August 25, 2017
Since Burger King abandoned its 40-year-old slogan, "Have it Your Way," it's been adopted by today's leaders in reel manufacture. Low-gear-ratio baitcasters continue to be popular for slow-winding crankbaits and other long-cast lures, and we've seen models as low as 4.7:1, recalling the iconic Lew's Speed Spool BB1 of the 1980s. At the other end of the spectrum, we've witnessed an arms race as companies seem to be vying for the first double-digit gear ratio in a baitcasting reel.
Speed Trends Today
Today's world seems to spin ever faster. So do some bass reels. I recall that when Quantum released its "Burner" baitcaster in 2006, it set the speed standard. Then, at the 2013 fishing industry ICAST Show, the Abu Garcia Revo Rocket raised eyebrows and won fans who appreciated its blazing ability to wind line. I received a field-test sample of this reel with 9.0:1 gear ratio the following spring and marveled at its applications, including reeling fast over dead-looking water to make another cast, "waking" a double-bladed spinnerbait over shallow cover, and catching up with a bass that ate a jig, then swam directly toward the boat.
Andrew Wheeler, Director of Global Brands at Pure Fishing, has observed this demand and had a hand in planning and designing super-fast reels. "Gear ratios in baitcasting reels have gradually increased over the last decade," he says. "But in the last several years, we've seen increased attention to speed. Pro fishermen seem to lead the charge, and avid bass anglers are right in their tracks, wanting the latest and greatest gear.
"As a result, we've been working on developing faster reels in our manufacturing facilities and in our labs at Pure Fishing. From an engineering standpoint, designing faster reels is a challenge. High gear ratios create more torque, so the frame must be strengthened and stabilized to prevent flex. For example, we went to an aluminum side-plate on the Rocket instead of a carbon one.
"We took a three-pronged approach to increasing gear ratios. Today's precision machining is far tighter than in the past, so we can build reel parts with tighter tolerances, which for the angler means less "slop." Second, we've taken advantage of new materials that have become available, often developed for aerospace or other hi-tech realms. These can be used to build harder and more durable gears. For example, we've used Duragear in construction of the faster baitcasting models. It's a specialized type of brass that's harder than standard brass, which makes a better gear set and increases the strength of the gear system. The third tack was to increase gear size, which means you retrieve more line for every turn of the reel handle."
Daiwa also has joined in the race, offering five models with gear ratios from 8:1 to 9.1:1. "The fastest one is the Zillion TWS," says marketing manager Curt Arakawa." "We call it 'the Super Xtra Hyper Speed' model. It retrieves 40.3 inches of line per turn of the handle."
Early in 2017, the gauntlet was thrown down as Eposeidon Outdoor Adventure revealed their new KastKing Speed Demon with a blistering 9.3:1 gear ratio. Eposeidon marketing director Tom Gahan notes that this reel also has a 4.5-inch handle with flat-paddle EVA knobs that provides maximum cranking torque. "We've also included a newly designed trilateral magnetic brake system that drastically reduces incidence of backlashes," Gahan says. "It also has 12 + 1 shielded bearings and a 4-disc carbon drag system that exerts 13.2 pounds of max drag. Moreover, this reel is selling on Amazon.com for under $70, less than half the price of many other fast reels."
This company was launched early in 2013 by a group of avid anglers who'd met at Syracuse University in New York. "Our goal was to create a fishing tackle company that could offer fine fishing tackle that every angler can afford, Gahan says. "With factory-direct sourcing and efficient business practices, we can pass savings on to the consumer." In addition, much of their sales are through Amazon.com, offering fast and free shipping.
At the 2017 Bassmaster Classic, Shimano revealed their new Metanium MGL, with several innovations. "One highlight of this new series is our Magnumlite spool," says Shimano product manager Chris Hess. "This new spool is not only lighter, but it turns more efficiently. This design reduces backlashes and allows longer casts (up to 15 percent longer than with standard spools), and with greater accuracy, as well," he says. "This top-of-the-line model also features our new SilentTune system, which reduces vibration from spool rotation for silky retrieves. And the latest version of the SVS Infinity braking system makes it easy to fine-tune spool speed, especially with lighter lures. It's available in three gear ratios, 6.2:1, 7.4:1, and 8.5:1, making it our fastest bass reel."
