"Picking the right gear" is a term you hear a lot in off-road racing but it's not an expression most bass anglers put a lot of thought into. Simply put, a reel's gear ratio relates to how many times the spool turns for each time the reel handle makes a revolution. The lower the gear ratio, the slower the retrieve. The higher the gear ratio, the faster.
Elite Series pro Matt Reed, advocates using the same gear ratio for nearly every application. This, he explains, keeps everything consistent. "Normally, I use a 6.3:1 gear ratio all year long," he says.
There are times, such as during the spring when he's burning a big lipless crankbait or flipping heavy cover, when he'll switch to a 7:1 ratio in order to "pick up as much slack as possible," but Reed admits that he's content with the 6.3:1 for most everything else.
"To me, 6.3:1 is the perfect balance because I can speed up my retrieve with minimal effort if I need to burn a spinnerbait, or I can slow it down if I'm fishing a deep-diving crankbait."
Another exception to his 6.3:1 rule is winter fishing. Reed admits that fishing the extremely cold water goes against his nature, thus he has to drop to a lower gear ratio in order to combat his natural tendencies.
"During the winter, when it gets really cold, I'll drop down to a 5:1 gear ratio reel. Having a lower gear just makes me slow down," he explains. "If I'm throwing a suspending jerkbait in extremely cold water, I have to do that because my nature is to move the bait too fast."
Fishing with a lower gear ratio not only forces a slower retrieve but also forces a test of patience. "You can't get in too big a hurry when you're fishing in extremely cold water," he says.
"The biggest challenge I have is remembering how long I let the bait sit before moving it the last time I got a bite, and then repeating that again and again. It can be really tedious."
Reed points out that by using a lower gear ratio, it's much easier for him to stay focused on his slow-moving bait. "The slower gear ratio will force you to slow down and really pay attention to your bait," he says.
"The higher speed reels that I use most of the time won't allow you to do that because you're never quite able to repeat the exact speed you were moving the cast before."
Aside from the winter months, Reed again emphasizes the importance of consistency in gear ratio. "Except when I'm flipping, where I use a 7:1 gear ratio, I use the 6.3:1 most of the time because I know exactly how fast I'm moving my bait," he points out.
"If you're switching between a 5:1, a 6.3:1 and a 7:1 ratio throughout the day, you constantly have to adjust to how much line you're picking up with each turn of the handle. Over the course of a fishing day, that can be a lot of adjusting you're doing unnecessarily."
A tip to ensure maximum efficiency, regardless of the gear ratio, is line management. "I would really stress that you need to keep your spool full at all times," he suggests.
"If your reel is full of line, you're always going to be picking the exact amount of line that gear ratio will allow at the end of a long cast."