SPINNING REELS HAVE BEEN AROUND for decades. I fished with one a lot when I was a kid shagging grasshoppers around farm ponds back in the 1960s.
One thing I’ll always remember was how well that little Mitchell would zing a grasshopper butt-threaded on a small hook with no weight, even in a stiff wind. If I really wanted the bait to sail, I would add a small barrel swivel or split shot a foot or so above the hook.
I was hardly the only one who found the reels advantageous for throwing small baits on light line. Veteran bass pro Tommy Martin of Hemphill spent a lot time wade fishing along the Texas Coast with a spinning outfit in his hands in the ‘60s before he bought a marina on Toledo Bend and started a guide service on the big lake during its hey day. He brought his spinning gear along on the move and found it was just as handy for catching largemouths.
“We’d drift around those open bays casting a 1/16 or 1/8-ounce black marabou jig on six-pound line catching one- to three-pounders one after another. Sometimes you’d catch a bigger one,” Martin said. “It was great for customers because it was an easy way to fish that didn’t demand a lot of skill. That’s another big plus about spinning reels. They are simple to cast once you learn how.”
Spinning tackle isn’t just for beginners, either. Many of the world’s top bass pros have learned from experience that it’s always a good idea to keep a spinning outfit handy. This is especially true for “finesse” situations or when performing techniques that call for baits weighing 1/4 ounce or less and smaller diameter lines.
This is often the case on reservoirs with exceptional water clarity, an abundance of small fish or when there is so much fishing pressure the bass might be spooky or reluctant to eat bigger, bulkier baits.
That’s not to say you can’t throw a 1/8-ounce shaky head worm, drop shot or pint-size crankbait or jerkbait on a baitcasting outfit spooled with 10-pound line, because you can. But it can usually be accomplished much more effectively, and without the worry of backlashes, by using a spinning rig.
“There is a time when you have to use small baits that you can’t throw very well on casting gear,” Martin said. “I always have at least one spinning outfit rigged up for every tournament I go to. The key is knowing when to pick it up and when to put it down.”
Spinning reels are sometimes referred to as “open face” reels, because the line spool is exposed at the head of the reel. This allows line to feed freely off the spool when the bail is open, thus allowing for long, easy casts with lightweight lures.
Unlike spincasters and baitcasters, the spinning reel is designed to mount to the bottom side of the rod instead of on top. It operates using an odd-shaped bail arm that opens when the reel is ready to cast and closes to gather the line.
Casting with a spinning reel is simple once you learn the steps. Make sure the reel is facing downward and that you grip it correctly. Some anglers like to place all of their fingers in front of the reel post while others like to place the post between their middle and ring fingers. Do whatever is most comfortable.
Next, trap the line with the tip of your index finger on your casting hand, open the bail and cast, releasing line from beneath your finger with the rod’s forward momentum. The reels can be cast overhand for maximum distance or underhand to make the bait maintain low trajectory.
Spinning reels are available in several sizes with small and medium sizes being the favorites for most freshwater applications. Check the manufacturer specs to ensure the reel is sized proportionally with the line size you intend to use. A reel that is advertised to hold 120 yards of eight-pound line (the specs will read 8LB/120 yards) should work just fine with lines that are slightly smaller or larger.
Some key things to look for are a sturdy, lightweight housing, strong gears, a mid-range gear ratio, a quality drag system, stainless ball bearings and a switch that allows for back reeling to aid the drag in case you hook a really big fish. Many of these reels are available with interchangeable line spools that will allow for quick swaps when want to use a lighter or heavier line or a different capacity.
Ultra-light spinning reels matched with a five- to six-foot medium power rod are ideal for casting small jigs, Roadrunners and other tiny baits for bream, crappie and trout.
Meanwhile, reels with a small-to-medium size frame rule in bass fishing arenas. These reels are great for tossing or skipping shaky heads, tubes, wacky worms, floating worms, small swim baits, Rapala-style minnows and micro-crankbaits.
