TESTED: Custom reel

John Baker is an American fishing reel designer/manufacturer who produces custom built game reels aimed at discerning anglers who demand quality.

I’ve been using a two-speed JB 4 reel in recent times and rate it as a serious bit of kit, ideal for trolling and livebaiting work. The 4 is the smallest in the series (there’s also a 6 and a 12) and I’ve loaded it with 250m of 65lb braid and about 100m of 50lb mono backing. It’s a similar sort of size to a Shimano Trinidad 40N or Torsa 20. At 30 ounces, or 850 grams, it’s no lightweight. The weight is a good indication of the sturdy construction. This lever drag game reel features a one-piece aluminium frame, with high quality stainless shielded bearings, stainless steel gears, cam and pinion shaft, tough-as-nails anti-reverse system and carbon fibre drag washers rated to a max pressure of 15 kilos.

An oversize gold anodised alloy handle provides plenty of grip when cranking line back under pressure and the chunky drag lever with its notched side plate allows for ease of use, although oddly enough there doesn’t seem to be a mark to indicate strike drag?

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The reel has a 5:1 ratio in high and 2:1 in low. Unlike mass produced game reels which generally use buttons or levers to change gear, the JB reels feature an innovative toggle switch.

Single speed models (5:1) are also available and the latest versions also feature loud ratchets for trolling. The 4 and 6 don’t feature lugs but the 12 does. Cosmetically, the JB reels rank up there with the best I’ve seen. The test reel features a rich black anodised finish to the body with polished stainless steel sideplate components and gold anodised handle and drag lever. The reel is easily taken apart for maintenance with five socket-head screws providing a quick takedown.

The weight of the JB 4 precludes it, in my eyes anyway, as a viable jigging reel – it’s just too heavy for that sort of work. However, it is an ideal trolling and livebaiting reel, and the smooth gearing and precision construction also allow it to be used as a casting reel (though again it’s pretty heavy). If you like towing big bibbed minnows for yellowfin tuna or downrigging live squid for XOS kingies, this reel definitely worth a look. Its relatively compact size means it is also ideal for switchbaiting for striped and juvenile black marlin.

As a handmade custom gamefishing reel, the JB series aren’t at the budget end of the tackle spectrum. They are, however, very well made with innovative design features and the sort of robust yet stylish construction you’d expect from top-shelf custom built tackle.

The JB 4 is made and designed in America by JB Sportfishing. Refinements and adjustments seem to be made to the reels on a regular basis. JB reels are distributed in Australia by Gold Coast-based GCCR Tackle.

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