Mastering the Multiplier

Despite the growth in popularity of baitcasting for pike over the last ten years there are still people who have problems with, or are wary of, using multipliers for lure fishing. Despite these reels being simple in design they have a reputation for being difficult to use, but if you set them up right in the first place the problems can be minimised.

The first thing you have to do is determine what weight range of lures you will be using and what diameter line, probably braid for lure fishing, and select your reel with those factors in mind. The finer the line you will be using and the lighter the lures, then the smaller the reel you should select. You can use large reels with light lures, but that's best saved until you have got used to using multipliers balanced to the lures you are using. What you have to bear in mind is that it is the energy stored in the lure during the cast that pulls the line out and starts the spool revolving. So a light lure will more easily start a small (light) spool turning than it would a big (heavy) spool. This is something of a simplification, but the principle is what you have to remember.

A small spool won't need as much fine line to fill it, and so this will also to keep the loaded spool weight down while maintaining the retrieve speed of the reel - which is important when it has a small diameter. Larger spools can actually benefit, from a handling perspective, from slight underfilling. But I'll come back to that later.

If you are intending to fish lures of less than an ounce in weight, then a small, low profile multiplier, loaded with thirty or fifty pound braid, would be a balanced choice. Something like a Shimano Currado for example. For heavier lures and lines then I'd opt for a reel in the Abu 5501 or Calcutta 201 size for lines of 50 to 65lb, and a 6501 sized reel for 65lb lines and heavier.

Particularly with the larger reels, as I mentioned earlier, it can be a good idea to load the spool only to within three or more millilitres of its limit, rather than the one and a half that is often suggested in the reel manuals. The reason for this is that an underfilled spool is lighter than a fully loaded one, and as such has less inertia - making it easier to start spinning, but also making it spin for a shorter time. This means that the spool is less prone to creating overruns, birdsnests, backlashes or whatever else you want to call them!

Because the spool has a large diameter to start with, even when underfilled, it will still maintain a higher degree of the retrieve speed than a small spool will. No matter what size multiplier you use, when you have made a cast and start retrieving line the effective circumference of the spool will be reduced, and as such the retrieve speed will be slower at the start of a retrieve than it will be when the lure nears the rod. This effect is exaggerated when you step up the line thickness. A thick line on a small spool exaggerates this effect. Just one reason for using large reels with heavier lines, and why a lot of lure anglers prefer reels that seem larger than they need for the line diameters they are using.

Using a larger reel to maintain retrieve speed rather than switching to a smaller reel with a higher gear ratio gives you better cranking power, and puts less strain on the gears. High gear ratio multipliers are best restricted to use with light lures and small fish, in my opinion. I much prefer a ratio of around five to one for general lure fishing, and even slower for working jigs slowly. Some people will tell you that you can just wind slower, but it is much easier to keep your natural cranking rhythm and let the gears in the reel slow the retrieve down.

Having selected your reel it has to be loaded with line. There is no doubt in my mind that braided lines handle much better on multipliers than do nylon lines. The springy nature of nylon means that it is always trying to leap off the spool at the slightest opportunity. A tiny hint of lack of tension and it will try and uncoil itself, causing the inevitable foul up. Braid, on the other hand, sits still until it is made to move. Then again, when braid does tangle on the reel it can be a complete nightmare to sort out. But if you set things up properly, starting when you load the line on to the reel, your troubles will be reduced.

When filling a reel with braid you can tie the braid directly to the spool and cover the knot with a couple of turns of sticky tape - insulation tape for example - then wind the rest of the line on. Alternatively you can use some mono as backing, just enough to cover the spool with a couple of layers and provide enough grip to prevent the loaded line spinning en masse around the spool, or maybe add enough backing to save you having to load on more braid than you will ever need. Either way the result is the same, that the line will not slip. For most practical lure casting you don't need more than sixty yards of braid on a reel as most casts will be far shorter than that so building the spool up with backing is a good idea.

As well as making sure the braid cannot spin around the spool you also have to ensure that it is loaded on tightly. If braid is not spooled under sufficient tension it will cause two potential problems. One is that it will exacerbate the risks of birdsnests, the other is that it will cause bedding in problems if you hook a fish or even a snag, this in turn will cause casting trouble. After loading the mono backing, or taping the braid to the spool, wind the line on under tension by running it through your fingers, using a spool holding device, or getting someone to hold the line spool for you and tension the braid that way. It is sometimes recommended that soaking the spool of braid in water prior to loading the reel helps it load better, but I have never bothered myself. What I have done after filling the reel, and sometimes after a fishing session if the line has become slack on the spool, is take the rod and reel out to the local playing field, tie the end of the line to a goal post or maybe a bankstick, then walk the line off the reel and wind it back on under tension. When fishing it can be worth making a long cast with an aerodynamic lure and respooling with the line running through your finger and thumb if the braid looks like it is starting to sit loosely on the spool, through jerkbait fishing say.

With the line loaded correctly, and the spool not too full, it is now time to set the reel up for casting. Most multipliers use two braking systems on their spools. One that is a friction brake that acts directly on the spool spindle - the casting brake, the other that operates on the spool depending on how fast it is spinning - the centrifugal brake.

