If you’re looking to cast lures with more accuracy and control, then you might want to invest in a baitcasting reel, especially if you’re targeting species such as pike and perch.


In this article, we will be going over the anatomy of a baitcaster, explain how to set up your baitcaster properly and how to cast a baitcaster.


So the anatomy of a baitcaster can be daunting to anglers who have only primarily fished with fixed spool spinning reels. The cosmetic looks are completely different and so is the way you cast with them. Below, we will be breaking down each important component within a baitcaster and explain their uses. 

Level Wind

The level wind is pretty much self-explanatory. It manages the line, ensuring it goes onto the baitcaster’s spool evenly – this is important, as it allows the line to leave the spool more efficiently during the cast. It is located on the front of the reel and is usually fitted with a plastic or metal collar to protect the line when retrieving it to the spool.

level wind

Drag System

The drag system comes in form of a star handle that sits just behind the reels handle – which provides easy and quick access during the fight. The reel’s fighting drag system is built into the reel’s gearing, allowing the full design of a baitcaster to be more compact and ergonomically friendly. Drag settings are a personal preference. Some anglers like setting it very tight so they can concentrate on setting hooks during a take without worrying about the line slipping from the spool. Alternatively, anglers might set the drag slightly lighter and use their thumb on the spool to stop line slipping during a hook set.

star drag system

Spool Tension Knob

This is the primary braking system which is located on the reel handle side of the reel. So why do we require this braking system? Good question! This primary braking system allows us to set our reel up to cast different weighted lures by applying the right amount of resistance on the spool to stop overruns or backlashes.

baitcaster backlash

A baitcaster backlash or overrun is when the spool is spinning quicker than the speed of the line leaving the spool.

The spool tension knob will dictate how much resistance is placed on the spool of the reel when in free spool mode. The more you tighten the spool tension knob, the less time the spool will spin for and the more you loosen off the tension knob, the longer the spool will spin for. This tension knob will be the final adjustment tool used for setting up the baitcaster for casting lures.

spool tension knob

Centrifugal Braking System/Variable Braking System

This is the secondary braking system, this is located on the opposite side of the handle. Usually hidden away by a side plate.

A centrifugal system contains a set of brake blocks (usually small white/orange blocks) that can be pushed outwards or inwards. 


By pushing the blocks out using your fingernail this will activate the brake (they will click when activated), you will notice after the brake blocks are set in the outwards position that they will still have a slight bit of play – meaning the blocks will actually be able to move outwards freely, this is because when the spool is spinning during the cast, the activated brake blocks will push out with the remaining free movement they have and will apply resistance on the inside of the brake drum which is located on the inside of the removable side plate of the reel.

centrifugal braking system

This shows the activate brake blocks in their active state if the reel spool was spinning. The exposed blocks on the outside of the spool have direct contact with the drum located on the side plate, creating resistance to slow the spool down.

Which in turn will slow the speed of the spool down. The more brake blocks you push out the more resistance there is on the drum, so the shorter the length of time the spool will spin freely for.

Please note: If you push one brake block out, then we advise pushing the one opposite it out as well. This will stop any imbalances on the spool of the reel.

These systems perform well on the start of the cast as they already have a predetermined resistance placed on the spool.

Magnetic Braking Systems

Magnetic brakes work on the principle that the closer the magnetic brakes are to the spool of the reel, the quicker the spool will slow down and it will spin for a shorter period of time. The further away the magnets are from the spool the more freedom the spool has to spin and the longer the spool will spin for.

Magnetic braking system

Notice how the magnets sit on the inside of the sideplate.

So how do the magnetic brakes work on an aluminium spool? Good question! The spool actually acts as a conductor, current is generated by the spool when it moves through the opposing force of the magnetic field. The magnets produce their own magnetic field, once the spool starts spinning, those two forces oppose each other and slow the spool down.

The majority of magnetic braking systems come fitted with a dial located on the side plate opposite side of the reel handle, the dials are usually on a scale of 1 to 10. The higher the number the closer the magnets are to the spool and the lower the number the further away the magnets are away from the spool. The only downside to magnetic braking systems is you can’t switch the magnets off, so there is always some sort of resistance on the spool.