A number of good quality reels are available from Garcia, Shimano, Pfleuger and Lews, all of which offer combo reel/rod packages for a price that won’t break the bank.
One of my favorite set-ups is Garcia Revo STX20 matched with a seven-foot Vendetta in a medium-light power and extra fast action. I use it a lot for throwing shaky heads, but it also works well for floating worms, wacky worms and other baits that are on the light side. A Garcia Mag Pro is a slightly larger reel with a little more spool capacity and a heavier drag.
One thing to always remember with spinning reels is to load them correctly with a manageable fishing line. Many anglers prefer using small diameter braided line in combination with a small diameter fluorocarbon leader on spinning reels.
Braided line has no memory, so it is very easy to manage on the spool and doesn’t twist. It is also smaller in diameter than fluorocarbon, so you can get away with using a little heavier line without sacrificing performance or capacity.
Fluorocarbon leaders should be joined with a reliable knot that won’t snag in the spool or on the line guides. I’ve had really good luck with the Alberto and FG knots.
As earlier mentioned, spinning tackle brings a host of advantages to bass arenas. They shine especially bright in specific situations that call for small diameter lines and baits that are on the light side. Longview bass pro Jim Tutt is a spinning rig nut from way back. He has used them to land smallmouths as big as six pounds and largemouths as heavy as nine.
Tutt says one of the key advantages to spinning gear is it allows you to play fish better on light line than you can with baitcasting tackle. “You can use light line on baitcasting gear but you have to be really careful not to over fight the fish,” Tutt said. “I think the spinning rod and reel help you play the fish better. You don’t lose or break off near as many as you would if you were using light line on a baitcaster.”
Tutt says spinning gear is also a good choice for skipping baits into hard-to-reach places beneath docks, piers and over-hanging limbs. Skipping is a low trajectory presentation where the bait skims the surface like a flat rock. Pros can skip with baitcasting gear, but it takes lots of practice to perfect the tactic it without getting troublesome backlashes.
“It’s great for shaky heads and floating worms,” Tutt said. “It eliminates the potential for back lashes and allows for getting the bait into tight spots. Plus, the light line gives the bait a more natural action.”
Tutt says spinning reels also allow baits to fall vertical in the water column quicker because the line uncoils from the spool with minimal resistance. This is a huge plus when fishing a drop-shot rig or shaky head around bluff walls, pilings or hard bottom structure in deep water away from the bank.
“On top of all that the reel handles interchange from one side to the other,” Tutt said. “You can buy one reel and make it a right- or left-handed model by simply swapping the handle to the opposite side. You can’t do that with a baitcasting reel.”
Most season saltwater pros recommend either braid or fluorocarbon with a line test between 8 to 12 pounds on a spinning reel but there is more to consider if you want to avoid the dreaded “line twist”.
Here are a few tips to keep line in control:
• When spooling a spinning reel make sure the line goes onto the spool in a counter clock-wise manner.
• Do not over fill your spinning reel. Leave at least an eighth of an inch from the top of the line to the top of the spool’s rim. A little more space won’t hurt but try not to exceed that eighth of an inch. The more line you have the easier it will get twisted and you will have to cut it out. Being under-spooled can result sometimes in the line catching on the edge of the top of the spool when trying to make a long cast.
• When spooling, spray five or six shots of the Kevin Van Dam Lure and Line Conditioner on the line you have just spooled onto the reel. Do this as you spool the line and then give it a big dose after the line is on the reel. You want to do this at least 24 hours before you use the reel and then during the day as you use the reel.
• Read the line parameters on the spinning reel and do not exceed them.
• Read the rod’s parameters and make sure your line test and bait weights are within the rod’s range for best performance.
• Be ready for line twist. It comes with spinning rigs. It’s the law. When you get line twist you do not open the spinning reel’s bail; keep it shut. Loosen the drag and pull the line off the spool. If you open the bail, line will blast off the spinning reel.
• Bring at least one additional spinning reel with you so you can change out spinning reels when you run out of line or you get a bad twisting situation.
—story by MATT WILLIAMS