Last Updated on April 20, 2021 by Coty Perry
When it comes to fishing, the spinning rod and reel tends to get the most attention. Understanding how to cast a spinning reel and how to fish with one is crucial to your success on the water.
Fishing with a spinning reel is all about finesse and technique. That said, casting is something you can easily learn after a few tries.
I’m a big believer in keeping things simple. Everyone has their way but my way has always been the simple way. Follow my step-by-step guide and you’ll be hitting the mark in no time.
Getting Your Gear Together
The first thing every angler should do before wetting their fishing line is gather all the gear. You need to make sure you have the essentials if you can expect to cast properly and learn how to cast a spinning rod and reel.
First is your spinning rod. Some people elect to purchase a spinning rod and reel combo which is desirable if you don’t understand the difference between a spinning reel and a baitcaster. That said, those combo units are usually good enough to suffice for anyone and the manufacturer almost always supplies a rod if you purchase a solo fishing reel as well.
When shopping for a spinning reel you want to keep a few main factors in mind:
- Gear ratio
These factors will play a major role in determining the overall performance of your reel while also ensuring you have something that is light enough to prevent fatigue. As mentioned, getting a fishing rod and reel combo will take some of the thinking out of this but if you have a rod but are without a reel, you’ll want to make sure they’re compatible.
Not every reel can be used with every rod, keep that in mind. It’s best to go with something from the same brand and manufacturer as the rod you have. You stand the best chance of getting the highest level of performance when you do that.
In terms of line, this is the KISS method so go with something simple! Use a monofilament line if you’re not experienced. You don’t want to upgrade to braided especially if you’re fishing small ponds and lakes for bass and panfish. Any monofilament will work in that case. Look for something in the realm of an 8lb test and roll with it.
That said, if you’re fishing for trout you may need a little more finesse and some people elect to use a fluorocarbon leader on their line.
The same could apply to someone fishing saltwater instead of freshwater. Generally saltwater fishing requires heavier conventional reels with braided line.
If you’re just starting out with fishing and learning how to cast a spinning reel is step one, don’t worry about the line. Just get a light mono.
We’re not getting into lures in this article so I want to focus more on the overall theme. The type of tackle you choose will depend entirely on what you’re fishing for. If you’re going after bass, you’ll likely be using real bait or soft plastics of some sort as a beginner. This is where most people start.
If that’s the base you’ll want to go for a standard bait hook. They’re straight with barbs going down and a barb on the end. You can rig them with almost anything. You could also use a round jig head and hook a worm up to that as well. Single-tail jigs are good for beginners too.
The main thing is to keep your target in mind. You can’t go out on the water with a giant offset hook and expect to bring in a two-pound bass. Size accordingly for what you’re chasing.
Also keep things like floats, bobbers, and weights in mind. If you’re fishing in a lot of wind with a lightweight tackle, you might want to use a weight on your line because it will help your casting distance.
Depending on the presentation you have planned you may also want to use a bobber to control the depth of your lure. Most beginners elect to use a bobber because it also makes it easier for you to see when something is biting the lure. Otherwise, you have to rely entirely on “feel” which is something that takes time.
Understanding Your Reel
Now we need to understand the components of your spinning reel and how it differs from other types of reels. The most common reel types out there are:
- Spinning reels
- Baitcasting reels
- Fly reels
- Trolling reels
- Spincast reels
Here’s some of the terminology you should familiarize yourself with if you plan to fish with spinning tackle.
Spool – The spool is the area in the middle of the reel where you wrap the line around.
Reel Handle – The handle is what you’ll crank to retrieve a fish after you cast.
Bail – The bail is the metal arm that controls how the line spools on the reel. When it’s closed line cannot flow from the reel. When it’s open, the line will flow freely off the spool.
Feet – If someone refers to the “reel foot” they’re talking about the piece that attaches the reel to the rod via the “reel seat.” Some also call it the stem of the reel.
Drag Knob – This important device will control how easily line comes off the spool when the bail is closed. Loose drag will allow a lot of line to come off the spool and ultimately make it more difficult to reel the fish in. This is necessary with larger fish.
Roller – The line roller is at the end of the bail and ensures that the line lays evenly on the spool.
Setting Your Drag
Knowing how to fish with a spinning reel requires you to properly set the drag. Doing this correctly will have a positive impact on how easily you’re able to catch fish. The reality is, there’s no way for me to sit here and say, this is what you do. Setting the drag will vary based on the type of reel you have, where you’re fishing, what you’re fishing for, and your level of experience.
