Spinning Reel Bails

Saltwater Fishing - Helping you catch that fish of a lifetime

Spinning Reel Bails

by Capt. Terry Rand

Once you learn to control a couple of small issues with the spinning reel, you'll find it to be a tool you simply cannot do without.

Spinning reels are an amazing tool for the avid angler but like all reel designs, they have their limitations and drawbacks. Manufacturers are always pursuing better ways to deal with inherent problems such as line twist and anti-reverse issues. One area of special interest is the bail system.

The purpose of the bail is to act as a gate for the line on the spool. When the bail is engaged, the line is prevented from unwinding from the spool. When the bail is disengaged, as it would be for casting, the bail releases the line from the spool. During line retrieval, as the rotor spins, the bail serves to guide the line back onto the spool.

Note the wire bail assembly. The bail revolves around the spool during the retrieve, laying line evenly back on the spool as it goes.
Photo by: Author

The biggest problem for most saltwater anglers with the spinning reels bail system is that they can occasionally fail. And, when they do, it is usually while making a powerful cast. The energy exerted in the cast is sometimes enough to force the bail to close suddenly, causing the line to snap and the loss of an expensive lure. This is a problem often seen by surf anglers who put a lot of power behind their casts with rods up to twelve feet long.

Spinning reel manufacturers have developed numerous internal systems to address this issue, some with better results than other. The most successful design option has been the elimination of the swinging bail arm entirely, leaving only a line roller to guide the line back onto the spool. To make a cast, the angler takes the line out from under the line roller with their finger tip, which instantly readies them for casting. After casting, the line is then quickly placed back under the line roller. The angler can then begin retrieving. It requires more attention than a swinging bail arm system but it does eliminate any possibility of bail failure.

This bail is disengaged and ready for casting.
Photo by: Author

It seems that those most interested in the bail-less option are definitely saltwater casters that have lost their patience with losing expensive plugs. Companies like Van Staal and Accurate have done very well in the saltwater market with bail free designs and a number of other companies like Penn offer upgrade kits for some of their reels to convert them to operate without bails.

Most people simply choose to live with the occasional bail failure. In most current reel designs, the problem rarely happens due to the use of better, more reliable bail systems that use magnets or locking lever mechanisms to keep the bail in place during a cast.

Line twist is another factor that often haunts the users of spinning reels. Line twist can occur for a number of reasons but when it comes to spinning reels, the usual culprit causing this is the bail system. At the end of a cast, the angler cranks the reel handle which automatically closes the bail. Line twist often occurs during this process. The reason is that when the angler cranks the handle, the rotor will usually spin nearly a full turn before the bail actually closes. This allows a loose loop of fishing line to form that gets wound onto the spool before any real tension is applied to straighten out the loose coil. This twisted loop then gets overlaid with tight wraps of line. During the next cast, when the line reaches that loop, it unwinds from the spool and gets caught up in the tighter wraps, often ending your cast abruptly as a tangle of line catches in the rod guides. The easiest solution to this problem is to start closing your bail manually with your hand, just like you would when you open the bail. Closing the bail manually will instantly make the line tight against the spool before any loose wraps can be wound.

Another area responsible for line twist is the line roller on the bail. The line roller, or line guide, is the part of the bail that actually guides the line back on to the spool. In older spinning reel designs, the line would run under the line guide which was a fixed, cylindrical part of the bail. As the line was retrieved, the tension of the line running against the line guide would cause the line to twist as it was wrapped back onto the spool. When the angler was fighting a fish, the tension was increased against the line guide, creating even more line twist. Manufacturers began to design the line guides with a line roller. The fixed, cylindrical part of the line guide was redesigned using a bearing so that the line guide would now spin as the line was retrieved, greatly reducing the friction. The reduction of friction led to less line twist. The new line roller systems do a great job of reducing line twist and only require an occasional drop of oil to keep things moving properly.

The line roller on the bail assembly should be properly lubricated to ensure the reduction of line twist. The line roller can be easily seen in this photograph.
Photo by: Author
In case you need to remedy a line twist problem, here is an easy fix. Once line twist has occurred, put your boat in gear and travel at no more than five miles per hour. Open the bail and let the line trail out behind the boat without any attached lure, hook or terminal gear. Let out about 100 - 150 feet line and then close the bail. Let the line untwist itself while continuing to travel forward with the boat. About sixty seconds of this should take the twist out of your line for you.

There hasn't been a reel design yet that delivers a completely flawless fishing reel system. Baitcasting reels and conventional reels both share the same problem of a rotating spool that needs to be controlled by the angler to avoid line tangles. And, that requires practice and some acquired skill. And like those reel, spinning reels also have their inherent issues. But, using the knowledge gained here, an angler can learn to control any of the issues that can arise while using a spinning reel.

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