There’s death and taxes, and then there’s backlash. All are inevitable. For those unfamiliar with the terms, backlash is the result of spool overrun on baitcasters.
More commonly known as backlash, overrun results in horrendous line tangles called bird nests.
The popularity and market dominance of the spinning reel is all thanks to backlash and the infuriating bird nest every baitcaster angler has experienced and will continue to experience, to some level or another.
While baitcasting reels have come a very long way in their efforts to reduce backlash, no manufacturer has been able to combat the inevitability of physics.
Without good casting technique, and sometimes, even with it, you will experience backlash from time to time.
Backlash is a problem because fishing line is involved, and fishing line will tangle in the vacuum of space given half a chance.
Add force to a rotating spool with line peeling off at a slower speed than the spool, and the resulting tangles can be biblical.
Let’s look at backlash and birds nests a little closer.
What Causes Backlash & How Does a Bird’s Nest Form?
When you cast a spinning reel, the spool does not rotate. The line peels off at right angles to the spool in hoops.
When you spool and cast a baitcaster, the spool rotates in the direction in which the line peels off.
There are some great benefits to having a rotating spool. Firstly, you can get great distance. Secondly, you can achieve great accuracy. But this benefit comes with a trade-off.
Backlash occurs when the spool travels faster than the line is peeling from the spool.
Depending on the cast, backlash can happen at any point of the cast but is most often experienced toward the end of the cast when the line starts to slow down, yet the spool is still turning rapidly.
Essentially, the line does not have a chance to exit at the front of the spool and turns over on itself, causing an awful mess.
The mess varies from hardly an issue, to pack up, go home and throw all your fishing gear in the bin, and never fish again, type of mess.
Such was the prevalence of backlash and the difficulty in managing it, it inspired inventors of the ’50s to come up with new reel designs.
Firstly, the closed-faced or spincasting reel was invented as an alternative to dealing with traditional reels and their backlash.
The spinning reel followed quickly on the heels of the spincast reel, and the rest is history.
The spin reel became the most popular reel simply because it was far easier for the average angler to learn, use and master.
One could speculate that if it wasn’t for baitcaster backlash, the baitcaster reel may well hold market dominance over the spin reel.
Now. Having said all of that. Baitcasters are absolutely awesome reels, and I’d encourage every fishing enthusiast to learn to use one.
The technology has got to a point where braking and fine-tuning can significantly reduce a reel’s urge to explode into horrendous bird nests because of a careless or slightly unfocussed cast.
In short, modern baitcasters are far more forgiving. With a little practice, you can learn to become proficient to the point where troublesome backlash is exceptionally rare.
How to Avoid Backlash When Casting a Baitcaster
The most critical mitigating factor is a balanced rig. Spool you reel within spec and connect it to a rod that is within spec. Then fish baits (casting weights) within spec.
All of these specs will be on the reel and matching rod.
If you’ve never set up a baitcaster outfit before., it’s not difficult at all but there are some crucial steps.
Have a look at this video below for a great insight into baitcaster setup principals
Equally as critical is understanding how your baitcaster works. Know the critical parts, the settings, and how to set up based on rig and conditions.
Check out this video for a great introduction.
Practice. A lot!
Practicing is the best way to get baitcaster savvy. It’s far better to avoid fishing since you’re more likely to focus on the hunt instead of the cast. It’s a lot better to focus on technique first.
If you’re not yet proficient and try to fish it, you’re likely to have a bad day, which may turn you off baitcasters, and that would be unfortunate.
Go to a park or your practice in your backyard. Practice is essential for beginners.
Grab a few old lures or some sinkers of different weights. Get casting. Cast upwind, downwind, crosswind, and no wind.
Experiment with Settings and Rigs
Cast gently to begin with, then give it a little more power as your proficiency increases. This time is about getting the basics down, then experimenting a little.
Try the different brake settings. Try fine-tuning spool tension with more and less pressure. Experimenting with bad or improper settings is just as valuable as learning the correct settings.
Just remember, backlash is going to be inevitable at this point. It is strongly advised that you spool up with a heavier class of mono.
Perhaps the heaviest recommended for your reel.
