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This week's Feature Blog

Calibrating Line Counter Reels

By: Mark Romanack

The fishing tackle market is literally flooded with line counter reels of all sizes, shapes, brands and price points. You get what you pay for when it comes to trolling reels. Good reels start at about $100.00 each. Jake Romanack of Fishing 411 TV recommends the Daiwa Lexa 300. This low profile line counter reels is affordable, ultra smooth and features one of the best drag systems you can buy.

At Fishing 411 we get a lot of fishing questions. One of the most common questions we encounter involves line counter reels. Do I really need to calibrate my line counter reels and if so how is the best way to accomplish this goal?

The process of calibrating line counter reels so that every reel an angler has on his or her boat contains exactly the same type, diameter and amount of fishing line isn’t a new concept, but it has become a fact of fishing perceptive anglers are paying much more attention to. Most anglers mistakenly believe that the line counter reels they own are inherently accurate at metering lead lengths. That assumption would only be true if the angler had loaded his reel or reels with the line type, diameter and amount of line that was used by the manufacturer to calibrate these reels.

Most manufacturers use 20 pound test monofilament line to calibrate their line counter reels. This line type and diameter is used because it represents a line commonly used for salmon trolling. The moment an angler loads a line of a different diameter onto his or her line counter reel, that factory calibration is lost.

Most anglers also mistakenly believe if they simply load their reels to capacity, the line counters will be consistent and accurate. Wrong again, because most anglers have no clue exactly how much line is being loaded to their reels, they in turn end up with reels that are way out of calibration.

To prove this fact to yourself, take all of your line counter reels into the back yard and lay them down on the grass next to one another. Measure off a known distance using a tape measure, say 100 feet and put a stake in the ground to mark that distance. Now return to the rods/reels and zero out all of the line counters. Open the bail on each reel and pull off exactly 100 feet of line from each reel.

If you’re serious about trolling you should also be serious about calibrating trolling reels. When every rod/reel on the boat is calibrated duplicating productive lead lengths becomes second nature and fishing success skyrockets.

In theory, the line counters of each reel will read 100 feet, but in reality each reel is certain to produce a different reading. The reason for this discrepancy is because each reel is loaded with a different amount of line. The process of calibrating a line counter reel is in fact the process of putting just the right amount of line on each reel so that when an actual 100 feet of line is played off the reel, the line counter will also indicate 100 on the digital read out.

Accomplishing this fundamental but critically important goal is easy, but calibrating reels does takes a few minutes and some trial and error to complete the job. The reason it is critical to have the same amount of line on every reel is because line counters function by allowing a certain amount of line off the reel for every rotation of the reel spool. When the reel spool is over full, more line is played off the reel per rotation. When the reel spool is under full, less line is played off the reel per rotation.


Any brand and model of line counter reel can be calibrated with any line type and diameter using a simple process that involves putting the exact amount of line on each reel. The process starts by loading the desired line onto the reel until the reel spool appears to be loaded to capacity. Many manufacturers of line counter reels have a mark on the reel spool to indicate when the reel spool is filled to capacity.

Once the reel is filled to capacity, do not cut the line from the bulk spool. Instead measure off a distance of 100 feet and put two stakes in the ground to indicate the zero mark and the 100 foot mark. On the zero mark stake use a rubber band to attach a planer board line release to simply hold the line on the stake. Take the line from the rod tip and place it into the line release on the zero stake. Now reel up the slack line until the rod tip touches the stake and zero out the line counter on the reel. Open the reel bail and walk away to the 100 foot stake.

When you have walked away exactly 100 feet consult the clicker on the line counter reel. If the clicker is a number less than 100 feet, the reel has too much line loaded and line must be taken off the reel and wrapped back onto the spool. If the number on the line counter is greater than 100, more line must be added to the reel spool.

The best way to add or subtract line from the reel when fine tuning the calibration is in increments of about 20 to 40 feet at a time. It might take two or three tries of adding or removing line from the fishing reel before the line counter on the reel reads 100 feet when exactly 100 feet of line has been played out.

The staff at Precision Trolling Data has been using Daiwa line counter reels for over 20 years to collect the data that appears in the Precision Trolling Data phone apps. No other brand of line counter reel is more dependable or more affordable than Daiwa.

The Precision Trolling Data web page features a detailed video on exactly how to calibrate line counter reels. Consulting this video will clarify any questions an angler might have about the calibration process. Also, it’s interesting to note that Precision Trolling uses Daiwa SG27LC Sealine reels for their testing purposes. When exactly 1,400 feet of Berkley 10 pound test XT line is spooled onto these reels they are perfectly calibrated.


The question still remains, why is calibrating line counter reels so important? The answer is simple. When reels are calibrated it’s possible to accurately and quickly duplicate productive lead lengths with other rods/reels. When all of these reels are calibrated with the same line type, diameter and amount of line anglers can target fish at specific depths with amazing accuracy and success.

The lure and diving device depth data that is published by Precision Trolling Data in their popular phone apps is collected using line counter reels that are carefully calibrated for the line type and diameter listed on the phone apps. When avid anglers consult this data and in turn apply the information using line counter reels that are also calibrated, it’s possible to target fish spotted on a sonar screen with uncanny accuracy.

The other reason it’s a good idea to calibrate reels is to avoid inadvertently playing out too much line and snagging and breaking off valuable lures on the bottom.


Anglers are also curious what happens if they snag and some line is lost from a reel? Does that reel have to be re-calibrated? The answer depends on how much line is lost. It takes about 20 feet of lost line to change the reel calibration about one foot on the counter. So if modest amounts of line are lost, it is not necessary to re-calibrate the reel.


Another question often asked regarding line counter reels is does size matter? The answer is that any size or brand of line counter reel can be calibrated. The problem is that smaller sized reels such as the 15 class reels produced by some manufacturers have such a limited line capacity that they are inherently less accurate and practical to use than larger reels with greater line capacity.


The first time a reel is loaded with line it’s necessary to fill the entire reel spool. When it comes time to replace that line, don’t remove all the old line from the reel. Keeping about 150 to 200 yards of old line on the reel to function as backing and top dressing each reel with about 150 to 200 yards of premium fresh line is an excellent way of saving money and still getting the maximum value from each line counter reel.


The major manufacturers of trolling reels produce several models of line counter reels sold at various price points. The less expensive reels tend to use more plastic parts in the manufacturing process. More expensive reels are more ruggedly built with metal and carbon parts designed to provide years of trouble free service. The ole adage that “you get what you pay for” is very true with line counter reels. Less expensive models just don’t hold up when exposed to serious trolling chores, costing anglers more money in the long run.


A lot of anglers are resistant to calibrating their line counter reels, feeling that close is good enough when trolling. It’s true that anglers can catch fish when using reels that are not calibrated. It’s also true that those anglers who take the time to calibrate their reels are going to be catching more fish. It takes about five minutes per reel to calibrate. You make the call.


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