Nottingham match ace Jan Porter learned to use a centrepin reel almost before he could walk. Most anglers today have never even tried one.
They don’t know what they’re missing, he says!
Nearly all coarse anglers nowadays use fixed-spool reels for all their rod and reel work on still and running water. For float-fishing more than a few rod lengths out, and for most legering, a fixed-spool reel is indeed usually the best choice. But in certain situations the ‘pin’ (or ‘whirly bird’ as it is sometimes known!) knocks the fixed-spool reel into a cocked hat.
Jan’s favourite pins
Jan uses two types of pin: a ‘standard’ pin, and a ‘Nottingham-style’ one. In the standard pin, the drum (spool) rotates on an axle with a pointed tip. The drag on the drum is adjusted by a tiny, pointed tension screw that applies pressure on the sharp end of the axle. In the Nottingham-style pin, the drum rotates on an axle via a ball-race arrangement. Most such pins have no drag, though some have a simple braking system.
Both types of reel have a ratchet, which was probably originally designed as a crude kind of clutch, but which is more generally used to prevent the reel overrunning while you are not fishing.
A Nottingham-style pin is usually 13-15cm (5-6in) in diameter. It has a heavy drum which, combined with the ball-bearings, makes the reel very free running. This makes it a brilliant tool for trotting a float close-in on running water. No drag The pull of even a light stick rig going down the swim is enough to take line off the reel smoothly, with none of the snatching you tend to get with a fixed-spool reel. Bait presentation is therefore greatly improved.
More, the natural drag of the drum on the axle allows you to trot the bait smoothly at around half the speed of the flow. This is especially valuable on hard days when fish won’t look at a bait going past their noses at the same speed as the flow. Big, wary roach in winter are a case in point. Possibly the closest you can get to this type of presentation is with the long pole.
To ensure this drag is uniform, load the drum with as little of the lightest line as you can get away with. This prevents the line bedding down while a big fish is being played, and ensures perfect presentation of the float and bait the next trot down.
This particularly applies when fishing light stick float rigs with small baits such as maggots, for fish like roach, dace and small to medium chub. In this instance, 50m (55yd) of lJ4lb (0.68kg) main line is not too little or too light – as long as it’s matched to balanced tackle, of course.
When trotting with an Avon-type rod, a big bait and a big balsa or Avon float for bigger fish like barbel, then you obviously need much stronger line on the reel – say, 6lb (2.7kg) line. But you still shouldn’t load the drum with more than about 50m (55yd) of line, otherwise bedding of the line again becomes a problem.
When using light stick float rigs, it makes a big difference if the line comes off the top of the reel, in line with the butt ring. Because the reel is so large, if you have the line coming off the bottom of the reel, the line passes through the butt ring at too sharp an angle, and you get excessive drag. With big balsa and Avon float rigs this is less of a problem.
Handles Nottingham-style pins can come with or without handles. When you have the line coming off the top of the reel, handles aren’t really necessary (they can easily be removed). To wind in at the end of the trot, simply bat the rim of the drum with the palm of your hand. You can also wind in small fish this way—real speed fishing!
When playing big fish with a handleless Nottingham-style pin, simply use the index finger of your free hand in one of the holes on the side of the drum — almost like dialling with an old-fashioned telephone!
One great advantage with centrepin reels is that you lose far fewer fish than with a fixed-spool reel. This is because the line winds on more smoothly and directly as opposed to being wound on slightly jerkily and at right angles.
Casting with a Nottingham-style pin takes a bit of practice to perfect, but remember, it’s not always even necessary or desirable to cast with this reel. The best tackle control and bait presentation is achieved when you can simply lower the rig into the water and run it down under your rod tip.
However, assuming it’s necessary to cast a rod length or two to reach the fish, learn to cast as follows. With the float about lm (3ft) below the rod tip, pull the required amount of line off the drum by taking a loop from between the reel and the butt ring with the thumb of your free hand, a loop from between the butt ring and the first ring with the index finger, and so on .
The farther you need to cast, the more line you need to pull off the drum – up to five loops can be used once you get the hang of the technique.
A side cast is best as this prevents unnecessary tangles. It’s a simple matter of synchronizing the cast of the rod and release of the loose line with the momentum of the float taking up all the slack.
Casting farther than a few rod lengths is much more difficult and requires giving the line a sharp jerk with your free hand and punching the float out at the same rate as the line is peeling off the drum. Called the Wallis cast, this does take a lot of practice!
Standard pins are generally smaller than Nottingham-style pins, being some 8-11cm (3-4 ½ in ) in diameter. They also have lighter drums. Anglers do use them to float fish running water, but they really come into their own on still waters when very close-in work is the order of the day.
Generally in this situation most match anglers use a whip. This is fine while only small fish are being taken. However, should a larger specimen be hooked, then it is quite common to lose it. This is where the small pin is so useful.
With the ratchet on, you can use it with a conventional float rod to fish to hand exactly the same as when fishing the whip. However, if you hook a big, strong fish, the reel yields line, allowing you to play the fish out.
Why not use a fixed-spool reel? For one thing, the pin is much neater and tidier, so you are less likely to get tangles at the reel. You are also much less likely to break off at the reel if you strike over-enthusiastically into a big fish — something that can all too easily happen when using a fixed-spool reel, with its sharp angle of line at the bail arm.
Thirdly, the pin is undoubtedly superior for playing big, strong fish, especially at close quarters, as it yields line direct from the drum. With a fixed-spool reel, you have to rely on the clutch or backwinding, and because the line leaves the spool at right angles, more fish are lost.
For these same three reasons, the pin is also often the first choice of specimen carp anglers when they are stalking their quarry in the margins.