Slow reels are scarce, but useful in bass fishing

High-speed reels rule bass fishing, but there are situations when slow reels are better.

Unfortunately, slow reels are scarce and probably headed for extinction.

Ironically, I introduced the high-speed reel to the bass fishing world in 1997 in a pair of articles I wrote for Bassmaster magazine about trophy bass fishing with Oklahoma guide Chuck Justice and about swimming jigs with trophy bass specialist Mitch Looper of Hackett. The latter article also introduced the swimming jig to the bass fishing world, but the centerpiece to both anglers’ tactics was Daiwa’s PT33SH baitcaster. Its 7.1:1 gear ratio was the fastest in the industry at that time.

Now, everyone makes reels in that class and faster to accommodate the demands of power anglers.

Power fishing is loosely defined as repetitive casts from multiple angles to keep baits moving constantly. The faster the reel, the faster you can retrieve to make another cast.

Speed is not appropriate for every situation, and it can sometimes be counterproductive. Deep-diving crankbaits are examples.

Bobby Dennis, one of America’s great lure designers, is vice president of the company that owns Luck-E-Strike lures. He said that a deep-diving crankbait must go slow to reach its maximum depth. Crankbait specialists like former Bassmaster Classic champion David Fritts say that crankbaits also exhibit their best actions at slow speed, and that requires a reel with a 5.1:1 or 5.3:1 gear ratio.

For a short time in the early 1990s, Quantum produced a 4.6:1 crankbait reel. It was fantastic for its intended application, but it sold poorly because that was the dawn of the power fishing age. The standard then was 5.1:1, but anglers wanted faster reels, not slower, and slow reels were ineffective for power fishing techniques.

Lure speed wasn’t the issue at that time, though. The tactics Justice and Looper used targeted double-digit largemouths, and reels in the 5:1 range were too slow to subdue and manage big fish. Looper said he seldom landed big bass with the swimming jig until 6.3:1 reels became available.

The Daiwa PT333SH enabled Looper and Justice to extract the full potential of their techniques.

While most of my new reels are burners, I still have an assortment of ancient plodders that are falling, one by one, into disrepair. My dedicated reel for deep-diving crankbaits was, until recently, a 1995 Quantum 1311MG. It’s a left-handed model that Quantum sent me when I did an article for Southern Outdoors that introduced the left-handed baitcaster to the fishing world. One of my sources for that piece was an up-andcomer named Kevin VanDam, but I omitted his comments.

I have a history of that sort of thing, like the time I canceled a trip to the 1993 Bassmaster Classic where I was to be the press observer for an obscure BASS Federation qualifier from Connecticut named Bryan Kerchal. He finished last in that Classic, but he won it the next year and died in a plane crash shortly after.

Anyway, I visited a big retailer last week and asked the kid running the counter for a 5.1:1 reel or slower.

“Why do you want something that slow?” he asked.

“Deep-diving crankbaits on a 7-foot fiberglass rod,” I replied. “It’s a magic combination.”

I explained the whole gig to him, but he didn’t believe a word I said.

He did, however, indulge me with a delightful Abu Garcia Orra Winch in that speed. I like it better than the 1311MG and Quantum Iron IR3CL of the same vintage because its low profile is easier to cast.

Speed is also inappropriate when fishing jigs or soft plastics on the bottom with finesse presentations. A fast reel can take up 30 or more inches of line with one crank, and that’s too fast when fish are finicky. In that situation, a lure needs to move an inch or less at a time.

I watched Aaron Martens fish such a technique at Lake Dardanelle in 2006. He merely tapped his reel handle with one finger to move his bait, and he caught multiple fish that way under the pavilion at Lake Dardanelle State Park.

Fast reels enable bass anglers to employ a lot more tactics than in days past, but sometimes conditions call for tactics from days past.

That’s when it pays to gear it down.

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