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Setting The Spool Tension On Baitcast Reels


Hopefully now you have read the parts of a baitcast reel article and the article on how to set the drag on your fishing reel. Now I am going to move on to how to properly set the spool tensioner on a baitcast fishing reel and why this is so important.

For these examples I am using the Abu Garcia 6500C3, you can go to my article on choosing a catfish reel and choosing a catfish rod to get tackle suggestions on choosing your own catfish gear. You can also view a list of all the catfish tackle I use and suggest here on the catfish tackle page.

As I mentioned in the parts of a baitcast reel article the spool tensioner controls the amount of pressure that is applied to the spool (the round inner part of the reel where the line is attached). The tighter the tensioner is, the more pressure is applied, the looser the tensioner is on the reel the less pressure there is applied.

This is critical, especially if you are just starting out using a baitcast fishing reel because one of the critical concepts of fishing with these is learning how to cast and learning to do so with minimal backlashes.

Backlashes occur when the spool is spinning faster than the line is able to come off the reel which basically means that it ends up turning faster than the fishing line. The result is a big rats nest in your fishing line.

This can be especially frustrating to beginners, but learning how to set your tensioner properly will greatly reduce the number of backlashes that you will have to remove from your line.

Proper procedure for setting the spool tensioner

Get your rod and reel setup and tie your catfish rig of preference to the end of the line.

Once you have tied your catfish rig, stand holding your rod at a 45 degree angle (with the tip up) and push the button on the fishing reel releasing the line, so the sinker, hook and weight on your rig falls to the ground.

This should fall to the ground and the spool should stop turning when the rig hits the ground. If it does not stop turning when the rig hits the ground, retrieve the line (reel it in) and tighten the tensioner slightly and repeat the process again. The entire process should be repeated over and over until you get the settings correct when it stops turning when the weight hits the ground.

This may take you several tries to get it right but should be a fairly simple and straightforward process. You should do this before you start trying to learn how to cast with a baitcast fishing reel (if you are a beginner trying to learn).

One other consideration is that if you are going to be fishing with large baits (like big pieces of cut bait) this adds significant weight to the end of the line so you may need to make additional adjustments (add more tension) to compensate for the additional weight that larger baits will add.

The “real world” way

Once you get the hang of using a baitcaster and become more and more comfortable casting with (hopefully) less and less backlashes you will ultimately get to a point where you are not concerned with the spool tension and you don’t check these settings and just start casting, occasionally making minor adjustments as needed.

I keep my spool tensioners set so loose that that they are about to fall off because it is comfortable for me and allows me to achieve greater casting distances, but I find that most people are unable to cast my reels without backlashing. It is so bad that I keep extra parts around in my boat XXX because they fall off and get lost so often.

As your experience level increases you will become less and less concerned with getting these settings “just right” and will be able to quickly make adjustments “on the fly” as needed. Again, if you are new, or inexperienced with using an open faced reel I would absolutely follow these steps for making adjustments and setting the spool tensioner until you get comfortable with it and get the hang of things.

I am going to come back around full circle and cover some tips and tricks for learning how to cast with an open faced reel at some point after I get all of the proper settings and adjustments covered regarding these reels. Again , If you are wanting to break into using these reels, read this article on how to choose a catfish reel.
Make sure you check out my cafish tackle page and also choosing a catfish rod and choosing a catfish reel to get the complete listing of the gear I use as a professional catfish guide.
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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. James Greene says:

    Hi Chad.

    Very informative article. I set mine kinda loose as well, and I get a backlash usually 1 in 200 or so long casts. Not too bad I suppose.

    One difference I do that you teach is one my Dad taught me when I was a kid using a Quantum open face reel…..

    He’d tell me, “Son, tighten your tension all the way. Next, click the release button. Then you just slowly “loosen” the tension until your bait and weight begin to descend at mid fast pace. Not where it drops so fast that its like a falling rock, but not so slow that it takes more than a second to hit the ground either. Somewhere in between.”

    I’ve been doing it that way for years now.

    Thanks again for the info Chad.

    Your friend,

    James Greene
    Mesquite TX

  2. Steven Gonzalez says:

    Chad, this is a fantastic point. My friends ask me constantly about casting these level winds and I this is exactly what I tell them. Most people only learn this stuff through trial and error (amid MANY bird’s nests!). I’m glad you have brought this up…….and on a lighter note:
    So what little pride I have is starting to surface. This 6500 with the black handle (Steven Special) in the pic has shown up before. It could be chance, but I think you like this reel. On your next batch, I’m going to kick up one of your reels a notch just because I can. Man, that’s a good looking reel!

