Thunder in the East – High Tech Japanese Casting Reels

Posted on November 5, 2006

Guest Review by Craig DeFronzo

You’ve probably already noticed that “Light Tackle” wasn’t included in the title of this article, but I can assure you, you will certainly sense its omnipresence in the following paragraphs. This piece is not a comparison, instead it is a who’s who in the high tech world of Japanese casting reels. I’ve always tried to do things a little different from everybody else when fishing. This means employing different tactics and gear as well as using high performance rods and reels. Within the last 5 years or so I’ve started to switch over to Japan domestic casting reels. These are similar to US models in some cases, but improvements in the form of more ball bearings of higher tolerances, lighter weights, custom handles and spools, and even some unique colors. These characteristics pretty much separate the domestics from the imports. Take a look on and you’ll see some impressive reels that carry hefty price tags, but are they worth it?

I believe they are. There is no doubt in my mind that the Japanese reels I currently use outperform their US cousins in performance. For years I relied on the staple of casting, the Shimano Curado. It is the standard that all casting reels should be measured. This reel is the benchmark of toughness and reliability. About 5 years ago I observed a stir in the bass fishing world as so many guys started talking about replacing bearings and drilling out handles and spools to increase casting distance and decrease weight on their own reels. “Super tuning” became the “in” thing for those seeking higher performance out of their factory reels. ABEC 7 bearings became the hot item as anglers rushed to swap their factory BB’s with the new ones. I never jumped on that band wagon. Instead, I leaped headfirst into the Japanese market and bought my reels direct from overseas. These reels featured all of the new bearings and other characteristics that usually make “Japanese only” products exclusive.

Shimano Scorpion 1001 4X4 SVS
My first experience owning an import reel came with my decision to buy the Shimano Scorpion 1001 and 1501. These reels were essentially modeled after the Curado with a host of features that made them serious players in high performance reel market at a fraction of the price of some of the most popular models. The Scorpion features better bearings than the Curado, a variable brake system and Super Free drilled out titanium-coated spool. The 1001′s featured the removable side plate that let you get at the adjustable spool weights. I loved the new reels immediately as they were lighter and more comfortable to fish. The 1001 features a super low profile and I honestly forget it is even there sometimes. I became so infatuated with these 1001′s that at one time I owned 7 of them.

Here are the stats on the Shimano Scorpion 1001 4X4 SVS
Line Capacity- 100yds 10lb
Brakes-VBS system, weight balanced and adjustable spool, adjustable spool tension knob
Drag- micro adjustable click drag
Spool- drilled aluminum titanium coated wiffle spool, Super Free
Ratio-6.2 to 1, 22″ per revolution
Titanium Coated SiC line guide
Handle-Contoured Septon grips
Drag power-3lbs
Bearings-4bb+1 roller bearing
Price- about $150.00 to $165.00

Ergonomics: The Scorpion 1001 series reel is about as comfortable to fish as they come. To get to the spool weights, the side plate of this reel flips open and rotates downward, staying attached to the reel and providing quick access to the titanium-coated drilled spool. Though constructed entirely of aluminum, the Burgundy finish gives the angler a sense that the reel is made of plastic rather than a lightweight metal.

Drag: The drag on the Scorpion seems a little light at 3lbs. I’ve not had many hair raising experiences with it and it is a Shimano drag system. Noted to be one of the smoothest and reliable out of all manufacturers, this reels drag is smooth indeed.

Retrieve: In one word, the Scorpion is very smooth. Crank the handle of this little reel and you instantly realize that it is smooth and quiet. There is no gear noise as everything seems to mesh perfectly. It picks up line very nicely at 22″ per crank. Not bad for a small capacity spool.

Casting: Before I went exclusively with this reel, I owned 2 Chronarchs and 2 Metanium XT’s, which are the Japanese version of the Chronarch. In my experience, and after several years of using all of the reels, the Scorpion buries them both in casting performance. The thing about this little dynamo is that I can throw a 1/2oz. jig on 17lb. test with it or a 1/8oz. crank bait on 6lb. line. It is extremely versatile as an all purpose reel and uniquely provides you with the ability to throw true ultra light lures like no other reel in its class and perhaps even most of the higher classes of reels. The difference between this reel and many other light tackle oriented casting reels is that the Scorpion does not feel like a toy, has a high capacity spool unlike most others and is likely the most versatile reel on the market. It is the amphibian of casting reels. Simply put, the light weight titanium-coated spool seems to spin forever. With the addition of the SVS/VBS braking systems, you can accurately dial in your reels to prevent backlashes. It’s almost fool proof with a micro-adjustable click drag that locks the settings in. Most other reels do not have the click adjustment.

Conclusion: The Scorpion 1000/1001 reel is an excellent value overall and an excellent choice for someone just getting into Japanese exports. There are a couple of things that I do not like about the reel. First, not unique to it, but instead common place on most of the exports, the reel handle is about an inch shorter than I prefer. I always beef it up with an aftermarket power handle. Next, the light 3lb. drag may scare some people off, but consider that it may be a fail safe to prevent line breakage. This past season I landed three bass approaching 7 lbs. on the Scorpion and only one of them had me all over the place and peeling line off the drag. This was more likely due to the use of 6lb. line and a lighter rod, but I can deal with it comfortably knowing that this reel will be dependable and provide me with features most don’t. I’ve used the Scorpion for several years and I can tell you it is a dream to fish with. This small reel throws traditional baits with ease. I use several of them for pitching and flipping duty while lobbing jig and pigs to nasty places. Perhaps where this reel excels is where most others fail – it has the unique ability to throw some truly ultra-light baits. I’ve tossed 1/16oz. jig ‘n pigs on it with success. I use it with my Kistler Helium rods to form some of the lightest combos I’ve ever imagined.

