The Center Pin Foleys

Join me on an adventure as I learn the art of fishing, Center Pin style.
By: Eric Zadorecky

I'd never picked up one of these reels before the day I purchased my first one. I was introduced to this technique about a decade ago one winter on one of Lake Erie's Eastern tributaries. After fishing a very productive run and catching only a few fish, a gentleman walked down on the "wrong side" of the run and began to fish. We chuckled to ourselves, and entertained the thought of letting this "beginner" know he should come over by us on the "right side" if he wanted to catch anything. Before our thoughts turned to action he had hooked his first, of what was to be many more fish. We dismissed the first fish to "Well, no one fishes there so there must have been one dim-witted fish there all by himself." After the sixth fish in almost as many drifts I just stood there quietly muttering to myself, "How did... why is he... well those fish... but... how come... well if I..." You get the idea.

It wouldn't be till many years later that once again I would get the bug. Join me on a float fishing experience as I learn the art of the Center Pin reel, one mistake at a time!

The below entries are a day-by-day account of my learning process, my thoughts on reels, line, gear, and techniques as I'm introduced to them. Being totally new to this style of fishing I take nothing for granted and make most of the typical beginner mistakes, none of which I could find on the web. So sit back and enjoy the ride. This "article" will be continuously updated as my experiences with the center pin and float fishing grow.

Finally, got one of Leon Hanson's reels a couple days ago. I've been waiting for one of these for well over a year now; even paid full price for it. Started looking, once again, for center pin fishing websites for info on the setup, rigging, etc.. Pretty disappointing to see what's out there, a few websites but nothing very informative. I had a hard time trying to figure out how to match the rod to the reel. (For the reels specifications click HERE)

Started out the morning on the web hitting multiple search engines to see what kind of info's out there. Again, not much worth-while. Someone needs to build a good all encompassing website on float fishing... hmmmm (as a little light goes on in the back of my mind). Started to compile info for the website starting with Leon's manual. As I read it I did notice the warranty, only 1 year. In a time when every reel priced over $200 has a lifetime on it, it's "interesting" that this $330 reel is a little short in this arena.

As I was re-entering the information in the owner's manual to put it on-line, I noticed an underlying theme, BE CAREFULL with it! There are numerous warnings, cautions and phrases like "Handle with care. This is a precision-engineered instrument." throughout the owners manual. This makes me a little weary about the tolerances and the fact that most of Michigan is sand! Not to mention knocking around the boat, client use, friend use, etc. I guess we'll see how durable it ends up being. My feelings right now are with the higher than most price, short warranty, very tight tolerances and many cautions I'm not sure this is the reel to begin with. But then again I've yet to fish it.

Had a couple hours to myself this afternoon and decided to run down to the river and try out the new reel. Found a nice spot where the current seam came in tight against the near bank and continued downstream relatively constant for about a hundred yards. I figured I could float the whole thing. Ok, now how do you cast one of these things? You should have seen it. I looked like a 3 year old! Things I found out, in a strong wind the line will play off the reel to the downwind side all by it's self, controlling a free running spool with frozen hands is about hopeless and casting off the side of the spool creates line twist problems! The later the three I knew from reading but I still did it due to the fact that's the only way I can cast further that 10 feet. Most of the 20 minutes I "fished" was spent untangling mono from the reel seat, guides, feet, rocks, etc.. As my hands, ears and face get closer to frostbite, oh did I mention it was 24 degrees and winds to about 25 mph, I kept thinking why the heck did I spend all this money on a reel I could have made by ripping the drag out of one of my fly reels? I did manage to get a couple pretty long drifts, but didn't touch any fish, which is probably for the best. One set of problems at a time.

*Note: I would like to try a reel with larger handle(s) as they were hard to grasp with frozen fingers and a bit on the small side. I would recommend this reel to anyone with arthritis.

Talk about being in the right spot at the right time. I managed to get a hold of the reels creator, Leon Hanson, and weasel my way in for an interview and perhaps a lesson or two! Just what I need.

