Expert: Marty Robinson, Lyman, S.C. — The affable pro is a two-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier known for his versatility on the tournament trail.
If you're just getting into bass fishing or learning a new bait or technique, one of the most confusing aspects of it is selecting the right gear ratio for your casting reel.
Not so many years ago, the choices were easier because reels didn't offer many options. What was "fast" 30 or 40 years ago would be considered pretty slow today, and we're in the middle of an era of tremendous improvement in all aspects of reels, including retrieve speeds and gear ratios.
Choosing the right gear ratio is all about technique and baits. Whether you want something slow, fast or somewhere in between depends on what it is you're fishing and how you're fishing it. For our purposes, I'll divide gear ratios into those three groups — slow (5:1 or lower), medium (around 6:1) and fast (7:1 and higher). Here's when and where I use all three.
A slow reel is the ideal choice for most crankbaiting. A reel with about a 5:1 gear ratio is going to help you get your baits to their maximum depth and also give you superior feel, so you know exactly what's going on with your lure.
My favorite cranking reel is the new Lew's BB1. It's smooth, casts a mile and has a large handle that gives me plenty of comfort and leverage when I'm working a big, deep-diving crankbait. It's a 21st century version of an old classic, and I think it's the perfect cranking reel.
Reels with a gear ratio in the neighborhood of 6:1 are your workhorses. They get the bulk of the duty with most bass fishing applications, and in a pinch you could do the things best served by slower or faster reels by cranking slower or faster.
Spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, swimming jigs, topwaters and most other baits are best served with a medium speed reel. When I'm spinnerbaiting, for example, 5:1 is just too slow for anything but slow-rolling, and 7:1 is too fast — you have to slow down just to keep your bait in the water. A medium gear ratio is just right.
In the old days, reels with a gear ratio of 7:1 or better just didn't have the guts for a lot of bass fishing applications. They couldn't stand up to hard hook-sets or the heavy torque of fighting a big fish. That's no longer true. Today's high-speed reels are strong and lightning fast.
A high speed reel is my choice for techniques like flippin' and pitching or worming — anything where you're working the bait for a short stretch and then hustling it in to make another presentation. When you're pitching and fighting a big bass in close quarters, you need to be able to catch up to that fish quickly if she heads toward the boat. You can only do that with a fast reel.