Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Rods and Reels

Shakespeare 1776 reel and hook jawed brown trout

Aside from the hook-jawed male brown trout in the above photo you might notice the rare left hand Shakespeare 1761 reel, circa 1960s. It belongs to Denny, one of our trout camp regulars. He has three of them which he manages to keep working, somehow. He doesn’t care to fish with anything else and I can relate, even though I have ventured to the dark side. Compared to the spin cast reels on the market today, the old Shakespeare’s feel like precision machines. No high tech alloys or injected plastic, just well machined pieces that fit together in a surprising bit of functional engineering. There is nothing on the market like it today, and even Shakespeare couldn’t get it right when they introduced the 1810II, a remake of their most famous closed face spinning reel from the 60’s.

When asked to recommend a spinning rig for small streams my answer is: I can’t. I have tried every brand of closed face spinning reel on the market and no one is producing anything that really works well consistently. I can’t depend on new spin cast reels lasting more than a season. Handles fall off. Pick-up guides stop working. Gears grind when there doesn’t seem to be a reason. I have tried the various “underspin” designs including those by Shakespeare, Pflueger, Diawa, and Zebco. For what it is worth I think the Zebcos are the most reliable maybe because they have a long history of spin cast reels going back to pushbuttons. Last year I used a 33 Gold Triggerspin and can say this: I caught a lot of big trout with it. I had to change line often because the tiny pickup pins wreak havoc on monofilament, but the reel was mostly trouble free.

This might be a good time to mention my total dislike of open faced spinning reels – the kind with the revolving bail and open spool. For the type of casting I and my buddies do – it is just not an option. It goes to the type of casting we do – we pinch the line against the rod handle, release the bail, cast, and stop the lure in midair just above where we want the lure to land. The small hole in the cover of the close-faced reels allows us to catch and pinch the line against the rod handle to stop the lure in flight. With open spools – the line is not available to pinch because it flies off the circumference of the spool.

I have a pretty good and inexpensive spinning rod that I bought at Gander Mountain, model GS Advantage IM6.  It’s light weight, stout enough to hook trout, and nimble enough to use an underhand flip cast to rocket lures across the stream into nooks and overhangs – places where trout like those pictured above like to hide. It has a cork hand with sliding rings that allows placement of the reel at the back of the rod where it belongs (for balance). See below.

Zebco reel and GS rod

So you can see I am not a purist and have visited the dark side. Tucked away in boxes somewhere I have a couple old closed-faced Shakespeare reels, similar to Denny’s 1761, I am saving for who knows what reason. One belonged to my grandfather, Jake Lucas, and I am afraid his ghost will come back and haunt me if I don’t take the same meticulous care of it that he did. He treated his equipment well – cleaning and oiling the reels often, placing them in a sock in an old cardboard beer case in the trunk of his 65 Chevy Impala. His rods were stored in hard cases. He would assemble what he needed/wanted when he parked at a stream side. He treated his fishing equipment like an old machinist treats his precision tools – with love and care. I should probably treat my $25 Zebco the same way but in the back of my mind I know it will wear out quickly no matter how many times I oil it up.

I should attribute the fish in the top photo –  Mike, another trout camp regular, caught the larger brown and Denny the other nice one. Last time I fished with Mike he was using one of the defunct Shakespeare 1810II reels and a long rod I might consider for steelhead, though it obviously works well for stream browns.

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2 thoughts on “Rods and Reels

  1. devin g on said:

    Hey really nice post. Love your set up. What pound test do you usually use for brown trout in the 18-22 inch range? I currently use 4 pound for small stream trout. should i go up to 6 if i want to go for the more bigger browns (while using rapalas)? Thanks, love the site!

    Devin Gordon

  2. Hi Devin. I use 10lb Berkley Trilene XL for most of the year. I may go to 12lb in the fall if I’m fishing where I know there are huge browns. I hate to lose a nice fish or worse, break off the lure and know the lure is stuck in the fish’s mouth. Better to land the big ones and release them – that’s my thought.

    Feral and I both use short rods – so the heavier line helps.

    Thanks for your feedback! Luth

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