June 16, 2020
By Matt Straw
For better or worse, professional anglers drive most of the trends in bass fishing today. After all, they’re on the water more, and with a high profile. Their faces are on all the products, and trends in lure and tackle design originate with them on national television.
For better, we now have super-fast reels with 10:1 gear ratios. For worse, the average Joe who buys it may not realize it’s not built to retrieve cranks and spinnerbaits at warp speed. Pros wanted it to retrieve stationary baits and drop lures quicker, so they could make more casts in a day.
The new Daiwa Zillion SV TW has a 10:1 gear ratio. “The Zillion HT has close to 10:1, too,” says Curt Arakawa, Marketing Director at Daiwa. “Though these reels pick up 42 inches of line per turn of the handle, most people won’t need it. That speed is important for some tournament guys, but it’s hard to tell if it will be a trend with the general public. The trend toward faster reels is real all across the market. However, faster gearing decreases torque. Even some of our pro staff think it’s too fast. Most pros just reel, reel, reel the second they hit a fish. That’s hard on extreme high-speed reels. But, whether that innovation becomes a trend is up to the public to decide.”
Tournament legend Kevin VanDam once told me that crankbait fishing required: 1) Figuring out the precise depth bass are active in; 2) Selecting a bait that accurately targets that zone; 3) Selecting a rod with a blend of glass and graphite that unloads slowly; and 4) Using a moderately slow reel with a gear ratio around 5.3:1 with the capacity to hold enough 17- to 20-pound mono or fluorocarbon line for long casts.
“You need power,” VanDam says. “Lower gear ratios create greater torque to withstand the resistance created by the bill of the bait. You can rip through weeds better and then have the power to literally reel big bass out of that cover.”
B.A.S.S. Elite pro Keith Combs strikes a compromise between speed and power for all his bass fishing. “Personally I prefer a 7.4:1 gear ratio, offered in both the Shimano Metanium MGL and DC series, and the Curado DC series,” he says. “I prefer it for all bass fishing applications. That reel speed allows me to be versatile and fight fish better. I think we’ve reached the limit now. Any reels I’ve seen with a gear ratio faster than 8.5:1 are not powerful enough.”
On the other hand, tournament pros like Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson welcome faster reels. “Most strikes come on the first third of a retrieve,” he says. “Finishing that first third and reeling in fast with a high gear-ratio reel is more efficient. You’re spending more time in the water and more time in the strike zone. Work a worm, jig, or rig on a specific spot then reel in fast to cover the next spot. Efficiency separates the best from the rest.” He says he likes the Shimano Metanium DC 150XG and the Metanium MGL 150XG—both at 8.5:1.
Just a decade ago or less, a 6.1:1 ratio was the norm. Now manufacturers tell us that 7.1:1 is the norm, and the trend is toward reels that keep getting faster. But that trend might be reversing itself. “We have a host of reels in the 6.2:1 to 6.3:1 range, and that’s not going to change,” says John Mazurkiewicz, a Shimano rep at Catalyst Marketing. “We currently have nothing below that, but stay tuned for 2020, because a lot of anglers are trending back toward slower gear ratios for pulling baits that create more resistance—big swimbaits, crankbaits, and spinnerbaits with Colorado blades. Most anglers know a slower ratio is better in cold water, too.”
Faster may not always be better, but the trend is infecting spinning reels, too. Andrew Wheeler, Director of Global Brands for Pure Fishing, said the new Abu Revo Rockets in sizes 20, 30, and 35 all have a 7.0:1 gear ratio, picking up an amazing 37, 40, and 44 inches of line per revolution of the reel handle, respectively. “When you need to cover a lot of water fast, the Revo Rockets are right,” Wheeler says.
But what if the water is in the low-40°F range, as Mazurkiewicz points out? Using a high-speed gear ratio can move a jig way faster than most anglers realize. To achieve the super-slow retrieves necessary to trigger bass in cold water would require about one revolution per minute. Nobody has that kind of patience. So Abu also has Garcia Revo STX spinning reels with a more conventional 6.2:1 gear ratio. The REVO2STX size 20 picks up 33 inches, and the size 30 retrieves 35 inches per revolution. It makes much more sense to use a slower reel when the water is cold.
