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Centre-pin Reel Defined


I’d like to thank the following individuals and websites for their assistance in researching the origins of the Centre-pin Reel, Paul Almanza – Angler’s International, CA, Mike Durkalec,Cleveland, Ohio,  Professor David Bumblebee, www.fishingmagic.com , JW Young & Sons Ltd., http://www.jwyoungs.co.uk/history.htm , Steven Devereu’s A brief History of the Centre-pin, Stefan @ http://www.antiquetackleobserver.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=36&Itemid=9 , and www.orcaonline.org/reel_history.htm



A Short Historical Overview-


The birth of the fishing reel can be traced back to paintings depicting 12th century Chinese fisherman using rods and several styles of “winding” mechanisms.  Although conflicting accounts exist, the idea of a mechanical means to facilitate the storage and retrieving of long lengths of line can be documented in reference material to the early multiplying reels of Britain.  Multiplying geared reels were later perfected and improved upon by George Snyder of Paris, Kentucky USA in what would eventually become modern day bait casting reels.


The centre-pin reel’s origins, specifically, date back to the early 1800’s.  They were more of an adaptation of early fly reels called “Nottingham Winches” made from rosewood and used by the Scots.  Using wood in combination with brass and other metals was a common technique at this time.  Centre-pin’s gained considerable popularity due to the manufacturing contributions of Henry Coxon, James William Young, and Samuel Allcocks in the mid to late 1800’s.  Henry Coxon’s (a bicycle maker) coxon aerial reel, spoked like a bicycle tire, was one of the first great and well accepted centre-pin reel designs and had a reputation as being the best at that time due to the reduction in weight and straight running spool.  The spoked spool design was quickly duplicated by many makers of the era.   The first well documented Centre-pin reel was introduced by Samuel Allcocks in 1894 after the patent for its design was granted to JW Young in 1893.  The “Duplex” salmon fishing reel was revolutionary for the industry because of the ability to switch between an ordinary free spool (drag less) to a checked (click pawl drag) reel.  Fast forward to today, through modern engineering techniques involving tighter tolerances, better materials, more advanced metallurgy, and you have the anodized centre-pin reel in a multitude of diameters, thicknesses, and features.




So what exactly is a centerpin, centre pin, or centre-pin reel? 


In many ways it is simply an oversized large arbor fly reel that rides on bearing races and plays fish without the use of a mechanical drag.


No mechanical drag!  How do I fight fish?


The old fashioned way, of course!  Common fish fighting methods involved “palming” the rim of the spool, resistance by way of the thumb or fingers, or the misuse of the clicker.


What is meant by “misuse of the clicker”?  Isn’t the clicker supposed to assist in fighting fish?


With the exception of a few reels made with an adjustable mechanical drag system, the clicker on a centre-pin is to be used when transporting only.  It is a means to stop the spool from “free spinning” and the result bird’s nest of line.



Adjustable drag/resistance mechanisms on a centre-pin reel, isn’t that sacrilege to the design premise?


To some it would seem that incorporating a drag would be the exact reverse of what centre-pinning is all about.  Drag free drifts, remember?  And while I agree, there are some very nice centre-pins that have the ability to engage a resistance mechanism (some with adjustable tension) in the event assistance is needed when fighting a fish.  One caveat of centre-pin reels is they all are unique, with specialized features, histories, and most come with some sort of story to tell (if not, certainly a story to sell!). 


What other notable and unique design inclusions are available?


In Europe, caged centre-pins are quite common, however, in the United States line cages seem to be a part of the reel that is most often missing.  Offset reels are unique in the fact that the reel is positioned off an angled reel foot and usually over several rings of cork of the fore grip.  Serving both a balance purpose and hand position comfort application, offset reels have a cult following.


What do you mean by “free spooling”?


The spool of a centre-pin sits on a bearing race.  This bearing can be a brass bushing or ball bearings, but in either case it usually only takes the push of water against the float or excessive wind to initiate the spinning of the spool.  With a simple tug, a centre-pin reel can literally spin for minutes.  While this isn’t necessarily a gauge of quality, it sure is impressive to watch! 


What makes a centre-pin so special? 


Three words; drag free drifts.  When depth is set accurately, shotting patterns applied properly, and the trotting technique executed correctly, the result is a drag free drift that presents an offering to the target species in the most natural way possible.


