What Are The Parts Of A Baitcasting Reel? Handle, Cast Control Knob, Thumb Bar, and More

Knowing your fishing reels inside and out makes you a better, more independent angler. Knowing what to set or adjust, when and why, ultimately equates to more fish.

Efficient anglers catch more fish. Being able to set up and adjust your reel to suit targets and conditions makes you more efficient.

You can fine-tune your gear or even set it up roughly, much easier when you are familiar with its parts and their purposes.

The baitcaster reel is often seen as a bit of a challenge, particularly where casting is concerned. 

In the following article, we’ll identify the key parts of a baitcaster reel.

By the end of the article, we’re confident you’ll be far better placed to make the most of your new baitcaster. Our focus here is on the smaller, low-profile style baitcaster. 

Parts of a Baitcaster Reel Explained

Take a look at a simple run-of-the-mill baitcaster schematic, such as this diagram below, and it’ll scare the scales off the less mechanically minded.

While it’s great to be able to get your head around the countless small parts, where they fit and what they do, it’s not necessary. 

However, there’s a small raft of critical baitcaster parts you should know inside out. 

  1. Handle
  2. Spool
  3. Drag
  4. Line Guide
  5. Brakes
  6. Cast Control Knob
  7. Thumb bar or Spool release
  8. Reel foot

1. The Handle

The operation of the handle is pretty straightforward. Yep, we know what it does. They are constructed from various materials, including alloys – cast and machined and synthetics such as plastic.

The knobs come in a significant variety of shapes and styles, often made from plastic, EVA, and cork.

There’s little more to be said about the handle. However, in my opinion, it’s one of the most critical parts of the overall reel feel. 

For me and many other anglers, choosing a baitcasting reel is all about feel.

An oversize or longer handle is always a must for me and my large club-like hands. 

It also encourages a more balanced crank when reeling fast or aggressively. Some baitcaster reels will come with a couple of handle options.

2. The Spool

The spool holds your fishing line. Unlike a spinning reel, the spool is anchored in two places. 

The benefit of this configuration is strength and rigidity. However, the most critical difference between a baitcaster and a spin spool is that a baitcaster spool rotates.

Benefits include increased casting distance and accuracy, as well as a significant reduction in line twist. 

But there is a trade-off all baitcaster anglers, particularly new ones, are all too aware of. Overrun, or the dreaded backlash is a result of having a rotating spool. 

Backlash is caused by the spool rotating faster than the speed at which the line is coming off the reel when you’re casting.

While there are brakes and fine-tuning to reduce a reel’s propensity for backlash, ultimately, it’s up to the angler to learn the casting skills.

A rotating spool puts a premium on materials and the accuracy of manufacture. A good spool is lightweight yet very strong and exceptionally well balanced. 

Poorly balanced or constructed spools inhibit casting potential, consistency, and reliability.

Many, if not most modern spools are ported to reduce weight and constructed from machined alloys.

The baitcaster spool performs better with breaking strains above six to 8 pounds and appropriately matched lures or baits. 

The lighter you fish a baitcaster, the more difficult it is to cast and avoid backlash.

3. Drag

Nearly all fishing reels have some sort of drag system. Putting it simply, a drag system is a collection of washers that regulate pressure on the spool. 

Pressure is applied or reduced to assist you in fighting a fish.

Increase the pressure, and you tire the fish faster. However, you also risk a bust-up. Reduce the pressure, and the fish takes longer to tire. 

You risk the fish throwing the hooks or having the fish strip your spool of line.

Pressure can be increased or decreased by adjusting a star-shaped (usually star-shaped) knob placed between the base of the handle and the reel frame.

An ergonomic drag knob design is a feature to look for, as it allows you to make fine drag adjustments mid-fight without losing focus on the battle.

Many baitcaster anglers will apply pressure to the spool using their thumb. This gives the baitcaster a second manual drag system that’s all about touch.

4. Line Guide

The line guide is situated at the front of the reel. Its job is to distribute line on the spool evenly. 

As you crank, the line guide moves left and right, delivering an even line lay.

There can be significant variation in the quality of line guides. My advice is to get a reel with the best line guide that you can afford.

