How To Set Up A Baitcasting And Spinning Reel: Starter Guide

by Julie | Last Updated:   October 9th, 2021
How To Set Up A Baitcasting And Spinning Reel: Starter Guide


For beginners interested in taking up the hobby of fishing one of the first questions they will find themselves faced with is: what kind of reel to use?

It can be daunting walking into a sports shop with little experience and being asked if you prefer a baitcaster or a spinning reel. What is the difference between the two? Don’t let this stop you from delving into this well-loved hobby.

Breaking it down is quite simple. Here we will provide you with the know-how on which reel will be the easiest to use for you. Whichever appeals to your interest or style the most. You’ll soon find that learning how to use a spinning reel or baitcaster is just like anything else: with the right tips and a little practice you’ll be well on your way to catching the fish of a lifetime.

The ins and outs of a spinning reel

Different Components of a Spinning Reel

Also known as an open-faced reel, the spinning reel is one of the most common and well-used fishing reels that fishermen prefer. This is due to how easy it is to use and set up. As versatile as they come, you can find spinning reels in any local fishing store or outdoor sports store around. You can even find them in Walmart.

The mechanics of a spinning reel are simple and once you get to know one, you’ll be familiar with all the rest!

First, let’s take a look at the parts that this reel consists of:

  • Anti reverse: A small lever you can switch on the underside of the spinning mechanic/bail that will prevent your reel handle from being able to oscillate backwards.
  • Bail: The bail stops the line from coming out when you’ve hooked into a fish. It is flipped up for casting to let loose the line. It flips down when you reel to retrieve your cast and keeps the line in place. 
  • Drag Knob: The knob on top of the spool that adjusts your drag. You can adjust it tighter or looser. This allows line to be dragged out when fighting a larger fish so that it doesn’t become too taut and snap. (When a fish pulls your drag system out it makes a clicking noise).
  • Handle: Used to reel the line back into the spool.
  • Line Roller: Attached to the bail it guides the fishing line back onto the spool. 
  • Reel Foot: Where the reel is attached to the rod. 
  • Spool: A fixed spool. This is what holds the line.

The spinning reel basics are to spin the handle and that in turn rotates the bail and line roller, which are attached to a rotor that moves them around the open-faced spool, and feeds the fishing line back into the spool as you retrieve your lure or bait from a cast.

By opening or flipping the bail up it lets the line go slack and loose to let out as much as you need, or to prepare for a distance cast. Often, once you begin to reel, it will close the bail automatically, but some may prefer to flip it back down by hand.

Simple, easy, and smooth this reel is exceptional in its versatility on the water. It can be used to catch just about any fish in any kind of water. From bass to trout and even saltwater fish.

Boat to kayak, offshore fishing, and wading in streams you’ll find that a copious amount of fishermen prefer it to any other because it can do more than most other reels can. As a highly popular reel for bass fishing and even catfishing, you will not be disappointed by the function of this kind of reel.

No matter what kind of fishing you choose to use it for. Both inexperienced and experienced anglers will find the spinning reel to be the most convenient and best of the bunch.  

The ins and outs of a baitcasting reel

Anatomy of a baitcasting reel

A baitcaster is just as well-known and prominent as an open-faced reel. You’ll often see pro bass anglers sporting these reels and using them with precision and expertise which seems easy.

However, the baitcaster is quite different from a spinning reel and those who are more familiar with the latter may find learning how to use a baitcaster can be a bit more difficult. If this is the first reel you choose or learn on though, then you may never change to anything else.

That’s the thing about baitcasters: once you master them, you’ll never use another kind of reel!

Just like the spinning reel, the baitcaster has simple enough mechanics that anyone at any time can learn to use. These are the parts of the reel to most familiarize yourself with:

  • Brake: Always located on the opposite side of the reel handle. Slows down the spool as you release line for a cast. Can be tuned to your preference to offer better casting with minimal slack backlash.
  • Drag: The adjustable knob is a typically star-like shaped piece that is fit around the base of the reel handle. 
  • Spool Release: The button on the lower face of the reel where your thumb would comfortably rest. When decompressed it will release the line. (Similar to how the bail works on a spinning reel.)
  • Spool Tension: This is a smaller knob located on the same side as the reel handle. It can be adjusted to both loosen and tighten the breaks during a cast. It ensures the spool stops spinning when your lure lands. 

Baitcasting takes some practice just like anything else when learning for the first time. Yet, the basic functions are similar to a spinning or any other reel. These reels offer more personal touch because you have the ability to adjust the speed at which the line releases from your spool when you press the button.

