A sure-fire way to ruin a great day’s fishing is to spend half of it dealing with impossible tangles on the spool of your baitcaster.
These impossible tangles, better known as bird nests, are the dread of every baitcaster, overhead/traditional reel angler.
Many anglers have given up baitcasters because of the pain of bird nests. Many others never put one in the arsenal, simply because of backlash reputation.
It needn’t be this way.
While bird nests are a fact of fishing life, understanding how it happens and how to avoid them can see the bird nests relegated to a distant nightmare.
What Causes Backlash & How Do Bird Nests Form?
Bird nests on baitcasters are a result of spool overrun. Unlike a spinning reel, the spool of a baitcasters rotates. When you cast, the spool rotates as the line peels off.
While a rotating spool has the benefit of reducing friction, therefore increasing distance and accuracy, the downside is the potential for bird nests due to overrun.
Overrun is when the spool rotates faster than the line is peeling from the spool.
Rotational force, centrifugal force, loosens multiple layers of line.
If the leading end of the line is not moving fast enough, the loose line rotates around the spool instead of peeling away from the spool.
This causes severe tangles and is known throughout the fishing world as backlash.
Backlash can happen at the very beginning of a cast and is frequent toward the end of a cast.
Backlash at the beginning is a mistake usually made by inexperienced baitcaster anglers.
They load up for a massive distance cast without setting the baitcasting reel appropriately according to their rig and weather conditions.
In these cases, the backlash is instantaneous and devastatingly messy, as the increased speed and force exacerbate the mess.
Overrun is common toward the end of the cast.
As your cast lure approaches the target zone, it naturally slows down relative to the speed of the spool. When your lure hits the water it stops; however, your spool can still be rotating.
This is easily controlled, which we will discuss later; however, backlash still occurs, which can create a tangled mess – the bird nest.
It should be noted that backlash toward the end of a cast is often far easier to remedy than backlash at the start.
Even experienced anglers will frequently have a small level of backlash at the end of the cast. However, it’s so minimal as to be no problem whatsoever.
How to Avoid Backlash When Casting a Baitcaster
Before you even spool up, the most important thing is to understand your baitcaster parts, settings, and how it works.
Check out this cool video below for the basics.
With this information in your kit, the most critical aspect to avoiding backlash is fishing a balanced rig.
Setting up a balanced rig involves selecting the appropriate rod, line class (test weight), and lure style/weight for the reel.
This video also provides an excellent introduction for those new to baitcasters.
Practice is a must for those new to baitcasters if you wish to avoid backlash. And I always recommend avoiding practice on the water first up.
If you’re new to baitcasters, open space or the backyard is a great place to practice and learn.
This is because you are entirely focused on the reel and casting as opposed to being focused on fishing.
If you’re not yet competent with a baitcaster and fish it, you invite the potential for the sort of mistakes that could turn you off baitcasters forever.
Choose several old lures or sinkers to the end of your line and start casting.
Use different weights that are within the parameters listed on your rod, and cast upwind and downwind, varying the distance and spool tension.
Test and Experiment
New lines, new lures, and different weather will all impact casting. As will a change to a new reel.
Even the pros (especially the pros) will take time to dial in new rigs and new gear to avoid a nasty backlash.
Often the first cast of a new setup on the water is reasonably conservative – and it should be.
It’s not the time to go for maximum distance when you’re casting a new rig. Instead, get a feel for it first.
Every change in rig invites a litany of new variables. Untested, you’re inviting backlash. With experience, adjustments will be very fast indeed.
However, it pays to take a few casts and a few minutes to get your head around the dynamics of a particular rig.
Remember, there is a range of casting techniques that also need consideration. Your settings for a pitch cast might need adjusting for a long cast.
Even with the same rig. Check out some different casting techniques here.
Fishing Light and Ultra-light
Light and ultra-light sports fishing are best left to spinning reels. You can use baitcasters for ultra-light fishing.
However, you need to possess an exceptional baitcaster feel to avoid backlash.
Interestingly, those anglers skilled enough to fish ultra-light with a baitcaster, wouldn’t choose a baitcaster for the application in the first place.
The potential for baitcaster backlash increases exponentially the lighter you fish. So if you’re keen to cast unweighted soft plastics on 6 pound, use a spinning reel.
Brakes and Spool Tension
Setting up your baitcasting reel before you cast is critical. To do this, you will need to set your spool tension and brakes.
Ensure you always adjust your spool tension so that the lure drops slowly but surely. Adjust the tension knob until perfect, and adjust with each lure change.
Your reel will have brakes, either centrifugal or magnetic. When you’re first casting a rig, add plenty of brakes.
Up to third to second top setting (depending on your reel).
Once you have a feel for the rig, you can reduce the braking and the spool tension to achieve greater casting distance.
The basic difference between brakes and spool tension is that the brakes manage the end of the cast, whereas the spool tension manages the start and overall performance dynamics of the cast.
Frequently Asked Questions
Several of the most frequently asked questions have been answered above. Here’s a few more I field frequently.
Does Braided Line Backlash?
Braided fishing lines are the most unforgiving fishing lines you can spool up with. Braided lines most certainly backlash, and it’s a tangle from hell, often impossible to remove.
For those new to baitcasters, who are also looking to retain some semblance of sanity, I strongly recommend you spool up with mono.
While a serious mono backlash is a force to be reckoned with, at least you won’t feel like giving up fishing forever, as you might with a serious braid backlash.
Get competent and confident with your baitcaster first, then transition to braids for relatively trouble-free baitcasting.
Remember, your thumb is your best friend for manual spool control.
Of course, the technology is never foolproof, but you can develop a feel where applied thumb pressure can prevent any number of backlash problems.
Using your thumb is a skill you pick up over time. While technically, it’s a science-based process, thumbing your spool is all about feel.
Why Does My Spinning Reel Bird Nest?
The tangles created when casting spinning reels are almost always related to an overfull spool of mono.
Poor, uneven line lay and line twist can have an effect, but it’s nearly always an overfull spool.
A spinning reel should only ever be filled to just below the bevel on the spool lip.
Fill past this point, and you run the risk of multiple loops peeling from your spool at once when you cast.
Loops from lower layers can travel ahead of top layers. They get caught, leaving a string of line loops from midway to the first guide to the spool.
Mono memory tends to exacerbate the problem. As does line twist and uneven line lay. Simply cut the tangles and re-rig.
How do I Remove a Bird Nest from my Baitcaster?
Often, a recurring incidence of bird nests will cause fury as your blood boils. You’ll need to relax first. If you attack this while angry, things invariably get worse.
Try GENTLY pulling the leading end of the line…and hope.
Often this will work. There are many techniques, but really, you have to assess the destruction for yourself.
In worst-case scenarios, you will have to cut the line, including a few layers of line from the spool.
In some cases, you may need to remove quite a lot from your spool owing to deep cuts.
Here’s a couple of good examples for clearing standard bird nests.
Baitcaster Backlash Wrap
Baitcasters are awesome. Never be frightened by backlash.
While it’s more or less inevitable at some point, it doesn’t take long to learn how to avoid backlash so that it never impacts a good day on the water.
Backlash will always be a possibility. Regardless of baitcasting reel technology, no manufacturer has mastered complete defiance of physics.
Brakes and spool tension settings really help the baitcaster.
But the best thing you can do to avoid backlash is to practice so that you acquire the setup skills and feel that mitigate overrun, mitigating the scourge of backlash.