Centrepins and using them, especially for Barbel Fishing

I decided to update this article yet again (just a few tweaks, now version 5.9.4), seems unbelievable that I wrote the original so long ago (2003), in order to keep the information up to date and relevant as a (hopefully) useful reference, if you'll excuse my presumption, rather than simply an article. I have added quite a lot, and amended some of the points and comments that I previously included as they are less valid now.

I should add that I'm a user of c'pins and not a collector. I do have quite a number but any that don't get used are now being sold on. That is how I see fishing tackle - no point in having it sitting there looking at you, never to see the river bank.

Without doubt, there are some things that others know much more about than I do, so I had asked for some help on these specific topics. Included are some 'guest' contributions from Chris Plumb, Martin Porter and Alan Tomkins - my sincere thanks to them all for responding to my request.

If there's anything you think could be added / updated / amended please do feel free to email me.



Centrepins are subject to some contradictory discussion, and from what I've read even some of the so-called 'experts' suffer from the same contradictions. Much has been written before on the subject and this is my attempt to put my point of view, but it is my opinion and there are no rights or wrongs.

I do not advocate that Barbellers should use c'pins, nor do I say that they offer advantages therefore they should be used. I do say that they offer advantages for me and I would not normally use anything else - given that the conditions are right. Let's not be dogmatic, and I'm not - if conditions are right only for, say, a fixed-spool/baitrunner then I will use a fixed-spool/baitrunner. But worth mentioning I think, is that I rarely find that conditions are not right for (me) using a c'pin and it was many seasons ago (Oct 04) I had caught my first barbel on a fixed-spool for 25 years - that's no exaggeration, and did I enjoy it? well no, not a lot.

If you think that a c'pin is not for you and you are happy with fixed-spool/baitrunner reels then fine; if you think that using a c'pin limits you then fine; if you think that you can only use a c'pin down the nearside then fine; if you think that c'pin users are just romantics then fine; it's all a matter of choice.

I must disagree with suggestions often heard that you should borrow one and 'give it a go' - now assuming you could cast ok, imagine losing a fish-of-a-lifetime because the line wrapped round the back and you didn't know enough to notice. I feel that a c'pin is not that easy to use without guidance or practice, and I think someone could easily be put off for the wrong reasons - that's a shame. Take casting for instance, when showing someone how to cast an often used response is "I didn't know you could do that". Using a c'pin is a bit like fly-fishing maybe - definitely needs a while to get the hang of it, but sometimes best to be shown a few fundamentals first.

I mention several, but make no attempt to do an evaluation as such of currently available reels - I have neither the inclination nor the experience of using or trying them - I just have an interest in helping the perhaps less-initiated decide, for the right reasons, whether a c'pin will do a job for them or not - but I do comment on many of the features that various c'pins have in order to illustrate this.

Also, I describe all actions as a right-hander. Simply reverse the c'pin on the rod and all instructions if you are left-handed (but remembering to load the line accordingly)

History - When and why did I start with centrepins?

Up until the 70s I used Mitchell 300 fixed-spool reels. A pal, who was then part of a 'group' who made/marketed Match Aerial replicas, suggested that I try a c'pin. He used them extensively on the Lea and on the Royalty and reckoned that it would offer me a new...dimension?...

Well, I bought two (sad - I always buy in twos), went fishing every day for a week, and gave one a try. Disaster - I thought that I would never master them. Why? What was I doing wrong? Well nothing really, it just takes practice but there are some fundamental principles needed to be sorted out first, and casting was the main one - no surprise there. It dawned on me that there were basically two ways of casting, leaving the then 'mysterious' Wallis cast aside for the moment. Either pull line from the rod/rings with left-hand and cast - I understand this is the Nottingham Style - or cast 'off-the-side'.

Within that week I learnt (falteringly) how to cast, I overcame the problems, and never looked back. Then, once the bait was in the chosen place it was down to playing a fish. What a feeling, and so different. I was as hooked as my quarry.

Why use a centrepin at all?

With me c'pins are not a traditional thing or a cult thing - I just use them because I think they do the job best for me. I mainly fish relatively small rivers (Kennet, Loddon, St.Pats, Cherwell, Lea) and c'pins do all I want in all cases. True that casting at first is nowhere as easy to master, or accomplish, as with fixed-spool reels, but the main aspect is, I believe, how much more enjoyable and controlled it is to play a barbel on a c'pin. Some say a c'pin has a soul, well I'm not sure that word has anything but a romantic sound to it, but I know what they mean.

So, why use a c'pin at all? There is no mechanical stuff (gears and suchlike) between you and a fish so you are in direct contact; yes there is a clutch (it is your thumb/finger) and it is infinitely variable; you can gain line without pumping (also whilst the rod is 'locked' as is the expression); a c'pin is a baitrunner (controlled by your thumb/finger), it is built-in; basically it is a joy to use.

But I know that not all will agree, nor will they be convinced by reading this or fishing with one. I have a friend, an experienced barbel fisherman who uses fixed-spools, who recently played and landed a barbel on a c'pin (albeit a poor c'pin) and hated every minute of it. I have another friend, also an experienced barbel fisherman who used fixed-spools, who fairly recently played and landed his first barbel on a c'pin and loved it, now an absolute convert. In fact such a convert that he, like me, doesn't take any other reels with him these days.

