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Backlash: Prevent and Easily Remove Baitcast Reel Backlash

reel backlash stop and remove

Every angler that has ever used a baitcast fishing reel like my favorite Abu Garcia 6500C3 reels has experienced that moment. It’s that cast to get in just that “right
spot” to land that next fish and then PUH-POW your fishing reel is a big mess with a gnarly backlash.

It doesn’t matter if you have been fishing with a baitcast fishing reel for dozens of years or are just a beginner, sometimes it just happens.

The more practice you have casting a baitcast reel the less it happens but it still happens.

The more practice you have casting a baitcast reel the less it happens but it still happens.

Maybe your not experienced and have never used a baitcast fishing reel because of fear of backlash? Maybe you have tried and it just didn’t work for you or you have seen your fishing buddies fighting with a fishing line backlash enough to know that you don’t want any part of it.

If you are going to fish for catfish there is no argument that a baitcast fishing reel is the best option. You can get by with spin casting or spinning reels for smaller fish but if your going to fish for big catfish or there is even a remote chance you might catch a big catfish, a bait cast fishing reel is your best choice. As you start to move on to more advanced catfishing techniques you’ll need a baitcast fishing reel even for targeting smaller channel catfish. Something like the Abu Garcia 5000 series reels are a great choice.

Baitcast fishing reels are generally preferred because of their smooth drag systems, large line capacities and they just work better for most of the catfishing techniques that are used when targeting all three species of catfish.

What keeps people from making the switch from spinning reels or spincasting reels to a baitcast reel?

Usually the claim that they cannot cast or have problems with backlashes (also known as the professional over run).

Truth is, the reason most people have problems with backlashing a fishing reel because they have not taken a few minutes to make themselves familiar with how a baitcast fishing reel works and how to set it up so it will work properly. Taking a minute or two to learn to set the reel up properly will save you a lot of time and frustration when you are casting.

What Causes Backlash?

Backlash occurs when the spool of the fishing reel is turning faster than the fishing line is moving. This causes the line to wrap around the fishing reel spool in the wrong direction creating a tangle.

This is usually caused by:

Lack Of Knowledge – Not understanding how a baitcast reel works and what causes a backlash. Half of the battle is understanding the problem!

Bad Fishing Line – Having old fishing line on your reel with a lot of memory.

Spool Tensioner Not Set Correctly - Not having the spool tensioner set correctly on the fishing reel. As you are learning having the spool tensioner set correctly or even a little too heavy will do wonders to help reduce backlashes. When you get more experienced this is less of an issue and you can set the spool tensioner more and more loose (I keep mine so loose that the caps often fall off).

Casting Control and Techniques – Not understanding when you need to stop the spool from turning, which is usually at the end of a cast.

How To Avoid A Backlash

If you follow these three steps casting will be easy and you will have minimal backlashes on your fishing reel when casting.

Fishing Line – Keep good fresh fishing line on your reel. If the line has memory (it coils and stays that way when it does not have tension on it) then replace the line with fresh fishing line or treat it will Real Magic.

Fishing Reel Set Up – Set the spool tension before you use your fishing reel. Hold the rod tip at a 45 degree angle and press the button on the reel and allow the sinker to hit the floor. The spool should stop turning on it’s own when the sinker hits the floor. If the spool does not stop turning on it’s own, tighten the spool tensioner and repeat the process until it does. In addition, adding more tension will help you to learn in the beginning but will also limit casting distance.

Thumb The Spool When Casting – When you are casting allow your thumb to lightly skim across the spool of the fishing line. When you feel the line start to slow down push your thumb on the line and stop the spool from turning. In the beginning do this earlier than you think you need to so you can get the feel of it.

Following these simple steps and understanding how a backlash occurs will solve most of your frustrations with learning to cast a baitcast fishing reel and you will have very few issues but even the most experienced anglers will have have a backlash now and then.

How To Easily Remove A Backlash

Again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to fishing line backlash. The best plan is to learn to cast and set your fishing reel up correctly and avoid the problem as much as possible. No matter what you do, you are still going to run into a backlash now and then.