Hit the river with high hopes of catching everything in the creek with my new reel, or at least trying to figure out how to cast it! Got out in the boat to check out the run without having to worry about casting just yet. Nice, the reel changes with the differing current speeds. It's easy to control since Leon showed me how to hold the reel properly. Had quite a time with guide icing and even line icing. Cold morning. I did notice that any bit of ice in the guides or on the line will alter the drift ever so slightly at the rod, but it's much more noticeable at the float. Using very light weight to match the now tortoise like flows of the river made it somewhat hard to keep the float steady while the little ice chunks ran out thru the guides. Never did catch a fish which is just as well. I wouldn't have known what to do with one. That's next weeks lesson!

Talking with Leon again, he mentioned the rod I'm using is more than likely handicapping my casting and more importantly my ability to keep the line off the water for as long as possible. He mentioned a rod at Cabela's that would work in a pinch for float fishing. A crappie rod with a good stiff backbone, moderate mid section and soft tip. After about an hour of looking I managed to find one very decent rod, the "Ultimate B&M", a great rod for the money. It might even be a decent steelhead spinning rod. The only problem is 10' was the longest it came in, a little too short. After looking some more I found a nice rod that would do the trick, the only downfall is it had very low casting style guides all the way up. I'd have to strip the guides and replace them with larger spinning rod ones. Well, the rods only $25 so what the heck. Got a set of guides there also and headed home. Stripped all but the very top guide off and replaced them with Cabela's Superloy guides, a whopping $9 investment. Not the best guides, but they'll work for a test rod. My plan is to build a good rod if I like this CenterPin thing..

Hit the river once again, this time with a vengeance and a new rod! I did manage to re-finish the whole thing overnight! Hit my first fish within a few minutes of starting. Fish on! I had no problem playing the fish on a reel with no drag. Partly because the fish was all of 20", but mostly thanks to the rod. It's 13' long and has a nice moderate mid section. Amazing how much energy that rod will suck up. I did have to use my fingers to "palm" the spool a couple times, which was very easy to do. I ended up the day with 5 other fish including a couple around 7-8 pounds. One of the larger fish hit about 50 yards downstream. Now that was a battle! I did have a couple problems. One, I had a hard time seeing the float at distance. I could have chosen a larger float, but the water conditions dictated a small one. Also, I had a huge problem with my mono sinking. I was using Seguar CarbonPro, always thought it floated... NOT. I'm going to order a spool of Siglon "F" floating mono line. The current was so slow and the line was in the water so long, it sank and would eventually drag the float down, not to mention messing up the drift for the last third. Floating line is the way to go. I was amazed by the reels ability to run even with the softest current. One spot I fished there was no discernable current visible, underwater there was but that's how soft the currents have become lately and the reel would still pay out line.

Decided to do a walk in trip today for a couple hours to see some new water and practice my shore bound casting and floating skills. It's a lot easier to get a good long drift standing 6' or more above the water, but standing knee deep in frigid water it's a whole different world. Found a run with lots of room for a back cast and a semi decent current. I started out by removing the small float I had used earlier out of the boat. I'd need a bit more weight to aid my awful casting. That done, and a few more split shot added to keep the float tipped up and not on it's side, I stepped out in the water and began what was to be a frustrating half hour.

Again, it was windy and very cold. I had icing problems with the line and rod guides. I has almost thought about over sizing the guides when I re-built the rod, but opted against it to keep the cost down to a minimum. I know now that it really doesn't matter since any speck of ice in the guides will ruin a good float. Ice starts forming on the bottom inside of the guide, right where the line runs though it and back to the reel. Coincidently, that's the same place it runs out! I'm kind of curious to try the latest in de-icing products to see how they will impact the line run. One product I use religiously on my fly rod is Stanley's Ice-Off Paste. I can foresee problems due to the thickness of the paste; preventing the smooth flow of line through the guides. I may have to opt for a less dense product.

I again tried my version of the Wallis cast, this time will a little more sucess - my luck attributed to a heavier set up. This setup also allowed me to be a little more forceful checking my float. When using a very light set up and float, every bump of the rod is translated down the line to the float and, depending on how severe, the bait or fly. Definitly not a desired effect! While I did like the extra weight and what it allowed me to do, or get away with, I didn't like how it slowed the drift. The water was slow enough that I had wanted to keep the entire rig moving. Speaking of moving, the lack of current kept my main line in the water too long once again and I had problems with it sinking. I took the Seguar CarbonPro off and replaced it with Trilene... right after ordering a spool of Siglon floating line! If the lines not doing what it's supposed to do there's no point in ruining perfectly good fluorocarbon. It'll be interesting to see how the Trilene will compare.

