Beginners Guide To Properly Set Up A Baitcasting Reel For Bass Fishing

I remember the first time I used a baitcaster. Thinking I knew what I was doing because I grew up using spinning rods and reels for trout fishing, I spooled some line on the reel and went out to go fish. This is how I discovered how easy it was to backlash with a baitcaster.

Cast after cast I found myself picking out a bird's nest from my reel, eventually giving up and going back to a spinning setup. I didn't know anyone at the time that used baitcasters, so nobody showed me how to properly set them up. So in this guide I'm going to help you avoid the mistakes I made and walk you through the process of properly setting up a baitcaster step by step so you can avoid backlashing and enjoy your new rod and reel instead!

How To Setup A Baitcaster To Avoid Backlash

After you've spooled fishing line onto your baitcaster and tied on a fishing lure, you might be thinking you're ready to make your first cast. Not so fast! First you need to adjust a couple settings on your reel to avoid backlashing.

It's good practice to adjust your baitcaster's settings each time you tie on a new lure. There's 3 features on a baitcaster that require some tuning before each use: spool tension, brake system, and drag. But don't worry, it only takes a second to set up and adjust a baitcaster so you don't backlash.

Setting up a baitcaster. Let lure fall to ground and adjust spool to avoid overrun. Set brakes to middle.

Adjusting The Spool Tension

The spool tension adjustment knob can be found on the same side of a baitcaster as the reel handle.

  1. Start off by tightening down the spool tension knob so that when you click the bail open with the button, the line does not move.
  2. Leaving the bail open, start loosening the tension knob so that the lure begins to slowly fall to the ground.
  3. Once the lure reaches the floor, reel it back up and let the lure fall to the ground while paying attention to your spool.
  4. If the spool stops when the lure hits the ground without backlashing or overturning itself then your reel's spool tension is set properly. If the spool continues turning then tighten up the spool tension a bit, and test again.

This is a perfect starting point for beginners to learn to cast from and avoid backlashes. While you may not be able to cast far at first, as you gain experience with your baitcaster you can slowly begin backing off the tension knob as you learn and gain confidence in feathering the spool with your thumb to increase your casting distance. But start with these settings and work on accuracy first.

Adjusting The Brake System

Baitcasting reels come with some sort of braking system that can be found on the side plate opposite to the reel handle. If your baitcaster doesn't have a dial on the side plate, you likely have centrifugal brakes and will need to open the side plate to adjust the brakes.

Whether your baitcaster has centrifugal or magnetic breaks, it's recommended to start off by setting the brakes to their middle point.

For magnetic brakes, set the dial to its center point. For example, if your brake dial goes up to 10, set it to 5. If it goes to 20, set it to 10, and so on.

Baitcaster magnetic brake settings for beginner.

For centrifugal brakes, open the side plate. You may find a dial inside, or you may find little pins that can be clicked on and off. So if you have a dial that ranges from 1-6 set it to 3 or 4. If you find pins, click every other one off. It's usually best to err on the side of caution with brakes so leaving 4 on and turning 2 off is a safe place to start.

Baitcaster centrifugal brake settings for beginner bass fishing.

As you gain more confidence in your baitcaster, you can begin loosening up the brakes a bit to improve your casting distance. However, note that while this will improve your casting distance, as you loosen the brakes, you'll need to make sure and control the spool with your thumb to avoid backlashing.

Setting The Drag

It's typically recommended to set your drag to about 1/3 of your fishing line's test strength. So if you have 15 lb test on your reel, you would set it to about 5 lbs of drag.

However, I don't know anyone that actually measures their drag settings with a scale. If you want to, that's great. For something like a 65 lb braided line, I usually just lock the drag down so I can yeet a bass out of cover, but for lighter lines I consider the line's breaking point (its test poundage) and try to pull out some line with my hand while the bail is closed, making sure it takes some effort to pull out any line. Too tight and you may break the line when setting the hook in a bass, too loose and you'll have trouble penetrating the hook into the fish.


If you're still struggling with your baitcaster, you can check out our other guide to fine tune your baitcaster's settings and prevent backlashes altogether. However, by following the steps in this guide you should be able to quickly set up a new baitcaster's spool tension, brake, and drag systems to avoid most beginner mistakes that result in backlashes.