Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Round Reel Fanboys Rejoice!

In August of 1979, a much younger, sweeter, slimmer and more optimistic version of the current me was driven (because I was too young to drive) to the TG&Y department store (now long-defunct) on Main Street in Norman, Oklahoma.

Mini-me walked up to the sporting goods counter, a fantastic, magical place that he spent hours haunting (back in those pre-Wal-Mart/Bass Pro/Cabela's big-box days small regional departments-store chains like TG&Y had wonderful hunting and fishing departments), took out his blue plastic Santa Fe railroad change purse and plopped down virtually every cent of his net worth.

This small fortune, almost sixty dollars amassed from a combination of means both legitimate (birthday money, Christmas money, chores) and not-so-legitimate (the ill-gotten lucre of sofa diving, action figure/Hot Wheels selling and the illegal schoolyard trafficking of reptiles and amphibians) was handed over to the clerk. In return, the clerk handed mini-me a box containing a shiny, brand-new midnight black Ambassadeur 5600C.

It was my very first "real" reel. In the years since that day I have fished with, bought, sold, traded, lost, broken, fixed, praised and/or cursed literally hundreds of baitcasting reels from pretty much every manufacturer out there. But I still have that one (yes, that's the actual receipt), and in fact I still have just about every old Ambassadeur I've ever owned. Some reels were sexier, some reels were smoother, or easier to cast and palm. But none of them, not even my beloved Shimano Bantams of that same vintage, were as rugged or reliable or simple to work on as my old round Ambassadeurs. Even a dunce like me could keep them going with a minimum of care and maintenance.

Every one I've ever bought, new or used, every one, is still working and catching fish. That's a claim I can't make with any other model of reel besides my Shimano Calcuttas, which are classics in their own right, but a much newer and more modern reel.

I do not claim that my old Abus can compare to modern reels, performance-wise, although with some fairly simple and easy super-tuning mods (upgraded bearings,drags and polishing) you can get damn close. Reel technology and refinement have come a very, very long way since then. Modern reels are wonders, they truly are. Hideously ugly, most of them, with their bulbous, misshapen sideplates covering those ridiculous over-sized gears (so you'll be prepared when a three-pound bass suddenly rips off sixty yards of line and strips your main gear, because that happens like, you know, never) but I cannot argue with their casting performance and their smoothness.

Despite that, I just can't seem to warm to them, which is why I own but a few modern low-profile reels that are relegated mostly to catfishing, back-up and loaner duty in favor of my Calcuttas and my Abus. Which guy catfishes with a $160 Daiwa baitcaster because he doesn't want to get his 35-year-old, $50 Ambassadeurs icky? Yeah, this guy.  I guess I'm just a round-reel guy in a low-profile world.

At any rate, this entire post is merely a roundabout (get it?) way of introducing a really cool-looking new documentary on the history of Abu Garcia that I read about over on the Fishing For History website last week. Now I don't know how, exactly, this documentary will present the latest chapter in Abu's long and storied history, specifically its ownership by Pure Fishing/Jarden, because an awful lot of die-hard Abu enthusiasts are not too keen on what they perceive as Jarden's unforgivable cheapening of the brand (Chinese-made Abus? The horror...).

I'm assuming, since the documentary was sanctioned by Jarden/Pure Fishing, that all will be ice cream and roses. Personally, I can't speak to the relative quality or lack thereof, of any of the new Abus because, well, hell, my old ones haven't broken yet...

Interestingly enough, however, I also happened to see this bit of news from the press release about the documentary...

In 2014, Abu Garcia will re-launch its iconic Swedish made round reels. Set to be unveiled at ICAST in Las Vegas, July 10, 2013, Abu Garcia will present the newly updated editions of its original Record, C4, C3, Pro Rocket and Morrum Swedish-made round reels. With upgraded performance and style, the new line of round reels embodies the trusted durability and engineering that generations of anglers have come to expect.

To mark this occasion a poignant and beautifully shot documentary has been produced that traces the history of one of the most revered fishing brands in the world. The trailer of "For Life, The Story of Abu Garcia" is currently viewable at The full length documentary premiers online via YouTube ( and Vimeo ( ) at 3pm ET on July 10th.

"Chronicling the history of one of the world's most legendary fishing brands was a huge task and we are very excited to give an insider's look at how this company started," said the film's Director, Dustin Hoye. "The stories were so genuine and provided many different points of view for a great perspective of the lives influenced by Abu Garcia."

