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.
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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.