The Question Of Pain Is Reel

You can tell a moocher by his scars

The other day, while assisting a gentleman in his purchase of a single-action saltwater reel, I was asked “So, why are you recommending this reel? Is it better than the old level-wind I’ve used for decades?” My response was simple and came in the form of this four-word declaration, “No, it is not.” The answer prompting me to question why every boat doesn’t maintain at least one good level-wind.

Illustration by Keith Milne and Gord Coulthart.
Illustration by Keith Milne and Gord Coulthart.

I’m not exactly sure why British Columbia saltwater salmon fishermen have been so blindly loyal to their mooching/trolling reels. They don’t pick up line quickly, they regularly assault the human body and they really have a singular purpose. Granted, single-action reels are simplistic by design and thereby support the belief that having fewer parts lessens the chances of failure. That said, if we were listing the practical benefits of a single-action salmon fishing reel, we’d be done.

At some point in BC salmon-fishing history, it became the norm to fish for salmon with a mooching/trolling reel. Those who fished for salmon with a geared or clutched reel were seen as less evolved, boorish or un-sportsmanlike. Conventional level-wind use was frowned upon to the extent that operators were belittled as cheating the fish of their chance to escape. It was almost as if a mangled hand was the price of admission to the time-honoured tradition of saltwater angling. Unfortunately, not everyone shares the same level of hand coordination and, believe it or not, there are those who’d love to experience saltwater salmon fishing without having it take control of their lives. If we fail to correct this “single-action only” mentality, we are cultivating a prejudice that inhibits hand models, concert pianists and neurosurgeons from entering our fraternity. Personally, I think we need to expand our thinking. Let’s face it, I don’t want to be fading into the grasp of anesthesia only to notice a collection of mooching handle skid marks tattooed on the scalpel hand of my doctor. Further to my point of inclusion, I’m not quite sure why anyone would subject an acquaintance to this kind of jeopardy, knowing full well that an appendage tenderizing would be the likely outcome. If you’re thinking of introducing a romantic interest to salmon fishing and your boat is outfitted with moochers, you might ask them to position their hands palms down on the countertop and allow you to give them good wallop with a wooden spoon. Once the profanity has subsided, ask them if they envision yourself or the sport of fishing in their immediate future.

Over the last couple of decades, another factor has come into play, a reality that pulls anglers into the shadow of the hurtful and does so via the category of fashionable quality. Higher-end reel manufacturers have produced some very sexy machined aluminium single-action masterpieces, the kind of reels that anglers aspire to own. As a result, these single-action moochers have emerged as somewhat iconic on BC’s west coast. All in all, it should be noted that when placed in the hands of a beginner, dollars spent in no way reduces the hand crippling potential. In the hand of a veteran, they are a pleasure. As a product of performance and overall angler friendliness, I profess that they are not better than the geared alternative.

In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I guided at Stuart Island Resort, a lodge located at the mouth of Bute Inlet. I can remember using Penn 49s or 309s, and we did so for all the right reasons. Line retrieve was fast, the clutch system forgiving and the free-spool option a quick-descent godsend. It was quite common to have a medium drag in play that allowed the client to feverishly wind at the same time the salmon peeled off line. In very short order, these same new fishers learned to conserve energy, pump the rod and evenly wind at the same time the tip was slowly lowered – the entire educational process being completed without the loss of blood or phalange-related discomfort. The most important outcome being that neophyte fishers could painlessly catch their first salmon and do so in a fashion that nurtured a desire to hook another.

Think of how many potential fishers who’ve likely abandoned angling because of an out-of-control, digit-eating disc that’s turning at 200 kilometres an hour. I think it’s long overdue that we stop bullying those new to angling by suggesting single actions are the best. We should ease the curious into our community with a forgiving clutch; once the process has been enjoyed, the ardent can test the waters and the occasionalists can button their shirts in the morning.

This article was featured in the BC Outdoors May/June 2020 issue. Order it from our Shopify store now (while supplies last) or subscribe to our our magazine to keep up-to-date with all of the latest issues!

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