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Calibrating Line Counter Reels

The founder of Precision Trolling Data, Mark Romanack recommends 

calibrating your trolling reels so 100 clicks on the line counter reel is 
exactly 100 feet of line out. When all your reels are calibrated, it’s 
possible to replicate productive lead lengths again and again with 
precision and success.
By Mark Romanack

Recently Jake Romanack produced a short video on how to calibrate line counter reels 
and posted it to the Precision Trolling Data Facebook page. Almost overnight his video reached 40,000 people and generated a hailstorm of questions. Obviously, lots of folks are interested in this little known trolling tip.

Making sure all your reels are calibrated is the process of insuring that each reel has the same diameter, type and amount of line on the reel. A calibrated line counter reel simply becomes a more accurate tool for determining trolling leads.

Most anglers mistakenly believe that if they fill up their reels to capacity the reel will be automatically calibrated. This is not true because it’s very easy to spool on a little too much line or not quite enough line when loading a reel. The only way to confirm if a reel is calibrated is to measure out a set distance (we use 100 feet) and test your reel by zeroing out the counter, opening the bail and walking off exactly 100 feet of line. Now check the line counter to see what it reads. Chances are the reel will either be a few feet under or over on the counter.
To mitigate calibration issues, Precision Trolling Data recommends loading all your reels with the same type and diameter fishing line. The test lines we use most in creating our PTD Apps and Dive Curve Stickers is 
.013 monofilament and 10/4 Berkley Fireline.

If a trolling reel is within a foot or two of being perfectly calibrated most anglers would be satisfied. A trolling reel that’s only slightly out of calibration will only have a minor influence on the actual diving depth of baits. 

That stated, since it only takes a couple minutes to add or remove the necessary line and calibrate the reel perfectly, here at Precision Trolling Data we encourage anglers to take the time and calibrate their reels precisely. Knowing your reels are all calibrated and talking the same language is a huge confidence booster that helps anglers catch more fish.

It’s not necessary to re-calibrate trolling reels if a little line is removed from the reel. Normal cutting and re-tying of snaps and other hardware do not remove enough line to influence the calibration of a line counter reel. If for some reason a significant amount of line is lost from a reel, that reel will need to be loaded with fresh line and re-calibrated.

Line counter reels can be calibrated with either monofilament or the super braids. The process of calibration is the same regardless which type of line is used. Because fused and super braid lines are very expensive, we recommend spooling on monofilament as a backing line and top dressing trolling reels with about 150 yards of braid. 

Line counter reels are one of the best investments an angler can have. 

At Precision Trolling Data we recommend buying all the same size and 
brand of reels and also loading those reels with the same brand and 
.013 thick fishing line.
The smaller reel sizes on the market (15 and 17 size models) are difficult to calibrate because they don’t hold enough line. Line counters function by letting off a pre-determined amount of line for each rotation of the reel spool. When a long trolling lead is played off a small line counter reel, the diameter of the line on the spool becomes so small that each rotation of the spool is actually letting off far less line than the reel indicates.

The best size reels for getting the most accurate calibration are 20, 30, 40 and 50 size line counter reels. 

The short answer is that any brand of line counter reel can be calibrated and it’s certainly possible to mix and match reel sizes and brands. Most avid trollers however will tell you that matching up your gear is the best way to insure the most success in trolling. Top pros pick a reel brand and model and match them up to identical sets of rods. 

Again the short answer is yes. Quality reels cost more money and they last much longer. The less expensive reels are built using bushings instead of ball bearings, more plastic parts and they tend to wear out quickly under heavy use. The drag systems and bait clickers are also more functional and durable on higher quality reels.

In over 30 years of trolling the Precision Trolling Data staff has fished literally every line counter reel on the market. All the major reel brands have great, good and not so good reels  to choose from. The price points on these reels makes it pretty easy to determine which ones to buy and which ones to avoid.

A quality line counter reel will last 20 years or more under hard service. The extra money invested up front in quality reels will pay for itself over as the years pass.

It once was that just about every 10 pound test fishing line on the market was about the same diameter in size. Today with new technology in fishing line, line diameters vary a great deal compared to respective pound test ratings. Instead of talking pound test, it’s more logical these days to talk about line diameter.

For most trolling applications a line counter reel is a critical piece of 

fishing equipment. Shown here Jake is about to release a Lake Michigan 
brown trout caught with the help of matched, balanced and calibrated 
line counter reels.
At Precision Trolling Data we test crankbaits and most walleye trolling gear using two line types including a .013 thick monofilament and 10/4 Fireline a fused fishing line. The diameter of fishing line is generally printed right on the box. If not you can research this information quickly on-line. 

For some devices and baits that clearly call for being fished on different lines, we test with appropriate line sizes and types and post that information on our Apps and Precision Trolling Data stickers.

One tip we offer anglers is to consider using braided lines that match the diameter of the monofilament we test on. For example, most 40 pound test braids are about .013 in diameter which means baits fished on this line will achieve the same depths as baits fished on our testing .013 monofilament lines.

Taking the time to calibrate line counter reels takes a little time, but it enables anglers to replicate trolling leads precisely time and time again. Fishing with calibrated reels is also a confidence booster and we all know that anglers who are confident fish harder and catch more fish. If anyone has other questions contact me directly at