Shopping baitcast reels

Seigo Saito
2011 Bassmaster Classic champ Kevin VanDam

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Kevin VanDam

Kevin VanDam

In the world of professional bass fishing, Kevin VanDam is at the pinnacle and arguably the best in the world.

If you're like a lot of my buddies, this is the time of year you're flipping through the Bass Pro Shops catalog looking for a new baitcast reel.

It can be an intimidating process when comparing all the different models and prices. Which one should you buy?

Of course, price will dictate that, and I always advise anglers to buy the best they can afford. The more expensive reels not only operate smoother but last longer.

Regardless of how much you spend, gear ratio may be the most important consideration.

Gear ratio dictates how many times a spool revolves with one complete turn of the handle. Higher geared reels, such as my Quantum KVD Tour 7.3:1 reel, take in line faster than one with a 5.3:1 ratio. Basically, a 5.3:1 reel means that for every complete turn of the reel handle, the spool revolves 5.3 times.

I use the faster reels for techniques in which I use the rod to move the lure, such as for pitching, flipping, Carolina rigging, drop shotting, worm fishing, jerkbaiting or topwater fishing. If a bass bites when the rod is back, I can take up line faster and be in a better hook-setting position than I can with a slower reel.

Now, for winding baits, such as crankbaits and spinnerbaits, a slower geared reel is preferred because it gives me more power.

If the reel is to be used for a variety of techniques, then a 6.3:1 geared reel provides a happy medium.

Keep in mind, however, that spool size can influence the amount of line a reel takes up. A 6.3:1 geared reel with a smaller spool than one with a large one won't retrieve as much line with one turn of the handle.

For example, my Quantum Tour KVD with a large spool takes up 34 inches of line with each turn of the handle. No other bass reel out there takes up as much line.

That's not to say smaller spooled baitcasters don't have their place. Anglers with smaller hands prefer them, and if you fish small-diameter lines, smaller spools may handle the line better. However, if you fish heavy line on smaller spools, it will affect casting distance and line capacity.

Ball bearings add to the value of a reel, but keep in mind there are different quality of bearings, which is why some 10-ball bearing reels cost more than other 10-bearing reels. Bearings are strategically placed between gears and working parts to keep the reel turning smoothly. Generally, reels with fewer bearings don't function as smoothly, especially after extended use.

And don't be disillusioned by the feel of a new reel as you spin the handle while testing them at the local tackle shop. That's when the $80 reel may feel as smooth and as tight as the $300 reel; but, believe me, there are differences.

Those differences will show up a year down the road after you've put a few hours of use into it.

Remember, it's all about the attitude.

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