Originally I knew that if I had wanted to fish a bigger river say the Trent, Severn, or Wye, I would need to find out whether my preferred methods would be useable - obviously it is not worth struggling to fish a big weight, or fish at 15ft from the bank if the fish are swimmin' on the other side! I have fished the Middle Trent many times but rarely, if at all, did any of the particular venues, swims or conditions not lend themselves to my preferred methods. If they did then I'd change to a fixed-spool/baitrunner reel setup, no problem (well, problem would be that I don't ever take any other reels these days, so doing my "venue" homework beforehand is necessary). In essence I don't fish if it involves big leads or big feeders out in the flow as it were, it's my choice.

Holding a rod and c'pin reel

With a fixed-spool reel it is common to hold the rod with the stem of the reel between your fingers.

But a c'pin reel-foot is different in that it is designed to keep the drum as close to the rod as possible. There is then a choice of whether to hold the rod below the reel with the thumb resting on the outside rim of the bottom half of the drum (see fig 1), or to hold it 'over the top' of the fitting, effectively holding both rod and reel at the same time, and with the thumb resting on the outside rim of the top half of the drum (see fig 2).

My own preference is the latter, but I also use my middle finger against the inside of the rim drum when playing a fish, preferring my thumb helping to exert pressure via the rod (see fig 3).

fig 1
fig 2
fig 3

Another consideration is the ratchet mechanism, or more specifically the actuator. The Aerials have a ratchet knob on the rear plate - actually someone mentioned this to me on the bank a while back, saying that they didn't like the knob as they found it awkward having to use their "other" hand to operate this knob, at which point I showed them that I used the third finger of my right hand to rotate this very knob, he had never seen that done - dexterity? no, just another thing to try, BUT easier with the flat-bladed knob of the replica Aerials, more difficult with the tri-bladed knobs of the original Aerials. Anyway, back to the point ...

.. the point being the actuator, and holding the rod and c'pin reel. Some while ago I acquired a nice c'pin with a ratchet actuating lever, this lever being on the rim of the backplate which is preferred by some. But for me, and my preferred way of holding the rod and c'pin, it's really a bit in the way: see fig 4 - with me holding my thumb out of the way so you can just make out the (brass-coloured) lever. This particular manufacturer offered the lever in a choice of positions but my guess is that for economic reasons this option was dropped.

fig 4

Also, Fred Crouch's 3.75"(pictured) and 4.5" Truepin Trotters are made with an actuating lever (see figs 5 & 6)

fig 5
fig 6

But in reality, IF I were to use reels with actuating levers I dare say I'd adapt and it would be fine.

However, when the Fred Crouch range, including 4.5" Jets and the 4.5" Truepin Trotters, was rationalised (in 2012) and were all going to be made with actuating levers then I just had to buy another two Jets with the revolving knob, well, it would have been rude not to ... and now, following my gentle nagging, rationalised again (Feb 2013) the Jet with revolving knob was back in the range again.

Using centrepins - and left-handers

Centrepins are designed primarily for right-handed use, and cannot easily be made for ambidextrous use. Having said that left-handed c'pin users seem to just get on with it - it's mainly that left-handers who want to try a c'pin, maybe for the first time, ask the questions.

So, can any c'pin be used left-handed? Well, the answer is "almost" yes. Bearing in mind, of course, that the reel will effectively be held "upside down".

It might be worth reversing (if possible) the ratchet mechanism since the reel will be rotating in the opposite direction than for right-handed use - but it is NOT absolutely necessary.

It's more important to decide whether the ratchet actuator is in the way. In the case of an actuating knob, as on an Aerial, it will be at the bottom of the reel and it might be in the way as it will be towards the palm of the hand.

In the case of an actuating lever it will almost certainly be at the bottom of the reel. Will it be in the way? well if you hold a rod / c'pin as I do then no, but if you hold a rod / c'pin below the reel it might well be.

So, again, you can see there are no rights or wrongs, it is a case of trying it.

But there are certainly some c'pins that will not be suitable for left-handed use, although any left-hander may well dispute this. One such reel is the Okuma Trent. This reel has a "star drag"

Using a centrepin for legering

When I am not roaming my normal method of fishing is to sit as low as possible, with the front of the rod in a rest parallel to the water, or pointing towards the water if the bank is high.

I either have the butt of the rod on my thigh or in a rear-rest, whichever is the most comfortable in the chosen swim, but these rests are carefully positioned so that the pressure of a relaxed arm does not unduly cause the rod to dip in the middle and thus affect the tip of the rod. I sit with my wrist along the handle and my hand always holding the rod/reel with my thumb/finger on, or near, the reel's rim. Sometimes I have the line looped over a finger if I think there may be something 'going on down there'. Basically the way of holding is varied to suit on the day, and how comfortable it is.


Bite detection will be a combination of sight, feel and sound. Sight - of behaviour of the line at the point it enters the water, and of the rod tip. Feel - of that electric 'rap' or 'wrench' of the rod tip, of the electric vibration through the rod, and of the reel responding to the tug of the line. Sound - of the ratchet even on the initial part turn of the reel. Fishing this way I like to think that I rarely miss fish (well that is the theory - in practice of course I do), but most certainly nor do I ever get over-runs.

