Reel Gear Ratios

When Low is the Way to Go

If you look at the history of fishing reels — particularly bass fishing reels — the one relentless trend is that they’re getting faster. Gear ratios are getting higher.

What was fast in the 1970s (5:1) is now considered slow by many. Relatively few reels on the market today feature gear ratios below 6:1, and some — like the Abu Garcia Revo Rocket at 10.1:1 — pick up twice as much line per turn of the reel handle as the fastest models of just a generation ago.

Generally speaking, speed is great. There’s nothing wrong with a fast reel. You can always just slow down, right?

Well, that’s the issue. You can slow down, but few anglers actually do. We all have a natural pace of reeling a lure — let’s call it “comfortable revolutions per minute” (CRPM) — and that doesn’t change just because we have a particular reel in our hands. Our muscle memory wants to “revert to the norm,” gradually sliding back to our comfort zone whether we’re using a Rocket or a much slower reel.

Close-up of reel

Think about it. You’re on the water, fishing, looking around, trying to read nature’s clues, getting dialed in on what’s happening out there so you can catch some fish. There’s a lot to think about! Was your outboard running rough? Is that big, dark cloud on the horizon heading your way? Before you know it, you’ve lost the intended pace of your fishing and reverted to your default pace, your CRPM, the rate that feels comfortable and natural, the one you don’t have to think about.

But is that the right pace for your fishing that day?

For most of us, a pace of about 120 turns per each minute of cranking feels about right when we’re winding a crankbait, spinnerbait or other swimming lure. Maybe your CRPM is a leisurely 100 or a speedy 150. Whatever it may be, you have a comfort level, and you naturally gravitate toward it whether you realize it or not.

Now let’s apply it on a very practical level. If you’re using the 10.1:1 Revo Rocket (which picks up 41 inches of line per turn) and winding at 120 RPM, in just one minute of cranking, you’re picking up 410 feet of line. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s longer than a football field. That’s extremely fast!

Now imagine cranking at the same pace with the lowest geared Abu Garcia Revo X. That one’s set at 5.4:1 (and 22 inches per turn). In 60 seconds with that Revo X, you’re picking up 220 feet of line. That’s still fairly quick for a lot of techniques, but it’s much slower than the Rocket.

Palmed Abu Revo X

Say what you will about those speeds and the CRPM concept, but I’ll bet you can think of plenty of times when you found yourself drifting away from the productive retrieve speed and toward your comfortable retrieve speed.

No big deal, you might think. But it’s costing you fish. Using a reel that’s not geared to the bait and method you’re using is making you less productive, forcing you to work harder and pay closer attention to just how fast you’re retrieving.

Fortunately, there’s a better way. It’s all about knowing your own tendencies, having the right tools for the job and knowing when to use them.

A super high-speed reel like the Revo Rocket is always a great tool, but it might not be exactly the right tool for the way you need to fish on any given day. Similarly, a “slow” reel is a terrific tool, but it might not be the best tool at a particular time, either.

Having a selection of reels with varying gear ratios will result in more catches under a wide variety of conditions. And slow is often better than fast.

Here are four situations when you should opt for a “slow” reel — 6:1 or less:

(1) When the water’s cold (below 50ºF) and you need to slow down to match the metabolism of the fish.

Bass are cold-blooded. Their temperature is the temperature of the water and when the water’s around 50 degrees or less, they can be sluggish, are less likely to chase a lure and will generally feed far less often than in warmer water. To match their mood, a slower reel is the way to go. You can still crank it at a pace that’s comfortable for you and keep your lure at a speed that’s attractive to them.

(2) When you want to get the greatest depth out of a crankbait.

Lineup of rods

Crankbaits — especially deep-diving crankbaits — do not dive their deepest on a fast retrieve with a fast reel. A more moderate retrieve will get them plumbing the depths better, and that means a reel that retrieves line at a pace of 20 to 24 inches per turn of the handle. Anything faster than that will actually cause the lure to dive less deep on a conventional cast and retrieve.

(3) When you need your lure to be working effectively all the way back to the boat.

Let’s be “real” here. With a lot of bass fishing methods, your lure is only in the “strike zone” for a very short part of the total cast. This is perhaps most true when pitching or flipping, but it’s also often the case when targeting shoreline cover with a spinnerbait, buzzbait, square bill crankbait or bladed jig.

With other methods and baits, you never quite know when the bite’s going to come. Swimbaits and jerkbaits are a classic example. The strike could come at any point in the cast. For these situations, a slower reel keeps you in the game longer because it keeps the bait moving at a more attractive pace than if you were to hustle it in with a fast reel. At these times, you’ll add to your catch by truly fishing your lure all the way back to the boat.

Revo X and pitbull bait

(4) When you just can’t seem to slow down any other way!

For those of us who are challenged to slow down even when slower is the only way to go, a low gear ratio reel will absolutely save the day. It’s a failsafe or override for our natural tendency to overwork a lure, to fish too fast for the temperatures or to fish above our quarry. In short, a “slow” reel can save us from ourselves!

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