Saturday, December 07, 2013

Old workhorses

Writing about my latest piking reels yesterday got me thinking about others I've used over the years. I am a bit of a reel nerd - as will become plain...

When I started pike fishing in earnest in 1982 my reels were the same Mitchell 300s I used for tench fishing and all my other legering needs. I wasn't alone. Most pikers at that time used the same reel, or the faster retrieve 410 - which I also owned, having bought a used one from a lad at school. In common with most pike anglers I was using 10lb mono, and the Mitchells coped well enough. Not least because most of my fishing was done on the local drains and canals where no long casts were required.

Gradually line strength increased to 15lb (Sylcast sorrel) and the reels still managed well enough at close range. However, a shift to fishing reservoirs saw me using ten pound mainline with a fifteen pound shock leader in order to get the required distance from my three ounce lead and sprat combo. In order to wind down quickly using the stretchy line I bought a fast retrieve Mitchell, the 810. This all served for a couple of years even though I dabbled with a bggger Mitchell 306 thinking that it's wider spool would make for longer casts. However, I found that the increased weight of this monster worked against me for some reason and I gained nothing.

Then everything changed. Shimano hit the UK market with their revolutionary Baitrunners. I saw them at a NASA conference in Reading and Eddie Turner and his flash southern mates were using them. They were out of my price range at the time, but the spools were a little larger than the Mitchell's and the reels quite lightweight thanks to the composite body material.

My regular piking companion at the time, Pete Hesketh, had been using Shakespeare reels ever since I met him. They weren't 'ultra cult' like the Mitchell, and one of them was a metallic blue colour! They did the job though, and the skirted spools on the front drag reels were larger than the Micthell spools. Around the same time the Baitrunner emerged other manufacturers were also switching from cast alloy reel bodies and introducing rear drags. Shakespeare was one of those companies.

Having moved on to Cumbrian lakes and Scottish lochs my main line was now 15lb by default, even when I needed to get a decent range. I was in the market for new reels. I drew up a shortlist that got whitled down to the Baitrunner 4500 and the Shakespeare Sigma Whisker Titan 060. Based on value for money the Shakespeare won out. I reasoned that I didn't need the baitrunnner feature, and saving around a third of the price made more sense. I bought one reel to try out.

In pre-Aero line lay days most reels made an untidy mess of spooling the line. The Shakespeare was no better or worse than any other. The spool was a bit smaller than the 4500 Baitrunner, but a bit larger than the 3500, and larger (physically and in capacity) than the Mitchell too. It wasn't long before I had four of these reels set up on my pike rods.

The gear ratio was just right for cranking baits in and for backwinding. The large wooden handle warm and easy to grip in the cold. The reels weren't too bulky or heavy and balanced nicely on the carbon rods I was just starting to use. And the reels gearing was smooth. Smoother than the Baitrunners.

There were a few novel features on the Whisker Titans. The bale arm had a switch which collapsed it for transport. In the days of three rod holdalls this was handy. The reels left on the rods fitted better in the holdall's pouches, and the fourth reel folded up neatly in the rucksack making it less prone to damage.

I was, and still am, a fan of reels where the handle is loosened for folding by simply turning it backwards rather than loosening a threaded nut on the opposite side. Those nuts can work loose and drop off. I also feel that the handle can be tightened more securely. Not least because it is tightened by winding it forward so should be less likely to work loose when fishing.

As a committed backwinder I found the anti-reverse system on the Whisker Titans most useful. Older reels like the Mitchells had noisy anti-reverses. When engaged the anti-reverse clicked loudly. Annoying. It did, however, alert you to the fact you couldn't backwind, so you could knock the anti-reverse off before a fish flat-rodded you. Baitrunners and other reels coming on stream at the time had silent anti-reverses. Great if you were a clutch user, but dodgy if you weren't. The Sigmas had a three position anti-reverse lever. Off - silent -and audible. The lever was also on top at the back where it was not only visible, but easy to get at. How good the drag system was for giving line I can't say. It did lock up good and tight though!


As I was still having to break one rod down without a reel in the holdall the push button spools were more convenient than the front drags on the Baitrunners. They had another neat feature too. While Shimano and others still supply washers to place under their spools in order to adjust line lay slightly by bunching it towards the back of the spool, the Whisker Titan spools had a 'Skill Cast Control' where the drag knob would have been. By turning it one way or the other the spool was pushed forward or backward on the spindle to perform the same function as washers on other reels. The adjustment wasn't much, but it did make a difference. I doubt it made much difference to casting in reality though.

I can't remember how long my four Whisker Titans were in regular use for. It was a good number of years, and a few of my friends bought and used them too. Hence me writing my name on the reel feet!

Being a reel addict other reels have been attached to my pike rods for various reasons. When the first big pits appeared I got some for my reservoir fishing and the Sigmas took a back seat being used mostly for boat fishing - one reeled in my PB. When I returned to drain piking I had three Aero Baitrunners which I'd bought for tench and carp fishing so I used them. They never felt robust enough to me, nor smooth enough when backwinding, so I dug the Titans out again. By now they were loaded with 50lb Power Pro rather than 15lb Sylcast or Big Game and performed equally flawlessly. Only a couple of winters back they were still in use when I returned to my local drains until I switched first to my Aero Baitrunners and then my Baitrunner Bs.

To be honest the only reason they are in retirement again is because they lack the one feature I find indispensable on a reel that is to be used on rods which are used with braid and broken down and carried in a quiver. Infinite ant-reverse. With mono this lack isn't a problem as rigs are held in tension by the stretch in the line. They don't drop off the rods in transit and attach themselves to bankside trees! With braided line it's difficult to adjust the tension, even by turning the spool against the drag (which always seems to have some play in it), sufficiently to ensure such mishaps never occur. Instant anti-reverse compensates for the lack of stretch.

If the Sigmas had IAR and better line lay they'd be pretty near a perfect pike reel for close to medium range fishing. One thing is for sure. Despite the use and abuse these reels have had over the years (one fell off a rod rest and smashed the plastic part of the bale arm - superglue still holds that together) they are still in excellent working order and at least as smooth as some less-used Aero Baitrunners I have bought more recently.

I can't bring myself to part with these four old workhorses. Not only because of the memories they hold, but because they might have another lease of life yet. You never know!