Baitcasting v.s. Spinning Reel for Bass Fishing

While it may seem like a straightforward progression from simpler reels to more complicated baitcasters, the difference is actually not a fixed and absolute one. It’s impossible to say for certain that a baitcasting reel or a spinning reel is better for bass fishing writ large. The choice really depends on weather conditions and water conditions and where the castoff point is. The target bass can change things somewhat, as can the skill level of the individual angler. Beginners often start out with the simpler spinning reels and many never see any reason to change reels. However, finesse techniques are sometimes better done with a baitcaster that offers more control over the line, bait, and tackle. 

Baitcasters have been around since the mid-17th century and there was a time when they were the go-to reel for champion sport bass fishermen. However, in more recent years, some have found that a lightweight spinning reel is good enough for the job and in some specific applications even more well suited to bass fishing than a baitcaster would be. There are some techniques and some considerations regarding the line and type of bait that will be used that will indicate which type of reel will be the most advantageous to have along on the next bass fishing trip. 

Getting the hang of the fishing techniques and learning how to strategically select fishing spots and learn where the bass will be depending on the time of year usually leads anglers toward baitcasters because baitcasters give more control and offer more precision when casting out. However, for the same reason, many simply invest in spinning reels with additional features. Some will even bring both types of reel along with them on a fishing trip and alternate depending on changing conditions or even cast out with both types of reel at the same time. 

It takes time to learn all there is to know about line size, finesse techniques, and bass themselves before the various advantages of spinning reels and baitcasters will be effectively exploited by a given fisherman, but don’t give up on it. Once the ability has been mastered to a certain degree, having the additional utility of a different type of fishing reel will allow for better fishing and hopefully improve catch size as well. There are tons of things to consider whether you’re a beginner or just about to try a specific style of bass fishing that you haven’t done before. Read on to find out all about spinning reels and baitcasters and when to use each.

What is the Backbone on a Fishing Rod?

Let’s start with the basics of the fishing rod. Many anglers don’t take the time to learn some simple lingo that will go a long way in helping them choose whether to use a baitcaster or a spinning reel. One of the most basic aspects of a fishing rod is the strength and flexibility (or ‘action’) of the blank, which is the name of the pliable upper end of the rod located above the handle. 

There are a few materials that are used to construct modern-day fishing rods and they offer different benefits, but the goal is always the same. When there’s a bass on the end of the line and it starts to fight, the pole should be flexible enough to bend toward the water without snapping and give the angler enough resistance against the fish to finally reel it in. Fiberglass and graphite, the two most common materials used in various combinations of fishing rod blanks, are great at offering this combination of strength and flexibility. 

So, how does the construction of the blank combined with the style of reel to give the best bass fishing experience possible? Well, very generally speaking, baitcasters should be used with heavier rods and spinning reels are used with lighter ones. The backbone of a baitcasting rod should lie on the top side of the rod when the angler is holding it. Baitcaster rods will have stiffer backbones since they are generally meant to be used with larger fish. That’s great for resisting pullback from bass and also allows for the lure to be ripped through vegetation in shallower waters. 

The backbone of a spinning reel rod should be on the underside of the blank in order to accommodate the twisting that often comes with fighting a fish at the end of a line. In both baitcasting and spinning reel rods, the flexibility can be tested in a variety of ways. Either lying the rod across a flat surface or resting it against flat, concrete ground and then bending the pole with your right hand should give some indication of the resistance it will give against a fish. 

Fish above 20 pounds are best caught with a heavier baitcaster rod.

Parts of a spinning reel

Spinning reels are favored by amateurs and seasoned anglers alike for their much greater ease-of-use compared to baitcasters. The open face of a spinning reel allows the user to see exactly what’s going on. If you take a look at a spinning reel, here’s what you’ll find:

  • The reel foot: This is located at the top of the reel and can be used for additional stability or additional grip. 
  • Reel handle: Most likely one of the few parts of a fishing reel that’s already well-known even to non-anglers, the handle is the name given to the winding mechanism, the one you use to wind in the line of the rod. 
  • Line spool: The line is a critical aspect of any fishing rod and impacts which kind of reel you should choose. Lighter lines are more common on spinning reels and heavier lines (usually over 20-pound thickness) are often used with baitcasting rods, although there are some innovative bass fishermen who alternate different combinations for various purposes. 
  • Line roller: This is a critical part of the overall function of the reel. The line passes over the line roller at the bail end of the line. The roller should always be moving smoothly, allowing the line to pass over it. If there is a jam in the roller, it can cause line twists and ruin an otherwise enjoyable fishing trip. 
  • Bail: The bail system on a spinning reel is used to guide the line back onto the spool when you reel in as well as stop allowing line out. The line is blocked from unspooling when the bail is engaged. If you’re familiar with reels at all, this is the thin round piece that traces around the spool. 
  • Drag adjustment: Drag describes the resistance of the line against a fighting fish. The drag adjustment allows the user to set the drag tight or loose. Sometimes, especially to let a fish swim a little to tire it out, anglers like to set the drag low and then suddenly tighten again to continue the fight and bring in the fish.

As you can see, the parts of a spinning reel are fairly simple and easy to understand, even abstractly. For this reason, many people prefer a spinning reel and even go so far as to find ways to implement its use in situations where a baitcaster is more traditional. For bass fishing, many people prefer the direct and simple use of a spinning reel. There are some additional parts of a baitcasting reel that set it apart and make it more ideal for larger fish.

