced technology to apply in pursuing their sport. Fishing reels are no exception. Each year they become better designed and constructed out of new composites which often result in them being stronger, lighter, and more functional than their predecessors.
In both spinning and casting reels, these major improvements include better and more reliable drag systems, more precision machinery of external components as well as the internal gears, drive assembly, and bearings.
For more information:
- Fishing Reels
- Know Your Reels
- Equipment Basics
- How To Adjust A Baitcasting Reel
- How To Fix Line Twist In 60 Seconds
- 4 Myths About Finesse Fishing
Many baitcasting reels contain anti-backlash devices including magnets that make life easier for the beginner than back when the old legendary Ambassador 5000 series was the standard tool of bass anglers.
You no longer have to learn the fine art of variable "thumbing" of the spool on the cast to prevent overrun. After all, the free spool on the baitcasting reel is just that, a wheel that turns as fast as the speed, or RPMs, induced by the weight going out on the line. Without magnet systems or "thumbing" skills, the physics involved will keep the RPM up even when the line pressure decreases at the end of the cast, thus overrun paradise occurs.
Baitcasting and spinning reels are now offered in various gear ratios. This is not a trivial factor if you want to select a rig that lets you keep a buzzbait on top or retrieve a Rat-L-Trap on top of vegetation.
The line comes off of a spinning reel spool in coils and, unlike the baitcasting reel, the spool is stationary during the cast. Once mastered, the spinning reel is much less likely to backlash under more trying conditions such as casting light lures or casting into a stiff breeze.
The backlash we usually envision is the typical bird's nest. However, the small loop that often gets wound up on a baitcasting spool creates a site for line damage. This happens because each strand of line that rolls over the loop during a cast creates an etching effect.
Spinning reels, like baitcasting models, have been improved in smoothness and efficiency. Additional styles are now offered by most major manufacturers that allow for one-finger casting. In essence, this is some type of locking mechanism that catches the spool/bail position at a specific point so that you can trip a trigger and pick up the line with one finger. This helps you avoid having to use two hands for flipping the bail and allowing line release on the cast.
Another major improvement in spinning reels is the toughness of the roller bearing. These points get the most friction and wear since line passes over the roller with considerable friction on the retrieve. On earlier reels these would etch after a while and create another place that could scar line. The use of space-aged metals such as the titanium alloys has changed all that.
Spinning reels were, by their nature, easier to make for higher speed retrieves than baitcasting models. Gears alone don't determine the amount of line up-take on a rotation of the handle. Actually, the wider diameter of a spinning reel gives an inherent advantage since once rotation at comparable gear ratio will result in more line going on the wider diameter. This same factor comes into play with the amount of line you put on a spool, with either type of reel.
The more line you put on a spool, the faster that given reel is on the retrieve. Spool designs for spinning tackle have also changed. If you look at some of the better reels, they will have tapered spools that actually have a physical design basis to support claims of less line wear and more efficiency. In use, you will sense a freer flow of the line.
It used to be simple to say that reel choice was dependent on line choice. Not that long ago logic dictated that heavier line should be used on baitcasting reels and lighter, and thinner line used on spinning reels. However, since the revolution of fishing lines has occurred, this has all changed.
There are very thin and very strong braided or composite lines as well as very thin monofilament. The manufacturers are savvy enough to realize that happy customers are those who buy again. These days they generally advertise which lines are usable on both types of reels and which aren't advisable. Some lines even advise on packaging that they are not suitable for spinning reels.
The down side of spinning tackle is that line that sits on the spool for a period of time often comes off in a coil. If the memory, or inherent coil, becomes excessive you have to put on new line or stretch the line on the reel. This can be done by putting a light weight on the line and letting it drag behind the boat for a few minutes.
More often than not I run into anglers who use baitcasting tackle only and miss out on the real versatility of spinning tackle. For example, finesse techniques such as wacky worms, grubs, and tube fishing are ideally suited for the spinning reel presentation. These styles, as a rule, incorporate lighter line and more subtle presentation.
Speaking of presentation, it's far easier to teach a beginner to cast a flat trajectory with spinning tackle than with baitcasting. Mastering the sling-shot type of cast used under boathouses and docks is also easier with spinning gear.
Fishing manmade structure spinning tackle can make the difference in your level of success. If you can't get back under the structure, you're missing places where fewer people have made casts. With baitcasting reels you can still master this presentation, but one slip and you have overrun. Spinning tackle is much more forgiving.
If you want to cast baits or soft plastics longer distances, a longer rod will help. If you choose to fish under docks and boathouses, a shorter rod of 5-1/2 feet would be a better choice. Many of these casts are, of necessity, flat trajectories and underhand or side-armed so a longer rod just gets in the way.
If you crank a reel with your right hand, adding a spinning reel to retrieve with your left can also give you a physical variation as you fish.
