Some revolutions get started in a hurry and proceed at a blistering pace while others require a heavy hand and strong, slow grinding to accomplish the objective. This is no lesson in political science; we're talking about the revolutions your reel handle makes as you retrieve lures and fight fish!
Tackle manufacturers view handles as much more than simple add-ons to a reel. "We invest in research and innovation regarding handle lengths, configurations and grips because it's the part the angler touches and interacts with most," says Jeremy Sweet, reel product manager at Shimano.
The proper handle can make for an enjoyable angling experience, but using the wrong handle can bring misery and frustration. "Anglers should understand that different handles perform best in different situations," says Ben Secrest, sales manager for Accurate.
Length and Strength
In terms of handle shanks, the basic choice comes down to long and strong or short and speedy. On many reel designs, anglers can change handles to maximize retrieve speed with a short-throw handle or use a longer one for greater power. Shorter handles often deliver a faster retrieve because the decreased radius makes the "cranking circle" smaller, allowing an angler to complete each revolution in less time. Longer handles turn more slowly but generate more leverage and torque.
Some reels, such as Accurate's Boss series, feature two-holed handles for versatility. Attach the shank by the outside hole for torque; use the inside hole for a speedier retrieve. "The reel's gear ratio also comes into play," Secrest explains. "A 4:1 with the long handle delivers great power while a 6:1 with the short handle gets very fast. Different handle lengths change a reel's dynamics; you can alter the rate of line recovery even though the gear ratio stays the same. A short-throw handle on a high-gear ratio makes for a faster working reel. Put a long handle on a high-gear ratio and you can actually slow down the retrieve because your hand describes a larger circle when winding."
The Penn International Torque also features a handle that can be mounted in two positions. "A longer crank gives your hand more leverage for turning the gears," says Steve Macri, quality assurance director for Penn. "But on a reel like the Torque, with a 6.2:1 gear ratio, you may want that extra power because high-speed gears combined with a short-throw handle can make it difficult to turn the cogs. It's like putting a bicycle in high gear and trying to pedal uphill. You need a power setting to provide the necessary torque to turn the wheels."
Have you ever seen an angler cradle the side plate of a straight-handled reel against his left arm in an attempt to prevent the rod and reel from rocking back and forth while cranking?
"An offset shank has a bend that places the grip closer to the spool. This configuration changes the 'center of gravity' of the winding motion, which makes the reel feel smoother," Sweet says.
The farther the grip lies from the spool's center, the more the reel moves from side to side as the handle turns. The unwanted motion represents wasted energy and robs efficiency from the angler's efforts. "An offset shank brings your hand closer to center and reduces reel wobble," Secrest says. "Instead of fighting the tackle, you gain comfort, leverage and control. This helps you put a huge amount of pressure on fish."
Counterbalanced handles carry a weight on the end of the shank to offset the knob's heft. "You can spin it faster and smoother than a regular handle," says Jason Fulton, Accurate's California rep. "The counterbalance pulls down as you bring the handle up on the back half of the revolution and vice versa. It levels out the effort of cranking and eliminates the downhill/uphill feel."
According to Secrest, a counterweight evens out the inertia at each end of the shank and diminishes wobble. "Handles tend to wobble more when turning quickly, similar to an off-balance car wheel. You don't notice anything while driving around town but feel a shimmy at highway velocities. A counterbalanced handle eliminates that dead zone; it gives you fluid inertia at high speeds," he says.
Why the concern about doing away with the wobble incurred by winding? As Sweet says, wobble becomes an uncomfortable inconvenience that can cause loss of sensitivity to strikes. "Reducing wobble can reduce angler fatigue," he says. "Counterbalanced handles work well for plugging and other situations that call for constant casting and retrieving."
Get a Grip!
Look at any collection of reels and you'll notice the knobs, or grips, come in a variety of sizes and styles. Offshore reels feature ergonomically designed grips that fit the hand and remain comfortable during long, hard battles. For instance, Accurate's Boss series sports a large, round knob of machined aluminum. Hollowed out to shed weight, this kind of knob offers an advantage besides comfort and ease of use. "The hollow knobs are so light we can put large, comfy grips on small reels without throwing them off balance," Secrest says. "A heavier knob would try to twist the rod as you held it."
Manufacturers match grips to reel sizes and typical workloads. Shimano puts small paddle grips on light-duty spinning reels; midrange spinners have oversized paddles that provide more surface area for applying pressure when fighting redfish and trout. Offshore models have egg-shaped grips that reduce blisters and deliver more power because the entire palm pushes the handle rather than just the fingertips.
As an example, Sweet cites the Trinidad's ergonomic power handle: "It fills the angler's palm, is easy to grab quickly and offers more power and comfort than a traditional T handle."
A comfortable, well-designed grip helps transfer energy efficiently while reducing fatigue and blistering. "Our new offset ergonomic power grip is shaped like a pistol grip to fill the hand, holding one finger above the shaft and three below. I tested that grip on a Tiagra 130A while fighting bluefin tuna in North Carolina," Sweet recalls. On that trip it took Sweet 40 minutes to land a 300-pound fish on a reel with an old-style grip. "I was sore and fatigued; my arms felt tight afterward - in other words, exactly how you'd expect to feel after a tough fight. The next day I caught a 700-pounder on the new grip. I landed it in the same amount of time with no arm fatigue or cramping."
It makes sense to take good care of these all-important reel components. "Penn builds handles with high-quality material, including the handle shaft," Macri says. "This is a piece of strong brass on which the knob spins. Keep it well lubricated and the handle will last forever. Most of our handles have a small port for adding lubricant."
Manufacturers put more effort than you realize into designing handle shanks and grips. They know the reel handle directly affects the outcome of your next battle with a fish - or, in other words, how it all winds up.