The Ins and Outs of Reel Speed

Little details add up to make a difference in competition. Tournament fishing is no different and one of those pertains to reel speed. Faster reel speed (rate of line pick-up) can and will make a difference in your success over time. Many other basics of fishing (such as location or lure selection) supercede a reel’s speed in importance, but nonetheless, it is one of those little details that need’s attention and can make a difference in level of success.

The best way to measure a reel’s speed is by its rate of line pick-up. It is measured in inches of line retrieved per one revolution of the reel handle. Most reel brands now include this spec somewhere, whether it’s on the box, in advertising, or in the instruction manual.

There are two characteristics in reel design that affect the rate of line pick-up. One is the diameter of the spool. Regarding baitcasting reels designed for bass fishing, they are all fairly close in size, so there isn’t much difference coming from this feature. With spinning reels however, diameter can vary greatly. And logically, larger spools will wrap more line with one revolution of the bail versus a smaller spool. This reason coupled with a larger spool’s better ability to handle fluorocarbon line has led me to be purchasing larger spinning reels. Look at one of the various Pflueger’s in a 4000 size. That is what I am talking about. You’ll find comparable sizes in other brands too.

The second feature of reel design affecting the rate of line pick-up is a reel’s gear ratio. On a baitcaster, it measures the number of revolutions the spool makes given one complete turn of the reel handle. This spec is usually listed on the reel or its packaging. The variance in gear ratios among different models is everything from about 4:1 up to 9:1. I consider 6 or less to be slow and everything above that as fast. Nowadays, any new baitcasting reel I purchase, has at least a 7:1 gear ratio. If you are purchasing your first baitcaster, I do recommend near 7:1. Regarding the gear ratio on spinning reels, this spec isn’t used as much. Some brands label it some don’t. But it does refer to the number of times the bail circles the spool given one revolution of the reel handle. Overall line pick-up per revolution of the reel handle is more often reported with spinning.

With more and more fishing situations, I’m finding that I prefer reels with rapid line pick-up versus slower. They allow me to execute a greater number of successful presentations. In other words, my lure will be in the water, doing the right thing, for a greater portion of the day. When under the clock in a tournament, this little edge can result in an added strike. And that one extra strike could result in the biggest bass at weigh-in time!

To further illustrate the importance of higher speed reels and how they save time or simply have some other advantage, let me illustrate a few examples, knowing that there are many more examples as well:

  • Swimming lures across the submerged tops of weeds. Often times in this scenario, a lure will foul with weeds, killing the lure’s presentation. When this occurs, an angler needs to quickly wind in the lure and clear the weeds. I will be able to save time if I have a high speed reel for this technique. The lure will simply come to the boat faster. If this happens 100 times through the course of a tournament day, and each occurance saves four seconds, then I have saved 100×4=400 seconds. Similar math can be done on all of these examples.
  • With this technique, there is dead time when the lure needs to be reeled and repitched. I would rather crank the reel handle 12 times with each pitch rather than 16 or more. This saves time. In a tournament where an angler is pitching all day, the number of pitches has got to be 500 or more. Has anybody ever counted this?  Contact me on my fan page if you have or know the answer.
  • Target casting. Here I am referring to casting at specific targets like stumps, laydowns, or docks. I assume the bass will be sitting by the target. Once I have cast a lure and retrieved it through the strike zone near the target, I then race the lure back to the boat, bypassing all the water in between. Do this several times in a day with a high speed reel will save you time as the lure is raced through the dead water.
  • Football jigging. In this technique, I am usually casting to a specific rock or gravel pile hidden below the water’s surface. But just like target fishing as explained in 3 above, once my football jig exits the rock or gravel and enters the muck, I then race the jig back for a recast. There can be a lot of dead water with each cast, and all of the dead water added up over a tournament day can mean wasted time if the technique is done with a slow reel.
  • Fishing emergent weeds like lilypads, bulrushes, and various weed mats with frogs and toads. I prefer a fast reel in this situation mostly for the reel’s ability to keep up with a hooked bass and keeping it from wrapping up in the vegetation. A bass can still bury up even when using a fast reel, but a slow reel makes it much easier for the bass to gain traction and bury up. There can also be dead water to rapidly bypass too.
  • Speed reeling. Rarely, but sometimes bass simply want a fast moving bait. This is more easily accomplished with a faster reel.

Caution! I am not preferring fast reels just so I can retrieve a lure at a fast pace throughout every cast. But rather oftentimes I am reeling very slow to trigger the strike. I use the reel’s speed to race the lure through water I feel has little potential — what I have been calling “dead water.”  Also, some anglers have a difficult time fishing a lure really slow with a fast reel. So these anglers are better off using a slow reel to keep the retrieve speed slow enough for lethargic bass.

I believe using faster reels is a little advantage that tournament anglers should adopt for their competitions. Collectively over the course of a tournament day, multi-day event, or an entire season, faster reels make extra time for their user (aside from a few other advantages). And extra time equates to additional presentations and eventually more bass. Certainly knowing where bass are located and what triggers them is far more important, but how many times have you wished for a little extra time in a day’s fishing? Using fast reels is how you can get it!

Leave a Reply

Commenting Policy - We encourage open expression of your thoughts and ideas. But there are a few rules:

No abusive comments, threats, or personal attacks. Use clean language. No discussion of illegal activity. Racist, sexist, homophobic, and generally hateful comments are not tolerated. Keep comments on topic. Please don't spam.

While we reserve the right to remove or modify comments at our sole discretion, the Sportsman's Guide does not bear any responsibility for user comments. The views expressed within the comment section do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of The Sportsman's Guide.