Now and then wehave a photo finish. Determining our Editor’s Choice and Great Buy reels thisyear was unbelievably difficult, and the winners barely squeaked ahead of thecompetition.
Fewer new reelswere submitted this year, compared with last. It seems that reel builders aremaking improvements to existing products or adding higher-quality reels totheir product lines.
We saw many majormakeovers among top-of-the-line reels. One long-established bait-caster wastotally revamped and turned out beautifully. At the other end of the pricescale, we tested a couple of reels that offered amazingly good performance andfeatures we did not really expect at that level.
Of the 13 reelswe tested, the lowest-scoring model was rated good, while the rest were ratedvery good or excellent. Overall the bait-casting reels did better than thespinning reels, but in both categories overall final scores were close.
Performance wasthe key factor in our grading. We were also concerned, of course, withsmoothness in cranking and during casts– particularly with bait-casters–andworried if we heard any scary sounds whirring somewhere in the guts of themachine. In both spinning and casting reels we looked at how evenly the linespooled back after casting; that helps prevent line dig-in and the problems itcauses for ultrathin braid or fused lines.
Ergonomics,Finish: Aesthetics aside, some reels were just more comfortable in hand, and werewarded them with better design scores. Good ergonomics are especiallyimportant with bait-casters, where you need easy access to the free-spool baror button. The tolerances of the reel components–how well the pieces fittogether–is another area that we looked at closely. A roughly finishedcomponent anywhere might indicate low-quality workings inside.
When consideringa reel for saltwater fish or large species that may run out a substantialamount of line, it’s important to use a drag that can be increased in smallincrements rather than going quickly to total lockup, which is better for bassfishing in heavy cover. If long-running fish are in your future, pass on reelswhere the line comes out in jerks rather than peeling off smoothly when thedrag is cranked down.
Fans of the oldCardinal reel (now made by Abu Garcia) will rejoice in the comeback of thisclassic–the C3. It has improved gearing (and it was good before) and the reardrag now has more washers and audible clicks as you adjust the easy-to-grabknob. Not everyone likes rear-drag spin reels, but those who do will like thisone.
Read ourInnovations sidebars and you’ll see how a top-end reel can be improved yetagain. Quantum’s Performance Tuned (PT) reels have a dramatically reengineeredline roller and rotor design. The rotor positions the line onto the rollerwithout fail, while the tapered roller design slips the line exactly where itneeds to go. No more loops or line cutting the rotor arm. Besides the PT reels,many other makes with oversize line rollers feature quality ball bearings tokeep them turning freely under pressure. The already slim ThinLine aluminumbodies of the PT series have been reduced without loss of strength ordurability, and the anti-reverse system has been beefed up considerably with aspool shaft support bearing.
Better FishFighters: Overall there are more ball bearings in many of the new or upgradedspinning reels, along with better-quality gears and faster retrieve ratios. Onenew feature is bound to please spinning reel enthusiasts who’ve long complainedabout rinky-dink handles on otherwise good products. Handles have been greatlystrengthened on several models, and some are totally machined. Handle knobs orpaddles–seemingly a small point–are being made larger, using more comfortablematerials. That’s important after hours of cranking.
Increasingly,bails feature a positive click-open position that will prevent sudden, shockingbail closure (and possible lure snap-off) during hard casts.
From the revampedShimano Calcutta to the diminutive Bass Pro Shops ProLite Finesse, there’s aworld of interesting level-wind bait-cast reels available in both traditionalround configurations and low-profile designs. Alas, we had wanted to check outthe latest incarnation of one of the more popular low-profile reels, theShimano Curado, now featuring a number of upgrades and available in high-speed,power-cranking and saltwater models, but they weren’t available by test time.Give it a look if you liked the original Curado. Those bait-casters we wereable to put through the wringer produced some pretty impressive findings.