When the action is slow, or non-existent, I set up as described, and perhaps not hold the rod at all times. This reduces the bite detection to sight and sound, but the scream of a c'pin's ratchet is one of my very favourite noises, albeit then reduced to quiet as the ratchet is immediately switched off.

Using a centrepin for freelining

When roaming I will trundle a bait, and likely use the Wallis or off-the-side cast also to search the water, casting upstream. But once the bait has hit the water I would keep the line in the fingers of the left hand, adjusting the movement of the bait through the swim with a combination of rod position, and by varying the length of line held away from the reel. I tweak and nudge a bait trying to keep it on what would be its natural path.

I would not reckon to call this 'rolling' lest it be mistaken for the 'rolling meat' method - undoubtedly, the finest exponent of 'rolling meat' for barbel is Ray Walton, and his methods are well described elsewhere.

Using a centrepin for trotting

Often I read that someone wants to use a c'pin for trotting, and a c'pin is an ideal reel for this purpose if ever there was one.

But when using c'pins for trotting is where there is much contention in my view. I believe there is a lot of misleading talk about the mechanics of a c'pin, and at this point let's ignore the fact that a 'true pin' does not have ball-races - that is a separate issue, discussed later.

Why, oh why, do I read the words "it runs forever" or "it spins for over a minute"? Even some of 'the experts' say this. Surely a c'pin needs to be free to revolve but with the speed controlled by the angler, by the fish, or by the flow? One thing a c'pin does not need is weight and an action like a flywheel, where momentum of the revolving drum will overshadow the requirements - you cannot push a piece of string after all.

I believe a c'pin should be free to rotate of course, although worth pointing out here that a true-pin will run more freely when horizontal than when vertical, and to start rotating with the minimum of effort applied. This suggests to me that a free-running lightweight drum is far more important than one that "runs forever". A test format I've seen used, for comparison purposes, is how many BB shot it takes to begin the drum moving, although tests for this will be with the reel vertical. I must admit that this test method does not seem to be so easy to conduct in practice as it sounds in theory, so I am not sure how valid it really is, at least that's my conclusion after I did the tests when reviewing some c'pins.

Incidentally, the free'est c'pin I've ever seen is a Speedia (owned by Alan Tomkins) - when horizontal, a mere breath would start it off.

But on the venues I fish I do not trot very often and I feel I am not competent enough to describe it. So I asked two anglers more expert than I to describe it in slightly different ways for me, although both are adept at trotting for all species - Martin does so in general terms here and Chris more specifically for barbel here.

For note about lubrication see this para on cleaning and maintenance

Casting - demonstrating and enjoying it


Many say that one of the most enjoyable things about fishing is helping others, and in this respect I'm no different. Whilst demonstrating casting techniques, as this photo captures, it's both amusing and rewarding

When asked if I get tangles? the answer (very tongue-in-cheek and with a very straight face) is : "of course, seeing an expert he makes it look easy, and I'm an expert at casting a c'pin" at this point retrieving from my pocket a right old birds-nest of a tangle I'd had recently. Smiles all round and I can see them instantly relax.

Casting by pulling line from the rings

Pulling line from the rod/rings obviously has limits of distance, but can be very consistent and accurate. I would use this method particularly when using an open-end feeder, especially in streamer weed.

To pull 3ft is comfortable but to pull 4ft would need elongated arms, and even if managed there would be so much line 'flapping' around that tangles would be a strong possibility.

So, to pull 3ft with one finger gives 6ft, with two fingers gives 12ft. To pull 3ft with three fingers (giving 18ft) would often mean a stretch to the next available ring up the rod. I originally solved this problem by adding another ring about 3-4in from a convenient ring.

On my (60-70s) early self-built 11ft rods, when I only used fixed-spool reels, the rods were conventionally ringed. On my next (70s) self-designed/built 10ft 6in rods I had a single large butt ring (still often used fixed-spool reels) followed by 2 close-spaced rings (as previously described). On my (90s) purchased 12ft Daiwa Powermesh rods I replaced the butt ring with 2 smaller close-spaced rings. I could then pull two fingers or three fingers (see fig 7,8) of line (12-18ft) without stretching (and also whilst sitting).

fig 7,8

My current self-designed/built (2002) rods are on an 11ft Harrison GTi blank, and I have 2 close-spaced rings nearest to the butt - these rods are the optimum design to suit me, which I had extensively tested for 4 seasons, and still use them.

I am happy that this rod design is now manufactured by, and is available from, Peregrine Rods and is called the "paul4 Barbel Rod"


Yes there is a down-side to this style of casting: flapping line can wrap itself around the rod and/or rings (see fig 9 normal, fig 10 wrapped), especially in a wind, and more-so with close-spaced rings it seems, but as I automatically 'check & clear' the line each time it is not a problem I worry about. When the action of 'casting & checking & clearing' becomes a routine it is automatic and something you cease to have to think about.

fig 9
fig 10

Casting "off the side"

If you do not understand this it means holding line at about 18" or so away from, and at 90 degrees to, the reel (see fig 11) with the left-hand (fingers), whilst trapping the line on the rim of the reel with the right-hand (with thumb or finger, however is comfy). The casting action is made with the rod whilst at the same time releasing the line trapped by the right-hand, this allows the line to spill off towards your left-hand and then up the rod - this is the same as a fixed-spool reel's action. During the cast, and in fact at all times, the left-hand should move to remain at 90 degrees to the reel.

