Fishing reels are the bomb! They are the sexiest, coolest, most expensive things we as anglers can spend our money on when it comes to consumables. We wait for them to come out, love them to death when they do, dream about them at night and look after them better then our own kids (so it would seem if you ask the other half)!
Most of what we know about them, is that they need to look cool, feel smooth, last ages and not die. Easier said then done!
Let look at what makes a good threadline (spinning) reel.
By now you should know that I don’t really care for what a reel looks like – as long as it works. Hey, if it happens to look good as well, I’m not going to hold that against it! But, if they (the manufactures) are cutting corners and sacrificing the internals for a better looking outside…Huston, we have a problem!
What’s the first thing you do what you pick up a reel – you turn the handle. So what are you doing that for? Probably to feel how it ‘feels’!? So the bits that make this happen are the gears and bearings and this is where I’d like to start.
Gears – The gears are an integral part of any fishing reel and they are they are mostly made of various types of brasses, alloy’s and stainless steals. These materials need to work together in order to be smooth. Yes its also how they’re cut/pressed that brings the smoothness but the materials that make the gears need to ‘gel’ together to work as a team whilst trying to cheating the evil that is electrolysis.
Modern machines have given the ability to almost all reel manufactures to cut a set of gears that feel good straight out of the box so not a lot can go to wrong in this department.
Some manufacture get super hi grade alloys made with multiple elements and work them with multi million dollar machine and others rely on the brute force of drop forging to create state of the art gears. Regardless of what they do, if you’re pushing some reasonable cash into a reel these days, you can bet your backside that the gears are state of the art. Nothing like they where 20 years ago! So in the big scheme of things, gears are the least of your worries!
Bearing – These are generally the first and sometime only thing that will give-way in your reel. Its the nature of there position and composition that leads them to fail. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for corrosion resistant bearings – after all, they are the single biggest advancement in reel technology in the last 30 years! But try as they might to make this problem go away, it’s sort of suck around!
But in saying that, they are now 10 times more resistant and also last a little longer. These bearing have always been around it just we haven’t used them. Do you think that the space shuttle runs on .52c bearings? No!
Thanks to our good friend chromium (the element in stainless steel that makes it not rust) we now have bearing that can take the odd drink of salt water and live to tell the tail! The thing is, inside a ball race are tiny ball bearings that try as they might, hate saltwater and will rust if you let them. The key is here, if you want your reel to stay sounding and feeling like an Al Green record (smoooooth), keep it out of the water! It only takes 1 second once in its life and it can be the end of your $500 beauty! And, AND!!! Just because you just bought it doesn’t make it indestructible.
Gear Case – This is where the last 10 years has been spent by reel designers. Stiffening up the gear case. Why? Because someone worked out that you can have the best gears, the best bearings but if you can’t keep them all inline, then you’ll get wear issues.
As humans we pull faster and harder than we push (fellas…keep it clean). So it makes sense that on a circular motion which is the handle turning around, we apply more weight and faster speeds in the bottom half of the handle swing. More so, the 2 o’clock to 7 o’clock position. What this was doing is flexing out the body of the reel in the area that the main gear was held (either side of the handle) and impacting on the way the gears meshed. Essentially, wearing out one side of the main gear. This is evident on large spin reels that are constantly put under pressure as when they are wound, you can hear the gears turning with a ‘werrring’ sound.
So at this point, reel designers started looking at ways to lock all this up and keep it tight – the answer was to make the body’s and or the gear case out of metal. So in a full circle affect, we’ve gone back to where it all started 100 years ago. Some have been a little trickier than others and mixed the two (graphite and metal) and some have used a non-metal material that’s as stiff as metal to make a super light yet very rigid body/case combo.
Drag System – This is the most important yet vastly underrated part of any threadline reel. A smooth drag means much less pressure spikes on your knots which is of course where it’s a make or brake! Most (not all) better quality reels will employ one or more carbon washer to the stack. These carbon washers are very slippery under load against steel washers so its a no brainer as to why they are their! One thing to look for is water proof seals in the drag system. This keep out most of the water and will protect your drag. Drags use compression to create friction – you cant compress water. Water should never be in your drag system. The seals will not keep out all water ever more so when they are hot. A hot drag will want to pull water in from the outside, dragging it past the seals. Remember this at the end of a long hot fight – don’t stick your reel in the tide! No amount of seals will stop the water!!
Reels are getting better every year and the price of them for what you get is also getting better each time a new series comes out. The wash down of the high spec reels means that a mid priced reels is as good as the top shelf 10 years ago. Look forward to more of this in the future and better, longer lasting gear.