Gear Ratio on Baitcast Reels – What Does It Mean?

Let’s start with a fundamental definition of baitcaster gear ratios, so we’re all on the same page. 

Without going into detail, gear ratio indicates the number of times the spool rotates with one full turn of the handle.

The concept is the same for spinning reels. However, as a spin reel spool does not rotate on retrieve, we measure the number of rotor revolutions per one turn of the handle. 

We’ll discuss the details later.

The following article sheds a little light on gear ratio function and the gear ratio discussion.

We’ll look at gear speeds, applications and, importantly, address a contentious notion that gear ratio doesn’t matter. 

For balance, I’ll counter this claim with arguments about when and why gear ratio does matter.

Time to gear up fishos. Let’s get started.

Baitcaster Reel Gear Ratio – What Does it Mean?

I provided the gear ratio definition in the introduction because many anglers are unaware of what it is.

There are some anglers who don’t pay attention to gear ratio and some who know and understand yet don’t care. 

There are those who feel gear ratio is reasonably important, yet never critical, and those who will select reels with gear ratio’s being a primary motivator.

The gear ratio discussion is an interesting one. Manufacturers tend to make a bit of noise about gear ratios, selling up speed or cranking power, or application-specific efficiencies. 

Yet there’s plenty of evidence supporting the notion that gear ratio doesn’t really matter.

I tend to follow the school of thought that gear ratio is not critical to catching fish, but chosen correctly, increases fishing efficiency which equates to catching more fish more often.

So, Gear Ratio is Responsible for Reel Speed…Right?

Gear ratio contributes, yes. But don’t forget, the speed at which you wind has the most impact. 

Speed is also impacted by spool size. Small spools will retrieve less line than a larger spool moving at the same speed.

Speed equates to the amount of line pick-up when you retrieve. The more line you can retrieve per turn, the faster you’re retrieving.

It’s now very common, even standard, for manufacturers to list line retrieve per crank.

 Check out the specs on this Shimano Tranx for an example.

The retrieve per crank measure is an approximation based on a full spool. 

The amount retrieved per turn will vary based on the amount of line on the spool, IE., the total diameter of the spool – line included.

In short, line uptake, or retrieve speed, is impacted by 3 key elements: your winding speed, the gear ratio, and the spool diameter.

Why Does Speed Matter?

Different fishing techniques require different retrieval speeds. 

On the same token, there are fishing applications that require cranking power over cranking speed.

Big powerful game fishing reels don’t require speed at all. When wrestling massive Marlin and sharks, power is the order of the day. 

Reels designed for power have low gear ratios.

Many top-shelf game reels even have split gear ratios, where you can switch from a low-powerful crank to an even slower, more powerful crank. 

Gear selection is based on the size of the fish and the stage of the battle.

The same concept applies to smaller baitcasters, more or less. Lower ratios for power – higher ratios for speed.

Maximizing speed is advantageous for a host of applications. Firstly, rapid-fire casting on the drift is well supported by high speeds.

You can whip in a lure and whip it out quickly once your lure has left the target zone. 

The idea is that it boosts retrieve efficiency ensuring you get as many casts as possible at the target you’re drifting by.

Speed helps when casting into shallows over craggy snags. You can wind fast, ensuring any sinking baits don’t get foul hooked.

Line pick-up, which is the take-up of slackline, can be very important, indeed critical for hook setting. 

You will find that many anglers select faster ratios for this very reason.

Speed helps keep many lure types on the surface, topwater, and shallows.

Two fishermen on a boat

There are some lures, such as metal slices, where speed is everything. In fact, with metal slices, you can never crank too fast.

Speed, or a high gear ratio, can be convenient when you hook a fish either in or close to cover. 

Getting a fish away from its cover or safe zone quickly can mean the difference between landing or losing your fish.

Dedicated lure anglers are often those more finicky about gear ratios. 

Spinnerbaits, chatterbaits, and metals like fast speeds. Crankbaits and swimbaits like slower speeds. 

Stickbaits and poppers sit somewhere in the middle. Bouncing the bottom or vertical jigging is often about compromise. 

A fast ratio can be good when you’re fishing deep, as it is faster to retrieve from hefty depths. 

For vertical jigging, a high speed offers greater scope for varying the jig, so you can find the action that triggers the bite.

