What to Look For in Your First Baitcast Combo

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I’ve been testing out many what I would call “entry level” baitcasting combos lately. While you could certainly find some considerably cheaper, my definition of a good entry level casting rod and reel combo comes with a certain expectation quality-wise. I think you can do more damage than good by buying a super cheap casting combo early on, especially when it comes to the reel. 

If you buy a low quality reel as your first baitcaster, you’re going to have a hard time enjoying fishing. Backlashes are an unfortunate part of fishing with a baitcaster, but they don’t have to be a common occurrence, even in the beginning. Go ahead and invest a little into a quality baitcasting reel from the start to ensure better success and prevent the angler from becoming discouraged with the whole transition. 

Today, we’re going to talk about what you’ll want to look for in your first baitcasting combo, from the price point to the best gear ratio reel to the ideal length of rod and more.  


While quality is key with your first setup, spending $500 on it would be as ill-advised as getting one for $50. I found several quality baitcasting combos for $200 or less. Again, the reel is where you really don’t want to skimp. I’d recommend spending $100 on the reel and $100 on a quality rod. 

However, if you’re looking to soften the blow somewhere, drop the budget on the rod. There are some pretty solid rods out there for around $50, though most will probably be heavier and less sensitive than a few of the better $100 options. You’ll find my rod, reel and combo recommendations at the end of the article. 


Whether you’re a young angler making the transition from a spinning or spincast gear over to a baitcaster, or you’re a little older and just getting into bass fishing, a low profile reel is likely the best bet. There are some big, round reels that you can find a little cheaper but these are bulky and awkward in most hands and they typically have less capabilities.

Low profile reels fit most hands better, especially the smaller hand of a younger person or female. Even for an angler like myself (a 37 year old male with what I assume is a normal set of hands for a guy like me), the low profile reels are just more comfortable to fish with. They are also typically easier to adjust and more capable. 


My suggestion is to pick out a reel that is easy to adjust. The best baitcast reels for beginners have three simple adjustments: a star-shaped drag control, a spool tension knob and an external brake control. Though there are some fanatic reels that have internal brake controls, these often have more moving parts, the side plate has to be removed to reach those parts and the brake control adjustments simply aren’t as intuitive. 

Reels with external controls, however, like the Lew’s LFS Speed Spool, are much easier for anglers to pick up and adjust. These reels have a dial on the side plate opposite the handle that usually has some clear indication on it for which way the dial needs to be turned to increase or decrease the brake. Some simply say “min” and “max”. Others may have a scale of 1 through 10. See this story for more information on how to set a baitcaster


The gear ratio of a reel refers to the number of times the spool makes a complete revolution in relation to the number of times the handle makes a complete rotation. For instance, a 7:1 gear ratio reel is designed to where the spool will turn 7 times for every turn of the handle. 

Something near this gear ratio is ideal for your first baitcasting combo. It doesn’t have to be exactly 7:1. Any reel labeled somewhere between 6.8:1 and 7.3:1 will work. Ideally, try to get as close to that 7:1 ratio as possible. 

These reels feel the most natural to fish with. A slower reel (6:1) requires the angler to turn the handle much faster to effectively fish a bait or fight a fish. While a faster reel (8:1) has a handle that has to be turned much slower, or else the bait will fly back to the boat too quickly and not create a realistic presentation. 


We’ve talked a lot about reels so far but as a reminder, this is where you’ll want to make the bigger investment, thus you’ll need to know more about what to look for. Not all rods are created equally either, you’ll want to make sure you get a quality one. There are also some good, all-around lengths, powers and actions that you can do a lot more with than others.

The length of the rod is pretty straightforward, referring to the overall length from end to end. A 7-foot rod (or one that comes within an inch or two of that) is the most versatile when it comes to baitcasting gear. Most anglers (young or old, short or tall, experienced or novice) can handle a 7-foot rod fairly well and fish with it effectively. Thus, a 7-foot long rod is what you’ll want to look for. 

When you get into the power and action of a rod, the conversation can get a little more nuanced. To keep it simple, power refers to the strength of the rod and action has to do with how much bend there is in a rod. Most rod powers range from ultra-light to extra-heavy; where rod actions are listed from slow to moderate up to fast to extra-fast. The softer the action of a rod, the more bend it has the further down you go from the tip. For example, an extra-fast rod is much more stiff than a moderate action one. 

For the purposes of today’s conversation, a medium heavy power rod with a fast action is a great all-around rod for your first baitcast combo. This combination in a 7-footer can be used to fish anything from a shaky head to a buzzbait fairly well. 


REELLew’s LFS Speed Spool – $99.99 (currently on sale for $79.99) 

This is the best quality reel for a beginner based on the reels that I have personally used. I’ve owned a couple dozen of these over the years and regularly use them in tournaments. This reel is very capable, while also being relatively affordable, which is the perfect combination for the angler wanting to invest in his or her first baitcaster. The external brake control is super easy to set as well. (Start at 6 out of 10 and back down a little as you get more comfortable). If this reel fits your budget, you can’t go wrong with it. 

ROD Ark Catalyzer Series Casting Rods – $59.99

I was incredibly impressed with this rod during my testing of it a year ago—especially for the price. Though it is a tad heavier than many higher end rods, it performed very well. For the price, it would be hard to beat the quality and capability you get in the Catalyzer. There is also a 7-foot, medium heavy, fast action model in it. We have a full review on the Ark Catalyzer Casting Rod if you want more information. 

COMBOAbu Garcia RevoX Combo – $199.99 

This is one that Academy sent out for me to test a couple months ago and so far I really like it. I’ve also had a buddy testing it out for me when we go fishing together. He’s fished a little bit throughout his life, but he is getting more comfortable by the day with a baitcaster. I set this combo for him early on and it’s one that he is confident and capable with. Side note, he’s already called dibs on it once I’m done reviewing it.

This rod and reel combination is at the top of the budget I set for an angler looking for their first combo, but it is a solid option. There’s a 7-foot, medium heavy, fast action rod model available paired with a 7.3:1, low profile reel with an easy to adjust external brake control. It has everything I think an angler would need when leveling up to their first baitcasting combo.