Will a centre-pin make me a better angler?  Will it improve my hook rates? 


That depends!  A well rounded angler must be aware of the behavioral instincts of the prey.  This would include knowing how to read water and how this translates into fish behavior.  It is my strong conviction that the best centre-pin anglers are those that have come from a successful fly fishing background.  But, certainly those that know fish behavior and know how to read water will find the centre-pin and drift rod a successful combination.


Why do you suggest that a fly fisherman would be more successful with a centre-pin/float rod setup than others?


This opinion may be based on broad generalizations, but I have found that successful fly fisherman have a knack for thinking like their prey.  Through the use of flies, they have researched and developed a keen sense of knowing the “what, when, where, and how” (if you will) of fish behavior, maybe s a result of having to initially work harder through casting mechanicals to hook fish.  Then as they learn more and adapt that knowledge to the streams, they develop this “sixth sense” of where the fish will be and when.


I may be off base with this assumption, but time and time again…I have had this proved correctly on-stream while fishing beside new flea flicking to fly floating converts.


How exactly are centre-pins used while fishing?


Centre-pins are an extremely useful tool for the float fisherman.  Float fisherman being the operative words.  The free spooling nature of the reel permits the float “specialized bobber”, terminal tackle, and offering to drift through a swim and beyond.  It is not uncommon, with reduced angling pressure, to be able to float 20-50 yards effectively.  The only limitations are the changing subsurface depths and the quality of your eyesight.  Because the most effective drift needs to have the offering set “to depth”, although not impossible, it is impractical to fish from the head, through the belly, and out the tail out of a swim and expect to present to the fish in all three areas accurately.


To use a centre-pin, one casts the offering (using whatever casting method you choose) to a slightly upstream position and follows the float downstream while the water current (because of hydraulic pressure against the float) pays out line off the reel.  Occasionally, it may be necessary to slightly brake, feather, or apply slight resistance to the spool rim to slow a drift down.  This feathering of the spool results in your float “trotting” through the swim.  Ideally, you are aiming for the offering to be the very first thing that the prey sees.  And you want to slow the offering to subsurface current speeds so that it is presented as natural as possible.


When the float goes down, thrusts upward, or tilts side to side it is time to set the hook.  If the depth of the offering is correct, these float movements are a direct result of a fish strike.  When in doubt set the hook!


What cast is recommended for beginners to learn, the Modified Wallis Cast?


Yes, the modified Wallis cast, or pull cast, is the best to learn for the newbie.  Although it may seem quite difficult in the beginning, putting forth the time and energy into perfecting this cast will pay huge dividends down the road.  The elimination of line twist is the ultimate goal and with this casting style this goal is easily achieved.  Once you’ve mastered the mechanics, it won’t matter whether you are casting a bushing or bearing, small or large centre-pin reel. 


Bushing or bearing centre-pin; what do these terms describe?


In early centre-pin reels, it was a very common manufacturing process to use a brass “oil-lite” bearing as the means for the spool body to rotate on the spindle.  The procedure hasn’t changed very much in modern day centre-pins that incorporate the use of brass bushings (sometimes called brass bearings) in their design.  However, the innovation of ball bearings and their use within aluminum bodied pins has greatly improved the spin of today’s modern day reels.  Some will argue that a well broken-in bearing reel will deliver the same performance of a ball-bearing reel and may be easier from a maintenance perspective.  This may be true, but for most individuals considering their very first center-pin purchase, ball-bearing reels make up the majority of the options in your local shop’s display case.



What effect does spool weight and diameter have on drifting performance?


A plethora of reel sizes are available in the 4” – 5.5” diameter and between 6 – 11 ounces.  With the many models available, it is easy to get confused as to which will be the best performer and why.  Consider this, all reels in this spectrum will give you good drifting capabilities, they’ll all have good start up (a component of ball bearings, good design tolerances, and mass) and they will all work well for steelhead angling.  In the end, it is a balance game (literally) in regards to the following factors: 


What species are you targeting? (steelhead, salmon, carp, catfish, smallmouth, or other)

What are the common stream flow rates in its habitat?

How long will your float rod be?


