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Baitrunner Spinning Reels Explained

Baitrunner Spinning Reels Explained

What is a Baitrunner Spinning Reel?

So what is this reel they call a Baitrunner or Free Spool as some refer to it all about?  If you are not familiar with the Baitrunner reel, then let me explain.

They are used when you want to fish with either live or cut bait and want to allow the fish to be able to take the bait and “run” with it before the hook is set.

The Baitrunner was first introduced to the market by Shimano in 1987 and Shimano trademarked the name Baitrunner.  Other common names for this style of reel are:

  • Free Spool
  • Live Liner
  • Bait feeder
  • Bite-n-Run

A Baitrunner reel is designed with both a primary and a secondary drag system.  (see image below)

Baitrunner reel has what is called a “teaser lever” to engage the secondary drag system.  When the secondary drag is engaged you create what we call a “controlled free spool,” meaning that the drag is light enough to allow a fish to take the bait and run with it without feeling the very light drag.

The secondary drag is typically adjusted with a drag knob located on the bottom of the reel and only offers a few pounds of drag or tension. This secondary drag is only designed to keep the reel from unspooling and to allow the bait to swim freely.

Once a fish takes the bait and starts to swim with it, the reel will allow the line to come off the spool very easily — remember there are only 1 or 2 pounds of drag on the reel at this time.

Now all you have to do is pick up your rod and wind the handle a single turn in most cases and that will disengage the secondary drag system so that the main drag can take over and you can set the hook.

The advantage of the Baitrunner is that it allows you to fish live-lined bait without having to adjust the main drag or flip the bail and hope that too much line falls off the spool and makes a tangled mess.

When to Use a Baitrunner

Baitrunners are often used by freshwater fishermen for species such as carp and catfish when fishing chunk bait.  In fact, when the Baitrunner reel was first introduced back in 1987, it was the UK carp fishermen that were the early adopters of this new technology.

In the world of saltwater fishing, you will most often be considering the use of a Baitrunner reel when surf casting or inshore fishing from land for bottom feeding fish, or fishing from a boat for reef fish like snapper or grouper.

A major advantage of the Baitrunner is that it will allow you to fish multiple rods at the same time.  Since a fish can take your bait and run with it with some tension on the line, then you can then easily pick your rod up from the sand spike or rod holder and then proceed to set the hook.

Some of the most common species that are targeted with Baitrunner reels are Stripers, Bluefish, Kings, Jewfish, and Snapper.

How to Use a Baitrunner Spinning Reel

The primary difference between a conventional spinning reel and a Baitrunner spinning reel is the secondary drag system.  The secondary drag is also referred to as the rear drag on most of the Baitrunner style reels.

You want to set the secondary or rear drag to a very light setting that is just enough to keep enough tension on the line to keep it from getting tangled, but light enough that a fish can take the bait and run with it without getting spooked.

The strength of the current where you are fishing is going to be a factor in how much tension you place on the drag.  Once you have cast the bait, the spool continues to let line out very slowly and then you will need to tighten the drag a click or two at a time until no more line is being let out.

hookOnce the fish is running with the bait then you need to set the hook.  Typically I count 4-5 seconds before I set the hook as I want the fish to have a good opportunity to get the bait fully in its mouth.

The last thing you want to do is to set the hook too quickly and rip the bait from the fish’s mouth. Remember the fish has no idea that there is a line attached to the bait as the drag is so light.

As far as a hook choice goes, I typically will use a circle hook as they will set themselves and then the timing of the hook set is really not so important.

With that said, I still like to give the fish 4-5 seconds to make sure that they have the entire bait in their mouth.


  • Best for live bait
  • Fish multiple rods


  • 2 drags to maintain


If you have decided that your style of fishing is going to include fishing with live baits then I would highly recommend that you get a Baitrunner style reel in your hands and try fishing with it.

Most people that use a Baitrunner and have been taught how to use it properly swear by them.  I have some friends that based on the type of fishing they do will not use a reel that does not include a dual drag system.

A good quality Baitrunner reel to consider is the Shimano Baitrunner D, read the full review HERE.

Latest posts by David Edwards (see all)

Ed Librick

Sunday 4th of August 2019

My baitrunner secondary drag is not working properly. It will not adjust to free line easily or tighten. How can this be repaired?

Salted Angler

Sunday 4th of August 2019

I am not sure what brand if reel you are referring to. I would suggest contacting the manufacturer or a local reel repair shop. I would also recommend looking in Quora to see if someone else has answered your question.