Scorpion MG 1001
Hot off the presses the Scorpion MG picks up where Shimano Japan left off with the standard Scorpion. Cosmetically, the reel is the same in size and shape, but is silver rather than wine burgundy. The first noticeable difference is that the reel weighs a full 2.1 oz. lighter than its cousin thanks to the addition of a special magnesium that CAN be used in salt water. The MG also has an even smoother spool that rests on better quality bearings that are the new ARB series. These bearings are 10 times more resistant to rust than standard bearings. I pushed the thumb bar and gave the spool a spin. I watched in awe as it didn’t seem to want to stop for a long while, longer than what I was used to, anyway.

The MG also features a micro click adjust on the drag that most other reels do not have. This allows the angler to lock in one of 16 settings. Accidentally knocking the drag setting loose will be a thing of the past and better yet, I relish the fact that I can dial in the same setting over and over again with little effort even after breaking the reel down for a cleaning which I neurotically do quite frequently.

Here are the stats on the Shimano Scorpion 1001 MG
Line Capacity- 100yds 10lb
Brakes-VBS system, weight balanced and adjustable
spool, adjustable spool tension knob
Drag- micro adjustable click drag, 16 pre-set selections of tension
Spool- drilled aluminum titanium coated wiffle spool, Super Free
Ratio-6.2 to 1, 22″ per revolution
Titanium Coated SiC line guide
Handle-Contoured Septon grips, drilled out magnesium
Drag power-4lbs
Bearings-4bb+1 roller bearing
Price- about $250.00

Ergonomics and Design: The Scorpion MG features the exact same frame as the standard Scorpion. It is a sharp looking silver color that depicts the accurate feel of its metallic make up. This is a low profile reel and even anglers with small hands will find this reel very comfortable. Despite its gossamer size at 6oz., this reel is all business and does not feel like a toy. Shimano obviously listened to anglers on this one.

Drag: The Scorpion MG was improved by adding a sturdier drag. Slip weight was improved by a full pound over the standard model. This will be beneficial. In essence the reel is even more versatile as its ability to cast lighter baits increased; the addition of extra drag allows heavier lines to be utilized as well.

Retrieve: The MG picked up where the Scorpion SVS left off. It still has that super smooth retrieve that helped form its legacy.

Casting: With essentially the same drive system although lighter, this reel casts like a dream. It is improved even on the original Scorpion which was about as good as they come.

The bottom line here is that you get even better performance along the lines of ability to fling lighter baits effortlessly, a smoother set up for both cranking and casting, more comfort in lighter weight without sacrificing spool diameter or making the reel feel like a toy. I will eventually switch all of my Scorpions over to the MG, it is that much better. Although I do not plan to use it in salt water, knowing that I can gives me even more confidence in the reel. I’m a freak when it comes to weight. With the Scorpion MG 1001 and a 7ft. Kistler He70MHC, I realistically can have a solid set up that weighs in at less than 10oz. I could get even more neurotic and team the reel with a He66MLC for something just about 9oz. The 1001 MG teamed up with a He70MC weighs 9.25oz. That is insanity! For a mere 27,000 Yen this baby can be all yours! And don’t be shy, it is well worth it.

Shimano Antares
This is the top of the line Shimano casting reel built Japanese style after the American released Calais. This reel features all of the things that anglers dream of in a casting reel. The spool control knob is click controlled for precise adjustment. This means you can dial in a setting and come back to it if you change lures a couple of times in a days fishing. The Antares also comes equipped with the Variable cast control which allows you to adjust the weights to slow down the spool on the cast. Next, the Antares has a titanium line roller to reduce friction and prevent damage to the line.

Shimano makes its already high quality drag even more efficient with the addition of carbon drag washers. No slip, no grind, these washers make this drag system bulletproof. The weight is kept to a minimum with the use of Magnesium on the spool. At 8.5oz., it is on par with the lightest full size casting reels. The spool is blended with other materials so it can be used in saltwater without any damage to the Magnesium. The Antares sports a 5.8 to 1 gear ratio making it relatively quick. Ten anti-rust ball bearings in the drive and 1 on the roller round out the high performance features of the reel.

Precision “click” cast control coupled with easy access
Conical titanium line guide
Pure carbon drag washers
Super-free spool
Line capacity: 120m of 12lb, 100m of 14lb
Gear ratio: 5.8:1
Ball Bearings: 10 Anti-rust ball bearings plus 1 roller bearing
Weight: 8.5oz

Of course, at about $339.00, the Antares isn’t for everyone. I use three of these reels for flipping jigs and I have no complaints about them. They are simply the best casting reels I’ve owned. The Shimano name means quality.

Copyright © 2006 Craig DeFronzo
Published on with permission


Craig DeFronzo lives in Florida and is the owner of Micro-Munch Tackle specializing in light tackle jigs.

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