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Pinpoint Precision

When it comes to catching steelhead, brown trout and salmon it's impossible to beat the precision of a centrepin reel

by Craig Ritchie

I grew accustomed to the strange looks from other anglers long ago. Not that it was really me they were looking at, so much as my fishing rod. The long, graceful rod with its oversized single action reel looks a bit like a fly outfit at first glance. But a closer look reveals monofilament in place of fly line, and the reel paying an active part in my bait presentation rather than just being a place to store the line.

Tournament pro and tackle designer Mark Kulik is a long-time advocate of centerpin outfits for steelhead.
Tournament pro and tackle designer Mark Kulik is a long-time advocate of centerpin outfits for steelhead.
Although they were invented in England more than a century ago and have long been standard equipment among stream trout and salmon anglers in Canada, centerpin reels remain a bit of an enigma to many anglers in the US. That's a shame, because they're the key to perhaps the most effective way of catching trout, salmon, and even walleye, bass and catfish in moving water. If you're unfamiliar with centerpins, then maybe it's time for an introduction.

Centerpin reels differ from fly reels in one key way, and that being the fact centerpins don't have a click-and-pawl drag - or any drag at all. In fact, they're perpetually in super-free spool mode. Brush the reel lightly with your hand and it will spin wildly, with better quality reels continuing to turn for several minutes. Even blowing lightly on the handles is usually enough to send them spinning, and that's the key to their effectiveness.

Okuma RAW II
Okuma RAW II Centerpin
Rapala Concept Centerpin
Rapala Concept Centerpin
Centerpin reels are designed to be used in concert with slender pencil bobbers to present flies or organic baits to fish in moving water. You position yourself upstream from the spot you want to fish, and allow the current to deliver your offering to the fish. With the bait suspended just off bottom and more or less plumb below the bobber, it's an easy matter to use your rod tip to guide the whole affair into all the best spots - or to systematically cover an entire pool by making repeated drifts only a few inches apart. In moving water, centerpins allow a level of precision that is impossible to match with any other style of equipment.

As the bobber drifts downstream, the free-spooling reel pays out line to match the current speed, so your presentation appears as natural as possible regardless of current speed. At the same time, the longer rod - up to 15 feet in length - lets you keep the line off the water surface to prevent it dragging the float for an unnatural presentation.

Sensitive pencil floats are integral to centerpin fishing. A used peanut butter jar makes a great container for carrying a selection of sizes and styles.
Sensitive pencil floats are integral to centerpin fishing. A used peanut butter jar makes a great container for carrying a selection of sizes and styles.
Experienced anglers might be able to achieve a similar result with spinning gear when fishing fast runs, but it's utterly impossible to do so when fishing slower currents, and that's where the centerpin really comes into its own. Nothing can match it when it comes to making natural presentations and covering water precisely, and that's why anglers with centerpins tend to out-fish equally skilled anglers using spinning gear 9 times out of 10.

It's also the reason they're now rapidly gaining popularity here in the US. While custom centerpins can be very expensive, good quality production reels like Rapala's Concept centrepin and the popular Steelheader model from Islander Reels can be found in the $400 range, while mid-range reels like Okuma's Aventa and RAW II can be found for just over $200.

To get the most out of the reel, combine it with a proper centrepin drifting rod. Longer sticks in the 13 foot range, like the St Croix Onchor series, help keep the line off the water and provide more control when guiding your bait alongside sunken logs, rock ledges and other forms of cover.

To get the most out of the reel, combine it with a proper centrepin drifting rod like the St. Croix Onchor.
To get the most out of the reel, combine it with a proper centrepin drifting rod like the St. Croix Onchor.
Once you get a hit, you need to clamp your hand over the reel spool to stop it from spinning while you fight the fish, palming the spool gently as the fish runs. That brings us to the other wonderful thing about centrepin reels, and that's the unequalled way in which you're directly connected to the fish, with no mechanical drag in between. Beware, because it's wildly addicted.

If you want to really up your trout and salmon game, get a centrepin outfit and learn to use it. You'll soon find yourself catching more fish than ever before.

Author Craig Ritchie
Craig Ritchie
About the author:
Over a near 40-year career as a full-time outdoor writer, Craig Ritchie has fished all over the globe for a variety of freshwater and saltwater species. The author of The Complete Guide To Getting Started In Fishing, he has written thousands of articles for magazines, websites and newspapers worldwide, appeared as a guest on several television fishing programs and won numerous awards for his writing and photography. He lives in the Great Lakes region where great fishing is as close as his own back yard.

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