A recent question about a reel problem has led me to think we should discuss the features of a casting reel and how to properly set them. There are a lot of misconceptions about casting reel setup. First the basics. there are 3 basic types of casting reel brake systems.
The first would be a centrifugal only brake. A centrifugal brake system uses sliding plastic tabs that are flung out while the spool is spinning at high speed. Those tabs rub against a brake ring and that helps to slow the spool down. As the spool slows, the tabs have less force and lets the spool keep spinning. Centrifugal systems work best at the start of a cast to reduce backlash problems.
The next type is a magnetic brake. Mag brake reels use configurations of magnets and steel rings or disks to slow the spool down. Mag brakes work best towards the end of the cast. Some mag brakes adjust themselves during the cast by use of a centrifugal clutch to change the power of the magnets. That's the most effective mag brake system and it works better at the start of the cast than standard mag brakes do.
Then we have the dual brake reels that have both centrifugal pins and magnets. All 3 of these type systems need to be set up differently from each other. The one common thing that all of these systems have is that they work in conjunction with a spool tension cap or as some call it, a cast control cap. Some older reels used to refer to it as a spool brake. The terminology of spool brake has been dropped as true brake systems evolved.
The first major thing we all need to understand is the spool tension. Spool tension is not something that most of us can set and forget, The spool tension needs to be adjusted for the weight of the bait. The old standard that most of us know of is to set the tension cap so that the bait falls slowly and comes to a stop without overrun. That is actually the Maximum setting. You should never set the tension tighter than a slow fall rate of the bait. What happens to a lot of users is that they will make that initial set but if they have any casting problems, they tighten the cap to compensate. When you do that, you are putting more pressure on the spool shaft and tension disks than they are built to withstand. That leads to premature wear of those parts and you will notice over time that you have to set the cap tighter and tighter to get the same tension. That's because you are wearing those parts out or even damaging the cap or side cover by running to much tension.
The next thing we should talk about is the initial set on a mag brake reel, To set the tension on a mag brake reel, you need to turn the magnets to the lowest or off setting before you set the spool tension. That way the fall rate of the bait is not being slowed by the magnets and you will get the tension setting correct. Then after you set the tension, you can reset the mag dial to your preferred setting. With dual brakes, you also need the mag dial on zero to set tension. Dual brake reels work best if you set the internal pins to control the cast for most conditions and then set the mag dial to compensate for wind or late fluff up during a cast.
The last thing I want to address here is how to properly set centrifugal brakes. With most reels, you need to open a side cover or open the reel to get to the brake tabs. Before you open the reel, you need to loosen the spool tension cap. Remember, the spool tension cap is squeezing the spool shaft under pressure. If you don't loosen the cap before you open the reel, then when you close the reel, you will put the spool in a bind and possibly damage several parts. So just remember, the first step to setting centrifugal brake pins is to loosen the spool tension cap, then open the reel, set the pins, close the reel and reset the tension to a slow fall of the bait. When you have a reel set this way, if you still get backlash, then you need to set more brake pins or higher mag settings, not more spool tension. As you get better at casting, you may find that you can cast with less tension than the max setting, that's great. Whats not great is when you try to use less brakes and more tension to be able to use less brakes. There is no shame in using brakes, they are there for a reason. There should also not be any pride in being able to cast a reel with only 1 or 2 brake pins active. If you can set the spool tension loose and still cast with just 1 or 2 brake tabs, then you have a very educated thumb, that's great, but most users that set the reels with just a few brake tabs are compensating with extra tension and that wears out parts and actually makes it more difficult to cast than if they just used more brake tabs and less tension.