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Calibrating Line Counter Reels

By Mark Romanack/Founder
Precision Trolling Data, LLC

Jake enjoys the fruits of our labor with this massive walleye caught
Precision Trolling crankbaits on Lake Erie. The depth data produced
by Precision Trolling Data would not be nearly as useful if it weren’t
for the author’s ability to “calibrate” all of his trolling reels and to
replicate trolling leads again and again.
Recently the question of calibrating line counter reels was forwarded to our Precision Trolling Data staff. The following is my answer and good information for anyone who trolls. 

I believe it was our Precision Trolling staff that popularized the idea of calibrating line counter reels more than 20 years ago when we started publishing our now famous “Dive Curve” data. Prior to that time no one had fully understood the need to calibrate line counter reels, because it wasn’t fully understood how lead length or the amount of line between the rod tip and the lure influenced lure diving ability. Our research first confirmed the relationship between both line diameter and lead length in regards to influencing the diving depth of crankbaits and other commonly trolled fishing hardware.

In our research we calibrate our reels to a known distance. I use 100 feet as a bench mark because this number represents roughly the “middle of the road” in terms of the trolling leads commonly used by anglers. Once I have a measured distance of 100 feet marked off, I tie a snap to the end of my line and reel up until the snap touches the rod tip top. At that point I zero out the line counter, open the reel bail and pull out exactly 100 feet of line.

When comparing what the line counter on the reel says to an actual 100 feet of measured lead length, I can start the process of calibrating. Typically what I notice is the line counter on the reel will indicate 102' - 110' when actually there is only 100’ of line out. I calibrate by cutting off about 20 feet of line and repeating this process. Generally speaking, for every 20 feet of line you cut off the reel, the line counter will sacrifice about 2’ on the counter.

The author at the back of the boat, testing crankbaits for
Precision Trolling Data, LLC. The amount of time, energy
and investment it takes to accurately collect lure diving data
 is staggering. The benefits of this data are however worth
 the effort and that’s why Precision Trolling Data continues
to pioneer new and better trolling data for their customers.
By repeating this simple process until the line counter reads 100’ when there is actually 100’ feet of line played out is how a line counter reel is correctly calibrated. Of course you’ll have to repeat this process with every trolling rod/reel combination. Also, should one of your set ups get snagged and a significant amount of line lost, that reel will have to be re-calibrated. I generally calibrate my fishing reels twice a year, once in the early spring and again in the early fall. In doing so, I also replace the line on my reels.

Pretty much any brand or size of line counter reel can be calibrated using these methods. I will warn you that smaller reels like the 15/17 size reels do not calibrate easily because the reel spool is far too small to hold the 200’ leads trollers often use. Line counter reels that use mechanical counters are basing their numbers on how much line plays off the reel for each rotation of the spool. Obviously small spool reels are going to struggle in this department compared to larger spooled reels.

Therefore, I strongly recommend fishing with 20/30/45 size line counters whenever possible. I calibrate for 10/12 (.013) pound test monofilament line and also 10/4 Fireline as these are the line diameters and types we use in the Precision Trolling testing. If an angler trolls using a different line diameter the same process applies, but of course this information doesn’t interface with the Precision Trolling Data we publish.

You may or may not know that our Precision Trolling Data is currently produced with a multitude of line types and diameters suitable for the device in question. For example, one of the most popular line types/diameters for diving planers is 30# spectra braid, so we test using popular line diameters/types.

Anglers who don’t take the time to calibrate their line counter reels are missing out on one of the most important aspects of trolling. The ability to precisely duplicate trolling leads from reel to reel is fundamental in an angler’s ability to replicate what’s working on the water. To ignore this critical step in trolling is like fishing blind. Simply filling your trolling reels to capacity is not adequately calibrating reels for serious trolling.

The Precision Trolling Data team uses actual observations from highly 
trained scuba divers to confirm the running depths of popular lures and 
trolling hardware. No other method of collecting trolling data is 
consistently accurate or repeatable.
Back at the beginning when we first published our Precision Trolling data, we started telling anglers that using Precision Trolling is like putting gun sights on your fishing lures because with the knowledge we publish it’s possible to literally aim your baits at fish you mark on a sonar unit.

Of course the Precision Trolling books are no longer available, but the same information is widely available on both an Android and iPhone app. For those old school anglers out there we also publish some of our most popular data on printed vinyl stickers suitable for adhering to the utility boxes most anglers use to store their lures and trolling hardware.

For more information on Precision Trolling Data, I suggest visiting our web page or our Facebook site of the same name. Simply stated, the data provided by Precision Trolling Data, LLC is the most accurate trolling information available by any source.