Retrieval Speed is Up to You. But the Right Gear Ratio Really Helps

I like to use large metal slices to chase surface feeders from the rocks and in the surf. 

When looking for a reel to handle this application, I will almost certainly place a premium on a fast gear ratio.

Relentlessly retrieving metal slices at high speed is genuinely exhausting. 

With slow reels/ratios, I have to work so much harder to maintain the appropriate lure speed.

With a high-speed reel/ratio, my job is much easier, less exhausting, and I can maintain a consistent crank for longer.

Swimbaits and cranks are great fun and super-effective. These lures require slow retrievals. Yes, you can crank a fast reel slowly. 

However, you can maintain better retrieve speed consistency, integrity, and line tension with a slower reel.

Baitcaster speeds start at around 4.6:1, with the fastest being the new KastKing at an outlandish 10.5:1.

Technology has changed things significantly. It wasn’t too long ago that a gear ratio in the mid 5’s was considered pretty quick. 

I remember when the 6’s hit the market thinking things were getting really fast.

Times have changed. With speeds of 10+ already with us, one can only imagine that speed trends will continue.

High-Speed Baitcasters

High-Speed Baitcasters start at around 6.8:1. While useful and practical for most applications, high speed is well suited to metal slices and spinnerbaits. 

They’re ideal for retrieving on the drift and fishing from structure.

Examples of Reels with highspeed ratio options include:

  • DAIWA TATULA HD 7.3:1
  • CURADO DC 8.5:1
  • SHIMANO TRANX 7.6:1
  • ABU GARCIA REVO ROCKET 10.1:1

Mid Speed Baitcasters

Mid Speed Baitcasters start at about 5.7:1, topping out at about 6.7. This is a general-purpose, neutral speed that is ideal for just about every application you can imagine. 

This is my choice for baitcasters.

With a neutral speed, you have excellent access to all techniques and fishing styles, pretty well without compromise.

Examples of Reels with mid-speed ratio options include:

  • DAIWA RYOGA 6.3:1
  • ABU GARCIA REVO BEAST 5.8:1
  • QUANTUM SMOKE 6.6:1
  • ABU GARCIA BLACK MAX 6.4:1

Slow Speed Baitcasters

Slow-speed baitcasters start at around 4.6:1, going up to about 5.6. Slow ratios are good for a larger class of fish due to their cranking power.

They’re also ideal for presenting swimbaits and cranks and any other lure that presents well under a slow retrieve. 

You will find that slower ratios are more common in the round baitcasters.

Examples of Reels with mid-speed ratio options include:

  • SHIMANO CORVALUS 5.2:1
  • SHIMANO CALCUTTA 4.7:1
  • QUANTUM SMOKE 5.3:1
  • DAIWA MILLIONAIRE 5.1:1

How do I Choose the Right Gear Ratio for my Baitcaster?

Choosing the right gear ratio shouldn’t be difficult, regardless of whether the reel is application-specific or general purpose. 

You need to consider your application(s), which includes geography, target size, lure, and technique.

For those anglers with a broad range of targets and applications, a general-purpose mid-ratio reel will suit.

For those anglers looking to chase a larger class of fish, including surf, rock, and offshore work, slow to mid ratios are the better option. 

Slower is also the better option for anglers using crankbaits and swimbaits.

Having said that, surf and rock anglers are generally going for a larger class of baitcasters that don’t have the high speeds. Go for the fastest they have. 

High 5’s to low 6’s are common. It just makes it so much easier to bring in line after mega casts.

For general purpose reels, you should always consider a mid-range ratio. With a mid-speed ratio, it is much easier to wind slower or wind faster or not worry about speed at all.

This is where I’d direct the majority of anglers. The beauty of the mid-speed is that it holds the greatest variety of reel options across brands.

There are also little if any significant technique adjustments required when covering a multitude of targets and applications.

For those who use lures that require fast-moving presentation, such as metal slices or spinnerbaits, go fast. If you intend to flick the structure from a moving kayak or boat, go fast. 

If you’re fishing competitively where the seconds really matter, go fast.

Fast ratio reels are getting plenty of attention these days. When you see manufacturers making faster baitcasters, it’s generally because they believe there is demand for it.

I don’t have an ultra-fast baitcaster, and I can’t imagine a time or reason why I might be persuaded. 

