Gearing the Future

How Shimano’s Lifetime of Innovation led to the World’s Most Versatile Spinning Reel

FSF Staff May 15, 2017

Shimano is recognized worldwide as the leading manufacturer of the smoothest, fastest and most powerful saltwater fishing reels in existence, but it’s not by chance the reels are placed on such a high pedestal. Rather, a lifetime of innovation has led to the most perfectly forged, geared and finely tuned reels in the world, with all of their efforts leading up to the newly designed Stradic.

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Photo: Shimano

Recently winning a coveted ICAST Best of Show award, the Stradic is the latest in a pedigree of reels that pay homage to generations of skilled artisans. The story begins in the historic city of Sakai in the Osaka Prefecture of Japan. As early as the 15th century A.D., local blacksmiths and craftsmen were perfecting the art of hammering steel and forging blades, first creating the tools needed to build the great burial mounds of Kofun.

With today’s advanced technologies, Shimano’s cold-forging produces extremely strong, precision cut metals with the best possible molecular cohesion.

During the 14th century the city was best known for sword making until the 16th century when the samurai were banned from wearing their swords. As times passed the Portuguese introduced tobacco and the local blacksmiths developed Sakai knives for cutting these thick plants. Sakai’s longstanding secrets, processes and dedication to perfection of forming metal shapes through forging are the basis of Shimano’s manufacturing pedigree.

It wasn’t until 1921 when Shozaburo Shimano opened his first factory in Sakai, with the goal of producing a single-speed bicycle freewheel. The Shimano brand has always been focused on gearing and what separates Shimano from the rest is their perfected forging abilities. Master samurai swordsmiths of Sakai would fold and forge steel more than a dozen times to remove any impurities, while also creating alternating layers that greatly increase the toughness and durability of the blade. With today’s advanced technologies, Shimano’s cold-forging produces extremely strong, precision cut metals with the best possible molecular cohesion.

During the early years, a fishing reel was simply a place to hold line and the spool’s capacity determined the type and size of game fish that could be pursued. Modern drag systems were non-existent and anglers used leather pads to apply pressure to the rotating spool. The only thing that mattered was getting a bite, and then figuring out how to deal with the hooked fish. Anglers never considered torque, power or retrieve. For the basic techniques common to the times the reels were certainly sufficient. However, the innovators at Shimano realized that to make landings more probable anglers needed greatly improved drag systems.

Common to the traditional Japanese mindset to never celebrate your victories, one must move forward with innovation to improve at the next opportunity. After figuring out how to enhance a reel’s drag, the next thing Shimano looked to improve was gearing—a subject of which they were very familiar with.

From their experience making a hill easier to climb on a bike the engineers knew that with smooth gear meshing, power transfer is more efficient. Additionally, with less play in the gear system, power from foot to pedal to chain to wheel is more dynamic. Shimano had the system in place and it wasn’t long before it was implemented into a fishing reel.

Angling in the late 1960s and early 1970s was largely defined by Penn Reels. At the time, Shimano was pioneering polyvinyl injected reels when everyone else was satisfied with metal bodies. The Japanese manufacturer continued to improve the angling experience across all venues with smooth drags, adequate gearing and much lighter reels. With the introduction of the nylon-composed TLD and Speed-master, Shimano began to pull away from the pack and they cruised through the 1980s and 1990s with the introduction of the Tiagra and Calcutta.

During these years, Shimano was really focused on developing modern spinning reels and how to apply the concepts learned through their conventional pursuits to the offset gearing and body design of a spinning reel. Much of the problem was associated with power transfer from the handle to the gears. Additionally, the flexibility of body material was a big hindrance. The industry as a whole was trying to emulate TLD body materials and design to shed weight, but Shimano learned that in some instances metal bodies were more appropriate and this led to the introduction of the Sustain and Stella in the late 1990s.

The team at Shimano now turned their attention to the specific parameters of reel body material and how to achieve both high-speed retrievals and massive torque in a single package. This led to the development of the Trinidad and Torsa, with both providing unparalleled speed, power and versatility.

The next step in the evolution process was the refinement of high-efficiency gearing with the precise cold-forging of 3D metal shapes in a single strike. Unlike manufacturers that finish forged gears with a machining process, Shimano’s gears are perfect right out of the press. Having to refine after the fact negates the reason you would cold forge to begin with, which is to achieve maximum molecular density for unmatched strength and smoothness.

With their newly refined gears, the engineers at Shimano realized that the maximum torque of a spinning reel was limited by geometry and leverage issues involving the handle length and how power is transferred to the rotor. The resulting concept evolved into X-Ship, which moved the worm gear closer to the center of the main drive gear, effectively increasing rigidity and cranking power.

This is where the Florida connection begins as well as the development of the Hagane concept—a highly durable cold-forged aluminum design. At the time, the only really powerful spinning reel was a 6000 size and beyond. The real niche was Shimano’s innovation of butterfly jigging, and smaller spinning reels were simply for presentation. Anglers plying shallows statewide relied more on sensitive graphite rods and ultra-thin diameter braided line to translate slight twitches to their soft plastic shrimp of choice. A reel’s drag or torque wasn’t really much of an issue chasing redfish, trout and snook in water only a few feet deep.

It just so happens the engineers at Shimano enjoyed fishing in Florida. And, with the development and capacity afforded by braided lines the paradigm that the quarry you can pursue is limited to how much line your reel can hold was no longer applicable. Anglers began to realize they didn’t need a 4000 series reel inshore and Shimano embraced the light tackle philosophy with the introduction of the most influential spinning reel ever produced. Anglers started choosing 2500 size reels because of how much 20 lb. braid they could fit on the spool. The problem was that the torque and bulk of the different size gears were very different.

Stradic is the culmination of Shimano’s pride in engineering, and the newly upgraded FK model is a truly global product spawned from fishing Florida’s shallows. The shift to light tackle outfits and reels that are capable of pursuing larger game fish is taking over fisheries worldwide and the new Stradic FK enables anglers to do more than ever before.

Available in five models, the Stradic series of reels provide the most advanced technology ever seen in a spinning reel. There really isn’t anywhere in the world like Florida, and our widespread fisheries lend themselves to the development of the most precision crafted tackle ever created. No matter where you fish, Stradic resonates with you and it’s pretty cool that the most capable spinning reel in the world was developed to appease anglers fishing our waters.

Evolution is a process in gaining strength and efficiency. Thankfully, Shimano caters to the demands of the most die-hard anglers and strives to improve the angling experience through lessons learned while pushing the envelope.

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