Parts of a Baitcasting Reel

Some parts of a baitcasting reel, such as the drag adjustment, perform the same or similar functions as on a spinning reel model. However, the overall use of the baitcaster is much different and takes much more skill. For example, in addition to the drag adjustment, there is also a braking system on baitcasting reels. Adding lots of brakes on the line will restrict it, which can be helpful if you aren’t trying to cast out very far. Conversely, you can take brakes off the line to cast out further. Those new to baitcasting usually start out with a high number of brakes and gradually reduce them as they get more of a feel of the device. 

On the other side of the reel from the braking system adjustment knob, you’ll find the spool tension adjustment knob. Adjusting the tension of the spool is another way to get the perfect cast. Different baits of different weights will be better suited to more or less tension on the spool in order to get them to cast out to the distance you want them to reach. It takes a long time to learn about all the various baits there are, what works best to catch bass, and what kind of spool tension you’ll want to have for each type of bait. This is one of the ways a baitcasting reel is more complicated to use but offers more precision at the same time. 

Baitcasting reels often also have some of the spool exposed and a thumb bar just above this exposed area. When casting out with a baitcasting reel, it’s imperative to keep a small amount of pressure on the spool to prevent the line from bunching up into a ‘birds’ nest’ that ruins the cast out and must be detangled. 

Baitcasting reels also have a linge guide that is pretty close to and has an identical purpose to the power roller on a spinning reel. It allows the line to go out during casting and still be retrieved very quickly when it’s time to reel in. It keeps friction from building up on the line and also prevents unspooling and tangles. A pawl, which is the exact part of a line guide that moves the line back and forth to prevent tangling by evenly distributing line on the spool, is one of the most frequently broken or damaged parts of a baitcasting reel that can lead to some major knots and line damage. 

Many baitcasting reels also come with a bait clicker, a fairly simple device that gives off a clicking sound as a signal to anglers that the line has been drawn taut, indicating the bait has been taken by a fish. This is helpful for anglers who want to cast out more than one at a time and want to be able to tend to them all without missing a bite on one of the lines. 

Finally, the handles on baitcasting reels usually have two heads instead of one. This is for comfort and also for quick access if you suddenly find you have a fish on the line. This is perhaps the most distinctive visual difference between a spinning reel and a baitcasting one. 

What is Finesse Bass Fishing?

Now that you know the different parts of each type of reel and the differences, it’s time to explain how the baitcasting reel is used to catch bass. As the name implies, it’s all about sneakiness and quietly getting your bait up close to the bass to get them to bite. Loud entry into the water like you’d see in a common overhead cast may scare some bass into hiding. In order to accomplish a quieter entry, shedding weight is key. This is one reason why some anglers have tried to find ways to accommodate lighter weight lines on baitcasters. No weights or huge baits are necessary to have some finesse in your cast out. 

Learning all the types of finesse bass fishing is a whole skillset in its own right, but for the purposes of choosing a baitcasting or spinning reel suffice it to say that baitcasting reels are the ones chosen almost always when it comes to finesse bass fishing. Texas-rigging, the most common method for hooking bait in this process, is a great example of how much thought has gone into finesse fishing. 

To make a Texas rig, drive the point of the hook through the top of the bait. Bend the hook through the bottom of the bait once the hook is inside it about 2cm. Pull the top up to the knot at the eyelet securing the hook. Fold the lure at a 90-degree angle with the hook upright. Push the hook through the lure all the way, and then move the bait down to complete the rig. This style of baiting has become extremely popular in bass fishing with finesse and should be one of the first things aspiring baitcasting reel convert learn. 

Using the Texas rig method together with other techniques like trawling the bait or letting slack bait simply sink into the water can be used to catch some great bass. It takes some practice but completely changes the bass fishing experience once you learn how to do it. Because weight is so important for finesse fishing, some anglers have taken to using spinning reels and lighter lines for it, although this has been met with mixed results. 

Finesse fishing allows anglers to catch the attention of bass that are usually easily frightened.

Final Verdict:

The shortest way to explain the difference between a spinning reel and a baitcasting reel for bass fishing is that the spinning reel is simpler and the baitcaster can handle heavier line and larger species of fish. Of course, there’s a lot of nuance in the actual difference between the two. Both are viable choices for tons of different conditions, and in the end, the only way to know if you are well-suited to the more complicated baitcasting reels is to undertake to learn all about them, try using them out, and see if you like the feel of it. 

Many anglers prefer baitcasting reels in the same way car enthusiasts prefer the additional control and performance ability in manual transmission cars. On the same hand, though, some anglers prefer the streamlined spinning reels for bass fishing because the spinning reel does just fine for catching most bass in either saltwater or freshwater sources. 

It may be easier to decide what kind of reel setup you want to have with you on a fishing trip if you regularly face similar conditions when you go out to catch bass. If you tend to only go in the summertime, after the spawn when bass are plentiful and the waters are warm enough for these cold-blooded fish to be more active and therefore catchable, then you may like to have a spinning reel to be able to cast out quickly and easily and fight with the bass with a more flexible rod. Winter fishermen and sport bass fishermen often prefer the baitcaster to this day simply so they can face a wider variety of conditions. In water with more vegetation or if you’re bank fishing and need to get some added distance on your cast out, then the baitcasting reel might be the better choice for you. The best thing you can do is learn everything you can about bass and how to catch them and then put it to the test with both a spinning reel and a baitcasting reel to see for yourself which one suits you better. 

Bonus tip: Tired of backlash and birds’ nests? Check out this handy guide to casting a baitcaster!

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