For me, the 9’s and 10’s are a little bit of a gimmick. That’s just me though; there’s plenty of anglers who advocate for faster the better.

Frequently Asked Questions

Such is the mystery of gear ratios, there are always plenty of questions about gear ratios. Here are a few regulars.

So, What is the Best Gear Ratio for a Baitcaster Reel?

Having just read the paras above, I would hope you’d all be able to answer this question. 

Essentially, there is no best ratio, only the best for your application.

For me, I like mid-speed ratios for low-profile baitcasters. I’m yet to see the benefits of ultra-fast gearing relative to the price
.
For larger round baitcasters, which I use for a larger class of fish, I generally look for the fastest I can get. 

However, it must cover the other features I need as a priority, such as drag, line class, endurance, and spool capacities.

Keep in mind that the larger round baitcasters are available with ultra-fast gear ratios. 

There are some quick ones, sure. However, you won’t find many round baitcasters with 7 and 8+ speeds.

What is a 7.5 1 Gear Ratio Used For?

This is a fast speed. It’s a good speed for rapid-fire casting on the drift. It’s a good tournament speed as it’s excellent for casting efficiency.

While it’s great for inshore spinnerbait fishing, I’d use any type of lure. 

This speed and faster is ideal for mitigating that dead retrieve time when the lure is out of the strike zone, yet nowhere near the boat or bank
.
This gear speed, fish correctly, can genuinely equate to your lure spending more time in the strike zone. This means more fish, more often.

What Gear Ratio is Best for Spinnerbaits?

There are no immutable rules here. I like fast speeds. You will find that most spinner bait anglers like it fast too.

I suggest mid 6’s for spinnerbaits. I like faster, but the mid 6’s allows you to fish other lures and techniques with little change or fuss.

What Gear Ratio is Best for Swimbaits?

Swimbaits are one of my favorite lure types. I love the action of good ones and find them very effective. 

Swimbaits like a slow retrieve. 

However, each model and size (and they can be huge) has a particular speed to achieve peak action.

Swimbaits are great towed by the slowest of ratios up to mid-speed gear ratios. The ideal range is the high 4’s up to 5.7.

What is the best gear ratio for crankbaits?

Interestingly, the perfect ratio for crankbaits is the perfect ratio for swimbaits. 

I’d avoid the top end of mid-ratio and avoid the fast ratios altogether unless you’re very experienced and have a particular technique in mind.

Low 5’s to low 6’s delivers excellent cranking speeds. Faster speeds can be useful if you’re targeting particularly gnarly structure or if you’re fishing competitively.

What is The Best Gear Ratio for Fishing Chatterbaits?

That’s very difficult to answer definitively. Depending on weight, anglers swear by anything from low 5’s to 7.

What I know for sure is that 6 to mid 6’s cover pretty well everything you can do with a chatterbait. 

Refining this to something more specific, higher, or lower is for the chatterbait specialists, who tend to have very firm if differing opinions.

What is the Best Gear Ratio for Inshore Fishing?

Any gear ratio will work successfully for inshore fishing and offshore. While it feels a little dismissive to say, go mid ratios, it’s a pretty good rule of thumb.

I tend to steer clear of the extremes from each end of the spectrum. It’s not that I have a problem with super-fast or super-slow; on the contrary.

It’s just that I feel I get more use, therefore better value from reels I can use for a greater variety of applications, which I can with mid-ratio reels.

Gear Ratio on Baitcaster Reels Wrap Up

Careful what you read and hear. I’m not a big fan of obsessing about gear ratios, but you’ll find plenty of anglers who do, swearing blind, that you absolutely must use so-n-so ratio for so-n-so applications.

If you’re cashed up, sure, get a gear ratio to suit every application you enjoy. The truth is your fishing will probably be all the better for it, as will the size of your reel arsenal.

On the other hand, learning to extract every bit of technique from one or two reels adds a significant level of depth and creativity to your fishing skills and techniques.

Considering appropriate gear ratios is important, but it’s not critical. Don’t give up cranks because your reel is too fast, and don’t forget about metal slices because you’ve got a 5.1 ratio.

Fish what you have, and fish every application you can. When it comes time to buy your next reel, consider the application, and consider what you’ve read here. 

You’re sure to get the right gear ratio that suits you.

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