Best Baitcasting Reel Picks
January 20, 2015
Not long ago, round reels dominated the baitcasting reel scene. Classics come to mind — Abu Garcia's Swedish-designed Ambassadeur, first introduced in the 1950s, which set the benchmark for craftsmanship and performance. A little over a decade later, Daiwa's R&D brought anglers the rugged and reliable Millionaire. In 1991, Shimano introduced Calcutta, another industry standard.
And while there are countless round baitcasters in rotation today, low-profile sales now eclipse the classics. "The unfortunate thing about round reels is sales continue to decline every year, says Trey Epich, Shimano's Product Manager for reels. "Based on our estimates, there are 12 low-profile models sold for every round reel. That's big odds. But round reels tend to be technique- and fishery-specific, so there will always be a place for them in fishing big swimbaits, hefty spinnerbaits, deep-diving crankbaits, A-rigs, and big baits for muskies and pike." So, despite the shrinking market, manufacturers continue to introduce round reels.
"Traditionally, round reels are geared to handle larger fish," Epich continues. "Their drags are heavier to apply more pressure than low-profile models. The combination of drag strength and gear power make round reels the best choice in those situations. You can fish bigger, heavier baits without feeling torque in the rod and reel. In the bass realm, a lot of guys prefer a round reel for throwing deep crankbaits because they also typically have greater line capacity."
Bass fishing pundit and TV host Mark Zona agrees: "Any time you're casting big baits that might wear you out, you're better off transferring that fatigue to the reel's gearing. Round reels are the only way to go when chucking 20-foot diving plugs. But am I going to use a round reel for sniper casts? No, it's for power and heavy-winding. A round reel keeps you fishing with the same amount of energy you had during the first hour on the water."
Bassmaster Elite angler Jonathon VanDam has been using round reels for the past several years. "They have tremendous power and rigidity, which is important whenever you're making long casts with hefty baits," he says. VanDam alsogoes round when fishing frogs: "Coupled with a heavy rod, I like their winching power for getting big bass out of the slop."
Ultimately, round reels excel because they have larger gear boxes, gears, and spools. Recent low-profile design emphasis is on reducing size and weight, while boosting speed. But some low profiles aren't far behind. Abu's Revo Beast offers a stunning 22 pounds of drag and several companies are bringing low-pro models to the big-fish game.
Goin' Low Pro
The first low-profiles were the Lew Childre-designed Lew's Speed Spool manufactured by Shimano in the mid-70s. In 1978, Shimano's offered its own Bantam 100. Daiwa's Procaster hit tackle shops in the early 1980s, Gradually anglers adopted the more compact designs, which were easier to palm than round reels on pistol-grip rods and the emerging split-grip and blank-through designs.
Recently on the low-profile front, there's been a race to create the lightest reel on the market. Through creative use of aluminum, magnesium, and carbon fibers, aluminum gearing, carbon handles, and the elimination of non-essential material from the frame, guts, and spool, we've entered a new era. Although reduced weight aids fishability, sensitivity, and ergonomics, there's a limit. "The 5-ounce mark is about as light as you can get without sacrificing durability or going over the top on price," says Ricky Teschendorf, Product Manager of reels for 13 Fishing. "We're using materials that produce the most benefits without an outlandish price."
The focus has shifted to speed. Reels continue to get faster, with designs driven largely by tournament angler input. The rationale is: The more casts you make, the more potential for bites and the better the possibility of cashing a check.
Following the pros' lead, anglers have moved to faster speeds for applications like pitching, flipping, and punching, where speed and increased line pickup is important. Abu Garcia's introduction of the Revo Rocket last year raised the bar with its 9:1 gear ratio. Other companies have followed suit. "Here's an example of a feature that isn't just hype," Zona says. "I've told designers they can't build a reel that's fast enough. For any technique that involves fishing bottom, I want fast line pick up for better hook-sets, to turn fish quicker, and to make more casts in a day. When flipping, you can lose a fish in a microsecond if there's any slack in your line. High-speed reels pick up line faster. I'd like one with a 10: or 12:1 ratio."
Using fast reels, Bassmaster Elite pro Jared Lintner has noticed improvement in his grass game. "Since I converted to 7.2:1 and 7.6:1 ratios, I don't lose as many fish when fishing topwaters, frogs, punching, or lipless cranks in the grass. When you set the hook, a bass often goes directly away or right at you. A fast reel lets you catch up to them."
But not all speedy baitcasters are equal. Experts look for those with plenty of power via gear size, powerful drag, and other features for smooth, long casts and smooth retrieves with lures of all sizes. Savvy anglers look well beyond gear ratios because spool sizes vary among companies, so they look at inches per turn (IPT) and maximum drag power, too.
While reels with lower gear ratios have been widely used for deep cranking, there are exceptions. Bassmaster Elite pro and three-time Toyota Texas Bass champion Keith Combs says stepping on the gas with a 7.3:1 reel not only draws strikes but can "ignite" an entire school. "I grew up watching David Fritts win tournaments deep cranking with low-geared reels," he says. "But because mapping is so good today, and there are more anglers focusing on key features, there are a lot of situations where you have to ignite a school with a fast retrieve. When needed, I can still slow my bait by reeling slower. Fast or slow, the main thing is keeping slack out of your line when you're crankin'. I also like a big spool that holds plenty of 15-pound fluoro for long casts."
This much is certain — as baitcasters continue to get faster and more powerful, anglers will discover new ways to make use of their features. It's up to each angler to find out what works best.