How To Set Up A Centerpin Reel

How to Set Up A Centerpin Reel Like This

I have set up over 100 Centerpin reels for myself, my clients, and in my tackle store over the last 20 years. It’s important for me as a guide that my centerpin reels and my client’s Centerpin reel are set up properly before we start fishing, and this article explains how to set up a Centerpin reel the right way.

To set up a Centerpin reel you will need to know what hand to reel with, then you will need a backing line that is used as a permanent filler line, and then you will need a good floating mainline that works on a Centerpin reel.

You will also then need a good float and leader setup.

Centerpin reels free spool both ways and there is no drag on them so they can be used for right-handed retrieve or left-handed retrieve without any adjustments. You simply put the handle on the right or the handle on the left of the rod.

What Hand Should I Reel With?

Are you left-handed or right-handed? It really does make a difference when setting up your Centerpin reel or with any fishing reel for that matter!

The problem is that many guys use the wrong hand when using their reel and they don’t even know it. They think they are right-handed which to them means they should reel with the right hand. But should they?

I have taught thousands of anglers how to use a Centerpin reel as well as baitcasting reels and spinning reels which is why I know for certain that if you use the proper hand you will be able to catch more fish for many reasons.

I also know using the wrong hand can cause lots of problems and make learning and fishing more difficult. As a guide that makes my job harder and for you as an angler, you will struggle.

Before you set up your Centerpin reel, you must know which way you should be reeling before you put the line on because once the line goes on you can’t change from left to right unless you take all the line off and reapply it.

My rule of thumb is that if you are right-handed, you need to use your left hand to reel, and if you are left-handed, you need to use your right hand to reel. There are some exceptions to this rule which I will explain.

Why do I recommend doing this?

I see many anglers lose fish, have poor hook sets, and simply have a hard time with Centerpin fishing because they are trying to reel with the wrong hand.

It might sound weird to reel with your opposite hand but think about it this way.

If you are right-handed, 90% of your fishing should be done with your right hand which includes holding your rod with your right hand, casting with your right hand, controlling the speed of the reel and working the reel with your right hand, setting the hook with your right hand, and fighting the fish with your right hand.

All these very important things should all be done with your dominant right hand, and your left hand or non-dominant hand which I often call my dumb hand only needs to reel the line in. It’s as simple as that.

It makes no sense to set the hook with your weak and slow arm or fight large fish with that same weak arm.

The non-dominant hand just needs to go round and round and the dominant hand does everything else that is important.

To me, trying to learn how to work and control a Centerpin reel or any fishing reel with your non-dominant hand is like trying to learn how to play darts, throw an axe, or write with your non-dominant hand. You could do it, but why would you?

The only exception to the rule is that if you are an older or very experienced angler that fishes all the time and you have already learned or trained yourself how to reel with the wrong hand then I would say stick with that hand when using a Centerpin reel.

Anglers that fish less than a dozen times a year, do yourself a favor and switch your reels to the proper hand.

How To Set Up A Centerpin Reel

Now that you know what hand you should be reeling with, now you need to know how to set up a Centerpin reel and the first thing you want to do is to put the reel on the rod on the proper side before putting your line on so you don’t accidentally put it on the wrong way.

You will need two types of line when setting up a Centerpin reel and both lines need to be the right types of line and ones that are proven to work with Centerpin reels.

Do You Need Backing On A Centerpin Reel?

Most Centerpin reels will hold over 1200 feet of fishing line so most anglers add a backing line on the reel before adding the mainline. The backing is almost always part of the Centrpin reel setup.

Some Centerpin reels have a shallower spool so you may not need backing or as much line.

The backing is a line that is either made from a monofilament line, braided line, or a Dacron line and is mostly used as a filler so that you can use a typical 200 to 300-yard spool of good floating Centerpin line on top of it.

Many anglers including me will use the same dacron fly line backing line that is used on a fly reel. The backing that I like to use is the Cortland backing from

When adding the backing line to the spool you want to fill only about 1/3rd to half the spool with the backing line. Often it is recommended to use the manufactures recommendations on how much backing and line to put on the reel.

We put the backing on the same way we do with a fly reel which you will see in some of the video links below.

