Article - Hall of Fame

A Reel For Life

I’d like to nominate the Mitchell 300 to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I’m sure most anglers of more than fifteen years’ experience will have seen one of these wonderful winches, even if they’ve not actually used one.

As a boy I had an inexhaustible appetite for reading about fishing; books and articles about coarse, game and sea fishing were consumed with more or less equal rapacity. However it was the coarse articles that had the special attraction, as they dealt with the type of waters I fished; my young imagination easily able to make the conceptual leap needed to bridge the gap between the lush waters of the Hampshire Avon or Dorset Stour and the reality of the streams within fifteen miles of my Hertfordshire home. Above all I found the accompanying photographs of immense interest and would subject them to the greatest scrutiny. Many of these depicted anglers standing or sitting by the waterside, or crouched alongside a bulging keepnet spilling its scaly contents over the bank. These men were obviously successful and, as I wanted success, there had to be a common factor if I could only find it.

There were probably countless reasons why these chaps had made such stupendous catches but, of the visible considerations, one appeared to be more prominent than any others. Upon many of their rods was a black reel of a curiously satisfying shape, as though it was the product of an organic evolvement instead of the designer’s drawing board. The photographs that depicted a close-up were particularly prized; with a magnifying glass I was able to read the name ‘Mitchell’ in a thin, spaghetti-like script, followed by the number 300. I admired the smooth black finish – not at all like the metallic silver and electric blue of my Shakespeare Alpha. Every part seemed to be in proportion with all the others; there was nothing cumbersome or awkward about its appearance.

The classified sections of the Angling Times brought me down to earth. New Mitchell 300’s were listed at £29.99. That was a year’s pocket money! With the youthful inability to understand how one’s wealth may increase with age and an equal degree of ignorance as to the second-hand tackle market I became resigned to never owning one, though I wasn’t so downhearted as I might have been; these reels should be used only by experts – and at that stage I was still happy to catch anything so I probably didn’t deserve to own one anyway.

However, by great good fortune I was able, after a particularly lucrative Christmas, to buy a Mitchell 206. This was a smaller, cheaper reel altogether, though still bearing some of the Mitchell family traits. It became a constant companion for the next few years, seeing me through a succession of progressively better rods, initially fibreglass and then, later on, carbon. It was still my main reel when I blagged a Saturday job in the local tackle shop. With regular employment I was able to upgrade all of my tackle, and this eventually included the reel. Much to the disgust of the shop owner I bought a new Mitchell 300 - he considered them a throwback to the 1950’s and felt that it was an inappropriate partner to a lightweight carbon match rod. He even gave me a horrid Sundridge rear-drag match reel in the hope that it would persuade me to abandon the Mitchell notion, but I ignored him. Had I not dreamt of owning one since I first began to fish? I wasn’t going to be talked out of it now that I was finally in a position to buy one of my very own.

I was to discover that not only did it look good but it felt good too. Turning the handle gave an impression of solidity and first-class workmanship; compared to other reels I had tried it was in a league of its own. Having only examined photos of the reel before I was unprepared for the off-centre alignment of the body when viewed from behind, but that only made it all the more beautiful – a bit like finding out that the headstock of a Fender Stratocaster did not angle back like other guitars. The fact that the bale-arm turned the other way marked it out as different, and the slow in-out motion of the spool suggested a more advanced set of inner workings than the other reels on the tackle shop shelves.

It immediately became my reel of choice wherever I fished and whatever I fished for. I began to notice how many other anglers used them; they were the badge of office, users of Mitchells being the ones I would to go to for advice. I loved the way it became an extension of myself, without complication. I didn’t need to look at what I was doing any more and could concentrate on the water, on my float, on the things around me.

As me angling library grew I became more and more aware of just how many good and famous anglers used Mitchells. I discovered its descendants, the dark blue 410 so beloved of pike anglers on Elstree Reservoir, and the light blue 440 or ‘Match’, with its complex arrangement of levers and springs for opening the bale-arm at a touch of the forefinger, looking rather like an advanced mousetrap. I may have been dissatisfied with my rod (was it ever thus?) but I knew I had found a reel for life.

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Sadly that first Mitchell is no longer with me; it was stolen, along with my rod and a favourite float, when I left them on my rod rests in the middle of the river while I went to see how a friend was getting on upstream. Whoever took them must have either been wearing waders (i.e. another angler) or have been prepared to get wet, even on such a cold frosty day, as I had advanced into the river as far as my waders would permit.

However I had by then acquired a second Mitchell 300 – older and more battered – from a school friend, for a fiver. Isn’t it always the way? You save up and fork out the asking price for something only to have another offered to you for a pittance. A late 1950’s model this time, with sprung handle, butterfly check lever and four-pointed drag adjustment screw. A lucky bargain indeed as it turned out. I still have that reel and even use it occasionally, for old times’ sake, though it is rather worn and quite noisy.

I have three others – a pre-300 designation full bale-arm ‘Mitchell’ again with butterfly check lever and sprung folding handle, but dating from the mid 1950’s, another late ‘50’s model, almost identical to the school-acquired one but in excellent – almost perfect – condition, and an early 1960’s ‘Garcia’ Mitchell 300, as above but with the later screw-tightening folding handle. This last one is signed by Bernard Cribbens, and was generously presented to me by my good friend Joseph. All four are shown in the photograph, along with a lovely little Mitchell 308 ‘Prince’ which I find invaluable for use with lines less than 5lb b/s.

So why should the Mitchell 300 be included in the ‘Hall of Fame’? Simply because it is a damn good reel - even today, nearly sixty years after the first example rolled off the production line at the Carpano & Pons factory in France. Just think of all the anglers, past and present, who used the ‘300’ or its first generation descendants. Dick Walker championed it in Stillwater Angling and it soon became standard issue for the Carp Catchers Club members. Almost every twenty pound carp caught from Redmire during the years the CCC controlled the fishing was landed on a 300. Many more followed in the years Jack Hilton ran the syndicate. But it’s not just a carp angler’s reel; specialists in almost every field of coarse fishing, as well as many game fishermen, insisted on the rugged reliability of the Mitchell. It was the ubiquitous fixed spool reel for two generations.

In the series of books ‘Fishing – Step By Step’ almost all the featured experts show the Mitchell as their chosen reel; Jack Hilton in ‘Roach’, Pete Frost in ‘Barbel’, Peter Mohan in Carp’ and Barrie Rickards in ‘Pike’. That these anglers were at the top of their chosen field is without question. In the Observer’s Book of Coarse Fishing (the first fishing book I ever owned) all the illustrations involving a fixed spool reel show a Mitchell; the second paperback edition even shows one in glorious colour on the front cover. Even that top class tackle manufacturer Hardy Bros, on page 22 of their 1981 catalogue, show a Mitchell attached to one of their spinning rods – the only* illustration of a fixed spool reel in the entire catalogue.

The Mitchell 300 – truly the greatest fixed spool reel ever made – and arguably the most beautiful. I will never be without it.

Postscript:
*It is just possible to identify the stem of another Mitchell, visible in the photograph illustrating the Esmond Drury Automatic (line) Release tool on page55.

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