Tension Brake Systems

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Tension Brake Systems

by Capt. Terry Rand

How do the brake systems on baitcasting and conventional reels work?

Baitcasting reels and conventional reels use spool braking systems to control the speed at which the spool of the reel spins when the reel is in free spool mode. This is how the angler can minimize the chance of getting backlashes during the casting process. Both baitcasting and conventional reels use a brake that applies pressure to the spools axis to slow down its rotation. This brake is adjusted with a knob located under the reel handle. This brake is often referred to as the tension brake and is found on nearly all baitcasting and conventional reels.

When the brake knob is rotated clockwise, the pressure against the spool is increased. Rotate it counter clockwise and the tension is decreased. Every time that a lure change is made, the brake must be adjusted properly for the weight of the lure. When casting a light lure, the brake tension on the spool is reduced. When using a heavy lure the brake tension is increased.

This tension brake knob has been removed to show the internal washer that presses against the spool axis to slow the rotation speed of the spool.
Photo by: Author

The mechanics behind the tension brake is quite simple and can even be viewed on your own if you’re feeling brave. By unscrewing the tension brake adjustment knob, it will eventually release from the reel. In many reel models, there is a thick, wire spring located directly under the adjustment knob, so unscrew it carefully. As you can see, the spring is flat on either end so one side of the spring rests against the inside of the adjustment knob. The other side presses against the side of the spool. When the adjustment knob is tightened, the spring is compressed against the side of the spool, limiting the spools rotation.

Some other models use a series of tiny washers inside the adjustment knob that are stacked together. These washers rest against the end of the spindle that the rotating spool is mounted on. As the adjustment knob is tightened, the washers push against the end of the spindle, limiting the rotation of the spool. Both brake designs are very reliable and offer a wide range of adjustment settings.

In more recent years, manufacturers have developed secondary braking systems that aid the primary tension brake by acting as a fine tuning adjustment tool. These brake systems are referred to as Centrifugal Brakes and Magnetic Brakes. The way they are used is quite simple. First, the primary tension brake is set to an acceptable range for the lure. Then, the centrifugal brake or magnetic brake is used to make minor tweaks and adjustments to the brake setting already made with the tension brake. These secondary brakes allow for minute changes to the spools rotation that will allow the angler to refine their casting techniques and maximize their casting abilities while controlling back lashes with more ease. To learn more about these secondary brake systems, see the following articles:

Centrifugal Braking Systems & Magnetic Braking Systems


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