So, what is the optimum retrieve ratio for a multiplier reel? For beach fishing, generally high ratios find most favour but in the offshore world it depends on what you are fishing for and what method you are using as well as your own physique, personal preferences and prejudices. Even then, like many things in angling, it is not necessarily a subject where you will find total harmony between everyone. You must also define “High speed”. There was a time when a reel with a 4:1 ratio (the spool turns 4 times for every turn of the handle) was considered high speed. Not anymore and nowadays you need to deliver at least 5:1 with most manufacturers now regarding high speed as 6 or 6.5:1. Avet used to make the phenomenally quick LX 8:1 though I believe this is now discontinued. But there are more factors than just gear ratio to consider; Spool diameter, and line level on it, is also a crucial factor. This is because the retrieve speed is really the amount of line that is pulled onto the spool per turn of the handle, not just the rate the spool revolves at. The generally accepted rule always was that a high-speed retrieve reel can’t generate good cranking power. However, as manufacturing techniques and materials improve, this rule is getting a bit bent out of shape by some of the latest reels on the market. Added to this, the amount of small to medium-sized two-speed reels available is increasing every year. This is, of course, ultimately good for all of us but it doesn’t always help you make the right choice when making a purchase.
Where did the “High speed retrieves not generating cranking power” rule come from? Initially, it has its basis firmly rooted in irrefutable laws of mechanics, but the materials and production technologies available in the past also played a big part. Firstly the mechanics part; a low gear ratio generates more torque (turning force) than a high gear ratio which, with regards to a fishing reel, leads to more cranking power. Anyone who needs a simple demonstration of this need only try to pull away in his or her car using third gear. That is because any gearbox is really just an arrangement of torques; low ratio gives high torque/low speed, high ratio gives low torque/high speed. That said a car with a big powerful engine would have more convincing attempt at pulling away in third gear than a smaller engined one. Cutting to the chase; in this analogy your arm is like the engine, the reels gears are the car’s transmission and the spool diameter equates to the size of car’s wheels. However, your arm has something else that helps it out – the length of the reel’s handle. A longer handle generates more torque than a short one. The down side is though, that it is more difficult to turn quickly. Going back to the car analogy, a long handle equates to a diesel 4X4 which is happy to pull your boat up the motorway though not at speeds that will lose your license, where as the shorter handle is more like a petrol fuelled sports car that makes accruing penalty points easy but leaves you stuck at the lights when your boat is hung on the back. Anyway, enough about cars – time to talk reels.
From what has been said so far, it would appear that the easiest way to produce the optimum reel would be to just offer a high ratio gear set with a nice long handle for high torque cranking, perhaps offering two spindle positions on the handle to give the option of shortening it for super-fast winding. It’s not that simple though. Whilst it is all very well to put the long handle onto the high-speed gears, those gears have to be able to withstand the high turning forces generated by the big lever that is the handle. As the handle is always offset to one side of the gears (in any make of reel), the frame and side-plate must also be able to withstand the twisting forces that this big, offset lever will put upon it. This is where the problems start. Long handles strip and bend the teeth of gears and the high twisting stresses generated distort the reel frame, moving the reels drive train out of alignment. This means that gears start to bind and the flexing of the frame absorbs the turning force of your arm. You can see then, how the old rule about high speed retrieves came to be.
So what has changed? In short, availability of materials at one time reserved for the aerospace and military industries and manufacturing techniques that bring repeatable levels of production line accuracy that was only dreamed of a few years ago. For the gears to withstand the potential forces, they need to be made of high quality, correctly heat-treated materials and also need to be big. If you make the pinion gear (smaller of the two) bigger in diameter, to maintain the desired ratio, the main gear that turns it must also be proportionally bigger; a look at the gear housing of the Boss Accurate or Penn TRQ100 highlights this. The main gear and housing is massive in relation to the size of the side-plate, showing that an equally massive pinion gear has been used to give the required strength and longevity for its high ratio. The rest of the reel backs up the gears and keeps it all in place; the frame and side plates are machined from aircraft grade solid billet Aluminium, as is the setplate (inner side plate on which the gears are mounted) or Integrated Side Plate in the case of the Penn TRQ. Shimano’s Trinidad is similar, though not quite in the same league as the Penn or Accurate. Avet’s system in its smaller reels also gets the job done. Shimano’s system is called HEG (High Efficiency Gearing), which, as well as having over-size gears, utilises a one piece setplate mounted onto the machined frame, but this time in conjunction with pressed side-plates. All these reels represent the upper echelons of high ratio reel design and are priced accordingly.
There are though, some good reels around that offer high speed retrieves but utilise die-cast metal or moulded carbon frame components to bring the price down. If you have decided that a high ratio reel is right for you, take a look at the Daiwa Saltist (lever and star drag), Shimano Torium, Fin Nor Offshore and Penn GS series. The Daiwa Slosh is also a very popular reel for working lures at speed or for winding down on a hooked fish when up-tiding while Okuma also has high speed reels. One reel that stands out is the Daiwa Saltist 30 LW. This is a star drag reel with the ability to easily fish 40lb braid but with a level wind and 6.1:1 gears. I can’t, at the time of writing this think of another reel that offers these features in such a robust frame. It is perfect for lure work for pollack and bass. Shimano have also introduced the high speed Tyrnos though for lure work many anglers are put off by this reel’s very loud anti-reverse ratchet.
While the modern high-speed reels can out-crank the lower ratio reels of yesterday, if you take two modern reels of pretty much equal build quality and handle length, a good low ratio will always beat a good high ratio in terms of cranking power. Try this; put a 6:1 reel on your favourite 30-50lb rod and tie on about 4lb of lead. Throw the lead over the side in deep water and then crank it up to the boat, without pumping the rod. It will make you sweat I am sure. Now try the same thing with a 4:1. You will still sweat but not as much because you won’t have to push so hard to turn the handle due to the lower ratio reel acting as a better winch. The price of this is, of course, that must turn the handle more times.
What of two-speed reels though? Well here you get the chance to get the best of both worlds. With braid meaning the need for large reels gets less all the time, the likes of Shimano’s Talica, Accurate’s smaller Boss reels and Daiwa’s Saltist lever drag offer a great blend of features – strong frame, ideal size for 20-40lb braid along with high-speed gears for lure work and low-speed gears for down-tiding or heavy work. It might sound ideal but of course these reels are more expensive than their one-speed cousins. All these reels are too, lever drag. Not much use if you are looking for a star drag reel.
So where does that leave you when making your decision about what reel to buy. There is plenty of choice and ultimately the final decision lies with the angler. Hopefully this feature has shown some of the pros and cons of both high and low ratios and might make that decision a bit easier. Without keeping some of this in mind, high-speed reels could lead to some decisions being taken for the wrong reasons; “Low speed reels are for wimps!” or “If you can’t turn a 6:1 you’d better stay on the quay” etc. Of course, we are far too clued up to fall for that now – aren’t we?