Back in March2021 we posted a piece about a reel that generated a lot of comments on Facebook and through direct messages. It seemed a lot of the readers were upset that I had chosen the Zebco Cardinal series as the reel of the decade for the 1970s. Readers wrote in that the French made, Garcia Mitchell series of reels was by far superior to the Swedish reel and how could I think such a dastardly thought.
Well, personally I didn’t like the Mitchell and for a couple reasons. For one, on some of their models the bail went backwards of all other reels. This may not seem like a problem but imagine this.
In my youth, I worked at a tackle shop, and we had a big business spooling new line on reels. On any given day we’d spool 50 to 75 reels, a mix of casting and spinning. After spooling up 15 or so spinning reels, you get in a groove. Then someone drops a Mitchel spool on the counter without line or the reel, and now you have a 50-50 chance of getting it right. I can’t tell you how many times line was spooled on those reels incorrectly.
The second reason I didn’t like the Mitchel was it looked dated. It looked like it was designed in the 50s, it was, and the Cardinal looked sleeker and less clunky. Plus, it wound line on the spool the correct way.
But, to give credit where credit’s due, I there’s no way I can overlook the importance of the Mitchel series of reels offered by Garcia. So today I’m presenting the entire line taken from the 1973 Garcia Fishing Annual.
In the past, we’ve posted some images from the Garicia Fishing Annuals. These catalogs were much more than that, though. At nearly 200 pages in length, the Fishing Annual was half filled with equipment and tackle Garcia sold, but the other half was filled with professionally written articles on any subject of fishing where Garcia equipment could be used. In the future I will be showcasing these annuals as I have every issue from 1961 through 1979.
Anyway, back to the Mitchel.
Looking through the book, I came to the Mitchell Series Reels and found 12 pages featuring their different models. Within these 12 pages were 40 different models to choose from. I’m going to give a quick breakdown of each page and let you read the fine print in the pictures posted in the gallery below.
Mitchel 386, 486, 496 and 488
The first two pages featured the Mitchel 386, 486, 496 and 488 and those were the righthand retrieve models. Change out the 6 for a 7, or in the case of the 488 change it to 489, and you have the lefthand versions. These were saltwater reels, and their line capacities show. Up to 420 yards of 15-pound line could be placed on these reels and their internal parts were made from stainless steel.
Mitchel 302, 306, 402, and 406
These reels were mid-range reels to be used in brackish water or for salmon and steelhead. Line capacity was again 420 yards of 15-pound mono. The reel also offered stainless steel internals. Lefthand versions were also available. Gear ratios for these reels were 3.75:1 and 5.0:1 depending on the model.
Probably the most popular of the Mitchel series of reels, the 300 was more than that. There were actually six versions of this reel, the 300, 301, 300C, 301C, 300DL and 301DL. This is one of the reels that cost me my lunch more so than not and if you take a good look, you’ll see why. The bail rotates backwards compared to a normal reel.
Mitchel 308 and 408.
The Mitchel 308 and 408s were the finesse reels of the line. What separated the two was their gear ratios. The 308 was 4.5:1 and the 408 was 5.5:1. The reels were also offered in lefthand version as well as a presentation version plated in gold.
Mitchel 510 and 508
These are a couple of interesting reels in that they do not have reel stem to fit into a reel seat. It’s a nice concept but it meant you could only use the reel on one of Garcia’s rods specifically made for the reel. In the description below the picture, Garcia says they have four rods for this reel. Yet, looking at the rods further in the Annual, there are no rods with those model numbers. Another mystery to solve.
The 410 was the fast version of the 300 offering a 5.0:1 gear ratio. It had all the features of the 300 and, as with all Mitchel reels, all internals were stainless steel.
Mitchel 330 and 440
These reels featured an automatic bail that could be triggered with just a flip of the finger. I’m not sure how this feature was activated but there appears to be a metal switch on the spool housing that may have been the bail mechanism. The reels came in 3.5:1 and 5.0:1 gear ratios, depending on the model. The only thing they don’t state is what size the reels were comparable to.
Mitchel 324 and 320
These reels were Garcia’s value reels. They held 275 yards of 8-pound line making them more of a freshwater reel. The 324 offered a folding handle while the 320 had a screw-on handle, which didn’t fold.
After reading the 12 pages of the Mitchel series, I really got an idea of the quality Mitchel put into these reels. And there were features that were groundbreaking. For example, they offered roller bearings in several the high-speed reels and one of the saltwater versions had a skirted spool. Automatic bails, tungsten line rollers, all stainless-steel internals and bails, the list of quality features goes on and on. Just read the fine print and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
All joking aside, they were great reels of the time, and proof in their sales reflects that.
My first “true” bass reel was a Mitchell 300. Paired with a 7’ Eagle Claw Tom Mann Worm rod, it was not an ideal setup for a 12 year old neophyte squirt like me, but I sure felt like a pro! It was a major upgrade from the Zebco spincasts of the day, and I did manage to catch fish even though the rod was twice my height!
The Garcia Fishing Annuals were also great sources of information for a budding young angler like myself. Even though they covered all aspects of fresh and saltwater fishing, there were always a few choice bass articles.
Mike is right, as kids in the 70’s, you knew you were big time when you graduated from a Zebco 33 to your first Mitchell 300.
I have a 330 with the plastic reel box it came in, perhaps 60 years old. In size, the 330 is comparable to today’s size 30 reels. I can’t explain the exact mechanics of how the bail works, but with the bail closed and facing up, pull back on it with your index finger and make a cast….no need to touch/cradle the line at all. The switch on the spool housing locks the bail closed for storage.
First thing I thought of when I saw this article is why on earth they designed the 300 backwards??? As you know I have just as many botched line winding stories as you do…lol!
LOL. Thank you Gary! Yeah, I know you and I had the same experiences with those dang 300s.
I still fish quite a few old reels, and while Mitchell’s popularity is often chalked up to marketing and distribution, IMO they were the most popular for a good reason. They struck a very good balance between performance, being user friendly, and being simple to maintain. Daiwa’s were generally higher performance, but mechanically more complex. Penn and DAM were more rugged but not quite so user friendly, mechanically simple but somehow still more difficult to service. I have an old 400 on a 9.5′ steelhead rod that I use for quick shore fishing sessions after work, last year I landed a 43″ pike on that rig, and I couldn’t even hazard a guess how many big pike and walleye that rig has caught me.