It’s so easy you can do it to match whatever weight lure you are using to optimize the distance of your cast. The button or spool release acts as the bail on an open face reel and after your cast, you simply begin to turn the handle to retrieve and the button clicks back into place on its own to stop releasing the line. 

There are difficulties and line snags or bird’s nests that happen with every reel, but the baitcaster can be especially susceptible to backlash. If your brake and spool tension is set too light for the heavier lures or baits you are using, then it is more likely to occur if you are less experienced.

This occurs when there is too much slack in the line that can get snapped back into the spool and creates a huge mess usually because the line spools out faster than the lure can travel. Nevertheless, once perfected, this reel is used faithfully and passionately by many anglers. 

To learn more on how to avoid and remove backlashes when casting with a baitcaster, check out the following videos:

Spooling and Stringing Your Rod and Reel

The fisherman sat fishing at the end of the bridge with a fishing rod and bait

Spooling and stringing your rod and reel setup is the act of getting your fishing line secured onto your reel and strung through the guides on the rod itself.

It might sound like a lot of work, but fear not! Here we will guide you through the steps and know-how, and you’ll soon find exactly how simple and easy it is.

How to spool Spinning Reels

Close-up of spinning reel


Some may have bought themselves a rod and reel combo meaning the reel came on the rod, or others will opt for buying them separately. If that is the case, then attaching the reel to the rod is first.

On the rod handle, there is a piece you can screw to tighten or loosen, and on it is a reel seat or mount that will fit the reel foot perfectly. Once you’ve got the reel foot fitted into the reel seat, then tighten it up until it feels secure, or until you can’t tighten it anymore.

The fishing line you get should match the weight, amount of line, and specs you can find all right on both the rod or reel itself.

With both your line and rod set in front of you we will start with stringing the pole first:

  1. With the free end of the fishing line in hand; feed it through the first and smallest guide on the tip of the rod.
  2. Pull it through the rest of the guides making sure it goes through each circled eyelet. It can be easy to accidentally skip one, or think it fed through when it didn’t (maybe not in the right place, or it can wrap around the rod without you knowing). The fishing line can be very fine and difficult to grip so take your time.
  3. After the line is pulled through the last guide; open the bail so it is sticking up.
  4. Wrap the line around the spool once or twice before tying a knot (It can be any knot as long as it is tight to the spool and won’t slip or slacken. A regular overhand or arbor knot will do too!).

Now, you are ready to begin spooling your spinning reel!

  1. Close the bail, making sure the line matches up with the line roller.
  2. Grip the fishing rod above the rod handle and below the baseline guide.
  3. Hold the line against the rod to keep tension on it as it spools onto the reel.
  4. Turn the handle to retrieve the line onto the spool until it is full.

That wasn’t so bad, was it? The more you do it, the quicker this process will become. It can even be quite a calming routine to sit down and set up your fishing rods before the season.


Now, that you are all set, what are you waiting for?! Hurry up and get out on the water to test it out!

How to spool Baitcast Reels

focus on baitcaster fishing reel with soft and out of focus lures and drop shot weights


The assembly of a Baitcasting pole and reel is virtually the same as a spinning reel setup. The reel foot slips into the reel seat on the rod and you tighten it together with the same exact mechanism.

Once you put together one fishing pole, you’ll know how to do them all. The only difference with a baitcasting combo is that the reel is set facing upwards toward you.

Stringing these rods is the exact same as how you would string your spincast rod. Pull your line through all the guides from the rod tip down, and once you’re ready to attach it to the reel, that’s where it’s a little different. Still, it is just as easy to do, so no worries!

To spool your baitcast reel:

  1. Pull the line through the line guide at the top of the reel.
  2. Wrap line once or twice around the spool to tie your knot tight against it. (It is not a fixed spool like an openface, it’s a free spool so it will move).
  3. With your knot secured, cut off the excess tag sticking out.
  4. Keep line taut by pinching it to the pole with one hand, while you reel it in with the other.


Now, with all our anglers ready with their newly equipped rods, we’re gonna teach you to cast so you can get out there to catch a fish…or a dozen!

How to cast a fishing reel

Men with spinning rods casting into the water


Don’t let learning to cast daunt you, I promise it’s not as hard as it sounds! Repetition will help you get better in no time.

Just remember: casting isn’t really about how much power you put into it. It’s about leverage and fluidity. The reel and pole do most of the work, you just have to direct them.

