How to Use a Conventional Reel

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How to Use a Conventional Reel

by Capt. Terry Rand

From lake trout to trophy tunas, conventional reels are an important tool for anglers for a number of reasons.

Conventional reels are another important tool for the angler, especially those fishing the saltwater environment. These reels are not usually a first choice for those looking for a reel that will cast long distances as spinning and baitcasting reels will generally do a better job. But, when it comes to having a reel with excellent line capacity and superb cranking power, often needed for deep water fishing, the conventional reel can be the best choice.

Conventional reels probably encompass the largest group of reels out of the three major reel groups. Conventional reels can range from small, palm sized reels to match with lighter power rods all the way up to giant, big game trolling reels made for catching marlin and tuna. Conventional reels are built for heavy duty cranking power and for the use of heavy lines. They are a great choice for deploying baits vertically with heavy sinkers because the cranking power makes retrieval much easier.

Conventional reels are probably one of the easiest reels to learn to use as long as you’re not attempting to cast with them. They work on the same principal as baitcasting reels, using a rotating spool to feed line out and crank it back in. These reels can be purchased with or without levelwind systems, depending on an anglers needs. They can also be purchased with two different drag systems, the traditional star drag system or the more advanced lever drag systems. One final option found on many conventional reels these days are two speed options that allow the user to shift between two different gear ratios for faster retrieve speeds or slower, more powerful gear speeds.

For instructional purposes, let’s talk about using a conventional reel with a traditional star drag. Conventional reels have a spool braking system, the same as a baitcasting reel, which is located on the side of the reel underneath the star drag. This brake system is sometimes referred to as a tension brake system since it slows down the spool by applying pressure which is controlled by an adjustment knob. Just like a baitcasting reel, the brake should be properly set for the weight of the lure you are using to help prevent bird nests and spool over runs. Since you are not casting with a conventional reel, the brake setting does not need to be as precisely set as a baitcaster would be, but using the brake to slow down the spool will still be important in not having to thumb the spool as aggressively while dropping your bait to the bottom.

So, let’s drop a bait to the bottom and set the brake at the same time. To deploy a bait using a conventional reel, the angler puts the reel into free spool mode by pressing a button or flipping a lever on the top of the reel. As soon as the reel goes into free spool mode, the bait or lure will begin to drop immediately. To prevent a spool over run, place your other thumb on the spool to keep the bait from dropping when free spool is engaged. Now, using the pressure of your thumb to slow the speed of the spool, allow line to pay off the spool as the bait drops slowly through the water column. By slowly releasing your thumb pressure, allow the speed of the spool to increase. When the lure or sinker hits the bottom, stop the spool rotation with your thumb and engage the spool. This exercise should give you a good feel for how fast the spool can start to rotate when little to no pressure is applied to it.

The braking system will allow you to control that spool rotation speed without having to rely on your thumb so much. Start by tightening the tension brake knob on the side of the spool by rotating it clockwise less than a quarter turn. Now, go through the exercise we did earlier and start dropping your bait to the bottom again, using your thumb to control the spool. As you start to release the tension with your thumb you'll notice that the spool turns less aggressively and requires less thumb maintenance while the bait is dropping. Again, remember to stop the spool when the lure hits bottom. Continue this exercise a couple of times by tightening and loosening the tension brake until you find the right setting for the weight of the lure you're using.

After a while, you'll get a natural feel for controlling the spool with your thumb and you'll learn to quickly adjust the brake for whatever your needs are. As mentioned earlier, the brake adjustments you make when you’re fishing vertically don't need to be as precise as when you’re attempting to cast, like in the case of baitcasting reels. You just need to be able to control the spool enough to get a good fall rate for the lure and to relieve your thumb of having to do all the work.

It does need to be mentioned though, that many conventional reels can be used for casting but most anglers opt for easier casting spinning reels to get that job done. But, conventional reels were the first reel designs that were manufactured and sold to the public so many folks grew up casting them and still do. There are a number of anglers who want to be able to use conventional reels for casting because of their powerful gears and rotating spool designs that allow them to really put the screws to big fish during the fight. And, many surfcasters who have tinkered with using conventional reels in the surf have become addicted to them and use them for nearly all their fishing needs. To learn to use a conventional reel for casting, refer to the article on How to Use a Baitcasting Reel. The procedure for casting a conventional is the same as casting a baitcaster, just on a larger reel size.

Most big name reel manufacturers have developed reels to meet the needs of those in the industry that require great casting abilities in their conventional reels. Shimano has been at the front of line for years with great casting reels like the Trinidad and Torsa. Daiwa has addressed this need as well with reels like the Saltiga, Saltiga Surf and the Saltist Lever Drag. The Avet reel company’s main business focus is developing excellent lever drag reels, many of them with superb casting abilities. Some of these reels are built with secondary, centrifugal brake systems that allow the angler to further fine tune their brake settings for maximum castability. Others manufacturers use magnetic brakes as a secondary brake system in their reels.

Learning how to use a conventional reel is not difficult and it gives the angler another tool to get the job done more efficiently. Learn to use one while bottom fishing from a boat or dropping baits back behind a boat to get a feel for using a conventional. Once you hook a fish and feel the power behind those big gears, you’ll be hooked on conventional reels yourself.

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