Unfortunately there are c'pins which have a built-in "cage" of some sort, which doesn't allow line to spill off the side, so with these reels you obviously cannot cast as described in this section. Therefore I consider these reels less than versatile and would personally avoid them.

Yes, there are down-sides :

Twists : Casting produces twists in the line, as with a fixed-spool reel, but the difference is that unlike fixed-spool reels, the twists are not taken out when retrieving line.

I had lived with the twists for years with no real problem, as I often 'removed' them or discarded line, but that was when I was using Maxima. When I changed to GR60, on recommendation, it appeared the problem was greater only because the GR60 is more visible in the air and the twists look like coils - other anglers commented. If it 'don't look good' then it affects the (my) confidence and I sought an alternative, a solution.

To use the Wallis cast as my first choice method was the first alternative. Secondly at the same time, I had decided to try braid mainline for bite-detection reasons, and having also been told that the twists caused no problem whatever (although this was with a certain other braid) this led me to see if a braid mainline would be any advantage for me. Several seasons on and I am now committed to one braid (actually PowerPro) whereas some I tried didn't seem to suit me. The extra indications that the braid gives really opened my eyes which was number one reason to change, and it doesn't seem to be much affected by twists (albeit which are, of course, still present) although I must add that the Wallis cast is now what I'd use most of the time so this is something I'll test more when freelining/trundling as I'd possibly use the off-the-side cast more then, or maybe not?

Line loop : Line can loop around the back (see figs 12 and 13) of the reel (line-guards/guides are not used by definition), but again as I automatically 'check & clear' this (see figs 14 and 15) each time it is not a problem I worry about;

Line Slip : Sometimes when raining/wet the line does not slip so easily through your fingers so casting is impaired, and sometimes line slipping through your fingers hurts if you have a cut in the crease of a joint. To combat the latter I did investigate some finger-stalls (stools?) made of rigid material but dropped that idea.

fig 11
fig 12
fig 13
fig 14
fig 15

The Wallis cast

This 'once mysterious' casting technique has been written about countless times. I know that trying to describe an action such as this is difficult, and I shall not attempt another description here, but all I had ever read about it made it seem such a complicated action and as such one that I had never contemplated.

Why need it? well, it is another technique that allows variable distance, but one that would not suffer from the 'line twist' problems of the 'off-the-side' cast if using mono mainline.

So I admit that it is only relatively recently (now many, many, seasons ago, how time flies) that I had started using it, thanks initially to AllanM of BFW, and now is always my first choice. It was nowhere near as difficult as I had been (wrongly) led to believe, but as ever an expert always makes it look easy. But I have to add that to use a c'pin does not require you to be an exponent of the Wallis cast, since I used c'pins successfully for over 25 years without doing so.

It was one of the few physical things I have ever had trouble with, but I suppose as with casting a fly, it is easier once you get a feel for what you are trying to achieve. I had wondered that if I was buying again I might have opted for a wide-drum rather than the narrow-drum as might have made the Wallis a bit easier for me - in fact I now believe that is not true, I am happier with a narrow-drum. In early days I actually suffered from having cast 'off-the-side' for so long that my fingers tended to naturally pull to the side rather than in-line with the drum, and I thought that a wide drum may have helped with this but not so, it is simply a question of practice.

It has been written that you cannot Wallis cast with a line-guide on the reel. There does not seem any physical reason for this notion and for sure many have said that it is incorrect - you can Wallis cast with a line-guide. I tried it with a friend's reel and yes, it is possible.

It has been written that you cannot Wallis cast with the line coming off the top of the reel. This is incorrect although I think that it is undoubtedly considerably more difficult to do so.

Since I rarely fish any other way than legering these days, when fishing or demonstrating it involves a lead and using the pendulum effect as an integral part of my Wallis casting technique. (unfortunately I've never videoed this, perhaps soon?). But a rather different technique is required when float fishing, where the lighter tackle and lesser pendulum needs a subtle change - ably described and demonstrated with fine detail by Martin Porter (who penned the excellent additional sub-piece shown elsewhere in this article). I cannot embed this video on my article (that facility has been disabled by the author) so search for "Martin Porter demonstrating the Wallis cast" on Youtube.

Loading the centrepin with line

There are two considerations :

One is how much line to load. A general consensus might seem to indicate that you use enough line for the method you are going to use. Some use as little as 25 yds for margin fishing (legering, or maybe freelining); up to 50 yds for fishing a larger venue (legering, or maybe freelining); generally 50 yds or more if trotting. It is often said that if you use a lot of line then there is reckoned to be a problem with line bedding in - I don't have a problem with this. But since line will be wound more tightly following banking a fish, or 'fighting' a snag, than when retrieving fishless it might be wise to pull off this line and re-wind as a matter of course anyway before resuming fishing.