    • Chad;

      Another great article Sir. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I bought a 6500 C3 a couple of weeks ago, but was intimidated by the fear of the back lashing that was sure to come my way because of adjustment concerns. This article will be a definite help to me.

      On my way to the garage now to get my C3, rod, and tackle to practice.

      Steven & Chad;

      Isn’t this black handle an aftermarket up grade to boost your reeling power? Seems I’ve seen one like this at BPS.

      Thanks for pointing this out Steven.


      • Steven Gonzalez says:

        Stan, I had the privilege of servicing Chad’s reels. He had a handle on one reel that was in pretty bad shape and I had that black handle laying around as a spare. I do, however, have a few “power handles” on my own Abu’s, and they are single handles. They do extend out a bit longer than the dual handles, but it’s a matter of preference. A dual handle might be the component of choice because the odds of grabbing the handle faster are greater than if you only have one grip as opposed to 2 grips (when you have a fish strike). I just think they are a bit more comfortable and easier to work with than a dual handle, but that’s personal preference. It might not work with other anglers. In the end, it’s all about what makes you happy and what you are comfortable with.

        • Steven;

          Many thanks for the come back and the explanation Sir.I just came back in from a practice session. Geez. I spent more time untangleing my line than I spent casting, or trying too that is.

          I don’t see how Chad can find the time to do anything other than run his guide service, although I’m sure one happy fella he’s able multi task.

          Hope you and yours have a great weekend.

        • And did a bang up job on my reels as well.

      • Once you get it adjusted right it will become easier to cast. I have an article I am working on about learning to cast and learning to clear backlashes but until then I will give you this suggestion. Use heavy line to start learning, like 30 lb test. I don’t like this for fishing but the heavier the line the easier it is to learn. Start with very little weight and get the feel for it then gradually increase your weight. You will have it down in no time flat!

        • Chad;

          This piece of advice is good. When I was practicing, [getting the bad *birdsnests*], I had on too heavy of a weight to begin with, and only 20 lb. test mono.

          I really appreciate the coaching we’re getting from you, and the technical advice as well.

          The wife and I will be going camping with her brother and sister-in-law this coming week. Yes, I’ll be taking a few rods and enough tackle to properly outfit a Boy Scout Troop. Hopefully I’ll have some pics of my catches to post on GoFISHn. I’ve been told there are very few Catfish in Lake McSwain but, the larger lake, Lake McClure is just a few miles away. It is reported in the Fish Sniffer magazine, that right now the Catfishing bite is hot there. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to get over there and try my luck.


          • Chad or Steven;

            Just thought of a question. You suggest the 30 lb line to begin with. Does the 6500 C3 have spools that can be bought to have as a spare? I would hate to trash this new 20 lb. test line before I ever get a fish on it. Is it a hard job to exchange the spools?

            You can tell I’m a noob here by my questions. But, I want to learn and catch Catfish on a regular basis.

            Again, thanks.

          • Thanks for the feedback. Hope you love your new reel.

    • I love all the reels and this handle is much better than my bent up mess but I have to make a confession. I take a lot of pictures at once and store them for different uses when photographing gear and stuff, that is why this same one keeps recurring over and over.

  3. Once you have a fish on do you tighten the spool again? Or do you let the catfish just tire himself out?

  4. Steven Gonzalez says:

    James, good question. If you set the spool tension correctly, then you really don’t have too much slack in the tension. THIS is where your “star drag” a.k.a. “fighting drag” comes into play. I’ll let the maestro elaborate on that.
    Just another tip that I’ll add. Sensei Chad uses mono, but I use 30lb. braid (it’s a really cool nuclear yellow color!). IF you are going to line your level winds with braid, it’s highly recommended that you start your spool off about a quarter of the way with mono, then spool on your braid. I use cheap mono because you spool the reel with enough braid so that you never see the mono. This helps to reduce backlash immensely, and if you’ve ever had a backlash with braid, then you’ll know how difficult it is to clear the backlash. Anyway, thought I would throw that out there. It was a tip I had learned from my local guide.

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