The Abu reel manuals give instructions for setting up the reel so it won't give you overruns. The trouble is setting a reel up that way cuts down on the distance you can cast. However, for practising purposes if you are new to multipliers it is a good starting point. To set a reel up so it won't overrun rig up the reel on a rod ready to fish and attach a lure to the trace. Reel the trace up to the tip ring and, holding the rod horizontally, disengage the spool and allow the lure to drop unhindered. If the spool continues to revolve when the lure hits the ground (throwing loose coils of line) the casting brake is set too slack. Tighten the brake a little and repeat the process. By carefully adjusting this brake you will arrive at a situation where the spool stops spinning the instant the lure touches the ground. Because this brake acts directly on the spool's spindle it should not be over tightened or the spindle might get distorted and affect the performance of the reel. When changing to a lure of a different weight you will have to readjust the casting brake accordingly.

The centrifugal brakes are designed to slow the spool down dependant upon its speed. When spinning slowly they exert little braking force, but as it speeds up the blocks are thrown out harder and the force increases - according to the Abu manual they operate at the start of the cast. By altering the number and/or size of the blocks the braking force can be varied. A lot of modern reels now come with six brake blocks that can be 'clicked' in and out, eliminating the need to remove or swap blocks. I have to admit that I have never noticed any difference from messing with the brake blocks in my reels. Having dabbled with just one block, and even none at all, I now leave them however they come out of the box!

With the reel set up to be pretty foolproof it's time to start casting. There are two schools of thought on this. One says to have the lure on a long drop from the rod tip and start the cast with the rod behind you, the other says to have it on a short drop, a little more than the length of the leader, and start with the rod in front of you. If you use the former method, give the lure a swing back before making the cast, while with the later method you must take the rod right back to let the lure load the rod before punching out the cast. I am not sure which method is best, so try both and see which you get.

Which ever style suits you make sure that you keep all your movements fluid so the cast is smooth. If you snatch at it you will be in overrun territory. If the spool starts too quickly it will throw line out faster than the lure can take it up - which is what an overrun is no matter at what stage of the cast it occurs. Some backlashes occur at the start of the cast, but the time when most backlashes happen is as the lure slows and starts to drop. If the casting brake is set as previously described you'll have no trouble at all and the spool will slow as the lure does. But this set up dramatically cuts your casting distance.

With practice you can start to back the casting brake off little by little. Don't over do it. Back the brake off and fish with it for ten or fifteen minutes to get acclimatised, then back it off a little more and keep on repeating the process until you reach the stage where your thumb starts to feel the line starting to 'fluff up' from the spool as the lure nears the end of the cast. Having my thumb over the spool to feel what the line is doing is why I don't like reels that have thumbrests on top. I prefer to rest the tip of my thumb on the bar of the levelwind and allow the ball of the thumb to drop just above the spool to feel the line lift, and be in a position to lower onto the line to brake the cast. This is one reason I don't like Thumbar spool releases on multipliers. All this comes with experience, and I feel it is worth learning to do this as it allows you to back the casting brake off to its limit.

It is worth paying attention to what the wind is doing when using a multiplier, and remembering to adjust your casting brake accordingly if you start casting into the wind, or if you switch to a lighter lure. Leaving the brake alone all the time is asking for trouble! At this point it is worth pointing out that no matter how you tune a reel up for distance the nature of lure fishing, casting unaerodynamic baits in varying wind conditions, reduces these efforts to nought. I have been down the road of adding extra ball bearings to reels and using less viscous oils to speed the reel up. But all that happened was that the reel became uncontrollable and I had to use more braking than I had before! The best way to increase casting distance with lures is to work at a smooth technique, and to aim higher than you might think you need to.

When it comes to hooking and playing fish, multipliers are great. How you choose to set your drag is a personal matter. I usually have mine set so that with the rod a few degrees above horizontal a fish can pull line from the reel. This means that with the rod held more towards the vertical when playing a fish it is the rod that the fish is working against, but if it powers off I can lower the rod and the fish can take line directly against the drag. When boat fishing you have a situation where a fish can swim behind you and under the boat, this means the angles won't allow a drag set that way to function, so here I rely on thumb pressure on the spool after I have pushed the spool release and put the reel into freespool. I know some anglers frown upon this technique, but it has become second nature to me. In fact whenever I get a pike within netting or chinning distance I freespool and thumb the reel - just in case the fish makes a last minute lunge.

If you have the drag set too slack you run the risk of failing to set the hooks on the strike. Some anglers like to have it set tight until they hook a pike and then back it off a little while playing the fish in. This is an option, but it is all too easy to forget to retighten the drag after returning the fish. Resulting in the next take being missed! Another reason I don't like Thumbar spool releases is that when I strike I habitually drop my thumb onto the spool to ensure it doesn't slip. I have accidentally released the spool when using Thumbars, not only on hookset, but when twitching lures too.

All in all, multipliers are pretty simple reels and don't need much attention or maintenance. To ensure your drag continues to function smoothly always slacken it right off at the end of a day's fishing. Leaving a drag set tight will cause it to seize up, and once freed it will probably become juddery. Other than that all they require is an odd drop of oil on the levelwind and the bearings from time to time, and a dab of grease on the gears. Keep the drag washers free of oil and grease though, or the drag will be adversely affected.

All this said even those of us who have been using multipliers for years and years still manage a 'birdy' now and then! However, this is usually the result of inattention (not altering the casting brake after changing to a lighter lure or the wind changing), or tiredness after hours of flogging away for no reward.

When set up correctly, and after a little practice, multipliers are a joy to fish and play fish with. Once mastered it is difficult to go back to using 'coffee grinder' fixed spools!

  • Ensure line is loaded so it won't slip on the spool. Tape it or use some nylon as backing
  • Load line under tension.
  • Don't overfill the spool.
  • Adjust the casting brake to suit the lure in use, and your ability to control the spool with your thumb.
  • Set the drag.

(This article first appeared in Pike and Predators July 2006)