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June 30, 2008

Small and Shifty

Tiny two-speed reels deliver big-league performance

When Accurate began making compact conventional reels, many anglers dismissed them as gimmicks. "A lot of guys saw them as small and cute," says Ben Secrest, Accurate's vice president of sales and marketing.

While some scoffed, others took these reels seriously and put them to the test. Fishermen began pursuing pelagics such as wahoo, yellowfin and even smallish marlin with toy-size tackle. "The premise 'small reels, big fish' gained wider acceptance as the gear became less cumbersome," Secrest says.
  
Manufacturers fueled the downsizing trend by developing lighter, stronger rods and midget reels with tough frames, improved drag systems and, now, two-speed capability. High gear proves ideal for working jigs or retrieving baits; shifting into low gear provides winching power to control strong, stubborn bottom dwellers such as amberjacks, yellowtails or groupers. "I also see lots  of anglers using our small two-speeds  for schoolie tuna up to 100 pounds, and a select group uses them for cow yellowfin off the West Coast. One angler landed a 256-pounder on an Accurate B2-870, which is really pushing the limits on that reel's design," Secrest says.

Full-Size Challenge
Tackle companies grapple with tremendous challenges when making Lilliputian two-speeds because avid anglers show no mercy for these reels. "I've had reports of guys using our TG- 15-II with 80-pound Spectra for tuna,"  says John Bretza, director of product development for Okuma. "Braided line has changed how we fish and the way  we design reels. Manufacturers keep working on ways to reduce reel size while maintaining strength and quality. Okuma is currently testing materials that are super strong and as corrosion resistant as marine-grade stainless steel."
 
Jeremy Sweet, product manager for Shimano reels, says topless frames (no crossbars) have gained popularity because they give anglers added line  control when live-baiting, dropping back and casting. Open frames must securely house spools built to take the high drag pressures afforded by superbraids. The Tyrnos has a die-cast aluminum frame  and graphite side plates covered with  aluminum braces.
 
"This design results in a strong frame with tighter tolerances and better rigidity than a graphite reel, but it's much lighter than a machined-aluminum reel," Sweet says. "Braids impose a need for tighter tolerances in reels because as line diameters get thinner, the gap between the spool lip and frame must be much smaller. But the spool still has to spin freely."
 
Secrest says Accurate continually works on designing stronger internal parts to handle the heavy drag forces the company's patented TwinDrag system can produce. "For example, the shifting mechanism needs to be strong yet small enough to fit in the compact side plate," he says. "We use heat-treated stainless steel to increase the tensile strength of these parts."

Gears and Ratios
Two-speed reels typically require that the angler push a button in the handle to shift between high and low gears. Not so with Tiburon Smart Shift models, which have a transmission that detects differences in pressure and automatically shifts gears according to the need for speed or power. A control that looks like a star-drag adjustment at the base of the handle allows anglers to set the precise amount of pressure that triggers the transmission to shift up or down - and the angler can change the setting at any time while  fighting fish.
 
Tiny two-speeds represent far more than shrunken models of larger offshore reels. Scaling down a reel's physical size obliges engineers to redesign the mechanics for optimum performance. While 50-pound-class reels typically feature high gear ratios of 3.1:1, the new generation of mini conventionals must spin its wheels a bit faster.
 
Most anglers consider gear ratio the ultimate factor in determining line pickup, but spool diameter dramatically affects  the amount of line retrieved with each turn of the handle. "The small spool  diameter of compact two-speeds forces us to employ gear ratios that produce reasonable line-retrieve rates," Bretza says. "Okuma offers a 4.7:1 ratio in high gear, a good compromise between power and speed that allows anglers to use these reels for many applications."
 
Tooth size varies with gear ratio, which is another reason Okuma chose a 4.7:1 ratio. "If we were to make this reel with high-speed gearing of 6.2:1, it would lose some cranking power and the smaller gear teeth would be weaker. Guaranteeing  adequate strength in high gear ratios requires a much larger gear box, which would defeat the purpose of a compact reel design," Bretza says.
 
Shimano takes a different approach, placing oversized drive and pinion gears in the Tyrnos series to produce both power and speed. "Our design results in a high gear ratio of 6:1," Sweet says. "It's faster than those traditionally available in two-speed reels, so you get the power of a low gear ratio while enjoying the rapid line pickup of a high gear ratio."

Kind of a Drag
Manufacturers have devised various solutions to the riddle of how to squeeze a premium drag into a midget reel's limited space. "Our TwinDrag system doubles  the drag's surface area because it has friction washers on both sides of the spool," says Accurate's David Nilsen. "It also distributes the load evenly rather than pressing on just one side of the spool, so you get a very smooth, very strong drag."
 
Okuma uses high-end carbon-fiber washers and a specially formulated drag grease from Cal's 2 Speed (www.cals2speed.com) that reduces start-up inertia, assures smoother perfor-mance and prevents water absorption. "Many anglers feel that applying grease diminishes a drag's maximum output," Bretza says. "Our Titus Gold two-speeds in sizes 10 and 15 generate 27 pounds of drag at the strike position while still retaining complete free-spool. That's a lot for such small reels, and it proves we can design wet drag systems that ensure appropriate pressures for any size reel."
 
Because of their smaller diameter, drag washers in compact reels offer less surface area to dissipate heat and create drag pressure; the larger washers in full-size reels typically prove more efficient. However, Sweet points out that dual drag-plate designs or multiple washers can compensate for these differences when necessary.

"Thanks to the advanced materials Shimano uses, we can 'over-engineer' our drags to remain smooth and consistent throughout the fight - even with heavy settings and braided lines," he says.

When Size Matters
Will we see the day when reels capable of 130-class performance come in packages the size of a 30? Don't hold your breath. Crews break out the heavy tackle when pursuing behemoth marlin, tuna or sharks. The amount of yardage these large game fish can burn off makes line capacity any reel's greatest weakness, and they would drain the spool on a compact two-speed in a hurry.
 
"The combination of a reel's drag  pressure and line capacity limits the size of fish you can target," Secrest says. Although some small two-speeds can produce 30 or more pounds of drag, they fall short on line capacity required to outlast truly large pelagics.
 
Sweet agrees that today's anglers can use smaller reels for many applications that traditionally called for bulky tackle; however, the need for generous line capacity still exists when targeting fish such as blue marlin.

"Manufacturers downsize two-speeds to offer more options," he says. "We have no intention of phasing out full-size reels."

Crafters of Compact Two-Speeds

Accurate
Corona, California
888-ACCU-372
www.accuratefishing.com

Avet
Chatsworth, California
877-487-4476
www.avetreels.com

Okuma
Ontario, California
800-GO-OKUMA
www.okumafishingteam.com

Shimano
Irvine, California
877-577-0600
http://fish.shimano.com

Tiburon
Santa Ana, California
714-546-7553
www.tiburonengineering.com