1973 ABU/Garcia ad for the ABU 5000. This was arguably the most popular reel ever made by any reel company. Note the small double handle. By the mid-70s, most anglers took this handle off and replaced it with a Gator Grip or BPS double handle.

We’ve previously covered the Swedish reel manufacturer ABU with respect to their Cardinal series of reels marketed by Zebco in the late 60s through 80s. We’ve also talked about their ever-famous 5000 series reels and how they changed the face of casting reels in the 50s. These ads I recently ran across tell a lot about where we’ve come from and the high-speed reel evolution.

The year is 1973 and nearly every hard-core bass angler is using the reels ABU made. Yeah, there were a few using reels made by Shakespeare and Pflueger but the vast majority were using the 5000 series of reels produced by ABU and marketed by Garcia.

In order to get the history right, I decided to pull out my old Garcia Fishing Annuals from 1970 through 1975 and see what they were advertising.

Up to 1972, the ABU Garcia 5000 was the mainstay. In the U.S. it came in red and was a bushing reel (no enclosed ball bearings) that featured a 3.8:1 gear ratio. The 5000 came in three models:

  • 5000:    Standard line capacity spool and small double handle
  • 5000A:   Large line capacity spool and small double handle
  • 5000B:   Large line capacity spool and counter-balanced handle

The other reels in the series were the 5000C and 5001C, the later was debuted in 1972.  The 5001C was the first left-hand reel on the market.  The C-series reels also differed in that they were the first bearing reels offered in this size. You can see the actual specifications and the writeups for each model in the reel spread from the 1972 Garcia Fishing Annual below.

1972 Garcia Fishing Annual Cover.
1972 ABU/Garcia 5000-series Reels. Taken from the 1972 Garcia Fishing Annual.

Although these reels were the best money could buy, anglers longed for a reel with a faster retrieve.  In order to placate the anglers’ desires, companies like Lew Childre and Lebercko, INC. sold gears that would increase the ratio of 5000 series reels to 4.8:1 and 5.0:1 respectively. We’ve previously written about Lew’s Speed Gears but will be putting out a more comprehensive piece covering all the aftermarket gear companies at the time later this week.

1973 ABU/Garcia ad featuring their new 5500C High-Speed casting reel. Note the small counter-balanced handle. That was a joy to reel.

Due to the demand for a higher gear ratio, in 1973 ABU came out with their new high-speed reel, the 5500C. This reel boasted all the great attributes of their earlier reels with the added 5.0:1 gear ratio. The two ads in this piece represent their campaign to let their customers know they no longer needed to buy aftermarket kits to get a fast reel.

In order of completeness, I’ve included the reel spreads from the 1973 Garcia Fishing Annual. In this spread you’ll see Garcia went from a 2-page spread in 1972 to a 6-page spread in 1973. They’ve given the “red” reels their own two pages, the c-series reels two pages and the new high-speed reels two pages of their own. Take some time and read the pages describing the reels. It’s really cool to go back to this period and see how ABU/Garcia was touting their technology.

1973 Garcia Fishing Annual Cover.
1973 ABU/Garcia 5000-series Reels. Taken from the 1973 Garcia Fishing Annual.
1973 ABU/Garcia 5000C-series Reels. Taken from the 1973 Garcia Fishing Annual.
1973 ABU/Garcia 5500C and 6500C Reels. Taken from the 1973 Garcia Fishing Annual.

To bring all this talk of speed into perspective, we used to consider a 5:1 ratio a high-speed reel back then and even through the mid-80s. Today you’re hard pressed to find a reel as slow as 5:1 as most “slow” reels are 6:1. A reel isn’t considered fast until you get over the 7:1 hump and there are even faster reels up to and over 9:1.

But let’s talk about actual speed for a minute. I was taught early on that gear ratio is only part of the puzzle. The other consideration the angler must take into consideration is spool diameter. Reels with the same gear ratio but different size spools will not bring in line at the same rate.

This is where “inches-per-turn” (IPT) comes into play.  You can have a 100-size reel that’s 7:1 and a 300-size reel that’s 6:1 and the IPT for the 300-size reel with the slower gear ratio has a higher IPT. You need to compare apples to apples.

Personally, for cranking, I prefer a reel that brings in between 21 and 24 IPT. I’ve used reels with that IPT my whole life and I know how to adjust my speed to get the job done. Put me in deep water with a jig or worm and I want the fastest reel I can find.

When it comes to today’s reels, they all go back to the ABU 5000 and its offshoots.  Yes, more bearings have been added, gear ratios improved upon, better drags and level-wind mechanisms. But if you take one apart, you see their lineage in the early ABU reels.