When it comes to making accurate fishing presentations, line-counter reels can be a big help in many situations. Line counters tell you how much line is out from the reel to the lure, which is important anytime duplicating a successful presentation is required.
Line-counter reels have been on the market for decades and are most frequently used by anglers that troll for species such as walleye or salmon. However, this is hardly where their application ends.
They also work great for vertical jigging for deep-water species such as lake trout. Modern electronics have made it much easier to find fish suspended over deep water. When fish are suspended in the water column, a line counter allows you to drop the lure instantly into the prime zone without guessing whether your lure is at the right depth.
Depending on the size and quality of the line-counter reel itself, they can also be used with great effectiveness for light-tackle saltwater fishing. Much like lake trout, various species of snapper and other smaller saltwater fish will suspend over deep water, and a line-counter reel is perfect for being able to directly present lures to the same depth time after time.
Perhaps the best part of line-counter reels is that they are simple to use and feature mostly the same parts as a typical baitcasting reel. But there are some unique features to be aware of.
Parts of a Line-Counter Reel
Drag – The drag is a helpful tool to prevent breakoffs when fighting hard-pulling fish or if you snag your lures. When enough pressure is applied, the drag “slips” and line can pull out. You can adjust how much pressure is needed for the drag to work using the large star-style wheel on the handle side.
Spool brake – Like on all baitcasting reels, there’s a round knob in the center of the reel on the same side as the drag. This knob adjust the spool brake, which controls how fast the spool can spin. Avoid setting this brake too loose, or you can wind up with a bird’s nest.
Clicker – The clicker applies some resistance as line is pulled out from the reel, and it clicks to let you know the line is pulling out. The button to engage or disengage the clicker is generally located on the opposite side from the drag. When engaged, the clicker can act as an audible alarm that fish have taken drag. When flat-line trolling or dead-sticking this is a great way to avoid missing a strike. The other function is to keep the spool from backlashing when deploying a Dipsy Diver or planer board. The clicker provides just enough tension to feed them out without letting the reel free-spool, which could cause a tangle.
Clutch – While some line-counter reels have a thumb bar like more traditional bass-style baitcasting reels, most have a lever that acts as the clutch. The clutch, when disengaged, allows the spool to spin so line can go out.
Line counter – The counter itself is very simple and only has one button. The button allows you to clear the counter back to 000. It counts from there to 999. Just before you let a lure out, reel the lure up near the rod tip, then zero the counter. As you let the lure out, the counter will track how much line comes off the reel.
Why You Should Calibrate Line Counters
If there is one caveat about line counters, it’s that they need to be calibrated for the most accuracy. The wheels in the counter “count” based on revolutions and not the actual feet of line that feed out. The amount and diameter of line on the spool impact how accurately your line counters work, and how well they match up from one reel to the next.
To help this make sense, think about a garden hose reel. If you put kite string on the reel instead of garden hose, the amount of string needed to fill the reel would be much greater than if you spooled on the hose. If you were counting what comes off the spool based on rotations, you’d have very different amounts of line out with the kite string versus the hose.
When the measurement on your reel’s line counter matches the amount of line out and all your reels are calibrated the same way, you can accurately duplicate fish-catching presentations from one reel to the next. Also, you’ll be able to more accurately use published dive charts and apps that show how much line to let out to troll lures at specific depths.
How to Calibrate Line-Counter Reels
The good news is that you can get things lined up with a few simple calibration steps. Start by measuring out 100 feet in your yard or driveway. Place the tip of your rod at zero feet, zero out the line counter and pull line out until you hit your measured 100-foot mark.
What does the line counter on your reel say? If it’s right at 100, you’re good. If your line counter reads less than the actual amount of line out, you can increase the readout by 1 foot for every 50 feet of line you remove from your spool. If it reads more than the actual amount of line out, you can decrease the readout by 1 foot for every 50 feet of line you add to your spool. While this isn’t an exact science, it’ll get you close.
Say the counter reads 95 feet when you know you’ve pulled out 100 feet of line. You would need to remove 250 feet of line to get the counter to properly match up. If the counter says 105 feet when you know you have 100 feet of line out, you would need to add 250 feet of line.
If you do this calibration at the time you spool up, wait to cut the line off from the line spool. That way, if you need to add line, you can just reel on more. If you’ve already cut the line, splice on additional line with an Albright knot or double uni-knot.
Keeping Things Consistent
Line counters are all about consistency. While getting calibrated can take a little trial and error at first, the good news is that once you do it you are done unless you change to a line with a different diameter.
When it’s time to respool, zero the counter, then pull off the desired amount of old line (usually you only need to pull about 300 feet off for most fishing applications). The counter will “count backward” from 000 to 999 and down from there as you strip off line. When you spool on the new line, wind it in until the counter reads 999 again. As long as you used the same line type, you should have the same calibration as before. To be safe, you can measure out 100 feet and check it again using the same process.
From there, whether you like to troll or jig, you can use your line-counter reels to accurately target fish and duplicate successful presentations.