Using Center Pin Reels

Center Pin Reels look like fly reels but they're not; they represent

First we want to make it clear that we do not claim to be experts on center pin reels. The first times we used them we had the wrong rods and learned how to do it wrong, but that's another story.

This article came from a forum member named Northern Fisher who we haven't talked to in years. The story is as good as ever though, so we thought you would love to read it. If you know where he is thank him for the super information.



Let us start by telling you two things that center pin reels are not. They are not a new technology; and they are not cheap.

Center pin reels, or a version of them, were likely the first reels ever made. In their simplest form they are nothing more than a spool to hold line on a shaft. They are remarkably free spinning and have no drag system. This free spinning nature of the reel is one of the reasons there are used; more on that later.

Nope, not another article about a new fly reel. These center-pins are a completely different piece of equipment than the ones we're all accustomed to using.


I purchased a Ross Flow this season for steelhead fishing. At just over $300.00, it is the single most expensive piece of fishing gear I have purchased in my entire life. While you may be able to find a reel for under $100.00 you should plan on at around $150.00 for an entry level reel. You can easily spend over $500.00 for a center pin reel. Some of these reels are truly works of art and sell for over $1,000.00.

Casting a Center Pin Reel

Casting a center pin reel is more difficult than most reels. There are two standard ways to cast a center pin reel. The first is the method that most beginners use. As you start the rod forward you place your hand on the line near the reel. As the object being cast demands line, you move your hand with the line to a point somewhere near a right angle to the face of the reel. Your hand is now functioning as a line guide so the line can peel off the face of the reel without the reel spinning. You may want to think about this much the same as the line coming off a spinning reel only with your hand as the first guide.


The second method that I have not mastered, or hardly tried yet, is to use the reel much as you would a bait caster. You keep the reel from spinning on the back cast and release the pressure as the rod moves forward and calls for line. This method allows the line to come off the reel as the spool spins and go straight through the guides. One of the down sides to this method is that it takes more skill to get the timing required correct. If you do not let the reel go soon enough you will have a short cast. If you do not get pressure back on the reel soon enough you are going to be looking a large mess of line that has come of the reel as it will continue to free spool well after your cast has landed.

In part because of how you cast these reels you tend to use long rods. Rod length will vary with where you are fishing. Most rods for center pin reels are 12 to 15 feet in length. I am currently using mine on a 10-foot rod but that is considered a short rod for a center pin reel.

The author bought his first center pin to catch steelhead. This beautiful fish indicates it was a good -- albeit unique -- decision. The fishing they're doing is far from easy; using bobbers in a river requires control over the bait's drift that we really never experience fishing the species we target. It makes buying the reel really sensible considering the description of how it functions.


You are likely wondering why someone would spend that much money for a reel that does not have a drag, is difficult to cast, and likely requires a special rod. I bought mine because I am fairly new to steelhead fishing, and wanted the advantages of the ease of maintaining that perfect drift and the instant hook set.

As I am doing it, river steelhead fishing is the most challenging and rewarding type of fishing I have ever done. We are bobber fishing in rivers. The idea is to get your offering in the correct drift and to float the bait past the fish. If you do this correctly they will pick it up in their mouths for a short period. When they do you better be ready to set the hook because unless you are very lucky they are not going to hook themselves. You may have as little as a one or two second window to hook the fish. There is not time for "Crank before you yank." You need to have your line ready.

Why Use a Center Pin Reel?

Because of the free spinning nature of a center pin reel, it is much easier to maintain your line without any loops. When done correctly you can maintain the line to the float without it even touching the water. The drift you are trying for is one where the float and bait move unrestricted with the flow of the river and your line is maintained without any loops. The ideal is to have the line bridge from the rod tip to the float with just enough force to slightly tip the top of float back at you. This makes it easier to see any activity on the bait, allows for and instant hook set while maintaining an unrestricted float.

The second reason that I am enjoying using a center pin reel is they are just a lot of fun. It is just you and the fish; no set drag and no gear ratio to change the line pickup speed. The sense of accomplishment that you have when you land a three to eight plus pounds fish on a reel with no drag is far greater than with a spinning reel with a drag system.


I have used the a few times in Florida and have found it difficult to use because of the casting problems. Free lining bait for King mackerel proved to be difficult, but if the fish are close enough to the boat it can be rewarding. While you pay a price in casting distance, the reward of kingfish or bonito on a center pin reel proved to be worth the extra effort.

I am looking forward to exploring where I can apply this (not) "new" technology to other types of Florida fishing. One idea that has occurred to me is fishing the tide flow at the bridges on the causeways. Do not be afraid to let your imagination run wild. Without imagination and innovation we would all still be fishing with our bare hands.

We did a little research on these reels when our friend first told them about them, and we found the excellent YouTube video below from the company that Northern Fisher mentioned in the beginning of the article. Thanks to the company for putting it here for us to see.

Northern Fisher

The Online Fisherman

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