At Quantum, VP of marketing Bob Bagby takes a less optimistic view of the speed race. "I think we've reached the limit where a faster reel is beneficial," he says. "The trade-off in loss of power above 8:1 represents diminishing returns in most fishing situations. Our Speed Freak winds 35 inches per turn, which many of our pro staff favor for flippin' and pitchin.' But for most applications, the top anglers prefer reels in the 6:1 and 7:1 gear-ratio range."
While baitcasters have gotten more attention, Abu Garcia released the Revo Rocket spinning reel in 2015, with a 7:1 gear ratio. This uptick in gear ratio realizes major increases in line winding speed, expressed in IPT (Inches Per Turn). The rather diminutive size-20 collects 37 inches, while the 30-size gathers 40 inches and the 40-size 44 inches, the greatest amount in a reel of that size I've been able to verify. Spinning reels are available in far more spool widths than are baitcasters. And nearly all companies conveniently label their models to reflect reel size, which generally equates to spool diameter. Thus a 100 or 1000 model is an ultralight, 2500 standard, and 4500 a large reel that can double for freshwater applications and marine use. The large model's spool is nearly twice the diameter of the small model, which is critical in calculating true reel speed. With the same gearing, the larger one retrieves twice as much line as the smaller, given the same line diameter. With less attention to speedy spinning reels, it's harder to find their winding speed in IPT. But it can be easily determined with a yardstick or tape measure.
Nearly a decade ago, U.S. Reel's Fred Kemp revealed the wide-spool SuperCaster reel with moderate size body and short frame, housing a wide but shallow spool. This design not only boosts casting distance, but also reduces weight and increases effective retrieve speed. The wider spool also accommodates larger drag washers, resulting in the company's Steady Drag System (SDS), which maintains drag tension under pressure. The spool diameter on the U.S Reel 250PRO model is 2.5 inches, compared to 1.5 inches on Abu Garcia's Revo Rocket 200 and 1.25 inches on Quantum's Smoke Speed Freak 25 model. Bass Pro Shops adopted a similar design on their Johnny Morris Signature Series reels, which boast a spool that's 30 percent wider than those on standard spinning reels, boosting cranking capacity.
Needs for Speed
While some might consider this trend yet another sign of the "instant gratification" demand of today's society, there are many reasons top-level anglers have led the charge for increased speed. Whether a presentation calls for a short or long cast, speed can increase efficiency. Imagine a prespawn scenario where bass are holding within stands of thick bulrushes in a clear-water situation. It's often necessary to hold far back from the edge of the vegetation to avoid spooking fish in clear shallow water. Making long casts with an unweighted stickworm can be a killer tactic in such situations. Working the lure slowly among the stalks is key. But when the lure clears the edge, a fast retrieve is needed to quickly cover another section of rushes.
Moreover, when a bass eats the lure, it often swims slowly toward the deeper edge and toward the angler. With a weightless lure, this movement can be difficult to detect. Once you realize what's happening, it's critical to quickly collect slack before setting the hook. A fast reel helps greatly in this situation.
During a summer or late-fall schooling bite, it's important to stay back and cast far to breaking fish. But if you don't draw a strike, speed is of the essence to get in another cast before the school moves on or submerges. So whenever you're fishing a distant target, a speedy reel can help you make more effective casts per hour.
Justin Lucas is a rising star on the Bassmater Elite tournament trail. Growing up in California, he moved to Guntersville, Alabama, to immerse himself in bass fishing culture as well to reduce driving time to most events. The nearby reservoir offers a diversity of bass fishing options that help him work on new techniques and test lures.
"As soon as I tried the Revo Rocket, I knew it could be a game-changer," Lucas says. "When fishing a jig, worm, or Carolina rig, its speed made it easier to reel up slack. With those types of presentations, you typically raise the rod to move the lure and create slack in doing so. The better you stay in touch with the lure the better you can detect subtle bites.
"The same principle applies to spinning tackle," he continues. "I frequently fish a light shaky-head jig in finesse situations. Bass often pick it off the bottom and swim away. You have to get the slack out quickly before setting the hook. Slack line gives the fish more of a chance to spit the lure before you can set the hook and makes it easier for it to escape on a jump, since the hook didn't bury completely in its jaw.
"The most important question to ask is, 'Are you using the reel to move the lure or are you using the rod?' If you're using the rod to move a lure, fast reels help; if you're using the reel, go with a medium-speed or low gear-ratio reel."