Even though there are heavier lines for use with a spinning reel, I wouldn't recommend it. If you try to overload the reel with heavier line you're going to have to work much harder to make reasonable casts. If your preference is for heavier line, stick with baitcasting tackle.
The casting technique for baitcasting reels versus spinning tackle seems to create a mental blank for those who have only cut their teeth on level wind equipment. There is less arm action required with spinning tackle and actually your best approach to learning the right casting technique is to make yourself keep your elbow against your ribs. Start out by only casting the spinning reel with your wrist. The spinning rod should have a fast tip and a more firm butt region. A rod that flexes all the way equally down the shaft is, in my opinion, less desirable and harder to control for spot casting.
If you want the best presentation with either your favorite baitcasting or spinning tackle, practice at home not on the lake.
Touring pro Denny Brauer has made a reputation on the trail with his spot casting. He uses either flipping or pitching techniques. However, he would be the first to tell you it took him hours to master the low trajectory presentation that gets his lure back where others don't fish.
If you want an easier approach to achieving many of the same presentations and want to learn how to do it quicker, you might try spinning tackle.
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Choosing Freshwater Gear: Spinning or Baitcasting
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Newcomers to the freshwater angling world usually find spinning gear easier to use than baitcasters. Learning to operate and cast with a spinning outfit is relatively painless and free from the frustration caused by backlashes. Subsequently, spinning reels are what most anglers use as they begin to learn how to fish.
From that early experience, many anglers stick with spinning tackle and remain happy fishermen for years. Yet others migrate to the baitcasting world. Many are drawn to baitcasters by the professional bass anglers, some of whom carry as many as 20 or 30 baitcasting outfits on the boat with them as they fish.
The question I hear many anglers ask is: "Which type of reel is better — spinning or baitcasting?" That answer depends on several things, including the fish you pursue, the bait you use, and just plain angler preference.
Spinning vs Baitcast
Many of today's anglers grew up watching the B.A.S.S. pros on television or reading about them in fishing magazines. Back then, few pros were ever seen with a spinning rod in their hands. In fact, in years past, no self-respecting bass fisherman would be caught dead with a spinning rod in his boat! Nowadays, you can flip to your favorite Saturday morning fishing show and find that this is not the case anymore, as several bass anglers can be found frequently downsizing baits and using spinning gear.
Muskie fishermen will almost exclusively use the larger variety of baitcaster with braided line to handle these brutes. Northern pike demand similar equipment. And, big catfish being hauled up from the bottom require the heavier rods that are found with baitcasters.
Line size probably plays the most important role in tackle selection. Whether fishermen realize it or not, pros are using baitcast tackle for a very specific reason. Baitcast reels can handle heavier line and actually allow for longer casts than spinning gear in the same size range. Bass anglers regularly use line in the 14- to 17-pound-test range. Muskie and catfish anglers use even heavier line. A small spinning reel has a smaller, more narrow spool, which has a hard time with large diameter lines. Small baitcast reels can handle these lines and provide greater casting distance.
Baitcast rods usually have more backbone than spinning rods as well. The backbone of a rod is the portion of the blank closest to the handle that gives the least when bent. When properly constructed, a casting rod's backbone will lie directly on top of the blank as the angler holds the rod. This backbone allows lures to be "ripped" through vegetation more easily, while also ensuring a more powerful hook-set than a spinning rod of the same class.
The arrival of braided line, with its thin diameter and much heavier breaking strength, brought some issues to light in freshwater fishing circles. This super-thin line causes problems on baitcast reels simply because it is so small in diameter. Setting the hook on a fish with braided line on a baitcasting reel tends to bury the line deep into the spool, a situation that will cause a major backlash on the very next cast. Small line diameter is also why monofilament lines less than about 10-pound test are seldom found on baitcast reels.
However, braided line, with its high strength to diameter ratio now allows spinning tackle to be used in heavier applications. Fifty-pound test braid has the diameter of 12-pound monofilament, and as such, is more easily cast with a spinning rod and reel. Several manufacturers make reels that pick line up onto the spool in such a way that it can't bury itself into the spool on a hook set. That, coupled with the virtual no-stretch quality of braided line, has made spinning tackle more and more attractive to freshwater anglers.
Because of braided line improvements, I now see spinning gear being used for muskie and northern pike. I also see spinning gear being used for catfish, as well.
Anglers looking to make a choice between spinning tackle and baitcasting tackle need to look at their specific fishing techniques before making that choice. In reality, the choice is not between which one an angler uses. It has become more of a choice of which of the two an angler will use in a given situation. In general, the lighter the line required in a given fishing situation, the more attractive spinning tackle becomes.
So, the answer to this oft asked question is: "It depends." Next time you're considering which outfit is the better choice, make sure you determine where and how you plan to fish. That is the true consideration when choosing between spinning and baitcasting tackle.