All that talk about bass fishing last week got me to thinking back to the time before I got hooked on fly fishing. It is hard to believe that back in the Dark Ages, I was a devoted bass fisherman. I still have two large tackle boxes full of bass plugs and spinnerbaits. And despite the desperate attempts by my wife to sell off all of my old spin rods and reels a few have survived.
While writing last week’s column, I happened to remember an old bait casting reel that I had saved from one of Janet’s yard sales. The reel was right where I left it: sitting on the windowsill in my den. The reel is an Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 5000.
When I picked it up, it was like reuniting with an old friend. The reel is in remarkably good shape with only a little “boat rash.” It was covered in a layer or two of dust, and I must have upset at least one spider when I picked it up. I gave it a quick rinse under the faucet, and it worked just fine; even the braided line on it was in good shape.
The Ambassadeur 5000 revolutionized the bait cast world when it came out in 1954. Made in Svangsta, Sweden, it made the American-made bait casters obsolete overnight. It could handle monofilament line, which was far better that the braised lines of the era. It had class written all over it.
It was red and came in a leather case with a couple of tools and an oiler. It sold for $45, which was a lot more than the American competition, but it was worth every bit the extra money, and the bass anglers of the day ate it up.
The reel is still being made today although the original plant in Sweden is long gone. The early models are quite collectible and can fetch a good price depending on age and condition. Some of them have serial numbers that make them easy to date; mine was made in 1974. Even though I have the original leather case and tools, it is probably only worth $50 to $75 on a good day.
I purchased the reel, I think in 1978, at the old Building 19 in Haverhill. Building 19 specialized in selling closeout merchandise from other discount chains. A friend of mine had heard that they had just acquired a huge lot of fishing tackle from a sporting goods store that had a fire. This was typical of the kind of stuff that Building 19 sold. I used to love to shop their record selection: LPs for a buck. We arrived at the store just as they opened the doors. The whole lot was piled up in the middle of the store and smelled of smoke.
They hadn’t even priced most of the stuff yet, which is how I came to own the reel. Out of the middle of the pile I pulled out the reel. I asked a nearby clerk, “How much?” He didn’t know and called a manager over who took a quick look and said “20 bucks.” I couldn’t get the money out of my pocket fast enough. The price for that reel in those days was around $100. My buddy and I had hoped to score a few cheap lures and the 20 bucks was way over my budget. With a brand-new baby at home, I did worry what Janet would say.
After I cleaned it up, I knew I had to cast it. I rummaged around in the den and found an old Fenwick fiberglass bait casting rod. This old rod has a story as well and the fact that it survived all those yard sales is remarkable. I found a box of bass lures as well, but couldn’t find a single swivel, so I settled for tying a Heddon Tiny Torpedo directly to the line.
I took the rig down to beach, early this morning and began to cast. My son used to catch bass off the beach when he was just a little boy. I should say that I made an attempt to cast. I was terrible and it was obvious that somewhere along the line I had forgotten how to cast.
There is a skill attached to bait casting and it was clear I didn’t have it. It took a while, but it finally came back to me. I never did get any distance, but eventually I could get the lure somewhere near where I wanted it to go and with no backlash.
And then it happened. All of a sudden, the lure stopped and there was a tug. I had a bass on it. It didn’t last long, but for a few short seconds I was hooked up and then he threw the lure, and it was over. With that I called it a morning. A neighbor stopped me on my way back to the house and asked if I had caught anything. I must have been grinning ear to ear when I replied: “Yes, I did.”
You know, I have a nice old ultralight spinning reel kicking around. I may have to see if I can find a rod for it.
See you on the river.