For example, morebait-casters are combining centrifugal braking (usually adjustable six-pin”shoes”) with magnetic cast control. In some, like the Pflueger Supremelow-profile, there are externally adjustable magnets with internally adjustablecentrifugal shoes. The Bass Pro Shops ProLite Finesse uses a different system,in which centrifugal force engages the magnets.
The trend towardexternally adjustable magnetic controls–whether combined with centrifugalbraking adjustment or not–is a welcome convenience for fishermen who frequentlychange lure weights. So is the move by many makers to offer easy access to theinternal breaking mechanisms via quick swing-away side-plates and otherdevices.
You’ll see higherretrieve ratios on bait-casting reels this year, many in the 6.1:1neighborhood. Quantum’s TE1170PT leads the pack with an impressive 7:1 retrievethat sucks in 28.8 inches of line with each handle crank.
Handy sizes: Makesure you consider hand fit when you’re deciding on one of the new models. Youdon’t need big hands, for example, to use the high-speed Quantum mentioned, butthose who have ham-size paws will be pleased with the space between the handleand the frame of that reel. Similarly, the super-low- profile, narrow-framemills like the Bass Pro Shops ProLite Finesse will have anglers with slightlysmaller hands wondering why in the world nobody came up with the ideabefore.
SPINNINGREELS ABU GARCIA Cardinal C503ALB Final Score: 87.8 OUTDOOR LIFE EDITOR’S CHOICE 2006
With itsall-aluminum body and spool and machined-aluminum handle, this reel resemblesan armored Humvee, but instead of being boxlike in shape, it’s sleek, silveryand understated. The bail is heavy-duty and opens with a satisfying stay-openclick. Your grip won’t slip when the soft-handle knob is wet or fish slimed.With its 10 ball bearings and high-quality gears, the reel is buttery smooth. Adandy for any freshwater casting work and also light saltwater, although with alarger line capacity it would handle far more serious marine work. ($65;877-777-3850; abugarcia.com)
EAGLE CLAWGunnison GUN-20 OUTDOOR LIFE GREAT BUY 2006
Here’s asurprise: a spinning reel for only 40 bucks with a seven-bearing system! Yes,it cranks smoothly and casts very well at both far and close ranges with noidiosyncrasies (like premature bail closure during power casts). The oiledfelt-washer drag feels smooth and stable. The gearing is brass, the body isgraphite composite, the spool is aluminum and there’s a spare graphitecomposite spool. This Gunnison is available in larger and smaller sizes.Metallic blue with gold-anodized trim, the reel appeals to the eye, too. ($40;720-941-8700; eagleclaw.com)
BAIT-CASTREELS SHIMANO Calcutta CT200GTB Final Score: 92.9 OUTDOOR LIFE EDITOR’S CHOICE 2006
A total makeoverof the original Calcutta has resulted in a new B version, with manyimprovements. A higher retrieve ratio (6:1), antirust bearings (now seven ofthem), an upgraded drag, a side-plate with easy one-screw access to thecentrifugal brake shoes and a cold-forged aluminum frame are among the moresignificant changes. There’s not a wobble in the well-constructed workings onthis beauty, which will handle any heavy-duty fresh water casting assignmentsand many inshore saltwater tasks, too. ($220; 877-577-0600; shimano.com)
BASS PRO SHOPSProLite Finesse OUTDOOR LIFE GREAT BUY 2006
This sweet,ultra-low-profile, light reel can tackle heavier work as well. A fast 6.3:1retrieve ratio handles light or heavier lines. The new braking system usescentrifugal force to engage magnets for great antibacklash performance. Thereare six double-shielded stainless-steel ball bearings and a one-wayanti-reverse bearing. To access the spool, depress the side-plate–a neatfeature. The reel is supremely comfortable in hand, and the orange-goldenfinish is very attractive. And it casts like a rocket. ($100; 800-227-7776;basspro.com)
Manufacturers are making it simpler to access a reel’s inner workings by addingeasy-to-remove side-plates.