Well, Trilene sucks! The diameter of the 10lb is huge! Line coils and memory were the name of the game. It took me all of 30 minutes to figure out I needed to strip it off, which I did right on the stream bank. Back to the Seguar for the time being. I should be getting some Siglon tomorrow!! Starting to have a problem with the spool on the center pin wobbling. Leon warned me about this when I got the reel. He said it was caused by a Teflon covered screw that caused him to re-tap the reel cage to accommodate it. He already has a fix and made sure to tell me if I had that problem to bring it over to him and he'd fix it. I guess the only reels with this problem are less than 10 of the first run.

Very interesting day today, got the opportunity to fish with Leon Hanson (for pics and report click HERE). He met me at the house, Loomis 13'er and Siglon in hand. The Loomis rod was a loaner. He wanted me to see the difference in a truly long rod. The Siglon was a loaner spool until mine arrived. With only a few hours to fish we spooled up my reel with the new line and headed off. I ended up doing 2 fish and Leon had one break off after a prolonged fight. A very hot fish! A few things I learned today: Siglon floating is the way to go PERIOD! The line is lighter, more supple, and floats! You can get a long way down stream, simply raise the rod and pick up all the line off the water to check your float. With regular mono sinking so fast, even on short floats, if you try and check your float after a minute you'll find your line has sunk a foot or so making it impossible to re-position your line without totally disturbing your float. The Siglon simply lifts off the water. Also to its benefit, line memory is zero! A simple stretch of the line will straighten it out completely. What great line! The rod I was using for the day was a Loomis GL3 of some sort. 13' long with a very nice feel to it. I immediately noticed the extra control I had with it over my 11 foot rod.

The only drawback to it would be it's weight. That long of a rod weighs a ton. Loomis is working with Leon to design a float rod for Great Lakes Centerpin fishing, should be sweet. He's currently using a 13' IMX rod which is amazing, light as a feather, and very powerful. Can't wait to get one! It makes a huge difference. Leon noticed the sounds my reel was making and mandated I leave the reel with his so he could take it apart and clean it out. Apparently I had set it in some dirty water and it had collected within the spool. He told me, as had the manual, to keep it out of the water and cased when not in use. Gotta be careful with a reel of micro tolerances! He cleaned it out, confirmed his suspicions about me leaving it in the water, and gave it back to me with the re-affirmation of keeping it clean and out of dirty water! Keep it clean, keep it clean, and keep it clean!

Got out one last time this year. Got the reel back on the 21st, Leon cleaned it out, tightened up the loose screw and gave it a clean bill of health. I managed a couple fish on it today, no problems at all. I do miss using that 13' rod!

Well, that about covers my beginners journey into float fishing. I'm casting a little better now, thanks to Mr. Hanson's help. Playing fish continues to be exciting with no drag, you've gotta try it, and I'm starting to refine my fishing style. Learning the proper use for the different floats, how much shot to use, leader length, etc.. I'm still no expert by any means, but I've learned enough to get by and start catching a few fish. For a continuing look at the Hanson Center Pin Reel head over to our "Quest Tested" gear section. For the latest entries as I continue to learn the art, read on below....

I just booked my first Florida trip of the year. Come March I'll be chucking streamers for Snook, Trout and Reds. Now that I know the history of center pin/float reels started in the salt decades ago, maybe I'll take mine down there! I'm leaning towards using my heavy spey rod, which is an 11/12 wt, as I think it'll be a touch better than my much lighter Steelhead rod. Now if that doesn't jinx me into catching small fish! I'm undecided on how heavy to go on the main line, and if I should use Siglon "F"? I wonder how the saltwater will effect it. Guess there's only one way to find out. I'll order a spool of 20lb Siglon and give it a shot.

POST NOTE- Never did break out the float rod down there in the salt, to much to do and too little time in which to do it!

Just got back from shooting the first half of the "Centerpin 101" video down on the Erie Tribs. As I look back on this article I guess it's been almost a year since I picked up that strange looking reel! There have been small improvements in my casting; watching other good casters helps big time. I did manage to pick up a "real" rod. Loomis released it's STFR 1601 a couple months ago and I couldn't resist. I thought a good rod would make it easier to cast, but I was mistaken. I still can't cast that well even with an expensive rod!!

I'll keep updating this page as often as there's something new in my "learning curve".

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