I doubt there’s another tool available to fishermen that’s responsible for them practicing their profanity more than the level wind casting reel.
That’s as true today and it was when I first got into fishing. Today’s top reels are terrific angling tools. You should have seen what I started with way back in the mid 1930s. I cut my fishing teeth at a time when all we had to work with were the old fashioned knuckle-busters.
The handles on those early day reels were called “knuckle-busters” for a good reason. The handles on the darn things revolved backwards as your line peeled off of the reel when you made a cast.
I doubt present-day fishermen even realize what wondrous tools the reels available today really are. Perhaps the only way you could fully appreciate them is to have learned, as I did, on the older types we had back there more than half a century ago
But super tools that they are, I stick by my opening comment: No single tool used by fishermen causes so much misery as the level wind reel.
That is, of course, unless you happen to be that uncommon individual who realizes practice is the key to learning how to do or use almost anything. Anyone can learn to use the level wind reel, but most make it far more difficult than need be. I’ll attempt to tell you how to eliminate many of those headaches.
In the first place, don’t expect me to start by recommending screwing down every tension device your reel has so it’s impossible to backlash. I realize it’s possible to do that, but I don’t recommend it.
If you weren’t interested in improving your casting technique, you wouldn’t be reading this story. The key, as I’ve already pointed out, is practice. From day one the most important tool you’ll learn how to use in working with the level wind reel is your thumb.
Don’t depend on some mechanical marvel to eliminate your backlashes. Train your thumb. There’s only one way to do that and it’s through practice.
Let’s suppose you’ve just purchased the finest knife money can buy. It’s a thing of beauty designed for one purpose. That purpose is to cut. Now before you ever use this expensive knife you walk over to a metal fence and dull its blade before you use it by stroking it against the fence.
Nobody would be a big enough dummy to do something like that. Yet in effect that’s exactly what you’re doing when you tighten down all of the tension devices on a brand new level wind reel. That reel might have a half dozen ball bearings, a special spool and all the other goodies that many of today’s reels have.
Those bearings and whatever else it has are designed to make the reel smooth and fast. So are you going to “dull” it by tightening down the tension devices before you make your first cast? I hope not.
I heard the same question time after time during the many years I was giving casting demonstrations at major outdoor shows around the world. The question often came after I’d flipped a practice casting weight into a coffee cup 20 to 30 feet away.
Invariably that question went something like this: “Mister, what kind of a reel are you using that lets you achieve that kind of accuracy? You hit that cup and all the effort it took was a flick of the wrist.”
If you’d had opportunity to look at the reels I was using, you’d have found they had the usual tension devices. They had an anti-backlash device as well as adjustable spool tension. If I used the anti-backlash device at all it was set very light.
I set my spool tension so light there was just a hint of side-to-side movement in the spool if I use my thumb to push the spool from side to side. It’s this kind of free-wheeling that enables your reel to perform at its best. It’s also the setting that will permit you to fire a plug out there accurately and with minimum effort. But you’re not going to do it without practice.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t use your spool tension control and the magnetic anti-backlash device as you learn. Read carefully what the maker of the reel has to say about this. What I do want to you to realize going in is that regardless of advertising baloney you may have read, when you use those controls you’ll sacrifice casting efficiency.
Most reel makers say you should set your controls so a weight drops slowly when you take your thumb off the spool and so the spool stops turning as soon as the plug hits the ground.
That’s all right for starters, but strive to train your thumb so you can depend on it to run things. No better anti-backlash device was ever designed than the thumb the Good Lord hung on your hand when you came into this world.
I’m convinced spinning became so popular almost overnight because most fishermen just weren’t willing to practice enough with a level wind reel to really learn how to use it.
I’ve had fishermen tell me they don’t need to learn how to use a level wind reel. “I get by just fine with my spinning reels,” they say. That’s all right with me, but the fishermen who take this route are denying themselves use of a splendid fishing tool that does many jobs better than anything else you can get your hands on.
In my casting presentations I often compare today’s fishing to playing golf. A golfer could go out and play a round armed only with a putter and a driver. But he wouldn’t enjoy it and his score would be lousy.
That’s exactly what a fisherman is doing when he limits himself to a spinning outfit. Why handicap yourself? The fish make it tough enough without you helping them by not learning how to use the tools available to you.
I’ll have more thoughts to share about level wind casting reels in my next column.