Magnetic brake system dial

Turning this dial up will increase the magnetic force by moving the magnets closer to the spool. Turning the dial down, will move the magnets further away from the spool.

Magnetic braking systems work better at the back end of the cast as the magnets will find it easier to bring the spool to a stop the slower it is spinning.  Magnetic brakes have the advantage of having an adjustment dial located on the side plate which provides further braking refinement. The higher the number the more resistance will be created by the magnets which will produce a shorter cast.

Some baitcasters even come with a combination of the two braking systems. This can provide further refinement to your braking system.

Thumb Bar

This is for engaging the free spool, ready to cast. After casting, turn the reel handle to disengage the thumb bar, you are ready to retrieve. 

thumb bar


1. Remove the side plate of your reel and ensure you have at least 4 of the brake blocks initially on. We want to ensure we are not going to experience any overruns/backlashes. (Overruns are when the spool is spinning quicker than the line can leave the spool, this then creates loose loops of line that then quickly entangles within one another – this is called a birds nest)

2. Then we want to attach a lure to the end of our rod and have it hanging 12 inches from the rod tip.

3. Tighten up the tension knob as far as it will go.

4. Then disengage the thumb bar, at this moment the lure will unlikely move due to the amount of tension on the spool. Gently loosen the tension knob off until the lure starts to slowly fall to the ground. When the lure falls and hits the ground the spool should stop spinning if it doesn’t slightly adjust the tension knob until it does.

5. Once the reel has been adjusted, we can start to work on the cast. Use your thumb to disengage the thumb bar and hold the spool in one smooth transition. Cast as normal, while having your thumb hover over the rotating spool during the cast. Initially, you should notice that your casting distance will be greatly restricted.  You want to become comfortable with the reel and hone your technique before looking to increase your casting distance.

6. Once you start to feel comfortable casting a lure, you can then start to refine your braking system and spool tension knob to help increase your distance.

Since the majority of baitcaster drag systems are built into the reels gearing. Baitcasters with high gear ratios have lower drag settings, and lower-gear-ratio reels have higher maximum drag.

This means using a high resistance lure such as a large spinnerbait or crankbait on a high gear ratio reel may wear it out the drag system quicker as the gearing is not designed for high drag/resistance applications.

How to spool up a baitcaster

When spooling up a baitcaster, always place a few yards of monofilament backing on the spool first this will ensure the braid does not slip on the spool. If the braid is tied directly to the spool it may slip and this will make your drag feel like it’s not working properly as the line will slip under any tension as it has nothing to bind too on the spool. Alternatively, a small strip of electrical tape placed on the braid will also be as effective.

backing line

Placing a few turns of monofilament on the spool will stop your braid from slipping on the spool when under tension.

Hold the line under tension when applying it to the reel and ensure it is being applied down the centre of the reel.

spooling up a baitcaster

Always ensure the line is under tension when applying it to the spool.

One thing you might bump into while spooling up your baitcaster is line bunching, this is when the line will load unevenly onto the spool (see image below)

line bunching

Line bunching is when the line lay becomes uneven on the spool.

If line bunching does occur, there is an easy fix! Simply, hold the line under tension with your hand as you would while spooling up, but tilt your hand to the shallower side of the spool (the side with less line). Putting the line on at this angle will compensate for the lack of line on this side of the spool and will eventually spool up more evenly.

mending line bunching

If it is still slightly out, a few trips out will eventually bring back a more even line lay through use.

Thumb it

Once you gain confidence in casting a baitcaster, you will get to the stage where you will turn off all/the majority of the brakes during the cast. Your thumb will become your braking system. You will find over time that you manage your line control and speed with your thumb. Slightly tethering line will allow you to mend an overrun before it happens as you will feel everything that is happening on the spool.

Thumbing the baitcaster spool

Using your thumb as a brake will make your casting more versatile.

Don’t overfill the spool

Most modern baitcasters come with a tapered edge on the spool which acts as a guide for line filling. If not, fill it up to one-eighth of an inch below the spool. Overfilling the spool will see the spooled line hitting the reel seat due to not enough clearance.

We hope this article, will provide you with a better understanding of how a baitcaster works and how to setup a baitcaster for casting. If you require any more information on baitcasters, please feel free to contact the Angling Active team.