How to cast a spinning reel

Fisherman casting a spinning reel

It’s quite simple really, spinning reels are known for their ease of use. Try these steps to get started:

  1. The rod should be held in your dominant hand. Grip the bottom handle of your rod.
  2. The opposite hand grips the top part of the handle, closest to the reel. (Almost like holding a baseball bat).
  3. With your top hand, take your index finger and pinch the line to the pole.
  4. Open the bail so the reel is ready to release the line. (Your finger pinching it to the pole should be the only thing preventing the line from releasing now).
  5. Next, cock your fishing rod over your shoulder (check what’s behind you first!). Or twist your body and bring the rod out to the side, parallel to the ground.
  6. Then, in a fluid motion, your dominant hand is going to pull the bottom of the handle towards you, while the opposite hand pushes forward. The flex of your wrist will create a kind of flicking motion. The power from your arms “throwing” out and the inertia from your body will help to cast the line outward, but it will mostly rely on how you “flick” your wrist.
  7. As you follow through with this motion: release your index finger on the line. This will effectively cast the line.
  8. The rod tip is how you aim, wherever you point it is the direction your lure or bait will go.

These are the basic steps to casting a spinning reel. As you practice, you may find different positions or stances that will be more comfortable for you. With time the quality of your casts will improve. You’ll be able to cast further, and more accurately.

Remember it’s not about power; it’s about leverage. Your wrists will be doing most of the work to actually cast. Refining that motion of flicking the rod is important because over time that will be all you will need to do to cast: just a simple flick. Every angler learns and refines it differently.

The most important thing to remember when casting a spinning reel is timing when you release your finger from the line. It’ll take several tries on your first go, but it is very easy to figure out once you have the basic idea. Then you adapt it to however you want.

Also, keep in mind the weight of your baits, live or lure, can change how far you cast. If it’s heavier it’ll go further, if it’s too light you won’t get as much distance, but sometimes you’ll find you don’t need to cast too far to catch a fish.

Wind will also affect your casting. Casting into the wind is much more difficult, wind can also push your lure mid-air away from your point of aim. Keep that in mind on those gusty days!

How to cast a Baitcasting reel

Casting reel close up while being casted

Perhaps, it may not be as easy to learn to cast as a spinning reel is to some, but it is still considered a must-have combo for bass anglers. Casting this reel is both similar to a spinning reel and yet very different. But with some instruction and a copious amount of practice you’ll find it just as smooth and easy to use.

Here are the steps to practice getting used to baitcasting:

  1. Holding a baitcast rod is just like how you would with a spinning reel. Your hands are just a little closer together because of the position of the reel. (Remember it will be facing up towards you!)
  2. With your dominant hand on the bottom grip of the rod, your opposite hand should be gripped just beneath the reel so that you can press the spool release button with your thumb.
  3. Press the spool release button and then rest your thumb on your spool of line to prevent it from releasing the line right away.
  4. Now you get into your casting position either from the side or over the shoulder. (Always look before you cast so you don’t hook anything or anyone!)
  5. Using inertia from your body and arms, and the leverage from the rod itself; “flick” your lure forward with your wrists while releasing your thumb from the spool.

You’ve completed your first cast with a baitcasting reel! You’ll have probably found some difficulties with it though. Baitcasters take some time to get used to because you have the ability to adjust the reel and customize it to how you want. Like how quickly or slowly it releases from the spool.

Similar to a spinning reel, you’ll have to determine the ideal time of releasing your thumb from the spool during the cast to get the result you want.

There is no exact way of teaching someone the perfect timing because all anglers mess it up from time to time no matter how much experience you have or how long you’ve been fishing for.

Lastly, what you will notice with this kind of reel is that the wind and how you aim will make a significant difference. With this kind of reel, making sure your rod tip is pointed straight toward where you want it to go, will depend on how smoothly it may cast. It takes practice, but there is a reason that anglers prefer this kind of reel to any other.

Conclusion: Let’s go fishing!

Fishing illustrations during different seasons


Now, with your new know-how let’s get out there on the water to enjoy wetting a line and catching some fish! Spinning reel or baitcasting reel, whichever you choose, both kinds of reels are renowned and loved by all kinds of anglers.

Your reel is a critical piece of fishing gear so choose whichever you’re most comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to try out both! You’ll soon find that more often than not an angler will actually have at least one of each in their fishing gear arsenal.

Saltwater, freshwater, lakes, rivers, or streams get out there and traverse them all!

Personal preference:
I personally love openface reels but have begun trying baitcasting. My brother uses both, and my father swears by baitcasting reels and won’t use anything else. It’s all about preference, and both reels are exceptional in quality and versatility.

I was fishing before I could walk and it's been a family tradition for centuries. Fishing is my life, or at least as long as I can remember. In the Lake Champlain International Fathers Day Fishing Derby, not only have I won first place twice but also third place! Also, in addition to majoring in Wilderness Recreation Leadership, I also happen to be a licensed camping, hiking, and hunting guide for NY.