It’s something that just takes time and finesse. As you fish more and more, you’ll get used to a certain drag setting and you can tweak it based on what type of tackle you’re using.
In the beginning, your best bet is to stay in the middle. The fish should be able to take line from your reel without putting too much strain on the reel and line. But, if smaller fish are taking your line really far it could mean that your drag is too loose.
The objective is to give the fish enough room to tire itself out without having to worry about snapping the line.
Gripping the Rod
Now let’s talk about the steps necessary to properly grip your rod.
Take your rod and hold it in your dominant hand with your palm facing inward. You’ll hold the rod on the padded part towards the bottom. Some rods will have cork, plastic, or foam here. Curl your thumb over the top and grip it in a way that is comfortable.
Find the foot of the reel that meets with the rod. You should position that in between your pinky and ring finger. The spinning reel should be under the rod with the reel sitting right beneath your wrist. You should have your index finger free and the rest of your hand firmly grasping the rod.
Stick your index finger out and grab the loose line. Pull the line back until you’ve wedged it between the rod blank and your finger. You’ll need to do this because you’re going to open the bail and if you let go of the line, it will unspool.
Make sure you have about one to two feet of line hanging from the end of the rod. Too much and you could get hung up on nearby trees or bushes. Too little and you’ll have a harder time getting a long distance cast.
Casting a Spinning Reel
Now you’ve got everything together, rod in hand, you’re ready to make your first cast. Here’s how you’ll do it.
Look out into the water and determine where you want to cast. You’ll want to have a rough estimate of where you intend to drop your lure so you can square up on that target. Put your dominant leg behind you and prepare to cast.
Open the bail with your non-dominant hand to unlock the line with your dominant index finger holding the line between the rod blank and your finger. Don’t try to cast with the bail locked because it will snap your line.
Raise your rod over your dominant shoulder or to the side of it depending on your personal preference. When you’re just starting out, the recommendation is that you cast over your shoulder but I think you could go either way.
Be sure you’re aware of anything around you such as other people or vegetation. You should still be gripping the line at this point.
Throw the rod forward toward your target while releasing the line from your finger. You’ll want to keep your arm at about a 25 degree angle when still and release to a 75 degree angle when casting. Keep your feet planted on the ground. You can use two arms to stabilize the cast if it feels better for you.
Presenting the Lure
Now your lure is in the water and it’s time to start presenting it. This step will vary dramatically based on the type of lure you’re using and what you’re trying to catch. Generally, presenting the lure will require you to jerk or twitch the rod while slowly retrieving any slack you create.
Other methods of fishing like vertical jigging require more twitching and less retrieving because the lure is much closer to the boat.
The most important thing to keep in mind about your presentation is that you need to present based on the size of your lure and the size of the fish you’re after. If you’re using large deep crankbaits you want to use a more aggressive approach than you would with a small single tail grub.
If you present small lures too aggressively to small fish, you’ll intimidate them and they won’t strike.
The location you’re fishing should have an impact on how you present as well. If you’re using an inshore spinning reel, chances are you’re chasing after larger fish so you’ll want to present the lure more aggressively. Most fish tend to feed more aggressively when it’s warm especially in the early morning or late evening.
If you’re going with a standard cast and retrieve approach here’s what you’ll do.
The first step is to start retrieving the lure just enough to close the bail. The bail will close automatically with a full revolution of the handle. You don’t have to do it manually.
Start retrieving the lure by reeling in with the handle. Most strikes will occur following small jerks and twitches so it helps to stop and go as you’re retrieving. Be sure to keep the retrieval somewhat sporadic because it can give the lure the appearance of an injured baitfish. If it’s too smooth you may spook the fish.
Setting a Hook
If you feel a nibble it could mean you have a fish. I recommend being patient and not suddenly jerking the rod. The first instinct is to pull on the rod as hard as you can when you feel a nibble but that will end up jerking the lure away from the fish and scaring them.
Instead, if you feel a nibble, slow down the presentation, and pay much closer attention to what you’re feeling. If you continue to feel nibbles, tighten the line and give it a quick little jerk by pulling the rod tip up away from the water. If you start to feel resistance, it means you caught something!
Now you should thoroughly understand how to cast a spinning rod and everything that goes along with it. Be sure to use the right rod and reel combinations and always keep your target species in mind. Casting is half the battle but you need to be able to present the right lures properly otherwise you’ll have a hard time catching anything.
Even experienced anglers can use a refresher every now and then. Angling is a game built around life-long learning so we can never be afraid to learn more.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I will be sure to address them. Thanks for reading and good luck out there!