From Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources
Frankfort, Ky. – On a recent Sunday, we put the boat in right after dawn and fished Lake Cumberland hard for smallmouth bass. It was a long day of bite-free fishing. I threw a small jig for most of the day until I surrendered about 3:30 p.m. to a live shiner.
I didn’t get a hit for a good hour after switching presentations, until a tiny 8-inch dink smallmouth hit my shiner. I just bought my highest-quality spinning rod to date and wanted to break it in with a fish longer than a hot dog bun.
About 5:30 or so, I struggled to see the shoreline in the quickly falling dusk and made one of the last casts of the day. I didn’t have much hope, but I felt a thump and my rod tip bent down immediately, often the sign of a heavier than usual fish.
It was a heavier than usual fish. After I set the hook, a huge smallmouth wallowed on the surface of Lake Cumberland and my pulse jumped. She made the move of trophy smallmouth: coming to the surface and then bulldogging to the bottom.
The big smallie swam down and backward to the way I faced. The brute had me pinched under the boat. I’ve broken off some big fish in this position before, but I flipped off the anti-reverse switch and backreeled. After a tense give and take, the 21-incher came to hand.
Backreeling involves switching your spinning reel’s anti-reverse switch off and reeling backward, forsaking the drag system. You can give a big fish line much faster reeling backward than relying on the drag. The technique is the best prevention for break-offs while winter fishing with 4-, 6-, or 8-pound test line. It relieves much of the stress on the line and knot.
Learning to backreel will also put more trophy bass in the net when fishing the highly effective float and fly technique. This presentation involves suspending a small craft hair or duck feather jig under a bobber to entice smallmouth bass during the coldest time of the year. Anglers developed different riggings for the float and fly over the seasons, but all use 4-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon line at the business end.
Last January, I landed my biggest smallmouth ever on the float and fly by flipping the anti-reverse switch off and reeling backward. Just a little over 20 inches long, the big smallmouth weighed 5 pounds even and I got her to the net on 4-pound monofilament line. I would’ve lost this fish without backreeling.
Practice backreeling on average-sized bass before trying it on a trophy. A farm pond or small lake is a good place to rehearse before hitting the big water. It felt weird the first time I tried it, but I soon grew to like the great amount of control I had on the fish.
Don’t let go of the reel handle while the anti-reverse switch is off. The handle will quickly rotate backwards and lead to a nasty tangle. Also, avoid reeling backwards too fast or the same thing will happen. Let the movement of the fish dictate the release of line. You always want to feel the weight of the fish as you backreel.
Backreeling works best on deep lakes like Lake Cumberland, Herrington Lake, Laurel River Lake and such. You need room to let the fish run while you give it line. It is also a proven way to land trophy stream smallmouth bass when they make a downstream power run while fishing 4- or 6-pound line.
I don’t backreel when I am fishing shallow lakes, heavy cover, docks or timber. You’ll backreel the fish right into snags and break your line.
The technique also prevents line twist, the worst enemy of a spinning reel. The drag releasing line through the line roller on the bail of a spinning reel causes line twist. Reeling against a slipping drag is a mistake even the most seasoned angler makes. This triggers terrible line twist as well.
Line twist is the culprit when you hear a funny sound on a cast and see a bird’s nest clogging the lowest guide on your spinning rod. This leads to a cut and retie almost every time. Backreeling puts little to no twist on the line.
Using light line is essential for catching finicky, cold weather bass. Learning to backreel greatly increases the opportunity for putting a trophy in the boat when using whisper-thin line in winter.
Author Lee McClellan is an award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources manages, regulates, enforces and promotes responsible use of all fish and wildlife species, their habitats, public wildlife areas and waterways for the benefit of those resources and for public enjoyment. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is an agency of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. For more information on the department, visit our web site at fw.ky.gov.