I normally load about 80-100 yds on to my c'pins which gives me all the options, wherever or however I fish, and additionally that I can discard the last 5 yds or so at any time if I feel there is line damage without leaving me short. I also use backing (mono, or fly-line backing) since the 'spool' on my c'pins have spacers, in order to minimise the slight kinking there may be, although with braid that is not an issue. I wind backing on, distributed across the 'spool', and then join to the braid, with a double-grinner, sleeving the knot and thus trapping the cut ends with yellow 1mm bore sleeving for a visual indication of where the join is.


Second consideration is whether to have this line coming off the bottom of the reel (furthest from the rod, requiring anti-clockwise rotation to retrieve line) which I consider the normal, or to have the line coming off the top of the reel (nearest to the rod, requiring clockwise rotation to retrieve line) which is less common but used by some.

see also using and changing lines

Problems using a centrepin

Aside from casting, over-runs are the biggest problem which can cause trouble for the less-experienced. It is a vicious circle - you want free-running but not so free it will cause a problem.

Well consider that it is normally all within the control of your thumb, with an added advantage if the c'pin has a drag or brake mechanism. If you leave your rod in rests when you might be doing 'other things' - this is where the drag can come in useful.

I have read that the lack of speed of retrieve is a limiting factor when using a c'pin, but that is not normally something I would feel was a real problem

Additional rod-related information

All reels are mounted on a rod by the reel-foot being held by either sliding reel-fittings, or more likely these days by screw-action reel-seats. It is likely that a screw-action reel-seat will hold all reels securely without a doubt, although I know some reel-feet are too long to fit some reel-seats - it may seem a shame, but the remedy is simple, carefully cut some off.

Some c'pins have a fairly short reel-foot and it may be that the sliding reel-fitting might not appear to hold the reel as securely as is wanted. I have never had a problem with a reel falling off but that is helped by the way I opt to hold the rod (previously explained).

A tip is to 'pad out' the fitting, and my way of achieving this is to add a veneer to the reel rather than to the rod - it is easy to remove it from the reel if not wanted, but if added to the rod it would be rather too permanent. This avoids 'defacing' a cherished rod.


Use iron-on wood veneer, but you cannot use iron-on directly to chrome or brass. So take a couple of short lengths of veneer and iron these together adhesive-to-adhesive, but allow to dry (takes seconds) in a slight curve rather than flat - this is in order to nestle into the reel-foot. I glue this double-veneer piece on the foot using solvent-based 'no-nails', and then trim off excess to the shape of the foot. If you need to remove this later it is an easy task with a fingernail and some white spirit.

Mechanics of a centrepin

Mechanical features of a c'pin can include, using my preferred words and definitions :

Pin : This is the actual fixed pin that the drum revolves around, either directly in the bore of the hub as in a true-pin, or within fitted ball-races.

Hub : This is the part in the centre of the reel, within which the pin fits. Either a separate machined part fixed to the inner plate of the drum in a spoked model, or as an integral part of the drum in a solid machined model. There are, of course, variations in design which are not as described.

Clutch/Drag : Inherent in the way any c'pin is used, it has a drag - and this is your thumb/finger, and infinitely variable too of course. This is, however, only the case when the rod/reel is being held.

Not all c'pins have an intergral drag/brake mechanism, but some do, and this is often a friction device inhibiting the rotation. So at this point it needs the question, why? Well I believe the drag is best set lightly just to minimise an over-run which can happen if you leave your rod for a moment, where you could have a problem if a take is positive and the momentum of the drum will spill line all over the place, and you have to sort that whilst playing the fish which would likely be intent on heading for the nearest snag etc etc. Or, if the flow is very strong, the drag may need to be set slightly more tightly in order that line is not pulled from the reel almost constantly - and you certainly don't want to arrest that movement by holding the reel's drum.

For this reason you might feel a drag/clutch is a most important consideration. The Aerials have an adjustment which effectively pushes a 'thingy' against the pin and gives a braking effect - but the more braking the more wear! Quite what the bearing ones have I'm not sure but obviously if they do have a heavier drum and a more free spin then you may need more braking and maybe leading to more wear if it works on the same principle.

Ratchet : This is an audible device but not an anti-reverse. I use mine, but sparingly.

Yes, ratchet-on to hear/feel that satisfying 'scream' but then ratchet-off immediately - I hate unnecessary noises, no need to tell all that you have a fish on!

I also, sometimes, adjust the tension on the spring to reduce the noise.

Handles : Handles are often offered as an option, and many people choose not to have them. My view is that unless they actually get in your way for some reason it is sensible to have them fitted. When trying to retrieve line against a hard-fighting fish, or even against a snag, then the use of handles is surely the only way.

To retrieve line when there is no pull on the line then there is a choice, and this might depend upon the style of fishing being employed at the time. Use the handles, or 'bat' the rim, or rotate by inserting a finger into a hole in the side of the drum (if there is such a hole), or between the spokes (if an Aerial type).

Spool : Not a separate item at all in the normally accepted sense (as in fixed-spool), but purely a reference term (used in this text) to that part of the drum on which the line is wound.

Knurled Drum Rim : This is (apparently) an aid when 'batting' the edge of the drum when retrieving line, to ensure positive contact. I can see that this could be an advantage when constantly retrieving line when trotting, but I have to say I have never had any problems, and I will add that the advantage of the knurling will be outweighed by the disadvantages.

