My primary topwater reel is considered by some to be….well, ostentatious. I use a Van Staal 100g. However, I have a really good reason for using it. Luckily, about five years ago, I stole a used one on Ebay for not much more than a Stradic. When I started using it, I initially wasn’t impressed. It was heavy, not as smooth as some reels with plastic parts, and it normally makes a kind of grinding noise that is a little disturbing. But it has a great drag, and has massive capacity, making it a great reel for redfish. It casts particularly well, and that helps because long casts in shallow water are essential. It also has a manual bail. That didn’t bother me much, as I used one as a kid, and after about thirty minutes of practicing, I was probably starting retrieves faster with the manual bail.
As I continued to use the reel, I noticed something. I never got wind knots or tangles with braid. I don’t mean rarely, I mean NEVER. I have now used that Van Staal as my primary topwater reel for five years….and I have never once had a knot in the 10 pound Power Pro I use. To me, it was clear that the difference was the lack of a bail. This was supported last year when Jeff Weakly wrote an article in Florida Sportsman documenting that it was the automatic bail that causes many tangles as it may cause a small area of loosely packed line, depending on where the bail is when it closes and the tautness of the line. Many of us have known this for years; when using an automatic bail reel, I either put tension on the line and flip the bail manually, or make sure I give the line a pull after the bail closes to tighten up the first loop.
The problem is that Van Staals cost a lot of money. I have to say I would never buy a new one, but there weren’t any manual bail alternatives. However, recently Shimano has come out with two manual bail conversions for the Spheros B series reels, one for the 5000-8000 reels, and one for the much larger 10000 and above reels. These, like the Van Staal reels, are made primarily for surfcasting. I discussed this with Ron Barwick, of Half Hitch Tackle (http://www.halfhitch.com/), and he decided he would try and modify the conversion so it would work on a 3000 size reel, the size I use most frequently. Ron sent me the reel this week for a try-out.
When I first picked up the reel, which was loaded with 20 pound Power Pro, it had a noticable wobble, which he had warned me about. Although it appeared pretty significant, when mounted on a rod and during use it was unnoticeable. The reel is considerably lighter than the Van Staal. It casts equally well, even with line heavier than I usually use. Because I am used to using the pickup on the Van Staal, I was particularly interested to try out the Spheros. Being able to reach down blindly and catch the line with your index finger after the cast is essential for smooth use of a manual bail. The spool is just a bit further away from the reel seat with the Spheros, but I could still relatively easily reach it, then pull the line toward the reel as I begin reeling, which catches the line in the roller. Once the line is in the roller, there is no difference between fishing with a manual or automatic bail reel.
Capt. Tommy Thompson and I fished along a shoreline looking for some redfish this morning. He was fishing with some Sebile lures he had been given to try out, and I was using the Spheros with a Rapala Subsurface Walker. Although we were only able to fish for an hour or so, we did locate some redfish and the reel performed perfectly.
While it takes a little practice to become proficient with a manual bail, it is well worth learning to use to avoid braid tangles and additionally the frequent repair costs for bail springs and bail mechanisms, which are the commonest parts needing repair on spinning reels.