James Elam, a Bassmaster Elite pro from Oklahoma, also is excited to use faster baitcasting reels. "Every year, the tournament schedule puts several events around the spawning period for largemouth bass," Elam says. "Fishing for bass on beds or those guarding fry or postspawners can be tricky. It can be difficult to get a fish to bite. Then when it finally bites, these bass tend to swim rapidly off to the side with the lure in their mouth. They're in shallow water so they can't swim deeper, as fish do in summer and fall. It's critical to quickly pick up slack to catch up to the fish and set the hook.
"It might seem counterintuitive, but I like a fast reel for lures fished slowly, like a Texas rig or jig. You often have to catch up to the fish as it swims off. In contrast, I use baitcasters with a 6.2:1 ratio for lures that you wind—crankbaits, bladed jigs, swimbaits, spinnerbaits, and most swim jigs. The exceptions are that I use a 5:1 gear ratio for giant crankbaits and occasionally switch to a 7.4:1 model for working swim jigs quickly through cover.
"I had used a lot of 7:1 models when they came out since we considered them fast. Now I want to trade nearly all of them in for Shimano's Metanium MGL 151XG with an 8.5:1 ratio. That's the best reel I've ever used."
Michigan pro and smallmouth expert Jonathon VanDam feels that the advantages of faster baitcasters generally outweigh their disadvantages. "For many flippin' and pitchin' situations, faster models help you retrieve slack and manage line better, as well as pull bass from cover," he says. "But when flippin' the thickest vegetation, the fastest reels don't have the winching power to pull fish out. There, I prefer a reel with a gear ratio of 6.3:1 to 7.5:1.
"I find that speed is more important in spinning applications," he adds. "I do a lot of deep-water smallmouth presentations with spinning tackle—tube jigs, drop-shots, and grubs.
With grubs and tubes, you often have a lot of line out, which makes it challenging to stay in touch with the lure, take up slack fast, and then set the hook. When smallies pick up a lure and run, they run fast. The faster you can reel, the better your chances of a good hook-set and landing the fish. Shimano's new NASCI and Stradic C14+ reels are offered with 6.2:1 gearing, which helps greatly in these applications."
Minnesota pro Seth Feider relies on the larger spool of Daiwa's Luvias 3012. "Its gear ratio is 5.6:1, but its spool size means you retrieve over 37 inches of line per turn," he says. "Moreover, it has a superb drag system. With max drag of 15.4 pounds, it's powerful but also silky smooth on light settings, which is critical when you're finesse-fishing with 5- and 6-pound fluorocarbon.
"On the baitcasting side, it seems like I and a lot of pros have gone to faster reels across the board. For jerkbaits and small swimbaits fished in cold water, I now use models with 6.3:1 gearing where it used to be in the 5.5:1 range, and 7:1 reels for spinnerbaits and cranks. But the Daiwa Steez and Tatula models with 8.1:1 gears are as fast as I use right now."
So, is there a speed limit for reels? "We're pushing the present technology envelope," Wheeler says. "It's a finite game because you have to manage gear strength and durability. Anglers are asking for faster reels so we're trying to go beyond where we're at today. Future developments in materials and manufacturing could open new windows, so we will wait and see.
"Meanwhile, we're seeing a dichotomy in the bass market: For fishing horizontal presentations like crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and bladed jigs, anglers want reels with gear ratios from 5.4:1 to 6.5:1. But for slack-line presentations, such as pitching or casting jigs, working shaky-head jigs or drop-shot rigs, vertically jigging spoons and other lures, or casting bladebaits, the demand is for models with a 7.5:1 to 9:1 ratio."
That said, expect to see reels push closer to double-digit gear ratios in the near future. It may take manufacturers some time to get the bugs worked out, as new super-high-speed releases sometimes encounter problems on the water that didn't show in lab testing. When selecting tackle, check spool diameter and depth, as well as IPT.
Also consider your personal fishing style. Some folks find it impossible to reel at moderate speed with a fast reel, and would do better with a mid-range gear ratio they can speed-reel when needed. Some pros use reels with the same gear ratio for nearly all presentations, which puts them in full control of a lure's speed, depth, and action. Though some might wish it, few anglers carry dozens of rods rigged for every possible situation. But using reels specialized to the task at hand promises to increase efficiency and fun on the water, as it has for rods.