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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Dark Side of Winter Steelheading

What some consider a trend in fishing like trucker hats, those masks that block UV rays and small video cameras that people strap to their head while fishing, I consider the single most effective piece of fishing equipment I own for winter steelhead. I’m talking about the centerpin reel. A centerpin reel is a large fly type reel with a ball bearing or bushing drive system. The reel spins freely on a single center pin and feeds out line at the precise speed of the current. This is a very important trait when fishing finicky winter steelhead. Steelhead are very accustomed to food drifting past them and even with a brain the size of a pea can tell when something is awry. Getting your bait to move at the speed of the current can be accomplished with fly and spinning gear at a short distance. Only a centerpin can allow you to keep your bait in the strike zone for the entire length of the run. This allows people fishing floats to drift their floats many yards downstream simply by the pressure of the water. An angler is only limited to the amount of water they can cover by their eye sight and courtesy for anglers downstream.

The history of the center pin reel is said to date back to the Chinese over a thousand years ago when large round reels were used simply as line holding devices. Large smooth wooden reels that could spin freely were later refined in the UK and known as Nottingham Reels. They were used to fish salmon on the famous Trent River. They were further refined and made into the modern day centerpin by the bicycle maker Henry Coxon in 1896. Because his reel was made of metal it would spin much easier and wobble less than its wood predecessors. While centerpins have remained popular for recreational and match fishing anglers alike in the UK, they did not catch on until recently in the United States. Paul Almanza from Anglers International, one of the largest centerpinning companies, tells me that centerpins became popular on the Great Lakes in the late 1990’s. In the past few seasons I have seen more anglers than ever fishing with centerpins on Great Lakes Tributaries. I guess the secret is finally out.
One of the main advantages of a centerpin is that it lengthens drifts and minimizes your down time. It also allows you to fish water that would otherwise be inaccessible like undercut banks, back eddies and areas that can only be reached by casting straight downstream. The main advantage however is that you can apply slight pressure to the spool as it is feeding out line to slow down your float. When float fishing we need our floats to move slightly slower than the surface current. Hydrology tells us that the current in a river is actually faster on the surface than on the bottom. To slow the float down, we use a technique called trotting or putting slight pressure on the spool with your pinky or ring finger as line feeds out downstream. This allows you to slow the float to the same speed as the current on the bottom. Centerpinners also place split shot on their line in specific patterns that allow them to slice through the heavy surface current and get down to where the fish are.

 Centerpins present a unique challenge to anglers because most models possess no drag system. Instead the reel is palmed on the bottom of the spool and light pressure is applied when fighting fish. To be honest your first few fish may not make it to the net. The excitement of fighting your first winter steelhead without a drag system is sure to have you coming back for more.
Centerpins are often coupled with long light action rods to protect line and aide in casting. According to Paul, from Anglers International, the most difficult task is learning to cast a centerpin. Several different casts exist and include the side cast, spinning side cast, Wallis cast and single and double loop casts. I would recommend that new “pinners” take the time to learn the Wallis Cast. While it may be the most difficult cast to learn, it does not create line twists and will save you a lot of frustration in the long run. Detailed instructions on all of these casts are available on the Anglers International website at http://www.anglersinternational.com.  

I am glad that a practice referred to as “going over to the dark side” by fly fishing enthusiasts is making its way into the hands of anglers on the Great Lakes. If you haven’t made the trip over yet, I encourage you to. The dark side is loaded with chrome fish!

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