Thursday, 11 September 2008

J. W. Young BJ Lightweight Centrepin Reel

The J. W. Young & Sons Bob James Lightweight is a modern Aerial-type centrepin. It has a spoked construction and two ball bearing races upon which the spool runs, meaning it is not a 'true' centrepin in the purest sense. There are pros and cons to this, which I will touch upon later.

The first thing to consider when the tempting prospect of centrepin purchase arises is cost. Frankly, centrepins are expensive and spoked types, generally speaking, clock in at the upper end of the spectrum. I obtained mine from Summerlands ( At the time of writing they have this model listed for £235 (plus P&P) so, should you decide to purchase one, do yourself a favour and shop around before you cough up the £299 some places are charging.

So, what do you get for the money? The reel (this one has a 4.5" x 1" spool) comes lavishly packaged in a green, zipped canvas pouch inside a sturdy cardboard box. The reels are serial numbered and this unique identifier appears on the inside of the backplate as well as the box and certificate of authenticity supplied with each reel. Now, I have to say that this certificate of authenticty nonsense gets on my pip. It whiffs of a faint desperation to connect to a long gone era when craftsmen assembled these reels in dingy, oily workshops in Redditch. In fact they're assembled at Masterline's state of the art factory at Tewkesbury Business Park; a setting which, I imagine, would hold little appeal for traditionalist centrepin users. Still, I suppose the collectors like them.

The reel bespeaks class; the
spool's brass-coloured nickel silver spokes and hub contrasting appealingly with the lustrous grey anodized body and drum. The substantial click check lever is mounted on the body rim and the foot is finished in a fetching anodized bronze.

Incidentally, the foot is not overly large and fits well into my modern rods' fittings as well as the universal rings on my cane.

The twin black plastic handles are unobtrusive and can be removed for those who prefer batting. Unfortunately, upon inspecting the backplate things get a bit grim. The manufacturers have decided to silk-screen the model and maker's name onto the backplate rather than engrave, or etch, into it. In my view, and at this price, it looks cheap. To make matters worse, in the case of my particular reel, the process appears to have been carried out particularly poorly. The result is disappointing, but I found solace in the thought that it will, doubtless, wear off fairly quickly. Two thirds of the backplate of the lightweight version of the BJ Centrepin (Bob James, incidentally, is co-star of the fabulous series A Passion for Angling.) has been extensively machined away for lightness. This leaves an impressive aluminium lattice but only, according to Masterline's brochure, a 5gm weight advantage over the 'standard' BJ. I suspect this may be an error and would be surprised if the discarded material amounts to only 5gms. However, I do not have both reels to weigh and compare. My feeling is that the weight advantage is more in the region of 20-30gms, but that's a guess.

It is in use that this reel comes into its own. Put simply, it is a joy to use. I have yet to discover a better way of trotting a stick or avon float through a swim than with a centrepin and the BJ Lightweight is an effective tool for this purpose. I have used it with light lines (2.5 – 3lb B.S.) as well as more substantial ones (6lb B.S. - Masterline state the reel has been design for Wallis Casting with heavier lines), trotting everything from light-ish stick floats through to quite hefty avons. I have fished in a variety of conditions and each time the reel has performed well. The spool requires minimal effort to start it turning. A relatively light float will peel line from the spool with only a sluggish flow to pull it through. The spool, at 1" wide, projects enough from beneath the rod handle to facilitate comfortable thumb control. I find narrow drum centrepins give me thumb-ache after a time, but that may just be me. I think this one is just right. There is a micro-adjustment to slow down the spool should this be necessary. I have never had occasion to use it but the mechanism works well enough.

The BJ Lightweight does not have a line guard as it has been designed with Wallis casting in mind. I have to admit that, of all the centrepins I own, this one is the easiest with which to Wallis cast. I don't know why this is; it just feels more controllable. My feeling is that, although the spool runs as freely as it needs to, it is not as overly free-running as some of my other centrepins seem to be, and this appears to make a difference.

The click check does the job, if a little raucously. I particularly like the rim-mounted lever, which I find preferable to those mounted on the rear of the backplate. Also, I found it very easy to adapt to reel for left-handed use. This involved removing the spool, taking out the spring-tensioned pawl from the click check mechanism, turning it round, and replacing it. Obviously, for left-handed users, the click-check lever will be at the back of the reel. Another thing to consider, if you are a left-hander, is that the machined-away parts of the backplate will be at the front of the reel. These issues were not a problem for me; others might find them awkward. It is possible, for example, to push one's fingers through the machined away part of the backplate and through the spokes of the spool itself; something I would not advise with, say, an angry 5lb chub on the other end.

In conclusion, I think the reel – its construction, which is substantial, its aesthetics, which are appealing, and in use, where it shines - represents extremely good value for money (especially if you shop around for a good price). In fact, if pressed, while it lacks the character of my old Speedia, it is the reel I would opt for had I to choose only one. The fact that it has ball bearings means it is easy to keep clean and is more unlikely to jam while in use, unlike a true centrepin. On the other hand the bearings produce a quiet, but undeniable noise, albeit noticeable only in conditions of near silence. Unlike a true centrepin, the action of the spool should never alter, whereas a reel with a bushed bearing will tend to become freer running over time. It all depends upon personal preference, but I'm happy with the BJ Lightweight's performance as it is, and if it remains the same for the next 30 years or so, I shall be happier still.

J. W. Young & Sons
Y2080L BJ Lightweight
4.5" x 1"

Price Paid: £235 + £11 P&P (Citylink)

Distributed by Masterline International Ltd
Severn Drive, Tewkesbury Business Park
Tewkesbury, Glos, GL20 8SF, UK
Tel. 01684 299000

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