Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Solving Common Fishing Line Problem

By Lee McClellan

June 22, 2010 —      Frankfort, Ky. – My grandfather had an old, huge saltwater Penn baitcasting reel spooled with black Dacron line attached to one of the earliest fiberglass rods. A large switch on the side of the reel released the spool to cast. Your thumb controlled everything.

It didn’t have a spool tension control knob or adjustable braking like modern baitcasting reels. My grandfather would tie a casting dummy onto that antique rod and let the grandkids go at it in his back yard. My sister could cast better than my brother and me.

The first few times I cast that thing I marveled at my casting distance and paid no attention to my thumb. The reel blew up into a lump of black Dacron spaghetti when the casting dummy hit the ground. I would pick, prod and pull out the backlash or give up, cut the line and retie, only to do it all over again. I’ve struggled with baitcasting equipment ever since.

Early in my fishing career, I gravitated toward spinning gear because it didn’t backlash and worked better with light lures. But, in the last few years, my baitcasting prowess improved significantly after I took advantage of the modern anti-backlash devices. Now, backlashes occur infrequently, even when I throw the unwieldy Carolina rig.

Backlashes occur to even the best baitcasters, but to cut them down significantly, make sure you use the technology of modern reels to your advantage.

The spool tension control knob usually lies on the right side of the reel (for a right-hand reel). Tie on the lure you plan to throw and press the button to release the spool. Adjust the tension control knob until the lure falls slowly and the spool stops spinning when the lure contacts the floor, boat deck or ground.

The spool tension control knob keeps the spool from spinning too fast at the beginning of the cast when the majority of backlashes occur. Another anti-backlash feature is an adjustable braking system usually located on the left side-plate of the reel (on right-hand reels). The braking system allows an angler quick adjustment for different lure weights to prevent backlashes. Heavier lures require more braking.

I learned early on that a pop of the wrist delivers extra distance when casting a spinning rod. Many other anglers learned this trick in their formative fishing years. It is a big reason why so many struggle with baitcasting equipment.

Use a lob style cast with almost all arm to let the baitcasting rod cast the lure, not your wrist and hands. Don’t pop your wrist as you cast a baitcasting rod or a backlash will likely explode in your reel. Wrist pop causes the spool to spin too quickly at the beginning of a cast.

It is a totally different sensation than casting a spinning rod, so practice with short casts before moving up to longer ones. Rotating your arm during the cast until your thumb faces your chest at the end also helps prevent backlashes.

Spinning equipment is easier to use than baitcasting equipment, but problems with loops, tangles and bird’s nests plagued me for many years until I learned a few tricks to keep them at bay.

Nothing is more frustrating than wading, floating or boating to a great fishing spot and hearing a swishing sound coming from your spinning reel on one of your first casts, looking down to see a giant bird’s nest around your spool.

Line twist is the enemy of the spinning reel. It is the root cause of loops, tangles and bird’s nests. Manually flipping the bail of your spinning reel after the cast greatly reduces line twist. Cranking the handle to close the bail not only increases wear and tear on the bail spring, it also imparts several twists on the line. Over the course of a fishing day, those twists add up.

Many anglers panic when a fish strikes and begins to pull drag. They reel furiously, ignoring their drag. Reeling against a slipping drag creates monster line twist on spinning reels. Let the line slip before reeling. Keep your rod tip high to maintain tension on the fish while allowing the drag to do its job.

Fishing line doesn’t cost much, so replace it regularly and properly spool the line onto your spinning reel. Have a partner slip a pencil through the hole in the filler spool and reel the line onto the spool. Keep some tension on the filler spool with your partner’s finger.

If you place the filler spool on the floor to do it yourself, reel a few cranks and inspect the line. If you see tight loops or twists form, flip the filler spool over. This keeps the line from twisting as it loads onto the reel spool. Stop reeling when the line reaches about 1/16-inch from the spool lip.

Resist the temptation to fill the spool completely even with the spool lip. Overfilling the spool in this manner creates huge bird’s nests and tangles, usually on the first cast or two.

If you do fall victim to line twist, cut off your lure and pull off about 10 feet of line from your spinning reel. On a stream, lower the rod tip and allow the current to pull all of the line off your spool. In a boat at slow speed, drop your line in the water and let the boat’s movement do the same. Reel in the line. The water’s tension pulls the twist from the line it will feel like a new spool.

Try these simple tricks this summer for a more enjoyable fishing day free of backlashes, twists and tangles.

Author Lee McClellan is an award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.

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