1979 Shimano Ad February 1979 Issue Bassmaster Magazine.

The mid- to late-1970s were a whirlwind of new reel technology.  What started in 1975 as a new reel concept introduced by Lew Childre, the BB1 Speed Spool, would turn into a revolution by the end of the decade.  Today, in Daiwa Shimano 1979, we look into the history of the contemporary casting reel and its origins.

One can’t start this history without mentioning the man who created it, Lew Childre.  Childre either developed or recognized new concepts for the fishing industry starting in the late 1960s.  He was instrumental in recognizing the ceramic guides of Fuji and what they offered in the way of casting distance and line preservation.  A few of his other advancements were a better pistol grip for casting rods as well as the first high-speed gear kits for ABU, Daiwa, and DAM Quick reels.  Childre was also one of the first to jump on the graphite bandwagon after Fenwick introduced the space-age material in 1973.

But to me, Childre’s number-one advancement in the fishing industry was the introduction of his Speed Spool reel in 1975.  The Speed Spool was different on many fronts compared to the contemporary reels of the day.  For example, it had no spool adjustment knob on the left sideplate, leaving the sideplate flat for a more comfortable feel.  Its levelwind disengaged when in freespool.  Its frame was constructed so the reel sat lower on the rod handle, thus lowering its center of gravity.  The line guide was manufactured using a Fuji ceramic guide, it had high-speed, 5.0:1 gears, and came standard with a two-paddle power handle.

It was engineering genius.

To get the reel manufactured, Childre contacted Shimano in Japan, a maker of high-end bicycle parts at the time.  Childre convinced the company to get into the fishing industry and make his reels.  By 1975, the reels hit the market and with the Childre name backing it, they were an instant success.

Then in 1977, Childre died in a plane crash.  At the time, talk of the new smaller BB0 was circulating in the industry.  Anglers and tackle shops waited patiently for the new reel, but during that time, the relationship between Lew Childre and Sons and Shimano had a falling out.  Manufacturing of the Speed Spool eventually went to Ryobi, a manufacturer of tools, based in Japan.

Lew’s Speed Spool ad from 1977.

In 1978, Shimano made the decision to commit to the fishing industry.  Using what they’d learned from Childre, and probably knowing full well his desire to manufacture a smaller Speed Spool, Shimano launched their first reel at the 1978 American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association (AFTMA) show.  The reel, the Bantam 100, was released for sale later that year with delivery in early 1979.

The Bantam 100 had every feature a Speed Spool possessed, except it was smaller and could handle 6-pound line.  What the Bantam had that the Speed Spool didn’t have was 1/4-turn spool engagement.  Another plus was the reel only weighed 7.4 ounces.  It quickly became the lightest reel on the market.  The reel would become an instant success in the western U.S. where light line was the norm.

Shimano’s ad campaign concentrated on featuring the reel as small and light, but capable of catching the biggest fish out of the nastiest cover.  Few would consider a reel of its stature for fishing shark.  So, what did Shimano do?  They produced a series of ads featuring anglers battling shark, tarpon and other saltwater fish with their reel and new rod series.  The ad campaign worked and soon Bantam 100s were selling all over the nation at the $60 price point.

1979 Shimano Ad March-April 1979 Issue Bassmaster Magazine

The next company to get into the fray was longtime tackle manufacturer, Daiwa.

In the mid-1970s, Daiwa was looked at as a budget-level fishing reel with their Millionaire casting reels and their line of spinning reels.  Then around 1977, Daiwa released their C-series skirted spinning reels.  These reels weren’t the first skirted-spool reel made, but they had a big impact on spin fishing and Daiwa’s image.

The Daiwa Procaster was introduced in 1979 and quickly became the company’s flagship casting reel.  It featured a disengaging levelwind, 5.2:1 gear ratio, left-side palming plate, power handle, low-profile frame, and a light spool for faster spool speeds.  Reading all this should instantly take you back a few paragraphs to the Lew’s Speed Spool.

In fact, other than the 5.2:1 gear ratio, all these attributes were taken from Lew Childre and his BB1 Speed Spool, down to the red line-fill marker on the sides of the spool.

It is due to the Speed Spool that Daiwa changed their thoughts on the design of casting reels, which up to that time had all essentially evolved around the round reels from ABU and the earlier Kentucky style reels.  It was obvious the design of the Procaster was meant to compete with the BB1 Speed Spool.  Its weight was close to the Speed Spool and ABU 5000C, and the size was a little smaller in height than the Speed Spool.

The Procaster was a good reel for the day, maybe not as sturdy as an ABU or Speed Spool, but it functioned well, and we sold a lot of them over the first couple years they were available.  I don’t recall any coming back for repairs, which is a good sign that the reel was robust.  The price was listed right at $60, which was inline with the ABUs and Speed Spools of the day.

1979 Daiwa Ad National Bass January/February 1979

An out-of-the-box concept for a new reel spawned in 1975 changed the way anglers looked at the ergonomics of reels.  Within four years the low-profile casting reel was cemented into the lexicon of bass fishing and within another decade, you’d be hard pressed to find a new round reel.  Lew Childre may have started the revolution but today when one thinks of top-shelf casting reels, only two companies come to mind, Daiwa and Shimano.  And they have a Foley, Alabama man to thank for that.