Fishing can become a very gear-intensive activity, and when you start to buy specialized gear for various types of fishing, the cost can become substantial. This is why some fishermen try different fishing techniques with equipment that is not necessarily designed to do the job.

Sometimes this pays off, and you can get away with it, but in other instances, it is just not a good idea. So, trolling with a bait caster reel is one instance where this premise may come up. Can you do it, or is it not a good idea?

You can troll with a bait caster reel, but it has some limitations in this role. They have limited line capacity on the reel, which limits depth control and fish runs. The type and diameter of line that can be loaded on the reel is limited. Their drag systems are not as strong as a trolling reel.

Bait casters are intended for casting a lure, usually an artificial lure, and then reeling it in with an action to mimic live prey. Casting out with a bait caster and then trolling the lure behind a boat, some may argue, serves the same purpose. The lure will move through the water and attract the fish without you having to actually reel the line in.

Will a bait caster work when used in this type of fishing technique, or would you do better to use a purpose-built reel?

can you troll with a bait caster?

A Quick Introduction To Fishing Reel Types

There are different types and mechanisms of fishing reels that are made for different styles of fishing and different methods of fishing. Each of these reel types has features that make them ideal for the type of fishing that they are intended for. But is there any crossover between these reels that will allow these reels to be used for purposes other than the original intention?

There are three main categories of fishing reels in the broad sense; spinning reels, bait casters, and trolling reels.

  • Spinning reels. These reels are popular as a general-purpose reel and can be used for spinfishing, off-shore fishing, surfcasting, and cast-and-wait type fishing with bait. These reels are normally positioned under the rod, and the spool can generally hold more line than a bait caster reel. The fishing line winds onto the spool by means of a bail that turns around the spool. The spool itself does not turn.
  • Bait caster reels. These types of reels are mounted on top of the fishing rod rather than underneath. They are mostly designed for crankbait style fishing where you cast out and reel in, trying to attract the fish by the movement of the lure generated by the line retrieval and the action of the tip of the rod. Rods for bait casters are generally shorter, and they have less capacity for the line on the spool of the reel. The line is wound onto the reel as the spool itself turns when the handle is cranked. Bait casters are the favorite type of reel for bass fishermen who mostly use artificial lures for these fish.
  • Trolling reels. These are reels that are designed specifically for trolling, and they closely resemble the bait caster in function and mechanism. They are mounted on top of the rod, and the spool turns to release or retrieve the line. They are generally designed with larger spools to hold more line for long runs of big game fish. They are most used to fish off-shore for the larger sea-dwelling game fish, but smaller versions are available for inshore troll fishing.
can you troll with a bait caster?

Can Bait Casters Be Used For Trolling?

Since there is a close resemblance in design and function between a bait caster and a trolling reel, is it possible to use a bait caster for trolling?

A trolling reel is sometimes referred to as a conventional reel and operates with a similar mechanism to bait caster reels, but there are some significant differences between the two.

Features Of A Trolling Reel

Trolling reels generally have a much greater line capacity. This not only allows them to hold more line but also allows for a greater variety of thicknesses of line to be used on the reel.

The drag system on a trolling reel is also stronger, more robust, and more variable than what is commonly found on the average bait caster reel. This allows the reel to handle long and frequent runs by big game fish and tire them out.

Trolling reels also have some handy features, such as bait clicker alarms which offer audible clicks as the bait places tension on the line, but the sound changes once the tension on the line is increased by a fish that has taken the bait. This offers an audible indicator that a fish is on the end of the line, so you can take action before the fish manages to shake the hook.

Trolling reels also have line counters that will indicate the amount of line that has been spooled off the reel, which will give you better control of the depth at which you are fishing.

Many of the fish that are targeted by troll fishing inhabit certain depth levels of the water, which makes the ability to control the depth of the lure a crucial feature for this type of fishing.

trolling or baitcasting

Can A Bait Caster Be Used For Trolling?

A bait caster reel can be used for trolling, but it will have some limitations that will make it more challenging to use in this role than a purpose-designed trolling reel.

Bait casters generally have smaller spools since they are designed for more close-quarters fishing at relatively shallow depths. If you have a bait caster that has a larger spool, you may be able to overcome this shortcoming of this reel for trolling. The smaller bait casters designed for bass fishing will be more challenging in this regard when you try to use them as a trolling reel.

Thus, with a bait caster, you would have limited control over the depth at which you are troll fishing, and it would be more of hit and miss guesswork rather than accurate depth control.

A bait caster will limit the line type and thickness that you can load on the reel. The spools on these reels are most commonly plastic, which discounts them for use with wire line. They can only be used with monofilament or braided lines.

The diameter of the line that you can load on a bait caster reel will also be limited. Because of the smaller spool size, loading a thicker line on the reel will reduce the amount of fishing line that you can wind onto the spool; thus, your line will be shorter.

The drag system on bait casters are also less robust and less strong than those on troll reels and are much more limited in functionality than the heavy-duty drag systems on troll reels.

Even with these limitations, however, a bait caster can be used as a trolling reel, but its functionality in this role will be limited. If you are going to be doing a lot of troll fishing, you will do better to buy a purpose-designed troll reel.

To summarize the differences between the two reels, here is a table for your quick reference.

bait caster
Trolling ReelBait Casting Reel
Reel CapacityAmple reel capacity to easily control the fishing depth and long fish runs.Limited spool capacity on the reel leading to less depth control and limitation of fish runs.
Line sizeCaters to larger diameter line and different line types, including wire lines.Only caters to monofilament and braided lines of smaller diameters.
Drag systemStrong, efficient drag system with more versatility.Weaker drag system with limited capability.
Specialty featuresAdditional features designed for trolling.No special features designed for troll fishing.
Can be used for trollingYes, purpose-built for trollingYes, with limitations

Further Reading.

Although we don’t usually do these in our posts we have quite a selection of articles on reels and their uses on the site. (its a pet project) so we will link to some of our trolling and casting posts here. Just on the off chance they are useful to you .


The basic answer to the question of whether a bait caster reel can be used for troll fishing is yes, but a trolling reel is better.

A purpose-made tool will always do a better job than using a tool for a job that it was not intended for. However, if you only occasionally participate in troll fishing, or you want to try it out a few times before committing to buying a trolling reel, then a bait caster is a great way to test out this fishing method.

It will certainly work better than a spinning rod in this capacity and will give you a closer experience to using a trolling reel due to the similarities.

Once you try a dedicated trolling reel, you will be amazed at the difference it makes to this type of fishing, and you will leave your bait caster reel in the tackle box for your next bass fishing trip!


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