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October 26, 2001

Fight 'Em With Finesse

Light spinning reels work hard to make fishing fun for anglers who accept the challenge.

Any fish, many fish, big fish, challenging fish. So goes an expression describing the individual evolution of an angler who seeks experiences to match his developing skills. No longer novice anglers, most of us would grow bored if every cast drew a strike, and just because a fish is big doesn't necessarily mean it's difficult to catch. Fishermen looking to get more out of their time on the water often settle for less - in the form of smaller reels and lighter lines.

"We've found most light-tackle enthusiasts to be highly experienced anglers in search of the ultimate challenge," says Tim Austen, product manager for Mitchell. "You could say they're somewhat outside the norm, but they sure know how to fight fish."

Quantum brand manager Bob Bagby understands the appeal of featherweight spinning tackle. "The increased sensitivity of lighter reels makes them just plain fun to fish with," he says.

In order to produce scaled-down spinners that stand up to the rigors of working in the salt and taming strong, fast game fish, manufacturers face rather large challenges of their own. "Light reels tend to get a greater workout. The parts suffer more wear and tear because they usually have to turn faster than those on larger reels," says Austen. Most gears are made of bronze or other brass alloys; manufacturers tweak these metallurgical recipes to impart different qualities to specific components of the drive train, thus prolonging a reel's useful life. As Daiwa spokesman Mark Weintz explains, "When two gears mesh, the larger one exerts more force on the smaller. If they're made of the same metal, the small gear wears out more quickly."

Bailing Out
Anglers using 20-pound-class spinners place great importance on high retrieve ratios because they must recover line quickly when targeting dolphin, school tuna or other speedy quarry. Though fast pickup helps anglers maintain tight lines on species such as bonefish, rapid retrieve ratios also represent an important feature in light reels for another reason. Smaller spool diameter means less line-per-turn comes off the water compared to a larger-class reel with the same retrieve ratio. In other words, light spinning reels usually require more cranking. Bagby recommends retrieve ratios ranging from 5:1 to 6:1 to ease the chore of regaining line after the customarily long casts necessary in shallow-water fishing.

Similar to flyweight wrestlers, reel manufacturers strive to achieve lightness without sacrificing strength and durability. Since smaller spinning reels normally take less of a pounding than their larger, offshore-bound counterparts, thinner body material poses no threat to the equipment's integrity.

According to Bagby, bail damage tops the list as the most common problem in spinning reels. "Springs wear out or break, or the bail wire gets bent," he says. "Quantum Response Ti reels eliminate the problem of broken springs by eliminating springs entirely. A system of opposing magnets activates the bail, and unlike springs, magnets never wear out."

Another innovative feature in the Response Ti series: a nickel-titanium bail wire. "This light yet strong material has memory. You can bend the bail down against the reel and it pops back into its original shape," says Bagby.

The greatest challenge in light-tackle angling lies in knowing when (and how much) to pressure hooked fish and when to let them run. A dependable, silky-smooth drag dramatically increases chances of a happy ending to any battle. Downsizing a reel presents engineers with big-time headaches when it comes to designing drag systems. As surging fish pull off line, tiny spools spin quickly and generate friction. Heat then causes drag washers to expand and possibly increase pressure against the spool. While heavier lines can better withstand such hiccups, "slight variations in drag performance can break 4- or 6-pound test in a heartbeat," warns Bagby, explaining why manufacturers dedicate so much effort to developing drag disks that retain smoothness and rapidly dissipate heat.

Abu Garcia recently introduced a series of spinning reels designated "CD," built around a center-drag concept. Placing drag components behind the spool in the reel's midsection translates to benefits for the angler, who can easily adjust the drag without reaching around to the front of the reel. Product manager Jim McIntosh touts the CD as offering "the power and performance of a front drag with the convenience of a center drag." In a department where size truly matters, the CD's drag washers are about twice the size of those in comparable front-drag reels and four times as large as rear-drag washers. "The larger surface generates less heat and also dissipates that heat more efficiently," adds McIntosh.

As with any machine, top-flight performance ultimately depends on the pilot's skills. When fighting fish on light tackle, a near-zero margin for error amplifies minor mistakes to costly proportions. "If your reel has a high-quality drag but it's not set properly, you'll lose fish," cautions Weintz.

Spooling Around
Much more than a mere depository for storing line, the spool can affect certain capabilities of a spinning reel. Aluminum spools offer several advantages over graphite, including strength and lightness along with rapid heat dissipation - an important consideration in front-drag models since the spool contacts drag washers.

A spool's pedigree also affects casting. "The smooth, machined lip on an aluminum spool lets line flow freely and outperforms the imperfect lip on a molded graphite spool," says Bagby. Many manufacturers go one step further by coating spool lips with scratch-resistant metals such as titanium-nitride. This may seem unnecessary - until an imperfection in the spool nicks the light line and costs you a fish.

Daiwa led the attack on line twist, the ever-present enemy of all spinners that results in tangled and weakened line. Its Twist Buster system incorporates special line rollers that reduce twist by as much as 90 percent during retrieve. Now many other brands include twist-reduction technology on spinning reels.

Keep in mind that manufacturers offer various models designed for different price points. More expensive reels feature components machined (rather than molded) from high-quality material, ball bearings to maintain smooth operation and perfect alignment of moving parts, and other details such as twist-reduction systems or coated spool lips.

Accepting the light-tackle challenge also implies accepting certain responsibilities. Capt. John Kumiski (407-977-5207), who averages four trips per week in Florida's Indian River Lagoon, urges anglers to match tackle to targeted species and avoid exhausting fish to be released - especially when warm temperatures deplete oxygen levels in the water. His preferred outfit for 5- to 10-pound redfish consists of a Penn 4400SS and 20-pound-test Power Pro braided line tipped with a 4-foot fluorocarbon leader. "The braided line's diameter is equal to 8-pound mono, but the low stretch makes it much more sensitive," Kumiski says. "The higher breaking strength allows a tighter drag setting so even inexperienced clients can release sizeable fish without a prolonged fight."

While the exact definition of "light spinning tackle" may be open to debate, a more important question remains: Are you ready for the challenge?