“For deep-diving crankbaits with big, resistant bills, or when fishing square bills I like a 6.6:1 Revo STX/SX/X,” Wheeler says. “For those baits you need more torque. A low-gear ratio is the way to go, specifically a 5.4:1 Revo Winch.”
Slower reels speak to the counter-revolutionary trend of sticking with what works too. Anglers know what works and keep buying it, so you might say the reels that have been around the longest are a trend in themselves. The oldest reel in the Daiwa lineup is the SS Tournament F1, “and it’s still one of our best sellers,” Arakawa says. “Probably because it’s one of the most durable reels ever made.”
“Daiwa was first to invent technique-specific rods,” Arakawa says. “Larry Nixon designs for worms, Rick Clunn designs for crankbaits, Ish Monroe fllippin’ rods, and so on. So Daiwa will be first to market technique-specific reels. We make a Tatula reel for every kind of bass fishing. The Tatutla 100 is a long-cast reel with redesigned spools and braking systems to make long casts effortless. The new Tatula P/F flipping and pitching reel has a mag-force system that allows a slower spool revolution. That keeps the bait real close to the water. A lower trajectory creates less splash. And the new Tatula SV is designed for finesse tactics, like fishing on top with Little Pop Rs, or pitching weightless Senkos under docks. We weighted the spool with an internal brake. Line comes out quicker but rotation slow downs quicker, too. The main benefit is casting into the wind with our backlash. You can adjust the SV so the lure can hit the water without touching the reel and there will be no backlash.”
No backlash? Sounds like a real trend starter to me. “We told Al Lindner about it and he said, ‘No way,’” according to Arakawa. “Now there’s a YouTube video of Lindner throwing a lure against a wall with a Tatula SV and never touching the spool. No backlash. He was amazed by it.”
As the Tatula 100 attests, enhanced casting distance is another solid trend in reel manufacturing. “A lot of situations call for making long bomb casts,” Gustafson says. “I could be fishing topwaters in a big pad field up north or in Florida, for instance. The Shimano Curado DC 150XG bombs lures way out there and allows me to pick up line fast if I set the hook on a long cast and need to keep the fish’s head out of the grass and coming to the boat. Clear water environments call for long casts, too—and the new digitally-controlled braking systems on some of the Curado reels measure casts and control spool speed every 1/1000 of a second for maximum distance with less effort.”
Sometimes the need for long casts suggests a certain range of gear ratios. “The Revo EXD SHS has been designed for casting long distances,” Wheeler says. “It utilizes an ultra light-weight spool, and features a set of very low friction custom spool bearings (EXD bearings). Combine the long distance with the high-speed gear ratio, this reel is perfect for fishing over open water with a topwater, or open water fishing deep with a worm or jig, or just getting the lure well away from the boat in clear water.”
Another way to increase casting distance is to reduce friction. “At Daiwa we think of ourselves as innovators,” Arakawa says. “Our new T-Wing System is a prime example. We patented it and put it on all our high-end bait casting reels, including the Tatula and Zillion reels we mentioned. The ’T’ aperture allows line to flow freely through the wide top section, reducing the normally sharp angles and friction that slow line flowing through a narrow aperture when exiting the reel. Line comes off with far less friction. It’s already a proven feature consumers have accepted. The T-Wing System not only increases casting distance but accuracy as well.”
As rod-building materials get lighter and stronger, making reels lighter has become another trend. The Shimano Stradic CI 4 is a good-sized spinning reel that weighs only 6.7 ounces. The new Daiwa Tatula SV baitcaster we discussed weighs only 6.9 ounces. Both are examples of reels that now weigh ounces less than predecessors from just a few years ago.
Reels are becoming foolproof, technique-specific, long-cast machines made with lighter, stronger materials. But try to avoid the hype when buying a new one. With respect to gear ratios especially, choose a reel that complements your style, the techniques you employ, and the seasons you fish.
*In-Fisherman Field Editor and multispecies angler Matt Straw is a longtime contributor to In-Fisherman publications on bass and equipment topics.