I'm still pretty new to fishing and I've only ever fished with ordinary spinning reels, mostly for trout and bass (and once I accidentally caught a muskie). I made the mistake of assuming baitcasting was just as easy, and being a gung-ho sort of dude, I went charging off to the river to "catch me a steelhead."
I had no trouble tying on my drift-fishing setup (bobber, weight, swivel and jig head tipped with raw shrimp) and I felt good about my chances.
The water was moving swiftly but I found a quieter area just around a bend. There was even a nice, wide shore for casting my 9' rod. I had the whole place to myself. I lit a cigar.
I set my sights on a riffle near the far bank and wound up for a nice, long cast. Just as I snapped my wrist, I pushed the release button and expected to see my bait slice smoothly through the air en route to a fish about 30 yards away. Instead, everthing went KERTHUNK about five feet in front of me. I looked down at my reel and saw what looked like a plate of spaghetti. I have since learned that baitcasters call this a "birds nest." It looks something like this:
Lesson No. 1: you can't just press that release button willy nilly.
After 20 minutes of untangling my birds nest, I Googled "how to baitcast" on my iPhone. At this point, I felt silly for having brought a net. I was in no jeopardy of catching any fish.
I skimmed some articles and learned that I must develop a "smart thumb" to prevent the reel from spinning too quickly and creating "backlash," i.e., a birds nest. After three more casts and three more birds nests, I concluded that my thumb was dumb and went home.
I am determined to become a proficient catcher of steelhead and salmon. For me, this quest is part of being an Oregonian. And until such time as the in-laws return to teach me, I have the internet to get me started. There are plenty of resources for people learning to baitcast - including, for some reason, a nice article on the Livestrong Foundation website. It begins like this:
A well-balanced baitcasting rig is more accurate, stronger and more reliable for big fish than a spincaster, but only if you know how to use it. Mastering the baitcasting technique takes time. The best equipment in the wrong hands will lead to lots of backlash and an afternoon of frustration. Committed practice will "educate" your thumb so that your casts fall within a foot of your target every time.