Bait Casting Basics
The following works for me. With experience you will probably find some difference or idiosyncracies that are different, but work better for you personally.
Most modern bait casting reels have two different adjustments you can make.
1. Some form of braking system or anti backlash control.
a. Shimano and Pfleuger have a centrifical (centrifugal)braking system where you can turn on or off additonal brakes.
b. Quantum and Daiwa use a magnetic brake adjustment.
2. Spool tension. Basicially a knob usually on the same side of the reel as the handle that allows you to apply friction directly to the spool of the reel.
Some old school anglers do everything with their thumb, set the brakes at zero, and the spool tensions to total free spool. Most can’t do that or choose not to in favor of taking advantages of a modern reel.
I learned from Lannes Brock that most new reels seem to need a sort of break in. They seem to work better and smoother after you use them for a while. Lannes taught me a trick that seems to smooth them out pretty quickly.
1. Tie on a heavy weight. I use a 1 ounce jig.
2. Set the spool tension so that the weight does not pull out line then tighten it a little more.
3. Make 30 to 50 casts with the heavy weight. The tension should be such that you have to put some real force into it to get it to cast. This smoothes out any imperfections in the parts that provide over all spool tension.
Using the Reel
I usually start out with a new reel by putting the brakes to half scale.
Then I set the spool tension so that when I hit the button on the reel with the rod tip straight out and about 5 feet above the ground whatever bait I have on the line falls until it hits the ground and I get about 1 or 2 loose wraps of line without any use of my thumb.
You have to adjust spool tension for every different bait and weight. Sometimes some brake settings will work better or worse with different baits also.
Now I make some practice casts or pitches based on the type of fishing I plan to do with that bait. I’ll try and adjust first the brakes and then the spool tension until I get a pretty good result.
Don’t cast for distance at first. Just go for low power easy smooth casting motions. You may find by doing this you get amazing distance with little back lash with a lighter spool tension than you thought you could. Sometimes much better (especially with lighter baits) than you can with more spool tension and more power in your casts.
Try different types of casts. Side arm, overhead, pitch casts, etc.
Now, note which types of casts you seem to be best at.
For many people this is a side arm cast to moderate distance targets.
Now here is something you may find interesting. I don’t recall who taught me this but there is someting in the dynamics of the reel that translates from side arm casts to overhead casts. Turn the reel sideways to the direction of the cast when over head casting just like it naturally falls when side arm casting. Again practice light smooth casting motions and work your way down to lighter spool tensions with moderate or light power in your casts instead of trying to force a ton of power into the cast with heavier spool tension.
Many people used to spinning tackle (I am one) think that price only relates to durability of the reel. With the relatively simple mechanism of casting with spinning reels this is probably true. Two equal size reels of different qualities, but the same size spool, line, and amount of fill will cast very very similarly. The cheaper one will usually not last as long, but they will both cast similarly. With baitcasting reels I have found in general, (but not 100%) more expensive reels with more bearings, better drags, better assembly processes tend to cast better and adjust more fluidly to different casting weights and distances.
There are some things you may always be more comfortable doing with spinning tackle. I throw light baits on spinning tackle. I drop shot with it. I cast medium and light size baits into the wind with spinning tackle. You will need time and experience to learn when you need to fall back on your spinning equipment.
Notice I mentioned wind in the previous note? You will need to either develop skill in your thumb or learn how to adjust your reel when changing from casting in zero wind, into a strong wind or with the wind.
Practice is important. Pitching and flipping is all I originally used baitcasting tackle for. I practiced in my driveway, and in the house, and out by the pool for hours and hours before I felt really comfortable doing this all the time. I don’t have anywhere near the skill level of guys who grew up using bait casting tackle, but I definitely credit hundreds of hours of practice to the fact that I have actually had fellow anglers say, “I envy your pitching ability.”