If the stream flow is anything other than slow and meandering, then a high mass, large diameter centre-pin will work perfectly.  However, getting a steady drift and a smooth spin from an 11 ounce - 5.5” diameter pin in slack water or slow flowing pools, may be quite challenging.


A high mass spool, once started, will smoothly pay out line and make for perfect trotting given a certain level of flow (pressure against the float).  In the same situation, a small and extremely light bodied centre-pin will begin paying out line quickly and likely run into “over run”.  “Over run” is the situation where the reel spins at a higher rate than the drift warrants.  In this situation, one has to constantly tend to the spool to balance the line speed to the drift conditions.  Utilizing a small, low mass spool in conditions with minimal flow would be ideal.


Spool diameter will affect retrieve rate as well.  For every one revolution of the spool, a certain length of line will be brought in.  It would reason that the larger the spool the faster one can retrieve line with every rotation.


When you commit to centre-pinning full time, you’ll discover that some of the applicable equipment that is well suited for steelhead angling outmatches other target species.  For example, a 4” reel is better suited for smallmouth and catfish angling due to the reduction in weight that balances the possibility of a shorter length summertime float rod.  When choosing to ‘pin for small trout, whether it be stocked or resident trout, it is common to use a 9-10’6” rod.  In this situation a 3.5’-4” centre-pin is a better balance to the rod.  A certain level of adaptability is necessary to find a rod length, pin weight, and cork configuration that suits the style and species targeted.  It is may be necessary to have at least two (maybe three) separate centre-pin “rigs” to tackle steelheading, carping, river smallmouth, catfishing, and springcreek small trout fishing. 


What does the term Offset Reel refer to?


A centre-pin with an offset reel foot will feature (by design) a spool brought forward through a reel foot that is shaped like the letter “J”.  When the reel is secured within the reel seat, the spool will be positioned over the first couple rings of the fore grip.  If you prefer the feel of cork in the hand while tending the spool and if an aluminum reel seat is in use, the heat and comfort advantages are very good.  Another advantage is balance.  With a rod that requires an adjustment toward the tip, the offset mass of the spool can assist greatly.


What should I know about maintenance?  Will I have to baby this reel?


I think the answer will depend on how well you take care of your equipment to begin with.  Because the centre-pin is a finely machined, tight toleranced, and highly “tuned” fishing instrument made from billet aluminum, it would reason that keeping it out of harms way would be wise.  This would include limiting exposure to gravel, sand, grit, and the water.  While you don’t have to be extremely concerned with water, there are some safeguards to keep a centre-pin operational for years to come.  It is advisable to dry them anytime they may have taken a swim and clean them off with a soft sponge or terry cloth towel.  Carefully disassembling a reel periodically to inspect it is also a good habit to practice.  Follow the instructions for care and maintenance from the manufacturer.  Many centre-pinners will suggest that the bearings be degreased and re-lubricated with fine sewing machine oil.  Unless stated in the owner’s manual or OK’d by a service representative, I would suggest that you NOT do this.


How does one set the hook on a centre-pin reel?


Hooksets can be made by momentary clasping the spool tight, braking, and a slight upward or side twitch of the rod.  Be ready to begin palming the reel and applying drag because this is typically when the resulting fish run begins.


Can steelhead really be fought by palming alone on a centre-pin reel?  How is this possible?


Steelhead aren’t the only fierce sum species that can be fought with palm drag alone.  There are many ‘pinners that hunt salmon with their centre-pins.  The answer is yes; learning to palm correctly is all you need to win the battle with charging steelhead.  The reasons have to do the way float rods are constructed, the type of line we use, and the variability of palm resistance. 


A hooked fish head thrashing is handled by the flexibility of the long rods typically used in conjunction with the centre-pin reel.  The amount of give that is available in a 13’ – 15’ rod is enough to act as a buffer on the short runs and resulting head shakes.  Palming is an art unto itself and is entirely based on timing.  Knowing when to clamp down on the spool and not give an inch or when to apply slight pressure and allow the fish to make a few runs is a result of experiencing the extremes of your tackle.  Most ‘pinners use monofilament mainlines in the 8-15# range coupled to 4-8# tippet material.  Using 4-6# tippet and bringing to hand 24-32” (and larger) steelhead should give you a great indication of how well the system works.















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