Many people head straight for the scissors or a pocket knife when they have a backlash and this is rarely necessary.

With a little practice you can quickly and easily remove a backlash you just need to know what to look for and how to remove the backlash.

Rule number one is that pulling on the line as hard as you can is also the wrong approach and will just make it harder to remove.

Think of the backlash as a knot. If you are going to untie a knot the last think you would do is grab it tighten it up before trying to untie it.

Slow, deliberate and gentle is the best approach when dealing with removing fishing line backlash.

Here are the two easiest ways to remove a backlash from your fishing reel.

#1 – Look For Loop

Since much of my catfishing is done with heavier line (twenty pound test) I tend to use this method. I’ll cover another method also but this is the technique I prefer and I find most of the experienced anglers I know use the same technique.

The backlash is created when the fishing line spools on the reel in the wrong direction because the reel spool is moving faster than the line. This creates a loop in the fishing line and this is what causes the backlash and locks the reel up. Getting to this loop and removing it is what frees up the backlash.

This technique for removing a backlash is very simple as well once you get a little practice.

1. Disengage the fishing reel (push the button in).

2. Gently pull on the line above the reel until you meet resistance. As soon as you meet resistance stop pulling. 

3. Pay attention to where the line stops on the spool, this is usually where the tangle is.

4. When you meet resistance use your fingertips to gently pick the line back and try to free the obstruction, looking for the “loop” where the line is running in the wrong direction on the spool.

5. Once you pick some of the line back, gently pull on the line above the reel again often times simply loosening the line on the spool will fix the problem.

6. If you meet resistance again when pulling the line stop and go back to the spool and start picking the line back again, still looking for that loop in the fishing line.

7. You may be able to pull a few feet of line off the spool and meet resistance again and have to repeat this process several times. It all depends on the severity of the backlash.

#2 - Thumb The Spool 

This works really well for removing backlashes when you are fishing with lighter weight fishing line, but with line that is over about twelve pound test I find it just the first method is usually faster and easier. If you are using lighter weight line like is commonly used for channel catfish then you should certainly give this a try.

This technique also works better with simpler fishing line backlash. If you have a serious backlash defer to the first technique.

The technique is very simple.

1. Engage the fishing reel and take your thumb and push firmly down on the spool of the reel towards the center.

2. Turn the handle between one full turn (depending on the reel and the retrieve ratio you may need to turn one to two full turns) while firmly pushing on the center of the spool with your thumb.

2. Disengage the reel and grab the fishing line above the reel and gently pull on the line until all of the line is free.

3. When/if you meet resistance engage the reel again and repeat the process thumbing the spool and turning the handle.

Often times this takes several attempts and will remove the backlash from the reel.

You shouldn’t be intimidated by using a bait cast fishing reel because a little planning and setting your reel up correctly does wonders to help prevent backlashes. Even if you do have a backlash occur you can remove them pretty easily and the more practice you have the easier it gets.

Baitcast reels like the Abu Garcia 6500C3 and Abu Garcia 5500C3 are some of the most popular fishing reels for catfish for good reason. Most catfish anglers agree that bait cast reels outperform all others when it comes to fishing for catfish.

To get more in depth information on catfish reels check out our tutorial and the free Catfish Gear 101 eBook that covers everything you need to know about rods and reels for catfish.


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About Chad

Chad Ferguson is a professional catfish guide and founder of Learn To Catch Catfish. Click here to subscribe for more exclusive catfish fishing tips by email and then follow on Twitter or Google


  1. Bob Mueller says:

    Chad Once again you have cut to the chase and told us what to do that will work and what not to do which got us the problem in the first place. My wife and I enjoy you site and use your information for our fishing in Grand Lake St Marys in Ohio. We catch catfish almost every day we can get out. Bob and Mary Jo

  2. joel w carter says:

    I have some heavy duty spinning reels, that I use for catfish. I put any where from 20 to 30 pound line on them. the rods are 8 foot long. I have one rod that is 10 foot long.i put 40 pound line on it.

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