Mono is more forgiving than braid. When you get a bird nest, and you will, mono is a little (a lot) easier to deal with than braid.
Practice overhead, side casting, pitching skipping, and every cast technique you can think of.
Experiment with a long cast full of power and the more refined close proximity cast.
You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn in a few hours of practice and experimentation.
A Tip for Proficient Baitcaster Anglers
As a tip for the already proficient, spool up brand new reels with mono and test them out under heavy braking.
It’s best to learn a new reel gently, instead of rigging up for the hunt, only to succumb to backlash, because you didn’t understand the nuances of the new reel.
Care When Fishing Light
Baitcaster, even the small ones, are not ideal for fishing ultra-light finesse. In many respects, spin reels do it better, as overrun is a bigger problem when fishing sup-light rigs.
That’s not to say it can’t or shouldn’t be done. Let’s just say fishing light and ultra-light is better left to when you’re a highly-skilled baitcaster angler.
Again, it’s my opinion that spin reels do ultra-light fishing a heck of a lot better.
Setting the Brakes and Spool Tension
Before you start casting you will need to set your spool tension and brakes. Adjust spool tension so that the lure drops with intent but not terminal velocity.
Adjust the tension knob until suitable, remembering you will need to make adjustments with each lure change.
Your reel will have either centrifugal or magnetic brakes. Magnetic are easiest to set as you only need to turn a dial.
Centrifugal brakes will require you to flip open the side plate and adjust the plastic prongs. Both brake types offer good braking.
After a few casts, you can fine-tune the braking and spool tension for more or less distance, and control.
Generally speaking, the more control you have, you compromise with distance. The more distance you seek, the closer you are to getting backlash.
Spool tension manages the start and overall performance dynamics of the cast, whereas the brakes mitigate backlash toward the end of the cast, as the line begins to slow down.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it OK to Use Braided Line On A Baitcaster?
Braided fishing lines are one of the most difficult fishing lines on any reel, and they most certainly backlash. Braid bird nests are the most difficult to fix and are often unfixable.
If you’re new to baitcasters, I always recommend spooling up with mono first. It’ll save plenty of frustration.
Learn your baitcaster inside out. Once proficient with mono, you can spool up with braided fishing line and avoid some horrible bird nest moments.
Use your thumb manual spool control. While the technology is pretty good a mitigating mess, your thumb is your manual backup should your cast not come out as planned.
Thumbing your spool takes practice and time. It’s genuinely a feel thing. Once mastered, however, it will be a technique you employ all the time.
Why Does My Spinning Reel Bird Nest?
It shouldn’t. As a spinning reel spool doesn’t rotate, you don’t get the sort of bird nest you do with a baitcasting reel.
More than likely, you are getting tangles because your spool is too full.
What is happening is a heap of line is hooping off all at once because the spool is filled beyond the bevel on the spool lip.
This can happen a little more often with mono because of line memory.
The problem can be exacerbated by line twist and uneven line lay. If it happens, cut off the mess and re-rig.
How do I Remove a Bird Nest from my Baitcaster?
Firstly, don’t throw your rig in the water. You may want to but don’t. Take a deep breath and think first, or things will get worse.
Gently pull the leading end of the line. With a little luck, it will pull out without too much effort.
There are several approaches you can take, but each bird nest will require consideration as opposed to hard and fast rules.
Removing the spool might be an option, but it’s pretty drastic. In cases, you will have to cut the line, often taking several layers from the spool as well.
Take care to avoid having to remove too much line from the spool.
The Backlash Wrap
Whatever you do, don’t be put off baitcasters because of backlash and bird nests.
While you will get them from time to time, especially learning, once your skills improve, occurrences will diminish to a point where bad bird nests are very rare.
During each session, you may experience a little overrun from time to time, but it will be so minimal you will pull it out quickly and easily without even noticing. It will become automatic.
Regardless of fancy reel brakes and manufacturer promises, backlash is part and parcel of baitcaster fishing.
Good technique, however, means it won’t impact the joy of fishing baitcasters.
The best thing you can do to avoid backlash is to hone your rig setup skills and your casting feel.
Remember, your thumb is your friend, and often better than every bit of technology encased in the latest baitcaster.