To attach the backing to the reel, use a simple Arbor Knot or a Uni Knot. Watch how to tie the Arbor knot to the reel.

How to put backing on a Centerpin reel or a fly reel.
Watch this video to see how I put on my backing on to my Centerpin reels and fly reels. Click the video or the link to watch.

See some tips and tricks on how to add backing to a spool using a Uni Knot at the beginning of this video, remember that we put the backing on a Centerpin reel the same way that it’s done on this fly reel.

Once you have the backing tied on, I use a Uni to Uni knot to attach the mainline. Watch this video to see how to tie the Uni to Uni knot.

What Line To Use On A Centerpin Reel?

I mostly use 8 or 10 pound Raven Mainline for great lakes steelhead fishing and it comes in spools of around 800 to 1000 yards depending on the size, but most fishing lines come in spools of 200 to 300 yards and will barely fill an empty Centerpin reel.

When it comes to Centerpin fishing, not all fishing lines are good. The best Centerpin lines will be thin, strong, and should be buoyant which is why I recommend that you check out my page on 5 Best Centerpin Lines so you make sure you get one that works.

Some conditions and some rivers might require a heavier or a lighter mainline. Check out my page What Pound Line Is Best For Centerpin Fishing.

How To Put Line On A Centerpin Reel?

Float Fishing Reel Reviews - A great float reel
The line comes off the bottom of the reel. Don’t let anyone tell your different.

You can tie the line directly to the spool or attach it to the backing with a Uni to Uni knot and the line should always go on and off the bottom of the reel as seen in the picture above.

I have seen videos say to come off the top of the reel near the rod blank and the handle, but trust me, do not do this!

Having the right amount of line will help you fish better, will help you cast, and will help you avoid problems.

Good reels like this Raven Matrix Fully Ported have a tight gap
Well built reels like this Raven Matrix Fully Ported float fishing reel have a tight gap so the line doesn’t get caught in behind the spool.

You want to fill the mainline to only about 1/8th of an inch from the gap of the spool which is on the base or back of the reel.

If you add too much the line can get stuck in behind the spool and get trapped in the gears or internal components.

If you don’t fill the spool up enough it may make casting more difficult especially if you use the side cast, and the more line you have on the spool the larger the surface diameter of the spool is so the uptake of the line is a bit faster.

I use the Berkley Portable Line Spooler Max for all my reels to make sure that I get no twists and to be sure I get the line firmly and evenly on the spool. You can get it at Bass Pro Shops or check Amazon or at FishUSA for better prices.

Centerpin Leader Setup

Part of the complete setup of a Centerpin reel is the float and the leader that you use. That is a whole other article so I recommend that you read my page Steelhead Leaders: Best Float Leader And 2 Proven Setups

Got A Question About How to Set Up A Centerpin Reel

I hope that helps you understand how to set up a Centerpin reel but just in case I might have missed something let me know if you have any questions or comments in the comment section below.

Tight Lines


Cool River Fishing Accessories

Simms Taco Bag

Simms Taco Bag

It’s a wet wader bag for storing your waders after a day on the water and it’s a mat to stand on to keep your feet dry when getting your waders on and off.

Duffel Bags and Stream Packs

SIMMS Duffel Bags and Stream Packs

Having a dedicated bag to pack and carry your waders, vests, boots, jackets, and more is a good idea. Waterproof and mesh bags are available.

Waterworks Release Tool

Waterworks-Lamson Ketchum Release Tool

Protects your flies from damage caused by forceps, This tool gets all hooks out easily. Even deep hooks come out with this tool.

Clip-on Magnifiers

When I flip these down to tie knots a lot of guys say ” I need to get some of those”. These are great for anyone that ties knots. Make sure they are lined up properly for the best view.


  1. Are there any videos on doing the actual line spooling on a centerpin? Could you possible do a video and share it on YT? I would like to give that Berkeley Spooler Max a try. Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Ray, I plan on doing a video on how to spool a Centerpin as soon as possible. Right now I have 56 guide trips booked this month alone between myself and my guides so I’m super busy but as soon as things slow down I plan on doing a lot of videos to supplement the articles so keep an eye out for that.

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