Freespool spinning mechanisms come around the bend.

Daiwa Emcast BR LT 5000-C switched to “bite-n-run” position so a striking fish can take line. Also softens impact of no-stretch braid on bait while drifting or slow-trolling.

Whatever happened to spinning reels equipped with a builtin freespool mechanism? The Shimano Baitrunners and the like. I’ve watched the popularity of such systems wax and wane over the years. Today, I think reels like this are poised for a comeback.

It was round about 1990 when “Baitrunner” style reels—to borrow a proprietary term from Shimano—gained the allegiance of saltwater anglers. Many of us were drifting or anchored, fishing baits from rods mounted in gunnels or T-tops. It was a great help, we found, to flip that lever to “free” and temporarily disengage the primary drag, substituting an alternate preset drag of much reduced resistance. The result: A fish takes the bait, swims with it and gulps it down without feeling pressure, a built-in dropback. To the spinning reel’s accepted merits (convenient casting, rapid retrieve) were added the line-control advantages of a conventional leverdrag reel.

A few developments would soon mute the bluewater spinning buzz.

For one thing, by the late 1990s, kite-fishing ascended (shall we say) to a new level of popularity and convenience. For that marionette dance of baits under the kite, serious anglers found revolving spools reels superior. No argument here.

Moreover, statewide, Floridians began cultivating a sort of fetish for compact, powerful revolving spool reels with sports car-sounding names: Avet, Accurate, Fathom, Saltist, Talica and the like. In highest demand were the turbo models, evident by the larger gear boxes. Where spinners led the line pickup race, conventional reels quickly caught up. A decision of utility or aesthetic? Up to you.

A drop-back is especially vital if presenting large, robust bait such as this blue runner.

Here we are today tipping back toward spinning tackle. Maybe, too, we’re primed for a revival of freespool reels—such as the Daiwa Emcast BR and PENN Live-Liner. Shimano also maintains Baitrunner models.

Where might the free-spoolers be of special help?

Think spinning tackle and braided polyethylene line. Braid plus spin equals great capacity, exceptional casting distance, surprising power.

One understandable point against braided line offshore is that it’s vexing for livebait fishing. No-stretch line is great for bottom fishing, but it may transmit injurious jerks to a surface baitfish, as the boat rocks on a drift or surges while trolling. This may compromise hook security and impair the appearance and swimming action of the bait. This is one place where a freespool drag really shines: Adjusted accordingly, the system offers shock absorption—the slippage puts monofilament-style “stretch” into braided line. Of course, as already described, the presentation also optimizes the likelihood of a striking fish actually eating a bait, versus simply grabbing it and dropping it—or shredding it and missing the hook.

Some models automatically engage the primary drag when you turn the reel handle, while others require you to flip the release switch or lever. Either way, it’s simple operation. And of course the lever needn’t interfere with everyday casting. It’s there when you need it.

The freespooling mechanisms are especially valuable if you’re fishing large baits. By large, I mean relative to the mouth of the species you’re targeting. A 6-inch blue runner, for instance goes into a 40-pound mahi like a piece of popcorn. But a smaller mahi might have trouble with it. Sailfish, of course, are notoriously sloppy eaters. The dropback gives that crucial time to grip before gobbling.

Yeah, yeah: Why not simply strap a line-release clip to your rod, such as the Dubro Dropback or Ghostdrag? Or, make a shepherd’s crook out of a piece of heavy, pliable wire? You could turn any spinning reel into a free-spooler. Just leave the bail open and wait for the fish to pull the line out of the clip. Acceptable, perhaps— as long as you don’t mind an extra structure that could get in the way of casting or fighting fish. Also:You must commit to monitoring the rig. Trust me when I say from deep experience: No wahoo or tuna in the sea is more certain to spool you than the ballyhoo drifting unnoticed into your wake at trolling speed, after the retaining wire opened on its own. FS

Florida Sportsman Magazine April 2020

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