Line guides should achieve 3 main things. 

Firstly, they should deliver an even and consistent line lay. An uneven line lay will adversely impact casting and may lead to more tangles and backlash.

The second thing to look for is a smooth and larger guide opening constructed from smooth and durable materials.

Friction is the biggest cast killer. You will find many different line guides designed to reduce friction and allow for more efficient line release.

The third feature to look for is line guides made from smooth, corrosion-resistant, and scratch-resistant materials.

It’s also advisable to look closely at designs to make sure line cannot get caught in any joins or moving parts.

In cheaper reels, there are parts of the line guide mechanism that are prone to corrosion. 

Line guide system channels can collect dirt, salt, and general fishing gunk, which will accelerate corrosion.

5. Brakes

Baitcasting reels have brake systems to assist in the reduction of backlash. Brake systems are either magnetic or centrifugal. 

The brakes are adjustable, allowing you to tune your reel to conditions, rig, and desired casting distance.

In addition, they’re ideal for beginners learning to cast baicasters without fear of constant backlash.

Adding more brake reduces the rotational freedom of the spool. By and large, more brake means less chance of backlash. 

However, more brake will also mean reduced casting distance – and significantly in many cases.

Magnetic brakes are adjusted using a conveniently located dial on the side of the reel. 

Centrifugal brakes often require you to flip off the side plate of the reel manually adjusting each brake prong.

Pike and spinning with baitcasting reel on grass

Whether you go centrifugal or magnets, or a combination of both is up to you. I’ll not say one is better than the other. It’s really down to personal preference.

When you get a new baitcasting reel, it’s a good idea to spool up a little heavier, use mono, and use plenty of brake to get a feel for the casting manners of the reel.

No need to wind up big, and test max distance straight up. 

Add some brake and flip it out gently. Slowly decrease the brake level until you find its maximum cast distance for the conditions, your rig, and your casting ability.

Ideally, you want to be able to set up every rig to maximize casting potential. To do that, you’ll need to experiment. 

If distance is what you need, you’ll have to get proficient at using little or no brakes at all.

To avoid excessive backlash while you’re testing, it’s better to get to peak casting potential in stages. 

Winding up for mega-casts when you’re not familiar with a baitcaster and its brakes can end in some very ugly knots. Particularly if you’re spooled with less forgiving braids.

6. Cast Control Knob

This is the go-to control for casting. Where the brakes control the end of the cast, the cast control knob deals with the start of the cast.

Each time you rig a lure, you will likely need to change the setting on the cast control knob. 

To set it, hold the rig up with the tip of your rod in the air and turn the knob until your lure drops gradually to the ground.

If it doesn’t fall or falls slowly, decrease the tension. If it falls too fast, add more tension. The knob is placed somewhere near the handle and star drag knob.

Exact positions vary between reels. Good ones always seem to have it in a place that allows for one-hand adjustment. 

Essentially, it will depend on the size of your hands and fingers as to which controls layout best fits you, your hands, and your technique.

7. Thumb Bar or Spool Release

The thumb bar sits at the rear of your spool. It’s in a position just below the point where your thumb will rest on the spool for manual spool control during casting and fighting.

When you press the thumb bar, the spool is released and ready for casting. All gears are disengaged, and you’re in free-spool.

Common on low-profile baitcasters, you’ll find a different arrangement on round baicasters. 

Round ones usually have a small button on the opposite side of the handle.

Again, the thumb bar is all about good ergonomics. A reel that fits your hand well will allow you to operate most of the controls and cast one-handed.

8. The Reel Foot

The reel foot connects the reel to the rod. You’ll notice a significant difference between spinning reels and baitcasters here.

A baitcaster reel foot sits very close to the base of the reel. The feet length are smaller, which is more in keeping with the compact nature of a baitcaster.

They’re constructed of synthetics, cast, and machined metals. An alloy model has plenty of strength without the weight. It also offers a high level of corrosion resistance.

A strong connection to your rod is critical. Any slop or movement will create casting complications and reduce power in a fish fight.

How Does a Baitcaster Reel Work?

A handle turns a set of gears which in turn rotate the spool. This is how you reel in. 