I would find knurling a distinct disadvantage for two reasons and would never buy a reel with this 'feature'. Firstly, it is against this rim that thumb/finger-pressure is applied when playing a fish, and this needs to be smooth. Secondly, it would inhibit casting 'off-the-side' as line would not be able to flow across a knurled edge, and may even damage the line.

Line-Guide/Guard : This is an aid to avoid line spilling off the side of the drum and getting caught 'round the back' of the reel foot. I guess it is a personal preference that you either rely on this device or you learn to overcome any problems by the automatic 'check & clear' routine. Also, it will inhibit use of the "off the side" cast.

Drum Diameter : As to the reel's dimensions I just say that my reels have a drum diameter (measured at the rim) of 4.5" and an effective 'spool' diameter (around which the line is laid) of about 3.5". This is OK for me. I wouldn't go for one with less if I was trotting as it would make for more effort on the retrieve, but in actuality it probably does not matter that much.

Drum Width : Some reels are available with different 'spool' widths, sometimes referred to as narrow and wide drum reels. These vary, it seems, between 5/8" and 1.1/4", or maybe even wider on some designs. It may be that a wider drum may give less problem with bedding-in of line as there is more area over which the line is wound, but I feel that choice of a certain width can be a matter of taste. Obviously a wider drum reel will be slightly heavier so this should be borne in mind.

Drum/'Spool' Design : Considering the design of the 'spool', on which the line is wound, might give another angle to be considered. The Aerials and derivatives have spacers around which the line is laid. This is good as it saves weight, and gives the line the ability to dry out (important these days>? - probably not?). A downside could be that line beds in more but I do not have a problem with that in general. Another 'problem' can be that line with any memory does come off as if kinked every 1", but again I do not have a problem with that in general, and using backing partially solves this if needed.

The Swallow on the other hand also has a 'smooth' drum. The Youngs/Masterline range, although they may look at a glance like Aerials, are not designed in the same way and the 'spools' are smooth or perforated too. Reverse the perceived ups and downs of the Aerial and you will see this would be heavier, the line may not dry out so well, but line may not bed in so much, neither will the line kink.

Spare Drum/Spools : Some c'pins are offered for sale with the idea of a 'spare spool' as an extra. But since the 'spool' in this case is a major part of the reel itself this is, by definition, going to be at a fairly high price.

Using and changing line

I generally use the same line (strength and type) every trip as all of my fishing is for barbel.

However, there are times when I do want different line - on a vastly different venue, for example. My solution to this is simple, but is a compromise.

I made some discs (about 6" dia) of 2mm double-sided hardboard and some discs (about 5.5" dia) of 6mm MDF, all with well sanded edges. Carefully glued together to make single and/or double (image below) spools and with bolt/nut thro' the middle which goes in a cordless drill as required. I wind line on/off these to change and/or reverse line. The down-side is that it is best done at home so limited if you don't know what you want/need until you get to the bank.

double spool

Types, designs and styles of c'pins

True-Pins or bearings? : The choice between a 'true-pin' and one with bearings (ball-races) should not cause undue concern. I am happy with my 'true-pins', having lightweight drums, not spinning for ages (which is a misunderstood non-requirement previously discussed), being lightly oiled. Being aware of the possiblility of over-runs makes you disciplined, and your thumb/finger will be your most valuable asset. Over-runs are rare but I would be wrong if I said I don't occasionally get them - but there is usually a reason (or excuse if you prefer).

C'pins with ball-races seem to have heavier drums (but not always), will spin for longer, and therefore are more likely to produce overruns. But again, this is within the control of your thumb/finger. Many prominent c'pin users use this design of reel quite successfully and they cannot be wrong.

Personally I would opt for the 'true-pin' but that is just me, and I do own/use several. Excluding used ones, the market-place seemed, a while ago, to have more available with ball-races than 'true-pin' so difficult, then, to say what I would buy if I had to replace mine. I would have likely gone for one with ball-races I think in order not to limit my choice. There, I've just contradicted myself. But I do think that I would still buy a 'true-pin' if given the option.

So, at this point I asked an experienced c'pin user, Alan Tomkins, to elaborate further here.

Types (designs) : There are two main types of c'pin considered here - the spoked models and the solid (for want of a better word) models, and to a great extent they offer little difference in use. Both the terms spoked and solid refer to the side of the reel and not to the 'spool' (around which the line is wound). Price and aesthetics are important considerations if you want to purchase one, but it must be remembered that price alone is not a sole indicator of quality.

But given a similar design, it is obvious that any cheaper product must have some drawbacks. Putting aside economic arguments such as location of manufacturing factories etc as that is too involved, I say that the build quality must be lower in order to achieve a lower price. I have very high standards of requirement but there is a point at which common sense prevails. The Purists could well have been a benchmark I judged by at one time, and they were a joy to hold but were not necessarily going to do the job better. A very good fisherman I know reckoned the Purists were too heavy and has gone back to his replicas. Heavy? maybe the fact that they do a lightweight version tells a tale, but this has little to do with quality.

