I RECENTLY overheard a conversation in a tackle shop where the customer was enquiring about the availability of a Penn International with levelwind! The customer was informed that high quality game reels were supplied sans levelwind but there were some smaller models which afforded that luxury.
The request was not as silly as it sounds as there are many a fish lost, close to the boat, due to line bunching at one position and the operative’s inability to spread the line on retrieval. Considering that there are many people who would prefer all overhead reels to have a levelwind feature, why am I proposing that levelwinds should be removed?
This article does not concern itself with Penn Inters or other large capacity game reels but rather their smaller brothers – the baitcasters. Abu, the Swedish reel manufacturer, has been making baitcasters for over 50 years and much of its terminology has become generic. Abu’s sizing system is a case in point, and when someone says that a specific reel is a 5000 size it will be immediately recognized as being a baitcaster with a capacity of 300 yards of 0.28mm line (9lb). Abu’s terminology of CS (meaning a reel with a levelwind) and CT (a non-levelwind reel) is also internationally recognized. I will be using this terminology throughout the article to differentiate between the two variations of the same reel.
All major reel manufacturers produce at least one 6000 size CT baitcaster. Abu has its 6500C3CT Mag Elite and Sports Mag, Penn has its 525 Mag, Shimano the Calcutta 400s and Daiwa the Millionaire 7HT. Apart from these reels Abu manufactures a CT cage for its 6500 range which means that any current 6000 size reel can be switched between CS and CT at will. CT reels are not meant for lure casting. You would have to have masochistic tendencies to cast and retrieve with a CT reel, spreading line on the spool at each retrieve. CT reels are made to throw heavy lumps of lead great distances and are aimed at a specific market – the surfcaster. No type of reel will deliver distance like a CT baitcaster. Side casts, threadlines and CS baitcasters don’t even come close and overruns are a thing of the past if you’re using a correctly tuned reel.
Distance fishing in Australia is still in its infancy and the major importers aren’t too keen on importing items which are perceived to have low sales volume. For this reason, a request to a tackle salesman for a Daiwa 7HT would be met with a blank stare. The Penn 525 Mag (slidy and knobby) is available in this country but the average tackle shop certainly wouldn’t have one on its shelves and the average assistant possibly has no idea it exists.
Before I continue I’ll explain why CT reels are so desirable in the distance fishing context. Simply put, levelwinds reduce distance. The mechanical back and forth movement of the spreader during the cast slows the spool, but the main reason is that the top bar of a levelwind impedes thumb contact with the spool and the thumb cannot hold the spool stationary during a power cast.
Around the world there are more fishermen using CT reels which started their lives as CS reels than those fishing with factory CTs. Nearly all tournament casters cast with reels that have been modified and the levelwind removed. The modification of the mid-80s Abu Ultramag II and III reels – darlings of the tournament casters – not only involve removing the levelwind but, internally, plastic ridges are cut away, parts are reversed and the magnetic control changed to cover a much greater range.
Rod Bolton, who is the creator of the magnetic conversion which was the subject of my last article, also makes the best conversion CT kit I have ever seen – and I have purchased CT conversion kits form all over the world. Almost any Abu 6000, 6500 or 6600 CS reel can be converted to a CT and for the demonstration exercise I have found one reel amongst my collection of Abu 6000s which has escaped CT modification. Possibly the reason for this is that it is a 6000c, circa 1973, non ultra cast, slow speed and is not a multi-disc drag model. Smooooothies will beef the drag and slow doesn’t worry me. More slow = more torque.
The conversion kit is basically a stainless steel rod which replaces the shroud and worm and is fixed into place by screws at either end. The upper post, which has a recess for the traveller to run along, is completely removed by a hacksaw. Under no circumstances should the upper post be removed prior to the lower replacement post being in place. The photographs show the sequence and, apart from having to be extra careful with the hacksaw blade to avoid scratches on the frame, the whole procedure is extremely easy. Unlike the CT frame the bar modification is a permanent modification and cannot be reversed. I have no need to swap from CT to CS as I have collected enough baitcasters over the years to have reels dedicated for specific applications – hence all my CT reels were either purchased as such or were originally CS reels which were modified by a bar kit.
The quality and engineering of the Rod Bolton kits, both the CT and the magnetic conversion, are superb and certainly better than anything I have come across in the past. Rod’s fertile mind (or misspent youth) has lead him to address many other tackle problems and come up with unique solutions. One example is that many CT baitcasters have no line out alarm (yet another reason to convert a CS over to CT) as they were originally made for tournament casters who have no need for this feature.
Distance casting with sinkers equipped with anchor wires requires the rod to be placed in a holder with the line taut between rod tip and sinker in order to negate much of mono’s stretch and to aid bite detection. A study of how other countries do it revealed that, in Hawaii, they fish in deep water from lava rocks and use a rod rest and a bite detector called a ‘gator-gator’ which is a cow bell device attached to the rod.
Using this principle Rod constructed a similar device (pictured on this page) which consists of a bicycle bell linked to a capstan around which the line is passed. The ‘gator-gator’ is clipped to the rod between the reel and the stripping guide and any movement of the line turns the capstan which rings the bell. It can be heard over the sound of the surf, and even up to 20 metres away when going up the beach to ‘base camp’. I have learnt to ignore the smart comments when my ‘gator-gator’ goes off – such as “Shop!” or “Phone!” The gator-gator is a godsend when waiting for action during a jew fishing trip and I don’t even have to remove it when casting – you just cast, let the sinker settle, take up the slack, place the rod in the holder and take a turn around the capstan with the line.
Regrettably the ‘gator-gator’ is not available commercially in Australia, but Rod Bolton can supply his version on request. For more information you can contact Rod via email on --e-mail address hidden-- or phone (07) 3378 4862.
1) Abu Ambassadeur 6000c CS.
2) Right hand side plate, cage, left hand side plate with hollow, stainless steel CT conversion bar.
3) Traveller, pawl, worm and shroud removed.
4) Levelwind gear removed from left hand side plate.
5) Cage in vice, masked with tape (to protect against scratches) and hacksaw removing top bar.
6) Abu Ambassadeur 6000c CT.
7) The Bolton ‘Gator-gator’ in fishing position.Reads: 4810