To cast, you press a release button (see thumb bar) that disengages the gears, allowing the spool to rotate freely.

Here’s a simple overview.

When you cast, the spool rotates in the direction the line is traveling. 

As an aid to avoid overrun or backlash, baitcasters have a set of adjustable brakes that allow you to regulate the amount of pressure on the spool so that your spool does not spin faster than the line is traveling from the reel.

Before casting, there is a cast control knob that allows you to set the initial spool resistance. Again, this is all about mitigating backlash.

You have a drag system that allows you to play a fish without snapping your line. Set correctly, a fish can take line steadily from your reel as it swims off. 

It’s the pressure that tires the fish, allowing you to turn the fish toward you and bring it to the boat.

Set too tight; a decent fish will snap the line. Set too loose, and you give the fish the upper hand, allowing it to spool you or throw the hook.

A baitcasting reel is designed for precision fishing. They allow for accurate casting, as well as casting long. 

The design of a baitcaster, with its low profile shape and low center of gravity, provides for excellent one-hand fishing ergonomics.

Its shape, combined with a spool anchored at two points, also delivers excellent strength and rigidity. Small baicasters are capable of handling surprisingly large fish.

How Do You Set Up a Baitcasting Reel?

Once you’re rigged up, you need to set up for fighting fish and for casting. 

Check out this video from Lews for an excellent introduction to baitcaster set-up.

Firstly, you can adjust your drag based on your target.

Turn your star drag knob, setting to a point where you can feel reasonable pressure when pulling the line from the spool. 

Too much risks bust-up, and an inconsistent line lay on your spool. Too little, you risk losing fish or hooks being thrown.

Setting drag will take a little experience and experimenting because it’s a feel thing. The best gauge is the likely size and power of your target.

The next job is to set for casting. This is a two-part process. Firstly, you adjust your cast control knob so that your lure falls to the ground gradually. 

Too fast or too slow creates a high risk for backlash.

Secondly, you need to set your brakes. While the cast control knob manages the initial cast, the brakes control the end of the cast. The brake setting will depend on your rig and the conditions.

A good rule of thumb is that if you’re unsure of how to set up, it’s a good idea to use at least halfway point to full brakes. 

After a couple of casts, you can reduce the brake setting to achieve more distance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Knob on the Side of a Baitcaster?

The knob on the handle side of the baitcaster is the spool tension knob. They sit in various positions but always on the handle side of the reel. 

Why are Baitcaster Handles on the Right Side?

A surprisingly common question. It should be noted that baicasters come with handles on both sides. 

It’s important to remember that, unlike a spin reel that hangs under a rod, the baitcaster sits on top of the rod.

What Does The Tension Knob Do on a Baitcaster?

The tension nob adjusts the pressure on the spool. You need to adjust the spool pressure to avoid backlash. 

Pressures will be determined by the weight of your lure, line class, and weather conditions.

What are the Adjustments on a Baitcast Reel?

The main components that require adjustment are the drag, the brakes, and the spool tension knob.

Why do Bass Fishermen use Baitcasters?

The main reason bass fisherman use baitcasters is casting ergonomics for rapid-fire lure casting and casting accuracy. 

Different anglers will have different reasons. 

The bottom line is that it’s simply a personal preference. Spinning reels are just as good for catching bass.

What is the Button on a Baitcaster Called?

Round-shaped baicasters will have a button often on the opposite side of the handle. This button is the free-spool button you engage for casting.

To engage the free spool on a low profile baitcaster you depress the thumb bar that’s positioned just behind the spool.

Baitcaster Parts – Wrap Up

Using a baitcaster requires anglers to learn a few more skills. They’re a little more complicated than a spinning reel, and there are a few extra settings to get your head around.

While you could happily fish your entire life, never touching a baitcaster, I believe it’s a skill every angler should have.

Many are turned off, believing them a little too complex and unforgiving. 

This is not the case. It’s simply a matter of learning the techniques and understanding how your baitcaster works.

There’s plenty of anglers who will tell you that there’s nothing quite like the feel of fire lures off at whatever fish with a finely tuned baitcaster.

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