The spoked models : These are more expensive to manufacture and assemble than solid models, but to me they are worth it for the looks alone, although the performance is good too. They include both true-pins and those with ball-races.

Below say 225.00 (UKp) there are low-end models, Aerial replicas, the Purists and other models in the Youngs/Masterline range, including the lightweights, the Bob James 'special', and the Wilson Heritage. (note all prices approx list)

Then there are the top range c'pins made by other companies, such as Chris Lythe, Gary Mills of Mill Tackle, Paul Witcher, Richard Carter (not available for a time, but I believe he is making them again) and some others - absolutely superbly engineered without a doubt but again, too expensive for my liking ranging up to 450.00 (UKp) and possibly more.

note. all prices approx and for new reels only. I leave the second-hand/vintage/collectors market strictly alone for the purposes of this article.

Overall I think I will stick with my Aerial replicas, and the Fred Crouch Jet edition model (with actuating knob) which I mostly now use which is very good indeed for the price. Contact me if you wish to purchase a new 4.5" Fred Crouch Jet or 4.5" Truepin Trotter at a very attractive price (I make no excuses for the "advert", I just happen to think these are reels well worth thinking about)

Putting aside damage by abuse, one possible drawback of the 'spoked reels', but this is more a question of aesthetics than an actual problem, is that often the drum could be seen to have a wobble. Assuming no damage, then this is largely due to the adjustments of the spokes, a task which is certainly not easy - if you have ever tried this you will know what I mean. A bit of time and this wobble can usually be eliminated if you have that sort of mind, and ability - and a lot of luck. But you can get it 'just so' and then a final tweak ruins it again.

The solid models : Solid models are those where the face of the reel is as one machined piece from the rim down to the hub, and would in most cases be perforated to save weight and often to enhance appearance. Seemingly popular designs of these solid models include the Adcock-Stanton, the Magnum, the Swallow and the more recently introduced one bearing the name of Pete Reading. More recently Okuma have brought out several c'pins, one a true pin and the others with bearings, and it seems that these have gained some favour especially as they are very reasonably priced - in order to achieve this competitive price it 'appears' the manufacturing methods include casting and CNC machining rather than turning from bar-stock.

Rotating drum - 90 deg : A variation of the spoked designs are those with an additional mechanism which allows that the whole drum assembly can be rotated through 90 degrees and locked for casting (where the line spills off the 'spool' straight up the rod similar to a fixed-spool reel) and can be rotated back immediately for retrieving, The casting action is similar to that previously described in the 'off-the-side' casting paragraph, and shares the same line-twist problems.

There is an inherent difficulty in designing such a mechanism without compromises, and this has been achieved with variable success. There are cheaper reels where the mechanism is simple but the reel is effectively stood off from the rod a bit too far for comfortable use, but the best by far being the Youngs/Masterline Rolling-Pin, heavily influenced by Ray Walton, superbly engineered but again, too expensive for me.

I'd say that this design is specifically attractive to those favouring the 'rolling' and roving approach, which is after all what it was designed for, but not in my view a requirement of a c'pin for all-round use.

The c'pins I mainly use are Match Aerial (replicas) and "Fred Crouch Jet" aerials

In these c'pins, the ratchet has a pawl which is pushed by a spring against a toothed wheel. The pawl is, by design, a softer material than the toothed wheel it acts against so it needs replacing and the wheel does not. I had some spares privately made, as I did have trouble with purchasing replacements but that is a separate story (one you may enjoy at another time). The spring acting against the ratchet pawl can be tweaked so as to make a 'nicer' noise - less harsh. They have a drag mechanism which acts (rubs) against a recess in the pin, and which in theory could wear the pin if used to excess for too long, but in practice the wear would be minimal. I find that I back off the adjuster until the compression spring loosens, and then increase again to just put the spring in compression - balance between freeness of running and reducing wear on the spindle. It still runs freely but not with so much chance of over-run.

They run freely enough and continue to do so if lubricated properly. I sat and spun mine for ages when I first bought them, and then by setting up a motorised spinner using crude cardboard "sails" and a hair drier, until I was happy that they were 'run in', although I cannot say that was a necessity in reality - or more bluntly might have been a complete waste of time. Recently I saw running in in a totally different light, the manufacturers of the Fred Crouch Gem Collection actually applied a light liquid abrasive to the pin and hub, and used an air-line to run the reel to a very fast speed for a moment but taking great care not to allow overheating, allowed it to relax and slow, clean it and repeat until when lubricated 'properly' it would run correctly, - maybe akin to several months or seasons worth of use?

Getting the 'spin for ages' misconception into perspective, I would say that when cleaned, adjusted, and oiled as described mine will spin for 20-30 seconds only and that is how I like it to be. I could replace the oil with GT85/WD40 (see here ) and this would increase the spin duration enormously but that is not a good move, nor a necessity. Beware that by using WD40 a second-hand reel could be made to appear to be running more smoothly than maybe is the case - whether this is deliberate or not it can pay to check.

Another adjustment is the screw acting on the end of the pin, which adjusts the "end float", that small amount of movement which allows for expansion of metal if temperatures rise - my advice is that it's best to leave this completely alone! but if you feel the need adjust carefully until no movement in/out and then back off about a 'gnats'. Screw it in too far and the reel will not rotate, unscrew it too far and there may be horrible graunchy noises as the drum will bottom on the backplate and the internal mechanisms, and likely scratch the finish on the rear plate of the drum.

