We have all seen the product pages with specifications about casting reels including their size, line capacity and bearings. The factor that I feel is most important when selecting a reel for bass fishing is the gear ratio. The gear ratio of a reel will be stated in terms such as 7.1:1 or 5.4:1 etc. For those of us who may not know what these numbers mean, the gear ratio of a reel is based on how many times the spool makes a complete rotation for every complete rotation of the handle. In short, if the gear ratio of a reel is 7.1:1, the reel’s spool will make 7.1 complete rotations for every single rotation of the handle.
Choosing the right gear ratio is based on a multitude of factors, but is mostly based on the type/weight of the lure you will be throwing, and the power/action of the rod used. Listed below are popular bass baits and the corresponding gear ratios for reels that will create optimal performance while using these baits on the water. The gear ratios below are a guideline based on personal preference and opinions from other anglers, but some people will prefer different ratios for technique specific applications.
Soft Plastics (non-constant retrieve): For soft plastic baits such as worms, creatures, bugs, craws, tubes, etc, a reel with a fast gear ratio of higher than 7.0:1 will create maximum performance. The reason for this is that when a soft plastic bait is thrown to a spot, the bait usually stays in that spot for a few seconds, gets moved slightly, and then gets reeled in to be casted again. What the fast gear ratio allows for is the bait to be retrieved to the boat or shore faster to decrease the downtime when reeling in.
Jigs: Jigs benefit from very fast gear ratios because, more times than not, they are flipped or pitched into a location for a small amount of time, and then are quickly brought back to the boat to be casted again. The fast gear ratio reels of over 7.0:1 will allow for less time between casts to increase fishing efficiency.
Topwater: In most cases, topwater baits are lightweight and/or create slack in the line. This creates a need for a fast reel of 7.0:1 or higher to pick up the slack in the line to be ready for the hookset. Another reason for the high-speed gear ratio is for baits such as topwater wire baits, like buzzbaits, that need to be brought to the surface in a very fast manner to stay in the strike zone.
Soft Plastics (retrieve): For soft plastic baits that will be retrieved such as swimbaits, a slightly slower reel with a gear ratio of around 6.3:1 should be used. This reel will allow for faster retrieves when necessary, but also allow for the angler to have more control with slower presentations.
Jerkbaits: Jerkbait fishing is optimized by using a reel that has a gear ratio of approximately 6.3:1 or slightly higher. This speed reel allows for enough power to straight retrieve deeper diving jerkbaits, but enough speed to take in line slack when going through the jerkbait retrieve cadence.
Spinnerbaits: For spinnerbaits, a moderate retrieve reel of around 6.3:1 ratio will perform adequately. This speed allows for power to move larger bladed baits through the water, but also has the speed to burn in baits when need be.
Shallow Crankbaits: For shallow crankbaits, a medium speed reel with a gear ratio of just over 6.0:1 is adequate because it has the power needed to pull the baits through the water, along with being able to retrieve baits quickly to re-cast. In some situations, a higher speed reel can be used to reel baits in with higher speeds.
Deep Crankbaits: For the deepest of crankbaits, a slow retrieve reel is needed to provide the power to pull the baits through the water. Reels that have gear ratios between 5.0:1 to just under 6.0:1 provide the torque needed to pull these deep baits and the large amount of water displacement that they cause.
Overall, the gear ratio of a reel can be chosen based on the size and style of the bait being used, but for someone who does not want to buy a specific reel to suit each individual technique, a reel that has a moderate fast gear ratio of approximately 6.3:1 is the best choice. This reel will allow for enough power to throw moderately sized crankbaits, but still have enough speed to throw lighter faster presentations. Using a correctly suited gear ratio will lead to more efficient presentations, and therefore, increased success on the water.