First, you need to get a good reel. There is no need to spend big bucks on one, but a real cheap reel will cause problems. Stick with brand names like Ambassadeur, Pflueger, Shakespeare, Bass Pro Shops, Shimano or Diawia. Get a mid range priced reel to start. My favorite is the Ambassadeur Revo series. They have served me well.
Spool up your reel with monofilament line in fairly heavy test - 14 to 20 - even if you plan on fishing with lighter line. Heavier line is easier to learn to cast, and easier to pick out those unavoidable backlashes. Flurocarbon is a good choice to fish with but it is a little harder to cast, so start with monofilament. Don't fill the spool on the reel, start with half a spool or less. The more line on the spool the heavier the spool and the faster and longer it will spin. Spinning too long is what causes backlashes, so start with less line.
The most important part of casting a bait caster is a smart thumb. Your thumb rides on the spool of line and controls it, so you must educate your thumb. You can do this while watching TV. Tie on a fairly heavy weight - a nut or 1 ounce sinker, and sit down. Loosen up the spool control until the weight drops freely, and use your thumb to stop it just before it hits the floor. Do this over and over until get the feel for feathering the spool with your thumb and stopping the weight just before it reaches the floor.
When you are ready to learn to cast, tie on a practice plug or sinker - half ounce is about right. Tighten the free spool control until the weight stops when it hits the floor and the reel stops spinning. This will be too tight for normal casting but helps you learn.
Take your rod and reel outside and make a short lob-type cast. Swing your whole arm, don't try to snap the rod tip with your wrist. The reason for casting like this to start is you want the spool to start spinning slowly and evenly. A lob cast will do this. A snap cast will make the spool start spinning fast from the beginning, almost guaranteeing a backlash.
Keep casting like this, making longer and longer cast. Gradually loosen up the free spool control until you have to stop the spool with your thumb, just like you practiced. Once you get confident in using a heavy weight, try lighter weights and learn different ways to cast.
A tip from Mac who visits the forum: "The reel should be standing on end when each cast is ending. That is to say, that your arm and wrist should rotate a quarter turn so that the back of your thumb faces across your chest at the end. Seems to help in preventing backlashes, but I'll be darned if I know why."
That is a good tip. Rotating the reel as you cast will help it spin more smoothly. The reel should be vertical, with the handle facing up, at the end of the cast. This, like other tips here, takes some practice.
Everyone will get backlashes at times. Don't let them discourage you. Keep practicing and you will find out why the bait casting reel is so popular.
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