Most of these are a question of feel and cannot be explained to a 'non-feeler'. I would hope you understand feel.

Finally, to say that my favourite pins are over 35 years old and I'd use them almost exclusively. I do not fish as often these days but I have to say that mine bear close inspection and they show no signs of wear on or about the pin. Cleaning, wiping and oiling after *every* trip keeps them in top nick. Putting this wear factor into perspective however, it would not stop the reel performing and neither would you experience any undue difficulties in use. It is not a safety or performance problem like it would with a worn bearing/part of a car or motorcycle, and there is no MOT test on reels! I like the reel to look used and that is indicated by the finish on the rim wearing - it gives it a bit of character as it is from use and not abuse.

BUT of course, I also have other non-Aerial c'pins too.

Removing the drum - Match Aerial (replicas) and Aerials

fig 16
fig 17
fig 18

To remove the drum of an Aerial : grasp the reel in your left hand and grip the smaller knurled wheel (this is on the spoke opposite the drag adjuster) with finger and thumb as shown in fig 16

Then pull this towards your palm (in the direction of the arrow) against the spring, it is only a small movement, say about 1/10" (2.5mm), as shown in fig 17

Keeping this spring depressed pull the drum upwards to separate the drum from the backplate as shown in fig 18 - once you've done it once you'll get the knack I'm sure.

To replace the drum of an Aerial : Simply, and gently, locate the drum on the spindle, and push until it clicks. Do not use excessive force, and it may be adviseable to disengage the ratchet if there seems some opposition to it clicking home.

Fitting the ratchet pawl - Match Aerial (replicas) and Aerials

fig 19
fig 20

The ratchet pawl could be fitted in either of two ways, by carefully depressing the spring and easing the pawl in or out

The "normal" way to fit the pawl is as shown in fig 19

The "wrong" way, or possibly when reversed (see para on left-handed use) is as shown in fig 20

Cleaning and maintenance - Match Aerial (replicas) and Aerials

I would normally remove the drum (shown in previous paragraph) and lubricate the spindle after every trip, however if I leave rods made up I'd be somewhat lazy and not bother with cleaning, but certainly would lubricate.

When used for legering, as most of my barbel fishing is, lubrication is a light oiling with 3-in-1 oil, 3 drops on the spindle before re-assembly. I do keep a tube of Wahl Hair Clipper lubricant in my fishing coat for bankside use (which has been handy in the winter when temperatures are a bit low.)

An essential item for your tackle bag is a small brush for cleaning the reel, especially where the pin fits and when small particles of grit find their way in, or when the oil gels perhaps. I found the ideal, courtesy of my "other half", known as a mascara wand and widely available (I recently purchased ten for £1)

cleaning brush

When used for trotting I began to favour GT85 lubricant, although I had not tested it over a long enough period, certainly a better bet than WD40 though. But a downside to GT85 is that it also is in an aerosol, and is so thin and liquid that I believe it might spread and contaminate fingers and probably bait. So I have reverted to 3-in-1, and Wahl lubricant for the future.

Just a note here that I believe WD40 actually has a detrimental affect in that it is a good penetrating oil but not a good lubricator, much of it evaporates anyway. The effect would be a 'dry' bearing surface which would be more likely to wear.

If there is a chance there might be dirt or grit present I give my reels a proper clean. I remove the drum and put the whole lot in the sink with washing up liquid (yes, line and all), rinse well, rinse again, leave to dry (or use hair drier if careful not to overheat), lubricate, and put away.

I would not hesitate to recommend the Jet Aerials but it is, as with most things, a matter of taste and feel. I would definitely buy them again! I did toy, a while ago, with the idea of buying two new reels (I always buy in twos, sadly) - maybe changing to any other 'decent' design - but common sense prevailed, as I wanted them rather than needed them ... actually at the time of updating this article I now have six ... errrrr or more!

Choosing a centrepin - what would you look for?

Given all of the above, how would you choose a c'pin?

Decide upon the use to which you will put the c'pin , but make sure your options are open though.

Particular features I look for, either to have or avoid as required, are : whether true-pin or ball-races; weight; colour; knurling on the drum's rim; drag and ratchet; handles; line-guide.

Are you right or left handed? Does the position (and type) of the ratchet actuator suit the way you hold the rod / c'pin reel?

Does one look right? does it feel right? does the weight seem about right? does it feel right on your rod?

Does it run nicely; does it have handles, and if so are they in the right place for you?

Does it's design have anything which might restrict all methods of casting?

Are the reel feet the right length to fit nicely on your normal rod, or indeed any of your rods?

I always like two of everything, for the sole reason of liking identical setups for familiarity - important to me but not necessarily to others. This follows on to the price which, although not the single most important point on its own, is a contributory factor of course.

There are no rights and wrongs - You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Further centrepin-related information

See also the Centrepin Database on Barbel Fishing World - although unfortunately it didn't really get off the ground due to lack of input. Maybe I'll get round to having another go later ... maybe not.

paul (paul4barbus) whiteing

(orig article circa 2003)

last updated 26/10/2020