While this isn’t much of a ‘sexy’ topic to read (or write) about, I feel that understanding the different braking systems, how they differ, and what their strengths are, will ultimately help you decide which baitcaster reel is right for you.
What is the job of a brake on a baitcaster reel?
Before we get into the different types of braking systems on a baitcaster reel, I first want to explain exactly what the brake does on the reel, and why there is a need for one.
The main purpose of a braking system is to help prevent the dreaded backlash tangles that can often occur when using a baitcaster reel.
These horrible tangles occur when the lure hits the water and instantly slows down, but the spool continues to release line freely. All of this line bunches up as it has no weight now to pull it through the eyes on the rod, and that’s when it ends up in a big birds-nest like mess.
The job of the brake is to slow the speed of the spool down as it nears the end of the cast. So, when the lure hits the water, there should be more tension being applied to the spool and this should limit the amount of line that is released once the lure lands on the water.
It’s also worth mentioning that the brake and spool tension knobs are two different components if the baitcaster reel and work in slightly different ways, although the end goal of both is to reduce tangles.
The spool tension knob will apply pressure on the spool constantly when engaged. You are able to adjust the settings to determine how freely you want the line to peel off the reel, but the pressure is constant (think of it as a handbrake on a car).
Whereas the brake on a baitcasting reel will only start to apply the pressure towards the end of the cast. When the spool starts to slow down, the pressure gradually increases.
The different braking systems explained
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of each type of braking system, here are the mains ones that you will find on the majority of today’s baitcasting reels:
Magnetic braking system
A magnetic braking system on a baitcaster reel works on the concept of Lenz’s law, which works on the opposing forces of the magnets and the spinning spool.
On a baitcaster reel, the magnetic braking system is contained in the side plate of the reel on the opposite side to the handle. If you look inside the side plate, there is a series of little round magnets.
On the outside of the side plate there is a dial, and when you turn this dial it will move the magnets closer or further away from the spool, so either creating a stronger or weaker magnetic force.
Turning the dial up to the highest number (10 for example) will move the magnets closest to the spool and create the strongest stopping for on the spool.
Set the dial back to the lowest number (1), and the magnetic force will be weakened, and the spool will continue to spin more freely.
The one issue that some more experienced users of baitcaster reels don’t like about magnetic braking systems is that you can never turn them off.
You can set the dial down to the lowest number, which will move the magnets the furthest away from the spool. But it still leaves a small amount of magnetic force being applied to the spool at all times.
If you are a beginner, or just starting out using a baitcaster reel then you won’t need to worry about this, and a magnetic brake system is a very effective system to use.
Centrifugal braking system
A centrifugal braking system is located in the same side plate on the reel as the magnetic braking system is kept.
It works by using a series of braking pads inside the plate, and these pads will apply pressure on a brake ring that will slow the spool down. Obviously, the more pressure these brake pads apply on the brake ring, the quicker the spool will slow down.
There are a few different ways to adjust a centrifugal braking system.
Some reels will have an external dial on the side plate, similar to the magnetic braking system. The higher you turn the dial up, the further out the brake pads will come and apply more pressure onto the brake ring, thus slowing it down faster.
On other reels the settings for the centrifugal braking system will be internal, so you need to remove the side plate each time you want to adjust them.
Some of the internal adjustments will use a dial, and you just need to turn up or down, while others work on a spring system where the brake pads are on the end of small springs.
You can go inside the side plate and turn these off completely if you like, although this is not recommended for new users of a baitcaster reel.
Manual braking system
The last of the braking systems is probably the most important one, and the one that every angler using a baitcaster reel should learn how to use.
This is the manual brake, aka your thumb!
As I briefly mentioned in my article about how to cast a baitcaster reel, there is a method called “feathering”.
This is where you lightly feather the line with your thumb while your lure is in the air during a cast, and as it is just about to land you start to apply slightly more pressure, and then once the lure lands on the water you apply harder pressure with your thumb onto the spool so it will stop spinning immediately and no more line will be released.
Some of the more modern baitcaster reels will claim that their automated braking systems will completely remove the need to feather the line yourself, and certainly a lot of these reels are very close to doing this.
But feathering is a skill that everyone using a baitcaster reel should learn, as it will give you more control over your casts and ultimately allow you to drop your lures right on the spot you want and greatly reduce the chance of backlash tangles from occurring.
Casting into the wind with a baitcaster reel
Getting a big birds-nest tangle doesn’t just happen when the lure lands on the water after a cast.
They can also occur when you are casting into the wind and the wind will actually slow the speed of the lure down, but the spool will continue to release line at a faster rate.
So if you find yourself in a situation when you will be casting into the wind, you will need to make more adjustments on your braking system (turn them up a bit higher than usual), and also put your manual feathering skills into play.