Getting Better in the Off Season

Casting Fundamentals

One glaring weakness that most bass anglers have is being able to handle a rod and reel.  Sure, most anglers can make casts and reel, but truth be told, most are not very efficient at what they are doing.

Which Hand?

I know many of you who are right-handed but you have learned from the get-go to reel a baitcasting reel with the left hand, keeping the rod in the right hand all the time.  I think that’s mostly the best way to go, and you probably aren’t going to see the need to change that at all.

For the rest of you, I’m going to advocate for a concept that I believe will help you in the long run.  It involves having some right-handed reels and some left-handed reels.

If you are right-handed, you should use your right hand for the work that it makes sense to use your better hand to do.  Your right hand is stronger and you are more coordinated with it, so use it.  If you are using a technique (moving bait) that requires you to move the bait via the reel, then your right hand should do the reeling.  That means casting with your right and reeling with your right.

Some may see that transfer of the rod from one hand to the other as a waste of movement but it happens at the end of the cast and becomes a seamless transition.  Watch…

When To Use The “Wrong Hand” To Reel?

If you are right-handed and the technique you are using involves moving or manipulating the bait mainly with your rod, then the rod should be in your right hand and you should reel with the left.

The problem with that, of course, is that most of us feel awkward reeling a baitcasting reel with the “other” hand.  I get it.  When I learned to cast as a young kid, right-handed reels were the only option.  Later in life, when I got serious about fishing competitively, I just made myself reel with the left hand anytime I was using a technique that involved moving the bait via the rod or any kind of touchy, feely fishing (flipping, pitching, worming, Carolina rigging, drop-shotting, etc.)  It wasn’t a big deal.  Awkward at first, but you can get over it during a winter.

Yeah, yeah, you’ll need to buy some “wrong-handed” reels.  But before you do, chances are you got a buddy that reels with the “wrong” hand and you can borrow one of his reels for the winter (he’s not using it).

Using the reel to move the bait + using the reel to help set the hook = reel with the right (best) hand

Using the rod to move the bait + using the rod to set the hook = reel with the “other” hand, use your best hand on the rod.  

You will be stronger and more accurate if you are casting with your stronger hand.  When the technique like working a spinnerbait or crankbait requires lots of cranking, then cast with your better hand and reel with your better hand.

I mean, when you are flipping and pitching you only need to get proficient at reeling a few yards of line in.

For some of you, it’s “too late” in your careers to go switching (at least that’s what you are saying to yourself right now), so don’t worry about it.  Skip ahead to the next item.  For the rest of you, grab a “wrong-handed” reel and practice reeling.

First with no tension, resistance on the other end, and then practice reeling with some tension on the other end.  This will kinda mimic fighting a fish.  Attach the line to something heavy or immovable, loosen the drag and practice reeling.  Then, practice making short pitches with your good hand and reeling back in with the other hand.  What else have you got going on while you are watching TV?

Leaders and Knots

Another major area that is an issue for many anglers is the one of using leaders and knots.

I’m a big advocate for using braid as the mainline and leaders (either fluorocarbon or a copolymer or mono).  I’m not going to get too deep into the weeds on this one right now (we’ll save it for later…soon, but later) but I’ll give a brief summary of why I think a braid to leader system is the way to go.

In a nutshell, two reasons:  cost and manageability

Cost

Using braid as a mainline will last several seasons.  It will last for as long as 3 years, and even then, I’ve turned them over and get another couple of seasons out of the other end.  When I spool up with FC (fluorocarbon) as the main line, I often have to respool after one day.  One backlash with FC as the mainline creates a weak spot that will culminate with a bait and a section of line to be launched and never seen again or a fish that breaks you off that shouldn’t have.

Manageability

Backlashes, coiled up FC line, line memory on the spoil are all dramatically reduced if not eliminated by going to braid on the mainline.  The mistake many make is they go too light with their mainline braid and that causes issues that forces them away from braided line.  It may seem logical to go with 20-30 lb test braided line but that small line diameter that comes with it is going to cause you problems on a baitcasting reel.

Fifty (50) lb test braid seems to hit a sweet spot.  The right diameter to not dig into itself on the spool and also not cut into the leader when you join the two lines.  Nearly all of your coiling, kinking issues inherent in fluorocarbon lines will disappear when you use braid as your mainline.

Practice Your Knots

So while you are sitting around, resting from having developed the ability to reel with both hands, tie some knots.  Look up some knots to try.  I personally like the Alberto knot, but it certainly is not the only one to use when joing lines.  Practice tying them with different pound tests.  See what happens when you try tying a 20 or 30lb section of braid with a 10 lb section of FC.  Often the difference between getting a fish to the boat or not or wasting time on the water dealing with line management issues (backlashes, coiled, kinked or unruly line) is your ability or confidence in tying the proper knot.

Map Study

You should have at your disposal an almost infinite supply of maps.  Some old-school paper maps, the maps on your GPS units, but mostly a near limitless supply of online maps via Google Earth, or Bing Maps.

Take the time to study them.  Mark locations.  Come up with ideas.  The time you spend on that on a snowy, cold or just cold and wet January day will pay big dividends in March or April.

Take a body of water you think you know well and “start over”.  Take those old waypoints and put them aside or erase them.  Give that backyard river, or lake a fresh look.  You will be glad you did.

Technology Study

Nothing will cause you more frustration this upcoming season than not knowing how to operate your fish finder/GPS units or your new fancy trolling motor.

Keep up with technology.  The better your map study, the more important learning how to integrate your newly found spots into something that works for you out on the water is.  If you read our earlier review on “Spot-Locking”, and you decide to take the plunge then you owe yourself the understanding of where to spot lock and why.

Video

Learn how to shoot and edit basic video. Invest in a GoPro or other action camera that is waterproof and that you can mount anywhere.  Get a few sd cards and an external hard drive to store your video files on.  Even video shot with your phone is worthwhile.  Free and easy editing apps and software are easily had and you probably already have them now.   You don’t have to be the next youtube star, but it will be important to your overall improvement to have a video of yourself fishing to look over.  You will be amazed how many little things you miss while in the heat of the moment that you will notice on video.  Plus, you never know what epic fish or blooper you end up capturing for posterity.

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  1. Excellent article. Couldn’t agree more on the braid-to-fluoro advantages and using your stronger, more coordinated hand for the aforementioned techniques (at the minimum). Both were game changers for me. Great content as always!

  2. “Braid-to-leader” more accurately, as I use copoly/mono leader at times as well.

  3. There a just so many knot tying options out there, but picking the ones that work for you and sitting at home practicing during the winter helps save time on the water. GOA has helped me so much about spending the time looking at maps (using Google and Bing) vs. just looking at a set of maps a couple of weeks prior to getting on the water. I’m looking forward to fishing a little smarter and effective this year.

  4. The paper map is a great point. The map of the reach I bought because navionics mapping doesn’t cover the reach has a wealth of information and recommendations. I’m going to expand my search.
    I’ve avoided learning too many knots because I forget them if I don’t use them but I’ll use the Alberto.