For the last 30-plus years you can’t talk about reels without the mention of Shimano. Shimano reels are known as some of the best designed and manufactured reels in the world. But back in the mid-70s, all they were really known for was bicycle gear and the fact their name was pressed into the side of the ever-famous Lew’s BB1 Speed Spool. Their entry into the fishing industry would change not only the face of angling but also the face of another reel company, Lew Childre and Sons.
In the early 70s tackle designer Lew Childre had already made his mark on the industry by developing a number of concepts and tools for the angler. He played a part in the development and marketing of ceramic guides and also changed the design of the heavy, not-so-sensitive pistol grip casting handle.
His next venture was into reels. First he started off by making high-speed gears for the ABU, Daiwa and DAM Quick casting reels. Then, around the 1974 timeframe, he set out to develop his own reel full of new concepts to help the angler fish more effectively. To do this, he went to Shimano Corporation of Japan and pitched the idea to make a new-concept reel for his company. The Lew’s BB1 Speed Spool was born.
Then in 1977 rumors started circulating around the industry that Lew’s was coming out with a BB0 version of the now widely-accepted reel. The BB1 cast better than the contemporary ABUs of the time but Childre wanted something that would cast smaller baits more efficiently and handle light lines without the line slipping behind the spool. His BB0 was the idea to solve all of that. Anglers waited patiently for the reel to be made.
By early 1978 there was still no word on when the new smaller Speed Spool was coming out. Rumor had it the idea had been scrapped and also that Childre and Shimano had parted ways. Then news broke that Shimano Corporation was entering the market with a new reel that could handle light line and weighed less than any other reel on the market.
The rumor turned to realization that summer when Shimano debuted their new reel at the AFTMA show, now called ICAST. The reel was the Shimano Bantam 100. It would be released in the fall of 1978 to the masses.
Although the reel obviously had a number of design concepts taken from Lew Childre, it was still an amazing reel. For those of us in the West, who fished a lot of light line on casting gear, we could spool up with 6-pound test and not have to worry about the line going behind the spool. The drag system was markedly better than the competing ABUs and other reels and it also cast more efficiently and with more ease than any other reel, minus the Speed Spool itself.
Although Shimano may have gotten their start in the industry through Lew Childre, and that start may not have been the best for Childre in the end, they have become one of the best reel companies the world has to offer. Their attention to the finest detail has put them in a class not matched by many. And it all started with the Bantam 100.