I first laid hands on a Speed Spool around 1975 in Apalachicola. I went there to fish with a promotions guy from Lew's, which was located in Foley, Ala., at the time. The company had been started in about 1970 by avid angler Lew Childre and it was rapidly gaining ground in the bass industry with the slogan "Lighter, Faster, Stronger."
The promotions guy, whose name was Shag Shahid, an enormous man weighing more than 300 pounds with a heart to match, was one of those classic characters the fishing industry mints on a regular basis. He could cast a quarter-ounce jig into a tea cup at 50 feet, every time. He no more than introduced himself — and proved his casting skill — when we were on our way to the nearest seafood restaurant.
"We got to eat some oysters to get ready," he advised me.
At that point, I was a little concerned about what we were getting ready for , but it turned out Shag felt the need to fortify himself before fishing. To the tune of 120 oysters on Saltine crackers, drenched in Louisiana hot sauce.
He actually did not eat the whole 10 dozen — I probably ate six or eight. Oysters, not dozens.
"Cold front coming in," he said as he looked over the pile of shells on the table. "Better dress warm tomorrow."
At first light, we were in Shag's bass boat, slaloming around the morass of creeks that make up the Apalachicola River delta. It was one of those days that dawns cold and gray — then gets colder and grayer.
The fish did not bite at the first three stops, but the wind did. After a while I noticed that the Speed Spool reel Shag had loaned me, which was smooth as butter on the first few casts, was starting to stick and grind. When I looked at the reel, I saw that ice was freezing in the level-wind.
We needed tip-ups, not baitcasters.
Nonetheless, Shag — warmed from within by the oysters, no doubt — kept studying his Humminbird flasher. You remember flashers, the whirring disks with the little orange lights that showed us that … something … was under the boat? Often it was just bottom, but that was the start of the growth of today's scanners.
Pretty soon, Shag advised me to cast my diving plug out to the middle of the creek and crank it deep. I did, and reeled in a 4-pound bass. Next cast, same result. Meantime, he put two of equal size in the boat. We caught a dozen in 30 minutes.
The Speed Spool that Shag brought with him that day became one of the most successful early baitcasters, a competitor for the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur, and the company sold thousands of them.
The reels weighed 8.6 ounces, held 155 yards of 12-pound-test monofilament — nobody had heard of braid or fluorocarbon at the time — and had a 4.3:1 gear ratio, which we thought was pretty speedy at the time. It had three ball bearings, which was also thought to be mighty cool 35 years back. They had a level wind that disengaged on the cast — maybe the first of this design — and a smooth plate on the left side that made palming easy. They sold for $99, which was pretty pricey back then, but the reels sold like crazy.
Lew was killed in a plane crash a few years later — he flew planes and loved to take a float plane into the Everglades — and the company withered away under new owners.
Enter Lynn Reeves, formerly a buyer for Bass Pro Shops, who understood the Japanese connection and the value in the Lew's Speed Spool brand. The company was reborn, and this year at ICAST in Orlando it brought out a new version of the Speed Spool.
The 2013 Speed Spool is a whole different animal than the original, however. It has 11 ball bearings, a carbon composite drag system, magnetic cast control and a machined aluminum frame. It's a low-profile reel, weighs 8 ounces, and the maker says it's tough enough to flip with 65-pound-test braid and smooth enough to finesse fish with 10-pound fluoro. It's available in gearing of 5.4:1, 6.4:1 or 7.1:1, the latter a real speed burner. It's priced at $179.95, not too bad considering inflation since 1980 — when you could buy Apalachicola oysters for 3 bucks a dozen.
The new reel is great for long-distance casting with big plugs like the Super Spook, a favorite with snook anglers around Tampa Bay. The 6.4:1 gearing is about right for cranking big crankbaits, too — and would also make it a powerhouse for taking on Florida heavyweights like jack crevalle and bull reds. It really is "lighter, faster and stronger," as Lew Childre advertised many years ago.
You can learn more about this and other Lew's tackle at www.Lews.com.