Featuring the First Palming Plate and a Disengaging Level-Wind

Lew’s Speed Spool ad from 1977

If you saw the title phrase in a magazine reel advertisement today, you’d more than likely say, “So?” But, if you were reading that advertisement in say, 1976, you’d not only be intrigued but pumped by the fact that the company had taken steps to increase your casting distance and make the reel more ergonomic (I don’t even think the study of ergonomics was around in 1976) for the angler.

Up until the mid-70s, casting reels were heavy, featured the spool-tension knob on the sideplate opposing the handle (I could have said left sideplate but I wanted to respect you wrong-handed casters) and some, like the Ambassadeur 5000, didn’t even have bearings but brass bushings. At that time, the popular baitcasting manufacturers were Ambassadeur (ABU-Garcia), Diawa (the Millionaire series), Shakespeare and Pflueger with the most popular, in terms ruggedness and castability, being the first mentioned.

The deal was everyone used them with confidence and pride because there was no other benchmark in which baitcasting reels were judged. Ignorance is bliss.

That all changed in the mid-70s when Lew Childre turned the baitcasting reel industry on its ear with the new Lew’s Speed Spool. I remember the first time I saw one in a tackle store – the reel looked goofy, almost like half a reel due to the fact the left sideplate had no spool-tension knob on it. It also had a strange shape that, unbeknownst to me, was actually a design feature to improve casting distance.

So, what did the new reel offer compared to the old standbys and why was it so earth shattering?

1976 Bass Pro Shops ad for the Lew’s Speed Spool.

As stated earlier, the reel was the first to offer a handle-side spool-tension knob, which allowed the overall reel width to be decreased significantly. This may seem like a minor adjustment to today’s anglers but it was the foundation of all future reel designs to come. It allowed anglers to more comfortably palm their reels, which resulted in less hand fatigue over the course of a day’s fishing.

The second breakthrough this reel possessed was the disengaging level-wind. Childre was obsessed with designing a reel that would cast further than any other reel on the market. He knew that moving parts create friction and therefore by designing the reel so the level-wind didn’t move back and forth during the cast would decrease distance-hogging friction and result in longer casts.

The third advance was the line-guide itself. Childre, who played a major role in the design of the then-new Fuji ceramic guides, decided that if these guides would increase cast length by placing them on a rod, it should do the same if using one as the line-guide on a level-wind. Childre also located the line-guide as far away from the spool as possible, thus decreasing even more friction during the cast (and the reason for its strange shape).

The fourth major contribution this reel presented was the fact that it was low-profile. Although the height of the reel was the same as its counterparts, the reel foot was placed higher towards the centerline of the reel in order for it to sit lower on the rod. Another ergonomic aspect that many anglers didn’t notice until they fished it.

The Lew’s Speed Spool also offered a larger drag surface-area, which drastically increased drag smoothness and nearly solved the problem of drag stick, a problem that the competition had always fought. Childre also placed the best enclosed bearings (2) that could affordably be placed in a reel at the time and rounded out the reel with a paddle-style power handle instead of the small single-knob handles that were standard on the competition’s reels of the time.

To today’s angler, these improvements may not seem to be a big deal but at the time they spawned a revolution in the reel industry. So much so that Shimano, the original equipment manufacturer of the Speed Spool, broke ties with Lew Childre and Son’s to embark on a new venture in 1977 to introduce their own Bantam line of fishing reels. At that time, Shimano had only been a manufacturer of high-end bicycle parts.

If one compares today’s reels to the Speed Spool of 1976, there are few differences. In fact, every reel produced today has each of the features the Speed Spool introduced. Only the incorporation of more bearings, magnets and even electronic braking systems are the only deviations from the original design.

Over the years I owned more than a dozen of the BB1 Speed Spools. Unfortunately, as I replaced them with more state-of-the-art reels, I gave them away to friends, as parts reels, or collectors. I wish I had kept one of them just for posterity as they were truly a groundbreaking piece of equipment.

  • paul wallace

    After using Shimano Curados for years and then trying to fish with an old ROUND reel [garcia 5500] it feels like holding on to a refrigerator. The 5500 felt fine when it was all I had, but man it’s hard to go back and get that comfortable feeling with it again. Never owned a Lews reel but sure did own a few Speed Sticks. LOL
    Paul

  • Watt

    Loved ’em so much I still fish Lews! Heh! Somewhere around here buried with Lucky 13s etc., I have a couple. It’s funny though, the switch from a 5500C to a BB1 held me in good stead for switching back and forth from my new Lews to my old Calcuttas I still fish with. I throw all my big swimbaits, A-rigs, big worms, big Senkos et al on 150 and 250 Calcuttas and everything else on Lews. Of course the youngsters laugh at my old school ways. Until weigh-in! 😉

    The Lews rods drove me crazy. That screw in reel seat always broke on big fish but it was the first composite graphite out there. Childre was a bigtime innovator. Even though the new reels are made somewhere else they still have the same feel as the old BB1s. Can’t beat the price for what you get with a stick. I just chuckle while I watch my son fish out a backlash in heavy wind on his $300 Shimanos.

    I have to admit that I did abandon Lews when Shimano came out with the Bantams. What can I say? When a brand new reel company gives you stuff for free you take it! 😮

  • “Childre… ;;;rounded out the reel with a paddle-style power handle instead of the small single-knob handles that were standard on the competition’s reels of the time.”

    While the handles were small on the competition, only Penn’s entry into the bass casting reel market came with a single knob handle. Complete with a counterweight on the opposing side.

    A side note about the BB1 and BB2. The later was the same reel, but with a “ruby” level wind guide, a higher price tag, and a “Lifetime Guarantee”. The fine print disclosed that the guarantee was for the “personal lifetime of Mr. Lew Childre.” He passed on in ’77.

    • Jojo Norwood.

      My first 5500C had a single grip handle that had a “counter” wieght on it. Came in a leather box too.

  • Watt

    Mine too. “Gator Grips” were my friends! 😮

  • paul wallace

    HA HA I put gator grips on my 5500c too. I got mine after my dad bought it for a canadian trip that didn’t happen. It was just laying around so one day I picked it up and started playing with it in the back yard. {early to mid 70’s} It was on a 5′ 6″ Heddon Musky Special. Man I wore some bass out on that combo. LOL
    Paul

  • In my youth I used the Shimano Bantam reels – and war down several 100 – 100 EX – 200 reels – These “standard reels” of the 80´s was a – development of Lew´s famous Speed Spool reels. As many might know the Speed Spool reels was initially produced by Shimano – that also did a exact copy of Lew´s reel that they sold in Japan – I could not afford to buy the Speed Spool reel when I was a young angler and only saw the reel ones in a store in Copenhagen (Denmark) – Later in my 40´s I bought them – I was also lucky to find a Lifetime version of the BB-1 reel with the ruby-red line-guard… It is rare to find information on Lew Childre and his reels – It´s a shame and I encourage US anglers to document the history of Lew Childre one of the greatest modern real designers…
    Tight lines Jesper