Highlights in the film include Lennart Borgstrom, former Abu Garcia owner, and Henning Karlssom who began working in the factory in 1940. Henning was just 14 years old when he started with Abu Garcia and to this day, still volunteers as curator of the museum in Svangsta, Sweden. Everyday anglers provide their heartfelt stories which underscore the way fishing shapes some of the most memorable and defining moments in their lives.

Now that's some good news, indeed. I used to lust after those Morrums something fierce, but never could afford them. Still can't, come to think of it, unless I find one in a pawn shop.

Even more interestingly enough, the PR firm that put out that press release, and indeed handles all of Abu's/ Pure Fishing's press/marketing, is an outfit called Blue Heron Communications. Blue Heron is based in my hometown of Norman, Oklahoma. The guy who owns Blue Heron, a helluva good guy named Gary Guidice, was instrumental in getting my writing career started lo those many years ago. He even scored me my very first press junket to cover the Bassmasters Classic, back when said junket was an all-inclusive, expenses-paid week-long vacation. It was a helluva lot of fun.

The press were, of course, expected to fish with the pros during practice days, so what reels did I choose to fish the Bassmasters Classic? Yep, a couple Ambassadeurs; a 4500C and that old 5600C you see in the picture above.

Small world, 'aint it?


  1. I've always envied the guy who could throw a baitcaster. Mating pairs and lazy hens follow me around in the spring, so proficient am I at turning a neatly wound spool of mono into a nest.

    Several years ago I realized I didn't want to spend the second half of my life cussing and spitting over a piece of fishing hardware, at which point I vowed never to touch one again. They sure are pretty though.

  2. Great post, man. Mark Coleman you are not alone. I can cast flies in my sleep, and often do, but put a baitcaster in my hands I become a teary-eyed toddler at a stocked fish club pond looking for help from the adults. No purist really, just reality. So what's the secret, Chad? Better thumb control than the rest of us?

  3. Funny you both say that, because I feel the same way about spinning reels. I loathe the things and can't cast them to save my life. I learned to cast on Ambassadeurs, which have a pretty basic centrifugal brake system, so yeah, you had to learn how to use the thumb as a secondary brake. Also I think a lot of guys try to cast baitcasters like they do spinning reels and ending up using way too much upper arm and body motion instead of wrist and forearm motion, and that more animated way of casting tends, at least in my opinion, to cause differing speeds between spool and line,which of course causes backlash.

    Of course, the mechanics of casting are different for everyone, and I've seen some pretty talented casters that did cast a baitcaster with a lot of body motion and overhand casts.

    I'm not a talented flycaster by any means, but I do think the way I cast a baitcaster helped me a bit in the transition to flycasting and prevented me from flailing around so much. I still flail, but I flail pretty...

  4. Thanks Chad, I'm glad to know there are others out there like me. I was about 13 years old in 1978 when my 10-years-older fishing cousins finally shamed me into moving off of my old Zebco spinning combo. I can still hear them: "You can't fish a plastic worm with that rig! Go get a baitcaster and stiff rod". And man, did I envy their prowess (to a 13 year old) at fishing plastic worms! So down to Gibson's department store in Lawton, OK, I went. I decided on the 1500C and not the 5600C because I mainly fished small ponds at the time and the smaller 1500C seemed like a better fit. I must have backlashed that thing a thousand times before I got the hang of thumbing it just right.

    Later I got a 2500C so that I could have both a worm rig and a spinner bait rig ready at the same time. Man, I was a king then! Like you, I've owned multiple newer reels, but while most of those are gone, the Ambassadeurs are still with me. Although both now sit proudly on a shelf in my office with other fishing and hunting memorabilia, they both still work great and could go back into service at a moment's notice. The plan, at least in theory, is to re-rig them one of these days and take my son out for a day and pass them on.

    Oh, and that old Zebco spinning combo? It was forgotten and pushed to the back of a stack of old rods and reels in parents' garage. It came back to me a couple of years ago during a clean-up, and and now stands (maybe not as proudly, but still here...) leaning in the corner of my office. It's basically not usable anymore, but even now when I look at it I can remember that whippy rod being bent down to the handle on a big farm pond bass that was dumb enough to hit my trusted white spinner bait.

    Thanks for the memories.