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Casting Reel Buyer's Guide at Cabela's

Casting Reel Buyer's Guide

Author: Frank Ross

When heavy work is involved, you want a reel that can handle the load and stand up to years of cranking in big lures and big fish. That type of demand calls for a casting reel, and this buyer’s guide is intended to help you decide which reel is the perfect one for your level of experience and angling ambition.

Baitcasting, or simply "casting" reels are ideal for many different presentations, and they’re a pleasure to use if you’ve selected the right model for the species you’re targeting. Consider buying a baitcasting reel if you’re throwing heavy lures such as large crankbaits or big jigs, or if you’re going after large species of fish that require a lot of cranking power and significant line capacity. Fishermen going after freshwater species such as big northerns or muskie and just about any of the larger saltwater species prefer baitcasting type reels.

Baitcasting reels are mounted on the top of the fishing rod and are often referred to simply as casting reels. This style of reel is designed with a spool that turns at a right angle to the reel seat, or rod. Casting reels works best with lines of 8-pound test or larger, although lightweight reels are available that will handle line as low as 4-pound test. Larger versions can take the heaviest line weights for battling bigger fish in both freshwater and saltwater.

Right-handed reels are the most common configuration, where the reel is held in the left hand and cranked with the right. Models are available with the opposite arrangement for those that prefer to cast with their dominant right hand and reel without switching it over to the other hand for reeling. Larger versions are available to handle the heaviest lines and heartiest species.

I’ll admit it; I’m somewhat of a technology freak. But who isn’t, when it comes to innovations that make our lives easier. The only downside is that the latest and greatest is usually a little pricey. If you’re considering stepping into the casting reel arena, or want to upgrade the old reel you’ve been using, here are a few considerations to evaluate before casting your fate to the wind.

Shimano’s Calcutta TE® DC If you aspire to own something state of the art, the latest engineering marvel to hit the fishing industry is Shimano’s Calcutta TE® DC. This is the first reel to utilize a digitally controlled circuit board to brake the reel automatically every 1/1000th of a second, based on your selection of eight pre-programmed settings. The Calcutta TE® DC is the world’s first self-energizing electronic digital braking system. The increased efficiency of line management has the potential to add significant distance to your casts with less effort and fewer backlashes. If $500 is beyond the realm of possibility, there are many others to select from. The question is always which features are worth the money, and which do you really need? Here are some guidelines that will help you decide which reel is best for you and the way you fish.

As with any fishing gear, where you intend to use it is a major factor as well as the size of your target species. When looking for quality, don’t be swayed by the total number of bearings that a reel uses. The number of bearings isn’t as important as the quality of the steel used in their construction. If you’re fishing in brackish or saltwater environments, make sure you choose a reel with stainless steel bearings that are exposed to water, to protect your investment against corrosion. On casting reels, the bearings that support the reel’s spool and level wind are the most critical relative to corrosion.

Gear Ratio
Gear ratio can be an issue, depending on target species as well, but it’s more an issue of your style of fishing. Reels with a ratio of 5.5:1 to 6.3:1 are fast retrieve reels. If you need more cranking power, choose a reel with a lower ratio, 3.1:1 to 4.1:1. The numbers are simple to understand. The first two are the gear ratio and the last indicates the number of turns of the reel handle. Therefore, the spool of a reel with a 6.3:1 ratio will turn around 6.3 times for every turn of the reel’s handle. A lower gear ratio like 3.1:1 is indicative of a main gear that is smaller, which relates to the first gear of your standard transmission truck. Want a very fast reel; check out the Daiwa Procaster PT33SH Casting Reel. The Procaster has a 7.1:1 ratio that cranks in 31 inches of line with every turn of the handle. This reel features an Autocast® Lifetime clutch coupled with Magforce anti-backlash control for smooth, tangle-free operation.

Bird’s Nests
Bird’s nests or backlashes have always been the stumbling block for anglers considering the addition of a casting reel to their selection of fishing gear. Traditional manual intervention with the thumb while trying to maximize casting distance and eliminate backlashes is a difficult technique to master if you don’t do it on a regular basis. The trick is to control the speed of the spool and synchronize it with the line as the lure pulls it out through the air.

While the Calcutta TE® DC, might be the ultimate, there are a number of innovations in this area that will have a dramatic impact on your fishing pleasure. Other than the digital and external spool-braking approach, two different systems are used to control over-spin that creates bird’s nests or backlash - centrifugal brakes and magnetic brakes.

You’ll find both centrifugal and magnetic brakes on various models, and according to Cabela’s reel expert, Tom Rolls, it really boils down to personal preference. "I think both systems work well. It’s largely an issue of which one an angler likes to use. Both are spool-breaking methods, and both work well as long as they are adjusted properly. Like any tool, proper adjustment is the key, and external adjustments make it so much faster and easier to achieve the same results," he said.

Cabela’s innovative Tournament ZX reel uses both systems, combined to control this problem at both the beginning and end of the cast. On the Tournament ZX, the centrifugal brake controls the line at the beginning of the cast and toward the end, when the spool is slowing down, the magnetic brake takes over. The magnetic brakes are externally adjustable to minimize backlashes and maximize casting distances. Most importantly, both adjustments are external on the Tournament ZX.

Line Capacity
For most freshwater species, line capacity isn’t an issue, with the exception of big northerns, steelhead, salmon and muskie. For these species, you’ll want to have the added peace of mind, knowing you’ve got plenty of line, when a big fish starts a real long run. Line capacity is directly related to a reel’s spool, and although a small spindle will increase a reel’s capacity, reels with the most capacity are high profile-round models. Lower profile reels, by nature of their design, have smaller spools and therefore less line capacity. For the majority of fishing applications, the line capacity of low-profile reels isn’t an issue and that shouldn’t be a serious concern for bass, walleye or panfish anglers if you like that look or style.

Cabela’s Tournament ZX Low profile reels came into being because of a need. The effect is achieved, in part by the design of a recessed reel foot that is positioned further into the reel’s frame, which makes the reel sit lower in the reel seat. When mounted on a rod, this creates a much more "palmable" feel than traditional round designs, but it also increases the comfort level for anglers that grasp the reel as well as the handle as they are winding.

Flippin’ Switch
Flippin’ switches are a handy feature for bass fishermen who prefer this productive technique, but not all flippin’ switches are created equal. The main function of a flippin’ switch is to re-engage the reel’s spool. Some flippin’ switches are designed to be on all the time, once they’re triggered. To reengage the spool and set the hook, you must turn the reel handle. However, with Cabela’s Tournament ZX casting reel the flippin’ switch is unique. Push down on the thumb-bar to release the spool, then just push the easy to reach flippin’ switch to reengage the reel’s spool. While bass anglers love this innovation, this is particularly useful feature for walleye anglers who like to use a tiller motor. The Tournament ZX’s flippin’ switch can be operated easily to find the bottom and the spool quickly reengaged with one hand (or more correctly, thumb) while the other is busy on the tiller.

Regardless of the reel you select, it’s imperative that you have a thorough understanding of the way your new reel works, and the appropriate adjustments to control the spool. I know, it’s a hard thing for a guy to do, but reading the manual will save you a great deal of frustration on the water. Your owner’s manual will also detail the proper care and maintenance procedures that should be performed annually.

Also, keep in mind that increased levels of performance in casting reels may require a higher degree of operator skills. Buying an expensive reel will not make you a better caster - only practice will accomplish that. Since that means spending more time on the water fishing, this shouldn’t be a hard pill to swallow.