Magnetic baitcasters, overheads and the Rod Bolton conversion
  |  First Published: July 2003

USING magnets to control the spool of baitcasters and overhead fishing reels is not a new concept. The eddy current brake principle was first incorporated into a reel in the late 1930s by the Ocean City Reel Company. They used alnico magnets and a copper disc on the side of the spool, and a lever adjusted the distance between the magnets and the copper disc. The closer the magnets were to the disc the more the braking effect, and the further the magnets were away from the disc the less braking effect.

Both Abu and Daiwa have had magnetically controlled reels on the market over the years, but it was the introduction of neodymium rare earth magnets that changed the whole concept of magnets in fishing reels. Abu, Daiwa and Penn all made use of these new magnets in production reels with their Mag Elites, (Abu), Millionaires (Daiwa) and the two versions of the 525s (Penn). Abu and Penn got it right with external controls for the magnets, but Millionaire’s adjustment is internal and not really user-friendly.

Penn produced two magnetically controlled 525 reels, one with a sliding adjustment to move the magnets and the other with a single knob. These are known as the ‘slidey’ and ‘knobby’ respectively.

The 525 knobby, which was made in the UK, was the brainchild of Neil Mackellow, a past world distance record holder, and was aimed squarely at the tournament boys. It wasn’t long before someone came up with a modification whereby a normal centrifugally braked Abu could be converted to a knobby magnetic controlled reel, and this is where the tournament scene is right now.

I had better digress here and explain, to those who don’t know, why a magnetically controlled reel is superior to a centrifugally braked one.

A centrifugally braked reel is tuned by using specific viscosity oil in the bearings combined with a specific brake block combination and specific line level on the spool. This tuning is done so that under normal conditions the maximum distance cast can be made without touching the spool until the lure/sinker impacts with the water. If an overrun occurs, higher viscosity oil has to be put in the bearings and/or larger brake blocks fitted and/or line removed from the spool.

On a magnetically controlled reel the tuning is done in the same way so the reel casts, thumb free, when the magnets are between fully on and fully off.

OK, so your centrifugally braked reel is tuned to behave perfectly under normal conditions. Off you go fishing, but once at the venue you find that there’s a headwind and every cast results in an overrun. You have to re-tune but the only practical adjustment that can be made in the field is to change the brake blocks. Not too bad in a boat, but fraught with problems on the beach.

With a magnetically controlled reel all you’d have to do in the headwind scenario is screw the control knob to move the magnets nearer the spool. Regardless of weather conditions or weight of lure/sinker, the reel can be instantly tuned to give optimum no-hands casting performance.


Until now the only way you could convert your reel to magnetic control was to send it to the UK or America for magnets to be fitted. In fact, if your Abu is a classic (knobs on both side plates) that is still the only option. However, with palming reels 4, 5 and 6000 sizes there is now a locally-made conversion kit available which is as good as, if not better than, anything you can get overseas. It is designed so that, when fitted, all the features (such as the level wind and line out alarm) are retained and anyone can do the conversion with the minimum of tools. I recently fitted one to an old 6000c CT reel, and apart from having to take brave pills before drilling the hole in the side plate (this is the only non-reversible process) everything went smoothly.

The kit is the brainchild of Rod Bolton who, apart from being a dedicated distance fisho, is a camera repairman who repairs cameras in general and underwater cameras in particular.

4, 5 and 6000 palming Abu Ambassadeurs differ in design in that there are two different size hubs inside the left-hand side plate, and the OD of that hub determines which kit you will need. One hub is 7mm and the other is 12mm. I don’t know which models are which, so you will have to measure your own reel.

The kit comes with full instructions and sequence photographs, some of which are reproduced here to give you an idea of how simple the kit is to fit. Rod even explains the easy way to remove the level wind gear.

The internal mechanisms of the left-hand side plate have to be removed before fitting the brass block on the bush. The line out alarm can just be lifted off but the level wind gear is a different matter; in certain older reels it is held in place by a cir clip, and in the current models it’s held by friction. Pulling the gear off is accomplished by a loop of fairly heavy mono (30–50lbs) which is placed under the gear and steady pressure applied.

Once the inside of the plate is ‘clean’ the brass block can be slid over the bush and positioned. The drilling stage (pic # 8), which is accomplished using the brass block as a jig, is the critical one in as much as it is non-reversible. After the 3.5mm hole is enlarged to 6.5mm (by using drill bits in 0.5mm increments) it is just a matter of putting it all together. You may have to enlarge the hole slightly by using a small chain saw or round file, and once you’ve fitted the knob you can make a reference mark on it so that you know how far the magnet is from the spool.

In practical terms you can use the reel with mags only or you can put brake blocks in the centrifugal arms and use both centrifugal brakes and the mag control.

Rod Bolton has done an excellent conversion kit, and those who have fitted it are in accord as to the quality, non corrosive, materials (stainless steel, brass and plastic) and ingenious design. He is making them available to the greater fishing public but, unless you are familiar with the tuning procedure and can strip a reel down, it would be better to let Rod do the complete conversion. He makes each kit separately and the critical piece of information is the size of the hub in the centre of the left hand side plate.

Rod can be contacted an questions asked on --e-mail address hidden-- or by phone (07) 3378 4862.

If the diving fraternity are flooding cameras at their usual rate you may have to wait a couple of weeks, but the wait will be worth it.

1) The Conversion Kit.

2) Brass blocks 7mm and 12mm.

3) Drilling the 3.5mm hole with the brass block as a guide jig.

4) Side plate showing 6.5mm hole, stainless steel screw and tubular brass clamp nut.

5) View of fitted conversion showing brass block, magnet, level wind gear and line out alarm (small arm on the left).

6) Magged Abu Ambassadeur 6000C4.

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